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JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia

A difficult visit to a difficult place

sunny 80 °F

5d61f9c0-ac3c-11ec-b38e-e3c767a3f832.jpgb1078230-ac3b-11ec-b38e-e3c767a3f832.jpg1.jpg11111.jpg12121.jpg121211.jpgd6bda540-ac40-11ec-b369-e1a7318ca052.jpgSix days ago we left the stunning beaches of the Seychelles to sail through the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the Red Sea on our way to Saudi Arabia. And then we saw it, saw Jeddah (largest Saudi city after Riyadh) appearing above the most beautiful turquoise water imaginable. Really, the sea around us looks like it has been colored by kindergarteners trying to get the brightest best azure ever – or maybe like God’s exuberance on the first day of creation. But then you look up .... above the twinkling seas, huge container vessels and orange cranes looking like huge giraffes and docks and trucks and swinging arms compete for attention and whistles and sirens and beeps fill the air. Jeddah is one of the least attractive ports we have seen. We would say the same for the city of Jeddah.

The country offered tourist visas beginning in 2019 and then closed for Covid, so visitors (other than diplomats, academics, and foreign workers) have only been allowed for 10 months. The country has spent billions of dollars on tourism – and, to our eye, almost none of it is appealing. New roads, new landscaping, new ministries of culture, new cruise terminals abound, and there is not a scrap of litter on any road. All the new buildings are mammoth, all are shiny; none have charm. The landscape is a giant construction site interspersed with fields of rubble. You can see the photo of the tallest flagpole in the world. The Saudis are very proud of this distinction but don't fly flags on it when it is windy.

We drove up and down the corniche, past an immense (everything here is immense) park with 32 sculptures from 32 nations (or something like that) and winding paths and little kiosks – but no people. Actually in a whole day in this city of 4.5 million folks, we saw maybe 30 local people. An enthusiastic and delightful young guide led us on a walk through the Old City, evacuated three years ago so that its 600 buildings could be refurbished. The remnants of the buildings are amazing coral constructions with wooden Roshan windows arrayed across their facades. They are being rebuilt with new materials and new methods – and the whole thing looks like Disney Land – or maybe more like a movie set. The former residents are not moving back in; the area is to be a giant museum.

Three facts about Saudi Islam we did not know:
1. Atheists and agnostics are officially defined as terrorists.
2. Conversion from Islam is punishable by death.
3. Execution is by beheading for men, stoning for women.

Now about getting in and getting out:
IN: We took a bus from the ship to the cruise terminal (immense spaces here, remember) and then entered an enormous hall with seventy desks arranged in rows. Desk 1 took our passports, but the computer didn’t work. Desk 2- same thing – camera didn’t work. Desk 3. Long wait; official borrowed a pen, took all ten of Bill’s fingerprints (laboriously), took a photo, checked his vaccine and booster certificate and his entry application, stamped his passport and wrote an inscription in it. Hope went to Desk 4. Same process but agent wouldn’t give her back her vaccination certificate. Hope squawked; he scowled but he gave her the certificate saying, “You are very lucky.”

OUT: We presented our papers (twice) at another mammoth entry hall. On the third check, we were each pulled aside and told in sign language that our passports were not acceptable. Then they took the passports. Official 1 called Official 2; both threw up their hands and went about their business. After half an hour we were a bit anxious. For reasons unknown, official 1 checked Bill’s p’port again and let him through. Not so for Hope. Her stamp (identical to Bill’s, we swear) was NOT acceptable. A ship’s lecturer came by and asked to help. His first and excellent bit of assistance was to direct Hope to close her mouth and look down. Then he and Bill and the Officials conferred and somehow magically, we were on a bus that had been waiting 45 minutes to bring us to the ship. I do not think we will be writing plaudits on Saudi Arabian tourist websites.

Posted by HopeEakins 14:36 Archived in Saudi Arabia

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cross that off my bucket list - not that Saudi Arabia was ever on it.

by Seabury

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