Set off at 6.30am and navigated around the busy centre of Kharg to then turn east where I would begin my desert crossing to the Gulf countries. The traffic thinned out and I hoped for a pleasant ride except the temperature rose as did a wind and into my face. After 40 miles I stopped at a rare mini market, bought some drinks, sat down and fell asleep. I could feel the flies around my eyes and lips but could not wake. Yesterday was hard, today felt brutal. Got up crossed the wide unmarked and barrierless dual carriageway and sat in the shade amidst the little and unfinished building works and asked myself ‘why?’
I stop at every mini market usually attached to a local petrol station and that simple short respite from my road reality prepares me for the next micro leg. There are 8 scheduled stages to this ride based on geography. There are many more every single day depending on whether my body is breaking. The guy behind the counter is from Sudan and when we chat about Khartoum his face broadens into a great smile and he gives me a slice of water melon. It’s only midday, today I feel as if I’ve been riding for a week.
On the shelves Al Kbius Tea, pots of mayonnaise, tinned tuna and spaghetti rings, crops and snack foods, everything is processed. The aisles lined with 5 and 15 litre plastic bottles of water. Onions, bananas and oranges at the back.
After last night’s non sleep in the desert I treated myself to a nice hotel on the outskirts of Al Kharg, only £50 and way above my daily budget and it was beautiful and comfortable and I felt privileged and humbled how sometimes I can buy myself away from the street. Arabia wouldn’t exist without its immigrant labour. Many obviously don’t return to their home countries and make their lives in Saudi. If they get a local person to ‘sponsor’ them they can create a business and live a life not available to them at home. On the desert roads gas stations are poorly serviced with only small mini market shops selling basics and cold drinks, some have restaurant takeaways but all of them are filthy and littered with plastics and tyres that never get collected. It is like a little India and the only Arabs I meet are dressed in clean white ???? who stop in their V6’s to kindly offer me bottles of cold water.
An Indian shop keeper said to me that he entered Saudi Arabia when he was 18 and 25 years on he’s still here, sitting in the same roadside mini-market, 5am until 11pm, “my life has passed me by,” he said. “I go home for three months a year to be at home with my family, then I’m here." Two ladies from the Philipines had only returned to see their children twice in 12 years. It puts my short journey into context however brutal some of the days feel.
That late afternoon I noticed several trucks parked up by a small building, obviously a place to eat. Apart from food, mini markets with a miserably poor selection of vegetables - potatoes, racks of onions - scattered on scantily filled shelving dried processed nutritionally absent packets of popcorn, noodles stood central to rows of freezers stocked full with chocolate, carbonated drinks and milk sit richly in the industrialised zone on the outskirts of Riyadh. Hand written by the entrance it read ‘Hotel’ which looked promising as I love the prospect of a cool breeze around my body when I sleep out against the fact I sleep badly.
The Indian lads and Bangladeshi’s scampered around the big fat chef who served his chapatis faster than the other big guy could chip his onions. The kitchen, well worn, singed black against the walls had with it’s big pans an air of efficiency that belied the dirty aprons and walls stained with fat.
Map of the Day