Already for three weeks we are doing what would have been unthinkable ten years ago: We are traveling by bike through Saudi Arabia. It was only in 2013 that women were allowed (at that time only in recreational areas, accompanied by a male and in compliance with the dress code, i.e. with abaya and veil) to ride a bike. Since 2018, women have been allowed to drive cars, dress codes have been lifted, and tourists can enter Saudi Arabia eVisa. All these measures are part of Vision 2030, with which the crown prince wants to reduce the country’s dependence on oil.

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The visa formalities are ready to handle large crowds. With a few simple clicks we filled out the application form, transferred the money and 20min later the eVisa was in the mailbox. After the smooth immigration and the first two invitations for coffee and dates, it became clear that non-pilgrim tourists are quite exotic… From the border post on, we were escorted by the police (probably for our protection or out of boredom) the whole first day. At first we found it funny that the police followed us with a vehicle at every turn. It only became tedious when we were hardly allowed to shop or take a break. After we pitched our tent in the evening, the policeman tried to convince us with Google Translator that there was a good hotel in 25km and that the wild animals were dangerous. Suddenly camping was “forbidden”, which exceeded our English skills😉. We remained stubborn and started cooking. From then on, the police left us alone and the next morning we took off before the escort was back😊.

Without escort we drove via Tabuk to Wadi Disah. An asphalt road leads to the entrance of the wadi 800Hm below. After a long time of doubting whether we could master the 15km long, sandy track in the wadi, we accepted the risk of climbing back up and enjoyed the steep descent. With reduced tire pressure we were able to ride a few kilometers through the wadi before the sand made the ride impossible and we had to push the bike. In the morning we were undisturbed in the super beautiful landscape, in the afternoon a lot of locals came with 4×4 vehicles for camping, offroading and picnicking. With the many people and engine noise, the wadi lost the idyll, but gained in character😊. The many friendly Saudis gave us plenty of water and food, invited us to coffee, tea, lunch, dinner, etc. We had a lot of fun, only the knee-deep water holes made the wadi traverse tedious.

The next destination on our route was the tourist destination Al Ula. Embedded in beautiful rocky landscape, the region offers tombs of the Nabataeans, rock carvings and an old town. According to Vision 2030, two million visitors per year are expected here by 2035. Almost all attractions are fenced off and only accessible with obligatory bus tours, mysterious tickets or exclusively for guests of luxury hotels. Only Elephant Rock and the old town of Al Ula, which is still under construction, can be visited freely….😉

The sterile atmosphere failed to excite us, we soon left the odd tourist town in the direction of the Medina. Because of heavy rain on the way, we spent the afternoon (and night) under the canopy of a small mosque. It was very fascinating to see how much water the wadis still held days after the rains and how green the desert suddenly became.

With a grueling headwind, we reached Medina after a few days. The second holiest city in Islam can only be visited by non-Muslims since 2021 – with exception of the Mosque of the Prophet (Al Masjid an Nabawi). We were very impressed by the huge sunshades in front of the mosque, the masses of pilgrims throughout the city and the mighty hotel complexes in the center. From Medina we pedaled three scenically monotonous days to our friends in KAUST (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology).

We experience the Saudis as very (guest) friendly and interested. Every day we are given bottles of water and food, we are often filmed and end up on countless Whatsapp stati or on Tiktok😊. On the last night before our arrival at KAUST, we accepted an invitation to eat and spend the night. Our host picked us up on the street and a short time later we were sitting in the reception room of his house with coffee and dates. I was allowed to join the (unveiled) women in the living room while David was introduced in the village. Our host’s wife had recently “received” her driver’s license: she proudly drove her two oldest daughters and me to the beach to take pictures. The daughters asked me if I wanted to put on an abaya for the drive. The mom recognized my moderate enthusiasm and made it clear that I didn’t have to do anything and should come along quietly without a headscarf.

Dinner was served separately to David and me, so that the women in the family could eat without veils. We were allowed to spend the night in the weekend house of a cousin who really wanted us to go 4×4 camping. We turned down the invitation and explained that we had a date with friends at KAUST. The reason was accepted only when we mentioned that we were visiting a professor😊.

Now we have been at KAUST for a week and are having a great time. We enjoy the food at the family table, the good conversations, the sightseeing in the campus and of course the trips to the beach and snorkeling! Many, many thanks, dear Barbara & Kids for the overwhelming hospitality, the time with you and that we may be part of the family in such an uncomplicated way!

After 20’000km we renewed our bikes with new tires, tubes, chains and sprockets. The spare parts we had ordered in the summer to my parents and they sent them to us to Saudi. With the freshly serviced bikes, the trip should continue tomorrow to Jeddah. We are curious to see what awaits us on the long stretch through the desert to the United Arab Emirates. On our planned route there are gas stations or villages in the maximum distance of about 120km. So we are not worried about supplies… But we wish for favorable winds and no sandstorms so that we can make the 2000km on our own power😊.