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Around the World in 80 Days

Day 14: 8 October

Michael Palin - Around the World in 80 DaysAt lunchtime we stop for fuel, still about 500 kilometres short of Riyadh. I lay my portable thermometer on a wall as we fill up. When I pick it up it reads 50 Centigrade, 122 Fahrenheit, but the air is very dry and the temperature as bearable as 90 Fahrenheit was on the humid coast. The road continues straight and empty.

Most of the cars we see are wrecks, dragged off to the side of the road, bleached and rusting in the desert heat. I suppose it's cheaper for the owners (presuming they survive) to go and buy another car than haul the wreck off to a panel beater.

In the hour before sunset, the desert springs briefly to life. The slanting refracted sunlight, reddened by the dust, turns the blank face of rock and sand into a land of many colours - orange, deep reds, rich ochres and golds. This is the pitted, craggy, sandstone escarpment which leads to the plateau on which stands Riyadh. All around us are weirdly shaped pinnacles of rock, jutting up - like rotting teeth one moment, like the Sphinx the next. On top of all this is the city of Riyadh, built almost entirely in the last fifteen years and one of the hottest capitals on earth. It is here because this central part of Arabia, the Nejd, is the home of the ruling house of Saud. It is as big, brash and booming as it is because the Saudis regard themselves as the natural leaders of the Arab world. That they have greater oil reserves and therefore more money than any other Arab country is not to them a coincidence, but a gift from Allah to help the country guard and preserve the two holiest places in the Moslem world - the shrines of Mecca and Medina.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day: 14
  • Date: 8 October
  • Country/sea: Saudi Arabia
  • Place: Riyadh
  • Book page no: 57

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