We were fortunate enough to go there at the invitation of a Saudi family. The wife informed us that the journey to the camping ground would take about an hour. Her husband said it takes that long whenever she is in the car, though when he goes there with mates, the drive time is a lot quicker.
Early one weekend morning we met outside their home before driving convoy style to Thumaama National Park where, after checking in at the gate, we received mapped directions to our campsite. Thumaama Park, we discovered, houses the King Khalid Wildlife Research Center and the Land and Space Aviation School where you can learn to fly or hire a Paramotor. As Hubster has always dreamed of getting his pilots licence so he can fly his spitfire (also on the dream list), I suggested he make a few inquiries at the school - to date naught action has been taken, but it cannot be said wifey isn't supportive of the idea!
Driving toward the camping area we passed a bloke out on a paramotor and it wasn't till I wound down the window to snap a quick photo that we realized how darned chilly it was this crisp, clear morning. Foreigners can often forget that the desert can get extremely cold during the winter. We also decided you have to be keen or a fruit loop to be flying around in the chill air.
We were stopped at another gate and our details were checked before entering the camping area itself. The surrounding landscape till this point had been as barren and flat as ever, except for the hills over in the distance. Eventually we turned off the tarseal and headed toward the base of said hills down a graded road that wound its way through undulating terrain. Each campsite is numbered and ours revealed itself as we followed arrows directing us over the brow of a hill.
One can't help but compare this landscape with the campgrounds we're more familiar with back home, and the initial reaction is 'errrr, it's brown'. Nothing like the seaside or forest camps of home. However, by the end of the day, we had come to love our little patch of desert camp.
The camp site was divided into two areas, both a reasonable distance apart presumably to cater for the country's segregation rules, each with two tents. Between the tents, landscaped into the rocky ground, was a small kitchen and a couple of toilets. As these camps are often used by large extended family groups out for a day of feasting there was also a place to hang and quarter a sheep. We'd bought steak and kebabs from the supermarket - slaughtering was not required.
Visiting a new place always requires exploration and so it was that, after deciding we would have a non-segregated day, we set up in the tent with the best outlook, disgorging the vehicles of kids, chilly bins, camp seats, a bicycle, the Braai and various other food and camp related items, then we went for a walk to explore the area. The kids got to run around in the great outdoors and loved it.
To keep things entertaining, later that day our Saudi wahine (Maori word for 'Woman') asked if we'd give her driving lessons. So, with her husbands blessing, we did. I'd forgotten how stressful giving driving lessons can be, but those memories came flooding back as the car was thrown into reverse and the accelerator depressed with more gusto than was required and the car came to a skidding halt to yells of Brake! Brake! A huge collective sigh went up from all of us in the car - because driving lessons that day were a family affair and a bit of entertainment for the kids - that's when I remembered how stressful driving lessons can be.
Later in day, the driving made for a lot of story telling while the qahwah and dates were being passed around. Even the kids got involved with stories of how good, or otherwise, Mama and we western ladies were at driving. (Yes we got behind the wheel as well and went for a bit of a drive along the deserted track to see the other campsites). The men shook their heads at the embellished tales and, now that we were safely outside the moving vehicle, we females chalked the whole episode up to 'a bit of an experience'. Then someone decided it was time for lunch.
And so it was the boys set up the Braai and we girls did girly food prepping things while the kids ran around. When everything was ready we sat down to eat an enormous spread. A lot of it was covered and left for the next meal.
After lunch we had a game of footy with the kids, then some of us took turns riding the bicycle to explore a little further along the firm desert flat lands and tracks. I have to say, there wasn't much to see, but the exercise was appreciated. Later in the day, Arabian carpets were dragged out of the tent into the glorious winter afternoon sunshine and the kids settled down for a bit of a rest while we adults enjoyed cups of mint tea and chatted about, well, everything. As the sun started to go down we polished off the lunch left overs, then lit a fire (a ute had turned up with a delivery of logs) and we sat talking while warming our toes amid the hills, outside our tent.
Though we have slept out under the stars a couple of times since moving here (and love it), camping in Saudi doesn't have to mean staying out all night. Simply spending a pleasant day off the main highway with friends provides ample opportunity to experience camping in the desert. We had asked our Saudi hosts if the intent was to stay the night and were informed by the wahine that she never spends the night out at a camp. So, later on that evening when the kids had settled, the fire was burning low, and the Braai had cooled enough to be put into the Yukon, we packed up and headed for home.
We intend to go back to this camping ground in Riyadh one day because this day had been one of those you remember a long time for it's simplicity - good food, good company, good times.
Happy Camping in Riyadh :)