(1/4/13) Today is the last day in Dammam and first day in Jeddah! I woke up this morning around 10am. A true heaven sent as the jet lag was starting to catch up with us. We took the morning slow and then loaded the bus to drive on the “bridge way” or isthmus rather, to the country of Bahrain. We didn’t actual go into the country because of passport/visa issues, but we enjoyed the beautiful view of the Arabian Gulf (worried KSA wouldn’t let us back in!) Arabs get really offended if you call the body of water the “Persian Gulf.”
The area was also nice because the ladies could take off their hijabs (head scarves)! It was great to feel the warmth beating down on my scalp and the wind in my hair. I will never take that feeling for granted again. The coastline was covered with rock barriers and barbwire fencing to keep illegal immigrants from sneaking into either Saudi Arabia or Bahrain.
Once photos were completed we crossed the street to McDonalds. To our dismay, they were closed! It was lunch time!! However, we forgot that the call of prayer takes place during lunch. As an American, it is weird to see McDonald’s closed. We decided to leave because prayer length is subjective and can last anywhere from 10- 30 minutes. Also, MCD is segregated by families and single males. Instead we hopped back onto the bus and bee-lined it for the lunch buffet and then to our rooms to pack for Jeddah!
Jeddah is the city I am most looking forward to. It has a unique blend of rich cultural history in addition to being titled “Saudi Arabia’s most liberal city.” I first learned about Jeddah in a fifth grade history class. Never in my life did I think I would enter the city gates! I am looking forward to seeing the art, Jeddah is known for it!
However, before getting on the flight we ran into problems. We were missing a boarding pass for one of the fellows. Luckily, our Saudi Arabian guides bribed the staff and we all got onto the plane. Security was tight and women get a full body pat down whereas men just walk through metal detectors.
Before the flight, a prayer used by the prophet Mohammad before travel appeared on the television screens. On the flight, I was placed in the middle seat. I was all by myself but of course, just as the plane was getting ready to take off….my seat partner joined me. He was a traditional Saudi Arabian man, probably in his 40’s. I knew he was uncomfortable sitting next to me, and didn’t want to engage in any type of conversation to tell me his feelings. I thought about sliding over to the window seat, but I worried I would offend him. Finally, half way through the flight I moved a seat over. Needless to say, we were both relieved :)
This flight in particular was very unique because many Muslims fly into Jeddah in order to reach the Holy City of Mecca. Many of the men on board were wrapped in “Mecca attire” or as I like to call it…”Getting out of the Sauna.” The wardrobe requires two white plush towels wrapped almost like a toga. Women wear very conservative black abayas and usually face coverings. Because the flight is used to reach the holy city, half way during the travel time, an announcement was made prompting people to start the beginning ritual prayers before traveling to Mecca.
Once we arrived in the airport, a medium size party bus was waiting to whisk us off to the city. Traffic was spread out for miles because Friday is like an American; Saturday . It was nice being in the bus and being able to view all of the gorgeous art the city had to offer. We also saw families outside on the beach around 2am! Women without hijabs, boys racing cars and bright colors everywhere. The city is incredible and so different from the others visited.
We stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel for this visit. The location was great, right next to the world’s tallest fountain. And only a few miles away from the city center which means… souq shopping!!! Souq’s are neighborhoods of handmade crafts and imported traditional items. I love the bartering that takes place before the purchase.
I need my rest so I can be prepared for great bargains :)