MOSCOW: To travel to Russia by motorcycle from Saudi Arabia: Risky and arduous? Well, to most, yes, but four brave men from the cities of Makkah and Madinah have just about done that, flying their motorbikes from Jeddah to Germany and driving to Russia from there.
They came up with the idea to support the Green Falcons — Saudi Arabia’s national football team — on their way to the 2018 FIFA World Cup by arranging an extraordinary motor rally from Jeddah to Russia.
Their route follows the team to their group stage matches in three cities: From last Thursday’s opening in Moscow, to Wednesday’s game in Rostov-on-Don, and then to their third game in Volgograd next Monday.
To Ahmed Barnawi, Satam Sardidi and Sultan Hawsawi from Makkah and Talal Obaid from Madinah, their trip seemed quite adventurous. They did not know exactly what to expect. Nonetheless, they decided to go for it.
For their initiative, they got extraordinary support from Saudi Airlines and Cargo. “Saudia made a big effort to ship our bikes from Jeddah to Frankfurt and helped with the tickets,” said Barnawi, in an exclusive interview with Arab News.
After receiving that encouraging support, the four proceeded with planning the hotels and details of the route.
They started their ride from Frankfurt, heading to Russia through Poland and Belarus. They were impressed by the hospitality of the Belarusian people, who did not speak English but were helpful with “filling the customs forms,” Barnawi said. “They were wonderful.”
Entering Russia, the four were having some language barrier issues as well. But Russians used Google Translate to communicate.
Now the four have adopted this practice. Since then, when they need anything from the Russians not speaking English, they use Google Translate and it works perfectly.
They knew “a little bit” about Russia before going, Barnawi said, but when they came to Russia “it was mad, really.”
Before going to Russia they were concerned about how Russians would receive them, if there would be racism and what their attitudes would be. But their worries were groundless. The motorcyclists said people are so friendly, they wave and give them a thumbs-up on the road.
At petrol stations, people are shocked to see them on their motorcycles, with the Saudi flags attached. They approach them in disbelief and ask about their trip.
The four have been absolutely impressed by the country’s roads and highways. They have found that the weather in Russia is not as cold as it is believed, although it is not hot.
Entering Moscow they got “surprised by the huge buildings, wide streets.”
Upon their arrival, they visited the Saudi Embassy in Russia and met Saudi Ambassador Raed bin Khaled Qarmali, who received them with a warm welcome. They were served tea and coffee in the reception hall and asked to share their stories and impressions.
For the first game between Russia and Saudi Arabia, they tried to enter the area of the stadium on their motorbikes, but it was not allowed by the authorities.
“We understand that maybe it was because of security issues,” said Barnawi. “We did not go to the stadium. We went to a coffee shop to watch the game on a TV.”
“The first game we did not play,” said Barnawi, giving his take on the first match between Russia and Saudi Arabia, which the Green Falcons lost 5-0.
“It was a big issue for the supporters. But we never give up, you know. We close this subject, we look forward to the next game and we are going to play it better than before. And I hope that our team will do a better job, and we will win or break even,” Barnawi continued.
Because of all the time spent on the road, the Fantastic Four do not have much of a chance to follow other countries’ games. They succeeded in watching some while mapping out the next day’s route.
Nevertheless, the four bikers are enjoying the atmosphere of the World Cup and the football euphoria that surrounds it, saying that the whole event “is just amazing, it is awesome.”
Behind them are Frankfurt, Brest, Moscow and Voronezh. They are staying now in Rostov-on-Don, where the Green Falcons will play their second match against Uruguay at Rostov Arena. After that, they will go to Volgograd, where the team will play Egypt. They do not plan now for what will come next, hoping only for the best for the Saudi team.