29/1/2023 5:35pm, Saudi Arabia
The adventure begins! There’s going to be a lot of travel this year as I compete in the 2023 FIM Bajas World Cup. Round 1 is in Ha’il Saudi Arabia, and it’s just 3 weeks after this year’s Dakar Rally.
Getting to any international destination is often fraught with risk, and at least a few challenges. At least it’s easier now than in times of COVID.
But there’s only one flight per day out of Albury, it’s early morning and it didn’t marry up with my 9pm flight to Doha. So once again Katie was there to get me to Melbourne Airport and it was a nice drive down with my biggest supporter.
Melbourne airport is still very quiet and my flight to Doha was not 100% full, so I thought I could get an upgrade to business class at a reasonable price. During COVID this was easy and quite affordable, but what a different scenario now! $5,400 extra just for the Melbourne Doha 14hr leg. Luckily we had already secured an exit row seat which turned out to be be pretty good value.
On landing in Doha I received a nice surprise message from Mishal Aglhuneim at the Saudi Dirt Bike Centre with some photos of my bike with the graphics and TwinPegs fitted all ready to race.
After a short stopover in Doha airport there was the quick 1.5 hour flight to Riyhad, and then the challenge of finding a bus transfer to Terminal 5 for the next leg of the journey. When Alistair Nicoll and I were there for Dakar 2021 we had some big issues finding Terminal 5 but luckily it was easy enough today.
Getting food in the terminal proved to be a bit harder. I tried to order a Dominos pizza in Arabic, it took me a while but I got there!
But then while I was eating it I realised I was right next to the Saudi Airlines lounge which I had access to – and it has FREE food! 🤬 I felt a bit out of place in there, I think I was the only one not wearing a big white robe.
Thankfully I had an upgrade to business class on Saudi Airlines for the flight to Ha’il so I could have a bit of space and relax, but once I arrived in Ha’il life became interesting.
I’ve been to Ha’il a couple of times before but it has been during Dakar and I was on the bike, so flying into Ha’il gave me a whole new perspective. It has a population of approximately 700,000 and is an agricultural hub. Landing at the airport was like landing in remote Africa – a very small outdated airport with no security at all.
I grabbed my bag and the fun began.
As soon as I walked out of the terminal I was harassed by every scamming taxi driver, there’s no Uber in Ha’il. No taxis would take a credit card payment, but they could all take me to an ATM to get cash. Luckily I negotiated a fare and had enough Saudi money on me to cover it.
We learnt at the past two Dakars I’ve raced in that Saudi drivers are the craziest, most out of control drivers of any country I’ve been to in the world.
I kind of new how to get to the hotel on the other side of Ha’il, so when the driver diverted half way there I started to get a bit concerned. Suddenly he couldn’t understand English and he finally stopped outside a small shopping village kind of thing and started gesturing me to go inside.
As soon as I voiced to him that I was pissed off after a long flight and there wouldn’t be a great outcome if he didn’t hurry up and get me to my hotel, he surprisingly understood everything.
So I’m checked in to the hotel, food is ordered, bags unpacked and it’s time to rest up. I’m here!