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Blog 32 Maziem to AlUla

16th October

Wilfred Thesiger liked sleeping in the desert

A Bit of Information

Thesiger was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.[1] He was the son of Wilfred Gilbert Thesiger, who was British Consul-General in Ethiopia from 1909 to 1919, and his wife Kathleen Mary Vigors. Thesiger's grandfather was Frederic Augustus Thesiger, 2nd Baron Chelmsford. Another Frederic Thesiger, a future Viceroy of India and the first Viscount Chelmsford, was an uncle, and the actor Ernest Thesiger was a cousin.

Wilfred Thesiger and his younger brother were the only European children for most of his early years in Addis Ababa. He later recalled how impressed he had been on the day in 1916, when following the overthrow of the Emperor Lij Iyasu, the army of Ras Tafari "armed with swords and spears, some of them carrying rifles, but all of them with shields", followed by bands of wild tribesmen on horses, hurried past the British Legation on their way to give battle to Negus Mikael, the father of Lij Iyasu:

"That day made a profound impression on me," he said, "implanting a craving for barbaric splendour, for savagery and colour, from which derived a lasting respect for tradition and a readiness to accept a variety of long-established cultures and customs. I grew to feel an increasing resentment towards Western innovations in other lands and a distaste for the dull monotony of our modern world."

I don't like sleeping in the desert with only a blanket

So the nest day I ride 24 miles and into a gas station, the one described to me had excellently stocked shelves in the adjacent small supermarket, the milk was super cold and being non citrus and non carbonated is presently my favourite drink and washes down the same meal I have sometimes twice a day, chicken and egg from wherever I can get it. This would have been an altogether better choice of location for the night, could have eaten, slept by a wall sheltered from the wind but the final 24 miles was too far for me and in the dark.

Further along this by-way I came across a tin hut which I thought was someone's home, carpets laid on the floor and somewhere I could rest awhile when it dawned on my that it was a mosque. Words from the Quoran hung in a specific place obviously in the direction of Mecca and the carpets were prayer mats. Only travellers find these remote situations: coach tours forget it and I wonder how many travellers ever get to see this.

The Little Tin Prayer Hut

And so the road beckons as I make my way to the mountains and even the possibility of my first "flat white" since I left Europe!

The Road to Alula

That evening I made it to AlUla, Saudia Arabia's number one tourist spot. As I rode closer to it the flatlands of the desert was replaced by the appearance of high mountain jebels not as spectacular as the Hoggar near Tamenrasset in the Sahara but nevertheless transformative.

Alula Old Town is now not so old (I'll have a flat white please!)

The Old Town was beautifully presented, not at all old and if you like expensive and extremely well appointed adobe stores and cafes, including an outlet for Harvey Nichols then this is the place for you.

Walked up the road one street down from the main strip and it’s completely Arabic and not catering for the kind of tourist that spends money liberally, which is not me. I buy a takeaway meat pasty and a small tray of tiramisu and a second fresh orange drink and head back to my hotel, which at £32 is a find in these well heeled parts. It is an absolute rat hole. There are no towels, it stinks of a 100 other blokes who will have farted and shat their way around the room until they find the toilet. No soap or anything really but it has a bed, a desk, electricity and a fan and a friendly owner who lets me haul my bike up two floors to keep in my room. Like all such places, AlUla is built for wealthy tourists, Arabs and foreigners alike. Travellers like me are a rare fish indeed and inspire awe, disbelief and amusement not in equal measures. Here I am admired but I am a freak. Country Arabs don’t really know where London is and it could be England or it could be as well as a location, something you wouldn't want to eat. Wales is not anything they can compute. If you were a Scotsman proud of being so you would be asked if Scotland is near London so the privilege of nationalism is knowing what a Scotland is. Football teams help and Pep Guardiola has perpetuated the fame of Manchester once enjoyed by that other team.

Map of the Day

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