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The Tropic of Cancer marks the northern border of the tropics,
the most beautiful, brilliant and blighted region of the world.
I've already travelled around the equator
and the southern border of the tropics,
but following the Tropic of Cancer will be my toughest journey yet.
This tropic cuts through Central America, the Caribbean,
North Africa, India, and on through Asia to finish in Hawaii.
It's 23,000 miles across deserts, rivers and mountains.
Along the way I encounter extraordinary people,
simmering conflicts and some of the most stunning landscapes on our planet.
On this part of my journey,
I travel from Egypt, across Saudi Arabia, to Oman.
I see an Ancient Egyptian treasure saved from the waters of the Nile.
I explore the underwater wonders of the Red Sea...
..and cross the mysterious Arabian peninsula.
In Egypt I meet some very hungry Bedouin boys.
I'm amazed they didn't get the bit that's in my mouth!
Inside secretive Saudi Arabia
I get a taste of their Top Gear lifestyle.
SCREECHING TYRES AND SHOUTING
And as booming Dubai hits the rocks,
I meet its forgotten army of migrant workers.
These are the people who build Dubai
and this is how they're treated.
The view certainly makes the climb worthwhile.
I'm in southern Egypt.
These are the waters of the River Nile
and I'm just beginning another leg of my journey around the Tropic of Cancer.
This is Lake Nasser,
a vast reservoir formed by the damming of the mighty Nile.
In Egypt's arid southern desert, the water is a welcome sight.
Not far from Egypt's border with Sudan,
the Tropic of Cancer passes through Lake Nasser.
At more than 300 miles long,
it's one of the largest man-made lakes in the world.
I'm far to the south of the famous great pyramids in the Valley of the Kings,
but even down here there's spectacular evidence
of Egypt's ancient past.
Local guide Fikry Kashef took me around the temple of Abu Simbel.
That is absolutely gobsmacking.
-3,300 years ago.
This is the history of this temple here.
Ramses II was one of Ancient Egypt's mightiest rulers.
And he wasn't exactly shy about flaunting his power.
Each of these seven-storey high statues,
carved out of the mountainside,
depicts the same subject - Ramses himself.
And back at home, Ramses also had an epic private life.
You know, the historians, they talk about more than 40 women
for Ramses II, you know.
40 women? What, you mean 40 wives?
40 wives. He had more than 100 children, yes.
-More, more than 100.
More than 40 wives, but the favourite one, she was Nefertari,
which is behind, two times here, just here...
-Oh, just at his feet?
-Before the entrance,
for whom he did the second temple behind.
-So he built a temple to his wife?
-To his wife, yeah.
-Shall we go and have a look?
Ramses must have taken a particular shine to Nefertari.
It was practically unheard of for pharaohs' wives
to be honoured with their own temple.
But these sculptures make many locals think this Egyptian queen
might not have been entirely Egyptian.
It is a little bit, you know,
like an African face, or something like this.
Some historians say
that she was originally from this area, from Nubia.
The Nubians are the people
who lived in southern Egypt and northern Sudan?
-That's Sudan now, yeah, and...
-And this is you? You're a Nubian?
We are Nubians here, you know.
So you can claim her, really, then, as one of your own,
you can claim her as a Nubian?
This is not sure, but, yeah,
some details can show us maybe she was Nubian, but it is not sure.
Nubians, who are black Africans,
built one of the earliest African civilisations along the Nile,
at times rivalling the power of the pharaohs.
But more recently, the Nubians have been dominated
by Arab Egyptians from the north.
When the Nile was dammed in the 1960s,
the temple at Abu Simbel was cut into huge pieces and moved here,
to higher ground, to prevent it being submerged underwater.
But the Nubians say less attention was paid to their villages
clustered along the banks of the Nile.
They talked about
temples and monuments, but nobody talks about people...
-Around, you know.
So the people who were living by the banks of the Nile?
That's it, yeah.
Fikry's village was one of hundreds that disappeared underwater.
It's quite amazing to think, then, that your village,
where you grew up,
is now underwater, is now submerged by the waters of the lake.
60 metres the waters became higher than my village where I was born.
When I look at this lake, you know, I have all of this like a cinema,
behind my eyes, you know, to remembering my life
and the life of my people
here in our village, yeah, which is underwater now, yes.
To make way for the lake, tens of thousands of Nubians
were moved hundreds of miles from here and rehoused in the desert.
The people who live in Abu Simbel now are mostly Arab Egyptians
who've moved down from the north.
This mass relocation of the Nubians is rarely discussed in Egypt,
where the government limits freedom of speech.
I'd heard that many Nubians feel they've been shunted out
into the desert and abandoned.
But Egyptian officials, who are monitoring our filming,
refused us permits even to visit the new Nubian settlements.
Fikry is one of the few Nubians left in Abu Simbel.
He tries to keep Nubian culture alive
by teaching traditional songs and music to the children.
CHILDREN JOIN IN
Come on, clap yourselves, it was wonderful!
It must be very hard for them to imagine a world
-which is submerged in water, mustn't it?
So music is one way of helping them to understand that?
Yes. The new generation, they don't know,
they know nothing about their country and their culture.
Now it is another thing.
-It's another world.
-It is another world.
That's why we are trying to do something with our children here.
The next morning, it was time to get on the road
and head towards Egypt's Red Sea coast.
The route took us towards the dam that created Lake Nasser.
Because tourists and travellers in Egypt have been attacked
by terrorists in the past, we've been given an armed guard
to travel with us on this leg of the trip.
At the moment, he's having a kip in the back.
But you can see where the Egyptians got the inspiration from for their pyramids.
You see these pyramidal or conical structures
naturally formed everywhere out here.
The pyramid-shaped mounds
are made of sandstone and formed by wind erosion.
So this is the lake on our right and we've got to the end,
this is end of it, this is the Aswan Dam.
Since it was built in the '60s, this massive dam
has helped to power the Egyptian economy
and become a symbol of national pride.
It feels strange to be up here, because when we were down south
with the Nubians, we were hearing so many tragic stories about how...
the whole Nubian way of life
was lost as a result of the creation of this lake.
And now we get here to this colossal dam,
then you realise that to many people in Egypt,
perhaps most people in Egypt, this dam was a life-changer,
at the very least, and a life-saver in many ways,
because it provides electricity for so much of the country.
As well as providing hydroelectric power
for this desperately poor country, the dam regulates the annual floods
and has transformed agriculture along the Nile Valley,
where most of Egypt's huge population lives.
From Aswan, I planned to head across Egypt's southeastern desert
to the Red Sea, aiming for the small town of Shalatein,
close to the Tropic of Cancer.
But the camera-shy government officials monitoring my journey had other ideas.
So we're not allowed to go to Shalatein?
Not tomorrow, not the next day, not at all?
Well, this is a very surprising situation for us,
because we've travelled all the way round the world.
For me... For you, I'm dealing...
Yeah, this has happened to us twice now,
twice the Egyptian authorities have prevented us from filming
and even when they've prevented us from filming major stories,
they've also been saying,
"Oh, you can't film here, you can't film there,
"you can't film this thing by the road, you can't get out of the vehicle".
Despite its touristy image, Egypt remains an authoritarian state
where the government censors
the local media and routinely tries to control foreign film crews.
Undeterred, we left before dawn and headed on to the coast anyway,
not sure whether officials would allow us to film anything when we got there.
It was hundreds of miles across burning desert.
For thousands of years, nomadic tribespeople
have managed to exist out here in this merciless landscape,
living off animals they graze on the sparse vegetation.
But their days in the desert may be numbered.
After a very long journey across the desert,
it looks like we've made it.
I'll tell you what, if they turn us back now,
I think I might have a little sulk.
After more negotiations, we finally made it into Shalatein.
It's an unremarkable outpost, but it may well be on the front line
of perhaps the biggest issue now facing the tropics region -
global climate change.
In recent years, an unprecedented drought in Egypt's southeastern desert
has forced thousands of Bedouins to abandon their nomadic existence
and move to slum areas on the edge of this town.
With my translator Mohammed,
I went in search of a legendary Bedouin elder, Ali the Lion.
Ali. Ali! Salaam alaikum, Ali.
This is Ali the Lion.
Honoured to meet you. An honour to meet you.
Ali was the strongman of his tribe,
which thrived in the desert for generations.
But he told me his people were now suffering the most devastating drought
in living memory, decimating their animals and livestock.
Do you know more people who are leaving the desert to live in towns?
-Hundreds of them.
People who lose their animals come and live here, near the market.
They get themselves small jobs working for other people,
doing anything to make a living for their kids.
Most Bedouins, like me, don't know how to read,
and we don't have the skills to get government jobs.
We only know how to make a living through our animals.
Scientists believe Ali and his people are among the first victims
of our changing global climate.
When they arrive here in town,
many Bedouin find themselves in deep poverty.
There's widespread health problems and malnutrition.
But despite their suffering,
the Bedouin remain true to an ancient nomadic tradition - hospitality.
What does that mean?
Ah, he want to, er, invite you to eat this goat.
-Ah. That's, er, a big honour, isn't it?
-Yeah, of course.
The goat's, er, just met its end.
God, it's amazing how...
rarely we see that now.
We're so separated from what happens to our food.
In a traditional Bedouin barbecue the meat is cooked on hot stones,
but even Ali the Lion's happy to embrace a bit of modernity.
- What is this? - Petrol.
To light the fire with.
So you're going to put a bit of petrol on it to get it going?
Aren't you supposed to do something
like twirling the sticks together or something? This is cheating!
No, that's what people did in the past.
These people have always had a precarious existence out in the desert,
but the way the climate is changing
could bring an end to their traditional way of life.
While the meat was cooking, Ali showed me around.
Personally, I don't mind living here.
But there are people who don't like living like this, without animals.
Here you're OK if you've got a job or if you have money.
You can come here and just relax.
Can we try some, then, Ali?
I mean, it's chewy, as goat always is, but it's delicious.
Meat is something of a luxury round here,
so it's every man and boy for himself.
-That happened very fast.
-Children, you know.
I'm amazed they didn't get the bit that's in my mouth.
I've been travelling around the tropics at a time when remote nomadic people
are having their lives turned upside-down by climate change
and the encroachment of the modern world.
Forced out of deserts or tropical jungles, but lacking the skills
needed in towns and cities,
many end up scraping a living in slums, like the Bedouin.
Following the Tropic of Cancer
had taken me thousands of miles across North Africa.
Now my journey across the continent was coming to an end.
I'd reached a milestone,
the very edge of Africa, and the Red Sea coast.
Finally, we get to water.
Ah, it looks beautiful.
I hope that's all right.
So, I've met up with Hossam Helmy here, who's a...
Well, you're a pioneer, really, of diving in the Red Sea, aren't you?
Actually, we start here 20 years ago.
And how many times have you dived in the Red Sea?
The last time I counted, it was 5,000, that was seven years ago.
Hossam's dive centre was one of the first resorts
on this section of coast.
He took me out to see the coral reef
that flourishes on his doorstep, thanks to the warm tropical waters.
But even out here in the boat, there was no escaping
one of the many Egyptian officials following us around.
Would you mind asking our police guard if he knows how to swim?
HOSSAM ASKS HIM
-He doesn't know how to swim?
So we're going to have to look after him, then?
-If something happens...
-We'll have to protect you!
Coral reef is one of the greatest treasures of the tropics region,
existing almost entirely between the Tropic of Capricorn,
the southern border of the tropics, and here,
more than 3,000 miles north of that line, on the Tropic of Cancer.
It was a thrill to find such diversity of life down here,
suggesting that this reef is in good health.
I think it's incredible, I really do.
You said it's like being in an aquarium, and it's true.
Because it's virgin, nobody dive here, nobody fish on this area,
no damage happened to the reef or to the shore, nothing.
Conditions in the Red Sea are especially good for coral reef.
It's relatively warm and shallow here compared to the large oceans,
and the coral is nourished
as rain washes minerals and nutrients into the water
from volcanic mountains around the sea.
Around the world at the moment,
coral reefs have been taking a battering, you might say,
they've been suffering a lot
-from climate change already.
How important is it that we protect the reef
and preserve the ecosystem that's down there?
Er, actually, I believe that the Red Sea, the marine life that exists in the Red Sea,
does not exist anywhere else, it's a treasure,
and we have to save it, not for ourselves, for our next generation.
Although tourism is Egypt's biggest industry,
this southern Red Sea coast is still far less developed than areas further north.
But that could be about to change.
The government has plans for dozens of giant resorts to be built
along this stretch of the Red Sea.
Hossam is one of many who fear that too many tourists
could spell disaster for the coral reef.
You've got a resort here yourself,
and you've been here for a long time.
Am I right in thinking you would prefer it,
in all honesty, if there was only your resort here, really, wouldn't you?
Partly, I'm sure, for commercial business reasons,
but partly also because it would mean fewer people
going in the sea and potentially damaging the coral reef?
Er, yes, I agree with you 100%.
I believe that that will be good for the nature on the south,
we can keep our resources,
natural resources, and we can keep it for our generation
and for the next generation, and maybe for the next coming 100 years, I hope.
Hossam thinks that to protect the reef, new resorts should have fewer rooms,
making them more expensive for tourists, but also more ecofriendly.
He has just over 200 beds on his site,
which the government says could hold more than 2,000.
We have to push for the softer impact for the ecotourism.
Big piece of land and less numbers of rooms.
That's what we are targeting to, we are pushing to...
It's very difficult dealing with investors because it's numbers for them.
If they can see a few successful projects
who are following the ecotourism system, maybe they will join.
You know how much money I get for this piece of land?
So you've been offered money for your...your empty patch of...?
-Huge sum of money.
Huge number, but...
-But you refuse to sell?
-I refuse to sell, yeah.
-Oh, to keep it as is, to keep it as is.
I'm going to lose myself if I do that.
-What, you'll lose your soul?
-Yeah, yeah, exactly, my soul, yeah.
Hossam's making a good living from his resort
but he's turned down a chance to make a quick fortune.
And if others can also be persuaded
that protecting the environment is a vital long-term investment for all of us
then there's hope for tropical treasures like the Red Sea reefs.
I'd reached the edge of Egypt.
It was time to cross the Red Sea to the secretive kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
It has a pretty bad reputation,
I think it's fair to say, in terms of its openness to foreigners,
particularly in terms of its openness to foreigners.
It's been a great struggle for our team to secure visas for us
to travel across the kingdom.
I'm looking forward to it, but I'm a bit apprehensive as well.
Following the Tropic of Cancer across the Red Sea,
I flew to Saudi Arabia's second largest city, Jeddah,
just to the south of the line.
In order to secure visas to cross Saudi Arabia
we had to find someone to invite us and to vouch for us during our stay.
In the early hours of the morning, our sponsor and guide
came to meet us at the airport.
This is Danya.
She's going to be taking us across the country, isn't that right?
I'm excited about travelling across Saudi Arabia.
-I'm a little bit apprehensive as well.
-What are you afraid of?
I think the heat, the distances...
and we've had a few problems in Egypt with government minder-type people,
so I hope things are going to go well here.
Let's hope so.
It might now be difficult for Western travellers to enter Saudi Arabia
but for centuries, Jeddah has been a bustling
and cosmopolitan Red Sea trading port.
And since Saudi Arabia's oil boom,
it's grown into a city of more than three million people.
The next day, Danya took me for a tour around the old town.
This is a great market, though.
It's packed with colour and stuff happening.
Yeah, it is, it's beautiful, I have to say.
You do see a real ethnic mix amongst the people here.
You know, I can see Saudis here,
but I can also see Africans, I can see Asians,
you can see people from all across the world, really.
Saudi Arabia has a reputation for suppressing free speech
and women's rights, so having a female guide was unusual.
But Danya's a businesswoman from an influential family.
There was lots I wanted to ask her,
but I wasn't sure what issues might get her into trouble.
A historical site felt safe enough.
So Danya, tell us where you've brought us. What is this arch here?
This arch is a representation of the old door,
which pilgrims used to go through to go towards Mecca.
So people would come to Jeddah
and they'd come through the port, they'd stop here,
and once they'd gotten themselves ready and whatever,
they'd leave through this door and go towards Mecca.
So in a way, the city was the arrival point
for pilgrims from across the Islamic world, then?
Exactly. And so Jeddah's always been a melting pot
for people from all around the world.
So this man, is he on his way to pilgrimage, probably?
CALL TO PRAYER
That's the call to prayer, and I can see the shops closing here.
I mean, they move very quickly, don't they?
Yeah, they do. It's just basically like, "OK, it's calling,
"let's just shut everything down".
And this is one of the things that I really love.
I feel so safe here, because look, they don't even close their shops.
They just cover it with a blanket and that's enough.
You don't see anyone going in or stealing anything.
Men went inside the mosque to pray.
Like many mosques, it didn't have a women's section.
Danya prayed on the pavement.
The differing treatment of men and women in the kingdom
can be a shock to foreign visitors, and it affects even a pioneer like Danya.
She's one of the first women to own a media company in Saudi,
but I didn't know whether she'd be able
or willing to discuss such sensitive and controversial issues.
I found it a difficult situation.
I've certainly travelled through dozens of countries
on these journeys that I've been doing,
and this is the only one I can remember,
the only country I can remember we're visiting
whereby our entry is predicated almost on the fact that somebody has to sponsor us.
Almost, you're given a responsibility
to make sure we don't misbehave or talk about the wrong things
or do the wrong thing while we're in Saudi.
You've come as guests of the Ministry of Culture and Information, you know,
but we are the ones that are taking you around and so, definitely,
we feel some sort of responsibility, we feel a level of responsibility.
Are there things that you could say that could get us into trouble?
Potentially. You can't make everyone happy all the time, you know.
But there are sensitive issues that Saudis discuss openly.
Inside the kingdom, many view the biggest crisis as restlessness
among the country's rocketing population of pampered and underemployed young men.
Thousands of them have been attracted to violent Islamic extremism.
Boredom and frustration are rife, partly because the law forbids
young men from mixing with girls outside marriage or family.
So these are the Jeddah Boys.
But all the rules can't stop young Saudi men from doing what lads do.
With cars, that is.
-Simon. Lovely to meet you.
Thank you for letting us come down and see your vehicles.
-Who are the Jeddah Boys?
Jeddah Boys, it's a club for modified cars,
and we do shows and put on things like this.
And this has got some sort of extraordinary sound system.
This is a mobile nightclub, really.
MUSIC DROWNS SPEECH
-I've got a bad feeling about this.
-OK, are you ready?
We're cruising along here.
You're not a very good driver.
But I'm having a few accidents, I'm sorry, it's a very bumpy road.
There's a lot of love and work gone into these cars. What's the reason for it?
It's a hobby, like any other. It's a passion, actually.
People like to modify their cars, modify their engine.
It's something you don't see every day, you don't see in the streets.
As you're going around, you'll see that car once or twice, that's it.
I find this quite reassuring,
actually, because it can be quite hard for young men, young guys,
in Saudi to find an outlet for their passions.
It's difficult for them to meet girls
and there aren't things like cinemas and music concerts
like there are in the rest of the world,
and this is a way they're able to express themselves
in a way that's almost artistic, really.
Some might want to be artists, but other frustrated young men
just want an adrenaline rush.
An epidemic of dangerous street racing has led to carnage
on the kingdom's roads,
so the authorities have come up with a novel way
of channelling all the youthful energy.
This is the Jeddah Raceway.
It's a government-approved playground for Saudi Arabia's boy racers.
-How are you doing?
-How are you doing, my friend?
-Simon, nice to meet you.
Hossam Tayab is a professional driver on the Saudi racing scene.
Why was the raceway set up in the first place? What's the point of it?
Er, the first reason was to minimise the reckless driving that is going on
on the street and try to guide people to put their passion
and hobbies in the right way.
Was there a serious problem, then, before the raceway,
with kids driving too fast, driving dangerously on the street?
Well, in the main cities, the policemen,
they have some sort of control over this, but unfortunately, in the suburb areas
there were some incidents that took place
where really, really youngsters will do really, really bad stunts.
Hossam offered to give me a crash course in the kind of driving
youngsters have been doing on public roads.
Hossam, how much do you love your Porsche?
I work really hard to buy this car.
Like, usually when you drive normal, you relax,
but this you need to make sure you have full grip on the steering wheel
and your foot is completely on the pedals.
Yeah, my knees are...
You're not touching the pedals with your toes.
You're exploring Saudi in a different way.
-OK, slow down.
-Slow down a bit.
Slow down. Sharp turn.
Get on it.
-It's OK, it's OK, no problem.
-Are you sure?
-Yeah, yeah. Start it.
OK. Put it into first gear.
-Try to make the U-turn.
Everything is normal and cool and fine.
The car just went out of control a little bit.
-A little bit?
I think you're being very generous!
Slow down here, and turn, sharp turn.
While you turn, you can blip it to get...
-Yeah, you see.
More. More. A little bit more. Little bit more.
-It's OK, it's OK.
Sharp left turn.
-Give it gas, give it the gas, yeah.
-You're getting it. You're doing it.
-There you go.
You're good with the foot, you're a little bit slow on the steering.
I got it! I got some applause!
-Ah! Oh, my goodness.
It's completely intoxicating, I want to get a Porsche now
and do this again. Thank you so much.
You're most welcome, I hope you enjoyed it.
I hit a few cones, but honestly,
it's a lot of fun.
To reduce widespread disaffection among the young
and draw them away from joyriding and the excitement of militant groups,
the government's investing heavily in schemes like this,
giving young men a chance to burn rubber and let off steam.
Following the Tropic of Cancer took me on from Jeddah
to the Saudi capital, Riyadh, across hundreds of miles of empty desert.
Riyadh is the conservative heartland of the country.
It's a sterile place, not the most thrilling city to visit.
Even locals admit there's not much to do except pray and shop.
Many forms of Western entertainment are banned here,
but the Saudis certainly don't seem to mind a bit of extravagant consumerism.
-It's very flash here, isn't it?
-Hmm-mm, it's a shopping mall.
The image that outsiders have of the type of Islam
that's practised in Saudi Arabia is that it's very austere,
almost quite militant.
How does that square with a shopping mall like this?
Look, this is Wallis, this is a store we have in Europe.
Next to it is La Senza, this is a lingerie shop.
-Is there any conflict between the two?
-I don't see any conflict because...
at the end of the day, it's just shopping, you know what I mean?
It's like, maybe people think that women can't dress up or whatever
because they're always covered, but then you see the jeans
and you see the underwear and you see the tights
and you see all of these types of things, and obviously,
you know, women can wear them, they can wear it at home,
they can wear it in front of their family,
in front of their friends, things like that, you know.
But I would say one of the most common stereotypes
is that Saudi women are oppressed,
and usually that's based on the fact that we're wearing an abaya,
but honestly, to us, it's not oppression.
You know, this is what's normal to us,
this is what we've grown up with, this is what we live.
It's not a signal that we can't do things just because we're wearing black.
That's maybe, for me, something difficult to understand,
is why the West sees the way we dress as a sign of oppression.
Maybe you could enlighten me.
You've turned it back onto me very well.
I think we see it as a sign of oppression
because we believe it's imposed on you by men.
But I never see people saying, well, high heels, for me,
are a sign of oppression, you know, and that was instituted by men.
So how come women breaking their feet walking around is not oppressive
and yet covering myself up is considered as oppressive, you know?
Of course, it's not a comparison everyone would accept.
And the reality here is that Saudi women aren't even allowed to drive
and face punishment if they're not acceptably dressed.
But it was clear Danya genuinely believes the abaya isn't a form of oppression.
It's quarter to six in the morning and we're up ridiculously early
because we've got to catch a train, because we're heading to Dubai.
In the country with the world's largest oil reserves,
the car is king and everyone drives everywhere.
Perhaps that's why this is the only railway on the Arabian peninsula.
From Riyadh, our train would cross the fabled Empty Quarter desert,
the largest sand sea in the world, to the Gulf coast.
The view outside, well, it's like we're taking a train across Mars.
It's an otherworldly landscape.
Boiling hot, dusty as hell
and virtually sterile.
Completely alien environment, but beautiful nonetheless.
Dotted out here in the desert are oilfields,
some of the largest oilfields on the world,
that power our industrial economies.
This is where we get our black gold.
Or at least, the Saudis do.
In our air-conditioned bubble,
Danya and I settled down with the daily papers.
From the outside,
Saudi Arabia can seem to be a country where there's not much discussion
about change, about political-type issues,
but when you start opening newspapers in Saudi,
you do start to see that there is debate about the sort of issues
that concern people outside Saudi Arabia.
This is saying that Saudi Arabia needs to change,
it talks about the role of women.
It says, "Male-dominated families are oblivious to the rights of women
"to enjoy the same privileges afforded the menfolk.
"Society still debates the rights of women to work,
"their right to travel and their right to conduct business".
Now, regardless of what you think of this,
regardless of what I think of this,
at least this is a debate that's being had.
You know, people do talk about this.
Well, I have friends who write for newspapers
and I have friends who just get angry about stuff
and write to newspapers, and have their, you know,
letters and articles published, so there is definitely
a healthy debate on different topics going on in the kingdom.
I mean, it's not that, you know, people are...
Saudi Arabia has rightly been given a battering by human rights groups
and it remains a country and a culture that's difficult
for outsiders to penetrate.
But I couldn't fault the warm welcome I'd received.
I followed the Tropic of Cancer on east into the United Arab Emirates,
and I headed for its biggest and brashest attraction -
Perched on the edge of The Gulf, it rises up out of the desert,
a symbol of success, or a monument to excess?
I'd heard a lot about the city, but I'd never been,
and after the austerity of Saudi Arabia, it was all a bit overwhelming.
This luxury playground has drawn thousands of Western expats
and millions of holiday-makers,
with its year-round sun and tax-free salaries.
But Dubai is best understood from above.
It's only really when you're up in the air here
that you get a sense of the real scale of Dubai...
...of what they've achieved here.
I mean, just a couple of decades ago, most of this,
almost all of this, was just desert.
The discovery of oil in the 1960s kick-started Dubai's transformation
from a sleepy backwater port into a major international city.
During the boom years, billions were ploughed
into some of the most extraordinary and rapid development anywhere in the world.
The rulers of Dubai seem to have thought they had to build big.
The latest landmark was supposed to be Dubai's crowning glory.
The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world,
more than half a mile high, double the height of the Empire State Building.
But will it be a success?
The ambition of this place really is quite overwhelming.
Just over here you can see perhaps the grandest,
biggest engineering scheme and building scheme
they've come up with in Dubai.
This is supposed to be the world.
All those little islands here are supposed to resemble parts of the planet
and it's supposed to be a giant residential complex
that will be reached by boat or by helicopter from the mainland.
But The World was looking very quiet.
Like the whole of Dubai, it's been hit hard by the global recession.
Investors in this project have lost a fortune.
But there's another, forgotten group in Dubai
who gambled more than just their savings here,
risking everything in the hope of a better life.
We've just stopped by the side of the road, because we noticed
that the road up here has been blocked off,
so that coachload after coachload
of migrant workers who've come here to build this city,
coachloads of them are going past.
I guess it's maybe the end of the shift or something.
Where are you guys from? Bangladesh, India?
This is a bit of globalisation that always gets me a bit emotional,
people who travel across this planet
seeking a better life, you know, they're seeking work,
they're seeking more money for their families.
That, for me, is the real story of globalisation.
There are thought to be almost a million migrant workers in Dubai,
two-thirds of the entire population.
But many have discovered the streets here aren't exactly paved with gold.
In recent years there have been widespread allegations
of mistreatment and exploitation of workers.
I met Almas Pardiwallah, a former employment agent
who campaigns for the rights of these men.
She told me the situation for the workers has been getting worse
since the economic downturn.
The workers live in camps out on the edge of town.
So can you tell us a little bit about the camps?
We're heading to one now.
Sonapur is a place where the maximum of the camps are concentrated on.
-Most of them.
It's like Labour City, if you wish to call it.
Each camp appears to be the property,
if you like, of the company that employs the workers,
so we might have to go in a little covertly.
Typical camp, is it?
There are 50 men living in this block who are locked
in a desperate fight with the company they came here to work for.
-Some of us have worked for seven months,
some for less, but now we've been laid off
and we haven't been paid anything since we arrived.
They say there's no work.
Many of the migrants here
borrowed from loan sharks to pay for their work visas.
Then they were supposed to spend their first few months in Dubai
paying off the loans.
22-year-old Shoak put up his family home in Bangladesh as security.
You took out about a £1,500 loan, then, to come to Dubai.
Why did you want to come?
-The agent told me it would be easy to earn £400 a month in Dubai.
Instead, I was given £40 for food when I arrived, and then nothing.
I just stay in my room.
For the last three months, there's been no work.
Most of these men's families are completely reliant on their incomes.
I'm the only breadwinner in my family. I look after my mother and my brother.
If I don't earn money here, they could take our house away.
My mother's already in financial trouble.
It must feel like you're living a nightmare.
I won't go back to Bangladesh. I'll work here and I'll die here.
I'll be killed if I go back.
They can't pay off their loans or pay for flights home.
But they're not getting any help from the authorities in Dubai.
-We've been to the Labour Court and the High Court,
our problem hasn't been solved, and they never say when it will be.
They just tell us to keep coming back.
We're going mad.
And this is presumably quite a typical story.
-They're pulled this way and that,
they've got threats here, threats there against them.
That's an absolute typical, normal case in this case, if you can call it.
They have no option and no help forthcoming from any quarter.
Do you know what you're going to do?
They say if no outcome for this dilemma is forthcoming,
-they will commit mass suicide.
-Do they really mean that?
Have you heard of cases
-where guys have committed suicide in this situation?
It really does happen?
Yes, because if they go back home,
the moneylenders are not going to be nationalised bank
where a notice is going to come.
There's somebody going to come and crack your kneecaps,
probably if you have a sister, take away your sister or a child,
so how are they going to cope with that kind of a dilemma
when they go back home?
It's as bad as that?
It's like jumping from one mafia to another.
Almas is very generously and charitably agreeing to take on their case, it seems.
It's a completely different side to Dubai that we're seeing here
and it's a side that I think a lot of people close their eyes to,
but when you come here, you're confronted by the facts.
These are the people who build Dubai
and this is how they're treated.
It's bloody depressing.
It really is.
A madcap folly, Dubai is a monument to the worst capitalist excesses,
and many have said there's a certain poetic justice to its decline.
But it's not only rich investors and businessmen who've been hit hard here.
The real victims may well be the thousands of migrant labourers
who now find themselves stuck here without work.
It was a reminder of the value of my passport
and the freedom it offers as I headed along the Tropic of Cancer
from Dubai towards Oman,
the last tropical country on this leg of my journey.
Just a few hours' drive from the bling of Dubai,
Oman feels like another planet.
While Dubai's turned itself into a Middle Eastern Las Vegas,
Oman is a stable, ancient country,
hoping visitors will be drawn to its natural wonders.
We can already see the landscape changing a little.
Travelling across Saudi and then into UAE, the landscape was very flat.
It's nice to see something different.
And the best way of experiencing the beauty of the place
was to get outside and under canvas.
Five-star all the way.
It is ten past seven in the morning
and the temperature is already over 40 degrees centigrade.
It just doesn't seem to get cold here, it's just hot or hotter.
The Omani authorities had sent along a government minder,
but Shaka could not have been more different
to his obstructive counterparts in Egypt.
When you've got a country as beautiful as this,
you could be making a good income from it.
That's true. But to keep it, to preserve it, not to ruin it.
-That's the key.
-Come, enjoy, entertain yourself
and then, yeah, leave it as it is, you know.
Do you need to worry about tourists? Because you have oil.
Yes, but oil... oil will not last for long.
There's one day when you'll wake up in the morning
and there is no oil, so what are we going to do?
We need something else, another income.
-We're going to go?
Come on, then.
Ooh, it's bloody freezing!
The only time in Oman we've been cold. Ah...
It's very refreshing.
A few more hours on the road took us to Nizwa,
one of Oman's oldest cities.
My translator, Nasib, took me along to its famous market.
That man has a sheep in the back of his car.
I'm not sure the RSPCA would approve of that.
The Omanis are keen to protect both their country and their culture.
The contrast with flashy Dubai couldn't have been greater.
It does feel like we've stumbled into a scene
from the Old Testament, really.
Men are leading goats or carrying goats around the ring here
and everybody else is then bidding on them if they want to buy.
The ladies on my left, what is their involvement in this?
They're owner of the goats, they came from the desert. Bedouin.
-From the eastern region.
-The ladies actually own the goats?
-Own the goats.
-And the men sell them?
Yeah, the men there, they just go around and sell them
and they take some little percentage.
You still get a sense of Bedouin culture here, I think.
Oman still has a very large Bedouin community.
They might not be nomadic any more
but the market is still a place where Bedouins can come
and they can buy and sell cattle, sheep, goats and their...their livestock.
Leaving the mountains behind, we made the final push across the desert
to the very edge of Arabia,
and one of Oman's most extraordinary sights.
The sun's just going down over the mountains behind us
and we're nearly at the end of this leg of the journey.
The beaches down here are the most easterly point
of the entire Arabian peninsula,
but we can't quite get down to the beach yet
because tonight there'll be some very special visitors.
I met up with two guides who knew where to find the intrepid travellers
who come to this beach, which is protected by the Omani government.
-Can you see just down here the tracks?
-Like a tank's.
It looks like a tank, exactly.
This is very exciting, Mohammed. Very exciting.
It wasn't long before we saw the first visitor.
My God, there's one just there, look.
Look at that.
An enormous and endangered green turtle, one of the greatest ocean travellers.
For just one night every three years, she leaves the sea
to look for somewhere to lay her eggs.
I can't tell you how excited I am to witness this.
I've never seen anything like this before
and you really see nature here involved in one of its eternal struggles.
-It's going out.
There's one laying eggs. My colleague has given me sign.
Oh, right, OK. Yeah, we'll go, let's go.
(My goodness, look at this.)
Ah! So she's actually laying the eggs right now,
right in front of us.
There goes another one.
She's just plopping out her eggs one by one.
They're, I suppose, the size of golf balls or ping-pong balls.
So she's totally focused on her birthing now, laying the eggs.
That's all she's thinking. She's not worried about us.
Oblivious to our presence once she starts laying,
she'll now bury around 100 eggs in the sand.
The turtles that hatch here
range for thousands of miles over the entire Indian Ocean.
But they'll always return to this beach to lay their eggs,
at one of the world's largest breeding sites,
close to the Tropic of Cancer.
It can take all night to dig the nest,
lay the eggs and then cover it all up again.
You can see even just from looking at them,
from their behaviour,
how utterly exhausting all this is.
They'll shift a bit of sand, then they'll rest.
They'll shift some more sand, then they'll rest.
And as one turtle was laying eggs, another's were hatching.
Oh, my goodness, look.
Oh, my goodness!
They're tiny little turtles.
Crazily flip-flapping to get out of the sand.
Ah, look at you.
Yes, yes, you're out, you're alive.
It was an inspiring moment as I witnessed the birth
of endangered turtles that find protection on this corner of the Arabian peninsula.
As she heads out to sea, I'm coming to the end
of another leg of my journey around the Tropic of Cancer.
I've travelled from the waters of the River Nile
to the edge of the Indian Ocean.
It's been a tough and quite exhausting trip
but nothing like what she has to go through.
I need to get some rest and some sleep
and then I'll be continuing the journey across India.
Next time, I witness a dramatic start to the tropical monsoon rains.
Oh, my God! Oh, my God!
I get to bath a national treasure.
And I sample some of India's more exotic cuisine.
-So I've got to suck out the eye?