Hafr al Batin to Sakaka
As I’m used to getting up at five, and the restaurant didn’t start serving breakfast until 7:30, I thought I would get out on the road early and miss the busy traffic in the city centre. It was 5 1/2° as I left town and I was glad that I had remembered to pack my heated jacket and gloves. Without them I think I would’ve turned into an ice cube. I knew the road from Hafr to Arar was very long and very straight and I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to get petrol easily. So just before dawn I stopped at a garage to fill up and caused quite a stir as people came around to take photographs of me on the bike.
The Gyde by Gerbing jacket is absolutely fantastic. With a wind proof over the top, I didn’t even notice that the temperature dropped down to 4°, and that’s without windchill. About I hundred miles into my journey I stopped at another petrol station to fill up again and get some breakfast at a Pakistani restaurant. It was an interesting experience; the clientele could have stepped out of history, and from several different countries. Long beards, robes, turbans, course cloaks and blankets; Bedouin, Iraqis, Pakistanis, Afghanis and an Indian Sikh, all herdsmen of some sort, apart from the Indian, who was a truck driver. I didn’t expect much of the food, but I was served with the most delicious chicken curry and fresh bread I’ve had in a long time, all for 12 Saudi Riyals. Come to think of it, I’ve spent 20 times that amount on a curry and it hasn’t been as good. As I drove away I thought how unjust life can be. Some chefs become famous but aren’t very good, some are brilliant and end up working for a pittance in a petrol station in the middle of the desert.
350 miles of my journey today were completely straight, apart from two roundabouts that have been placed in small towns, for no apparent reason as the cars don’t go around them. There is little traffic around here. Those with money probably fly. The locals probably don’t travel so far and spend more time in the desert than on the Tarmac. As you approach the small towns there are signs that tell you that there will be traffic signals in a kilometre and you should stop if the light is red.
After what felt like a couple of hundred miles I saw a huge building on the horizon, in the middle of nowhere. It turned out to be one of the colleges of the nine-year-old Northern Borders University. Nearby was a sizeable town; I wondered what people did for a living. It’s easy to understand the role of the people camping by the road, their camels or goats nearby. From time to time I would also pass the signs of a quarrying or what appeared to be a mine; obvious jobs. But I couldn’t work out what would keep a whole town together without government support.
Arar, the biggest town I’ve come across since leaving Dammam, came as a surprise, especially welcome as it was the end of the straight road that had bedn the best part of five hundred miles long. It has a wonderful new mosque.
The road to Sakaka had a hundred miles of the most glorious sweeping curves and bends. The featureless landscape also changed, with jebels appearing, and rocky outcrops that looked volcanic. Pershap more remarkable, however, was the municipal sculpture. This is been getting gradually worse the further I’ve been getting away from Dammam. North of Sakaka I came across a huge laptop, partly crafted out of decaying concrete. It was maybe the size of three cars.