In May 1978 three of us drove back to the United Kingdom. Many people have driven to Europe from Saudi Arabia or vice versa and the reasons vary - from picking up a new car in Europe, taking a holiday, starting or finishing a contract, or simply a great adventure. In my case, my two companions Graham and Stan were completing their contracts, and not returning, while I had just renewed mine and sensed a great adventure. This is a simple story of what we saw rather than any discomforts or misadventures as there were really none!
Eight years previously my parents, who were living there at the time, had driven up from Kuwait and through Iraq entering eastern Turkey around Lake Van, but we chose the alternative route driving west along the Tapline (Trans Arabian Pipeline) Road before heading north through Jordan and Syria and entering southern Turkey at Adana. Our transport would be Graham’s 1975 3.5 litre Rover P6 which he had driven from London to Saudi the previous year and now wanted to drive it back. Although its leather seats were extremely comfortable, it sadly lacked air conditioning.
It’s worth noting that 1978 was the year in which UNESCO announced the first twelve World Heritage sites and many of the places we visited en route would later be granted this status.
Tapline - Saudi Arabia. Photo by Brian Harrington Spier, CC BY-SA 2.0. Wikimedia Commons.
May 8-9 - Dhahran to Al-Haditha, Crossing Saudi Arabia
Travel Time: 18 hrs.
Accommodations: Slept in car
Highway 85, Saudi Arabia: Originally called Tapline road, Highway 85 runs parallel to the physical pipeline which had become operational in 1950 and continued pumping until 1990. It was finally decommissioned in 2001 and has now been officially recognised as Saudi Arabia’s first industrial heritage site. Among the towns we passed through were the five original pumping stations - Nariyah, Qaisumah, Rafha, Badanah and Turaif - which had sprung up to service the pipeline.
We had set out at midday from Dhahran, taking turns driving with a break during the night when we slept in the car, arriving safely at Turaif around 8am the following day. I use the word safely for good reason. Highway 85 is deemed one of the most dangerous roads in the world featuring 510 miles without a bend. Additionally, there are two rules when driving in Saudi: always look under your car in case someone has fallen asleep to escape the heat, and watch out for camels on the road. If you hit a camel, you pay for two, as common sense dictates they are always pregnant! We saw plenty of camels but luckily our drive was accident-free.
We ate at Turaif using our Aramco ID cards to get a company breakfast, and then drove two hours to the Saudi border post at Al-Haditha, arriving around midday. Here we had to surrender our Saudi number plates, and our car became the equivalent of stateless or at least plateless! Sensitive to the number of Saudi cars seen outside the brothels of Amman, the Saudi authorities had made it mandatory for number plates to be surrendered and collected on the return journey. Later, on our return to Jordan from Israel, we would see many lorries flip their number plates in a similar fashion from Israel to Jordan as they crossed the border.
In retrospect, it was extraordinary that we drove the rest of the journey without plates.
Up Next - Jordan
Richard, Stan, Graham
© Words Richard Thom
Credits: Stan Peters and Graham Edgson
Tapline: see caption.
© All others: Richard Thom
*Original article edited for cultural and geopolitical sensitivities.
About the Author
Richard Thom grew up in Ahmadi, Kuwait 1954 – 1969 where his dad was Chief Health Officer for the Kuwait Oil Co. He worked in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia between 1976 and 1980 for Aramco’s Internal Audit and Contract Cost Compliance departments. He undertook this journey halfway between two contracts.
When not working, playing rugby, squash or trying his hand at amateur dramatics, he used his organising skills on the Aramco Employees Association and was Treasurer 1976/77 - 1978/79 and Chairman 1979/80 for the Dhahran Rugby Union Football Club (DRUFC).
He continued with a varied finance career in shipping (Japan) automobiles (Guam) and dance education (UK), before finally retiring in 2015.
Richard has contributed a number of articles to AramcoExpats including a review of Not the May Ball 3 in September 2022; a 10-part serialization of the unofficial history of the Dhahran Rugby Union Football Club; a look back on life after Aramco “Dance in the Desert” and “Jimmy Abdul McGregor, and Other Stories: Tales from the Yemen”.
Richard published his book Dance into Business in 2018 a how-to guide for dance students, teachers and professionals wishing to start up a dance studio or go freelance. It contains helpful tips, practical examples, and points to consider whether just starting out or already in business. It is available from Amazon websites as a printed book, or an e-book priced locally.