From Dumat Al-Jandal till Hail there aren’t any other villages or towns and even gas stations for about 400 km. Samet and Mirzuq feeling concerned that I’ll camp on my own in the desert brought their camping gear and accompanied me.
The first night we camped in the desert Mirzuq started to cruise in the desert with his car. I mentioned before about the shrub in this desert. It burns quite well without soot as do the olive trees. He went out to collect them. He had also several branches of this shrub on his car. Samet and I lit the fire. We cooked our dinner, as everything was ready Samet went to toilet taking a bottle of water, then came back. We set for dinner, delicious lamb on rice… Of course very hot, since we were eating with our hands, I was not able to pull off any pieces of this hot meat. Samet pulled off the best parts of the lamb with his hands and offered me. Wow, I also selected the best parts to me and offered Samet. The host always does the same on the table. Gurkan are your hands clean? Noo, smeared with chain oil etc. I just poured some water over my hands. I’m sure his hands were also not clean. : ). We chatted till 2 a.m. under the stars, then I went to my tent and fell asleep immediately. In the morning I got up early. I took a look at the camping gear of these guys. They didn’t have a tent, just sleeping bags which are not of the standards familiar to me. The outer layer is waterproof but under heavy rain it’ll fill up with water. The sleeping bags have both a quilt and a blanket placed inside. I check their weight, at least 20 pounds. Furthermore, they are hoodless. There is no problem at this cold, snakes and scorpions won’t leave their lodges. Anyway, I wouldn’t sleep in a sleeping bag like this in the desert. Unless high altitude I won’t sleep under open sky. At low altitudes I won’t again sleep under open sky without a tent in spring, summer and autumn. There are so many risks during my travel that I won’t add up the risks of bitten by ticks, scorpions, snakes, etc. I already have endured so many extremities, there isn’t any need to add up new risks.
We drank sweet tea and ate dates for breakfast and set off. While looking around all of a sudden an incredible construction appeared behind the sand dunes. When I saw the construction, I thought what the fucking hell is this? Then I stopped. I knew that a railway was constructed in the country but didn’t know its scope. Those guys constructed such a railway line that my jaw dropped when I saw it. Samet and Mirzuq came next to me. I immediately asked:
– Is this railway constructed by Japans in your country?
It is obvious dude. Nobody would build a land bridge 300 m high in the middle of the desert. Not an ordinary engineering work. I don’t know how to explain? They added dunes to the present sand dunes to level the line they were constructing. As I already mentioned the Arabian Desert is not level but with up and downs yet Japans created a huge project in the middle of desert. Think of a dam which goes straightforward for kilometers. Saudi Arabia high speed rail construction.
The railway line construction is done totally by Japans, about 2400 km long. The stations are built by companies of different countries. This railway is the largest railway construction in the world. As I just mentioned, those guys construct land bridges using desert sand on which they construct the lines. Another incredible issue of this project is that the fastest high speed trains in the world will be running, 450 km/h. Japans are building this but the highest speed their trains approach is 320 km/h at most. Furthermore, not only passengers but also freight will travel on these trains. This railway line web is designed to include Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Oman by time. There were times when I was personally involved with this, which I’ll mention about in my next reports. The total cost of this project is 3.5 billion USD. Strictly, I take this project as a one that will give live to Middle East.
Before arriving in Hail Samet and Mirzuq left. I really liked those guys and I’ll miss them. They told me they were still going to Ali Abi’s restaurant. The new guy is Arif. Look at this, I feel he is like-minded, we are at the same age. He also brought some food for the case I might hungry, wow. Meanwhile, approaching Hail, the profiles of the people were changing. Hail is the first big city I’ll enter. Till now I made 1000 km in Saudi Arabia. I luxury sports cars were appearing on the road aside only seeing pick-ups and jeeps. They don’t stop when they recognize me. Women take photos of me from the cars. Once an ultra-luxury pick-up stopped and a teenager dressed like a rapper handed a couple bottles of water and said:
– Man, you are great. I follow you on the internet, you are the king.
Then, he showed me the records shared on YouTube by the Arabs who come across me on the road. There were many videos about me. Everybody recorded me from their cars and shared on the internet. One of the girls on the back of the car offered me chocolate cookies. How beautiful eyes she had. I really wanted to say “Just take off your veil, I want to see your face.” I guess I saw the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen, in Saudi Arabia. Anyway, in this country you see only the eyes of the women. They really take care of their eye make-up. I thanked to the guy, he turned back to his car and at the moment one of the girls winked. Well, that was a real wink. : )
In Hail, Mutig Abi from Hatay a relative of Huseyin who hosted me in Tubarjal was waiting for me. He has a nice restaurant in this city. He hosted me for four days. In Arab geography people coming over for work usually rent a house and stay together. Everybody use the house only for sleeping and when they don’t go to mosque during praying hours. If you got caught by religious police during praying hours in a restaurant the penalty is 500 Riyal. Repeating three times you’ll be deported.
This rule was applied everywhere in Saudi Arabia previously which in some cities are no more valid especially in Jeddah, Riyadh, Medina, Mecca, Taif and Dammam. In rural areas the pressure of sharia is sensed more extensively. I had mentioned that you need a warrantor to establish a business in this country before. The interesting point is that one third of the employees must be Saudi Arabians. Till here there is some kind of logic, but the point is that some of those Saudis don’t come to work. I listened the same from everyone I met who established a business in this country. They have Saudi employees which they have never met but pay at least 500 USD as monthly salary. The state takes 1000 USD from every foreigner, 500 USD for every non-working Saudi employee and money for warrantors. It is not easy to establish a business in this country.
While Mutig Abi was showing me the interesting spots of the city I saw girls riding on bikes at some places. Women are allowed to ride on bikes in picnic areas and parks since 2013 but still peer pressure is prevailing. After a long time I saw for the first time unveiled women in Hail within their family. But when they walk unveiled on the streets men call them out: “Put your veil on, cover you head!” I also witnessed those out calls. If you are veiled you are respected in the society, if not you are called out.
There are women who don’t want to take off veils or abaya (abaya covers the whole body except the face, feet and hands) as well vice versa. Taking from another point of view veil or abaya give freedom to the women the way which I’m not used to. A woman who wears veil or abaya is not even recognized by her own husband or child. In one city a veiled woman was assailed. She went to the boy, took off her veil and hit him because he was her own son. For example, a woman is murdering someone on the street but which one is unknown, all are veiled. A veiled woman can walk on the street with a male companion. Normally she are only allowed to walk with her husband or her sister. But who would know when she is veiled, whether the man next to her is her husband, her lover, etc. Women are always right in Saudi Arabia. If she screams and complains, it’s over. I swear police officers will come and take you without leaving any trace of you behind. Penalty of raping a woman is execution, no other way. If you rape a woman they take you to the biggest mosque in the town and you are sentenced to death in the presence of audience. Before I arrived in Riyadh a couple of men had been executed and same had happened before I arrived in Taif. Those mosques were called as head-off mosques among people. I had mentioned before that 30 000 Turks were living in this country. At this point let me mention the opinions of the Turkish women about this issue. There are ones who don’t like and still didn’t get used to veil or abaya. There are also veiled women who didn’t feel comfortable in Turkey and settled down in Saudi Arabia with their families. There are also some women who wore veil for many years in Saudi Arabia and had difficulties when they returned to Turkey. There are some who said: “I didn’t wear abaya in Turkey but after living for a while in this country I felt myself bared when unveiled back in Turkey.” They wear the abaya on top of pajamas. The women have no problem of what to wear. Like a uniform, the same for everyone. There are some details and emblems showing the value of the abaya or veil. This being the situation eye catching low cut dresses are sold in shopping malls: “Well, at which occasions are those dresses worn?” In women assemblies and weddings. I heard from the Turkish women who had attended such assemblies or weddings: “Gurkan, if you were able to attend one of such assemblies or weddings your jaw would drop”. Unfortunately, it is not possible for me as a male to watch the Saudi women’s entertainments. But I’m sure that the Saudi women are as hospitable as the Saudi men.
The hospitality of this country goes back to pre-Islamic period. One of the most known persons for his hospitality was the poet Hatim Al-Tai. A Middle Eastern man known for his honesty, generosity and hospitality about whom many books were written and mentioned in thousand and one night tales. He lived in-pre Islamic period but his son Adi Bin Hatim Tai was one of the companions of prophet Muhammed.
His tomb is near the town but I don’t know where exactly. His tomb was mentioned by a man following the trail of prophet Muhammed in Saudi Arabia. He wasn’t able to come to this point but told me to visit if I have the opportunity. I liked what I read about Hatim Al-Tai’s life and personality. I wanted to see where he lived and his tomb. I called Arif the secret service agent to meet at the restaurant. He got surprised when I told him that I wanted to visit Hatim Al-Tai. He knew that the tomb of him was somewhere here but he had never visited before. After a couple of phone calls, he learns where the tomb is.
Hatim Al-Tai’s house is on the old Mecca road towards Mawqaq direction 10 km from As Sufun town on the road to Hail coming from north. While I entered this road by car I said: “Wow, what a road. It is a pity not to ride on bicycle here.” But on bike you need to take some food before entering this dirt road. It goes till to a deserted village Tuwarin. Here it can be recognized that this road continues as a small trail till Mecca.
It is not hard to imagine that this region was covered with date palms formerly. Traces of least 2000 years of settled life. (I’m not an archeologist but we were visiting museums and antique cities together with my father and brother since my childhood. Furthermore, I’m traveling for the last 5 years around the world on bike. I have visited hundreds of museums and historical places so far. I also continue to read during my voyage. I think that it won’t be wrong to share my opinion and give information about the regions as such.)
We move in a valley composed of 300 m high cliffs. It is cooler compared to the other regions. From time to time I see a bundle of date palms. The date palms in the valleys of Saudi Arabia come to me healthier and grandiose. I’m sorry that I was not able to compare the taste of those grown in the valleys to that in other regions.
The house of Hatim Al-Tai is a ruin. There is a signboard unable to be read. It is not clear whose house this is, who this man is. This is the same in Saudi Arabia and throughout the Arab world, the graveyards and the old houses are left on their own to be ruined. While pedaling in Saudi Arabia the King died and he was buried without a headstone. If you want to visit the king’s graveyard you’ll hardly find it. After 10 years, most probably totally gone.
They don’t like that graveyards turn into mausoleums. Therefore they don’t visit the mausoleums of the national leaders in the countries they visit. Saudi Arabia doesn’t declare mourning for its own country not for another country. They never lower their flag half-staff since “La Ilahe Illallah Muhammedun Resulullah” (There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is the messenger of Allah) is written on their flag. It is said that Wahhabis don’t mourn. Jordan, UAE and Bahrain Kingdom is in the same geography and when the King of Saudi Arabia died mourning was declared for him! Does this mean that only Saudi Arabs are Wahhabi? The Emirs with whom I spoked answered my questions about Wahhabism clearly: “There is nothing as Wahhabism. This name and all the practices are all foreign communion which we never accept”. Hmm I recorded the date, time and location.
It is said that Hatim Al-Tai was 3 m tall. Why, because his tomb is longer than 3 m. What did I say before, graveyards or tombs are of no importance in the Arab world. The headstone you erect does not last 10 years. By chance his graveyard was surrounded with stones from time to time each time enlarging a bit. He died in 578 AD. From then on 1437 years have gone. Are you kidding me? In this region which graveyard will remain as it was the first day, what 3 meters, no way come along.
There are many picnic areas on the rocky fields around Hail. For Arabs it is quite normal to picnic in the desert or on such rocky places. These people are the ones who lay a carpet on the road and offer tea, coffee, dates within 2 minutes. Well, as how we say let’s picnic in the forest, they say let’s picnic in the desert. We say how a nice view when we see a scenery with trees and water. They say the same for desert “Wow, how a nice panorama!” The portrayal of the desert is beyond one’s imagination. The desert describes to the human being the sovereignty and the vastness of the nature in clear words. The impact of those places on me is unique. The desert is the only place where you cannot hear the voices of the trees, birds, sea, wind, bugs, people, cities. Whenever I enter a desert I say now I’m on my own. Deserts are the only places to me where I can truly be on my own. Therefore I like to pedal in such places.