Saudi 2022 Yanbu CDV Hope Happens & Burka 20221215_095630 (63) - Copy

Solo from Sydney to Saudi Arabia

Posted on 23-01-2023 , by: Catherine Devrye , in , 0 Comments

Having just returned from travelling solo to Saudi Arabia in December 2022, I witnessed first-hand a Kingdom that in view of falling oil revenues, sees to have little choice but to re-invent itself by becoming more diverse in terms of gender, ethnicity, economics and the environment.

As an author, I was admittedly somewhat nervous because the country, home to the Bin Laden family and much maligned in the media, has only been open a few months to tourism. But I wanted to see for myself and any anxiety soon morphed to amazement after landing in a modern airport with no queues and courteous customs officials.

Speaking of customs… I arrived dressed in black with a headscarf but found that was no longer required. However, I usually chose to wear it, surprised when women would spontaneously greet me: ‘Welcome to our country and thank you for respecting our culture.’

I was an obvious curiosity and apart from golf in an expat compound, I only saw one other Westerner, male or female. To bust a few myths, I drove a car, drove a golf ball, swam, rode electric scooters and felt safer in Saudi than I do in Sydney, Paris or San Francisco; although traffic on 14 lane freeways was terrifying at times; which made me wonder if women, who could be fighter pilots, before they could only recently legally drive cars, might want to be careful what they wished for 😊

I only drove a car cautiously around a parking lot. Likewise, I only scratched the surface in Saudi and am in no position to comment on politics but as few women have visited to date, here are a few, admittedly superficial, observations:

-Malls are an oasis and gathering spot in 55-degree summer heat although many don’t open til 4PM. Luckily I was there during pleasant winter temperatures of 24-32 degrees Celsius.

-Loved the logos on a couple of t-shirts:
‘Be the woman you look up to’ and ‘Appreciate what you have while you work for what you want’

-Polygamy is not uncommon and I met many men with multiple wives but the majority I spoke offered: ‘I only have one wife.’ A couple added:  ‘More is too expensive.’

-Cities of 7 million consist of cars, taxis and ubers with little public transport. Few walk on the streets and I liked their disability parking signs: Handicapped access-people of determination.’

-As I gazed down from the 99th floor skybridge between Riyadh’s own Twin Towers at Kingdom Centre? In the distance, stood the old town of Diriyah and Deera Square; also known as Judgement Square. Where public executions once took place, I only witnessed the kindness of strangers during a music festival that evening. In the adjacent Al Zal Souk, crowded shops sold gold, perfume, rugs, clothing and knives.

It is wise to abstain from judging another country. Speaking of abstinence, no alcohol was evident, but my thirst and curiosity quenched with Arab coffees and mint lime juices—as refreshing as the brief glimpse of Saudi itself.

A litre of drinkable water is no longer more expensive than a litre of oil. But, without a single river in the nation, home to one of the largest oil reserves on the planet, the Kingdom is indeed re-inventing itself.

When they upset Argentina in the first round of the World Cup Football, a public holiday was declared. I predict that with a bit more focus on reliable information and customer service standards to match their impressive infrastructure, this country will kick more goals internationally as tourists discover an ancient land and rich culture.