Edit Blog Post
Published: March 29th 2022
Our last few days in Saudi Arabia continues to delight and amaze. There seems to be no end to the variety of things to see and do. But then again, we're just giddy tourists drinking in what this country has to offer. It's not that we are easily amused, we just never tire of taking in our surroundings and learning more about this desert nation. The western tourists will definitely enjoy their time here as they learn the rich culture and history of Saudi.
On a rather cloudy (yes, cloudy) morning, our bus driver departed from the sealed road and drove on an unmarked road which brought us to the edge of an extinct volcano. We've learned that since tourism is in its infancy here that guides and drivers take on even more responsibility as they possess the road knowledge as there are no signs that say "turn here for a really cool volcano crater." We walked the circumference of a volcanic crater called the Harrat Hutaymah Crater
. Five of us made the trek around the crater and two went back to the bus. Our guide probably wishes he had a cattle prod to get us moving faster, but the
footing was not ideal and we are not 30 years old. Werner was a fast walker and proceeded on without us. The rest of us enjoyed talking, taking photos, and making certain we didn’t slip on the gravel. The walk was a bit more difficult than we expected due to the volcanic gravel which made our footing uneasy. The walk was expected to be completed in an hour and a half. We did the walk in a bit over two hours. They sent Werner back to look for us as they decided something bad had happened to us. We were aged 63 to 74 so we were being careful. None of us wanted to take a tumble. The crater was foggy for part of our excursion, but we caught glimpses of the crater floor as the morning wore on. We did not even see anyone else until we arrived back at the bus. This is pretty cool as we had this wonder of nature to ourselves.
We journeyed on for a visit to Ushaiqer Town
to enjoy the Najdi architecture, visit a local museum and have lunch. The architecture is lovely. Walking around each of these small towns gives
you and appreciation for life in a desert and the architecture and colors used are a reflection of practicality. The rust colors blend into the landscape while the white trim provide beautiful contrast. Once again, although this place could be considered a reconstructed town, we felt as though we had it to ourselves. In ten years, this will certainly not be the case.
We were up early the next morning, but not because we had a long voyage, but because we were headed to the camel market and on the road to Buraydh
. We are told this is the world’s largest camel market in the world where camels, goats and sheep are traded every day except Friday. We focused our attention on the camels. We were instructed to pay attention when gathered around an auction and not to nod or flail our arms about or we might we trying to get a camel into checked luggage! The camel market was freaking cool. It ended up being one of our favorite things. 2,000 people and 10,000 camels (and a lot of camel poo). We learned the camels are divided into three sections – working camels, milk camels and beauty camels…..
and yes, we drank camel milk on this trip. It is rather watery and a bit sweet. As you wander through the thousands of camels you must stay on high alert for a rogue camel darting through the crowd. At one point there was a near miss but we jumped out of the way in time. Most of the camels have had one leg wrapped with gauze so they can only use three legs and not run off…. Otherwise it would be utter chaos and it came pretty close as it was. A camel seller will begin his auction and buyers will gather and make bids. It is rather informal as several auctions can be taking place at one time. The market is very aromatic as you can imagine.
Once a camel is purchased the new owner pulls his truck up to the loading area where they lift the camels in the air with a crane and into your truck. It was a sight to see. We also had the good fortune to be invited to have coffee and tea with the auction manager, other camel traders and a few family members where we learned even more about this
place that westerners can only imagine. Our local guide Saad, seems to know everyone in the country and that allows us entrance into places tourists normally would not get invited. We were the only non-Arabic visitors to the auction, and we got lots of looks and smiles but the camel owners were far too busy to engage us.
In Riyadh, the old city is being restored and the new city is growing and expanding with great speed. It is a large modern city full of skyscrapers and dazzling architecture. In the 90’s (I, MJ) considered working as a nurse in Riyadh, but didn’t want to live on a compound for a year and was worried about walking two steps behind and keeping her mouth shut. Probably a very wise decision. The National Museum
is extremely well done and worth a couple hours or more of your time. It was at the end of our trip and it solidified all the things we saw and were told as we traveled the country. It involved both history and geology and was well presented. We took in the Masmak Fort
and the outside of the Murabba palace
. Once again, beautiful architecture.
We also had the pleasure of spending a couple of hours at a market that we refer to as a flea market. There was a museum and several stores selling both new and used items. Karen and Nancy found a couple of treasures to take home. We spoke to the Mayor of the area and several others who had very good English including one young man who was proud he had studied in Oklahoma City. We were asked to go home and tell people they want visitors. Please tell people what you've enjoyed about our country as many have misconceptions. We agree, that is true.
On our last afternoon in Riyadh, the bus we drove us about an hour outside of Riyadh to a small town where we transferred to four wheel drive vehicles and traveled another hour or more to what is called “The Edge of the World”
. Saudi is proud of this geological wonder. This canyon and cliffs offer 1,000 foot drops and provides a breath taking view. As you stand there, you truly feel like you are in the middle of nowhere. You’ve all heard of MJs fear of falling. Some days she does well with
heights and edges but on this day she was having none of it… on this day it literally took her breath away. After a short walk around and a couple of photos she was happy to sit in the vehicle and chat with the guides while everyone else explored.
Saudi Arabia is going through many changes and beginning to welcome the world of tourism. The infrastructure is in its infancy.
For those of you who have been following along and have a bit more interest here is the link to the Saudi Arabia 2030 Vision. SaudiVision2030
Saudi Arabia is well known for its oil but we found so much more in our explorations. Saudi Arabia is now willing to embrace tourism and is feeling their way through this maze. The Crown Prince is building the infrastructure needed. Every place you look around the country you can see new construction and growth. It will take ten or more years to see if the plan is a good one and they may stumble a bit along the way but if you read Saudi Arabia 2030 Vision it will give you an idea of where they want
Edge of the World
MJ didn't venture too close. A hazy day.
In our opinion, Saudi is a conservative and religious nation that is slowly easing forward into acceptance of a slightly more modern world. How this will shake out is yet to be seen as they attempt to modernize while hanging on to their faith and culture. Woman are gaining independence but, in our observations, they still have a long way to go. It is a very male-dominated society and still in many situations men and women eat and pray separately. With that said, we met and talked with many women, and they all seemed happy. We were surprised by the number of women who wore more relaxed clothing and do not cover their entire face.
The Arabian coffee is an acquired taste as it looks and taste more like tea. We thought they would have better coffee. The cities are full of American fast food restaurants. McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Starbucks and Dunken Donuts are frequently seen… along with all the others… even Chucky Cheese. Sad.....but investment brings western capitalism.
We’ve been told and observed that immigrants are doing all the unskilled manual work across the country. We read that the citizens of Saudi Arabia
Edge of the World
are the super-rich, the very rich, the filthy rich and some middle-income groups. This is a egalitarian ethic so few areas of poverty exist.
We had a wonderful time and would highly recommend using Wild Frontiers for one of your trips. They are professional and organized. They did not rush us around. We had plenty of time to explore.
Lots of photos to look at.
Where we stayed:
Al Malfa Resort
Tot: 0.1s; Tpl: 0.034s; cc: 16; qc: 39; dbt: 0.014s; 1; m:saturn w:www (22.214.171.124); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb