Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education; in the elder, a part of experience," wrote Sir Francis Bacon some 350 years ago. If his maxim is true, then Aramco employees living in Saudi Arabia must be some of the world's most experienced people. And their kids must be some of the smartest. From the North Pole to the South Seas, from Istanbul to Buenos Aires, vacationing Aramco families are proving to be no wall-flowers when it comes to putting on seven-league boots. Name any form of transportation, and chances are that an Aramco employee has used it to visit spots that most tourists see only on travel brochures. Liners and limousines, buses and cablecars, airplanes, camels and rickshaws, not to mention shoe leather, have carried these travelers into many corners of the world.
The three-months home leave, given every two years, is a special incentive to depart from the beaten track. Families with wanderlust have plenty of time to make side trips while traveling between Saudi Arabia and the United States. And since Saudi Arabia is some 7,000 miles from the United States by air, it doesn't make much difference whether travelers choose a route leading east or west. So numerous are the possible routes, in fact, that one Aramco family completed five around-the-world trips in fifteen years and never went the same way twice. Others, on short vacation, have discovered that not too far from Saudi Arabia are many out-of-the-way spots to intrigue even the most veteran of travelers.
Outside of the fact that they simply enjoy traveling and the opportunity to see new places and people, some of these modern Gullivers have special reason to visit special places, and the photographs and souvenirs they bring back to show to admiring friends are tempting enough to make anyone dust off his passport.
TRAVELING IN STYLE . . . There are many ways to get from Dhahran, Saudi Arabia to Los Angeles, California, but Frank and Yvonne Mefford chose one that was not on the travel agency list. They drove in a 1937 Rolls Royce, covering some 12,000 miles, two continents and nine countries. After Frank covered the 800 miles across northern Arabia, where Bedouins gaped wide-mouthed at the sight of a Rolls crossing the vast emptiness, the Meffords, accompanied by their two sons, drove through Europe. While their Rolls crossed the Atlantic by ship, the Aramco family flew from London to New York, where they once again hit the road. All across Texas, they were stopped by Texas Rangers who, like the Bedouins, did a double-take at the sight of a 1937 Rolls bearing Saudi Arabian license plates. Arriving in Los Angeles, the Meffords put up at a motel run by a man who was born in the Middle East 40 years ago. He admitted that he never expected to see a car bearing Saudi Arab plates pull up to his establishment. Having reached his destination, Frank conceded that it was a hard drive. Maybe that's why the Mefford family flew back to Dhahran. The Rolls went by ship.
THE WAY OTHER PEOPLE LIVE . . . Carlos Arroyo, of Ras Tanura, had been employed for several years in South America before he joined Aramco in Saudi Arabia. He and his wife Estelle know the value of living among other people and learning their ways. They want their children to know it too. To that end, the Arroyo family spent a month in Japan (during their last home leave). Avoiding the conventional tourist hotels, they lived with a Japanese family on the outskirts of Tokyo before going on to Kyoto, Takamatsu, Nara and Nicco. Carlos was quick to catch onto the idea that in Japan the father is a mighty important member of the family whose word is law, and all the Arroyos had no trouble adopting the tradition of removing shoes before entering the house.
BUSMAN'S HOLIDAY . . . Curious to see how the Nepalese handled the problem of trade and commerce, Aramco employee Ran Hansen, whose business is transportation, visited that sky-high ancient land. Nestled in the Himalaya Mountains, with Tibet to the north and India to the south, the Kingdom of Nepal is the home of Mount Everest, Annapooma and Yeti, the Abominable Snowman. Ran drove by jeep from Kathmandu to the village of Thankot at the foot of Chandragiri Pass, original gateway from India. Supplies that once were hand-carried over the rugged mountain passes, with men and animals constantly lost on the windy slopes, are now transported overland by truck to the border city of Mata Tilth. There, as Ran observed, they are offloaded to a cable line which carries the supplies in metal slings over the mountains and down into the customs sheds of Kathmandu.
BIG GAME AT ITS BEST . . . How many hunters in the world would turn green with envy listening to Roy Sanders, Dhahran, telling about his short vacation to India. "Hunting was good," Roy explained. "I got lucky and bagged a nice tiger and leopard. The tiger measured ten feet, two inches . . . and the leopard seven feet, three inches." To get the sights of his high-powered rifle on the dangerous cats, Roy flew from Dhahran to Bombay, traveled 200 miles inland by train, and then 60 miles by jeep to the teakwood and bamboo jungleland of Madhya Pradesh at the foot of the Himalayas. "To hear a tiger roar with rage," thin-haired Roy said, "made me feel like I had a full head of hair—and it was all standing up! What an animal and what power! Make no mistake, they are big and very clever. I saw one in the moonlight at about 15 yards distance that looked bigger than a horse."
FROM HOT TO COLD . . . One way of escaping Saudi Arabia's summer heat is to go to the North Pole, where even in July and August it manages to be cool. George and Silvia Rader of Abqaiq and Frank and "Mike" Jungers of Dhahran decided to test northern Scandinavia's natural air conditioning. Crossing Norway and Finland by auto, they pushed toward the land of the Midnight Sun, until they reached North Cape at 72.10 degrees longitude. The North Pole is at 90 degrees. At North Cape they found that the sun sets between 11 o'clock and midnight in a blazing spectrum. Although the all-night light played havoc with their sleep, the two couples had to admit that it was cool. stones of history . . . In the Middle East even five days is enough time to get away from the ordinary. It was done by a group of 20 Aramco employees who flew in a chartered plane from Dhahran to Abqaiq to Jordan, where they clambered over the ruins of Petra, Amman and Jerash, known as Jordan's "classic cities." The remains of Jerash, for example, indicate that when it was built, possibly around 130 to 180 A.D., it was an ideally-planned Greek city with colonnaded main and cross streets and an 82-foot-high triumphal arch. Outside the city walls is the Naumachia, or Sea Circus, a tank 60 by 170 yards where long ago naval battles were fought with miniature warships before 4,000 spectators.
EXOTIC PORTS OF CALL . . . There's not a landlubber alive who would choose the Saudi Arabia—California watery route followed by Marian and Steve Stevenson during their recent home leave. Boarding a Dutch freighter at Darnmam, the Stevensons debarked at Wilmington, California more than seven weeks later, their sea legs still firm. During the long voyage, they made many a trip up and down the gangway as the freighter anchored at such exotic-sounding ports as Bombay, and Cochin, India; Trincomalee, Ceylon; Belawan, Sumatra; Penang, and Port Swettenham, Malaya, Singapore; Manila and seven other stops in the Philippine Islands. The Stevensons are still enthusiastically acclaiming the food and fun they had aboard, to say nothing of the opportunity of exploring many out-of-the-way ports that the ordinary tourist only dreams about.
Perhaps even more exotic were the names of the South Seas ports visited by Bill and Mary Nell Gross and their three children. After a brief visit to Hobart, Tasmania and Sydney, Australia, the Gross family flew to Aukland, New Zealand to board a small freighter outbound to the islands of the South Pacific. Using the ship as home base but flying on side-trips to Polynesian outposts, the Aramco family filled their trip log with names that most people see only in adventure novels: Suva, Fiji Islands; Tongatabu, Friendly Islands, Vavau Island; Niue, Cook Islands; Pago Pago; Bori Bori, Society Islands; and Papeete, Tahiti. After five weeks of island-hopping, the Grosses had a full log book.