Among the benevolent faces met at AlUla, Sultan's is perhaps the most memorable. Probably because his presence, as a guide and driver, was the least fleeting. Also and above all for his irremovable smile and infectious good humour.
The young man is only 20 years old. But with his math glasses, his rather full beard and his ease at the wheel, we could easily give him 30. Under his shemag, tied in Bedouin style, the kid’s been travelling before, despite his young age. As a foreign language student at Taibah University in AlUla, Sultan has just returned from a language study trip to London. For Winter at Tantora, his profile seemed ideal: young, licensed driver, English-speaking and, above all, a native of AlUla… Thus, he was recruited as a driver-guide for the first international tourists to explore this jewel of Saudi heritage.
“I need to practice my English”
Son of a modest landowner, Sultan is a lover of his native region. “I like to welcome tourists and show them around my region,” he admits, as he climbs into his massive 4×4 car. The young man is not so stingy with anecdotes. “Before, we didn’t think that what we had here was necessarily precious. It was just rocks, sand, a few monuments,” he says. “But when you see the tourist craze, and then what happened to AlUla, with the lights, the cafes, the restaurants, we realized what we have.”
If he is happy to welcome Westerners, it is also because Sultan wants to practice his English. The young Saudi is still hesitant when speaking it. But he makes a point of never answering in his mother tongue, even when he is at a loss for words. “I have to practice my English, that’s why I’m happy to be with you,” he says. And the kid doesn’t intend to stop there. “What language would you recommend to learn after English? I’m hesitating between French and Spanish,” he asks. As lover of languages and an aspiring polyglot, Sultan has a secret dream of eventually working for the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs. You would probably think it’s because the kid wants to leave the country and travel more. “No, I want to stay in AlUla, I love the UK very much but my life is here,” he says with an irremovable smile on his face.