As I write this, I am sitting in my hotel room in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh, staring out my window at the bustling city in front of me. With congested highways, towering skyscrapers, and a massive urban sprawl, Riyadh seems like any other city in the world. However, surrounded by a sparsely populated desert, which we drove through after our arrival at the airport, the city also seems out of place. Everything around us was dusty and rocky, as a desert generally is, until the city suddenly appeared on the horizon. The highway on which we were driving quickly filled with cars as we approached, and the emptiness of the land around us was replaced by thick suburbs and commercial districts. In a way, Riyadh seems like a desert oasis, a point of life and activity in an otherwise harsh and lifeless terrain. As the largest city in Saudi Arabia, home to over 5 million people, Riyadh is indeed a point of much life and bustling activity.
The trip to Saudi Arabia was smooth and comfortable, though long. At a little more than 11 hours, the length of the flight gave me ample opportunity to read, relax, sleep, and watch movies on the plane. However, what I ended up doing the most was staring out the window beside me. The world from above is a remarkable sight, one that we are not always familiar with and one that we should have more opportunities to experience. From the air, the beauty of nature becomes apparent: entire mountain ranges are visible, with their intricate details and erosion patterns apparent; rivers cut and crisscross the terrain; massive forests sprawl across the ground. The mark humanity has made on our planet is also incredibly impressive and easily visible: highway and road systems spread across the land like some massive spider web; urban sprawl stretches out as far as the eye can see; oil platforms dot the ocean as oil tankers come and go.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to do some sightseeing while in the air. From my window I saw the nighttime French countryside, the towering Swiss Alps, the beautifully blue Mediterranean dotted with tiny islands, the dusty Egyptian deserts, and the tip of the Sinai Peninsula. As we flew over Arabia, I looked out at what we will be exploring for the next 9 days: rolling hills, thick deserts, green patches of life which dot the landscape, farm and town compounds, and, in some places, beautifully designed mosques, forts, and markets which undoubtedly have a rich and long history.
My first impressions of Saudi Arabia are all good. The people are friendly and, as a beginning Arabic speaker, listening to all of the Arabic around me was exciting. The airport where we landed, King Khalid International, was enormous, impressively designed, but easy to navigate. The city of Riyadh, with its beautifully designed skyscrapers blending with suburbs of buildings in the traditional architecture, looked incredibly impressive as we approached it. Admittedly, the weather was hot and the Sun was overwhelming, but there is little else to expect while in the middle of the desert in the middle of the Arabian Peninsula. Indeed, in some ways, the heat helps immerse me in the experience of really being here.
Tomorrow we will be visiting Kind Saud University, the Prince Talal Charity Foundation, and the king Abdul Aziz Historical Center. I am sure these visits will be exciting, the people we will talk to informative, and that I will have much to write about. Already I have more things ideas for blog posts, and I hope to start writing them as soon as possible. However, it is getting late, and I am exhausted from a lack of sleep and jetlag… any more blog posts will have to wait. I look forward to another exciting adventure in the Kingdom tomorrow!