Thursday, July 7, 2011

Driving in Saudi Arabia: How do I put it into words?

A few days ago, with our return trips to home just on the horizon, my friend Sandra asked me what I thought was the aspect of living in Saudi Arabia that will be hardest to describe to friends and family back home. I lamely said, "The driving." There are definitely many other things that will be more difficult to accurately portray, but I still think the crazy driving in Saudi Arabia will be one of those things to which people will reply, "Oh. Yeah, well if you think they drive badly, you haven't driven in [insert city name here]!!"

No, it's not like the driving of ANY city in the USA. I'd take a morning commute with the notoriously bad drivers of Atlanta, Boston, New York, LA, or any other city over the driving in Saudi Arabia. But I wasn't sure how to describe just how bad the driving is without it sounding not as bad. "They cut you off, slam on the breaks, honk their horns, and drive too fast" are the kinds of complaints you hear everywhere. But it's just so much worse here!

See how descriptive I can't be?!

So finally, I got the chance to get some hard evidence. I rode with Sandra, Mona, and Mohammed, a hired driver, to a nearby souq. On the way, we had an experience that would only happen in Saudi Arabia.

Here's the set up: The highway leading to the city where this market is located is going through a bit of a facelift. So the old highway that is still in use is on the left, and the workers are paving the new road to the right. Typical sights: asphalt trucks, steamrollers, workers with shovels, etc. The road was so fresh there weren't even lines painted yet.

So we're truckin' along and suddenly everything slows down and we can see that the highway has become a parking lot just about 50 meters ahead. "Too much problems," Mohammed said as he downshifted gears. We saw people turning off the highway to the right to turn around...but where were they going? The only thing to the right was the new highway.

Yep. They were turning onto the new highway and going in the opposite direction. But keep in mind, the new highway isn't finished in either direction so it all just leads to a sandy strip of desert. There were no exits like you find in the States. Our only legal option was to continue in the direction of the traffic jam and get stuck for who knows how long.

Mohammed wasn't having it. He turned to the right, drove through a strip of sand, and joined the flocks of ballsy drivers making sandy tracks through the fresh asphalt.

Eventually the new pavement ended and we all had to detour back through the sand and onto the old highway.

Some of us had better luck with this venture than others. It seems that driving into deep sand, like driving into standing water, can lead to your car getting stuck.

Perhaps you've put two and two together and figured out what was the biggest reason for not turning around and driving on the new road: THE DETOUR AT THE END OF THE PAVEMENT PUTS US GOING IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION OF TRAFFIC!! But no worries, this is Saudi Arabia. You can go at high speeds in the opposite direction of traffic, as long as you drive on the shoulder (which is often used as a lane of traffic) and have your hazard lights on.

This is precisely what Mohammed did for a few hundred meters until we came to the fork in the highway that allowed us to cut across traffic and make a 45-degree turn onto the exit that took us to another part of the city we were trying to get to.

This whole situation would never have happened in the States, and if it had I would have been ridiculously terrified and probably spewing obscenities at the driver until we returned to driving with the flow of traffic (well, legal traffic. As you can see in the photo above, we weren't the only people using this drive-on-the-shoulder-in-the-wrong-direction tactic). But I'm not in the States. I'm in Saudi Arabia, so Sandra, Mona and I just laughed through the whole experience.

Vicariously yours,

1 comment:

  1. I used one of the photos in a new initiative!! Check it out!!