After a relaxing “vacation week” at KAUST, we found it difficult to get back into everyday life in Saudi Arabia. We had hardly started our journey to Jeddah when we were stopped by the police. According to them, it was much too dangerous and not allowed to ride a bicycle on the highway.

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We explained that we had been on the highway for the last 350km and that there was plenty of room on the side shoulder. All arguments were useless: the policeman stopped a random delivery truck, which had to take us and our bikes. At least we could agree that we were allowed to ride on after 5km. The police car drove ahead and of course did not stop after the agreed 5km. We begged the Pakistani truck driver to please stop. As a third-class citizen, he understandably did not want any problems with the police and continued driving until we opened the side door. This also made the policeman stop. Annoyed, he wanted to collect our passports so we would be forced to follow him. We kept the upper hand in the cockfight, refused to hand over the passports and finally got permission to turn off at the next exit into the nearby village😀.
While unloading the bikes we noticed a flat in our new tires with puncture protection! Under the staring looks of bored men, we had to patch two holes in the stuffy heat.

The roads into Jeddah, a city of 5 million people, were getting bigger and busier. The literally forward and reckless driving of the Saudis required our fullest attention, so that we arrived completely exhausted at our accommodation. We were allowed to stay in the third apartment of an extremely generous Saudi contact. His son welcomed us with his wife and daughter for coffee and cake. In the evening we went sightseeing in the old town, around 11:00 p.m. we went to the restaurant for dinner. The three-year-old daughter was much fitter than us when we returned at 01:30 at night😊.

The next day we met with two enthusiastic members of the Jeddah Cycling Club. They recommended a route through the Hejaz Mountains for our onward journey. They said the landscape was more interesting than in the lowlands, there would be no sandstorms, and there would be fog. The fog convinced us😉! Unfortunately, David had a sore butt after the first stage towards the mountains, which briefly called into question the continuation. We patched up David’s butt with 4 Compeed patches, which made the >2000Hm climb bearable😊.

The ride in the mountains was exhausting but thanks to clouds and villages very varied and beautiful. Every day we turned down invitations from enormously hospitable locals, because otherwise we would not have gotten off the spot. With a dedicated cyclist from the Baha Cycling Club, we gladly stayed for dinner and overnight. He showed us around his village, spoiled us with delicious food and gave us rich gifts (David is now the proud owner of a “Saudi Cycling” jersey😊). To our surprise, he did not go to work the next morning, but cycled the first 40km with us. His 17-year-old son stayed away from school to accompany us as a broom car: The Saudis don’t take it too seriously with driver’s licenses, compulsory work and schooling😊.

Our host’s broom car was replaced almost seamlessly by a civilian vehicle that pursued us, always just within our line of sight. On a narrow road, David seized the opportunity, turned around, cycled towards the surprised pursuer and asked him why he was watching us? The man dressed in black and wearing sunglasses replied that he wasn’t! But already in the next turn his car was creeping behind again in such a way that we should not have seen him (like in a lousy agent movie😀!). Worried, we rushed to a supermarket in the next village and found very friendly Saudis there, to whom we could describe the problem in English. In the meantime, the ominous car had stopped on the other side of the road.

With a lot of confidence, the man from the store and David approached the pursuer, but after a few sentences he backed away, startled. Our pursuer, he said, was from the domestic intelligence agency Mabahith and was escorting us for our safety. I don’t know how one is supposed to feel safe when a civilian vehicle follows one “inconspicuously”?! …especially after reading the Wikipedia page about this “organization”.
Back at the store, the man told the story to his incredulous colleagues and we all had a bit of weak knees. We wondered if we were guilty of something and took the precaution of removing our first blog entry about Saudi Arabia from the net.

After a long breather, the vehicle no longer followed us… it was now another car😉. We slowly calmed down and believed the story that they were trying to protect us (from whatever). The next day there were at least eight replacements of our escort. After we started waving to the “inconspicuous” pursuers, the men each introduced themselves to us. Once we were invited to tea, another time the agent went to fill our water bottles and paid for the coffee. That way it could go on😊.

Entering the city of Abha, the situation became freaky again. In order not to lose sight of us in the city, the disposition was increased to at least three vehicles. The most persistent companion stayed in the darkened car in front of the hotel until we had moved into our room. Later he inquired at the reception for our room number.

On the next day’s sightseeing tour, we initially suffered from paranoia. Soon we realized that we had no escort and could move freely. Obviously, we are not quite so important after all😊.
Now we are very curious to see how the story continues. We have secretly extended our stay by one night😉 and continue tomorrow towards the long desert stretches.