Jeddah to Baljurashi
This was only yesterday and yet it already seems a distant memory. So much seems to happen on trips like this that it easy to let everything blur into one experience. Or maybe I just have a bad short term memory.
So, in the dim and distant past, or at lest before dawn yesterday, I left Jeddah to head south. The traffic in the city is some of the worst I’ve seen, partly caused by bad road design, but mainly due to having far too many drivers with a bad attitude and poor skills. Even leaving before 6am I feared for my life at times. I can see why Nick said that he had had five accidents in the year or so he has been here. If I’m back in Jeddah in the future, I think I would aim for a 5am departure.
I decided the safest way to travel was to spot a safe driver that obviously knew the roads and stay with him. This worked well; I survived. As I approached the outskirts of Jeddah, the traffic gradually thinned and became slightly more sane and predictable, then I entered another world. Nick had mentioned that there was a new road to Ash Shafa and I’d managed to spot it on the satellite imagery. It was actually still being built and I wondered how wise I was to tackle it, especially when the tarmac finished. The mountains and sweeping views were a major draw though and I pushed on. I was glad I did as the views were just magnificent.
As I began the steep descent I did wonder how gnarly the road was going to become, but the surface had been recently graded ready for completion so the riding was easy to Ash Shafa. From there I picked up the well established route through the mountains to Al Baha. This is an excellent road, with hundreds of beautiful curves that link together elegantly, on a generally perfect tarmac surface. One of my Facebook friends commented to the effect that it was a wonderful road until I you met an idiot overtaking on a bad bend and that was one of the reasons Saudi has a road fatality rate of 44/100,000 people. A sobering thought. Thankfully, though, I didn’t meet a single crazy driver all day once out of Jeddah.
Going south stone towers and the remains of fortified villages started to appear. Most have been left fall into ruin, no longer needed in these peaceful times. Good jobs and government money have meant that people can build much larger, modern houses too, which are probably far more comfortable to live in. In the remote villages and towns I did pass though I wondered what most of the Saudi men actually do to earn a living. Almost everybody I meet who is working is a foreigner. If you had been dropped into the area between Ash Shafa and Baljurashi, without being told which county you were in, I think you would guess north India, or maybe Yemen. I don’t think you would guess it was Saudi at all.
I followed a side road near al Baha and discovered the escarpment by chance. Having risen all day in the mountains it came as a shock to find that the mountains just dropped away for a couple of thousand metres just to one side of my route. As I was taking photographs, Sultan, a Saudi accountant from Jeddah pulled up and came out to chat. He had quite good English and told me that he was going to the UK next month to study for a year, as he wanted a good job. Talking about the view and our travels, he said it was the first time he had been anywhere other than Jeddah, Mecca or Medina.
By the time I arrived in Baljurashi I was pretty tired, so I showered made coffee and laid on the bed. Somehow at this point I then managed to clip my cup with my hand and catapult it against the wall. If I had been trying I couldn’t have managed to cover such a large area with black coffee. Fortunately the paint was waterproof and it cleaned off well. I can’t say the same for the carpet though. Later in the evening the mirror fell off the bathroom wall and I found out that the Tirol Kliniken are threatening me with legal action if I don’t pay my hospital bill by December 30. Nevertheless, a splendid day.