At the end I’ve crossed the Saudi Arabian border. With two police cars escorting me I’m riding on a smooth asphalt road. A 6-lane highway with wide hard shoulders on both sides. I saw the sign “Mecca 1680 km” but I’m going to turn towards Tabuk after 1000 km at the town Hail. That is, I’ll ride down 680 km from north to south then turn to west. Then, we’ll see. Since it was getting dark road lamps were turning on. I must say this was the best road I’ve seen since the last one and a half year. Also there are lots of cats-eyes on the lanes on the road. They are so dense that I’ve never seen before. There are cats-eyes on every white line on the road. Actually, very good for me since I hear the approaching cars from long distance by the noise caused. (0n every broken white line are two cats-eyes. When I stop on the white line at hard shoulder I see 8 cats-eyes on a 1 m distance. I pedaled for 4000 m in Saudi Arabia and this didn’t change throughout the country. There is not a single road without cats-eyes. One cats-eye costs 30 USD, think about the budget! The reason of this was that people were falling asleep driving on these endless roads. So, when the cars’ tires hit the cats-eyes the drivers get awake and change their lane. There are too much accidents anyway despite this precaution. By the way, this cats-eyes business is a monopoly owned by one of the princes. : ))
I’m looking around, I got hungry and tired. Hah, I found a place to camp and stopped. The police officers also stopped. They were talking in Arabic. First I tried to speak in English effortlessly then turned to Turkish. He was saying: “You can’t camp here, we’ll go to a hotel”. Dude, I don’t have money, can’t effort a hotel. We argued for a time. I’ll stay here, no you can’t etc. Then, I civil car came. The driver spoke English and knew about me. He was from the secret service.
– Mr. Gurkan for your own security we cannot allow you to camp here. Therefore we want you overnight at a hotel
– Alright, but I don’t have the money for a hotel.
– Doesn’t matter, we’ll arrange.
Well, they did what they said and put me in a hotel at a gas station on the road. But till the hotel I had to ride additionally for 20 km. All my power was gone. On the way I had to stop and ate two apples and a banana to gain some power. That man speaking English arranged the hotel and put me and my bicycle in the hotel. Afterwards, I found out the price of the hotel 30 USD per night. The first room was a small living room with cushions surrounding the wall. Just across the room was the bedroom with two beds. On the left a large room with one bed and next to it a kitchen and a large bathroom. Dude, you would pay at least 100 USD for such a suit in Europe. The rooms of all the hotels at the gas stations are almost the same size. Before the troubles with Syria business was blooming but since then all went downhill. By the way, the weather was chilly (1°C). I entered this country on January 8th 2015 on a rainy day. After taking a shower I cooked a delicious pasta. Without salt and sauce but tuna fish. Then, I fell asleep, so deep that I didn’t make a move till the morning hours, my left arm become numb. At 6:30 a.m. I got ready and left the hotel before anyone noticed me. There were no police officers nor anybody around. After riding a short distance I arrived in the first town, Al Qurayyat. Naturally at the crack of dawn nobody was on the street. I strolled around in the city. The few people on the street stood aghast as soon as they were noticing me on the bike. I saluted, some didn’t respond back due to astonishment some other took my photo with their handys. I came to a crossroad and stopped at the traffic lights looking around.
!! Dude, there were waste bins next to the lights. Is this a joke? On top of it their height were adjusted to that of jeeps. Then, I pay attention to the city, it is clean I mean really clean. No way. I proceed and see an ATM for cars. I traveled through 42 countries, this is the first time I have come upon with such a thing.
I approach the ATM on bike and take money. The ATM cards of my country work also here. I took 500 Riyal about 134 USD from the ATM. I rode inside the city. It was much cleaner compared to the other Arabian towns I have seen so far, interesting. While strolling around, a car came next to me and the driver said “Hello, hello”. He wanted me to follow him. I said alright and followed him. He took me to a restaurant and ordered for me a breakfast. We couldn’t talk to and understand each other. He said sit and breakfast before you go on and left.
My first impression was that they were hospitable people of course. After breakfast I started off. The teenagers of the town came to me to take photos and I waved my hands, what else to do? Then, outside the city a police car tagged along me following from a remote distance. It seems that the escort cars will change but remain behind me. In each region a police car escorted me till the region’s border and delivered me to the next police station: “Here is your cargo”
Of course this happens far behind me. With the first couple of drivers I talked for not close follow-up. First they didn’t want to understand but as I raised my voice and didn’t move they started to follow me up at a 1 km or some more distance. A pretty hard situation for them, they have to follow me for at least 100 km with a speed of 15-20 km throughout the day. The green police cars are highway patrols and the brown ones intra-town patrols.
After 30 minutes on the highway two cars stopped in front of me. Initially they welcomed me and then offered Arabic coffee and dates, afterwards tea and lastly cookies. This happened very fast. At the same time the police officer arrived and grumbled to the men. As he started to speak harshly, I also lifted my voice up “What’s to you dude what? Don’t butt in. People will be making me stop, taking photos”. I pointed to the horizon and said: “Go there, yallah”.
After hugs and photo shootings I sat on my saddle and started to pedal. I could proceed only for 5 km before I was stopped again. The guy took a selfie and offered me all the food he had in his car and also some money. “Thanks bro, no need” He insisted saying: “take it, take it.” I had to repeat for a while that I don’t need saying “shukran, shukran”. Dude, how hard was it to convince him. Once again I sat on saddle and it wasn’t even 5 km when 4 cars let me stop. At the same the other cars on the oncoming lane stopped noticing the crowd. Everybody was coming over to take a photo with me, I told them where I was going to and their jaw dropped when they heard Mecca. Again, a lot food was handed. Man! This is a bicycle and its rider a human being how come I can carry all those? “Thank you, mevcut, mevcuuuuttt (Already have in Arabic)” They started to offer money again. Although I tried to explain that I don’t need money, everybody put some money in my handle bar bag. Dude, what is this?
Guests, visitors never ended during the day. I stopped somewhere to cook, immediately a car stopped and people offered a meal. Look! I’m saying food was handed from a car, not only police cars but also ordinary people were following me. Strange, nobody is getting bored. There is a cyclist riding at a speed 20 km/h and Toyota pickups are following him in the middle of the desert. I beg this follower group has never been at such a slow speed before now and then after. The Arabs in Saudi Arabia like to drive their cars at maximum power possible.
The road is somewhat different. For example, my right hand side is completely stabilized. Sand and gravels are compressed so that become look like tarmac. The road lane I’m riding on is 2 m above this sand stabilized road. Throughout Saudi Arabia all the roads are high to prevent desert sand to cover and block the road. I saw a similar situation in Gobi desert in 2010 during road construction, the reason was the same. But there vehicles were unable to enter the road directly. On the other hand in Saudi Arabia it is possible to reach the road from any point. Also, cars can u turn any time they want. A guy driving a 200 km/h speed notices me and makes a u turn using the stabilized road between the lanes and takes a selfie. Then, he turns back to his lane. Time after time the crowd behind me increased. The cars started to close up, as a result the police started to announce. No way! People were climbing on top of their cars to take my photos. One was a legend: One of the guys climbing on top of his car tried to take a selfie inclusive me. I’m not exaggerating, after a while a convoy of 200 to 300 vehicles arose behind me. This was just the beginning which made me scared. As the cars started to slalom in front of me police called a support car. Then, being not enough two more police cars came over. Only after 4 police cars surrounded me I could proceed. Dude, I said I’m very thirsty and unfortunately stopped somewhere…..
My holiness! Hundreds of people surrounded me with their cars. They started to come to me. I immediately locked my handle bar bag. I swear, I got into panic for the first time during my travel, really I beg I panicked! So many things happened I was never scared as that much. I could handle 3-5 people but not such a crowd, impossible. Dude, how do I get out here? The police officers also got out of their cars. As I tried to drink water from the bottle people pulled my arms to take photos. Just a second, allow me to take a sip. I wasn’t able to move for an hour. I don’t know how many thousands of photos have been taken but I was about to fall unconscious. I was begging the police officers “please help me, clear the way, I want to get out of here.” Policemen started to scream, their car sirens on full power, as we were about to move a man stopped just ahead and took coffee and dates out at such a high speed…
“‘Please stop and rest a little, please” I stopped once again. I’m fucked, it seems that I would be unable to travel in this country. I chatted with him for some time while all the other people gathered around us.
– My friend, are those people mixing me up with someone else? Why there are so many followers? I’m not a famous person.
– No need to worry. A Rahel is coming to this region for the first time after a long period, therefore the people got excited.
At the beginning I thought a Rahel is a voyager, a traveler. When I met an Arabian traveler in Qatar I said: “Wow, you are also a Rahel” but he replied me as: “No, I’m not a Rahel. Marco Polo is a Rahel, Ibn Batur is a Rahel. The Saudis took you as one of them, the reason which you were called Rahel in that region” I’m sorry that I came to know this after I left Saudi Arabia. I couldn’t thank them for this honor.
It took me 30 minutes to chat with that guy before setting off. When I stop I’m not able to move anymore since everybody surrounds me to take a photo. Back on the road I plugged the headphones, turned on the music at the highest sound possible. There are police cars around me anyway, so I won’t hear the sound of cars and screams of the people. I continued like this for a long time. As it was getting dark I saw a town ahead on my GPS. I stopped and told the police officer to take me to a hotel in this town. Meanwhile, the number of cars around me exceeded 300-400, unbelievable. The number of escort cars increased to 5 by the way. One cleans the road and the rest of the cars remove the vehicles trying to surround me. As we came closer to the town the amount of vehicles increased enormously and also the sound of horns that I was unable to hear my own words. At the entrance of the town the police cars stopped on the bridge. Well, as they stopped all the people started to run towards me. I said: “Now you are dead” Dude, I’m going to die because Saudis like me! Just at that moment someone screaming from afar:
“HEYYYY BUDDY COME TO THIS SIDE, WE ARE HERE!”
Gosh! Who his calling me, from where?
“Dude, where are you calling me from? Come over here!”
Dude, it was impossible to see who was calling me due to the crowd. Then, he came over and we hugged each other as if we were cousins. “Man, what did you do, they are going to tear you in pieces, we’ll hide you, say the police officers to bring you to our restaurant. You stay with us?” I didn’t say no, it got dark already. We directly headed to the restaurant. The police cars in front of me and I’m behind them were moving towards the town. But what a move. The whole citizens were on the road.
I guess there are more Toyota vehicles here than in Japan. Till that time I haven’t seen a normal car but all Toyota Hillux. I guess they are state given to every home. On top of it everyone has a second vehicle a Land Cruiser pick-up, also a third one Land Cruiser jeep. From the north of the country till Medina I didn’t see any other car. And also GMC Yukon. Anyway, they don’t have an eye for ordinary cars. I almost forgot, also Toyota FJ Cruiser for herd keeping purposes. They gather their camels with this jeep as I came upon frequently. : )
The fuel tanks of the vehicles have 100 L capacity get full for 11 USD, enough for approximately 500 km drive. I paid 3.2 USD for water for a 100 km ride on bike. That is for 500 km I paid 16 USD for water. Therefore, you can drive after anything you want in this country with any vehicle. In this way, Saudi Arabia was the only country where traveling on bike was more expensive than by car. That is, a Saudi Arabian citizen having water on his land is a rich person. And what a quality of water.
I really don’t remember how I came to Huseyin’s house that evening. Huseyin is from Hatay/Turkey living for 22 years in Saudi Arabia. He is married having one child but the rest of the family lives in Hatay. He has a doener restaurant in Tubarjal where he had settled down long ago. The people know him well and vice versa. As I said I don’t remember how I came to this house. In the house the event continued never ending. I did 140 km half of it under rain on that day. I was tired, I have had to recover myself. But the guests on that night didn’t stop and also Huseyin couldn’t stop them. The wealthy people of the town, the mayor, subsidiary of the Emir. That is, it was impossible to describe the courtesy of this night. Guests were bringing their own coffee, dates and tea. They offered them to me which continued throughout my travel in this country. I had to send two big boxes of presents from Saudi Arabia to Turkey. Huseyin after closing his restaurant that night said: “God please you. Nothing is remained to be sold” Hahaha. Life in Saudi Arabia starts after 7 p.m. and continues till 2 a.m. as it was in Algeria. That night it started to snow which was new for Saudis.
Everybody coming to the restaurant said: “This Turk visiting us has brought his kismet (fortune)” This spread all over northern Saudi Arabia which Huseyin told to me later on. “Gurkan, right now all north Arabia knows you. I’m in this country for so many years but this is the first time I witness such thing. Do you know how many cars were following you?” How come? I couldn’t take a look to what was happening behind me since I was so worried to be hit by a car. The cars seen on the video were recorded while I was still able to ride. According to Huseyin, there was an incredibly crowded convoy behind me. I asked him how he was informed and came over to meet me. The town’s kids came to his restaurant showed him the photos shared on the internet. “A cycling Turk, coming from Turkey” Hearing this news he grabbed fruit juice, lavash doener from his restaurant and came to meet me. He hosted me for 4 days. I thank him once more from here. All what happened during those 4 days….
I got acquainted with the richest members of the Shari tribe in this region. They are not rich due to petroleum but due to water. Well, while I was working on my route in 2011 I saw circles on the satellite photos north of Saudi Arabia and was very curious about them. Afterwards, I found out that they were agricultural fields. After 4 years, I saw all these fields with my own eyes. I don’t remember how many of them I visited. In northern Saudi Arabia you can find in many places water boring 300 m deep. The government took this issue into hands at the end. “Enough, you are deserting the water resources, don’t mess up”
One of the families had established their own zoo including wild animals. I ate the best dates in Tubarjal. Among them was the King’s date which costs 160 USD per 500 gr. Well, it was pretty expensive. By the way, the last day I was invited to one of the agricultural fields where people asked me: “Is there anything you want?” And I said in English: “Yes, if you won’t mind I want hurma (dates)”
The one speaking English started to laugh and translated into Arabic. Everybody around started to laugh. Also Huseyin was laughing.
– Gurkan never say that you want dates in Arab world anymore.
– Why, dude?
– Dates in Arabic means woman. They asked you what you want and you said women. Now, they are asking you whether you want to marry.
– Hahahha you are kidding hahaha…
– If you say that you want to marry right now, they will fulfill your wish, I swear Gurkan. Shall we say yes?
– Hahaha no way! … Say that I only want dates whatever they are called in Arabic.
By this way I learned to say: “Dou you have Tamir?” whenever I wanted dates in Arabian world.
One day I went to an ordinary bazaar. It is a happening to walk on streets, people immediately gather around me and take photos. While walking on the streets in Tubarjal I witnessed how two women in black veil recognized each other just from their eyes.
Again one day, while visiting one of these fields the men of the house cooked Bedouin bread for me. They were using this bread when they were out in the desert which does not become stale for a month. At the beginning I thought they resemble our Vakfi-Kebir bread (also called Trabzon bread) but was wrong. They look like a pitta bread. They made the dough in front of me which they placed among the ashes of the fire. They also covered the bread with sand and ash. After 20 minutes of backing time they removed the bread, just clapped it to remove remaining sand and ash. The taste of the bread was good. In past times Bedouins used this bread during desert crosses. Also, I had come to know that they put oat meal in the water bags made of camel’s skin in Morocco.
On the fields, every house has also a Bedouin tent on the backyard. The floor of these tents are covered totally with carpets and there is a fire place at a corner. The interior depends on their income. The middle son offers initially dates and then Arabian coffee to the guest. This coffee is not as strong as the Turkish coffee and also they don’t fill up the cup but refill when emptied. Meanwhile the child waits. I drank out and put the cup in front of me talking to the men, he refilled each time. Thank you, it’s enough. But he didn’t understand me and continued to refill my cup.
To Huseyin: “Tell them that I don’t want to drink anymore, I feel like vomiting coffee.” He said: Gurkan, if you don’t want then cover the cup with your fore and middle fingers and shake it to both sides.” Haaaaa. Doing this, the child took the cup and put in a bowl filled with water. Then, he took a tea cup from this bowl and offered tea. : ) I drank one cup and said enough the proper way. He took it and put back into the bowl. He served with the same cups and glasses all the other guests who came later on. This was the situation.
I ate their traditional meals lamb on rice, goat on rice and camel on rice for the first time in this town. At the first feast there was a whole goat on top of boiled vegetables and rice. Well, people thought that I would eat with fork and knife which were immediately brought to me. They said let’s start. Hop, I started to eat with my fingers. Of course which was appreciated by them (I always try to follow the traditions of the country I visit). The host was pulling off to most delicious parts of the animal with his fingers for me.
About 10 people were eating from the same pot. After 30 minutes every one got full but most of the meal remained. “Huseyin, that’s a pity, so much food is left.” He said “watch”. After us, the youngsters of the family sat down and ate from the same pot. Then, the left overs were carried to the women’s side and the rest was given to the animals. I won’t say this is the same in every part of the country but true for rural areas. In the towns everyone orders his/her own meal. Nevertheless, the servings are so big, therefore there was high wastage everywhere. I must say that although I stayed 5 days in Tubarjal I hardly saw females. At the houses I was hosted I haven’t seen any women. The youngster of the house took my photos to show their sisters and mother later on. Therefore, I have so many female Arab followers on Instagram. There have been Arab women who started to learn Turkish, talking and sending messages during my Saudi Arabia travel. But, I never got acquainted with an Arab woman personally and never had a cup of coffee together. Anyway, there isn’t a suitable occasion in this country. Especially, I was asked whether I used Snapchat application. I got to understand only afterwards why they asked for this application. Every post is removed within 24 hours. That is, girls and boys show their photos to each other or chat and then everything is removed. This suits the people living in Arab world. I didn’t use and still don’t use.
The place of Tubarjal and Sherari tribes is really very special to me. The youngsters in this region still send me messages. Ask what I’m doing and send salutes from their fathers. Huseyin has been many years in this region, one night when were invited for dinner he asked the governance: “Noticing your hospitality, I have been living here for so many years, why didn’t you never show us this side of you?” I smiled.
I’m traveling for many years telling my stories. Sometimes, people reading my road memories going to work to that region say: “Mr. Gurkan, the country is not like what you mentioned in your memories.” or send messages: “Hey pimp! The police officers of that country robbed us to our pants, you are writing a pack of lies, you give people the shaft” No matter to which country you go, if you are going to work there the indigenous people will treat you different. If you are only a guest the treatment will differ. In almost every country is unemployment and while the own citizens of the country are unemployed, foreigners are not always welcomed. I saw this in Japan, in Finland, in Morocco, Tunisia, in almost every country I have visited so far. This is the same also in Turkey. But if you are only a guest and let people know this you will be held in high esteem in every country. One of the best examples is Saudi Arabia. Look, people almost kill you to show their hospitality. People fought with each other to host me in Algeria. There is always a hospitality story in every country I visited.
I also talked about business and laws in Saudi Arabia with Huseyin. There are about 15 millions of foreigners in the country. Hindus, Pakistanis, Philippines, Turks, Americans, Europeans. Every foreigner living in this country pays yearly about 1000 USD to the state. This is taken from every single foreigner. Of course since also a Pakistani garbage man has to pay the same amount, they are dissatisfied. If you work in this country you need to have a Saudi Arabian warrantor whom you also pay annually. If you want to go to your country, want to leave the city you have to inform him ahead. For example, you live in Riyadh and came to Tubarjal where a police officer notices you. Well, he knows that you are a foreigner, the possibility that he makes you stop and ask your documents is high. This is especially true for the remote towns less frequently visited. The possibility is high that you are made to follow him to the police station. Only, when you are an investor and warrant yourself (you need to block a high amount of money in a Saudi Arabian bank) then they don’t say much but again within some limits. Still there are red zones in this country. I also must admit this: Jeddah, Riyadh, Dammam, Taif, Medina, Mecca. (I did this sorting according to sharia rules). There is a huge gap between what I have experienced between these cities and the others I’ve visited in this country. That is, if someone says, “Hey! I’m living in Jeddah and it’s not true what you tell about” I would say: “yea, yea.” Let him live in Jeddah. His Saudi Arabia is Jeddah and mostly two more of the cities I mentioned above.
I’ll continue to write my road memories as long as I go on… Let me head towards south and see what surprises I’ll come upon.