This guest article was kindly contributed by Look Around the Globe’s Marta & Łukasz.
Arabian Peninsula – so close and at the same time such a remote place to reach from Europe on two wheels. Until recently, getting here wasn’t easy – on one hand inaccessible Iraq and Syria, on the other, unpredictable Iran and additional ferry crossing. On top of that traveling through the peninsula was blocked by Saudi Arabia which was closed for tourists. So far only the few have managed to tour the GCC countries and in addition to the United Arab Emirates or Oman reach Bahrain and Kuwait.
Our arrival was just in the right period – perfect time of the year for Europeans, winter here is like summer for us plus exactly when the Dakar Rally was held in Saudi Arabia.
Turkey and Iran – transit
It is November 2019, being already late we are leaving freezing Europe and slowly entering the mountains in Iran coming from Turkey. Temperatures of around 3 degrees and snow at the altitude of 1000 m above sea level don’t make your life easier and in addition, the oversight and unfortunate break of the chain and many hours on the emergency lane of the highway trying to fix it clearly showed us that it will not be easy. It wasn’t a warm and sunny Iran we imagined. Still, it is a special place, beautiful and breathtaking landscape with delicious food and wonderful, open people. This is the country that we would love to return sometime during the summer.
The plan to make it a two-years trip gave us freedom and allowed us to make some changes along the way. It is in Iran that the idea arises to “bounce” from a pre-planned east Asia route.
Despite the effort made to obtain Pakistan visa which is difficult to get – we decided to take a ferry from Iran to the Emirates and explore the peninsula.
In fact already last year when returning to Europe from the trip around Africa, being in Tanzania, Zanzibar and Sudan we were intrigued by the Arab culture.
Oh yes, the Middle East!
Here we are! We arrive in Dubai – a place associated with luxury and glamour. Already behind the corner of Sharja port, after a 24-hour ferry crossing, we were greeted by modern high to the sky glass buildings and modern architecture.
Of course, we expected to see that but our attention was drawn to harmony, order and culture on the roads. After experiencing Iranian driving style, where all the drivers tried to squeeze in between our motorcycle panniers, elbows and cars standing next to us – here it was extremely calm and predictable. Maybe even boring, but just in the sense of missing the freak drivers, because in terms of beautiful, fast cars and good acceleration the two places Dubai and later in particular Manama in Bahrain, are at the top of the best to go. Non-series cars, standing in the showrooms in Europe here are at your fingertips. The funniest is when such a car suddenly slows down and the driver in disbelief checks whether he really sees the license plates with the EU stamp, then he slides down the shaded glass window and puts the thumb up.
That’s how the Arabs are, always smiling and warmhearted.
Arabic vibe and ease
Arabic style is quite specific and although for foreigners it seems incomprehensible or inaccessible the truth turns out to be different. The hospitality, openness and selflessness of the people you meet here surprises. As we were invited to the house for a meal we became for a while a part of the family which was already numerous. Their culture, completely different traditions, habits, slightly different values or social behaviors did not prevent us from spending time together. Mutual respect makes this place safe and very sympathetic.
Although in Europe we also try to share with our guests everything we can, here this natural behavior as they call it sometimes made us feel uncomfortable. They shared with us everything they could but often even tried to outsmart us when paying for our own fuel bill.
Travelling by motorcycle means freedom, independence and no barriers in networking and communication. Specially motorcyclists understand each other without words and if we add to this the openness and sincerity of the local community then there was no time for rest and every free moment passed on joint motorcycle activities and trips around the area. Dubai Riders in particular have introduced us to the Arab atmosphere and their way of traveling. In addition, they announced our visit to other riders of GCC countries.
However, when being active on social media, especially in Saudi Arabia, there was no way of driving unnoticed. After the borders opened to tourists, a whole bunch of moto clubs already knew about our arrival. Our friends persistently waited for us 3 hours at the border, and after having lunch and visiting the city “escorted” us another 300 kilometers in a motorcycle convoy towards Kuwait.
Here, no matter what you ride, a Harley, Goldwing (these are the most popular, because it’s associated there with comfort), sports motorcycle or adventure – you are part of one big family and motorcycle associations operate very effectively and have a long tradition.
In addition, in all GCC countries it is easy to ride a motorcycle as a female tourist. Although sometimes, especially in Arabia, after the helmet windshield was lifted and a woman with dangling blond braid was disclosed the reaction of men riders was downright amusing.
In Arabic countries – there must be attractive!
During the motorcycle event in Kuwait, in one of the competition we won the 1st price in the adventure competition, by proving to the judges that our motorcycle is used in accordance with the purpose – 100% – on the way around the world. The attention with dualsport bikes in The Gulf is slowly growing, so when we were presenting proudly our overloaded BMW GS800 with our 198 000 kilometers on the clock seemed we were a kind of huge attraction. We had nothing against that!
To Bahrain next we entered as first foreign biker on their own mean of transport. That was because just one month ago they opened officially the long bridge which is connecting Saudi Arabia with Bahrain. Because for sure you know Bahrain is an island which is still growing end growing, because they don’t have enough space to live there because of their development, so the technology now let them to build some more lands around. The bridge is 27 km long, going through the Arabic Gulf (Persian Gulf) and you have an island (artificial), where the official border is situated.
For many last years the bridge, the famous “castway” was closed for bikes and bikers, so not many of them decided to transport their vehicles on a truck for 27 kilometers, let’s be honest… Riding there we felt like celebrities welcoming by Bahrain Riders and then having a chance to ride on the F1 track – The International Bahrain Circuit. These things only could happen there!
Places worth visiting
Mostly we can say, that Middle East is a desert, nothing else and nothing really interesting. Wrong! Believe us that kind of area likes to surprise sometimes with emotions on the way. Tears off cloud and the rain in the middle of the clear blue sky (we are not talking about the specially prepared rain!), dunes on the road or the sandstorm where you can’t hide yourself could be surprising. Plus every each country has a long coastline, where you can easily camp in wild with no problems having your own 5 star hotel with the ocean view.
Mountains are not difficult to find so far, because maybe one hour of riding east from Dubai the landscape changes into rough and rocky. The closer to Oman, the scenery is more hilly and amazing. In Oman – you would pass gorgeous mountains, wadis, rivers in it and hidden waterfalls with super-clean springs appearing every time after the rainy season called there “khariff”.
It was in Oman indeed – on the white, paradise, empty beach where we reached 200 000 kilometers on our bike’s clock. Salalah beach. Finally the 2 in front appeared in our 93rd country.
And in Oman we got stuck when suddenly they closed borders around and cancelled all our flights to Poland or Europe. Actually we knew something is happening, but following media there wasn’t clear enough what would have happened there.
It was so beautiful around, the Ramadan was coming and the temperatures like 45 degrees were closer and closer because of summer.
We were in paradise but closed as birds in a cage… Our friends were laughing that being stuck in paradise wasn’t so bad. But honestly – it was strange waiting being blocked more than two months to have any small chance to get out from the country which was so nice…
As you know our trip to Australia was interrupted by COVID and we came back home in May 2020. We have December 2020 and we are still waiting to continue, staying of course positive, open and hull of hope that soon we will be able to hit the road again.
The bike is in Oman, as in those circumstances in April 2020 leaving the country we weren’t able to organize it in 24 hours, now they made a huge problem with transportation to Europe and of course costs. Hope we will receive it in February or March. Generally we wanted to come back to Middle East to continue the route towards Australia through Pakistan And India, but seems would be better to have the bike at home and start planning according to the opening borders in 2021.
Best from Poland, from Look around the Globe!
See you on the road!
About our Travels
Where is Look around the Globe riding to?
In general – to Australia and New Zealand and back to Poland. We had plans to make around 100 000 kilometers in about 2 years of traveling. And despite the initial plan was many times modified before we even started and we all have such an atypical circumstances all over the world because of the virus and our journeys had been in question few times – the plan is constant and clear.
Riding the world and all continents around will be ridden by us 2-upon the same bike.
The road from Poland we planned first through the north part of Asia, and Nordcapp first. Then through Siberia, Mongolia, Magadan, South Korea and Japan. We planned then to put the bike in plane and fly to Australia and NZ. Then coming back we wanted to cross the south part of Asia through all countries – Indonesia, Malesia, India, Pakistan, etc. riding west towards Europe.
Plans changed last year when we were late with preparations and the winter came to Siberia. But suddenly they opened Iran for bikers (was closed few months for bikes over 250 cc) and another option occurred – the south Asia riding east – first.
Our plan wasn’t even to be in Middle East, but being in Iran suddenly Saudi Arabia opened borders and we could “jump” from Iran to THE Arabian Peninsula to join Dakar in Saudi and ride around easily.
And we were lost there. Lost speaking metaphorically being totally amazed by that culture and people and lost literally – we got stuck in Oman for few weeks.