The Road to Ha'il Saudi Arabia

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Middle East » Saudi Arabia » Ha'il
March 4th 2022
Published: March 20th 2022
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Dave, Merry Jo and SaadDave, Merry Jo and SaadDave, Merry Jo and Saad

Enjoying the Dunes
After all those years of travel, there we were......on a highway to Ha'il. It was inevitable of course. Not because we lived a lifestyle that would lead us to the fiery depths of Hades, but rather because we were continuing our journey in Saudi and the path was straight to a city in the middle of nowhere really. In a country as large as Saudi Arabia the drives are long from town to town. This part of the country is rather desolate, and it was a bit cloudy to boot. Lacking the sunshine, the desert didn’t have the beauty it had a few days ago. As a matter of fact, it looked a tad ugly.

We’d been told we would have a picnic in a unique place because there weren’t any restaurants in this isolated section of the country. We stopped at a gas station that had a well-stocked mini mart to buy the food for our picnic. We had a great time taking photos of familiar foods. Here on the edge of nowhere thanks to marketing and transportation, you can find Kellog's cereals at a mini-mart. Our guides loaded up on pita, hummus, fresh fruit, cheeses, tomatoes, chips, juices and soft drinks. We chuckled as we took photos of camels being hauled in a truck. Probably heading to the camel market. The mere fact that we surmise this is what tickles us.

We drove another twenty minutes and pulled into a rather interesting building. As we got out we were informed the large building was a community center where we would meet “The Sheik” of the town and his grandson. Before that though we would dine on the floor of a Bedouin camp. Bedouins were nomadic people from the past, known as dwellers of the open land. It was a beautiful tent with rugs and pillows on the floor. We’ve forgotten to tell you that wherever we go we are greeted with bowls, large bowls of dates and served coffee and tea. Once again, this ritual sprang into action. Daniele and Saad scurried off to wash the foods and asked all of us to assist in opening the packages for our picnic and loading up the plates to be passed around. It was a lovely picnic.

Once we finished lunch, we were invited to visit the community center to talk with and take photos with “The Sheik”.
Father and DaughterFather and DaughterFather and Daughter

When visiting the Governor
Yes, there are still sheiks in Saudi. This gentleman served as somewhat of a trouble shooter, ombudsman and all-around "he's the guys you call" role. He was charming and wanted to tell us about his town. They have a couple of lovely rooms for banquets and weddings. The Sheik gifted us multiple kilos of dates to take with us because the dates of this region are well known and they are proud people. Just down the street we entered another carpeted and pillowed room where we met the Governor of the town who is the brother of the sheik. We all sat around drinking coffee, tea and eating dates. We were allowed to ask questions about the local people and customs. Everyone is gracious and welcoming. Our stop there also included a visit to the old town ruins. Made of mud and straw, these buildings are quite old, but served their purpose back in the day.

Another day found us at a date farm for lunch. After coffee, tea and dates (standard stuff at this point) we were invited to observe how they pull water from the wells with the camels. Without our video it is hard to describe but the camels walking back and forth pulling pouches that have been lowered into the well. With a system of pulleys, the water is brought to the surface for use. It was an interesting process and all of us enjoyed watching the camels. As we write about this we chuckle because it was far more interesting than our description.

Arriving in the city of Ha’il we visited (what else?) a date market. We are beginning to think Saudi Arabia has more dates than oil. All the oil derricks are located well east of us, but every hotel lobby has bowls of dates sitting around. Each meeting or encounter with local people starts with coffee and dates. Dates, dates, dates … are everywhere. So we visited a date store with about 10 different kinds of dates for us to sample and several kinds of honey and sauces to dip the dates in. There are a line of date stores all selling these delicious little morsels. As Americans, we had no idea the vast variety of dates and the things you can dip them in.

Just across the street, we made a quick visit to the vegetable and fruit market. They were eager to have us sample their fruits. Several men started peeling and slicing oranges, tangerines, and other fruits for us to sample. They have some amazing citrus fruit in this country. We nearly made a meal out of our fruit samples. We are literally in the desert in a city of about 600,000 and staring at delicious fruit for sale.....amazing.

Next, we headed to the women’s section of the market. Each of the stores and stalls are run by women only—at least they were very visible in these stores. I would imagine the men are behind the scenes, but it was nice seeing women being involved in this business. Most of the stores sell similar clothing, rugs, coffee pots and jewelry. Remember we told you in the beginning that Saudi Arabia has just opened up for tourism. Absent from these shops are trinkets that tourist would want to purchase such as magnets and postcards. There is little doubt that they will figure this out soon and create another revenue stream. We did stop in a shop where you could outfit yourself with tents and camping gear should you want to become a nomad.

We visited the A'Arif Fort in downtown Ha’il srategically located at the top of a hill. The strategy as always is to build a fort on a hill to defend and protect. It is a well-maintained architecture was a delight since this was constructed in 17th A.D. An ascent to the top of the fort provided us with expansive views of Ha’il. We were not able to enter the Quishlah Fort but were able to admire it from outside.

As we wander many people want to practice their English and find out where we are from. In Ha’il a car with 3 women drove up to us to talk. They were smiling, waving and saying hello. They allowed us to take photos and it made us happy to see them. Our guide Saad told us that women have had the right to drive for years. Then he clarified and said that women drove until the late 1930’s and then they weren’t allowed to drive “for a while”. As far as we know from reading their right to drive began in 2018. From what we observed few women are driving. Our guide said his wife doesn’t drive yet but she could if she
Woman DriverWoman DriverWoman Driver

They enjoyed taking our photos and talking.
wanted to. Observing the women driving allowed us to feel that we are in Saudi at a time to see the changes as they are occurring. We’ve learned that there is much that can be seen and communicated from veiled women. The eyes really are the direct line to communication. It was easy to see the beauty in these women and all of them had big smiles. The women seemed very happy and eager to practice their English on us.

Not far from Ha’il we visited Jubbah UNESCO site which is famous for its pictographs. As we mentioned earlier the rock art is well preserved in this country. The pictographs are thousands of years old, having been carved in a time when there actually was water around this area and preserved over the millennia by the absence of rain. It is easy to understand why UNESCO has honored this area, given all its history. We spent a couple of hours viewing the different art and discussing the stories being told.

Frequently, our guide Daniele, would ask us if we needed anything. One day we told him we’d like a sandstorm. We all laughed. When you are in the desert you need to play in the sand so we stopped at the Barken sand dune. A quick climb to the top provided a great view where we played in the sand and took several photos. The wind was blowing and whipping our hair. The sand was pelting our skin a bit and stung slightly. That was enough of a sandstorm for us. I would imagine a real sandstorm could bloody your skin. Natural dermabrasion.......

In each city we visit we continue to see statues and artwork in the center of the traffic circles. It is very creative and attractive. As a side note, we never saw a statue of a person while in Saudi.....but we're unsure why.....

Where we stayed:

Holiday Villa

Additional photos below
Photos: 61, Displayed: 28


Historically significant carvingsHistorically significant carvings
Historically significant carvings

Along the trade routes
Stories of the pastStories of the past
Stories of the past

UNESCO PreservationUNESCO Preservation
UNESCO Preservation

They save many historic places.
We love Werner!We love Werner!
We love Werner!

Photo bomb!
Our new friend WernerOur new friend Werner
Our new friend Werner

Such fun times
Our new friend NancyOur new friend Nancy
Our new friend Nancy

Such fun times
Working CamelsWorking Camels
Working Camels

Pulling water from the well

20th March 2022

Really enjoyed your blog. Just planted one of the dates we brought back, hoping to establish Somerset as the UK date capital!! Not sure we're up for 10 varieties though!
20th March 2022

I'm glad you are enjoying it and thank you for commenting. Dates, dates and more dates. I hope you have success with your planting.
21st March 2022

You write very well. Makes me feel like I am there. Love the adventure.
21st March 2022

Carolyn, thank you for reading along. Saudi Arabia was a great experience. Many of our beliefs about that country were changed.
23rd March 2022

“A While”
So “a while” is from the late 1930s to 2018. Hmmm. I’m a bit surprised that women were allowed to get behind the wheel in Saudi in the 1930s; do you know what happened to stop it? Again your trip sounds sensational! It’s probably a silly question but I assume if you want to go to Saudi you’ve got to go on a tour, ie you wouldn’t be able to show yourself around?
23rd March 2022

A While
Good point. I believe depending on who the King or Crown Prince were at the time and how conservative they were makes the difference. The newest Crown Prince seems progressive.... especially for Saudi standards. No, you do not have to go on our tour but we thought it would be best for us. We have friends who went on their own two weeks after us and had a great time. They saw many of the things we saw. They rented a car for the desert areas and used uber and the train.
23rd March 2022

Your photos of the pictographs reminded me of similar ones we saw in Wadi Rum. Looks like you all had fun in the sand! And what an amazing variety of dates - they look so good. I didn't know there were dips for dates.
24th March 2022

These were very similar to what we saw in Wadi Rum. Yes, lots of fun in the sand. So many dates and so little time.
12th April 2022
Enjoying ancient Forts

Lovely photo
Lovely photo of you both
12th April 2022
Enjoying ancient Forts

Lovely photo
Thanks Alan!
17th April 2022

Highway to Ha'il
Sounds like a scary road, lol, but very glad to read that Ha'il seemed heavenly, with all its history, friendly people and dates galore! I imagine there are no statues of people in Saudi for the same reason as there are no human images in mosques - the Muslim belief that human images should avoid being created. I believe it may be because they could mistakenly be idolised or worshipped, which is considered a great sin in Islam.
17th April 2022

Highway to Ha'il
Saudi will never run out of dates. Your point is well taken. They are single focused on worship so no images or statues. Thanks for following along.

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