Cross country to the canyon.

Using a Bedouin desert track we travelled from the Sharma road to the Duba road. I have no idea how long it would take driving non-stop but with all our stops it took us all day. It’s been a year since we travelled this route and whether it was because the weather was a bit overcast but it was like seeing some of the scenery for the first time, so I ended up taking lots of photos. Our first stop was at a huge cavern where I have placed a Geocache. The last people to search for it had been unable to find it so I wanted to check if it was still there. As soon as I got there I saw the problem- a Bedouin had decided to store some sacks of feed in the same place! Luckily, I could just reach the Geocache and rescue it. It is now in another hidey hole, close by.

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Coffee time.
From there we continued to an amazing rock art site. I believe these figures are representations of deities, but from which era I have no idea. I have found a lot of rock art in the area, but the workmanship of these is exquisite. I just wish I could find out more about them and the people who carved them.

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3 deities or the 3 spacemen as we affectionately call them!
Next we stopped at a large rock pinnacle attached to a huge rock massive. The view from the ‘saddle’ between the two was beautiful.

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We decided it was lunchtime so headed to another rock art site to have our picnic.

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We were just packing up when we had a very strange experience. A vehicle with 2 young Saudis came driving up to us. However, they didn’t get out to chat etc. but the passenger started taking photos and or video of us on his phone! As we started to drive away they pursued us with the passenger still standing up out of his doorway, taking photos!

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We now know how animals in safari situations feel!
‘Our friends’ headed off after a while and we continued our trip to the canyon, passing some amazing rock formations on the way.

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We named this one balloon rock, as one of our group flies a hot air balloon and reckoned it looked just like one.

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A striped tailed lizard.

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Desert apples.
And finally to the canyon!

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Another truly enjoyable trip which will be reminisced about when we leave Saudi in a few months.

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My first visit to a mosque.

Last week I visited a mosque for the very first time. So what? Say any readers who don’t know my background, but I have been living in Saudi Arabia for 28 years and am never very far away from these places of worship. However, as a non-Moslem it is forbidden for me to enter a mosque here. Last week, I spent an interesting 6 days in Muscat, Oman and before I went there one of the must dos according to a few friends was to visit the Grand Mosque there.
We organised it as part of a city tour and were lucky to meet Abdullah, our charming and knowledgable Omani guide. He made us feel very relaxed, told us many interesting things, answered our questions and gave us space and time to enjoy the different venues. The mosque was, for me, of special interest. As a woman I had to be vey respectfully dressed and before leaving the car park Abdullah made sure my hair and neck were all covered by my scarves- it was at this point I thought how silly of me to have left my abaya in the car in Jordan as that would have made my dilemma of suitable attire a bit easier that morning. Anyway, it was an amazing experience and like some of the magnificent cathedrals I have visited in Britain and mainland Europe I felt very humbled and experienced a great sense of peace whilst walking around inside, both the woman’s hall and the much larger men’s hall.

20131109-223319.jpgthe inner courtyard and one of the 5 minarets.

20131109-223435.jpgmy shoes in the rack outside the men’s hall.

20131109-223542.jpgchandelier and stained glass window in the woman’s hall.

20131109-223728.jpgMe, suitably covered, with Abdullah.

20131109-223841.jpgthe magnificent chandelier inside the men’s hall.

20131109-224136.jpgKoran niche.
At the end of the visit we went to the hospitality area, where I met an extremely friendly and informative young woman called Marwa. We had a lovely chat over Arabic coffee, ginger tea and dates and at no time did I feel like she was trying to convert me! I would happily have stayed longer, but had to move on if we wanted to fit in a couple of other things before they closed at lunchtime. My first mosque was certainly no ordinary mosque but it will be long remembered just as much for the people who made the visit special rather than just the magnificent opulence and architecture.

Desert camping Day 2

I love a long lie-in usually, but there’s something about camping in the desert that makes me wake up early and be ready for a new day of adventure. However, I was still last to get up and about!
It was a perfect morning and lovely to sit on a rock and enjoy a cup of tea and a piece of toast- slightly charred from holding it too close to the gas stove!
After packing up and making sure we left everything as we had first found it we set off to explore further.

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Further down a wadi we came to an area of cultivation. The lush dark green contrasted starkly with the sandy desert and the brown rocks.

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On top of a hillside we noticed some man-made walls so climbed up to take a closer look. The walls were nicely built and the dome shaped mounds in the centre of two of the enclosures were reminiscent of tumuli graves. Frustratingly, it’s very hard to find out much about the ancient remains that are to be found in the desert.
We headed out of this amazing area and drove down towards Al Ula to fill up with petrol, before beginning the journey back up to Tabuk.

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We stopped for coffee at the Easter Island rocky outcrop where we have stopped a few times on trips up and down the old railway route. I had set up a Geocache here a couple of years ago so checked it was still there and in good condition. It was, but had only been visited by one person -Tulak who is a very keen geocacher from Jeddah who seems to keep a vidual on new geocaches and drives up as soon as there are a couple of new geocaches to bag!
We spent a pleasant half hour taking photographs and soaking up some sunshine before resuming the journey.
With time to spare we stopped at Muazzam station on the old Hejaz Railway and the fort close by- really interesting:) -and for the first time ever the water reservoir was completely full!

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Continuing home after a great weekend spent in an area of outstanding natural beauty there is much to reflect on and give thanks to have had the opportunity to see a part of Saudi Arabia virtually unknown to most ex-pats.
However much I enjoy these weekends there is nothing more welcome at the end of it all than a lovely long soak in a bath- perhaps I’ll never quite be the explorer Gertrude Bell or Freya Stark were!!

5 camp in the Saudi desert! Day 1

Bright and early on Thursday morning Viv, Paul, Thez and us set off in two 4wds to explore and camp in a totally new area- Al Shahran close to Medain Saleh, famous for its Nabatean tombs.
It was a 2 and a half hour drive so we stopped off at a rocky place where we knew there was some rock art and inscriptions for a coffee break, take some photos of flowers and set up a geocache.

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On we travelled to the Al Shahran area and turned off into the desert after 20km on the new road to Al Jaharan, letting some air out of the tyres as there was almost certainly to be some soft sand in places.
As we drove on the scenery just got better and better. We couldn’t believe how green some areas were and the swathes of daisy type flowers that were practically everywhere! Beautiful:) unfortunately, there just wasn’t time to stop at as many places as we would have liked or we would never have got to complete this first exploratory trip.

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We encountered some quite ‘hairy’ driving experiences- narrowing gorges that we were unsure would take us anywhere; stretches of soft sand that seemed to go on for ever, twisting and turning past rocks and bushes- definitely driving by the seat of his pants for my husband and me just hanging on for dear life and urging on our car to get us through!
Soon it was time to find a campsite to relax and spend the night. It took a while to find one we liked and I was beginning to think we were being too fussy when we found the perfect spot.

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My bed for the night- and very comfortable it was too!

Desert camping

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On our way to the desert for our overnight camp we stopped at a garage on the way where local people set up stalls to sell their goods. We were particularly interested in the wood seller as we wanted to buy some wood for our fire at night. The wood seller was very pleasant, but being a woman in Saudi I stayed in the car as I didn’t have my abaya on and didn’t wish to cause a scene! I did want to take some photos and was trying to ask the seller if it was ok when a couple of boys from the next stall seemed to take offence at me taking photos and started gesturing and talking to me-to push their point even further one of them picked up a stone and started tossing it in his hand. I felt very threatened and was aware that Paul and the others were engrossed in their transaction and unaware of what was going on! What was really ‘funny’ was just as we were about to drive away one of them started taking photos of me!!
We travelled onto the twin arches where we had camped before and settled in for the evening. Our aim was to, hopefully, see the comet that was passing. Being a bit hazy only Viv managed to get a photo with his very powerful zoom lens. However, we had a very pleasant evening identifying various constellations and the planet Jupiter.

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Around the campfire I played around with taking photos using my iPad and experimenting with photobooth.