To travel from city to city in Saudi Arabia may appear to be a simple task for the uninitiated, since there are very few roads and long distances between the urban areas, but it is a false belief. There is a wonderful invention called Google Maps that destroys the need to ask locals for directions or consult a map. I believe everyone knows how it works so I will skip the dry lecture. I researched the way to drive which seemed very simple. Five and a half hours, two turns, and passing three intersections once outside the city. That was it. Very straightforward and simple.
Davis and I get in the car and head off to the South of Tabuk. We have never gone this way before but there are few major roads so our chances of error seem minimal. We drive on chatting and enjoying the scenery as everyone seems to do when seeing new places. Soon enough we intersect a road that we do recognize. It is the main road to the West and Red Sea. Obviously we had missed our turn. Being completely honest with ourselves we said we knew exactly what was wrong and that we had missed our turnoff at the last roundabout. So we happily backtrack and take a different road to the South, or mostly South based on our sun reading skills.
Now would be a good time to point out that Saudi Arabia does not get many tourists and does not believe in road signs. So what road you are on is a complete guess. It adds to the mystery of the culture but can be quite interesting when you have no idea where you are headed and there isn’t a town or crossroad for a thousand kilometers, or thereabouts.
We catch a new road off the roundabout and again head in a generally Southern direction We continue on this road that runs with military bases on either side complete with tanks and artillery making imposing silhouettes on the hills against the horizon. Soon enough the road gets rough beyond anything a human being should be able to stand. To our best guess it is a road for the military’s tanks. I feel as if I have been transported back a hundred and fifty years and am riding a Wells Fargo coach across Nevada. It turns out our guess is spot on as we come to an Army gate. Dead End. So we turn around and enjoy the free bone rattling massage while retracing our route.
We go back a little ways and turn off at an intersection to a road we have not yet used. This road goes on for about 20 kilometers and dead ends at another military gate. So we back track again and choose yet another different way. This route takes us for another 10 kilometers and then dead ends at a, well, you know the answer. It felt like we were stuck in some sort of trick. Every road we chose ended up going to a military gate.
Davis and I do not give up easily, but seeing as we were not soldiers and had no business on a military base we decided to retreat, go home, regroup, come up with a plan of attack, and assault Mada’in Saleh at a later date.
Again we back track, heading this time not for the South but back North to the city. After two hours of driving we had made it a total of ten minutes outside the city, but at least now we are back to the, what is this, a military gate? Perhaps it is time to invest in a GPS.