While I enjoyed traveling Business class, Keith who traveled a few days after me had to struggle driving the car crossing the borders into Saudi Arabia before arriving at Qatar. The plan was to leave our apartment for the last time at 8.00 am in the morning and hoping to reach our Doha office at late lunch. Around 2 pm max.
I was in already in my office, when he called me saying that he was leaving and asked me what last little things to take to Doha that could fit in to the car without being too bulky as well as being not suspicious at the Saudi border. We left a lot of stuff behind, as we did’t want to carry too much but yet we would still need a lot once we set up a now home in Doha.
To drive from our flat to the border post on the Bahrain–Saudi causeway was not very long, around 15 minutes on a busy day. The last bit of paper work needed was car insurance, a prerequisite to drive through Saudi, and one needed to show it at the Saudi border checkpoint. A Bahraini friend of us told Keith that he could buy this insurance at the Bahrain border before reaching Saudi border. So he was relaxed, and only bought it at that very last minutes; it turns out that the office that sells insurance was not really at the border, but some 1 or 2 km before the causeway border.
It was really lucky for Keith that he decided to buy the insurance as soon as he saw a small sign post of insurance otherwise he would have to go back for it as at the border it self there was nobody selling travel insurance.
At the border, going out from Bahrain was not that difficult, as what they care was to stamp the passport for both the driver and the car, and that’s it; but not so when he reach the Saudi border, which was only a few hundred meters away. Here, Keith had to use his charm and be friendly towards all the Customs Officer(s) to allow him through. The problem was, he was “sort of” importing our personal belonging “to” Saudi. So instead of working his way thru across the border with normal “private” cars with other families, his check point was with “the other” cars…. Big cars and hauledge trucks as he was exporting his car and then importing it into Qatar and at the border with all the various truck drivers.
It was eleven o clock, and I was fiddling with my Arabian map in the office, and trying to figure out where abouts he was in Saudi and say he drove an average of 100km/hour… either he had passed Dammam (the closest city in Saudi to Bahrain) or still around Dammam when Keith called me, “Hello Nin…., I am still alive and still at the Saudi Border!”
“Hah….? Saudi border? What do you mean Saudi Border…?” that was the only answer I could get, as I was really confused. He was supposed to be around 250km away from the border, and yet he is still there…? It was approximately 450 km only from Manama City in Bahrain and Doha in Qatar by surface. And hypothetically he will drive around 80 to 100 km/hr, he should have arrived in Doha around 6 hrs later than 8 am; that is around 2 pm. At 11 am he should has been in the roadway between Dammam and Hofuf. What was he doing still in the border?
Lost in Hoffuf:
Keith has always boastied that he knew ‘every road’ in Saudi. He worked in Saudi for 14 years over 2 periods; during which he travelled extensively around Saudi’s country side, to it’s smaller cities and townships. So he was quietly confident that he would know his way around. He even only used a print out map that I generated from Google.
He was not trying to show off about his sense of adventure; the truth is we could not find any road map of Saudi in any bookstore in Bahrain let alone a map for the whole trip. But Google Map and his big mouth of knowing every road in Saudi was not enough to take him through Hofuf, the big City that he needed to pass.
Meanwhile, in the office, when I talked to my Palestinian friend who had done the journey from Doha to Amman and back, every year for the past 32 years, and had to pass Hoffuf, he got lost 32 times as well. Be interesting if he could find his way around Hoffuf or he also got lost like so many people has done so. And yes that happens to be true, Keith called me around 1.30 pm that he was lost in Hofuf, and that he would’nt manage to get to the office in time.
For somebody who speaks the language, it would be easier to get around when he was lost. But Keith cannotspeak Arabicand that part of Saudi is not well exposed to foreignerswhich means that very few Saudis could speak English and the border posts were the same.
Another border to go
Around 3pm he called me again to say that he had managed to pass through Hoffuf and was driving like mad toward the next Saudi border “…. I am safe now, and in a convoy with two other cars…. I met this Jordanian who was also lost in Hofuf and we managed to get through together and we are now driving like mad…. I can’t talk now, as I am losing them…” and he hung up.
An hour later he called me again that he’s at the border. “….this one should be quick and in an hour I should be in Doha….” Keith said, which means that he should home around 5 o’clock. Well, that depends on the traffic of course.
Around 6 o’clock,he hasn’t show up or called me at all so I called him again, I wonder what happened to him. “… I cannot talk now, I am still busy at the border, having a good time… but almost finished!”
It was around 7.00pm when he called me that he has through the border and about to enter Doha and only at exactly 8 o clock that he finally showed up at the carpark of my apartment. Which means, instead of 5 hours or max 6 hours journey, it took him 12 hours door to door; he spent around 3 hours at each border, 1 hour getting lost in Hofuf, and 5 hours driving….
He was knackered out and looked very tired when he step out of his car to see me, but I am very proud of him, as an Englishman crossing the borders between Bahrain, Saudi to Qatar….