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Logan's Run

Thursday 19th June
Before I start with the trials and tribulations of our trip to Bahrain, let me give you a reminder as to the background to this trip.....our initial trip to Saudi Arabia was scheduled to last for 6 weeks. The visa we have is for 6 months, and allows us to enter & exit the country any number of times within those 6 months. What we didn't know until we visited the customer's HR department on day one of the project was that the maximum duration we could stay is one month - and that bit is written in Arabic in the passport! But no-one could say for certain what one month qualifies as, and neither could searches on the internet. Various sites reported it as 28 days, 30 days and 1 month. Is it based on the Gregorian calendar or the Muslim, who can tell!

So sit back and relax, as this is a bit of long story......Even though we are now coming home 2 weeks early, we are borderline 27/28 days, so as the trip to Bahrain was already booked prior to the decision being made to come home next week (and not knowing if those plans could change yet again), we decided to make the trip anyway, just to be on the safe side of the authorities, and reading this article in the daily 'Arab News' newspaper you can understand why. So, having phoned Hertz earlier in the week to ask if it was alright to take the rental car over the border to Bahrain "oh yes Mr Sy..Kes, no problems" (if it's not Mr. Mark, it's Mr. Sy....Kes), we were looking forward to a night of alcohol, more alcohol, and admiring the scenery ;-)

Remember last week when I mentioned about Tan's driving.....so the day starts off with Tan going for an early morning whizz around downtown Riyadh only to reverse into a metal post when parking the car back at the hotel. Thankfully the damage is not too great, and is mostly hidden by the dirt the car has accumulated over the last 3 weeks. So we set off at 10:00 for the 300 mile trip to Bahrain, and with Tan as designated driver for the outward leg I fasten my seat-belt and prepare to hold on tight. (Only joking Tan!!) Of course, it was another scorching hot day with the temperature well into the 40's, and the very strong winds that are still blowing causing poor visibility and air quality with the amount of dust and sand in the air.

The drive through the desert was uneventful, but the conditions were difficult at times what with the strong winds and reduced visibility, but we did get to see plenty of camels. We made a brief stop at a service station to stock up on snacks for lunch and I had five items and it came to 7 Riyals - equivalent to 1. Unbelievable. It took us about 5 hours to get to the border and that's when our troubles started......

Having paid our toll to get onto the King Fahd Causeway we pulled up at the first Saudi checkpoint manned by a chap who didn't speak much English. He refused to let us pass as we didn't have the right paperwork for the car. (Remember, Hertz said to me... "oh yes Mr Sy..Kes, no problems"...grrrrrrr!! So, after pulling the car over, it was on the phone to Hertz, "sorry sir it's Thursday afternoon can't fax any paperwork over as no one around important enough to authorise it". Then, to rub salt into the wounds, checkpoint Charlie made us turn round and exit out of the border control area...but forced us back through the Saudi customs point, yet we hadn't even left the country. Geez! Now, picture this.....it's approx 3 o'clock on the equivalent of a Saturday afternoon, there's only 2 lanes open through the customs channel, and literally 8 jam-packed lanes trying to squeeze into 2. It was pandemonium to say the least - getting into Wales is much easier!!

Eventually we made it past customs (just a cursory look into the boot, no opening of bags), and we pulled into the McDonald's car park just up the road so we could take stock of our options. Whilst I went for my Big Mac (no bloody milk shakes, scandalous!) Tan nipped over to the Budget rental car office opposite to seek advice. Mr. Budget, having a bit of quiet day, offered us one of his drivers as a cabbie who would drive us to the hotel in Bahrain for approx 35. After a quick conference between the two of us, we left the car in the  McDonald's car park and took the ride to the hotel.

Ah, but remember....it's a late Thursday afternoon, pandemonium going through the checkpoints...it's going to take a while.....

  • Checkpoint #1 - have you got the right paperwork for the car
  • Checkpoint #2 - Saudi customs
  • Checkpoint #3 - Saudi immigration
  • Checkpoint #4 - Bahrain immigration
  • Checkpoint #5 - Bahrain customs
  • Checkpoint #6 - have you got insurance for your car

Two hours later, we arrived at the hotel. Take it from me, if you're thinking about going to Bahrain from Saudi Arabia, fly!! Anyway, we finally arrived at the hotel (very nice too, old, but nice - some very nice features, but more on that later...!). So it was up to the hotel room, a quick raid on the mini-bar resulted in a quickly downed can of Heineken, the first alcohol in two weeks. Next, it was off for a walk around the local area to sample the atmosphere of the local shops. Unfortunately, Bahrain was heavily shrouded in fog (or maybe a mixture of smog/dust/sand) due to the continuing high winds, so whilst there were some stunning skyscrapers close to us, the view was very restricted. Still, we saw a beautiful mosque that was exquisitely detailed. The temperature in Bahrain was approx 36c, but with extremely high humidity it was much more uncomfortable than 45c in Riyadh.

We returned to our hotel, and settled down in their English bar to watch the footie. It was here that we spoke to our first woman face-to-face since stepping off the plane a mere 15 days ago. So we had the pleasure of waitress service all night as we tried to down as much alcohol as possible before returning to Riyadh the next day. And I must say, it was a nice few pints of John Smiths Extra Smooth.

Prior to the football starting (and during half-time), we had the pleasure of live entertainment in the form of a Filipino group called the A-Chix Band, made up of five exotic young ladies and one guy. Me and Tan both enjoyed their performances, it made a very nice change to staying in a hotel room and watching TV and DVDs. And thanks to Tan the photographer for preserving my memories! All in all, we had a great night and it made the trip worthwhile.....if only Germany had lost :-(

By the way, also worth a mention - this bar we spent the evening in had numerous Arabs in, wearing their white coats and head gear (still can't remember what it's all called), drinking beer, smoking, ogling the girls on stage...bizarre! Obviously, some are more strict at practising their religion than others.

Friday 20th June
So reality dawns, and with a bad head and the realisation that it's back to the dry country of Saudi Arabia, the cabbie picks us up from the hotel at 10:00 and we had back to the border where we have to repeat the above six checkpoints again, albeit now in reverse order. But this being a relatively quite Friday (think a Sunday in the UK) then we're back at our car in about half an hour, and quickly back on the road to Riyadh.

Saturday 21st June
The start of the working week again, and the weather today is the best since we've been here. Typical. The wind has died down and it's clear blue skies rather than the usual haze of dust and sand. And hooray, today we finally deliver part 2 of the Scoping Workshop, 11 days into the project and 9 days after running part 1.

After work it was off to Carrefour, but too late - it had just closed for prayer time. So it was a short drive over to Tony Roma's for my fix of beef ribs, which was obviously still closed but after a short while we got inside and bang on cue about half an hour later it shuts again, blinds down, TV off, lights out...I'll never understand this, especially as loads of Arabs are milling around outside, the road is snarled full of traffic, etc., etc., the whole of Riyadh doesn't just stand still because it prayer time. Anyway, when we got back to the hotel at 9pm the temperature outside still showing as 43c!!

Tuesday 24th June
On schedule, we handed over the draft ISO20000 Assessment Report to the customer. Fifty pages long and almost 17,000 words - let's hope they like it.

I'll end this weeks story with a discussion about toilet bowls. I was taken aback by the design of the toilet in the Regency Intercontinental Hotel, Bahrain. It's unique aspect(!) must have something to do with physics and the best way of handling 'items' that are deposited into it. Compare it to the one in my room at the Holiday Inn Olaya, Riyadh and drop me an email if you can explain the significance of the design of toilets in Bahrain!!

I've rambled on more than enough this week, so I'll save my censorship story until next week (mutilated copies of People magazine, the Mail on Sunday, and Kelly Rowland's latest CD) when it's a shortened week as we fly home next Tuesday. Until then, adios....or whatever it is in Arabic.




  (C) 2008 Mark Sykes