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Jeddah

I needed a rest day so thought I would take the easy coast road to Jeddah, rather that the mountain road. By leaving at 6:00 I thought I could arrive in time for the shops opening, get some lunch and then check in to my hotel. 


The coast road is very straight and remarkably boring. Two things bare remarking on. In several hundred kilometers there are no gas stations, just signs telling you that there is one in a coastal town several kilometers away. I found this strange. There are, however, small mosques every few miles. They are simple structures, little more than covered shelters or shacks, but each is provided with a large tank of water for ablutions and there is plenty of space at the side of the road (the desert) on which to park. By each mosque grows a tree, either planted or an the product of a discarded seed I don’t know, but watered by the regular ablutions of the faithful. In the harsh environment they seem like a sign of hope.

In Jeddah I asked what I should see, what is the most important thing to visit. Several times I was told the Red Sea Mall. I had lunch there. It’s nice. It could be anywhere. I ate at Starbucks. 

I paid a visit to the BMW motorrad showroom and met up with Donnovan, Nick and Amr. The showroom looks good. 

Jeddah traffic is truly awfull. There are far too many cars and the road system is not able to cope. 

It’s hot here 32.5°C today. How different to Tabuk. 

The screw fell out of the arm of my glasses. It must be the vibrations from the bike. I called in at Magrabi and they fixed them in two minutes and wouldn’t take any payment. They thought it was funny that I was lookin at new frames at point blank range whilst my own glasses were being repaired. 

I had a superb dinner at a Lebanese restaurant. 


In the last few days I’ve covered 3000 kilometers on my motorcycle in Saudi Arabia. It has given me a better understanding of driving here. These are my observations:

The minimum age for driving depends on the size of the town you live in. If it’s a small, remote town, then 12 is OK, as long as you can see out of the windscreen when operating the accelerator and brake. 

You should stop at traffic lights when they are red, however it is OK to ignore the signal if:

A) you are in a hurry and think you can make it through safely. 

B) you don’t notice the signal because you are checking your text messages, whatsapp or twitter feed. 

C) you know there are no working traffic light cameras in operation

D) you know the traffic policeman sitting at the intersection will not take any notice

E) you have painted over your number plate or wrapped your headdress around it to avoid being photographed. 

The speed limit on the highway is advisory. If the highway is particularly busy it is better to travel at least 20 to 50 km/h faster than this to avoid bad drivers. You can used the hard shoulder to make this easier. 

Talking in the telephone whilst driving is dangerous. Everybody knows this. You can minimize the danger by slowing drown from 120 to 80 km/h and staying in the middle lane. This stops drivers entering the highway at junctions going unnoticed as you concentrate on your call. It also allows other drivers to pass you on both sides. 

In remote areas, traffic safety is of paramount importance. Warning signs saying “Inhabbited Area”, “Dangerous Bends”, “Roundabout”, “Curve”, or “Traffic signal ahead, be prepared to stop at red” are placed one kilometer before the hazard for guidance.  
To be behind another vehicle in a queue is emasculating and a sign of weakness. Avoid it where possible. If necessary pass on the hard shoulder. Take care not to hit the concrete road divider. 

Traffic policemen say that they want to see your licence, residence permit and bike registration, but really they want to check that you are OK and take a look at your BMW R1200GS Adventure. 

In remote areas there is no guarantee that petrol stations will have any gasoline, but their attendants will share their lunch with you. 

Again, in remote areas almost all shops, filling stations, workshops and farms are staffed by Afghani, Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, Filipino or Yemeni workers. Saudis are seldom seen. They take management roles, which usually involves driving around in large Toyota, Lexus, BMW or Mercedes vehicles. 

The distance between petrol stations varies. It can be two hundred meters or three hundred kilometers. Don’t tour on a bike with a small tank. 

Road surfaces, particularly in remote areas, are superb. Dangerous road surfaces appear out of nowhere in the city, generally surrounded by perfect tarmac. 

Camels have no sense of danger and wonder across the road, looking surprised that there are large metal things hurtling towards them. 

On dual carriage way that are perfectly straight for over 100 miles, with no population or intersections, you see completely wrecked cars lying in the sand. The camel rotted away long ago. 

When approaching a junction, decide which direction to turn in once you have pulled to a halt. It is OK to change lanes, people don’t mind if you pull infront of them from the right lane to turn left. 

There are often roadsweepers by intersections in the city. Give them money. 

There are sometimes women begging at intersections in the city. Don’t give them money. 

The obvious place for spectacular spending on municipal sculpture is the central reservation and town roundabouts. This will help calm traffic

Speed bumps are more effective than sleeping policemen in calming the traffic. They are carefully designed to be unpredictable. Some can be tackled at speed but others will launch you. The presence of a motor mechanic’s repair shop nearby is a clue to which type you are about to hit. A good general guideline is to look for the number of gouges in the tarmac at the far side of the hump; if there are many, break, but not too hard or the man behind you might run into you. 
If you have an accident, do not move the car. Call the police or Najm to get a police report otherwise your insurance won’t pay any claim. Actually, they might not either way, so choose – stay where you are and risk death, or move and be resigned to having to pay for your own repairs. 

The road system was designed in America for an earlier age, where there were a lot fewer cars and people took drivers ed seriously. Roads are now much busier and drivers come from all over the world. Take comfort in the fact that all have had to do their Saudi driving test. Armed with the knowledge that everybody has, at least once, successfully driven around a figure of eight of cones, done an emergency stop, a three point turn (I think, can’t remember that one) and reverse parked, you know that you should be OK. 

Traffic queues take up too much time. Never give way if you can avoid it, it shows weakness. Push in where possible, ignoring eye contact with those that you might run into or that might have to stop suddenly to let you pass; this shows masculinity. 

Never show road rage. It is immature and shows weakness. 
You know you are a safe driver so it is OK to use your mobile phone, read the Koran on your steering wheel and allow your kids to bounce around the car, hang out of the windows or sunroof. 

The use of indicators is optional but recommended for purely aesthetic reasons. If yours are red, that is even better. 

Buy a really huge car. It suggests that you are rich and have the money and ability to sire a huge family. Very masculine. Don’t buy a small car; if you do people will think you are poor and not a businessman or manager. 

If you are a real man, farm for a living and know the desert, buy a old style Toyota pickup and let it go rusty. They are indestructible. On the rare occasions you use tarmac, enjoy it, don’t worry about the rules. Others will get out of your way and they are a lot more predictable and easily scared than camels. 

Most importantly of all, if you see someone parked at the side of the road, stop and offer them every assistance possible. It restores faith in humanity. 

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