Category Archives: travel

at the airport

Although the restrictions can be stifling, I have identified a few perks of being female living in Saudi. (Of course, some of these “perks” are likely also associated with nationality – i.e. being a Westerner vs. Saudi vs. other nationality.) Take your typical experience at the airport. Usually, the sight of the line-ups for the foreigners in the immigration area is enough to induce a sinking feeling of dismay, particularly after a long flight. But in the Riyadh airport, they usually reserve a counter for the foreign females and if you flash the right passport (e.g. from a Western country), you get whisked over there right away. Meanwhile, the lines for the male travelers who are not Saudi or GCC can extend at least the length of the hall.

(I have recently found that having a North American passport in hand has also come in handy for bypassing the airline counter lines and getting checked in at the “special needs passenger” desk, as long as I don’t have any luggage I need to check in. Hey – I don’t mind being “special needs” if it’s yet another line-up to avoid.)

Similarly, at the security area, women have to enter a separate room for “security screening” by female security officers. I put this in quotations because this involves little more than a cursory swipe with the wand, once across the front and then across the back. No metal detectors and certainly no pat-downs. When you enter the room, they are usually drinking tea, having some snacks, and checking their phone, and I often have the same feeling you get when you’ve found yourself somewhere where you’re clearly not invited. Most of the time, they don’t even bother standing up from their chair. So they swipe you from a seated position; I guess they can at least check that you don’t have anything packed around your waist – and then you’re through. Meanwhile, you would have placed your bags through the x-ray machine outside, and by the time you’re through the female security room, your luggage is waiting for you at the end of the conveyer belt.

So all in all, if you’re a woman, it’s a relatively pleasant and very quick passage through the airport, albeit with some disconcerting security practices. Yet another perk of being female in Saudi.

on the road again: Riyadh to Doha

This week, we took a short road trip from Riyadh to Doha, which is the capital city of Qatar. Doha may not be as ‘famous’ as Dubai among the cities of the Gulf region, but it is notable for being the broadcast home of Al Jazeera and if you watch BBC, you might have seen the Doha Debates. Qatar will also host the 2022 FIFA World Cup and is bidding to host the 2020 Summer Olympics.

The drive to Doha took us on highways across the Saudi desert straight east/southeast towards the Qatari border.

The drive was smooth, with little traffic and wide open landscapes all around us:

Near Hofuf, a city about mid-way through the journey, we saw these interesting rock formations rising out of the desert. They beckon us for another visit to Hofuf, which is famous for its “Ali Baba Caves” and rock formations.

Road trips in Saudi are pretty much the same as everywhere else. You spend your time enjoying the scenery, making sure you have enough gas to get you to your next destination, and ensuring that you heed the warnings of highway signs. Whereas in North America, you might come across signs like this, warning of slippery road conditions …

… or crossing deer or moose …

… here are some examples of road signs we saw here, warning of drifting sand …

… and camels …

(Most of the time, there are safety fences along the side of the highway preventing camels from crossing the road, but there was one stretch of road where we saw a camel coming dangerously close to the side of the road – more nerve-wracking than anything, especially in my line of work where I come across articles like this).

I always get a kick out of the gas stations, which are usually like small plazas manned by guys in jumpsuits (no one pumps their own gas here) …

… and include a mosque …

… and a shop that sells anything one might need for a family excursion to the desert (from BBQ equipment to camel-hair lined robes for the chilly desert night, to toys to keep the kids amused):

By the way, gas is currently selling at the equivalent of ~$0.15/liter here – less than $10 to fill up our tank. No doubt about it: gas is cheaper than water out here in the Desert Kingdom!