Friday, January 20, 2006


Friday morning, and we're going quad-biking in the desert with the DHM and his three sons, and their two friends. Some of the sons and the friends also go to the same school as our two. We leave Riyadh around 10.15 in the morning and head Southwest on the Jeddah highway in two 4x4s. The weather is bright, sunny, blue skies but only around 16c, and as we leave the city and the landscape gets more desert-y I'm surprised at how rocky it is. I wouldn't call them mountains but there are rock formations everywhere, and along the sides of the highway we see Bedouin tents and herds of camel at regular intervals.

The quad-biking place is about 40 mins' drive out of the city. I didn't know what to expect but I had in my mind an image of a building with a reception desk, toilets, cafeteria etc., and maybe a marked track across the sand dunes to keep everyone going in the same direction... WRONG!

What we found was some Bedouin in scruffy clothes, a few tents by the side of the road (they don't just work here, they live here), and about 50 tatty, battered quad-bikes all lined up and raring to go. Behind the bit by the road with the tents and bikes is a large open area of quite small sand dunes. The "staff" don't speak English but luckly the DHM speaks Arabic so we soon negotiate a price and the kids don their helmets and those who have been before just shoot off and pretty soon are out of sight. It's the first time for us Neals and I'm feeling a bit nervous about the children whizzing up and down the dunes on unfamiliar vehicles.

My worries are vindicated within the first 30 seconds, as Elliot crashes into a bush and Abigail nearly runs into the DHM's car.

Elliot gets the hang of it after a couple of minutes and Karen's well away, but Abigail finds the bike difficult to steer, so I tell her to get on the back with me and we go off in search of the others.

The dunes are not that big but they can drop off quite suddenly, so you have to careful going up a hill because you don't know til you get to the top whether the other side is a gentle slope down or a sheer drop; I found several of these and we landed on the front wheels with a thud. The sand is a deep reddish-orange colour and looks fantastic, but there's also lots of litter around which spoils the scene a bit. The kids are off in the distance somewhere so I just have to assume they're OK and I carry on with Abigail on the back and Karen on her quad.

Abigail's getting a bit upset because she wants to be off with the others but couldn't control the bike, so Karen and I find an open area where there's no-one around (and no peer pressure) and put her on Karen's bike to have another go. This was a good move because this time she got the hang of it quite quickly and had loads of fun shooting up and down the dunes.

When the other kids finally came back at the end of the hour I find out that Elliot had a "prang" - he couldn't stop in time to avoid hitting a big rock and was thrown off as the quad rolled over onto its side, but he wasn't injured and quite enjoyed telling the story.

All in all very good fun, and when we got back to the DQ we finished off the morning with a trip to Starbucks (yes, they're everywhere!).

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