On Location in Saudi Arabia
I can't believe I visited the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. On the visa to enter the country, they wrote 'intellectual property.' Ya. A little nervous. Not to mention, the government organization (who was orchestrating this entire thing) sent me my ticket 48 hours before my flight.
Want to know when my visa came in? As I was boarding my flight to London England.
I nearly lost my damn mind sitting in the airport thinking 'Do I get on? Should I just get to London and hope that it comes into my email by the time I land? Do I bail? What the fuck do I do?'
Long story short, all was well. It's just how Saudi is.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia referred to me as 'intellectual property'.”
I'll never forget near the end of the British Airways flight and the hostess coming on the intercom and saying something along the lines of ' We will soon be entering Saudi airspace. At that point, alcohol will no longer be served. If you'd like to be served alcohol, please notify one of your cabin hostesses and they'll be happy to pour you one last drink.' Before she could stop speaking, you can hear the entire plane going 'ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding.' I'd say more than half the plane took advantage of the last call.
Saudi Arabia is a strict Muslim country. While there's nothing wrong with that, there are some legit rules you gotta follow. No alcohol consumption anywhere in the country, no drugs, no sex unless it's with your wife, photographing is frowned upon (lol, my thoughts exactly), the list goes on.
So, there I was. Entering into Saudi Arabia, with camera gear, drone, and a bunch of other filming equipment. Luckily, nothing seemed to be an issue. Thank god. When Aidan went to Rwanda, the military gave him a helluva hard time with his drone.
I got to my hotel, but only after an hour of waiting around because nobody knew who I was. Yep. That's right. Flew to the other side of the world and nobody put my name down on the airport pick-up list. Eventually, someone called me an Uber and the young gentleman dropped me off at my hotel in the middle of the capital city, Riyadh.
That's right. Some random kid came up to me with the kindest eyes and said 'Sir, he will drive you' and just pointed me to this other guy, they scooped my bagage and hucked me in the back of the sedan. I just got into a car, with a total stranger, in Saudi Arabia. . .
I've learned over the years to manage expectations, or rather, throw them completely out the fucking window when traveling anywhere outside of the western world. Not because standards don't exist, but because the world is such a peculiar place and every society has its own quirks and ways of doing things. Luckily for me, everything was fine. That's just how Saudi is, quite disorganized.
The ride was pleasant, it was hot as hell when I got out, and it was about 11pm. The hotel itself was fine so I was quite happy that this wasn't the worst place I've ever stayed. In Nicaragua, we looked our dorm door with the locket from my bag. This had a swipe card. I was fine. or so I thought
Little did I know that the hotel is next to a mosque. Mosques have INCREDIBLY LOUD speakers outside of them. At 5 am, when the first prayer starts, they broadcast that _____ for the ENTIRE city to hear. It's very cool. Unless those incredibly loudspeakers are right outside your window. Pointed at your room. After a 13 hour flight.
By the time the prayer ended, I couldn't fall back asleep.
...in the middle of the desert a few miles away they put up an ice rink
Breakfast: my first Saudi Meal. Absolutely dissapointing. I know, it's now what you wanted to hear, but it really was. I'm not a picky eater, so I didn't realy care but a 3 at best. Maybe if you got the fresh-made omelet it was a 4, but it was bland. Not what I expected from a country with such a rich history of trade, spices, all that stuff.
Anyways, the bus picks us up and takes us to this massive conference center that was built about a month prior, in about a week. It was built specifically for this event and then it's getting torn down (that's how rich KSA is). I've never seen a conference center that big. Next to our Horror Festival, there was a Nasa Festival, and Kids & Toys Festival and in the middle of the desert a few miles away they put up an ice rink. Yes. an Ice Rink.
The rest of my time in Saudi was long film days, time spent with the crew helping prep and shooting the shit with the local laborers. There was one night where we went to a restaurant. It was a fancy steakhouse. Salt-bae type shit. Anyways, 5 of us arrive, 4 dudes and one gal. Julie. She's the boss lady over at Bassbus.
We walk up to the restaurant, notice the amazing patio, and head straight for it only to have the entire patio stop what they're doing to look directly at us. We thought we did something horribly wrong. Turns out, we did. Women aren't allowed to sit in the same areas as men. Women have to sit in the family area, which is where they put us. It was very interesting and we put the locals quite on edge. In the same area were a bunch of other men and women, about our age, enjoying themselves. It seems as though the younger generation are much more open to enjoying social occasions with different sexes. The older generation were a lot more traditional. The food, in case you were wondering, was fantastic.
After a month of intensely hard work by about 300 people, it was showtime. Everything from Zombie target practice to some of the scariest haunted houses EVER. They had so much animatronics, it was the coolest experience ever. This was the first-ever Horror Festival of its kind in Saudi Arabia. Most people have never seen such scary things, ever, let alone in one place, nor have interacted with monsters, goblins, ghosts and other crazy looking creatures. This was a totally different level. These monsters looked scary real. So real that night one, there were about 7 ambulance calls because attendents were getting such shock thatsome had heart palpitations when they went through houses or interacted with exhibits.
Seeing the joy on the face of the locals was such an enlightening experience. The show had around thousands ofpeople through the door per night, and it went on for about a week.
Would I go back to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia? In a heartbeat.