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Logan's Run

Now where were we.....ah, that's right: keeping a low profile for the remainder of our stay after the previous scares with the security forces.  Well, we have sort of - although when we needed help most did anyone come rushing to help..... er, no!!  Read on for the story.

Before I get into the juicy details of the out of work activities, how about an update on the work front I hear you all cry. Ok, for those few sad souls out there....by close of play last Wednesday we had run 9 workshops over 9 consecutive days to varying degrees of success.  And by success I mean for those times that I didn't quite end up speaking to an empty room!

The culture is certainly different here, people coming and going all the time during a workshop, no-one can sit still for more than 30 minutes before popping out for a while (and maybe not returning), constantly being against the clock rushing to finish before the next prayer session.  It can be very frustrating.  A couple of times I've ended-up finalising a process workflow diagram with no one in the room from the process side of things, just some guys from the project office. My faux pas of the week came during an 'all day' workshop when I said "ok, let's all break for lunch". I was quickly corrected - "No" came the reply, "it's prayer time".  Well it was lunchtime for me and Richard!  So we're now into 5 days of hectic activity creating documents based upon the previous 2 weeks workshops.  Exciting stuff, not!

And speaking of Richard, work this one out...... So it's about 45 degrees every day, and when we walk back to the hotel at the end of the day it's still damn hot, so much so that you're ready for a nice cold shower (and a nice cold beer, but we can dream about that one).  Anyway, what does Richard go and do....only goes and has a sauna.  I ask you!!  He muttered something about wanting to look his finest for the wife ;-)

So we get to our final weekend in Riyadh.  The Thursday is fairly relaxed, we go out for a fast food lunch in the shopping mall at the Faisaliah Tower after everywhere has re-opened after the lunchtime prayer time.  I stock up on some CD's including two Arabic ones that I haven't the foggiest what they're going on about but they sound alright!  Richard then goes into Debenhams at the Kingdom Tower for a new wallet (guess what, they've got a sale on!) and ends up queuing half an hour to pay for it.  Speedy service was not on the agenda on this day. And then we get to Friday.......

Friday 22nd August
Just to set the scene; before me and Tan set off on our expedition to Bahrain back in June our hosts had said, whatever you do, stay on the main roads...don't go off into the desert.  Okay, no problems with that advice, sounds sensible.

So I suggest to Richard that we drive off for a couple of hours on the road to Bahrain to show him how desolate it is, the different shades of sand, see some camels, etc.  So as we set off I relay the advice our hosts gave.  All is going to plan, we see light coloured sand, bright orange coloured sand that looks like you're on Mars, camels in shades of white, beige and dark brown; but after a couple of hours driving there is no obvious place to turn around and head back to Riyadh.

Ah, there's a camel bridge(!) up ahead, I say, let's go over that to turn around.  Now, although it's a bridge primarily for herding camels over it is pretty much a normal wide steel and concrete bridge that can take very heavy loads - a car is no problem.  So Richard slowly pulls off the motorway, we creep over the cattle grid and slowly make our way up a none too convincing slip road.  The tarmac was a bit dodgy in places, but of more concern was the amount of sand on it.  Nevertheless, we proceeded with caution and slowly made our way up the slow incline and up to the bridge.  There were a couple of dodgy moments, but we'd made it half way.

So we drove across the bridge and parked at the top of the descending slip road back to the motorway.  As we swapped positions so I could drive back to Riyadh we discussed that the amount of sand on this slip road seemed much more that on the other side.  Having taken a closer look we decided to give it a go....now remember what our hosts said!!!!

We gingerly made our way down the slope, the wheels slipping and sliding as if driving on snow or ice and then all of a sudden were stuck!  Into reverse, stuck.  Back into first gear, stuck.  Wheels spinning and digging in deeper.  Oh, balls - although I think some other more meaningful words were uttered at this stage!  So we spend the next half an hour trying to extricate ourselves from the mess that we had got ourselves in.  We were digging the sand out with our bare hands, Richard took turns pushing the car whilst I revved-up, then we'd change places and try again.  Don't forget, we're in the middle of nowhere and it's 45 degrees or more in the middle of the desert.  Trying touching the bonnet or bumper with your bare hands to push the car in that heat.  Ouch!!  You could literally fry an egg on it.

After much effort and the use of some wood we found lying around we managed to reverse back about six feet, but what you can't really see in the attached photo is that the right rear wheel is up in the air and the left front wheel is digging a deeper and deeper whole (for us to climb into at some point no doubt).  Anyway, apologies for those who have just looked at the pic and are of a nervous disposition, as I forgot to mention that the photo included scenes of male nudity!!  This is not normally allowed in Saudi Arabia, and any future occurrences will be severely dealt with I am sure.  Richard just wanted an excuse to show off his manly (cough, splutter) physique.  Hello Mrs RW, he'll soon be home ;-)  Seriously, thanks to Richard for giving up his shirt so we didn't get first degree burns touching the outside of the car when pushing it.

Finally after half an hour of much sweating and much heavy breathing (in my case especially, as I did most of the pushing - although I was the one who drove us into the sand!), we managed to reverse the car back out of the sand.  What a relief that was.  There were casualties though - in the process of trying to reverse through all of that sand we managed to rip off the protective undercarriage of the car.  Oops!!

Also take note; this is a slip road on the side of a fairly busy motorway and we were visible to everyone driving by, but no-one stopped to offer assistance.  Still, we didn't have to call the emergency services (although we came close), just remember - don't try driving through sand in a Mazda.  We then went back over the bridge, and we slowly and successfully made our way down the slip road on the opposite side of the road to end up once again driving away from Riyadh.  This time we kept going until we got to a 'proper' bridge, crossed this and made our way back to Riyadh, whilst treating the car very gently in the process as it had been through a stressful time as well.

And that's about it.....we'll soon be heading back to the UK, with me and Tan returning in October to continue the experience.  Until then, I hope you've enjoyed reading the blog. Cheers.




  (C) 2008 Mark Sykes