Saudi’s in Audi’s and the Two Seas of Bahrain
Day 1,765 since October 10th 2013: 154 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.
When people say it’s impossible I smile
If nothing else then the Saga has shown that there is always a solution. And furthermore there has always been a solutions through legal means, kindness, integrity and a way where the head can be held high. To me that is valuable…
For “normal” people many of my considerations and challenges are far from every day routines. However many well-traveled people already know much of what I will now tell you. Depending on how you count the world’s countries you will often arrive to a number close to 200. The reason why we don’t know exactly how many countries there are in the world is because there is no universal agreement for what constitutes a country. So as a result politics, religion and personal conviction plays in on such an assessment. The Saga went high and included 203 countries as ‘every country in the world’.
You would probably agree that some countries must be harder to visit than others. And then it shouldn’t surprise anyone that some countries are hard to reach depending on people’s nationalities. As a Danish Dane from Denmark I can easily visit all of Europe given that the Kingdom of Denmark is a part of the EU. Someone from The Gambia might find it far harder to visit any of the fifty countries in the EU and maybe even impossible to obtain a Schengen visa. My hardest countries are not unlike the hardest for most other nationalities. As a Dane I always knew that I would be challenged by: DR Congo, Angola, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia and Turkmenistan. Equatorial Guinea belongs on that list too but I had overlooked the tiny Central African country during my planning and had no idea how closed off it was. Now I know better :) If you are from Sudan then you can visit Eritrea anytime you want just by showing immigration your ID card. If you are from the USA then Equatorial Guinea is visa free. And if you are from the Kingdom of Bahrain then you are welcome in Saudi Arabia anytime you like. So as you can see it’s not straight forward to answer “what’s a difficult country to reach”.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is however legendary difficult to enter unless you are a Muslim on a pilgrimage (Hajj or Umrah) to the Holy Land. And even Muslims have to wait as there are 1.8 billion Muslims in the world. Saudi Arabia is a large country but there is no way that the two holy cities, Medina and Mecca, would be able to host more than a billion people. So there is a system in place to manage the logistics and in particular how many Muslims can visit from each country every year. At an event in Jordan the wife of a CEO rolled her eyes at me and laughed saying: “You’ll never get into Saudi. My husband has been waiting for months and he is a CEO!”
My friend Helle whom I've known since the mid 90s and her niece Amalie happened to have a stopover in Dubai before heading to Thailand. So we met up for breakfast! Great to see friends!! :)
It’s hard to get an exact count on how many people have been to every country in the world. In part because not everyone feels the need to tell the world about their accomplishment. However also because the traveling community has different opinions on what is required for someone to say that they were in a country. Have you been to a country if you bribed the guards at the border and stepped over to set foot on dry land? Have you been to a country if you had a stopover at the airport? Have you been to a country if you sailed through its territorial waters? I imagine you have your opinion on such matters as do most. A safe estimate is however that no matter what constitutes a visit it is still an accomplishment which is shared by less than 200 people throughout history. And “The Kingdom” is one of the very reasons that not everyone can reach them all.
VFS in Jordan.
Last week I received an invitation for dinner right here in Dubai. I have known Ildi for years as we have communicated over various social media. And I knew she was in the process of visiting every country in the world although we had never met. And by some strange coincidence we have both been hosted in Kuwait City by Ahlam and Mohammed. Being humble is not easy. But Ildi nails it!! I showed up for dinner last week. She cooked a delicious meal for me and we talked. Ildi is not hungry for fame. Yet she has visited every country on earth except for one!! You’ve never heard about her because she’s not “fame hungry”. She does her traveling for herself, on her own dime and when she has time off from work. She works full time and often 50 hours a week!! She’s absolutely lovely and she will surely reach the last country when she wants to. She will silently join a very unique club of people who have done it. Surely less than 200 members. But again: who knows? Maybe there are more people out there like her who didn’t feel the need to tell everyone? Now that’s a quality we should all search for within ourselves in these social media selfie times. Ildi - I admire you!
We could all learn something from this remarkable woman!
As the Saga has been going since October 2013 I would estimate that I have been silently working on an angle to visit Saudi Arabia for the past three years or so. However I have actively been working on getting a visa for the past seven months. It began in Lebanon where I received my first Saudi business visa and got an appointment to visit the embassy. Nothing about that was straight forward but if I go into too much detail then this blog will run far too long. At the embassy I was told that it was a requirement that I was a resident in the country where I applied and furthermore that I would fly into the country. And there was nothing new in that but I was hoping that I could have those two requirements waved. Unfortunately I couldn’t. The main reason I later on spent more than a month in Jordan was for several attempts to obtain the Saudi visa. For the most part I couldn’t even get to speak to the staff at the embassy or consulate. Because of the millions of religious visitors, Saudi Arabia has set up a system where you need to go through an agent called VFS Tasheel. VFS is very professional but also highly rigid. There is absolutely no wiggle room for anything which doesn’t strictly relate to business or religion. There have been rumors about Saudi opening up for tourism visas for a long time. Michael who works at the Danish Embassy in Riyadh (Saudi) seems to think that the tourism visas have been in place since April 2018 – but I assure you that they have not. The tourism visa may become a reality in the next 4-5 months…or not. Who knows? And who knows if it will make it any easier or if the tourism visa will only be available through a rigid system where you need to fly, you need a guide and you can only stay at certain hotels – who knows?
I’ve spent a lot of time reaching out to agencies, companies, social media personalities, royalty, tourism groups, ministers, ministries and so on. And I have had a lot of support from a lot of people who in various ways have attempted to grant me access to Saudi Arabia. Getting an invitation letter has never been a problem. In fact Maersk Line in Saudi has been eager to help me solve this Gordian knot. So has Alaa at Gulf Consulting House. All attempts from Jordan failed and I eventually continued working a ton of angles while in Kuwait. It seems that there was always somebody who could help and had a sure solution. And without fail none of them ever delivered. So often I have had my hopes up and later on my legs kicked out from under me. Eventually my host in Kuwait (Ahlam “the shark”) and I had great progress with the Saudi Consular in Kuwait. It was a real breakthrough!! All we needed was a confirmation from the Danish embassy in Riyadh. Just a simple statement (email or letter) to prove that I was not a tourist but in fact a man with a large global project. The Danish embassy in Riyadh did not fail to fail on that account and grossly disappointed me and thousands of others. Eventually the light faded away and after more than a month in Kuwait I made the hard decision to move on.
Iain and I at the Danish Consulate - victorious! ;)
The next massive breakthrough came in the United Arab Emirates (UAE)! Iain, whom I have only known for a few weeks now, joined me at the Saudi consulate in Dubai. We were almost immediately turned away but then caught a break as someone behind the clerk we were speaking to, overheard our conversation. That opened up for a conversation in which I could get a highly unique visa, which is rarely issued to anyone. Iain and I left the consulate with hope and set out to acquire all the documents which had been listed for us. I walked into the Danish consulate in Dubai with heavy steps and the recollection of the attitude of the Danish embassy in Riyadh. However to my great surprise there was immediate support from the consulate and within 30 minutes from walking through the door I had received the written confirmation which I had been denied from Riyadh. Easy! Iain and I left the Danish consulate hopeful! We continued gathering all the required information such as proof of having visited more than 150 countries without flying, the great distance which the Saga has already covered in a single journey, an itinerary for Saudi Arabia, the overall timeframe, a project description and testimonials from my speaking engagements. The next day we headed back to the Saudi consulate and were received with much warmth. They had looked closer at the Saga’s social media, the website and results they found from searching the internet. The consulate was very excited to help but could only do so much. The decision had to be made in Riyadh. However the consulate ensured its support and promissed it would call Riyadh to recommend the visa.
Juanita caught this special moment from her balcony. I've been staying with Juanita and Iain at their home in Dubai which they have nicknamed "The Rowetel"
In that same period Iain and I achieved having the Yemini visa inserted in my passport. I left to visit Oman, Yemen and eventually boarded a ship to Qatar. A few weeks later I returned to Dubai in the UAE onboard another ship. I was once again hosted by Juanita and Iain Rowe (at the “Rowetel”) and Iain and I immediately raced off to visit the Saudi consulate to hear if there was any progress. Progress no…but there was news. I was informed that my application had been cancelled. The reason was that the process for approving my application required two months and the dates which I had requested to visit the country fell within that two month period. So by logic they didn’t have two months to approve the application and cancelled it. However I was welcome to suggest future dates outside of a two month period and begin the process all over again. So now what? Wait an additional two months to see if they would approve it? I only had Bahrain and Saudi left to visit in the region. And how the heck would I reach Bahrain without flying? Bahrain is an island not far from the UAE but Qatar is in between and out of political favor in the region. Bahrain is however connected to Saudi by a causeway which was opened up in 1986…but I would need a Saudi visa even to consider entering Bahrain across the causeway. Furthermore there are no ferries to and from Bahrain although there used to be in the recent past. So I might have considered applying for the Saudi visa once again and spending some of the two month waiting time by reaching Bahrain onboard a cargo ship, exploring Bahrain and returning to the UAE again. But instead I said: “how about issuing me a transit visa so I can travel through Saudi to Bahrain?”
Between handing my passport over to VFS and picking it up again with my Saudi visa in it, I dropped in on Maersk Line in Dubai and made a presentation. Just look at this photo!! I think it's clear that we had a good time! :)
That worked! And it is not that I have not tried to ask for a transit visa for Saudi before! I had asked several times and it was always made clear that it was out of the question. So what was different this time? Well, I believe that the consulate opened up for this opportunity for several reasons: I had the letter from the Danish consulate, I had already proven that the Saga had reached 152 countries and had spanned across more than 200,000 km (125,000 mi), they were sad to inform they couldn't help and that my application had been cancelled plus the consulate really wanted to assist the Saga move on and away from the region. However with the requirements for the transit visa I had little hope to take advantage of it. I would need a left side driven, locally registered car to be registered to me, I needed a trip-ticket (carnet), I needed specific insurance, I needed a local driver’s license and I needed to provide a detailed itinerary. I suppose the only one of those items I could have supplied was the itinerary? After a bit of negotiation I was granted permission to travel by means of public transportation (bus). However that was shot down as soon as I called the only bus company, which operates between Dubai and Saudi. They were not willing to sell me a ticket unless I was a resident in the UAE out of fear that I would run away (transit visa) and they would be responsible. Surely there was a chance to do something about that? But could I and how much time would it have taken?
The flag of Saudi Arabia reads: 'There is no God but God. Muhammed is his messenger'. The green color represents Islam and the sword stands for the strictness in applying justice. Saudi Arabia still carries out public beheadings as punishment for certain crimes.
Well, fortunately Iain, who’s a teacher at a local school in Dubai, happened to be enjoying his holidays while his school was closed down for summer. So Iain had time on his hands. We of course had to ask his wife Juanita who immediately gave us the green lights!! Juanita and I have known each other for more than a decade and she has been to seventy countries herself. Getting her blessing was no issue. In fact I am sure she would have loved to join if she wasn’t working. So how about other practicalities? Would we, a Dane and an Aussie, actually be permitted to drive across Saudi Arabia and has anyone non-Arab actually done it before? Was there any risk that the car would get stuck in Bahrain and that we couldn’t return it across land? Would immigration between Bahrain and Saudi understand that we had to be permitted back into Saudi on our return to Dubai? What else could go wrong? Furthermore we only had a few days as Iain needed to be back for Friday August 10th. So would we even have time to visit both Saudi, Bahrain and have more than 24 hours in each country? It all worked out. Iain and I managed to get all the paperwork (trip ticket, insurance etc) in place last Saturday (August 4th). Then we submitted it all for approval at the consulate last Sunday (august 5th). Around here Sunday is the first day of the week while Friday and sometimes Friday/Saturday is considered weekend. At the Saudi consulate we got their blessings and in Arabic the word ‘important’ was written on our file. Then we were sent directly to VFS were we went “through the mill”. We came back to receive our multi-entry transit visas later that afternoon!
So what is a multi-entry transit visa? The transit visa allowed us to spend 72 hours (three days) within Saudi Arabia. Being multi-entry we had twice that along with the permission to reenter Saudi Arabia. So technically we could have entered Saudi, spent three days, continued to Bahrain, spent a month there, return to Saudi, spend another three days and return to the UAE. However given that Iain had to be back for Friday the 10th we only had three nights in total for the entire “operation”! Were we going to do it? HECK YEAH!! So we got up at 04:30am the following morning after having received the visas. My visa even had Iain’s name in it so that authorities could see that I was there in connection to Iain's credentials. Juanita waved farewell to us at 05:20am as we left Dubai and she began her day. Then we had 466 km (290 mi) through Dubai and Abu Dhabi (UAE) until we reached the Saudi border. This secluded, hard to reach, world renowned country was now at our feet and we were about to cross into it. Could it be real?
Leaving the UAE was not a problem. Just typical border bureaucracy and it was fairly straight forward. Entering The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was just as much a routine. And then we rolled across the Saudi soil. Or to be more precise we were rolling across a weathered two lane highway which stood in stark contrast to the state of the art four lane highway in the UAE. There were now occasional potholes in the road which were unthinkable in the UAE. The landscape was much the same: desert on both sides of the road. What was the big deal? Why was it ever so hard to get into this country?
At the Saudi immigration they had Canon 1200 eos on sticks for taking photos. I've never seen that before? In some ways it seems old fashion and in other ways it said: "we can afford it".
The eastern part of Saudi, which we were driving in, falls just slightly north-east of the fabled Empty Quarter; a large desert region within Saudi Arabia which presumably fits its name. Marking out the exact borders between Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman and Yemen seems rather pointless given the isolated nothingness of the region. Along the road we began to spot road signs leading to Mecca in the west of Saudi Arabia and to the capital city, Riyadh, which was “only” 539 km (335 mi inland) almost in the center of the large sandy nation. We could have gone there but we chose not to. With only three nights available before Iain needed to return we opted for two of them in Bahrain and only one in Saudi. In part because the immigration policy of Bahrain had been far more accommodating and welcoming to our nationalities. However also because Saudi is so incredibly large! Saudi Arabia rings in as the 13th largest country in the world and there simply isn’t time for large countries within a project were you visit them all. You’d probably need several months to explore Saudi.
How strange is all of this by the way? Every day for around seven months I have had Saudi on my mind as a country which has both blocked my path as well as a country I have been wanting to visit. And then over the course of only four days Iain and I cracked the Gordian knot, arranged for paperwork and received our visas! We have spoken about whether we could have just walked into the consulate in Dubai and asked for the transit visa without the seven months of trial and error leading up to it? Neither Iain nor I think we would have gotten the visa without it. We got it because we were standing on a mountain of bureaucracy and thus could reach the visas. Without that mountain our arms would not have been long enough.
The Corniche at Dammam.
With just one night for Saudi and three in total before having to be back, we opted to spend the night in Dammam on Saudi’s east coast at the Gulf. I had never heard about Dammam before. What do we ever hear about Saudi Arabia? We hear about the oil, the wealth, the desert, Mecca, Medina and occasionally about Riyadh. Saudi is a country with 32 million people. Those are people with families, dreams, careers, feelings, culture, identity, social media, educations, problems, solutions – and we only hear about a handful of things? Yes, they recently allowed women to drive. Yes, they recently opened up cinemas after forty years without – but is that all? The Saudi king’s official title is “custodian of the Two Holy Mosques” and religion does play a major role for the country. However there is more to the country than religion and oil. As we reached Dammam we reached a large city. Not one full of skyscrapers but a city with a boardwalk and the countries tallest flagpole. The flagpole stretches 60 meters (197 ft) into the sky. Dammam is also the fifth largest city in Saudi falling behind Riyadh, Jeddah, Mecca and Medina in that order. We arrived just before sunset and located our hotel.
The boardwalk (corniche) was really nice and laidback. Children were playing football, people were out walking, some were doing exercise and it all appeared quite normal. I was a bit taken by how greatly the city was influenced by western culture. Within a short walk Iain and I passed McDonalds, Burger King, Chuck E Cheese, Starbuck’s, Hungry Bunny and a Sheraton Hotel. Dammam has gone through the same history as the rest of the Gulf countries meaning that they were also dependent on pearl industry a hundred years ago. And then that faded out in the 1930s when the Japanese worked out how to artificially cultivate pearls. I suppose I haven’t seen enough of neither Saudi nor Dammam to make a fair judgment but I really can’t help wonder what all the fuss was about? Why the heck is it so difficult to get into Saudi Arabia? It doesn’t seem neither more nor less special than other countries. Saudi Arabia has lots of cultural treasures, archeological sites and interesting geographical features. But no more or less than other countries I have been to where visas came easy. Saudi has approximately 1,800 km (1,118 mi) of coastline and keep in mind they have coastline on both the Gulf side as well as at the Red Sea to the west. But plenty of countries have great beaches and are easy to access. The people I met were nice and friendly and overall I’m just overly curious what more I could have discovered in Saudi if I was given a fair chance? Dammam seemed like a city which was amazing in the past and now needs an upgrade. I’ve seen cities and countries in far worse state and it wasn’t at all derelict. It just wasn’t special enough to explain why I had to struggle so much for the visa?
That night we had a quick meal and went to bed relatively early. We were exhausted after the long drive through the desert. The cars air-condition had been fighting the outside temperatures which were pushing towards 50 degrees Celsius (122 F). The aircondition however couldn't prevent the sun’s rays from heating us though the windshield. Besides, just sitting in the car for twelve hours would have had us tired without all the new impressions. Iain went to bed a bit earlier than me as I had to manage social media and emails before I called it a day. Among my messages there was an invitation from Lama who is a friend of Khaled from Qatar. I never met Khaled but he put me in touch with a lot of people including Salman. Lama was from Saudi and invited us for a traditional dinner the following evening. Unfortunately Iain and I were expected in Manama (Bahrain) the following afternoon. Lama and I agreed to meet the following day for tea before noon and I received an address at a tea house in Al Khobar which is the last town prior to crossing the causeway between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. So the logistics worked out perfectly. The next morning I told Iain about our plans, I had a quick haircut and a beard trim in Dammam, we dropped in at a local mall to see what it was like (it looked like a mall) and then we left…
Having tea with Lama :)
Who was Lama? Was it a man or a woman? I sounded like a woman’s name but would a woman from Saudi be able to meet with us and if so what would it be like? Would her face be covered? Would she need a chaperone? Well, all of that was answered as soon as we entered the super cool tea house and saw a classically beautiful woman wave at us with a smile. We headed straight over to her as she stood up and reached out to shake our hands. Then we all sat down and ordered tea. So that kind of answered a lot of our questions. It also pushed aside a lot of our false assumptions about women in Saudi Arabia. Lama is delightful and was open to answering all our questions. She explained that it is exciting times in Saudi! That only a few years ago we would not have been able to sit down together, that her hair would have been covered and that it was unthinkable that women would be driving. Lama is a successful business woman and is the CEO of SYNERGY which is a communications agency with focus on social media.
Classy tea house in Al Khobar.
Lama was sad that we were only staying for such a short amount of time in her country. However she understood that it had to be like that given the circumstances. She was also sad that we did not have time for the traditional dinner at her house. Her mother would be cooking and they were looking forward to having us over as their guests. Clearly hospitality in Saudi Arabia is no less prevalent than any other country I have come across in the Arabic world. I do wonder why we hear so little about all the Arabic hospitality and so much of all the elements that scare ignorant people? However that is the world we have created for ourselves. A world where we share the extreme and negative, where we indulge in it through movies, news and social media and let ourselves be seduced by what isn’t actually representative in the big picture. There we were, Iain and I, across from a beautiful Saudi woman who hoped that we could be her guests for a traditional meal. After a few hours of pleasant conversation and really good Iraqi tea, Iain and I had to leave for our next engagement. We said farewell, shook hands again and parted.
The causeway to Bahrain.
Iain got his Maccas! ;)
It only took a few minutes to reach the causeway which would lead us across the ocean to The Kingdom of Bahrain. The distance across is too great to see Bahrain from Saudi. There is an expression which goes: “It is the bridge that Allah cannot see across”. Alcohol and water pipe (shisha) is forbidden in Saudi but available in Bahrain. You can put two and two together. There were plenty of checkpoints on the Middle Island of the causeway which functions as the checkpoint for immigration. There are also two McDonald’s restaurants on the tiny Middle Island; one on the Saudi side and one on the Bahraini side. Iain decided that he “needed” to have a McDonald’s meal in Saudi so we entered the drive through. I still haven’t had any McDonald’s since the Saga began. The Bahrain visa was available for both of us on arrival and cost us 50 riyal each (USD 13). A lot easier and cheaper than the country we just came from. As mentioned there were a lot of checkpoints and it took some time to get through them all…but eventually we did.
The spirited Maersk team in Manama, Bahrain! Thanks for having me and my belly :)
I had been in touch with Jamdan, who’s the Branch Manager for Maersk in Bahrain, and the office was expecting me. So Iain and I drove straight there. We had a great time with the team who had been waiting several hours for us. I guess we underestimated all the checkpoints on the causeway. It didn’t really seem to matter though and the spirits were high. Jamdan invited us to join him later that night near his residence which is on reclaimed land and not unlike 'The Palm' in Dubai. Lots of Bahrain is reclaimed from the sea which is a really small country. While Saudi is the 13th largest Bahrain is the 22nd smallest country in the world. And having already been to Kuwait, UAE and Qatar I wasn’t expecting much which I hadn’t already seen elsewhere. But I was in for a surprise!
Note the windturbines in the building!
Iain and I left the Maersk office in a good mood, checked into our hotel and drove towards a traditional restaurant which Jamdan had recommended. Jamdan had advised us to park before we reached it as we would likely struggle to find a parking space near it. However Iain and I overshot our target and ended up stuck between people, shops and cars at Manama’s primary souk (market). So in terms of tourism we can definitely say we’ve seen the market place! :) Once we cleared out of it we managed to park the car, have dinner and then we decided to park at our hotel and take a taxi to where we would meet Jamdan. I often small talk with taxi drivers but could hardly believe this one when he replied that he was from Bahrain?!? In Kuwait, UAE and Qatar all the taxi drivers are expats from Pakistan, India or Bangladesh. You hardly see the local population in those countries and mainly interact with expats. So to begin with we didn’t believe that he was really from Bahrain. It just seemed unthinkable. But Bahrain is different from the other Gulf countries and only nationals are permitted to drive taxis.
Bahrain was the first Gulf country to discover petrol (1932) which Bahraini’s often mention with a smile when they say: “so we are the first to run out of it”. Bahrain is a super cool country with a lot more to offer than what you might immediately think. A small country with a big heart. Several celebrities chose Bahrain as their “get-away country” and have found solitude in Bahrain. A few that I know of are Michael Jackson and Shakira. Manama is definitely a modern city and has some similarities to Dubai although it lacks the big city feel. It looks like a big city but for me it feels more like a village. People are really kind and down to earth. The climate seems pleasant and the locals say that you can reach anything within 15 minutes or less. It would take you less than two hours to drive from one end of the country to the other. I really like Manama which has a mix of new modern architecture and renovated traditional architecture. There’s a bit of everything. As we went to bed I stayed up a little later to manage social media and emails again and then ended my day long after the sun had set.
the following day we had breakfast at the hotel and then we were off to meet with the Bahrain Red Crescent Society. Dr. Fawzi Abdullah Amin is the General Secretary and an amazing man. He had invited us to join him at their headquarters and that naturally included handshakes, tea and fresh dates. Soon after we drove off to visit the Bahrain National Museum which is absolutely delightful. I love a museum which has put effort into displaying its items and informing the visitors in an intriguing fashion. And the National Museum had done exactly that. Furthermore it had a large section about the Dilmun civilization which was an ancient Semitic-speaking organized society that dates back more than 5,000 years. The civilization lasted about 2,500 years and was highly significant for the region encompassing Kuwait, parts of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar. Archeologists have had a field day uncovering this ancient civilization which includes the ancient worlds (perhaps) largest cemetery. Somewhere between 70-80,000 burial mounds have been discovered in Bahrain and I’ve even seen numbers exceeding 300,000! It is just extraordinary! The museum also portrayed the pearl fishing and much more recent history of Bahrain but I have to say that the Dilmun civilization is by far the most exciting as it isn’t every day you learn about a civilization you’ve never heard of which lasted 2,500 years!
Dilmun burial mounds at the museum.
Dr Fawzi showing us around the old souk inside the National Museum.
After our visit to the museum Dr Fawzi brought Iain and I to the local market (where we had our traffic incident the night before). Dr Fawzi is a renowned doctor who did his master’s degree at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland. He followed that up with an impressive career which includes 32 years at Bahrain’s Ministry of Health. And as mentioned he is now the Secretary General of the Red Crescent. So there we were, Iain, Dr Fawzi and I, calmly walking about in Manama’s old town listening to Dr Fawzi’s childhood memories of the place. We dropped in on a traditional coffee shop, the gold market and when it got to hot we sat down for a traditional lunch at a cool restaurant which used to serve as a car park.
Car park turned restaurant in downtown Manama.
Later that day I was invited back to the Red Crescent HQ, where I was the center of an open seminar and press conference. The Bahrain Red Crescent was founded in 1972 when it became the 116th National Society out of the 191 which exist today. They are active within Social Services, Health Awareness, Youth, Blood Donations, First Aid, Foreign Aid and Restoring Family Links.
The seminar began with a polite introduction of who I am and then went on to take ten questions from the participants, which included a great deal of volunteers. I love to interact with the volunteers as I myself, essentially am a “glorified volunteer” with my fancy title as a Goodwill Ambassador of the Danish Red Cross. The questions ranged from why I take a picture of someone’s eyes and the sunset in each country to what does it require to do what I do? It’s funny how questions vary from country to country. In some countries it seems that people mostly want to know about my family and home while other countries focus more on the finances and danger. And somehow we are all just people and have far more in common than what could ever separate us.
I was asked to talk about what motivates me to not give up, which elements of the Saga were inspiring and the overall approach to finding solutions when there otherwise appears to be none. Then we did group photos and had a light dinner. Iain and I left the Red Crescent late at night and proceeded to meet up with Lama again who was in Manama to meet with friends. Lots of Saudi’s cross the causeway each day, some live on one side and work on the other and the weekends get really busy with all the many Bahraini cafes coming to life. It was nice to catch up with Lama again and she brought us a few gifts. We each got a decorative camel which is fitting since the Riyadh camel market is one of the largest in the world. But also simply because it gives me something to remember one of my best memories of Saudi Arabia by; which is meeting and speaking with Lama.
Turns out that Lama has 27,000 followers on Twitter!
The day ended, Iain went to sleep and I managed social media and emails for a while until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore. I think I need someone to manage my social media or at least a part of it. It now counts 40,000 accounts from all around the world and for that I am grateful. However it has become massively time consuming. You guys surely are a lively bunch of supporting, caring and inquisitive people :)
You can see the map of the entire Saga so far by following this link: https://www.findmespot.com/spotadventures/index.php/view_adventure?tripid=326542
Breakfast started at 06:30am the following day and soon after we headed back across the causeway to Saudi Arabia. Given our Friday deadline we had to decline on a traditional dinner with Lama in Saudi Arabia, a lunchtime visit at Aramco (the Saudi Arabian Oil Company) facilitated by Christopher from Norway and a potential motorcycle ride into Bahrain’s desert with Abdulla to see The Tree of Life. Curiously The Tree of Life is a 9.75 meters (32 ft) high Prosopis cineraria tree that is over 400 years old and very lonely. It’s dubbed “the loneliest tree in Bahrain” as it sits there all alone in the desert and it is a bit of a mystery where it draws water from? Oh boy, all which we could have done with a few extra days on our hands. Crossing the causeway back into Saudi went without any problems and it took ten hours to make it back to Dubai in the UAE. In both directions we crossed the closed border to Qatar and we had lots of time to solve all the world’s problems while listening to music.
Iain has quickly become a good friend and I will miss his company as the Saga soon continues without him. He is among the very few people I have experienced three countries with within the Saga. The only other person I have traveled through three consecutive countries with is Agathe from France. That was back in November 2014 when we joined forces from Suriname, through Guyana to Brazil. My fiancée and I have, now that I think about it, traveled together from Germany, through France to Spain after my family visited me in Germany back in 2015 before I entered Morocco from Spain. So Iain is one of only three people I have reached three countries with within the Saga. And should anyone ever ask me if I have been to Saudi Arabia then I shall answer: “yes I have…twice!” Iain can answer: “yes I have…three times!” Iain has been to Riyadh on his first visit but with me he got to drive his car through the country! :) And yet two countries within the Saga is a mere 1% of the entire project…although an important percent ;)
Heading back to UAE.
Captain Coleman onboard the ‘Maersk Alabama’ taught me the phrase ‘fair winds and following seas’. When Iain helped me get around Dubai a few weeks ago and we visited a bunch of embassies, it resulted in the Yemen visa ending up in my passport. My father joked and sent me an email in which he wrote: ‘fair winds and following Iain’. Today that may be more true than ever before and I am grateful for his involvement in getting the Saga a bit further and bringing me closer to home. Iain has within the past three weeks had a solid window into what the Saga really is. He has gone from embassy to embassy with me, he has cut though red tape with me, he has been to visit Maersk in two countries as well as the Red Crescent in two countries, he has crossed borders with me and met strangers who turned out to be friends. Iain and a few others know what it takes to pull this project off. It is certainly no picnic but it is what it is…having Iain’s company and support along with the support from Juanita, Iain’s wife and my longtime friend, means everything to me. And now it’s time to deal with the backlog which has built up over the past weeks. Let’s keep on keeping on!
See the video to Saudis in Audis HERE and 'Bahrain' translates into 'the two seas'. Now you know the title of this entry. Funny thing: we didn't see a single Audi in Saudi Arabia ;)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - even closer to home!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga