If there are many ways for Eskimo’s to describe snow, how do I describe tiredness: forget it, I’m tired and there are many much more tired than me. And there are even more much more tired than them. Desperation is a kind of tiredness. Unlike local people, migrants and displaced people, my tiredness is self imposed but it is still a type of exhaustion that falls over me daily like a curtain. Yet for me, on what could be the bicycle Disneyland Happiness Tour amidst a world which has forgotten how to play, this is my bicycle ride for this morning.
At 305 kms to Hail I take the long curving intersection into Al Muthalathi. There, a few small breeze lock settlements stand under the phosphorus gaze of cheap lighting strung up wherever there is a hook on which to hang. I asked to sleep on the floor in the dirty gas station and thankfully was refused.There is a well stocked grocery store where the staff are seated on the floor sharing the same plate and invite me to eat. I go instead next door to the restaurant. It is just that in name. The floor is filthy and I am in a space competing with flies. A young black lad, not from here, Africa definitely, serves me hot chicken and bread along with delicious dal. So broken are my lips every mouthful hurts and only by soaking them with dribbles of milk can I take any food. Yes l am tired but I cannot sleep here. No one knows Saudi Arabia on the road like this except me, a few other real travellers and truck drivers hard at it but cushioned by their air conditioned cabs.
The cushions on the eating areas where only men sit cross-legged with their large plates of shared rice and chicken are shiny with sweat, the seating carpet threadbare. It’s not just the breakdown in hygiene most evident after the sublime redesign of the old town of AlUla with its smoothed adobe walls and chinzy cafeterias and their freshly squeezed juices and flat whites, but the total disregard for colour and charm. To have to be here for any length of time is like being banished and it’s not unnoticed that the majority population is of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin.
I’d rather do as Thesiger and sit by that crackling fire in the desert because the depth of life as we would want it, here, is wafer thin. I’ve recovered enough and I leave.
Up the road but in sight of the lights of this 'intersection settlement' where live has evolved at the junction of two main highways from when they were desert tracks. My blanket is warm enough but not against a creeping wind that gives me an autumnal chill so I find a storm drain which tunnels under the road to allow the free flow of a swolen wadi should there be a sudden rain. Goodnight said 'Zeebeedee' in the Magic Roundabout because the surreality of my life on this journey correlates with its occasional absurdity.
My reaction below from the following morning.
Map of the Day