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Around the World in 80 Days

Day 14: 8 October

Michael Palin - Around the World in 80 DaysThe main road to Taif is closed for repair and for 50 miles or more we toil slowly up onto the Central plateau behind a line of water-carrying tankers, past scrubby pasture where goat and sheep graze and higher up where a few crops are growing in neatly terraced fields. The trucks are nearly all grey-green Mercedes with ornate fifties-style curved radiators. The Saudi market is intensely conservative and apparently Mercedes continue to make them in the old style specially for the Bedouins.

Just outside Taif we come to a police roadblock, and the first test of Achmed's rather flimsy note of authorisation. The policeman reads it with intense concentration, his lips moving over every word. Time seems to stand still. The unpromising frown on his face proves to be a natural expression rather than an ill omen, and after one last searching look we are waved through. Nick says there may be two or three more such roadblocks. Now the road is straight and almost empty. What's more, it's a beautifully surfaced brand-new six-lane highway. The only possible hazard might be hitting a camel. There are 'Beware Camel' signs at regular intervals and fences along the sides of the road, yet clearly the ships of the desert haven't grasped the full implications of the Saudi road improvement programme, and insist on strolling across as if nothing had changed. Occasionally in the stony wilderness I see a camel herd being rounded up by Bedouin shepherds in Nissan pick-up trucks.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day: 14
  • Date: 8 October
  • Country/sea: Saudi Arabia
  • Place: Jeddah
  • Book page no: 56

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