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Around the World in 80 Days

Day 15: 9 October

Michael Palin - Around the World in 80 DaysThe Arab Gazette has a list of 'Today's Prayer Times', as well as the more valuable news that Sheffield United beat Wolves 2-0 in yesterday's League game. Nick is waiting for us outside Budget Rent-a-Car. He has arranged a car and driver to take us the 580 kilometres to the border with Qatar. We are not allowed to take a hire car across national borders, but he reckons that we should either be able to hitch, or pick up a taxi for the kilometres across Qatar to the border of the United Arab Emirates. He has arranged for another hire car with driver to meet us there.

We leave Riyadh at 9.15. The temperature is 100F. but dry and bearable. As we head out on another immaculate freeway - the Dammam Expressway - past the King Faud Security College and the Hyatt and Marriott Hotels, it's America again (but of course not entirely America, for no corporations, however rich and world-famous, are allowed here if they have any Jewish or Israeli connections). We pass modern tracking stations and more wrecked cars. Apparently there is no such thing as a driving test here and you can get a licence at the age of thirteen. Off the expressway and onto a single carriageway road which bounces on interminably. Presently pipelines appear, my first view of the substance on which Saudi wealth is based, criss-crossing the landscape on their way from the refineries on the eastern horizon. Long-haired black sheep nestle up against the pipelines. The desert is whiter than anything I've seen so far. Bleached white.

We come to the town of Hofuf where the taxis are incongruous yellow Chevvies, like the checker cabs in New York. There is a huge centre here for the study of land reclamation, irrigation and fertilisation. One of the more encouraging aspects in a world which seems to be making every environmental mistake in the book is the Saudis' success in greening the desert. Plants are so tenacious. They cling desperately to life, and the grasslands outside Hofuf show what a difference a little help makes. I fall asleep. When l wake up I can hardly believe it. I'm looking out at the sea. My first view of the Persian Gulf. The air is salty and sticky again.
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  • Series: Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day: 15
  • Date: 9 October
  • Country/sea: Saudi Arabia
  • Place: Hofuf
  • Book page no: 59

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