The temperatures have been warm during my stay in Dammam, ranging from 108 to 112 degrees Fahrenheit during the hottest parts of the day. I’ve been wandering around the city on foot for the past several days. My experience in extreme heat in the past has paid off, alternating between consuming copious quantities of water alternating between fruity and other sweet drinks. To compound things, several days offered up a stiff breeze (and that’s putting it mildly), further increasing the chance of dehydration.
This is clearly not a pedestrian friendly city; one car even tried to have a little ‘fun’ with me, swerving across the 4-lane boulevard barreling right at me while I was standing next to the highway before swerving away at the last minute. Distances are great and everything in the city seems to be so spread out. Several boulevards have fences running down the middle of both sides of traffic and one must walk great lengths to cross to the other side despite what Google maps shows. Some intersections offer signs showing little green men indicating when it is safe to cross the road. But in a couple of such cases I discovered several more lanes with fast moving traffic not even subject to a stoplight! I almost continued walking until I discovered what was going on. It took me 10 minutes to cross one intersection.
And while Google Maps is my go-to app for getting around while traveling, in Saudi Arabia its helpfulness is somewhat limited. For example, most of the restaurants it shows as open are in fact closed and in multiple cases it showed a restaurant as being open and upon arriving, the building had been demolished or the restaurant was no longer operating or had been converted into some other business. In these cases of no longer in business restaurants, Google Maps even continued to list the level of how busy the space was at any particular time. And a number of times it offered pedestrian routes which were next to impossible to follow, i.e., tall fences blocking a pathway or even blocking access to crossing roads.
One day I walked out to what is listed as one of the top attractions in Dammam, Murjan Island. On the way I passed through numerous neighborhoods, some of the security systems in place, beeping to alert the owners that someone had walked in front of their entrance. I don’t know if the island was man-made or not, but the curved road was clearly not natural, supported by imposing large rocks. The island was deserted and like the road, surrounded by rocks. Expecting beaches, I was sorely disappointed, but I went swimming anyways, sliding into the water over the rocks fully clothed. Between the wind and the extreme heat, I was completely dry within about 10 minutes. The bathroom was another highlight of my visit to this island; it was a source of hot water which I soon soaked myself in and was also a respite from the blazing sun and heat.
While walking back I ran out of water, and just when things were looking desperado, I discovered a miraculous invention: a water cooler hooked into the city water supply in one of the neighborhoods. The water came out cold – I filled up one of the provided metal cups and dumped it over my head. Glancing at the back of the device I noticed the filter was completely filled with orange and green algae and other nasty looking gunk. I already had the Baghdad belly (similar to the Delhi belly) from my previous week in Iraq; I was on the verge of dehydration (self-diagnosed), so I took a chance and consumed copious amounts of the refreshingly cold water.
Another day I walked 90 minutes to Souk Al Hub. I left around mid-day during the peak of the heat. I stopped many times in shade including under one date palm tree where it was just me and a well-preserved dried-up still covered in fur, cat lying on the pavement. Souk Al Hub seemed to predominately be rug vendors, with employees primarily Indian. The nearby Ameer Muhammad Bin Fahd Masjid Mosque is impressive; I stopped in its bathroom joining other men sitting on tiled pedestals in front of water spigots, splashing water all over my face and clothes.
Longing for some Asian food, I spotted Bamboo Restaurant, which advertises themselves as the largest Filipino restaurant in Dammam. The food was average, but the air conditioning felt amazing.
And towards the end of my week stay, I discovered that Uber works here and I used this valuable service to explore further afield. One day I visited Tarout Island – the highlight being the old castle and old town. I wandered around the streets for several hours eventually seeking out restaurants, but none were open and the few that were, served only tea and coffee. Eventually I stumbled into a small space serving Indian food. My ‘hotness’ meter registered a 10+ on the food and I stumbled out of there gasping for air.
Unfortunately, Dammam hasn’t embraced the waters of the Persian Gulf from a beach or swimming perspective. Miles of uninterrupted coastline is lined with rock walls, intended to keep the coast from eroding while simultaneously preventing any sort of beach activities.