Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Not The Edge of the World

Is This Not the Edge of the World? That's a question we asked ourselves on our very first ill prepared trip into the desert.   

The gloss of doing not much is slowly fading.  Plus, it's making us put on weight - seriously!  So we decided that every weekend we would do something.  I mean why live in Saudi Arabia if you don't get out to see it. Right?   But, What to do Pounamu?

We decided our first trip would be into the desert, after all there is a lot of it here.  Acquaintances had told us about  'The Edge of the World'.  It's a sort of mini Grand Canyon and we'd heard good reviews   Plus it's only an hour or so out of Riyadh.

We don't own a vehicle and in order to hire a car Glenn needs to have a Saudi license - he is still working on that.  So we asked our taxi driver, Noor, to hire a vehicle and be our driver for us, which he agreed to.

Everyone we have spoken to has said, quite clearly, the following: -
- Don't go out into the desert on your own, go as part of a group of vehicles
- Take a four wheel drive
- Take plenty of water and...
- Let someone know where you're going.

I would add,' find co-ordinates and directions to your desert destination from someone who's been there'.

My husband was never a good Boy Scout and I just trusted he would do the right thing....I should know better.  Long story short, we took a Camry (not a 4WD) and there was only us 3 (no convoy) and the only other person who knew where we were going was Noor's friend, a fellow taxi driver, who had given him directions to 'The Edge of the World".  We did have plenty of water tho...and lunch.

On the way we passed through a couple of little towns that you could almost imagine being the Oasis in the Saudi Arabian desert because as you come across them the roadside turns green with trees and plants.  Clusters of corrugated iron huts were scattered about the desert too.  In their midst were large Arabian tents and fenced just outside the settlements were the camels.  Camels aren't used much for transportation any more but for meat or milk....I haven't experienced that yet!

We made two stops on our way to The Edge of the World.  Once to gas up and buy batteries for the camera that, once I'd plugged them in, didn't work hence the lack of desert trip photos.  And just outside one town were a number of road side fruit and vege stalls where we bought the tastiest watermelon I have had in ages.  Both stops Noor instructed me to stay in the car, both times I thought that was just ridiculous  so didn't.  How can you possibly experience rural Saudi Arabia in the back of the car?  And what better place to practice my Arabic than rural road side stalls where English is fairly limited?

But I digress.  Back to our desert trip.

As The Edge of The World is well known, or so we thought, we presumed there would be a well signposted turn off which just shows what desert newbies we are.  The 'sign post' to our  particular destination was a couple of old tires dug into the dirt 100m or so off the road with a fence line off in the distance, just before you drive between two identical looking hills 15 km from the last town.....the name of which I have forgotten.  Signs very easily missed by those who don't know where they're going - which is why we missed it and had to come back to find it.  Thank goodness for mobile phones and the Pakistani taxi network!

The desert surrounding Riyadh is very rocky, something I hadn't expected.  But it's definitely not your smooth pounamu type stone.  No, this stuff is harsh!  I was expecting major sand dunes....didn't get any.  They are apparently in the other direction.

Once we got off the highway we decided to park under the nearest tree to have lunch.  The trees aren't your thick, lush variety either.  They are pretty sparse and thorny and when you take a seat on the ground make sure any thorns that have fallen to the ground don't prick you in the butt.  They hurt!  But the shade these trees provide is welcome in the afternoon heat.  
Don't you just love the view!
After lunch we continued on to find The Edge of the World. It became very obvious that Noor, an awesome driver in the city, is not used to off road driving.  He was going soooooo slow.  I was thinking 'We're in the desert - put your foot down'.  That's what the 4WD's were doing that went racing past us.  Then I was thinking 'Glenn when are you taking over the driving'.  He never did.

The weather has been most unusual just recently in Riyadh.  There has been thunderstorms, rain, hail - the works - so the desert was a little soft the day of our trip. Very exciting in a Camry.  Though mostly firm underfoot, or under car, there were a number of soft, sandy spots in the desert.   And it is in one of these sandy spots that we came to a stop.  The front wheel sunk and we were going nowhere.  What to Do Pounamu?

Fortunately we had ground to a halt close to a Saudi family who were picnicking under the trees.  As soon as I hopped out of the car one of the young women called me over to sit with them, and the young men came to help sort out the car.  Glenn asked if they knew The Edge of The World.  As we had no idea what the Arabic term for our destination was, they couldn't tell us how much further we had to go or even if we were on the right track.  They did ask us where the rest of our group were...???? hmmmm....and then they told us we were crazy being in the desert in such a small car.....hmmmm.  They also invited us to stop off on the way back to have lunch with them. 

We continued on our search for the Edge of the World, still at snails pace.... It's interesting what's out in the desert.  Mans presence is everywhere.
We passed what looked like the beginnings of a damn.
We passed a couple of large diggers next to temporary huts. What for?  Collecting sand maybe??
We passed what could have been an enclosure for animals - lots of barbed wire and corrugated iron.
We came across what looked to be a fence, white poles stuck into concrete.  The whole thing was a couple of hundred meters long, but there were no wires.
We also passed a guy herding goats (aha...the animal enclosure).

Eventually we came across a gateway with a security tent.  Noor slowed to have a word...and no-one was there.  So we just kept going.  A half our later, after seeing only 2 other groups of desert visitors resting under trees, was another gate with a military vehicle blocking the way and a military gentleman resting behind the wheel.  This time I stayed in the car - he had artillery.

After a bit of discussion Glenn and Noor came back and said we weren't to go any further because it was army territory and Military Man had no idea what 'The Edge of the World' was.  I admit I had been dozing a little till this point.  As we back tracked I was looking at the scenery.  We were in a narrow valley.  On either side were rather large canyon walls.
Me - "Glenn, isn't the edge of the world a mini Grand Canyon?"
Glenn - "Yeah, I think so.  You drive to the edge and get out and the view is meant to be canyons as far as you can see"
Me - looking around at steep canyon like walls on either side of us "You don't think we are in The Edge of the World do you?"
Glenn - "No way"...

How funny is that.  We'd left home over 3 hours ago to visit a place that's an hour out of town and we weren't certain we'd arrived yet. (We discovered later that we had missed it by a long shot.  Much as I love the Pakistani taxi network, an investment in GPS and co-ordinates to the Edge of the World would have been very helpful).

Glenn decided it was time to go home.  He also decided we wouldn't take up the lunch offer that the Saudi family had extended.  He hadn't counted on us getting stuck, again, in exactly the same place as before on our way out of the desert. Two hours or so later, after much Saudi hospitality, (excellent way to test your Arabic) we headed back to the highway and home.  We intend to go back to try and find The Edge of the World, but in a 4WD and with some one who knows the way.


PS.  NZ Pounamu, being a good kiwi that eats roots and leaves, has found the co-ordinates to The Edge of the World.  Thanks to Mohammad Nowfal and his website Splendid Arabia.   He has great photos and detailed directions to a number of 'Must See' sights in Saudi Arabia.  Click over and take a look.  (For other desert trip ideas take a look at Desert Treks From Riyadh, by Ionis Thompson)

The Edge of The World Co-ordinates N: 24 56' 31.9" : E:045 59' 31.2"

For those who have yet to make an investment in GPS, here's directions to The Edge of The World.

Route: At Kingdom Tower, Olaya, Riyadh, set your odometer at Zero. Take the Uruba Road (west) and watch for the signboard 'King Khalid Eye Hospital' (KKEH). At 3.7 km you will get an exit to Madinah/Qassim at the KKEH. Follow this road which after 10 km leads to Salbouk. At 34.5 km you will get an exit to Sadous/Jubayla. Take this exit and head to Sadous. You will pass by Jubayla, Uyainah and Hegra. At 66.5 km (which is 24.5 km from Jubayla) turn left to an off-road. After entering this path, on your left side is iron fence, and you may follow the track (towards west, turning slightly to your right) until you reach a fenced area with a gate at 7.5 km from the main road. Enter the gate, turn right and follow any convenient track for 22 km heading towards west. Best time to visit: October thru March. 

Edge of The World Location

This should make our next trip, and yours, to the Edge of the World a whole lot easier.

Ka Kite,

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