Saudi Arabia Stories and Tips

The Arabian Peninsula for an “infidel” Traveller

It took me almost one month to get my Saudi Arabian visa in Egypt. I decided to visit all the Arabian Peninsula countries in a row (except Yemen, where I had already been in the past): Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, UAE, Oman, Qatar, and Oman. I succeed!

In the Arabian Consulate in Cairo I was told that they only issue visas to enter their country under three conditions: if you are a Muslim pilgrim, if you are a businessman with invitation from a commercial company in Arabia, and if you are in transit. Immediately I requested a transit visa. First I had to go to my Embassy to request a letter stating that I had no pending trials in my country, and therefore was a bona fide citizen. Then I obtained my Kuwait visa (after one more week), and finally the Arabs gave me a three days transit visa. From Cairo I travelled to Nweiba, in the Sinai Peninsula, then by boat I reached Aqaba, in Jordan, and the next day I boarded a bus to Kuwait together with emigrants from Turkey, Sudan, Syria and Egypt. We crossed the town Tabuk, wholly militarized because of the proximity to Israel. Five times a day we stopped for the Muslim prayers (except me, being a Christian. I just waited for them sitting in a Buddha position under the shadow of a palm tree drinking a cup of tea). We ate in some small restaurants in several oasis and small villages, where the waiters were from India or Philippines, and the Arabs, almost all fat, dressed with immaculate cleaned white clothes, where sitting indolently, smoking in their nargils, and only raised slowly from their cushions when they had to cash the consumptions. We stopped for a full day in a restaurant open 24 hours a day, called Almuhaya, in the town of Hafar al Batin, which I visited during a few hours. Then some of my companions invited me to go with them to Ryad and afterwards to Mecca and Medina. But although I dreamed to visit these holy places, I knew that it was not possible because of the controls of the Religious Police along the way (these policemen watch that you observe the Sharia, with the Ramadan and all the Muslim rules, otherwise they can punish you or expel you from Arabia), where they ask for the Muslim documents to visit these places. The third day I arrived to Kuwait.


Everybody that conversed with me in Kuwait was surprised to see me, being an individual traveller, no a businessman or an Asiatic worker (in Kuwait, most of the population are immigrants from Philippines, Nepal, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, etc). I was invited several times to drink tea or to have dinner by the astounded rich Kuwaitis. They even offered me a ride around their country in their Mercedes. They were bored and for them talking with a European was something unusual. There is practically nothing to see or to do in Kuwait apart from admiring the futurist forms of the skyscrapers with exotic and original designs. I used to eat in the Filipinos restaurants (chicken prepared in the style of Cebu city is delicious!), or in the cheap Indian restaurants smelling at curry from the street. I slept in a hostel for Filipinos in the Catholic Mission, besides the Cathedral, because in the communal dormitories for Indians I was refused. After Kuwait I flew to Bahrain.

Bahrain is one of the most authentic Arabian countries. It is a small archipelago with a population of about 700.000 people. There are three main islands united by bridges with Saudi Arabia, which are claimed by Qatar. Be careful! If your next destination is Qatar, get the visa beforehand. There is no Qatari consulate in Bahrain because of the lack of diplomatic relation between the two countries owing to the islands claims. I did not know this, and suffered a lot with immigration while arriving in Qatar. In Manama, the capital of Bahrain, I saw people playing n'tchuva, a game very popular in Africa. Almost everybody dress like in ancient times, and there are many chaikhanas to drink tea in the streets, and I even saw beggars, very hard to find in Arabia or Kuwait or in the Emirates. After Bahrain I flew to Qatar, not so interesting country for a traveller, half deserted, but people are friendly and it is very easy to get rides hitch hiking. After two days I flew to Dubai.

UAE visa is given to you in the same airport upon arrival, although I had already mine from Cairo when I flew in.
The seven United Arab Emirates are: Abu Dhabi (UAE capital), Dubai, Ajman, al-Fujayrah, Ras al-Jaymah, ash-Shariqah and Umm al-Qaywayn.
In Dubai and in Abu Dhabi the buildings were still more fantastic than in Kuwait. Some looked like boats, or like calculating machines, others like crabs, or like abstract and cubic paintings. I was told that the highest hotel in the world (over 300 metres) was the Burj al-Arab, in Dubai.
The place that I loved more in UAE was Al ‘Ayn, where I stopped for a day to visit its castles and landscapes on my way to Oman. The Omani authorities did not even ask my passport, and the same happened when I left Oman from another border in the Arabian Sea to return to UAE.
Ra’s Musandam is a part of Oman in the north of UAE, and there is also another small fragment not far from Al Fujayrah, where I went to visit it.

Since the hotels are expensive in UAE, I used to sleep in the mosques, where friendly people arranged me a convenient place with carpets and cushions to lay comfortably, and waked me up early in the morning, before the first prayer, and they even sometimes prepared me tea.
A traveller is accepted everywhere if he observes and respects the traditions of the country that he visits.
Like in Yemen, in Oman many people showed their “jambiyas” (enormous knives) in their waist, and were dressed with turbans and “chilabas”, or a kind of long shirt covering most of their body.
The most interesting landmarks in Oman were the fortresses, which are UNESCO Patrimony of Humankind. The Palace of the Sultan, in Muscat, was worthy of the Scheherazade tales.
But the place that attracted me more and where I spent two days was Suhar, not far from the border with UAE. From that port, and according to many historians, Sindbad the Sailor (well, the Arabian sailors who inspired this personage) after leaving his home in Baghdad sailed from Suhar to experiment his incredibly adventures in seven travels.
The brave Arabian sailors of the past discovered many archipelagos in the Indian Ocean and in the Far East, like Comoros, Lakshadweep, Sulu Islands in the Philippines, etc.

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