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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - Saudi hospitality ahead of Dakar Rally wins Russian journalist’s heart, removes misconceptions
JEDDAH: 2019 will go down in Saudi Arabian history as the year the Kingdom opened its doors to the world by allowing tourists from 49 countries to visit the country and enjoy its marvels.
Since the announcement of Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia has emerged as a global hub of sports and entertainment, with events each month attracting tourists from all over the world.
The Dakar Rally is one of the events that will help put Saudi Arabia on the global tourism map. The rally will take place Jan. 5-17, 2020 for the first time in the Middle East, and Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020 will traverse various terrains and sceneries.
Racing over 7,500km of the Kingdom’s vast and unexplored desert, Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020 gets underway in Jeddah before drivers and crews navigate their way through the fast and winding dunes for 752km.
The intimidating challenge continues north along the coast for nearly 900km through the Red Sea Project till it reaches the futuristic NEOM megaproject, where the journey reaches its highest point at an altitude of 1,400m amid a series of canyons and mountains.
Lovers of motorsports will be naturally drawn to the Kingdom to witness this great event. One such enthusiast is Sveta Amelichkina, a Moscow-based Russian journalist. She claims to have attended six Dakar rallies, traveled to more than 50 countries and visited more than 200 cities.
When she heard that Saudi Arabia would be hosting the Dakar Rally, she readied her backpack to fly to Saudi Arabia. “Wow, now I can visit Saudi Arabia,” was her initial reaction to the news.
Arab News caught up with her following the Sharqia Rally, which was part of the Saudi Toyota Rally Championship, to hear her impressions of the Kingdom.
Amelichkina said: “When I heard the news, I really got excited to finally visit Saudi Arabia which was once an impossible country to visit. It was so interesting to me and I was very curious.”
“When I learned about the Saudi Toyota Championship, I decided to visit the country to cover the event. Three Russian co-drivers participated in this rally with Saudi drivers. I followed AlUla–Neom Rally and the Riyadh Rally from Moscow and made daily video reports, because of our Russian co-drivers who kept sending me photos and videos daily.”
She said initially she was a bit nervous because it was a strange country with different rules and laws. “I was also worried that I might be the only woman at the rally.”
However, she added, her fears evaporated on the first day of the event.”Everybody was friendly, everybody was ready to help me. I didn’t face any problem during the entire event. It was like a ‘test drive’ for me before Dakar.”
She said: “The people of Saudi Arabia were the biggest surprise for me. I didn’t expect them to be so friendly. Really everybody tried to help me, whenever needed. Everybody was so kind. I got lost in Sharqiya twice and people offered me assistance.”
Amelichkina is convinced that Saudi Arabia will be the perfect host of the Dakar Rally: “I am sure it is going to be a very successful rally and I am sure Saudis will impress the world because they and their country have the potential.”
Speaking of the Dakar Rally, Amelichkina said: “Of course, I want to cover the event and I am planning to be here in January 2020.”
Her relatives and friends back in Russia are eagerly waiting for her to share stories about Saudi Arabia. She said the great stories and pictures she shared on her social media accounts have made them all curious to learn more about the Kingdom and its friendly people.
To her friends, she said she was like the astronaut who first stepped on the moon.
“All this because I am currently considered the first Russian woman journalist who covered a race in Saudi Arabia. While I was in Sharqiya, I did live videos in Russian and English from the race. I love this country, I love the people, I am coming back for the Dakar Rally. I am sure that it will be a great race.”
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