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Home   /   Muscat to Munich | 2023



Muscat to Munich | 2023

In December of 2020 I received an email from Helge Pedersen of GlobeRiders. He had a couple of spaces left on a tour of the Himalayas that left from Chengdu, China and went through Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, India, Myanmar and finished in Bangkok, Thailand. It was quite expensive, and, still being catatonic and despondent after losing Audrey in November, I was certainly in no frame of mind to make large financial decisions. So, I asked some people whether I should do this tour. Every single person I asked replied with, "What do you mean you haven't signed up yet?"

The tour went to places that Audrey and I had wanted to go but hadn't been to yet, including Everest Base Camp. I had been dreading the idea of travelling without Audrey, so the idea of an organized tour was indeed very appealing. Riding with Helge Pedersen would also bring our world travels full circle as it was Helge (and Grant and Susan Johnson) that inspired us to travel at that BMW rally in 1998. (See this page) It was an enormous amount of money, enough that the two of us could have travelled for a year, but I would have Audrey's life insurance money and her words were still ringing in my ears, "Your job is to travel out on your motorbike. What else?" I called up Helge and booked the last spot on the Himalayas tour scheduled for September 2021.



The tour was postponed from 2021 to September 2022 due to COVID restrictions and then again to September 2023 when it was clear restrictions wouldn't be lifted in time. When travel restrictions were still in place in China in the fall of 2022 the tour was cancelled altogether, and a substitute offered. Would I be interested in riding from Muscat, Oman to München, Germany in April of 2023 instead? Of course I said yes.




With the tour finishing in München and having my 2007 BMW R1200GSA already at Audrey's sister's place near München I thought it would be ideal to have that bike shipped to Oman and then ride it back to München. So, I arranged for a thorough service at Motorrad Zierer as they've been servicing this bike since 2012 (prior to our ride to China). They went through the bike from stem to stern, making sure it would be ready for this epic ride.

Picking the bike up after service in 2012



The cost of the tour included shipping my motorcycle from Vancouver to Oman, so I knew I was going to have to pay extra for shipping from Germany. I didn't think it would be 4,000 euro though. So, I had a change of plans. Instead of taking my tried-and-true travel bike, I would take my new "retirement" bike on the tour from Oman to Germany. My 2021 BMW R1250GSA was delivered on the first day of my retirement and I purchased it with my retirement bonus and traded in Audrey's "retirement" bike for it.

My retirement bike is delivered



This raised another challenge, since now I would have two motorcycles in München at the end of the tour. How about I ride home from München? So, I hatched a plan to ride up to Denmark, take the ferry to Iceland, ship the bike to Halifax and then ride via the Trans Labrador Highway across Canada back home. It looks like 2023 is going to be an epic year of motorcycle travel.

The black line is with GlobeRiders from Muscat to Munich and the white line is on my own from Munich back home via Iceland



With the tour company taking care of so many of the details for this trip, everything from accommodation to route planning, it has been a bit different getting prepared for this journey. I am thankful that they have done all the research with respect to obtaining the necessary visas as there are some that I just couldn't have done on my own, such as the visa for Iran. That required over a month of work just to obtain the authorization to apply for the visa. Things are finally falling into place, even having found a house sitter until I return from Iceland, so I am very much looking forward to flying out on March 29 to Muscat, Oman.

First my bike has to get to Vancouver so it can go in the GlobeRiders container to Oman


Stuffed into a container for a couple of months for the journey to Oman

The map on the saddlebag is ready for a few more lines...



 

Chapter 1: Oman

See Map of Oman tracks below
 
It was a pleasant, if long, set of flights from Calgary to Muscat (via Montreal and Istanbul).  Since I was arriving so late at night (12:30 AM on Friday, March 31) I decided to stay at the Crowne Plaza near the airport and the hotel sent a driver to pick me up.  I had some trouble checking into the flight in Calgary because the check-in agent wanted to see my visa for Oman (even though I didn't need one for less than 14 days) so it was a relief getting through customs upon arrival.  The next morning, I washed the clothes I had just spent a couple of days travelling in and arranged for a late check out.  David picked me up at 4:30 and we went their house, picking up a few things at a supermarket first and then going to a Lebanese restaurant for supper where everything smelled wonderful and tasted so fresh.  The next morning Jane flew in from Munich and we went to a fruit and vegetable market.  I love the hustle and bustle of the market, and the aromas too, though the garlic was rather powerful inside the car on the drive home.  The day I left home (Tuesday, March 28 seems like quite a while ago!) the washing machine melted down and since my house sitter might want to wash clothes during the three months of my absence, I ordered a washing machine online from Trail Appliances and arranged delivery.  I was glad it was easy to do, though I hadn't been expecting to do any domestic chores for a while.
 

Mom has a map ready to follow along


 

Wait, there is a chef on board the Turkish Airlines flight?  Cool!

 
 

Part way there


 

Fruit and Vegetable market with Jane and David


 

The colours and the aromas!


 

Going for a hike with Jane up a wadi





The official start of the GlobeRiders Muscat to Munich tour started on Sunday, April 2, so after a lovely beach walk with Jane in the morning David and Jane gave me a ride over to the tour hotel.  That afternoon we had a session to get everyone's GPS loaded up with maps and tracks for the upcoming ride and in the evening our first group dinner.  It looked like a great group of people to spend the next few months with.  Some people had already picked up their bikes from the cargo warehouse but a few of us needed to go on Monday morning to pick up our bikes.  We got on a shuttle bus to take us across town and boy, it was good to see my bike after so long!  I had sent it off to Vancouver with TFX International back in December and it had spent the better part of two months at sea.  I simply needed to reconnect the battery and was ready to ride.  There was a gas station nearby so the three of us headed there first.  I had left about 7 litres in the tank when the trucking company picked it up, so I wasn't too worried, but when I pulled out of the warehouse my remaining range said "zero!"  Someone along the line (probably World Cargo in Vancouver) had drained the gas tank.  The 30-litre tank took 31 litres.  Yikes!  All in all though, if you've kept up with our website you'll understand that I was quite delighted that I didn't break any knees during the bike pickup.
 

Bikes getting assembled at the warehouse


 

Arrival at the Al Falaj Hotel


 
After we returned to the hotel everyone got on board the bus along with our guide for an afternoon tour of Muscat.  We had a tour manager that would accompany us all the way to Armenia (almost two months) but we would have local guides in each country as well.  The local guide took us to a lovely little museum which gave a nice overview of Oman and then on to the Sultan's Palace for a walk around.  While I may not remember much from the guide's talk, I do find that it is more engaging having a guide, so it was worthwhile.  Behind the palace was the old harbour (apparently Muscat means anchorage) where the bus picked us up from our walk and took us to the Grand Mosque.  The guide gave a glowing description of the inside of the mosque, including how it has the world's largest carpet (5,000 sq metres) that was made by 600 women working for Allah-knows how long, but then we weren't allowed to go inside since visiting hours are only in the morning.  Naturally the tour finished up with a visit to the souq so that we could do a little shopping (as almost every guided tour seems to do).
 

Abdullah (the local guide) describes Oman at the museum






 

The flag of Oman


 

Coat of Arms for Oman


 

The Sultan's Palace

 
 

The fort behind the palace, guards the port


 

The Grand Mosque


 
On Tuesday we had the option to go on a dolphin watching and snorkelling tour.  I decided to skip it so that I could figure out the packing on the bike before our departure on Wednesday.  Tom and Fred were having some challenges in getting their GPS units to work (and Erik the day before) so I gave them a hand in getting it all set up.  An hour before sunset I thought I would do a shake down cruise on the bike so I headed over to a viewpoint that should provide a nice view of Muscat.  The curvy road was OK, but it was a four-lane divided road with quite a bit of traffic, so not exactly a fun motorcycle road.  After heading a few hundred metres up a dirt track I found a few vehicles parked and people waiting for Iftar (breaking the fast at sunset).  Some had small stoves set up and were cooking their "breakfast".  It was really quite magical and reminded me of sitting in front of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul at sunset during Ramadan a few years ago.
 

Going for a shakedown cruise


 

Nice view over Muscat


Curvy but not an ideal motorcycle road


A group of friends cooking up a meal for Iftar (breaking the fast at sunset during Ramadan)




Relive video of sunset ride, click here 

Wednesday was my first ride with the group as we left the Al Falaj hotel.  Everyone spread out and soon enough I was riding by myself and occasionally with another rider.  Our first waypoint was a sink hole where one could take a refreshing dip though I decided not to change out of my motorcycle pants.  It was nice having the guide watching the bikes so we could leave our gear there though.  After the sinkhole it was a fairly short ride to another waypoint where we could hike up a wadi (valley) to some small pools.  The track deviated from the route, so some riders found it confusing (especially because the waypoint was directly under the overpass) and skipped the hike.  It was only Lisa and Carol and me that joined our guide, Jama, for the rather hot hike.  Since our chase vehicle had everyone's box lunches (restaurants aren't open during the day during Ramadan) we sent it ahead to the hotel while the second chase vehicle led us to lovely shelter on the beach for a picnic.  Though we wondered about the food safety of having our lunch in the back of a nice warm Land Cruiser for hours.  We got to the Turtle Reserve hotel at 3:00, leaving plenty of time to freshen up and go for a walk on the beach before supper.  At 9:00 PM we gathered in the hotel lobby before heading over to the beach.  Since we were registered in the hotel, we were the first group to go out with a guide.  We were very fortunate in that there were two Green Turtles laying eggs, sometimes there are none.  It really felt quite invasive though as there were about 100 people on the beach in groups of 15 to 20, each group taking turns to crowd around a turtle with the guide shining a light on the back end of the turtle to illuminate the eggs.  It was something to see but felt a little wrong.  Hopefully the end result is that the people on the beach that evening will have more respect for the environment and help protect the turtle population by limiting plastics and so on.

Departure from Muscat


 

Group ready to depart


The first camels are always the best


 

Hello!


 

Bimmah Sink Hole for a dip


 

Helge and Lisa


 

Fred from Germany


 

Hiking up Wadi Shab with Lisa, Carol and Jama


 

Lisa and Carol take a break




 
Woo hoo!

 

Nice spot for a lunch break


 

Riding in front of Carol


 

Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve (no windows facing the turtle beach)


 

Turtle nesting sites


 

Raptor looking for a snack


 

Night time hike to look at the turtles


 

Green turtle laying eggs


 
Thursday, April 6, we rode along the coast for a short distance and then inland into the desert.  Again, I found that I preferred riding by myself so whenever I found myself in a larger group I would I either pull over or pass people but that worked well since we had all downloaded the tracks and waypoints for the entire tour so could easily ride by ourselves.  At Wadi Bani Khalid we hiked up a kilometre to a set of pools and then a few of us went another kilometre along the creek with occasional pools to a cave.  There we found out that Michelle was our resident spelunker and she crawled down the hole.  Apparently, it was a bit restrictive further in and it became difficult holding the phone as a flashlight while crawling along one-handed so she turned around, after trying to take a photo and discovering that when you do that it automatically turns off the flashlight.  Returning to the bikes we found that everyone else had left already so we climbed into our stinking hot motorcycle gear and followed the chase vehicle to a nearby public garden for a boxed lunch.  Then another short hop to a secure parking area for the motorcycles and then we all piled into waiting 4x4s for the 10-kilometre jaunt through the desert to Desert Rose Camp.  At 5:30 we again piled into the 4x4 to be ferried up a nearby dune so that we could clamber further up and watch the sunset.  We soon discovered that walking up the dunes in the shifting sand with the wind whipping up a dust storm was quite the chore.  A few people persevered and climbed high enough to see the horizon (at least 3 or 4 dunes higher than I went) and the sunset.  That evening it was time for the dreaded introductory speeches.  Not that I was dreading hearing other people's stories, but I was nervous about being nervous, if that makes sense.  In the end it was good to hear why and how others ended up on the tour and afterwards I naturally thought, "I should have said this, or I should have mentioned that."  Oh well.
 

Departure from the turtle reserve


 

Caution sand on the road


 

Ed riding by a mosque


 

Watch out for camels


 

Yes!  I love it when the camels heed the signs.


 

Hugo and Michelle enjoying the ride


 

Tom making good time



 

Hike up Wadi Bani Khalid


 

More lovely dipping pools


 

Hike up the gorge


 

Tammy approaches the cave


 

Michelle before going spelunking


 

Desert Rose Camp


 

Hiking the dunes



 

A few went further up for a view of the horizon (on the dune at the left)


 

Ekke and Aaron on a breezy, sand-whipped dune


 

Quiet night at Desert Rose Camp


 
Relive video Turtle Reserve to Desert Rose click here 
 
Friday saw us take the 4x4s back out of the dunes to the bikes where the gate was still locked.  So at least the bikes were secure.  Nothing a good crowbar couldn't fix though and soon it was a pleasant ride heading northwest.  The previous day I had been quite dehydrated, so I made sure to stop regularly for a drink and a snack.  At my first break I saw a nice, shady spot under a tree just off the road and pulled over.  And into some deep sand with the handlebar turned to the left.  Sure enough the front wheel dug in and over the bike went.  I tried to hold but quickly realized it would be futile to resist and laid it gently down in the sand.  It was easier than I thought to pick up the big bike and then I was able to power over to the tree for an even more deserving break.  On to Nizwa for the market, though it was almost closing time when everyone had arrived, so it was a truncated tour of the market and then on to the fort and castle.  The castle was built in the 9th century AD and renovated in the middle of the 17th century AD at about the same time that the fort was constructed.  The fort featured zig-zag corridors to trap enemies and of course the classic opening in the lintel of each 10-centimetre-thick door so that boiling oil could be poured over marauding enemies.  We walked back to the bikes and followed the guide's vehicle to a secluded oasis so that we could have our box lunches while respecting those observing Ramadan.  The only problem being that the secluded spot wasn't the same as was marked by a waypoint on the GPS, resulting in some confusion and texts back and forth using WhatsApp.  The box lunches looked suspiciously like last night's leftovers that had been left in the back of the hot Land Cruiser all day.  What could go wrong?  No one fell ill over lunch and then we rode up a road so steep and curvy that there was a police check point at the bottom so that only 4x4s could go up.  Perhaps if it was snowing it might have been a challenge but honestly it was just a fun road that took us to over 2,000 metres and the dusitD2 Resort.
 

Looking back at the dunes


 

Entering Nizwa


 

The Nizwa fort


 

Our local guide waites for us at the entrance


 

Spectacular view from the top of the fort's tower


 

Carol and Terry and Tammy at the water feeding the oasis


 

Better buckle up


 

This should be fun!


 

Wow, that was a quick climb up to 2,000 metres


 

The fun, curvy road


 

Arrival at dusitD2 resort


 
We had two nights booked at the dusitD2 (no, I have no idea how they got the name) and on Saturday we had a three-hour hike to three villages near the resort.  This area was famous for its rose water and the hike between the villages allowed us to get a close up look at the terraces used for the rose gardens and other farming.  I was fascinated by the irrigation systems used to allot water to various patches of land, but our guide gave us a closer look than we might have wanted when he directed us off the trail (the trails are marked with painted markers) and up a steep irrigation chute.  It was a tough climb and there were no markers, so it didn't feel like the right trail.  I wonder if he led us there mistakenly or on purpose (insert evil laugh here).  Good thing we had a free afternoon to recover.
 

Trail head for the hike to the three villages


 

The villages for the hike


 

Terraced gardens for pomegranates, walnuts and roses for rose water


 

Rose garden



 

Traditional falaj system of irrigation


 

Hiking the Jebel Akhdar villages


 

Pomegranate


 

An abandoned village


 
As a border crossing was in the cards today (entering United Arab Emirates) we left the dusitD2 good and early at 7:00 AM.  It was quite cool as we descended on that curvy road but soon the temperature rose from 17 degrees to 37, requiring a couple of breaks, including gas stops.  I stopped at a bus shelter (never having seen a bus outside of Muscat) for a sip of water and a few dates (picked up at the market in Nizwa) when a nice streetsweeper came by.  I didn't want to offend him by eating and drinking during the day during Ramadan, so I put my stuff away and chatted with him a little.  Well, that's a bit of a stretch as no real conversation happened but we took photos of each other anyway.  Leaving Oman was very simple, getting the passport stamped and then the carnet.  Audrey and I had previously visited UAE (on a layover from Cape Town to New York) but we hadn't been there with the motorcycles.  So, my country count wouldn't go up from 93 but my country-with-bike count would go up to 91.  On to Dubai!
 

Helge and Lisa following Dan and Jill down the fun road


 

Taking a break in a shady bus shelter


 

Meeting a nice street sweeper


 

Out of the mountains and heading to U.A.E.


 

Crossing the border to United Arab Emirates


 

Our tracks through Oman 


 
On to the U.A.E.
 

Chapter 2: U.A.E., Qatar, Bahrain

See map of my tracks below (click here)
 
On Sunday, April 9, we left the mountains of Oman at 7:00 AM and dropped down to the flat desert, cruising to the border with United Arab Emirates.  This would be our first real border crossing as Helge had brought our bikes into Oman while we entered individually at the airport.  It was important to get the Carnet de Passages stamped out of Oman so that it could be proven that the bike wasn't sold in Oman and get the Carnet deposit refunded when we returned.  UAE didn't require a Carnet, so it was relatively easy to cross the border after getting the passport stamped.  The customs officer made a comment that I had visited UAE 15 years ago.  I thought for a moment and remembered Audrey and I had been in Dubai in 2008 so the 15 years was indeed correct.  Quite the good record keeping system they have in UAE!  A new local guide met us on the other side, and he then joined those of us who had decided to stop at a nearby hotel for lunch.  Another exceptional buffet breakfast meant I wasn't terribly hungry for lunch, but I couldn't say no to a brick of tiramisu and a cappuccino.  Where were we again?  After "lunch" the guide suggested we visit the local camel market just around the corner.  He claimed it was the largest camel market in the world with 2,000 to 3,000 camels available for sale.  We only saw a small portion of the market but could see it extended for quite a distance and it also had sheep and goats for sale.  The market didn't smell as badly as I had been expecting and the camels we saw seemed to be in good condition.  So, if you are in need of a camel at some point, I can certainly recommend the market in Al Ain, UAE.  It was then a quick jaunt down the highway with a speed limit of 140 kph into Dubai where we checked into the Crowne Plaza for a couple of nights.
 
After the border: Abu Dhabi straight ahead

 
Stopped at a hotel in Al Ain, U.A.E. for lunch

 
A nice "brick" of tiramisu (no rum of course)

 
Tammy polished hers off pretty quickly

 
The world's largest camel market

 
What you lookin' at?

 
Oh, can I take that one home?

 
Woo hoo!  Speed limit of 140 kph.

 
On track for Dubai

 
The unmistakeable Burj Khalifa

 
Arrive at the Crowne Plaza

 
Love the library in Dubai (the book-shaped building on the right)

 
Whaat?!? Timmy's in Dubai?

 
The Ramadan cannon is fired at sunset to signal it is time to break the fast

 
Click here to see the Relive video of the ride from Oman
 
While most of the group went on a tour of Dubai (including going up Burj Khalifa), Aaron and I had appointments at the BMW shop in Abu Dhabi.  None of the Canadian bikes had the recall on the driveshaft housing performed yet (they hadn't received the equipment from BMW Canada before we had to ship the bikes out) so all of us were getting that work done.  Aaron also needed a full service on his bike since he had ridden it up Africa from Cape Town to Mombasa.  I left Dubai at 6:00 AM in order to be at the Abu Dhabi dealer when they opened at 7:30 AM and found Aaron's bike parked in front of service.  Wow, what a huge place!  Apparently, they are the largest BMW dealer in the world and also sell everything from McLaren to Rolls Royce.  On this day they added the electric motorcycle brand Zero Motorcycles to their inventory.  I hung around the shop and met up with Mark, a member of the local BMW motorcycle club, who had arranged a dinner at our hotel with the club and GlobeRiders for the next day.  We chatted for while and then he went with Aaron to our Abu Dhabi hotel while I stayed at the shop and worked on the Oman chapter of the website.  For lunch I popped across the street to the Fairmont hotel and while I was there, I received a message that the bike was ready.  I finished my sandwich and walked back.  They had also cleaned the bike so that it didn't look too embarrassing parked between a couple of Rolls Royces.  Back in Dubai I hit rush hour traffic.  It didn't seem like lane splitting was very common amongst the pizza delivery bikes, so I didn't partake too much either and just trundled along.  One advantage of the new bike is the water cooling, my previous bikes have all hated hot city traffic.  Talking to folks (over yet another spectacular buffet) it sounded like I missed a good tour of Dubai, though they felt it ran a bit long and, being afraid of heights, I probably wouldn't have ascended Burj Khalifa anyway.
 
Early morning ride through Dubai

 
Sometimes slow going on the ride to Abu Dhabi

 
Aaron's bike on the left for a major service and mine for the recall

 
The world's largest BMW dealer

 
Mmmm, McLaren

 
A tastefully (?) optioned Rolls Royce

 
Omar took good care of us

 
Dubai by night

 
On Tuesday I took a slightly different route out of Dubai, along what I am calling the Avenue of Giants, and then rode for the third time the same stretch of road to Abu Dhabi and our hotel at Yas Marina.  This hotel is right over the famous Abu Dhabi Formula 1 circuit, and I had seen it many times on TV while watching the race.  Fortunately, we were able to check in early as we had a bus tour of Abu Dhabi scheduled for the afternoon.  The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was first on our tour and it was truly stunning in both scale and opulence.  Sheikh Zayed commissioned the mosque to unite the cultural diversity of the Islamic world and its construction took 13 years with inauguration in December of 2007.  I have visited quite a few mosques in my travels and this one just blew my mind.  82 domes, 1096 pillars and 7 enormous chandeliers made with Swarovski crystals.  Of course, their carpet was even larger than the one in the Grand Mosque in Muscat at 5,600 square metres.  From the parking area we walked underground through a shopping mall (including a Tim Horton's that was open and serving during the day during Ramadan!) and then along slidewalks that reminded me of some enormous airport.  Popping back up we walked around the courtyard, marvelling at the intricate designs on each of the pillars and the marble courtyard before entering the mosque itself.  OK, this was an absolutely amazing building, but it seemed more of an extravagant tourist attraction than a religious monument, so Hagia Sophia is still my favourite religious building.  Afterwards we rode the bus around Abu Dhabi, driving by beautiful skyscrapers and the Sultan's Palace.  The dinner back at the hotel was with the local BMW club (that Mark had organized) and it was fun chatting with the locals (mostly expats) about life in the UAE. 
 
The Avenue of Giants in Dubai

 
Approaching the W Hotel at Yas Marina F1 circuit

 
The attendants must get lots of cool cars but they were really impressed with a bike from Canada

 
My room had a view of the track

 
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque



Some of the 1096 pillars

 
All beautifully decorated

 
The amazing marble courtyard

 
Three of the chandeliers

 
The chandeliers in the entry alcoves were a bit different

 
Back at the Yas Marina for sunset and the BMW club riders have arrived



Wednesday was a relatively short ride, made even shorter by the 160 kph speed limit and the occasional blast to 200.  Mark rode with us to the Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort and took some GoPro footage of our ride.  We arrived at the resort in the early afternoon where I tried to work on the Oman chapter while Mark edited his GoPro video.  Here's his clip of our ride: YouTube Video  Mark then returned to Abu Dhabi when the temperatures were a bit cooler but before dark.
 
160 kph speed limit made for short work of the day's ride

 
Mark accompanies us for the ride while filming with his GoPro

 
Woo hoo!  Mach 2 with my hair on fire

 
OK, the fuel economy was terrible and we needed to stop for fuel.  A lot.

 
Hugo and Michele, Terry and Tammy and Mark arrive at the resort

 
Nice place to relax in the afternoon

 
Click here to see the Relive video of our ride out of Abu Dhabi 
 
Normally three-country days only happen in Europe where countries are small and well connected so it was a bit of a surprise that today, April 13, would be a three-country day.  We left the resort in the United Arab Emirates at 8:00 AM and turned onto the highway to find a heavy crosswind from the right.  While the speed limit was still 160 kph I didn't get anywhere close to that with the sand blowing across the road and the wind blowing the bike around, especially when passing trucks.  After gassing up the bike (I should have waited as it was $1.10/L in UAE and only $0.83/L in Saudi and $0.77/L in Qatar) I met the rest of the team at the border to Saudi Arabia.  The chase vehicle carrying spare tires and our guide, Jama, couldn't cross the border so we needed to put everything onto our bikes until we met the chase vehicle on the Saudi side.  Jama's rolling suitcase was tied to the back of Helge's sidecar rig and Jama jumped on the back of my bike for the crossing.  Exiting United Arab Emirates took quite a while and Helge paid the departure tax for all of us to speed up the process.  That would bite him in the butt a few hours later.  At the Saudi side of the border, we were all ushered into a room with 9 wickets and four rows of chairs.  We then played musical chairs as people went up to the wicket to get their passport stamped and we all moved a seat or two over.  This whole spectacle was made more entertaining by the lead customs officer who was on wicket number 1.  On occasion he would start yelling at people in the hall.  For all the world he reminded me of Seinfeld's Soup Nazi.  No Saudi visa for you!  One year!  Imagine my trepidation when it was my turn and he called me up to his wicket.  Surprisingly, he turned out to be very friendly and helpful and I was granted entry to Saudi Arabia in short order.  We transferred everything to the Saudi chase vehicle and then rode the 125 kilometres to the Qatar border.  The wind was still fierce so that it felt like we were riding through a sandblaster.  When I got my new bike, I took it to Ultimate Auto Detailing in Calgary to get Paint Protection Film installed and I recall reading how PPF was invented for the Gulf War to protect helicopter blades from the sand.  I hadn't anticipated needing PPF for the exact use it was invented for.  New construction made navigating to the border challenging and getting through the border control was made a bit more difficult because we needed to use the Carnet de Passages to enter Qatar as well as purchase vehicle insurance.  One of our team of GlobeRiders didn't get his passport stamped to enter Qatar and at the exit station they turned him around and he had to go through the process again.  Eventually we all made it to the Hilton Resort which was just across the border in Qatar.  All but one.  Helge was delayed for a few hours because when we exited UAE, and he paid our departure tax they neglected to stamp his passport for the exit.  It took quite a bit of communication to get it straightened out so that he could enter Qatar.  The Hilton was a huge resort (with an adjacent amusement park) and I swear it was half a kilometre of walking from the front desk to my room.  After getting settled and going out to walk around the resort I came upon Ed sitting in all his riding gear in the hall.  He had checked in but needed a break before continuing the journey to his room which was at least a few hundred metres further.  In all fairness, with two border crossings and a sandstorm we were all a bit tired. 
 
Bike is nice and clean and ready for departure

 
Some blowing sand

 
The entire team transits together to Saudi Arabia

 
Helge and Lisa take Jama's luggage

 
While I take Jama

 
Uh oh.  This could be a problem

 
Ed pushing through the windy ride

 
Bike is much dustier now

 
The Hilton Resort at Salwa, Qatar

 
Click here to see the Relive video of our first three country day
 
On Friday there were two route choices to Doha on offer.  The direct route was only 89 kilometres along a four-lane divided highway so it would be possible to have a late checkout at the Hilton and still have an early check-in in Doha.  But I am on a motorcycle trip so I opted for the 314-kilometre route with the hopes that there would be something other than the four-lane divided highways we had been riding.  The first 100 kilometres was indeed on a four-lane highway, going by gas fields criss-crossed with pipelines while signs admonished those wishing to take photos or video.  Finally, I turned off the dual carriage way and onto a smaller road.  OK, it was still arrow straight passing through flat, almost featureless desert but somehow it felt more intimate.  I stopped at a gas station and picked up a snack and a drink and then rode until I was away from any signs of civilization (that was easy) to have a break (respecting Ramadan and not wanting to offend by eating mid-day).  At a turn on my loop around Qatar I found Al Zubarah Fort, Qatar's first UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It was a small fort so I thought it might be worth a few minutes of exploration.  At the entrance I was asked if I was a Qatari citizen and when I replied that I was not they wanted to charge me 35 dirham.  Peeking inside I didn't believe I would spend so much time there that it would be worthwhile, so I thanked the attendant and continued the ride.  At Al Ruwais there was a brand-new soccer stadium made to look like a fort and then a matching brand-new eight-lane highway went all the way to Doha.  The road was arrow straight and there was a bit of a tailwind, so I didn't actually need my hands on the handlebar.  I went ten kilometres without touching the bars.  I rode into Doha aling the corniche and turned up towards the hotel at the Amiri Diwan palace and was greeted by a camel parade, how special!  The Souq Waqif hotel in Doha prided itself on being a boutique hotel and apparently one of the defining features of a boutique hotel is having your hotel scattered over seven different buildings in the old quarter.  By the time I had found the parking garage and then walked with my luggage to a couple of the buildings in the souq I had had my exercise.  I had earned my dinner at the luxurious Persian restaurant in the souq.
 
Looking for quiet spot for a snack during Ramadan

 
Found a quiet spot to enjoy my gas station frappuccino

 
Al Zubarah Fort (Qatar's first UNESCO World Heritage Site)



Al Ruwais was the site of some of the FIFA World Cup matches

 
The new football stadium in Al Ruwais

 
That is one long, straight road

 
Look Ma, no hands!

 
Arrive in Doha (check out the EV charging spots being ICEd)

 
Wow, a camel parade just for me?  How special!



 
The restored souq of Doha

 
Doha gets a big thumbs up!

 
The Persian restaurant was expensive but they had to pay for this room somehow

 
Relive video of my lap of Qatar here
 
A bus tour was arranged for a tour of Doha on Saturday but when I looked at the agenda it looked like a lot of driving by various sites rather than going in to see them.  The biggest omission I thought was the National Museum, so I opted out of the bus tour and decided to do my own walking tour.  Jill joined me and we walked a few kilometres to the museum.  The architecture of the building was really amazing, inspired by the desert rose and inside there were plenty of alcoves for various displays.  The first part of the museum was an art gallery and then a history of Qatar from prehistoric times to the oil boom of the present.  I imagine that like a lot of the wonderful new structures in Qatar, this too was built for the FIFA World Cup in 2022.  It was a bit of a challenge finding the exit, but we eventually found our way out of the museum grounds (helping someone else find the entrance) and went for a walk along the corniche, getting back to the hotel with 11 kilometres of walking recorded on the fitness app on my phone.  Across from the hotel was an Azerbaijanian restaurant where we met a couple of others for dinner.  The Shah Pilaf for one was enormous and I couldn't finish it all even though it was delicious.  Well of course there was room for a piece of baclava for dessert.
 
The architecture of the National Museum was inspired by the desert rose



First up, an art gallery



The natural history portion of the museum


 
Local history and culture



A pearl diving suit

 
Many pearl displays

 
Pearl carpet of Baroda was commissioned as a chader for the tomb of the Prophet Mohammed

 
Embroidered with 1.5 million (!) Basra pearls

 
Preview of an upcoming automobile exhibit

 
This Shah Pillaf was intended for one person

 
Sunday, April 16, we had another three-country day ahead of us (Qatar, transit Saudi Arabia and into Bahrain) so we got an early start at 7:00 AM and took the short route that I had skipped a couple of days ago.  We went to the same border crossing we had used to enter Qatar thus completing the circumnavigation of Qatar.  While I got the Carnet de Passages and my passport stamped, they had neglected to give me a slip of paper.  I needed that slip of paper to exit the border control area, so I had to go back to Customs.  But it was a one-way road so I had to wait until a police vehicle could come to escort me against traffic.  Well, there was no traffic, but I guess it's the principle.  But of course, since I had everything already stamped and recorded in the system as having left Qatar it took quite a while to generate the piece of paper proving that it had all been done.  Fortunately entering Saudi the second time wasn't the gong show with the Soup Nazi that the previous time had been.  However, when the customs officer was inspecting my luggage, he came across a jar of Nutella.  He looked at me and I smiled, then put a finger to my lips and said, "Shhhh, don't tell my friends," while nodding in the direction of the other GlobeRiders.  He actually cracked a small smile (he had been totally serious up to this point) and waved me on my way.  This transit of Saudi Arabia was a little easier as there were no sandstorms this time but when we got closer to the eastern side of Saudi, near Dammam, the truck traffic got heavier, and it was obvious that this was the industrial heartland of Saudi Arabia.  Bahrain is a series of islands with a 25-kilometre-long causeway joining the main island with Saudi Arabia.  I was glad that the toll for the causeway could be paid by credit card as I hadn't picked up any Saudi or Bahrainian cash.  Tap and go baby!  The border station was in the middle of the causeway on an island called, appropriately enough, Passport Island.  We had no Carnet issues, but we did need to purchase motorcycle insurance for Bahrain and that took a while for the five of us who happened to be there at the same time because the insurance salesperson didn't have a printer in his booth.  We arrived at the Intercontinental at about 2:00 PM so after a club sandwich for lunch I polished off the Oman chapter of the website.  The old souq was close to the hotel and after sunset I went for a stroll to revel in the hubbub.
 
Early departure from Doha, Qatar on the way to Manama, Bahrain

 
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 12 kilometres

 
Douglas, Fred and Ed between Qatar and Saudi border stations

 
You know you're in trouble when the sand dune sign is buried in a sand dune

 
Tom and I take a break in Saudi

 
Busy industrial area near Dammam

 
Entering Manama, the capital of Bahrain

 
Bahrain World Trade Center at sunset

 
Relive video of our second three country ride here
 
Monday, we had a bus tour of Manama scheduled for the entire day.  I mentioned to our tour manager (the one who's been with us since Oman) that I would bail after lunch as I didn't want to spend the entire day on a bus.  Our first stop was at the Al Fateh Grand Mosque (named after the founder of Bahrain) and while it was certainly grand enough it wasn't on the same scale as other mosques we had seen.  What made the visit especially interesting was our guide who worked at the Islamic Centre in the mosque.  Rather than telling us how big the carpet was or how much Italian marble was used in the construction of the mosque she gave an impassioned talk about Islam.  Its guiding principles, the three questions you are asked by Allah when you die, how as a Muslim you must accept all the previous prophets (like Jesus and Moses) and so on.  It was the clearest and most informative religious talk I have ever heard.  I know that some of our group saw it as proselytizing (I didn't) but I guess that is what is to be expected when visiting an Islamic Centre in a mosque.  The next stop was the National Museum of Bahrain where our local guide gave us a tour of the displays, including a satellite view of Bahrain (which means two seas by the way) covering the main floor of the museum, the Fiat the Pope used on his visit to Bahrain and historical dioramas.  Before lunch we spent some time in a neighbourhood of traditional houses that had been converted to art galleries and a historical museum.  Because of Ramadan there weren't any demonstrations of weaving and other crafts though.  Lunch at the Gulf Hotel was a spectacular buffet, perhaps the most spectacular so far, with such an excellent selection of desserts I had a couple of those first.  It's beginning to look like I might have picked the wrong tour to try and lose a bit of weight.  On the way back to the hotel to drop off those of us who weren't continuing in the afternoon, the guide made an offhand remark about Teslas not working in the heat and how the range is reduced so much, from 500 kilometres down to 300 because of the air conditioning going all the time.  I said, "You live on an island 73 kilometres across, how is that a problem?"  It's funny of course because I hear the same comments in Canada how Teslas don't work in the cold.  Maybe the guide should visit Dubai or Abu Dhabi with the same temperature extremes as Bahrain, yet Teslas were a dime a dozen and charging stations were at hotels and gas stations.  Back at the hotel I used a VPN to get my computer to believe I was logging in from Canada and watched Sunday's MotoGP race out of Austin, Texas.
 
Al Fateh Grand Mosque

 
Tom looking sharp (he was wearing shorts which were not allowed in the mosque)

 
Getting ready for our talk on Islam


 
The Pope's Fiat.  How would his hat fit in that?

 
One of the first cars in Bahrain with the Bahrainian crest on the licence plate

 
Dioramas set up with daily life

 
This cat reminds me of the cat guarding the silk worms in Suzhou, China

 
Model of pearl divers (each diver is weighted down and relies on a puller to haul him back up)

 
Pearl accounting

 
Pearl diver statue outside the museum

 
Visiting renovated houses in Manama


 
Art everywhere

 
Hmmm, maybe this artist is trying to tell us something?

 
No weavers on hand during Ramadan so this display had to suffice

 
Tuesday, April 18, dawned bright and early and we got another early start as we had a good distance to cover to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.  From Manama it was just a short hop back onto the causeway and Passport Island where we had to get the Carnets stamped out of Bahrain before heading over to the Saudi side of the border.  It had been fun riding through these three countries; U.A.E., Qatar and Bahrain.  They were each different and unique and I don't know why that surprised me.  I remember thinking the same thing when riding through Africa, each country was different and unique, and I had a preconceived notion that they would be similar.  And again, in SE Asia, but sure enough Laos was different from Thailand or Cambodia or Vietnam.  Dubai and Abu Dhabi were over-the-top luxury and conspicuous consumption, Qatar had an interesting history and seemed to have enjoyed a real boost from hosting the FIFA World Cup while Bahrain was perhaps the most religiously conservative of the three.  The one unifying feature of everywhere we had visited so far was the fasting month of Ramadan.  To varying degrees there were restrictions on activities in all of them.  We had heard that Saudi Arabia would be even more conservative but on the other hand we would be there when Ramadan finished, and the celebrations of Eid al Fitr started.  What would that be like?  Click here to find out!
 
Departure from the Intercontinental

 
Heading back on the causeway

 
Passport Island

 
Map showing GPS tracks from Oman to Bahrain 

 
Click here to go to Saudi Arabia next

Chapter 3: Saudi Arabia

At Passport Island on the causeway, we crossed into Saudi Arabia for the third time on this trip.  Exiting Bahrain was made a little more complicated as the Carnet de Passages needed to be stamped but fairly straightforward, as was the entry to Saudi Arabia (no carnet required).  The previous two times upon entry to Saudi there were insurance windows right after the final customs checkpoint so that motor vehicle insurance could be purchased.  I had declined to purchase insurance (as per our guide's suggestion) as we were transiting through Saudi, first to Qatar and then to Bahrain.  This time though, we passed through the final customs station and there were no insurance wickets but now we were going to be in Saudi for a couple of weeks.  I guess I better not crash.  So it was that on Tuesday, April 18, we rode to Riyadh.  It was a pleasant ride with light wind and reasonable temperatures.  Riyadh itself was a bit more complicated with service roads paralleling the main expressway and very few crossings of the expressway so that in order to turn left you needed to turn right and then do a U-turn.  Combined with some erratic driving behaviour and the remnants of previous collisions, caution was the order of the day.
 

Entering Saudi Arabia for real this time, leaving Passport Island



 

Dan and Jill enjoying the ride to Riyadh


 
Potable water tanks outside Riyadh (most water here is desalinated)

 
Saudi Arabia seemed to be traditional in the observation of Ramadan and rather than setting aside a breakfast room out of sight as in other countries, we had our breakfasts individually in our rooms and then met in the hotel lobby at 10:00 AM for the start of a bus tour of Riyadh.  As was soon to become the norm, we found that the Al Masmak Fort was closed due to Ramadan.  It was interesting observing it from the outside and we had a very good local guide to tell us the story of the fort. The fortress was completed in 1895.  In 1902 it was the site of the Battle of Riyadh where Emir Abdulaziz ibn Saud Al Saud led an ambush against the fort being held by the House of Rasheed, retaking the fort.  The battle played an important role in the unification of Saudi Arabia.  Our guide pointed out an arrowhead still stuck in the door after the battle.  We walked beyond the fort to a carpet and spice souq but of course everything was closed because of Ramadan.  On the bus we drove to a private museum that was open and the owner allowed us to have our box lunches in his courtyard followed by a tour of his eclectic collection of artefacts.  This collection wasn't up to the standards of a national museum but somehow the human touch of his personal stories made it more genuine.  Not sterile, like a museum can be.  The Sky Bridge at Kingdom Centre was next on the list of places to visit but the thought of walking across the bridge 300 metres in the sky (99 stories) was a bit too daunting, so I gave it a pass, waiting in the adjacent shopping centre for the others.  It was fun just sitting in the mall, observing people.  Especially fascinating were the women in full burkas going to Victoria's Secret.  I wondered what secrets were hidden underneath those abayas.  A quick stop at a very modern mosque in the heart of the brand-new financial district was interesting in that it reminded me of the ultramodern church in Brasilia.  Both were sunken down and very minimalist, using the light in interesting ways.
 
Al Masmak Fort, site of a battle between the Saudis and the Rasheeds

 
Our guide explains there is an arrow head stuck in the door from that battle

 
Sure enough, there's the arrow head

 
The bazaar is closed for Ramadan

 
Our guide found an open, private museum

 
Eccentric collection

 
But the personal stories with each item were priceless

 
Kingdom Tower and the Sky Bridge 300 metres up

 
The King Abdullah Financial District Grand Mosque

 
An ultra modern interpretation of a mosque

 
We had a second day in Riyadh that was originally intended for either free time or to ride to the Edge of the World, a spectacular viewpoint where one could see beautiful cliffs dropping down to the sandy desert.  But a few Italian tourists had been killed on the road to the viewpoint and the Saudi government decided to close the road for safety concerns.  I asked our Saudi guide, Alan, if there was something else we could ride to and he suggested a Camel Trail viewpoint.  He dropped a Google Maps pin and Terry and I programmed our GPS units with it.  We then rode through the centre of Riyadh and met Alan and Helge at the turn off.  It was good that they did because the turn off for the viewpoint was in the middle of a construction zone and then the trail itself was difficult to find.  It was a lovely dirt road, not too sandy, and the view of the desert and the cliffs made the ride worthwhile.  There was indeed a hiking trail down to the desert floor that camel trains would use to get up to Riyadh.  I didn't hike down like the others but headed back to the hotel.  There was a car wash near the hotel and after multiple sandstorms my bike was getting a bit too dusty for my liking, so I popped over when I returned.  I had talked with Muhammad at the car wash earlier in the day (when it was still closed due to Ramadan) where he regaled me with the beauty of his home country, Bangladesh.  Of course, when I returned after the ride (bike even dustier) there was a long line of vehicles getting washed in preparation for Eid but I didn't mind the wait and they managed to squeeze the bike into the wash bay between a couple of cars, so it wasn't that long of a wait.  And it was certainly worthwhile getting the bike washed.
 
Terry and Tammy heading out to the Camel Trail

 
Following Alan in his FJ Cruiser out to the trail head

 
Wow, what a view!

 
With Tammy and Terry on the rim

 
Well, that's just a nice photo

 
Muhammad encourages me to visit his home country of Bangladesh

 
Lots of foam...

 
On Friday we had an early start (clutch out at 7:00 AM) though I was a bit mystified why we did that.  Granted it was a 500-kilometre day, but it was all easy highway riding without any border crossings.  I made a point of stopping lots, including for any camel within half a kilometre of the highway.  At a gas stop I noticed a Swiss bus with Interlaken on the side but with Bahrain licence plates.  The tour guide started up a conversation and he was taking a group of people for Eid al Fitr to Mecca and then Medina before returning to Bahrain.  Not that it was religiously significant but because it was a fun way to celebrate Eid.  When I told him of my world travels, he insisted that I could make $10,000 a month if I started a YouTube channel.  Maybe if I changed my name to Itchy Boots…  The town of Afif where we stopped for the night didn't have much to recommend it and the dust storm in the afternoon didn't endear it to the GlobeRiders either, but we needed to break up the 1,000-kilometre journey from Riyadh to Jeddah. 
 
Now that's a nice clean bike!

 
Passing on the left shoulder is OK

 
Sometimes it doesn't end well

 
What, a bus from Switzerland?  It has Bahrainian licence plates

 
The tour guide insists I should start a YouTube channel and earn $10,000/month

 
Photo op!

 
I wonder where that road goes?

 
A shady rest stop

 
I hope this 10-year-old's photo skills are better than his driving skills (he was terrible)

 
Always stop for camels

 
Saturday, we rode to Jeddah, and it was clear that more people were celebrating Eid.  The days of Eid is similar to the time between Christmas and New Year's when all the shops are closed, and people are celebrating.  The group of GlobeRiders stopped at a gas station in Mahd adh Dhahab (translated to cradle of gold) and our arrival caused quite a chaotic scene.  Young men surrounded us, taking selfies with the women, and it was rather intimidating.  Individually we all managed to extricate ourselves from the melee and continue riding.  The spirit of Eid was alive and well today as many people waved and oncoming cars flashed their lights.  At one point I was riding along the highway and noticed a Toyota behind me flash their lights.  He pulled in front of me and held out a coffee pot and then motioned me over.  I obliged and pulled onto the shoulder behind him.  He ran back with the coffee pot and a paper cup, offering me Arabic coffee (it is steeped like tea and has cardamom) and two bottles of water.  Then he ran back to the car and came back with a box of chocolates and as I was thanking him profusely, he ran back to the car again.  He came back and offered me a set of Sony earbuds.  I declined three times but each time he insisted I take them.  I thought it was polite to refuse three times and then if he still offered, I should take them, so I did.  It seems like kind of a weird Eid gift, but I guess it will make a nice souvenir.  Eid Mubarak!  A hundred kilometres out of Jeddah I saw a bunch of GlobeRiders and the chase van pulled over.  Fred had blown a tube on the rear tire of his Yamaha, and it was only through the stiff carcass of the Heidenau tire that he was able to pull over safely.  Audrey had ridden for five kilometres on two flat Heidenaus after hitting a gigantic pothole in Mongolia so I knew that the stiff tire could be a life saver.  A few of us stayed with Fred to provide moral support and what help we could but in the 37-degree heat under the blazing sun it was a real challenge just staying hydrated.
 
I am just that delighted to start my ride

 
Early morning rides are the best

 
Little Mosque on the Prairie was a Canadian TV show and that's what I thought here

 
Oh, a camel drive!

 
A couple of stragglers

 
What a nice ride


 
Mahd adh Dhahab or Cradle of Gold has nice roundabout art

 
Eid Mubarak! Arabic coffee, water, chocolates and Sony earbuds!

 
All of a sudden a troup of baboons ran across the highway

 
Buses plying the route between Mecca and Medina

 
Fred repairs his rear tire with a little help

 
I've never seen a tube blow like that

 
The bus tour of Jeddah was a real bust for a few reasons.  First, being Eid, everything was closed so there were no lively bazaars, and the museums were closed.  Second, our local guide was not very good, just spouting off facts and when people got bored and were not paying attention to him, he got very irritated.  And third, Jeddah's expressways are laid out with almost no cross streets so that getting anywhere involved driving tens of kilometres just to do a U-turn.  We spent far too much time on the bus.  A highlight of the day was when we were let off at a food plaza on the corniche (the guide wanted to take us to a mall for lunch) and Carol, Michele, Doug and I had a sandwich at Costa Coffee where a gentleman at the next table picked up his guitar and started playing a few songs for us.  I requested Stairway to Heaven of course.

 
Old town Jeddah

 
Yes, all the shops were closed

 
Worst guide on the trip

 
Visiting a fish market on a hot day might not be a good idea (at least it was open)

 
World's largest flag (33m x 49.5m and 525 kg)

 
Lovely on the corniche

 
Ice cream with friends is the best

 
Museum looks lovely on the outside but of course it is closed

 
As I left Jeddah on Monday morning the road started climbing into the mountains and I wanted to get a photo of the green hillsides (after the recent rains) but my Olympus pocket camera was out of power.  I plugged it into the USB plug on the dash and then got my Sony camera out for the photo.  As I stood there on the shoulder a car came up behind me.  Usually, people ask if I am OK and then move along.  This time though, the Toyota pulled into the ditch beside me, and four young men jumped out.  They looked really wired, as if they hadn't had any sleep since Eid began on Friday and were partying the whole time.  They crowded around me and I was feeling a bit uncomfortable but tried to have fun with it, taking selfies with them.  Eventually Terry and Tammy rode by and I made my excuses that I had to go with my friends.  I rode quite quickly, hopefully faster than their Camry, so that they wouldn't give chase.  After a gas stop (where only 91 octane was available) and a Nutella Frappuccino (!) it was a pleasant ride to Al Wahbah crater.  Here we were told that we would be camping on the lip of the crater, how cool would that be!  When I saw the tents though I quickly realized that they were way too small for me.  I quickly earned the nickname of "Ekke Two Tents" but decided to put a few cushions down in the visitor centre instead of camping.  We had a hike part way down into the crater planned in the afternoon but just before the hike a sandstorm came up.  The wind was so powerful that it blew one of the bikes over and we took our bike covers off since they were acting as sails.  Once the skies cleared again we were able to go for a nice hike.  The geology of the crater seems to indicate it was formed when red hot magma came in contact with a pocket of water and the resulting explosion blew out the crater.  There was a lake 300 metres below the rim, but it had been quite wet recently and the lake normally was dry.  Shortly after we returned from the hike, we could see storm clouds gathering and what looked like dry lightning, perhaps from the sandstorm.  Nope.  It was a real rainstorm, and the cheap little tents were soon leaking and people brought their belongings inside the visitor centre.  There was even some hail with the storm.  What wild weather, and certainly not what I had expected of Saudi Arabia.  With all the weather excitement there were some delays in getting the barbeque going for dinner and we weren't eating until 9:30 PM.  A few people went back out to their tents, but most joined me in the visitor centre on couches and some setting up their tents inside.  One of the underrated advantages of motorcycle travel is that you always have earplugs and a buff handy.  They certainly came in handy that night.
 
Not a great photo but I had to stop to take it since the pocket camera battery was dead

 
When these four Eid revelers stopped by

 
No, I have no idea what he is doing

 
Helge and Lisa find a camel


 
Nutella Frappe!

 
Flooding?  That wasn't in the prep for Saudi Arabia

 
This was Saudi Arabia

 
Arrive at Al Wahbah crater visitor centre

 
Beautiful crater

 
Sandstorm!



After the storm with Aaron

 
Challenging hike in the crater

 
Terry had to stand on a rock to be "taller" than me

 
Indoor camping!

 
Everyone was up and moving around by 5:30 in the morning so after a prepackaged cheese croissant for breakfast it was an early start to the day.  There was quite a bit of water damage to low spots along the road but it didn't look like it had all been done during last night's storm so they must have had more rain recently.  I made it to the border of the Haram area of Medina at 10:30 AM and since I was taking my time on the ride, I was one of the last GlobeRiders, so the chase van pulled up behind me.  I asked Alan, the guide for Saudi, what the Haram area was, and he confirmed that it was the religious area of Medina (the second holiest city in Islam, after Mecca).  Just one and a half years ago non-Muslims would not have been allowed to enter the Haram area.  There would have been a checkpoint here and I would have been turned away.  Yes, Saudi Arabia is an authoritarian state with a terrible human rights record, but it does seem to be changing and modernizing.  Since it was still very early in the morning, I told the chase van to go ahead to the hotel and I would ride over to Mount Uhud to see if there was a view over Medina.  Navigating Medina was straightforward (and just like Jeddah, the drivers here were much easier to deal with than in Riyadh) and I soon arrived at the bottom of the mountain.  I was surprised to see crowds of people and dozens and dozens of buses (it is the site of the battle between the Medina Muslims under Prophet Muhammad and the Meccans) but I was distracted from all this when the dash on the motorcycle lit up like a Christmas tree (oh, that's probably not an appropriate metaphor is it?).  The tire pressure sensor had detected that the rear tire was critically low.  I pulled into a shady spot in an alley, away from the crowds and had a look at the tire.  The cursory inspection showed no large holes, so I pulled out my electric tire pump and pumped it up.  It held air but I could see the pressure dropping as I rode slowly towards the hotel.  I stopped at a gas station and filled both the gas tank and the rear tire.  Hanging by the air hose was a very nice dial pressure gauge and I wondered how long something like that would last at home before getting stolen.  By the time I got to the hotel I had lost half pressure again, so it wasn't exactly a slow leak and doing a more thorough inspection I found a screw had punctured the tire.  After getting checked in to the hotel I went out to the bike and pulled out my tubeless tire repair kit.  This was the same kit I had bought in California on the ride to Panama after mine was stolen in Ventura.  I unscrewed the Phillips head screw, reamed out the hole and stuck the sticky string into the hole.  It took a leisurely 20 minutes and then I took the bike for a test ride.  Everything checked out OK and for some reason I ended up at a Starbucks for lunch.  Their local cardamom walnut cake was delicious.  All this was done before the 3:00 PM bus tour of Medina, the highlight of which was the Prophet's Mosque.  The mosque can accommodate 1.2 million worshippers at once and is the burial place of the Prophet Muhammad.  Non-Muslims obviously couldn't go inside the mosque, so we stood on the outside looking in.  Sometimes you need to take a moment away from getting the perfect photo and think about where you are.  As others wandered around, I paused at the fence looking in and just let my thoughts roam.  Travelling in these ultra-religious countries really had me thinking about religion and spirituality quite a bit.  I am still an unwavering atheist (perhaps even more so after these travels) but there is no denying the dedication of a people who fast for a month and pray five times a day.
 
Hardy campers Linda and Vincent

 
Road damage from flooding

 
Non-muslims could not go past here 1.5 years ago

 
Pumping up the rear tire at Mount Uhud

 
There's the culprit

 
A messy patch but it holds

 
Yes, that's Arabic for Starbucks

 
Prophet Muhammad's Mosque in Medina (he is buried under the green dome)

 
These parasols fold in after dark

 
Lots of faithful at Mount Uhud, site of the battle between Medina and Mecca

 
On Wednesday a large contingent of the GlobeRiders headed directly to Al Ula for an extra day there rather than the originally scheduled ride to Hail.  Terry had mentioned the evening before that not only would a free day be nice, but he was also concerned about tire life.  I had added it up and was surprised to find we were still 10,000 kilometres from Istanbul, despite having covered over 6,000 kilometres already.  So, I took it easy on the ride to Hail, keeping the speed down to conserve the tire and of course being cautious with the tire plug.  This came in handy as well because the new four-lane divided highway didn't have any services, only one gas station showed up on my GPS over the 400-kilometre distance and it was off the highway in a small town.  I stopped in Al Ghazalah for the gas (though I could have made it to Hail) and lunch in a small restaurant.  I couldn't finish the huge plate of rice and chicken though it was tasty and the conversation with an Egyptian living in Saudi was interesting.  In Hail I went straight to Aarif Castle to do a little exploring.  The small fort had been nicely restored and had a commanding view of the town and the ominous rain clouds.  Wait, what?  Soon it started to rain, and I took shelter in one of the rooms as the rain turned to hail.  Hail in Hail!  (It should be noted that hail is pronounced like "hey" and Hail sounds more like "hi").  I recall the guide in Jeddah saying that these mud and straw buildings were extremely strong, and their thick walls could withstand almost anything.  Except rain.  Uh oh.  When the rain let up a little, I walked back down to the ticket office to sign in (I had been admonished when I was halfway up the hill).  As I signed in, the rain started up again, so I had a nice chat with the attendant, and he offered me an Arabic coffee to while away the time while we communicated mostly with hand waving.  Back at the bike, my helmet had been hanging from the handlebar, but the gloves stuffed inside had prevented it from turning into a rain barrel.  Whew.  As I splashed through enormous puddles leaving town, I thought I would gas up before the hotel since one never knows what is available the next day.  I rode the wrong way on a couple of one-way roads (no one got too upset) to a gas station outside of town.  There was a bit of a line and when I got to the pump a gentleman came up and handed his credit card to the pump attendant.  I refused of course but he insisted.  I couldn't believe he wanted to pay for my gas.  Sometimes the kindness and generosity of strangers just blows me away and I was overcome with emotion with tears streaming down my cheeks as I rode to the hotel.  (I have noticed that I am more prone to these emotional events after Audrey passed away and I think it is an indication of how I am still quite fragile emotionally)
 
Riding north from Medina

 
Nice lunch stop

 
The new, arrow-straight highway cleaved through rock outcroppings

 
Aarif Castle in Hail

 
Beautifully restored

 
Commanding view of Hail

 
The hail in Hail

 
Castle attendant dancing in the rain

 
Soon the sun comes out again

 
Flooded roads

 
It was a lovely ride to Jubbah on Thursday morning, with perfect temperatures and scenery that virtually screamed Saudi Arabia.  Jubbah is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its rock art.  Some of the carvings going back to the neolithic era.  I found it quite interesting how art from differing ages could be discerned and there was even a rock with an Arabic inscription from about 800 AD where you could tell an iron tool was used as the lines were all of equal size.  Leaving Jubbah, we could have back tracked to Hail on paved roads, but our small crew decided to take the gravel road shortcut.  The road was mostly rough, but it did have a bit too much sand for my liking, making the bike move around uncomfortably.  Helge and Erik seemed to relish the sand while Carol wasn't so keen.  Soon her bike, "Zeeba", took a little nap.  She got back on the bike and rode a bit further, but she was soon overcome with exhaustion.  I admit I am the same, I found riding in the sand to be very tiring.  I know the theory of riding fast enough that you kind of plane over the sand, using your feet to steer and letting the handlebar move freely in your hands.  Tensing up is the worst thing you can do while riding sand but of course if you're nervous about it then tensing up is hard to avoid.  Helge came to the rescue by riding Carol's bike to the asphalt and then taking the chase van back to his sidecar.  It was a pleasure to watch Helge ride Carol's bike as he simply blasted off while I followed timidly.  He had quite a big grin on when I caught up to him.  Once back on pavement I enjoyed the ride immensely as the sandy dunes spread into the distance and the asphalt curved gently around them.  Once out of the dunes we stopped together to enjoy our box lunches in a shelter and then rode separately to Al Ula.  Just before the hotel there was a sign pointing to Elephant Rock, so I headed down the short gravel road (no sand!) to the rock.  The light was just beautiful during the golden hour before sunset.
 
Short ride to Jubbah

 
Our guide shows the rock art



 
Our guide knows ancient languages too, Helge gets his name tag

 
I get two languages for Ekke (the top one is read from right to left)

 
Arabic inscription made with iron tools

 
Goats make a nice break from camels

 
Start of the dirt shortcut


 
Helge and Lisa followed by Carol

 
A bit too sandy for my comfort level

 
Zeeba takes a nap

 
Carol follows Erik for a while but after another wobble gets Helge to ride it out

 
Carol worshipping the asphalt

 
Pavement I like!

 
Perfect

 
Lunch break (box lunch from the hotel)


 
Elephant Rock

 
Another bad hair day

 
Arriving at Shaden Desert Resort near Al Ula

 
Nice patio for a morning cup of tea

 
Early Friday morning I woke up at 4:00 AM feeling light-headed and the room was spinning (counterclockwise).  Soon I had to throw up and I staggered back to bed.  This continued for the rest of the morning, with the room spinning and then going to toilet for some dry heaves.  It was the strangest thing as it wasn't like food poisoning where you throw up the offending food and then you're better again.  In any case the day was a write off as others went on various tours (including an early morning balloon flight that I hadn't signed up for).
 
Saturday was a rather full day as we first took a bus ride over to Hegra, another UNESCO listed site.  Hegra was a Nabataean settlement, the second largest in the kingdom after Petra and a bustling centre of trade.  While Petra is a nicer site to visit as a tourist (nothing beats walking down the Siq and seeing the Treasury for the first time), Hegra is better preserved and so has more inscriptions and things of archeological significance.  This is because Saudi Arabia has been so isolated as a tourist destination.  The most iconic tomb in Hegra was carved out of its own sandstone outcrop.  The tomb of Lihyan son of Kuza was mostly complete but the lower portion remained unfinished so you could see how the tombs were carved from top to bottom.  The Hegra tour guide was easily the most enthusiastic guide I have ever had; she was so lively that it almost seemed like she could bring the Nabataeans back to life on her own.  Taking the bus back to the hotel we had a few minutes to freshen up and pack before checkout and then on to our next destination.  While everyone followed the GPS tracks to Tabuk, I wanted to see some of the things I had missed the day before due to my mystery illness.  I rode up to the Harrat viewpoint for a nice view over Al Ula and then north to the world's largest mirrored building, Maraya.  Maraya is an art exhibition centre (the previous day's tour had gone into the Andy Warhol exhibit) but I only stopped in front of the building for a few photos.  I then rode north to join up with the appropriate GPS tracks towards Tabuk.  I had asked our Saudi guide, an expat by the name of Alan who had lived in Saudi Arabia for 25 years, if there was anything of interest to see on the way.  He said I could stop off at an Ottoman fort and also keep my eyes open for the remnants of the Damascus to Mecca railway, itself a portion of the railway from Istanbul to Mecca.  I did see some rail bed and when I found the fort there was an abandoned railway station next door.  The fort served as a way station for the railway after its use as a fort protecting the trade and pilgrimage route came to an end.  The Al-Muazzam Fort was protected with a double fence but there was a hole in both fences so that I could explore it a bit.  This kind of exploring I absolutely loved.  I had enough information from Alan to make it meaningful, but I wasn't surrounded by tourists and could explore at my own pace.  Across the full cistern beside the fort, I saw a local family had also snuck through the fence and I waved at them.  While the outside of the fort seemed in good condition, the inside looked especially hazardous, so I didn't risk entering it.  Around the fort were pits that I thought might have been archeological digs and the main reason for the double fence.  When I asked Alan about that later though he said that Bedouins had been digging around the fort looking for gold.  I finally arrived at the Holiday Inn in Tabuk at 6:30 PM after a fairly full day.  While I was tired, it was a good tired.
 
Visiting the Nabataean city of Hegra

 
Most enthusiastic guide ever

 
Iconic Tomb of Lihyan so of Kuza

 
Very similar to Petra of course

 
Harrat viewpoint above Al Ula

 
World's largest mirrored building at Maraya


 
Al-Muazzam Fort a few hundred metres off the road


 
The cistern is almost full

 
Inside of the fort looked dangerously unstable

 
Since I had a late arrival the day before I hadn't gassed up so hit a gas station on the way out of town and then enjoyed a really nice ride out of Tabuk to the west over the mountains.  We had the coordinates for the NEOM Experience Centre so we could have a look at the enormous construction project.  NEOM will ultimately be a planned city, 170 kilometres long, stretching from Sharma to Tabuk.  It was astonishing to see the work going on in the first phases along the ride.  Lines of dump trucks seemed to stretch for ever as they hauled sand out of the future harbour (currently 70 metres above sea level) and created platforms for other projects.  Ultimately it will house 9 million people in buildings only 200 metres wide but 500 metres high.  It will be the ultimate planned community with everything within a five-minute walk though connected by high-speed rail to airports at either end.  Check it out at www.NEOM.com. Unfortunately, the Experience Centre was closed to the public and only investors could get past the security gate so we couldn't experience it for ourselves.  We continued the ride to the coast at Ras Al-Sheikh Hameed and had our boxed lunches (Subway chicken wraps) at the wreck of a Catalina seaplane.  In 1960 Thomas Kendall and his family were flying the converted U.S. Navy aircraft around the world.  They landed on the beach and were mistaken for Israeli forces (with whom Saudi Arabia was in conflict at the time) and the plane was shot up.  The family survived and they were eventually set free.  The wreckage, framed by the impossibly blue bay, made for an excellent lunch stop.  Riding north along the Magna Coastal Road with the Red Sea to the left and mountains on the right was simply beautiful and reiterated how varied the landscape of Saudi Arabia was, not just an endless sea of dunes.  A desert camp had been set up a few hundred metres from the paved road with large modern tents (I could stand up!) equipped with cots and a Bedouin tent for dinner.  All in all, a much better set up than the pup tents supplied at Al Wahbah Crater.  A local guide then took us for a hike up Wadi Tayyb-Esm, a 700-metre-deep canyon leading up from the Red Sea.  The afternoon light on the canyon walls and reflecting off the small stream that surfaced every now and again was magical.  The guide worked on the NEOM project and so was able to tell us about it and answer our questions.  He seemed quite optimistic that the first phase, that will house 300,000 people, would be finished in five years.  I certainly appreciated his enthusiasm and judging by the construction work that we had witnessed on the ride it might even be possible.  That night in the tent, I had to use my earplugs as the wind was howling and causing a great flapping noise.  Interestingly the Bedouin dinner tent was much quieter and didn't seem to attract nearly as much sand.  Everything in my sleeping tent on the other hand was covered with a fine layer of it and the flapping just became worse overnight.
 
The entire distance from Tabuk to Sharma would be the NEOM project, 170 kilometres

 
At least I can read that something is 12 kilometres to the left

 
Good advice

 
American Catalina amphibious plane from 1960

 
Hugo thinks it might be repairable

 
Riding north along the coastal road

 
Sandy track to Magna Camp

 
Entrance to Wadi Tayyb-Esm

 
For scale, see the people in the canyon

 
The stream reflects the golden light

 
Our camp

 
The Bedouin tent doesn't flap in the fierce wind

 
Tea and coffee on

 
Terry, Helge, Lisa and Alan relax in the Bedouin tent


The first of May we were all up early with first light, cleaning the sand out of everything before having a quick breakfast and hitting the road.  We backtracked a short distance along the Magna Coast Road since the road was closed further north (just past the Tayyb-Esm canyon) and then turned inland and north towards the Jordanian border. 
 
Early morning start

 
Whitecaps on the Gulf of Aqaba portend a breezy ride (mountains in Sinai, Egypt)

 
Heading inland and north towards Jordan



Saudi Arabia proved to be much more diverse than I had originally thought, not consisting of endless sand dunes, but also volcanic lava fields and mountains.  But it was the culture that made the biggest impression on me, especially during Ramadan and Eid al Fitr with our visit to the Prophet Muhammad's Mosque in Medina being a highlight.  There was also the natural grandeur of Al Ula, the prehistoric rock art of Jubbah and the Nabataean city of Hegra.  Wow!
 
Map of GPS tracks across Saudi Arabia 

Chapter 4: Jordan

Map of our route through Jordan below 
 
Entering Jordan on 1 May 2023, was a bit of a gong show (according to my daily journal) as we needed to have the carnet de passages processed for all the bikes and purchase insurance.  Only when we had all been processed were we all gathered in a small room to get a lecture from a police officer on how to ride in Jordan.  When we had finally finished all of this, our Jordanian guide took off quite quickly in the van.  Some of us thought we were supposed to follow the van so gave chase while others, like me, thought we were to navigate on our own and the van would go ahead and set things up while a chase vehicle (with a trailer) brought up the rear.  Eventually the van pulled over while the rest of us caught up and then guided us to a marina where a large motor yacht was waiting for us.  After boarding the ship, we cruised out into the Sea of Aqaba, straddling the border between Jordan and Israel until we reached a prime snorkeling site on the Jordan side, where a few of us went for a dip while others relaxed on board.  A catered lunch was provided on the motor back to the bikes.  Leaving the marina was another bit of a schmoz as a police cruiser wanted to be our lead vehicle.  I was first in line behind the cruiser and when they deviated from the GPS tracks, I stayed on the track.  Everyone followed me instead of the cruiser but when I had to do a U-turn (legal and the only way to do the left turn at the T-intersection) the police car magically showed up and stopped opposing traffic.  After everyone had completed the U-turn and I was already a couple of kilometres down the road the police car came flying by the group and then firmly placed itself at the front of our parade.  OK, I guess I will follow you.  When we reached a customs checkpoint a few kilometres out of town, I thought that finally they would do something useful and help us through the checkpoint.  Nope, they just pulled over and motioned me forward to the inspection station.  After the inspectors had gone through my saddlebags, I asked the inspector if we were free to go and he said, "Yes."  I fired up the bike and the police officer gave me a look and the international symbol for, "What do you think you're doing?"  I looked at the inspector, who gave me the thumbs up, and took off.  Soon enough I was at the head of a queue of GlobeRiders heading for Wadi Musa, near the Nabatean city of Petra.  Our local Jordanian guide rode a BMW R1200GS during his free time and as a motorcyclist, knew what motorcyclists like.  He had found a most delightful road snaking its way up to the high plateau where Wadi Musa was located.  This single lane road was exactly what we needed after the schmoz at the border and the police escort.  All good fun until we were stopped at the city limits and forced into another police escort, taking the long way through town to our hotel at the entrance to Petra.  It felt like we were on parade with tourists gawking at us.  The town looked familiar and sure enough I recognized the Petra Palace where Audrey and I had stayed in 2007.  You can see our 2007 adventures in Jordan here:  http://www.ekke-audrey.ca/chapter_7__jordan_.htm
 
Entering Jordan

 
Convoy leaving the border

 
Time for a three hour cruise.  Where's Gilligan?

 
Israel is to the left and Jordan to the right, cruising the Bay of Aqaba

 
Shook off the police escort and heading out at the head of the convoy

 
Along the border between Jordan and Israel

 
What a fabulous road! (Mind the occassional sand)




Vincent and Linda followed by Carol

 
Hugo and Michele followed by Dan and Jill

 
Ed enjoying the ride up the twisty road



A Bedouin camp

 
That's the road down below

 
Watch out for sheep and goats

 
Arrived at our hotel next to the entrance to Petra

 
The morning of May 2 started at 7:00 AM with a tour of Petra.  We started early to beat the heat and maybe get ahead of the tourist crowds.  While Audrey and I had visited Petra before, we had not hired a guide.  It was nice with the guide telling stories of the Nabateans, so it felt more fulfilling than going on our own.  On the other hand, we didn't go to some of the places I remembered like the Temple of High Sacrifice.  After lunch at the fancy restaurant in Petra (by the way, the guided tour and lunch were included in the GlobeRiders M2M tour; we didn't need to pay extra for the excursion), Michele and I hiked up the 900 steps to the tomb known as the Monastery.  Here I started my 2023 Hike for Hospice Calgary.  The official date of the hike was May 7 but when I checked the GlobeRiders schedule, I noted that we would be in Baghdad.  I was pretty sure I had never heard Baghdad mentioned in the list of pedestrian friendliest cities in the world.  I decided to do my hike a few days early in Petra.  Michele accompanied me part way down and then decided to take a donkey the rest of the way.  It was getting quite hot by this time and unfortunately, I had pulled a calf muscle on the way up the 900 steps, so it was a bit painful going back down to the Treasury and up the Siq.  The ice cream bar at the Indiana Jones Snacks Shop was certainly well deserved and I am happy to report that my fund-raising goal for Hospice Calgary was exceeded.
 
Before entering the Siq there are already Nabatean tombs

 
Water channels along the Siq

 
Ekke is getting excited to enter Petra



The first glimpse of the Treasuray is always magical

 
The Treasury (not really a treasury, rather a fancy tomb)

 
Who needs wallpaper when you've got walls like this?



 
Getting ready to climb 900 steps

 
Starting the Hike for Hospice Calgary at the Monastery

 
Thanks for joining me Michele!

 
Well, maybe a donkey ride would be more fun...

 
Back down at the Treasury, just have to climb back up the Siq to finish the hike

 
Well deserved

 
Leaving Wadi Musa, we took a different, though equally twisty, road down towards the Dead Sea before heading back up towards Amman.  At the city limits we were all stopped and again had to follow a police escort all the way through the city to our hotel.  As it was a short ride for the day, we were at the hotel by lunch time, so we all hopped onto a small bus for a ride to a restaurant.  Our Jordanian guide, Wael, described what specialities we would be having for lunch at this famed local restaurant.  He didn't mention anything about dessert, so I asked him, and he said there was no dessert.  The rest of the group, knowing me, gasped in horror.  Then on entering the restaurant Wael handed me one of the candies at the cashier's desk, saying here's your dessert.  The lunch was amazing with piping hot, oven-fresh bread (we could see them being made in the clay oven), a variety of appetizers and an enormous hunk of meat on a bed of rice and we were all pretty full.  But then the restaurant's owner and Wael came out carrying a huge platter of warm kunafa, my absolute favourite dessert in the Middle East.  After everyone had been served, they brought me the entire serving platter for dessert, laughing all the while.  A tour of Amman in the afternoon highlighted Roman ruins and Islamic mosques as well as a bustling market.  The next day, while most people took the Dead Sea tour, I stayed at the hotel, making use of their free laundry machines (!) and going for a walk with Doug on the hunt for ice cream.
 
Vince is excited to hit the road, "It's a great day to be a GlobeRider!"

 
Passing a shepard on the way down from Wadi Musa

 
Heading down to the Dead Sea


 
Aaron having fun on the curvy road down

 
Dan and Jill having fun too


 
That little tiny speck is me having fun

 
The Dead Sea is at about -400 metres elevation

 
Convoy following a police escort to the hotel in Amman


 
Wonderful lunch at a nice restaurant in Amman, but no dessert?!?

 
But wait, there is dessert!  Piping hot, fresh kunafa.

 
Yum!

 
High on a hill at the citadel in Amman

 
Umayyad Mosque at the citadel

 
Umayyad mosque is so old it points towards Jerusalem, not Mecca

 
Roman temple of Hercules

 
Roman amphitheatre

 
The amphitheatre has been restored and is used for events like concerts

 
Lots of electric cars, like this Chinese-built VW ID6

 
After Saudi Arabia during Ramadan it is fun to tour the open markets and bazaars


 
After a police escort out of Amman on May 5, it was a relatively short ride to Azraq Lodge.  This hotel was the closest to the Jordan-Iraq border, though it was still more than 200 kilometres away.  We spent the afternoon doing a bit of bike maintenance since the next day would be a bit of a doozy.  We were planning to cross the border into Iraq and ride a total of 800 kilometres to Baghdad.  Gulp.
 
Police escorted convoy out of Amman

 
Riding east in the direction of Iraq

 
Stopped to explore Qasr Al Kharaneh

 
The 8th century fort was used like a caravansarai

 
Hotel rooms for travellers face the courtyard (there would have been a wooden walkway)

 
Qasr Amra is all the remains of a larger castle complex built around 730 AD

 
The country cabin and its hammam (bath) are among the oldest remains of a bathhouse in the Muslim world

 
It is UNESCO listed in part because of its well-preserved frescoes


 
My alarm went off at 3:25 AM on May 6 and we departed at 4:30 AM in order to make it to Baghdad before sunset.  Riding east into the rising sun we made it to the border at about 8:30 AM after a couple of breaks and transferring stuff from our chase vehicle.  It took a bit longer than we were hoping to exit Jordan, entering no-man's land at 10:30.  With 550 kilometres to go, we might still be able to make Baghdad before sunset if the Iraqi side of the border went fairly quickly.
 
4:20 AM and Doug is ready to depart

 
On the road with 793 kilometres to go to Baghdad

 
An early morning stretch break

 
Predawn's early light


 
Getting ready to enter the border area

 
Entered the Jordan side of the border at 8:30 AM

 
Met a very friendly woman at immigration who wanted to try out my bike

 
Leaving Jordan at about 10:30 AM to enter Iraq (they need a sign directing tanks?)

 
GPS tracks of our route through Jordan

Chapter 5: Iraq

GPS Tracks of our ride through Iraq at the bottom of the page


It had taken a bit longer exiting Jordan than we had hoped, a total of about two hours, and it was 10:30 AM as we crossed no-man’s land into the Iraqi side of the border.  We still had about 550 kilometres to go to get to Baghdad so with any luck we could make it before dark.  Well, luck wasn’t on our side, and it took a very long time.  One of the advantages of being on a tour with guides and fixers was that it should go a bit more smoothly crossing borders since the fixers would know where to go and spoke the local language.  This may be the case, but the disadvantage is that as a customer you don’t have any idea what is going on or why things take as long as they do.  We had a couple of local guides as well as our tour manager, Jama, who coordinated with the local guides and fixers and we also had the company of MIR’s owner, Doug.  This team worked tirelessly to process our entry and they ran from office to office with our passports, vehicle registrations and carnet de passages.  At one point someone said we needed to get our laptops inspected.  It took a while to find the person who did the inspection and when we did find him, he wasn’t overly concerned with our laptops and didn’t ask us to fire them up.  The big hold up seemed to be the carnet de passages as no one seemed to know what to do with them.  Someone mentioned that they were trying to enter all the information onto computers (which rather defeats the purpose of the carnet) and it was taking forever.  Finally at a little past 5:00 PM we had had enough and since we were in possession of all our documents (more accurately, our fixers had all of our documents) we decided to make a break for it.  We threw on our helmets and quickly headed for the exit.  After a cursory check of our documents we were out!

Yay, we are out of the border control!



A couple of kilometres down the road (we could still see the border) we hit our first military check stop.  We knew we had to have a military escort for about 500 kilometres, all the way to Baghdad so it wasn’t a surprise that we were stopped and told to wait for an escort vehicle to arrive.  Apparently, our arrival was a surprise for them.  After waiting half an hour, a Humvee showed up and took the lead of our convoy, which consisted of our 13 motorcycles, a Jeep for the guides and a bus with a couple of the passengers on board as well as our spares.  With 550 kilometres to go we hoped that the escort would set a good pace to maximize our daylight.  Nope.  60 kilometres per hour on an arrow-straight four-lane divided highway as daylight slowly faded away with the sunset behind us.  The worst part was that the escorts were changed out every 20 or 30 kilometres.  Sometimes it would be a few minutes wait as we traded one vehicle for another (usually either a heavily armed Humvee or a Toyota Land Cruiser pickup truck) but at other times it would take longer as they wanted to check our papers, or worse, call the station commander to confirm we were free to proceed.  This continued throughout the night, with each escort vehicle choosing to go either very slowly or very fast (120 km/h at night on a road strewn with blown truck tire carcasses, potholes and the occasional sleeping dog).  The combination of terrifying riding in the dark and interminable waiting at checkpoints was soul crushing as I watched our ETA in Baghdad slipping further and further away.  Some of our team were able to lie down for a quick power nap beside their bikes while we were waiting at checkpoints but by midnight we were all exhausted and we insisted on a proper rest.  We originally asked to take a break at a larger military checkpoint (figuring this was safest) but they kicked us out and we drove down the road where most of us lay down in the ditch for a good 30-minute break.

Time for selfies while we wait for our escort

Eventually a Humvee shows up for our escort

A convoy queues up behind the Humvee

Baghdad 551 km

Dusk falls as we trundle along at 60 km/h


 

Swap to a new escort, the Toyota thankfully goes a bit faster than the Humvee

Checkpoints every few dozen kilometres

Pounding through the night at 120 km/h, Terry and I ride side by side to double our headlights


 

Another long check point stop

Midnight rest stop

Some could nap at the check points

We rode through the night and approached the Baghdad city limits as the sun rose for the second time on this ride.  We were finally free of our military escorts, but the city police held us at the side of a busy road as rush hour traffic streamed into Baghdad.  They spent a long time trying to figure out what to do with us but eventually we made a break for it and rode off into traffic.  It was impossible to stay together and soon we were split up, with each of us navigating to the hotel on our own or in small groups as the temperature climbed past 30C.  I was one of the last to arrive at 9:45 AM, having unintentionally toured a bit of the city and its markets.  What an epic ride; 800 kilometres, 30 hours and 2 sunrises.  This experience has been seared into our memories forever.

Sunrise over Baghdad

Helge takes a power nap 

Handover from military to city police

Morning rush hour traffic in Baghdad as the temperature climbs to 30C

Crossing the Tigris

Not really a great time to be exploring markets

Arrival the the Noorland Hotel at 9:45 AM, 29 hours and 15 minutes after we left the hotel in Jordan



After checking into the hotel at 10:00 AM the rest of the day was a bit of a blur with occasional cat naps but no real sleep possible for me.  After dinner at the hotel, we all hopped onto a bus and drove to a lively shopping area for a stroll around the streets of Baghdad.  The highlight was Nutella ice cream!

An evening stroll in a lively part of Baghdad

I suspect this shoe store wouldn't do well in Canada

Whaaat???

On Monday, May 8, we spent the morning at the Iraq Museum.  It was a large museum and very nicely laid out.  Unfortunately, we had a museum guide who seemed intent on showing us absolutely everything and rushed us through every exhibit, not giving us time to read or absorb what we were seeing.  I was happy when the guide finally let us wander on our own.  I especially enjoyed the section devoted to the Assyrians since I had been to lots of museums describing Hellenistic, Arabian and Stone Age history but not many with Assyrian history.  In the afternoon the bus went out to visit a Babylonian site as well as one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces, but I had no desire to spend four hours on a bus so opted for a relaxing afternoon in Baghdad.

A walk about in Baghdad on the way to the Iraqi Museum




How can you not love the markets?







She raced through the museum as quickly as possible in a staccato of facts (Vince absorbs every detail)

I really need to learn more about Middle Eastern civilizations










While the ride from Baghdad to Mosul (and who ever thinks they’ll have that in a sentence?) was only 400 kilometres, it felt longer.  The traffic leaving Baghdad, going against the commuter traffic, was quite a bit better than when we came in but still a bit of work.  We still had to ride in a group, so a couple of minor mechanical issues ended up impacting the entire group.  The stop in Samarra to look at the Grand Mosque was interesting though most of the mosque itself was destroyed.  The spiral minaret was the highlight though I am glad it was closed off; I am not sure I would have been good with the heights on the ramp up.  Mosul was almost completely destroyed in 2017 when the city was liberated from ISIS, so there wasn’t anything of cultural significance to be seen though we did take a bus ride down to a lively (and brand new) shopping area for dinner.

Leaving Baghdad




Bunkers on the road between Baghdad and Mosul

Still time for the occasional selfie at a checkpoint

Samarra's Grand Mosque, only the walls remain

And its famous spiral minaret

Bike washing service at our lunch stop

Glad we didn't have to stop at every single bunker like on the ride to Baghdad

Control point to enter Mosul

Welcome to Mosul

Work continues on the Grand Mosque of Mosul, started in 1999 by Saddam Hussein



Leaving Mosul, the next day we went through a checkpoint that was a bit different from the previous checkpoints.  There was a line of trucks, just as if we were approaching a border crossing, and a different flag was flying.  After the formalities of the checkpoint (including passport checks) we rode into a completely different landscape.  Gone was the sparse desert vegetation, replaced with rolling hills and wheat fields.  We had entered Kurdistan.  We were still in Iraq but the Kurdish region in the northeast of the country is an autonomous region and seemed to have been spared most of the fury of the war on ISIS.  Soon after crossing the Tigris River, we took a short side trip up the Lalish Valley.  The Lalish Temple, the holiest temple of the Yazidi religion, is about 4,000 years old while Yazidism is considered by its adherents to be 7,000 years old and the first monotheistic faith.  There were quite a few people at the temple, perhaps pilgrims, as we appeared to be the only tourists.  Everyone was very friendly and open, willing to share their most sacred place with us.  It was a short ride to Erbil and soon we no longer needed to be in a convey so everyone rode their own ride.  Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan, was a very metropolitan city of about a million people.

Fred and Doug ready to depart Modern Palace Hotel in Mosul

Like we are approaching a border control, but we are in the middle of Iraq

The Kurdish flag flies proudly

Riding up the Lalish Valley

The Lalish Temple is the holiest site of the Yazidi religion






The sarcophagus of Sheikh Adi, a leading figure in the Lalish Valley

A local was more than happy to talk to us and tell us about life in the Lalish Valley

Back on the road to Erbil

Erbil is a vibrant, modern city spared the worst of the war on ISIS


 

We toured Erbil on Thursday, visiting the UNESCO world heritage site of the Citadel on the hill overlooking the old town that had been continuously inhabited for over 7,000 years.  Incorporated in the Citadel was the Kurdish Textile Museum, a gem museum and an antiquities gift shop.  Below the Citadel was the Qaysari Bazaar in the old town with its labyrinth of hallways and myriad of shops.  Rather than walking around the bazaar, some of us asked our guide, Shayan, to take us to his favourite tea shop where we spent our time enjoying a tea and mingling with locals.  The bus then took us to Hiror restaurant for lunch.  The luxurious restaurant was enormous, able to accommodate up to 1,600 people in eight different themed rooms.  A tour by the owner of the restaurant after lunch showed the scale of the operation as we visited multiple kitchens, each with their own speciality.  In the evening we went to the private home of the owner of the local tour company, Explore Mesopotamia.  Douglas, the owner, told us of how he took in Kurdish refugees in 1992 and eventually ended up founding the tour company and splitting his time between living in Iraq and Big Bear, California.  If you are thinking of visiting Iraq, and I would certainly recommend it, you can check out their website at https://exploremesopotamia.com/  

Our Explore Mesopotamia guide, Shayan

Citadel on the hill overlooking Erbil has been continuously inhabited for 7,000 years




Textile museum in the Citadel

They must have been shorter then

Overlooking Erbil from the Citadel

The bazaar below the Citadel

A labyrinth of passageways in the Qaysari Bazaar

Whoa, a candy section of the bazaar?

Let's spend some time in the tea shop instead of shopping

Lunch at a huge restaurant in Erbil

Multiple rooms and multiple kitchens to serve up to 1,600 guests

Choli Minaret is in a dilapidated garden


 

The ride from Erbil to Sulaymaniyah was very easy, partly because we were no longer forced to ride in a convoy so that the few checkpoints I encountered were quickly done, rather than having to wait to process everyone.  The road snaked over a mountain ridge with switchbacks adding some much-needed entertainment since the last curves I remember were in Jordan.  When I entered town, I stopped at what looked to be a Shell station for gas though upon closer inspection it turned out to be a Shall station with almost the same branding.  As I rode through Sulaymaniyah on the way to the Ramada (!) I couldn’t help but notice that Western-style clothing was more the norm, even more so than in cosmopolitan Erbil.  It made me think about the upcoming entry into Iran, what would that be like?  Would the women be dressed in full Burkas?  That evening dinner was arranged at a lovely Italian restaurant a short walk away from the hotel.  I have to admit it was nice having linguini frutti de mare rather than the usual kebabs.  

Departure from the thorougly modern Erbil International Hotel

Convoy departure from Erbil but then we separated and rode on our own

Beautiful countryside of Kurdistan




OK, you got me

Warm welcome at an Italian restaurant in Sulaymaniyah

I don't know why I didn't expect whimsical statues in Iraq

It was only 100 kilometres to the border with Iran and with the 7:00 AM departure we had lots of time for the border crossing formalities.  I was expecting that the hassle with the carnet de passages at the entry would translate to a similarly long time to exit but it only took two hours to exit Iraq.  

Leaving Sulaymaniyah

Heading towards the border

We need to transfer our stuff (like spare tires) from our Iraqi chase vehicle to our Iranian chase vehicle

Leaving Iraq



Iraq certainly provided some the most amazing experiences of the trip; from the 30-hour ride to Baghdad, to the Iraq Museum and the surprise of discovering Kurdistan.  While Baghdad and Iraq proper weren’t really set up for tourism yet, I would, without hesitation, recommend a visit to Kurdistan.  This part of the world really can be described as the birthplace of civilisation, with history going back thousands of years.

GPS tracks of our ride through Iraq

Chapter 6: Iran

Coming Soon!

Chapter 7: Armenia and Georgia

Coming Soon!

Chapter 8: Turkey

Coming Soon!

Chapter 9: Istanbul to Munich

Coming Soon!

Chapter 10: Finish in Munich

Coming Soon!

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