As soon as Davis and I arrived home we turned on my laptop and looked at the map. It was easy to tell where we had been driving as there were only a few roads crossing in the middle of the desert. Two cell towers also helped by making perfect landmarks. The road we needed to take was the only road we hadn’t tried off of the badly damaged tank road.
Early morning the next day we again set off full of high hopes and absolute certainty that we would see our destination. We make it to the familiar tank road and turn onto the correct road.
Total time to make it further than we did the day before, less than twenty minutes. We drive on, enjoying the scenery and confident in our route. After an hour and a half we stop in a little village for fuel. This village is comprised of a gas station, a tiny market, a police station, and a few houses. I would estimate the population as being made up of a large family. All villages in the Kingdom are identical. So we pull up to the fuel pump and the Indian worker asks “how much?” in Arabic. Here is a man that comes from a beautiful lush country of a billion people, and leaves his family and friends, to work alone in a speck of a village in the middle of a desert. I want to talk to him, to ask him why. What are his motives, his dreams, his desires. But alas, we are unable to communicate. So I hold up all my fingers to signify how much fuel to pump and then wave goodbye to this sad lonely wanderer and leave him to contemplate his decisions and being.
Down the ribbon of pavement we continue, enjoying the ups and downs and tight turns the hills offer us to break up the monotony of the desert. When my eyes start to close from drowsiness I just reminisce about the utter wastes of Utah’s Salt Flats or Nevada’s deserts and I snap awake with the understanding that this isn’t bad. It could always be worse.
But this time I seem to have awoken to a mirage, for there looks to be a giant mountain covering the road. Surprisingly Davis sees the same. There truly is a hill of dirt covering the road. Stunned we stop for a moment until I realize a dirt trail with construction equipment littering it climbing the left side of this unexpected roadblock. Against Davis’s wishes I drive up this makeshift road to the top. From the top we are greeted with an fabulous view. High up on the mountain are heavy construction trucks moving dirt around. I secretly hope for one to go tumbling down the mountain since the precipices they are working on don’t look like they could support a man let alone a solid block of metal. Down below us on the opposing side of our roadblock is a beautiful road weaving through the mountain pass. I feel sorry for it as it looks so lonely without any cars.
Now we were at an impasse. I feel that we had driven too far to give up so easily but Davis feels that we have no options. I offer up the idea of driving down the side of the mountain but Davis is a safety minded individual and so is against it. I then offer roaming around the desert looking for a way to bypass this problem. Again Davis is against it saying that we only have a small front wheel drive sedan. I can see that Davis just wants to go home since he is making excuses about my easily executable and perfectly safe ideas, so I humor him and we return to Tabuk crestfallen.
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.