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Published: November 16th 2008
OK... well, I have tagged this as 'Jeddah'.. though we are not there yet. So much has happened since my last post... and there is so much to tell. Sorry... but this may be kind of random. Right now we are in Al Ula... a stunning little oasis town in the northwest.. and gateway to Mada'in Salah. Mada'in Salah was the southern capital of the Nabateans (those who built Petra in Jordan)... and so is considered the Petra of Saudi. We spent 4 hours at the sight this morning... walking through the sand and admiring the magnificent tombs cut into the sandstone cliffs. Wow.. what a sight. Something truly amazing and probably the best archaeological sight in the country. Great place to hit in the middle of our tour. This area is also located on the old Hijaz railway line. Built by the Ottomans at the turn of the century... only to be destroyed by Lawrence of Arabia just a few years later. The old tracks exist... as well as a coupld of the old stations and locomotives.
Over the past few days we have visited Al Jouf and Sakaka.... as well as Ha'il. Really, these have been great days. The first two days of the tour were a little frustrating... but since then it has been perfect in every way. Exceeded my expectations actually. Ancient petroglyphs dating to 5000 BC.... great desert roads.... camel caravans... dates and coffee.... and great hospitality. Tordes has been invited to a wedding party... we have been invited to visit a local family in their home (men in their section / women in another)..... we have watched a sunset over the oasis... and have taken 4x4's to visit ancient sites. Great hotels and great food.
Wandered the streets of this little town for half an hour last night... leaving our camera's on the bus. The evening is when the streets come to life (as almost everything shuts for a sort of 'siesta' midday)... so the only time you really see women on the street is around 6pm. They move around in groups... like black ghosts... darting into and out of shops... dashing across the road... occasionally glancing at you only to quickly avert their eyes before any real eye contact is made. Riyadh was surprising liberal (compared to what I had read), but the rest of the north has had much more of a conservative atmosphere. Life truly does come to a standstill 5 times a day for prayer. Shops and businesses all shut during prayer... reception staff dissapear for 10 to 15 minutes... and taxies drivers take a break. It is really quite amazing to witness. The degree of hospitality here is overwhelming... and we have a very liberal forward-thinking local guide who gives us great insight into the way the kingdom functions. So amazing to see it all with our own eyes.
Funny... but the photos that I posted in the last blog can not be viewed here!! The computers advise me that my imgages have been censored and blocked. Too funny. Hotels all have satellite tv showing almost eveything... though the occasional scenes are chopped out. Swearing stays... but make-out scenes get the cut. Much of what I had read before coming was true... about what one can and can not do... but as foreigners we have a bit more freedom than I thought we would (well, at least for the women... as I thought that they would have none). We are continually escorted or followed by a police car / secret police / etc. So many districts and regions that the cars keep changing. As we drive down the highway a jeep will come alongside with its lights flashing... and jump in front of us as the other car veers off the road only to dissapear on the highway. Often we must pull over so all drivers can greet each other... go through the usual motions of hospitality and formalities.... and then they all swap cell phone numbers and off we go.
Tomorrow we are driving south about 400km to Medina.... and then takihg a flight to Jeddah. As we are not muslims... we will not be allowed to visit Medina or Mecca! Aaah... maybe another day.
I will try to add more pics soon.
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