Hey everyone! Time to take a seat and get comfy…it’s story time! So as many of you know, it’s the EID holiday, meaning there is no school from today August 31st until September 9th. This holiday is not the same dates, and shifts every single year. Unfortunately this year, our break lies about a week and a half after classes start.
Now going to school at KAUST, almost everyone shares the adventurous spirit. I mean you’re willingly traveling across the world to a new culture with new rules and norms, so you gotta be open minded. Anyways, even orientation the rooms were buzzing about EID and what people’s plans weere. Keep in mind I had just arrived from a 30 hour journey after weeks of mentally preparing for Saudi, now it was time to think about my next journey? Lucky for me plans fell into place pretty easily. Ann Marie, a fellow American and marine biologist (although grew up at a Saudi compound called Aramco) and I sat at breakfast during orientation and started discussing travels. EID was fast approaching, and the time where almost everyone flies and travels to new places, so flights were filling up fast, and we need to come up with a game plan. Options around here were Egypt, Jordan, Dubai, turkey, Oman, etc. But by using the trusty skycanner website we were able to identify what the cheapest options were. Also- by talking to other students and staff that had been living in KAUST for years, many suggested that Oman was there favorite to travel. This came as a surprise for me because I knew absolutely nothing about it. I did a quick google search and was blown away by the beautiful sights it has to offer. From vivid blue wadis (water within a valley) to the sandy deserts to the amazing diving, I knew this was another country to add to the never ending bucket list.
So we came together after dinner, and purchased our flights to Oman, leaving today (September 31st) and returning on September 9th. Now since booking this trip, we have also had classes, and are getting used to life at kaust, so we didn’t have time to prepare and plan every single detail of the trip. So a lot of the specifics are still up in the air. So…what do we know? We have an air B and B reserved for the first three nights in Muscat. The total was $100/3 days so divided by two people I’ll be paying $17/night… not too shabby. We will also have our own kitchen so we can prepare some food! We planned the start of our trip in muscat so we can go diving! I’ll definitely let you guys know how that goes. The rest of the trip we are camping! The cool thing about Oman is that it’s legal to camp absolutely anywhere we want. The beaches, deserts, mountains are all free to camp! We will also be renting a car (fingers crossed- don’t worry I’ll explain this dilemma) so hopefully we will have the freedom to roam about the country!
Okay so sorry for that backstory, now it’s time for the good stuff. The story starts at 5:00 AM in KAUST where we hired a taxi to pick us up and drop us off at the airport. We showed him our flight details and then we were on our way. Well…this is where mistake number one happened. We booked through Saudia airlines right, and all Saudia flights take off from the South terminal. But wait… we drive an hour to Jeddah, pay our taxi driver (who continues on his way) and then walk into the terminal. It’s an absolute cluster in there, considering its EID and everyone’s traveling. Every single line is a mile long and there’s no one to ask for help. We arrive at a Saudia self checkin computer thing, enter in my confirmation number, and receive an error. OH fantastic. I looked at the counter line and it was like a mile long. I sighed and decided to get into line while Ann Marie wandered around and found someone to ask questions to. She came back with a panicked look in her eyes and informed me we were at the wrong terminal. Are you f*ing serious!?! Yup although we booked through Saudia we were actually on Oman Air, so we literally ran down to where the taxi service is. This is where we met our driver, who was hanging out near the exit asking “taxi” we excitedly agreed yes! And told him we need to sprint, so he kindly grabbed Ann Marie’s bags as we headed to his car.
Some wise words of winsom my mom once game me was, “lyndsey, don’t get in the car with a stranger”. Well lynda, what are you supposed to do when you’re going to miss your flight and are very desperate? I’ll tell you what, you get in that dang car with a stranger. I mean what’s the worst thing that can happen?? (Okay maybe don’t answer that…) well we got into this mans “taxi” aka definitely just his personal car, where he didn’t really speak English as we are trying to explain to him to bring us to the other terminal ASAP. Ann Marie and I sat quietly into the back seat (low key panicking about missing our flight) as he’s trying to make conversation. He offered us a cigarette (which we kindly declined) as he began to talk to us using sign language and pointing at things. Dear lord, please keep your eyes on the road and drive FASTER, I thought to myself. Turns out in this conversation I was mostly ignoring as I was internally panicking, he asked us if we were married, if we had kids, and then casually asked Ann Marie’s hand in marriage. Absolutely ridiculous and not very surprising at all. About 15 minutes later we arrived at the North Terminal. #bless. Our “taxi man” asked us how much money we were going to pay him. I looked at him confused and said, “you are supposed to tell US what we owe YOU, not the other way around” we continued with more signing and talking and I just wanted to get going so we shoved him a 50 SAR, got our bags, and sprinted into the airport, dramatically looking for the check in location. I mean two girls traveling alone already stand out, add on the fact that we are foreign and frantic I’m sure the whole airport knew us by the end of this ordeal. So we head into the room where all the check in counters, and guess what… ours wasn’t there. We found some employees to get help, and showed him our confirmation email. “That’s at the other terminal” was his kind response. We both rolled our eyes and ensured him that we were actually just there and were informed that nope it’s indeed here and north terminal. He walked us around for a while, eventually leading us to another worker who spoke English. We showed him out confirmation email and he just said, oh… that desk just closed. Oh fantastic! What now? Well, we were lead in circles with people trying to help us. It was a lost cause. We missed our flight. Not my proudest moment. We were lead to an info counter where we tried to explain our dilemma, he told us to find the Oman air office to try to reschedule.
After walking past several airlines offices we finally found Oman Air, where we met our new homie, Mohammed. We showed him our ticket and explained that the taxi driver dropped us off at the wrong terminal and we missed our flight. He told us to calm down, we missed our flight and to stop panicking. I took some deep breathes and excepted the fact that we screwed up and now just had to deal with it. He explained that Saudia buys a certain number of seats from Oman Airlines, and we would need to call Saudia to make sure that they didn’t cancel our return flights, else. Well we tried calling and they weren’t open until 8 AM so we would have to wait a few hours. Mohammad laid out plan A B and C. Ideally we would call Saudia and we would get onto the next flight at 2:30. But remember what I said? It’s EID holiday and the flight prices have increased because of high demand. So there was the not so great option that we were going to spend EID break at KAUST. Lol so which was it?? Wait and find out.
As we waited until 8 to call the airlines, we headed to the cafe area for breakfast and wifi. Mohammad told us that instead of waiting and talking to them over the phone we had the option of heading back to the other terminal where the Saudia office was. Not ideal considering our last taxi experience. So we tried being patient and waited it out. Making a point to call out text driver and let him know that he should brush up on his knowledge of the Jeddah airport terminals (trying to get a refund obviously)
Anyways, a half a year later it was 8 so we headed back to Oman Airs (our new VIP lounge) where we tried to figure out our next step. After a few failed phone calls (they couldn’t speak English so hung up on us instead of helping) so our boy Mohammed took the phone and helped us out. At first he called the first class phone number to try to get help faster, but we were just forwarded to another department. Sooo eventually we got someone who could speak English (I think) so we just wanted to make sure the airlines kept our return ticket from Oman to Saudi. Apparently if you miss the flight they often cancel the return ticket which really sucks. Sooooo Ann Marie called them and the person took like 4 minutes to respond to whatever we said so we gave the phone to Mohammed who translated for us. Eventually she told us that when you miss a flight it goes into the server to cancel it so she had to contact IT to undo that. It would be by 10 AM that she could confirm it. So our next goal was to book a ticket. They told us it would be like $350 to go through Oman Airs. I wasn’t stoked on that so I did some online research and found a cheaper flight by checking out Google Flights. Once again through Saudia Airlines. We decided at this point it’s worth it to just get tickets and go, so we bought them, fortunately there were two more “sale” tickets left, so we both were reserved for the next flight, at 2:30. WOOT.
Next: it was operation tell our air B and B guy as well as figure out car rental. This ended up being more of a disaster than I thought. When I booked it I put down that we would arrive at noon. But a confirmation email said we must tell them if we switch times or else they give up the car. So I went on the site and tried changing the reservation for 8 PM pickup. Well, it kept on saying that there was no available cars for that time. Sooo we did everything we could. I emailed the company, facebooked messaged them (twice) called their local and international phone number (that worked a little bit) and even tweeted them. Surprisingly, Facebook chat was the most successful. Although by super helpful. They told us we have to call the Thrifty Company to let them know (I had been trying to contact the company unhooked through called Holiday Autos, because they have 24 hour help and it said I can change pickup time through them) so next we had the ordeal of contacting thrifty. My immediate attempt was email because I had email. But I knew that could take a while so I also sent them a Facebook message. With no success I knew it was time to try and call. Both Ann Marie and I attempted calling on our phones; but because we have Saudi SIM cards and we were trying to call Oman our calls weren’t going through. I attempted calling on WhatsApp but that failed. Soo our next move was going back to Mohammed and asking how to call an international number. This kind soul gave us his cellphone and said “this is your office now” so we sat back down and called thrifty. Okay so I’ll admit it was that easy. I called about 18 numbers before I could reach someone. Apparently offices have weird hours due to EID. But I called budget car rentals, explained my dilemma, and they gave me the phone number on the airport. I called the airport who transferred me to a kind soul who I spoke to and explained my dilemma once again and begged to not given my car to anyone else and that I would Be arriving a bit late. I really hope she got what I was saying, but I gave her my confirmation code and all so I’m very much hoping that when we arrive in Muscat we have a rental car waiting for us! lol I’ll update you guys when I arrive!
So what next, we have our flights, car, and place to sleep, so we were all set! We lounged in the office a bit later and by now we were getting to know all the office workers. A few of them called us over and we showed them our flight info and they went into the computer and changed the seats around so we were next to each other. Super kind! They also brought us yummy Arabic coffee 🙂
At 10:30 the Oman check in counter would finally open (we knew this because we asked the info counter several times earlier in the morning). As soon as we walked back to that area a staff member who definitely recognized looked at us with a smile and said “Oman counter 24!” With a lot enthusiasm . We made it to the counter, waited a little while, and eventually it was my term. The whole time I’m 1/2 expecting that they’re telling me I booked for the wrong day or something. The only small issue was they needed to make sure I was coming back to Saudi. And my return flight info was a little weird cause we missed that first flight sooo we showed them emails and after doing some typing and talking in Arabic with many people he finally said “you’re ok” which was a huge relief. My luggage weighed exactly 50 lbs (woo) and we were all set to fly! We waited in the line for passport checks (which took a very long time) and I was a tiny bit concerned that my exit visa wasn’t going to go through. In Saudi you need a visa to get in the country but you also need approval from your “sponsor” to leave. Fortunately At KAUST we applied for an exit visa the week we got there (Lol) so it was approved in time. Great long story short we got approval, got our passports stamped went into the terminal, got the only vegetarian food available (hummus and French fries and an ice cream for breakfast/lunch #health). Then waited by our terminal to catch our bus to the plane. And now I’m on the plane finally en route to Oman!!!
If you made it this far in this post I’m honestly quite impressed. Thanks for your dedication and I look forward to telling you all about my Oman adventures!