Across The Sea
It was holiday season once again and my two friends John and Dave and I were going on a trip abroad.
To say abroad is really an over statement in many ways. We could have made the trip very easily but we had decided to do it the hard way as no one we were aware of had done this before.
Al-Salwa is a town on the west coast of Saudi Arabia and the best place to start our journey; it was only 100 miles from Dammam and the roads were highways for most of the way.
Wednesday evening we were all packed and ready to leave Dammam after finishing work. We had four days to complete our mission before returning to work on Monday morning. The weather was good, bright and sunny as we left our housing compound with all the relevant paperwork and our passports in hand. It had taken three weeks to gain our exit and re-entry visa’s to enable us to get back into the kingdom, but it was going to be worthwhile, at least for my two companions it seemed.
The thing of most concern to us was the large numbers of dead bodies, wrapped in muslin lying all along the road side. On every occasion we saw this there were one, two, three and even four crashed cars near the bodies and the bodies related to the crashed cars. The police cover or wrap the bodies but don’t remove them until each body is identified and claimed by a family member.
The traffic on the south bound highway was crowded to say the least; we spent most of our time weaving in and out between water tankers on this four lane highway of which there seemed to be in their hundreds. At one stage of the journey there was a 4X4 doing around 100 Km/hour with two young children hanging onto the roof rack on the roof of the vehicle, god only knows what would happen if the driver had to suddenly brake hard. Eventually, around 10pm in the evening we reached the busy township of Al-Salwa. The travel agent on our compound had arranged a hotel for us, but we couldn’t find the place. According to the hand drawn map we had been given in was on the high street, but no one we asked knew of the hotel or where it might be. Luckily we saw a policeman and he knew where the hotel was and within an hour we were parked up in the hotel car park and in our rooms.
We were all hungry by now and tomorrow morning we had to be on our way at 5am so we found a restaurant close to the hotel and had a bite to eat. When I say it was a restaurant, I really meant it was litterly a hole in the wall. The food was excellent, barbecued chicken with samosas and thick dall with fresh baked Arabic bread, delicious in all aspects. We didn’t concern ourselves or even mind the cockroaches that climbed the inner walls or the odd rat that scurried beneath the tables picking up bits of food; we were used to this happening in the entire town eating places wherever we went.
At 5.am and we were up and ready to go. We left our vehicle at the hotel car park and took a taxi to the port complex; each had out rucksacks slung on our backs and we joined the long queue waiting to board the Dhow. Bahrain was just across the short expanse of water, we could see the tall building on the Island from where we stood in line. As we moved slowly forward we could see people arguing with the Dhow crew, some seemed violent and the crew were wielding long sticks at the passengers waiting to board. Once alongside the Dhow we spotted why the passengers were angry.
Everyone threw their passports into a tall wicker basket and there were hundreds of passports. The problem was, that the passports at the bottom of the basket stayed at the bottom, the ones on the top of the basket were allowed on board.
John slipped out of the line with our three passports secured together with a strong elastic band and waited until there were only four of five waiting passengers in front of myself and Dave. As we moved forward he threw our passports into the basket and hey presto, they were picked out almost immediately.
We boarded the Dhow and reminded ourselves we had the return journey to make in three days time, so we would try the same little scam on our return.
Bahrain is a beautiful island with lots of extremely tall buildings. They also allow alcohol to be sold in Hotels, real alcohol in bottles and cans, and that was one of the reasons we had decided to come here in the first place. Now I don’t drink, what I mean is that I do drink, but not often and only one Jin and tonic or a glass of good Portuguese port on special occasions. On the other hand, John and Dave loved their booze and were all out to consume as much as they possibly could. This was the main reason we had come cross the sea, to satisfy their thirsts.
I on the other hand had different ideas of what I wanted to both see and do.
The Empress hotel was beautiful in every respect. My room was top class, the giant bed was so, so comfortable, the shower was large enough to occupy half a dozen people at the same time and the view from the balcony looking over the palm strewn beach and the Gulf of Bahrain was magnificent. One thing I wanted to do was swim in the glass bottomed pool on the 20th floor and that was what I was going to do right now.
I was actually taken aback when I entered to pool area, there was a restaurant, a bar, a giant hot tub and women in bikini’s, something that was unheard of in Saudi Arabia.
Some of the bikini clad women were actually Arabic and of all sizes and shapes, the same applied to the men and children. It was certainly unusual to see Arabic families here in a state of undress both in and out of the pool. Swimming in what looked like a bottomless pool was a little off-putting at first, I could see the road and traffic and people looking upward at the people swimming in the pool.
Lunch and the service was superb, I had Lobster for lunch at the pool restaurant, “Fresh caught this morning” I was told by the young Asian woman who served me, “Would you like coffee, tea or something else to drink sir” she asked. “Coffee would be nice, black coffee with one sugar please” I replied. Before leaving I slipped her 10 Dinar, which is around £25, the smile on her face showed me her delight in receiving possibly her normal week’s wage from me.
Prayer time was called at 1.15pm as I made my way into the hotel lobby. This call rendered all shops closed until around 4pm so I bought a British newspaper that was only two days old from the news stand and sat reading it in the coolness of the lobby. I had no idea where John and David were, probably they wee locked in a bar somewhere in town or in the hotel bar enjoying themselves drinking.
At 4pm I left the hotel and walked a short distance to the Saffron market, the smell of Saffron devoured my senses as I entered the busy market. The market was crowded; it was akin to rush hour in the busiest supermarket or rail station in the UK, the price of this stuff was certainly out of reach of the normal citizen here in Bahrain so I gathered the rich were the only people buying here.
At 9am, after visiting a gold shop and purchasing a gold bracelet for my wife and 2 sets of gold earrings for my daughters I set off to find the watch sellers shops. Here I bought 2 Rolex watches with Swiss movement inside for my 2 sons. I had a Rolex myself, not a real one of course but it had lasted me for many years and the time keeping was superb and of course a lot cheaper than a real Rolex.
There was a restaurant called “The Talk of the Town” on the street corner. As it was close to 10pm I decided to eat there this evening. As usual with places like this it was barbecued chicken with Dahl and fresh made bread. I ordered lemonade to go with the meal as no alcohol was allowed to be sold here; licences were only issued to reputable hotels in Bahrain.
Saturday, our last day in Bahrain and I wanted to go the Island of Jarada. This Island is world famous for its pearls and I was going to go pearl diving.
It was an early rise once again for me and the hotel had arranged a packed lunch for me. It was no ordinary lunch; it was the crème de la crème with a bottle of their finest wine all packed in a basket. I didn’t open it until I was safely seated on the Dhow.
I had my Paddy book with me certifying I was a seasoned diver so I needed no training before slipping beneath the water. The coral reef was amazing with hundreds of fish species including the feared lion fish with its poison fins. There were numerous Dolphins swimming around the reef looking for their breakfasts and I guessed they were used to intruders like me encroaching on their territory.
Within an hour I had gathered a dozen oyster shells and headed for the surface. We were told only to collect the largest oysters as they were the most likely to contain a pearl and I had a dozen of them.
Out of the dozen oysters there were only three that contained a good sized pearl, I was satisfied with this amount and I would have a ring and earrings made for my wife when back in Saudi Arabia.
All in all it had been for me a great holiday and I wasn’t looking forward to going back to work one little bit.
Sunday morning I met with John and David in the hotel lobby, both looked the worst for wear and it was obvious to me that I would be the one taking them both back to Saudi. I didn’t have to go through with the passport scam, at this end everything was orderly and smooth running.
I collected our vehicle from the Hotel car park and headed for Dammam. Both my friends slept all the way home on the rear seat.
My wife would be coming back to Dammam in three weeks time and there was another short Muslim holiday break coming up in six weeks. I intend to take her on the same journey across the sea to Bahrain, but next time without John and David.
Written by: Terence D Forster
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