13th October - Southern Jordan to the Saudi Arabian border
I am sitting in a fast food snack joint a hundred metres from the border inside Saudi Arabia. Food has been bought for me, I am connected to the internet through the gas station next door. Across the courtyard and beyond the pumps I will sleep on a soft carpet in the Masjed (male prayer room) it’s allowed. It is acceptable to Allah to give travelling pilgrims a safe place to rest. Yet so safe is Saudi Arabia I could sleep on a traffic roundabout and no one would disturb me. I could leave my bicycle unlocked and the bags open with a notice reading ‘take what you want’ and people would look around for me to ask if this was true. Morning prayers would start at 5.17 so it would be respectful to vacate my position by then which I do and sleep outside on the concrete for another hour. There are no hotels.
As I passed through customs the previous evening, veritably whisked through in minutes. I spoke to the HERO car people who passed me earlier on the road, and they all waved. HERO is an an acronym for Historic Endurance Vintage Rally Organisation, a fun and friendly mob of whom I’ve known for many years. They were driving from Amman to Dubai at an outrageous cost but these people were cash rich time poor and had no doubt worked very hard to enjoy their ride. They said villagers had thrown rocks at them because they thought they were rich westerners, which they were.
It will be good to be on the road riding in the cool calm of the night. It was an easy 90 mile ride to enter Saudi, I was feeling strong, still without bicycle batteries but still I had a following wind. As I left the border most of the cars had not been given permission to leave, even the guy in the white Rolls Royce. HERO had mistakenly not informed their clients that right hand drive vehicles were not allowed in the Kingdom and this would take some explaining to people who had paid significant amounts to be here. To people living in villages who had nearly nothing they were white wealthy foreigners bucket listing their way to dreams they could never have.
Ma’an was my safe place, radicalised by poverty, maybe by two million Palestines living in Jordan feeling displaced but it is a Friday. It is the religious day of rest in Arabia and even truck drivers rest. The streets were quiet. The cracked concrete and dusty buildings seemed more tired without people to cheer everything up. I queued with just a few people for our felafel wraps at the local breakfast joint down the street from the Fruit Salad palace. I bought two fat bundles of tomatoes, chillies, onions, creme fraich and French fries wrapped up in soft bread tightly packaged in grease proof paper. I had water, I had a sandwich and I had a following wind to blow me south to Saudi Arabia.
Wilfred Thesiger will be my guide as I get closer to the Empty Quarter. Sir Wilfred Patrick Thesiger KBE, DSO, FRAS, FRSL, FRGS, HonFBA (3 June 1910 – 24 August 2003), also known as Mubarak bin Landan (Arabic: مُبَارَك بِن لَنْدَن, the blessed one of London)was a British military officer, explorer, and writer. Thesiger's travel books include Arabian Sands (1959), on his foot and camel crossing of the Empty Quarter of the Arabian Peninsula, and The Marsh Arabs (1964), on his time living with the Marsh Arabs of Iraq. I read him when I was young.
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