Jeddah lies on the Red Sea, quite close to Mecca in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Jeddah started as a fishing village but is now an industrial port. It has the tallest flagpole (556 feet) in the world, flying a Saudi Arabian flag measuring 108 by 162b feet and weighing 1260 pounds. Today, King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud rules the country while his 6th son, Mohammed bin Salman is the Minister.
Before we entered the harbor, the cabin crew cleared all the mini-bars and bars throughout the ship of alcohol. It was bizarre seeing only fruit juices and water on the shelves. The waiter teased us that we could have “orange wine,” “apple wine,” or “tomato wine.” During the evening, while we were still in the harbor, two Arabs searched the drinks people were having.
The security was thorough. After authorities cleared us on the ship, we had to show our passports and new tourist visas again on the dock. A security car escorted our shuttle bus to the official customs building, where they took our fingerprints and photos. After much haggling, we got into a taxi that dropped us off at the old town. I was impressed with the inside of the taxi, equipped with a first aid box, tissues, and sanitizer. We passed a flooded road. Apparently, there was heavy rain the week before, and since the water cannot drain into the arid land, there are flash floods, leaving devastation in their way.
There wasn’t much to see in the old town. As we arrived, all the doors, except a few gold jewelry stores, shut for 20 minutes for prayers. I only saw two women, both fully clad in black niqabs with slits for eyes, carrying briefcases. Until six years ago, women could not drive cars either and had to be taught by other women. The men wear flowing tunics and head coverings.
We saw the carved wood-enclosed balconies behind which women could view the world. Families follow Shariah or Islamic law, and marriages are arranged. The bridegroom only sees the bride’s face on their wedding day.
Karen and I sat down at the only semblance of a café we could find. I had a delicious cup of coffee served in a paper cup. Afterward, I joked that considering the visa price, it was probably the most expensive cup of coffee I had ever had. However, we are not sorry that we took the plunge to see a world totally different from ours. I found the fresh corn (instead of popcorn) sale interesting.
We could not walk from the Old Town to the famed Jeddah Corniche, which also serves as a Formula One racetrack. The passengers who had booked a tour claimed that it was underwhelming. Our fellow diner, Tom, drily later claimed that they rounded the same circuit a few times. He quipped, “The words Ship of Fools come to mind.”
On our return to port, we were fingerprinted again at customs. As soon as the ship loosened its ropes, the bottles of alcohol reappeared, and our fridges restocked. I am glad we used the opportunity to visit Saudi Arabia. The few people we came across were very friendly.
Before we could sail, there was a delay of a few hours because of a mechanical problem, but we finally left for our journey past Yemen and the Bay of Ades into the Indian Ocean. Because of the threatening pirate problem in that stretch, we had extra security on board. We would have four sea days before we reached Seychelles, but because of severe winds and the wait in the port, the four days turned into five, and we will reach the island at four in the afternoon, Saturday, 3 December.