I easily crossed through the Israeli border gate as well the Jordanian one. While approaching the last military check point, the soldiers made me stop
– Where are you going?
– To visit Amman
– What is the device in front of your bicycle?
– I can’t let you enter the country with GPS
– Hahahaha (I really laughed, not kidding)
He tried to take off the GPS device while I was still laughing but he couldn’t.
– Hey, hey! STOP. You can’t take my GPS like this!
– It is forbidden to enter the country with GPS!
First I took my handy out and showed him opening Google map. Then, I changed to satellite view and showed the exact point where we were.
– Firstly, our countries have already been viewed worldwide. Secondly, I have already traveled throughout in your country using this GPS. I’m not directly coming from Israel. After traveling in Jordan I visited Palestine and Israel. And now I’m going to Saudi Arabia.
– Without handing that device you cannot enter the country. I won’t allow you to cross the border through this gate.
I took out an A4 sized piece of paper from my passport. The cock became silent suddenly. The other officers also read what was written in the paper recognizing his silence. He looked at the paper then at me. In this paper was written shortly: “This man is traveling around the World. Till Jordan he passed through these and these countries, necessary permissions to be given, signature, stamp”. That is don’t make him wait and don’t cause trouble for him. I guess he was unable to bring himself to understand that I wanted to visit the country heading directly from Israel.
– The commander is just over there, go and get permission from him.
– You are sending me there for nothing.
– I won’t let you cross unless the commander calls me.
I went down to the commander. He called the gate and got informed about the situation, then ordered the GPS on my bike. Meanwhile, I called the Turkish Embassy and after talking shortly with the official handed my handy to the commander. After listening to the official the commander hang off and returned it to me. He called the gate and talked in Arabic.
– Alright Mister Gurkan. You can go….
I sat on the saddle and rode up back. The hut is relatively large. The last time there were 5 soldiers. They opened the gate before I arrived and only the youngest was staying at the gate. I waved inside the hut smiling.
As I had already mentioned before; recording GPS tracks is somewhat problematic in some countries. But Jordan is not one of these countries.
I rode till evening and after a short climbing I found myself on the road back to Sydney Hostel. I hadn’t seen Tarik for almost a month whom I missed. This here became home to me really. Till I was able to cross to Saudi Arabia I stayed for 26 days in this hostel. Quite normal. I was trying to get Saudi Arabia visa, for which I had to wait. In the meantime I had visited all the places worth for sightseeing. What was the problem with Saudi Arabia visa? Why was it hard to get and mostly declined?
There are 4 types of Saudi Arabia visa:
- Employment visa
If I were to work in the country it would be proper for me. But you need a letter of invitation written by the company in Saudi Arabia and you are allowed to work within the limits set by this warrantor. If you want to exit the country you have to tell your warrantor, as well as when leaving the city. Let’s say you didn’t tell and left the city and the police of that city made you stop. Then you are in trouble. That is unless you find a Saudi Arabian citizen that is willing to warrant you, you cannot enter the country. Another possibility you bank a tidy sum so that you warrant to yourself and establish a business. But still traveling will remain difficult.
- Umrah or Hajj visa
This is a visa given for religious purposes and you can travel only within the boundary of Haram. You are not allowed to visit other parts of the country. If you do so you get in trouble.
- Transit visa
A visa valid for only 5 days. For example, if I’ll go to the United Arab Emirates from Qatar I need to cross Saudi Arabia. I can apply for this one.
That is Saudi Arabia does not issue tourist visa for traveling throughout the country. Being this the situation it didn’t help to say: “I want to worship while travelling in your country”. It didn’t help since I was waiting for 4 months for the approval of my visa application. Some people say: “Gurkan the Foreign Affairs Ministry is sponsoring you, therefore visa issues shouldn’t be a matter for you” This was true for European countries. I traveled within the Schengen region for one and a half year without returning to Turkey. For some countries visa approval took only one minute. Also Foreign Affairs Ministry didn’t say: “Hey, let’s sponsor you!” There is endeavor, effort, added-value; they saw what I was undertaking and so sponsored me. Anyway, though we tried at the level of Ambassador, I couldn’t get the visa. One day Halil working at Turkish Embassy told my visa problem to an Arab official whom he met at a dinner. Then, I met with the undersecretary of Saudi Arabian Embassy. We had a long conversation while drinking tea. A simply talked about my situation, why I wanted to visit his country. That talk has turned out to be really very significant
– Alright Gurkan, we’ll try to arrange things as you are requesting.
The man Halil talked with and the man I talked with came together to take stock. After one week I was called to the Saudi Arabian Embassy. Three pieces of paper were put in front of me. Astonishing, I had seen such kind of an A4 sized paper for the first time, dude were the stripes made of gold?
– Gurkan, Saudi Arabian Foreign Affairs Ministry has given you the allowance to enter the country. Your work and the countries you have already traveled in were examined and your application was accepted since you are a true world traveler (Rahel: Afterwards I have learned who are called as rahel). We are giving for the first time a 90 days visa to a cyclist. On the visa are some issues written special to you. You can use this visa also for hajj purpose later on.
PS: With this allowance I have become the second known person traveling by muscle force in Saudi Arabia without a transit visa (date 2015). Before that, the American journalist Paul Salopec (Pulitzer winner) traveled in Saudi Arabia on foot for National Geographic in 2013. While cycling in Saudi Arabia I learn that also a Hindu traveled on foot in this country in 2014. There are also two cyclists with 10 days transit visa.
I thanked him calmly. They applied the visa on my passport. Stamped and then signed. I put my passport in my pocket and left the embassy. Outside on the middle of the street I screamed of happiness. Hahaha.. While working on my route around the world I had heard and read about people who applied for Saudi Arabia visa which was not approved. Nevertheless, in spite of all these negations I had added this country to my route and said: “I’ll get this visa!”
Returning to our Embassy, Halil also hardly believed that I got the visa. Even, everybody at the embassy got surprised since this was the first time they had seen such a visa. Of course, after I got this visa I received many e-mails asking about how I managed this. There was not a single reason, things had to come together.
Diplomatic relations, individual diplomacy, friendship relations, a 4 months waiting period and the most important factor was that I had archived and shared to the mass my travel around the world through a web site. The issue is not only introducing your own country. Also introducing another country to your citizens, to foreigners and even to its own citizens from the eyes of a foreigner. For an authorized person able to seize the significance of this issue, it is really important that I travel in his country!
The next days I only fooled around. We made Thursdays movie nights with Ayca and Tutku. Sometimes we went out for dinner. My friend Gizem came over from Turkey for a while. I made many friendships at the hostel. I celebrated New Year with our ambassador Sedat Onal, his wife and the embassy staff.
I must say I was about to settle down. We kept in touch especially with Ayca and Tutku even after I left the country, they kept sending messages. Returning to Turkey they’ll buy bicycle for themselves. We made puzzle with Ecem and Nuri from Yunus Emre Foundation at some evenings. We strolled around and chatted a lot. The story of this couple is amazing. While in Bosnia they were appointed to Jordan and now they work hard to realize their dreams. I also kept in touch with this couple. Although so much time has passed we still talk and joke via social media.
I was back on the road on January 5th, 2015. Destination Saudi Arabia. I planned to ride towards northeast Jordan and from there entering Saudi Arabia through Al Hadithah gate. On the road to Syria was heavy traffic and as soon as I turned towards Saudi Arabia direction the traffic ended. The trade between Jordan and Syria was continuing at full speed. But towards Saudi Arabia there weren’t any trucks, eight wheels, nothing. It was a lonely border gate. I was stopped twice by police officers, asked where I’m going to and my passport was checked. I made a short break at the control posts on the road for couple of times. Policemen offered tea. The last town at the Jordan border was Al Azraq. At a restaurant I entered in this town I came upon American soldiers. From the GPS a nearby air force can be recognized. Americans got surprised seeing my loaded bicycle and asked where I was coming from. I told them. Two of them gave their addresses inviting me to their towns when I arrive in USA.
I got caught in such a heavy storm the day I left the town which reminded me that sand storm in Turkmenistan. I immediately wore my clothes and put my glasses on. This time I have had the right gear. The visibility distance became shorter. I managed to arrive at border gate with difficulty at night. My intention was to put my tent and sleep on the other side of the border. It was pretty easy to cross the Jordan border gate.
Coming to the Saudi Arabian border gate, everybody at the check point came out. Aha the adventure is starting. They welcomed me smiling. I must admit that I was entering Saudi Arabia with some prejudices. I might be arrested due to cycling with shorts or what will happen if I enter a place where women are by incidence? All hearsays, all information from people who stayed and lived in only one point or who worked there. I don’t have much information about the cities aside Mecca, Medina even about Jeddah and Riyadh. In short I don’t know anything about the country. But as I said to Tutku before leaving Jordan: “Tutku, if my experiences won’t mislead me I suppose I’ll experience a different kind of hospitality” which he admitted. This is an experience gained by traveling around small settlements instead of towns and extensive wild camping.
They let me easily pass the gate and directed me to the building where finger printing and eye screening was done. My passport was inspected and so the countries I had visited. A copy of my Saudi Arabian visa was taken. Dude, what’s all that for? It is just a matter of stamping. Hughhh look what comes in my mind, there is a stamp showing that I entered Israel. : ). Let’s see whether the hearsays are true? Will I not allowed to enter this country? The Israel visa is not on my passport but the entrance stamp. : ) …..
While I was thinking all these they applied the entrance stamp on my passport. Then, things got out of hand. Shaking hands, giving hands.. HAHAHAAHHA. Till that time all were behaving formally. There were about 20 people in the building. We took selfies with all the 20 of them. They asked me where I was going. Tabarjal, Hail, Al Ula, Medina, Jeddah, Mecca, Taif, Riyadh, Dammam. Well I was counting all these cities so at once, but the total distance is 3500 km among these cities, that is I’m talking about 4000 km to overcome on bicycle. I have to ride 45 km every day for 90 days. There will be houses or destinations where I’ll have a rest for 7 to 10 days and furthermore there’ll be some nice spots to visit. That is I have to ride at least 100 km per days I’m on bicycle in 90 days. Furthermore, this is a country without any settlements for 100 to 400 km. Besides Gobi desert in Mongolia the second biggest desert of Asia is in this country, the Arabian Desert.
If you would tell those guys that you’ll be going to visit all these places in such a country they’ll say: “Fuck you, no way on bike!” Well, they said this. But also applauded as I mentioned these cities. After exiting the building I came to customs building. The belongings of my bags were to be checked.
Again I was taken into a stylish room. Across me on the wall were the photos of the king and his children. I was waiting for someone to appear in the room. Then, a tidy Arab police officer dressed in white entered the room. We greeted each other. Arabian coffee and dates were offered.
– Mr Gurkan first of all I would like to thank you for visiting our country. We appreciate that a traveler worthful as you are is going to travel and introduce our country.
Huhhhhh?? The tiredness of the day made me jackass.
– We know that you received your visa 26 days ago. What happened? We were awaiting for you at both border gate, you arrived late.
Wow, wow, wow. Dude, I swear I almost apologized for being late. Man! What’s up? Awaiting, welcoming ceremony. Really very interesting. As it appears the intelligence service will be after me. Usually they try to hide themselves, but I mostly recognize them. I turned psycho. I really got tired to look around whether there is someone even when going to shit. Meanwhile, I was not talking but eating dates. They had a surprisingly good taste. Before I didn’t like the taste of dates. I’m eating such tasty dates for the first time. Good and delicious.
– There are many places worth to visit in Saudi Arabia. You can travel in our country on your bicycle safe and sound. If your visa period expires, get into contact with the related authorities for extension.
I’m still under shock. He is talking on details where I have to go, what to do. And I’m only shaking my head. Incredible
I thanked him for this nice greeting and hospitality. I told him that I’ll travel in his country all around and will do my best to cite what I’ve seen. After saying good-byeI left the building. This time I took selfies with some other 30 people.
At the exit gate I get informed that I’ll be escorted by two vehicles one belonging to road police and the other to city police despite my wish not to be escorted. They said it is a must. And I didn’t like it at allll!! Anyway, I’m talking about 4 000 km, will they escort me all the way along? Haha : )
Let’s see what adventures are waiting for me in this country.