Days 466-472: A Dead End

11.04.10 – 17.04.10:

So there’s always plan B, right? Well, it all seemed simple enough. According to the Lonely Planet I could get a transit visa for Saudi as long as I had a Bahraini visa and a valid ticket from the bus station. So first thing I was up and at ‘em heading over to the Bahrain embassy. The weekend here runs Friday and Saturday, so it was open and pretty soon I had my visa and was heading over to the Saudi visa agents to try and get that transit visa. I was a bit worried it would take a few days, but the awful truth was that it wouldn’t take any time at all – they only give out transit visas for residents. As I’m not a resident, I can’t get one.

I had painted myself into a corner.

The next day I tried at the Iranian embassy to get a transit visa (plan C – head back to Iran, take ferry to Bahrain from Bushehr), but again there was no chance. In fact, the guy in the embassy was so rude that I considered dropping Iran a few places in my League of Nations, but that would have been petty.

Plan D was to get on a cargo boat, but nobody would take me without some kind of certificate of seamanship. Plan E was to take an oil tanker, but it was deemed to dangerous. Plan F was to hire a boat but it would cost £12,000. Plan G was to go with a bunch of fishermen, but that didn’t work out so well last time, plus they didn’t want to take me anyway. Plan H was to get a lift with somebody going to the Bahrain boat show next week, but nobody was going and so my last throw of the die – Plan I – was put into operation: get a full, multiple entry Saudi visa.

A transit would be no good, even if it came from London it would only get me as far as Bahrain before I had to send my passport back to London for another transit visa to get me to Qatar and then ANOTHER transit visa to the UAE. And the chances where they wouldn’t even issue the transit visa in London on the grounds that, well, why didn’t I just fly?

It would take a minimum of two, maybe three weeks. I had charged full-pelt through the amazing Central Asia and now I would be stuck in Kuwait for the best part of a month. The driest spot on Earth. No booze, no bacon, no bars, no pubs, no clubs, no dancing, no kissing, no holding hands, no old buildings, no live music, no bohemia and certainly no cavaliers.

Hugh’s dad’s company in Liverpool agreed to sponsor my visa application (there are no real tourist visas, it’s a business visa or nothing) and so I knew I’d have at least a fortnight of twiddling my thumbs until my letter of invitation came through.

But as always it was CouchSurfing to the rescue. Through Michael, my CouchSurfing host, I met the admiral Heitham (from Kuwait but living in Preston) and Josie (from California), and then through them I met the Kuwaiti CSers – a German guy called Dominic (whose place I moved to after a few days at Michael’s so as to not outstay my welcome), a Dutch girl called Jannie (whose place I moved into after Dominic’s) and a top guy from the Philippines called Ruban who was also staying with Jannie.

But first things first, I had to sort my computer out. No sooner had I bought myself a new hard-drive (anxious to rid myself of these troublesome tapes that keep getting me into trouble) than my computer went the way of the Norwegian Blue Parrot – it was in desperate need of one of those wipe-everything-and-install-everything-again malarkey moments. Well, what do you expect after 16 months on the road slutting it about with whatever naughty little wi-fi connection was swanning around at the side of the road?

On hand to resuscitate old Dell-Boy was a guy who spotted me looking lost with a computer under my arm and invited me into his workshop. His name was Abbas and he ran Tip-Top computers in the IT district of town. A Tip-Top chap too – he not only bought me lunch and dropped me at the Aquarium while my computer was being fixed, he also waved the fix-it fee and loaded my laptop up with all my favourite programmes. Hats off to ya, Abbas!!

Meanwhile, Heitham (the coolest Kuwaiti in the world) and I hung out over the week. He busted a gut trying to get me onto some kind of maritime transport to Bahrain, but without success. On the Friday he invited all of us CouchSurfers up to his family farm near the border with Iraq. We all piled into a convoy of 4x4s and headed out onto the large but deserted highway north of Kuwait City, stopping on the way to mess about in the sand-dunes and to take this picture:

Once we got to Heitham’s farm, we broke out the barbecue and I had myself a cracking night with my new CouchSurfing buddies from all over the world. See? Even in a place as dull as Kuwait you can still have a good good crazy time if you know where to look.

Days 487-493: Quiz Night

02.05.10-08.05.10:

On Sunday morning came the news I was waiting for – my Saudi invitation was in the bag!  Within just a few days I’d be finally buzzing through to Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE.  I headed like a bonanza bongo bang bang buckaroo over to the Saudi embassy.  Only I found myself stopping along the way in a copy shop to get the letter of invitation printed out.  But this wasn’t just any old copy shop – this was the copy shop that Eric was talking about the other night!  I could get the visa here!  Of all the copy shops in all the Kuwait Cities…  Awesome.  I printed out my letter of invitation (which was all in Arabic) but it was up to Captain Hugh back in the UK to rush back to his office in Liverpool and write me a letter of introduction  (HUGH……. You are an Odyssey GOD!) that afternoon I handed in my application – stamped, sealed and signed on the dotted line.  All was good.  Five days, they said, Ishallah – meaning god willing.  Hmm… I guess that means seven.

Either way, this should be my last week here in Kuwait.

The next day I was invited by Andrea, Eric’s wife, to give a talk at the British Ladies Society of Kuwait.  I was promised tea and cake, how could I say no?!  The Ladies were wonderful, taking a keen interest in my mad adventures and even having a whip-around to help me and WaterAid on our way.  From that talk, many doors were opened to me…

I was invited to give talks to the girl guides, the boy scouts and various English schools around Kuwait.  Kids ask the best questions – out of all the people you’ve met, who had the best name?  What’s the weirdest thing you’ve eaten?  Do Somali pirates look like pirates? But best of all I was invited to come and watch the British election at my embassy – something which made some of my other British chums a little uppity… we’ve been here six years and we’ve never been invited to the embassy!

Something you should know about the British Embassy in Kuwait… they have booze.  And my surname doesn’t rhyme with ‘booze’ by chance.  After four weeks of 7up and ethanol, drinking an ice-cold Stella is like a little taste of heaven.  I think there was an ulterior motive in inviting me to the embassy… there was a politics quiz on.  My reputation must precede me.

Of course my team won (could there have been any doubt?) and since we won by one point, my firm belief is that it was me getting Rebel Rebel by David Bowie in the lyrics round that made all the difference.  I miss quizzes, it’s one of the few competitive events that I kick ass at – seriously, if you’re ever on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire you want me as your phone-a-friend!!  As the night went on I sat with the British ambassador in the Embassy garden watching the election results come in.  I remember discussing the cons and cons of PR, getting more and more sozzled and demanding to know where on Earth he was hiding his tray of  Ferrero Rocher.

Before I knew what was going on, Gordon Brown was squatting in number 10 and Nick Clegg was umming and arring about who to team up with.  I was just looking forward to Sunday – my Saudi visa…

Days 494-500: No Dice

09.05.10-15.05.10:

Well then, it should all be over, shouldn’t it?  First thing Sunday morning I hurried down to the copy place to pick up my shiny happy visa, only for the guy to pull it out of the drawer with a despondent look on his face.

You need to get the visa in London.

I took a deep breath, nodded, smiled, exited and screamed an obscenity to the sky that would have woken Rip Van Winkle.

No visa.  No dice.  What now?

I rang Eric who has become my unofficial Kuwaiti Yoda, he said he could get my passport DHLed back in the UK for just a fiver through his company.  Thus began my week of visa madness.

On the Monday morning I was invited back to the British Embassy to see if they could musta some ‘wusta’, the word for influence around these parts (and my collective noun for Kuwaitis).  They tried their best, but as the guy in the Embassy said, he could help me get me a visa for anywhere in the world – except Saudi.  They are more awkward than a spoilt child designed by Apple.

So Andrea picked me up (THANK YOU!!) and took me over to Eric’s workplace.  The passport was dispatched to London.  I sent it to my friend Lindsey for her to give to my dad.  So the frickin’ Saudis essentially forced my 73 year old father to go all the way down to London because my letter of invitation had ‘London’ written on it – in Arabic I might add.

The answer is no, now what’s the question?

But even all that did not suffice, in London they wanted the passport to be submitted by an agency, not a individual.  So my gallant father had to come all the way back to Liverpool, gather even more forms and crap and nonsense and then return to London the next day.  And would it take three days (as advertised on the Saudi website) for the visa to come through?  Would it buggery.  It would take a week, now sod off we tire of you.

I sat in Kassie’s flat, incapacitated with a firmament of fury towards the bureaucrats of the world.  I hate you all, why don’t you climb aboard the B-Ark and go torment somebody somebody else’s planet?  At this rate, I’ll be in Kuwait longer than anywhere else so far on The Odyssey – even Cape Verde.

Days 501-507: What Happened, Happened

16.05.10-22.05.10:

500 days on the road and a good 200 of them have been wasted waiting for either visas or boats.  In situations like this you can’t help but acquiesce and go with the flow.  The other plans you could have gone for – maybe a new visa for Iran would have been quicker (and cheaper) – will only serve to taunt you.  I’ve made my bed and one way or another I’ll have to lie in it.  The maddening thing is that I know once I reach the UAE and Oman I’m going to be stuck there, perhaps for a comparable time, waiting for a way to get to Eritrea.

On Thursday this week my dad returned to London for a third time.  The visa was ready.  We looked into getting my Eritrea and Indian visas, but they would both take too long to come through, so we looked at just getting the passport back to me asap.  As Friday and Saturday are the weekend here, sending it DHL would not get here until Sunday.  That being the case I roped in the magnificent Stan Standryt into helping me get the passport back the next day.

How do you do that Graham?  Well, you do what Bono did when he forget his stupid hat – put it on a plane.  Only I’d be using a scheduled service – not a charter job BECAUSE I’M NOT A SMUG MULTI-MILLIONAIRE TAX-DODGING CREEP. Sorry – Bono.  Hate him.  Can’t help it.  So ANYWAYS… Stan picked the passport up off my dad went all the way to Heathrow.  BA were happy to put it on tonight’s flight – that was until they discovered it was a passport.  Can’t send passports – use DHL.

I understand why courier services are reluctant to take passports – they could lead to all kinds of trouble.  But this wasn’t a stack of dubious passports on their way to Nigeria – this was a single passport that would be picked up by the guy whose passport it was.  After wasting £47 in taxis getting shunted from pillar to post around the Heathrow site, Stan was forced to give up and send it DHL the next day anyway.  BA – you just posted another massive loss.  I was willing to pay you twice the cost of an average easyjet flight (for a person) just to put a document on your damn aeroplane.

You fools.  Your airline is made of poo and FAIL!

Well, one way or another this was my final weekend in Kuwait.  I have been here for SIX WEEKS waiting for this damn stamp in my passport.  On Friday I was desperate for a party, so I met up with a cute CSer from South Africa called Janine.  On discovering she was being put up by her company all expenses paid in the five-star Marriot Courtyard Hotel, I suggested we invade the buffet.  Yes I have no shame and nothing cheers me up more than turning up to a posh do in my scuffs looking like I’ve just stumbled out of a particularly gritty western onto the dancefloor of the Ritz.

Later, Ruban got everyone around the pool at Jannie’s place for some final soft drinks and Pringles.  Awesomely enough, there was another party happening down the road later on.  We crashed it with aplomb and – joy of joys – they had a cooler filled with REAL ice-cold beer!!

So so happy!  We shimmy shake-shaked the night away with our chums from the four corners of the planet.  If nothing else, Kuwait is one hell of a melting pot.  And you want to know something cool?  I had been to everybody’s country (with the notable exception of the Philippines – why didn’t I hit that gaff in ’02, I’ll never know).

No worries – I’ll remedy that soon enough…

Day 508: Deliverance

23.05.10:

Tracking numbers are so cool.  I got to watch online as my passport arrived in Bahrain yesterday and then arrived here just after 8am today.  The DHL guys even called me and explained where I had to go to pick up my maroon booklet of doom.  As always, Andrea was on hand to help me out.  She picked me up and we grabbed the passport.  I checked it over and all was good.

I had my ticket to ride.

After picking Eric up from work, we headed into town to visit Andrea’s mate who fed us the yummiest sausage salad (chicken sausage of course, but whatchagonnado?) before Eric and I braved the bus station to find out times of buses to Bahrain.  Oh dear.  You would think that given all it’s immense riches Kuwait could afford a bus station that wouldn’t have looked fitting in 1980s Beirut.  The hilarious thing was that it adjoined the police lock-up – so, so many cars impounded (I don’t think Kuwaitis are capable of driving more than a few meters without breaking several international driving laws).  Eventually we found a guy to ask – nah, these were all local buses – we wanted the SAPTCO place out by the United Nations roundabout.  No worries.  I’d give them a call in the morning and find out the SP.

Afterwards I met up with Janine – we well and truly abused the Marriot’s roomservice together and since she had already ruined the end of Prison Break for me, it did no harm to watch The Final Break which I guess was all the stuff that was meant to happen in Season 5, but then the damn thing got cancelled on the grounds that it wasn’t Lost.

But then what is?

Day 510: Singin’ In The Bahrain

25.05.10:

Oh yes, I’m back ON THE ROAD!  After saying my final farewell to the delectable Kassie I bundled myself on the 9am bus to Bahrain via Dammam in Saudi Arabia.  Panicking over all the horror stories I’ve been told about Saudi customs, I wiped all the TV shows and Hollywood movies off my hard drives (lest they contain kisses, witchcraft or a picture of a cross) and made sure I didn’t have a single used videotape on me (remembering Iran and Congo).

In the event, they didn’t even open my bag.  Hilarious.

I had my photo taken and my fingerprints scanned and that was it.  Easy as pie.  I arrived in the wholly unremarkable town of Dammam in the early afternoon and it wasn’t long before I was excitedly crossing the MASSIVE causeway to Nation 156, Bahrain – the Las Vegas of the Middle East.

Oh yes, Bahrain – Bands, Broads and Booze on tap and the parties don’t even get started until after midnight.  I met with Tim, my CS host and one US Navy Lieutenant.  His apartment was so kick ass it made me wonder why I never went to officer school.  Oh yeah and then there was the fridge – stocked to the gills with beer, lovely cold refreshing beer.

After a few we hit the streets, grabbing some authentic Bahraini KFC on the way to the Irish pub (there’s always an Irish pub).  There we watched a band that were so-so before pushing on to a Pilipino joint with a much better band who actually put some pizzazz into their cover versions.  From that point on my recollection of the night kind of falls apart.  I remember meeting some girls from Ethiopia and asking why they wouldn’t let me open the windows on the bus.  I don’t think I did any Karaoke, but it’s a possibility.

How on Earth Tim dragged himself into work in the morning is a mystery I’ll probably never fathom.

Day 511: Qatar On A Hot Tin Roof

26.05.10:

Urgh me drinkie too muchie.  I’ve seriously put on a stone in the last six weeks, what with all my Dominos pizzas and KFC.  I need to get moving and get grooving before I turn into a big fat Jabba slug.  I found out that the bus for Qatar (only 40km across the sea from the island of Bahrain) would be leaving from Dammam in Saudi at 5pm.  As the next bus to Dammam was leaving at 3pm, this was going to make things awkward – Dammam is only an hour away, but it’s a bit of a risk as if the Saudi border guys wanted to make the bus wait, there wasn’t a lot I could have done about it – I could very well miss the bus to Qatar.  I therefore elected to take a taxi (at great expense – fifty quid’s worth of expense) because I was damned if I was going to spend the night in Dammam.

Getting back into Saudi was even easier the second time.  Seriously – they didn’t even look at my bags and in I went.  I was in Dammam within the hour and had my ticket for Nation 157 – Qatar.

The bus was supposed to get in at 10pm.  I had arranged with Tracy, my CS host in Qatar, to meet here when I arrived, although the fact it was now pushing midnight and we were still not at the border compounded my discontent.  But what I was not expecting was for it to take TWO HOURS to cross the border into Qatar.  What the hell would you smuggle OUT of Saudi?  A camel?

But then I discovered the root of the problem.  The border guards were denying access not to us passengers, but to the bus driver.  They had changed the rules TODAY (seriously!) and he needed a letter of employment of SAPTCO to say he worked for them.  His uniform and the fact HE WAS DRIVING THE DAMN BUS wasn’t enough proof for them.

I guess in their twisted little heads this was all an elaborate plan for the driver to sneak into Qatar (with a busload of passengers) and stay there illegally.  The hundreds of Qatar entry and EXIT stamps in his passport were similarly not seen as proof that he didn’t intent Qatar several layers of harm.

I’ll get you Butler!

So the bus was stuck, it was now 2am.  Oh, and to cap it all, my phone had stopped working.  I didn’t know this at the time, it seemed that my texts were going through, but then I sent a test text to my mum and since a reply didn’t come back I knew trouble was afoot.  There was no way I was going to be able to stay at Tracey’s tonight.  I teamed up with Saleh and we trekked across the border together on foot.  Once in Qatar, we flagged down a passing car and hitched a ride to Doha from a fantastically friendly chap called Mohammed.

And so I wound up in the cheapest, nastiest little hotel in town.  Filthy dirty, luke warm shower, a broken television… the price?  Fifty quid.  Straight up.  Take it or leave it.

Damn you Qatar.

Day 512: There’s Always An Irish Pub…

27.05.11:

As if Qatar hadn’t done enough to upset me, today it well and truly rained on my parade.  I was planning to meet up with friends I had met in Kuwait tomorrow in Dubai, and when I rang the SAPTCO bus office they told me that the bus left at 6pm.

Good stuff!  I packed up my things and headed into Doha city centre, there to meet Tracy who I should have been CouchSurfing with last night.  We grabbed some lunch in a Thai restaurant and nattered about living in Qatar.  Originally from Vancouver in Canada, Tracy’s been here for two years.  It seems that Qatar suffers from many of the same problems as Kuwait – spoilt, lazy rich kids, dangerous drivers and an almost unbelievably stratified society.

But, you know, in the greater scheme of things these are minor quibbles.  The governments here really do look after their people very, very well – in a way that African governments just wouldn’t understand.  Free hospitals, schools, roads, sewers, street lights, development, enterprise grants, allowances, pensions, unemployment benefits… go try to explain what these things are to Ali Bongo of Gabon and he’ll probably chase you up a tree and set fire to it.

But the guys in charge here could, if they wanted to, pull an Ali Bongo.  Or a Nigeria.  Or an Angola – rich rich rich oil states, but 100% of the money that could go to building a better society and a brighter future for their citizens is stolen and squirreled away in Swiss bank accounts.  Here, things are very different, and I for one salute the Gulf’s governments for looking after their own people.

Of course, it’s not a rosy garden – at any one time there are about 400 Filipino housemaids in the Filipino embassy in Kuwait desperate to go home after being abused or raped or locked in the house for months while the family goes on holiday (seriously).  The attitude of the locals towards the ‘lower’ immigrants (Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis etc) would make Nick Griffin blush.

But, you know, you live in hope.  Maybe one day attitudes will change and the little Princes and Princesses of the Gulf will learn a little bit of humility and the fact that what goes around, comes around.

After lunch I thanked Tracy and apologised for last night’s cock-up.  I then darted over to the bus office (next to the Guest Palace Hotel, pop-pickers!) to get my ticket for tonights bus… only to discover that tonight’s bus back into Saudi (you have to dip in and out of Saudi to get to the UAE) was last night’s bus that’s still stuck at the border.

Again, I wasn’t going anywhere.

Damnit.

Tracy graciously allowed me to stay at her’s for the night and that evening we made a beeline for the Irish Pub – yes, there’s ALWAYS an Irish Pub! I’ve got to say I never thought I’d be dancing to YMCA in Arabia with a pint of Stella in my grubby mitts.

Day 513: Curse of the Black Pearl

28.05.10:

So with a day to kill, Tracy and I headed out to the museum of Islamic Art. As I’ve mentioned before, with a pretty much outright ban in place over depicting any living thing in a picture or a statue, Islamic art is concentrated around two disciplines – calligraphy and complex geometric shapes. When these two disciplines come together to create something as spellbinding and complex as the Taj Mahal, it truly is a joy to behold.

What was particularly cool about the museum (certainly not the architecture I have to say, typical boring brutalist crap by I.M. Not-Very-Good-At-This-Am-I?) was the Pearl exhibition that was on. Before they found oil in the 1930s, the Gulf states paid their way through the pearl trade. A trade that had pretty much dried up over the preceding decades as cultured pearls for Japan had begun to dominate the market. In fact, it’s a good bet that had oil not been found there would only be three gulf states – Saudi, Yemen and Oman. I seriously doubt that Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE would exist as separate nations.

But they did find oil and the rest, as they say, is history. But that’s not to detract from the importance of the pearl trade throughout the 19th century and what a shame that the new commodity is – unlike pearls – dirty, polluting, and contributing to an impeding global catastrophe that no politicians in the world today seem willing or able to do anything about. A necessary evil some might say, but then they probably haven’t watched the documentary ‘Who Killed The Electric Car?’.

A least pearls are fairly innocent trinkets and treasures – the idea of snorkelling down to the bottom of the sea with a knife and looking for riches hidden in shells is a lot more romantic than the poor wretched life of a diamond miner in Sierra Leone or a silver miner in Bolivia (life expectancy 40 years).

So after soaking in the history and the art of Qatar and the surrounding regions, Tracy and I grabbed one last coffee and at 6pm I was on the bus that was supposed to leave yesterday.

Again, the border crossing into Saudi was painless, but I wasn’t too happy when I got to my transit stop only to find that the bus to Dubai didn’t leave at 10pm (as it said on my ticket) but it would be leaving at 12pm. Three hours spent literally in the middle of nowhere on the edge of The Empty Quarter. This also meant we had an incredibly ill-timed border crossing in the middle of the night which wasn’t completed until well after 3am.

Needless to day, I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep.

Days 534 & 535: The Sands Of Time

18.06.10-19.06.10:

So after a good night’s kip I had a the best part of a day to shake off my hangover.  The bus for Riyadh, the Saudi capital, left at 5pm.  I spent the day shuffling about, wondering why the sun had to be so bright and skimming all the superfluous items out of my bag.  At 3pm I left my coat behind in the The Greens as I departed for the Saudi Arabia Public Transport Company (SAPTCO) bus ‘station’ in Deira, but returning ten minutes later as I had also left my mobile phone.  Which I needed. Damien rolled his eyes.

When I finally got to the SAPTCO office they told me to come back in half an hour.  I used this time to go out in the baking heat and check my pores were still working properly.  As my soaking wet t-shirt could no doubt attest, they were.  Eventually, they issued me a ticket and I was on the bus heading back into Saudi, my mind whirring through all the things that could go horribly wrong.

The plan is this: From Riyadh, head to Jeddah on the Red Sea and see if I can catch a lift on a cargo ship going to Eritrea.  Failing that, I’ll head south to Jizan and try to find a more enterprising way of getting there.  I’d rather not have to do that.  The downside was that taking the bus today meant missing the England vs. Algeria match in the World Cup.  But as Damien pointed out, it should be an easy win, and if it isn’t, he’d rather not watch it!

I managed to cadge the back seats on the bus, which was great for the first couple of hours as the bus wasn’t very full.  Unfortunately for me, as we approached the Saudi border I was joined by a giant Saudi who muscled in on my patch and promptly took up 4 of the 5 back seats as if I wasn’t there.  So much for a good night’s kip.

As it transpired, a good night’s kip was the last thing I was going to get.  As England completely stuffed up their ‘easy’ game against Algeria (thanks for the text updates, mum), we crossed the border at some ungodly hour of the night and while the Saudi sniffer dog sniffed our bus for drugs, all us passengers had to stand outside, our bags opened for inspection, which was thankfully curt.  We then stopped for a bite to eat and then there was a faff (I still don’t know quite why) about something to do with somebody’s papers, the border guys made a guest appearance and after a remarkably long discussion for three o’ clock in the morning, we were allowed back on the bus.  Which arrived in Riyadh five hours later.

Sweet!

I had just missed the 8am bus, so I bought a ticket for the 10am one to Jeddah.  It arrived at 12.  While we hurtled through the desert, my CouchSurfing host for Jeddah, a Saudi guy named Turki, rang me up to arrange stuff for when I arrived.  Turki grew up in the States (which explains his perfect North American diction) but has now lived in Saudi for many years.  We ended up chatting for over an hour during which discussion he told me he was good friends with an English guy called Bob who works in the shipping industry in Jeddah.  It’s fair to say I liked Turki from the start.

As the desert swept past and the sun went to bed, we stopped for prayer time.  I sat and quaffed a nice hot cup of tea while the guys off the bus genuflected to their god.  The Middle East, moreso than other places on the planet, is a place dominated by two themes – materialism and spirituality.  It’s odd that these things go together so well, but then again, look at the gold statues in the Vatican or the burgeoning middle classes of India.  I look on all these goings on, the praying, the bead-thumbing, the sports cars and the palaces and feel completely distanced from this facet of the world.  Truth be told I don’t have a spiritual bone in my body, and as for materialism, everything I need is in my backpack and I haven’t desperately wanted the latest thingymajig since I was a kid.

For this reason, even though I know the Middle East exceptionally well, I always feel like an alien here, not just from another country, but from another planet.  That’s not to say I don’t enjoy myself when I’m here, it’s just that it’s not my scene baby, and it will never be.

The bus rolled into Jeddah around midnight, but Turki stayed up to pick me up which was great.  We will learn more of Turki’s wisdom tomorrow.