Friday, 27 May 2011

Edge of the World Again

We tried to find The Edge of The World again.

This time we actually made it....Yay, cheers, whoop whoop, party!
This time we did things a little differently to the our first attempt at trying to find the Edge of the World.

For starters we had directions.
Secondly we had a 4WD Yukon.

I'd like to say we went with a group - but that would have been too sensible.

We did mention to a friend where we were going, we even invited him along but he had to work his weekend...

Our initial plan was to head out early in the morning but Glenn had his own weekend work to attend to before we could hit the track, so we left a little later in the day.  Not something I would recommend for desert trekking newbies.

I have learnt, in my short twelve or so months here, that night falls very quickly in the desert and if you think it looks boring and monotonous in the day time, try finding a land mark to get you out at night -  the desert really is a different world.

Suffice to say I was a bit tetchy about our late departure time, but Glenn was full of gusto and determination so my doubts were temporarily packed up and locked away as we headed out.

We travelled over familiar territory.  Mr Noors taxi friend had sent us in the right direction on our first trip.  This time, though, we turned right at the first gateway security tent and, as per the instructions, headed west.

It's amazing how much faster you can drive through the desert in a rented 4WD Yukon with a bald headed, determined, yeehaa Kiwi at the wheel. 

The track was rough in places and, being the passenger, I was thrown around as Glenn barrelled his way through numerous dips and trenches.  The thought that we may break an axel and get stuck out here did cross my mind on at least one occasion.  It also occurred to me that there was no way the Camry would have got us through to our intended destination even if we had made the right turn last time.

I was also thankful that the Yukon had a compass.  With no signposts in the desert we were relying heavily on our printed out directions and they stated "follow any convenient track for 22 km heading towards west".  Anytime Glenn deviated on a direction other than West, which he did twice, we realigned the vehicle in a westerly direction and kept going.

Payback came when we spotted, at the top of a rise, a gap in the escarpment.
This must be it....

....This is the point in the trip when I screamed at Glenn and prepared to jump out of the vehicle.

The Barrelling Bald one was paying no  heed to my advice to slow down in case there was nothing on the other side of said gap.  For some unexplainable reason, his childish boy brain kicked in, obviously having been dislodeged from its current place of residence within his grey matter and resurfacing due to the bouncing around we'd been doing for at least the past half hour, and he raced to the top of the rise heading straight for the edge of the opening.

He thought he was hilarious.....I was not a happy wifey.

He said, 'Come on Gae, I wasn't really gonna keep going'
I said, '&*^*%....idiot!
He said, 'Aww, Come on Gae, I was only kidding around.
I said 'Whatever! &;*%*.....egg!'

It took more than a few minutes for me to forgive him.
Thank goodness for the desert - there is a lot of it.  Ample room to head in opposite directions till Barrelling Bald ones apologise - silly bugger!

The view over The Edge of The World doesn't allow one to hold a grudge for too long.  It is quite stunning, though I have to say, it took a while for me to be awe-inspired.  The build up from those who have come here before and aniticipation had led me to expect more.

On contemplation, it is awesome to think that the plateau upon which Riyadh resides, and the edge of which we had driven rapidly up to, was forced to its height by volcanic activity beneath it.  The Edge of the World is simply an opening in the plateau, formed when a portion slipped to the depths below, that allows one to look out upon the rest of the desert beyond.

After having a look around and taking a few photos I unpacked the picnic and we sat at The Edge of the World revelling in the view, the quiet and the fact we'd made it.

Eventually, as the day started to cool, it was time to pack up the picnic and head for home.  As a bonus, I got to drive. 

We could have slept in the Yukon, but I had not brought blankets.  Maybe we can save that for when we come out to The Edge of The World again.

Map To Edge Of The World

Ka Kite,

Sunday, 22 May 2011

The Disappearing Lake

We went to see the disappearing lake one day.  It had disappeared.  Obviously this was the wrong time to come.  Apparently, during the rainy season, there is a lot of water in this lake.  It runs down through the surrounding sands and meets in a rather large valley that, on this day, was covered with a lot of greenery.  Proof there has been water.

Although there had been quite a bit of rain prior to our visit, it wasn't sufficient to fill the lake.  In fact, the base of the lake was solid enough to drive a fair way through before it started getting soft and we risked sinking our 4WD Yukon.

Not that that would have been a problem.  The lake is also a popular picnic spot for the locals.  There were four wheel drives galore hooning around the dunes.  A call for help would have been responded to.

The Arabic name for the lake is Kharara.  I only know this because the turn off was sign posted in Arabic and English - quite helpful for Kiwi's on a tiki tour.

At 3pm on a weekend afternoon there was also a crowd starting to gather.

Driving over the rise toward the lake did make me go "Wow, look at that".  The green was an unexpected contrast to the surrounding red dunes.  We decided to follow a vehicle down into the lake - there was an obvious track around the inner circumference. 

As we got closer to the gateway all I could say was "Crikeys, look at all the rubbish".

Location of Lake Kharara 24° 24' 20.63" N 46° 14' 43.45" E
Muslims might have a "Keep clean" verse in the Quran, but Saudi's don't relate it to the environment.  The place looked like a trash can.  What a bloody shame!

After recovering (partially) from the disappointment of a cultures obvious disregard for the health and cleanliness of the planet on which they live, I was determined to find water here.  There must be some.  So Glenn, (who's such an obliging husband) wove his way through the lake, and numerous picnikers, following tracks that criss crossed the base in search of wetness, a pool - anything that could have us say 'Yay, water'. 

The best we could find, eventually, was a damp spot that had turned the hard dirt soft.

Sunken tyre marks from vehicles who had taken this route before were testament to the fact that this was as far as were going.  The ground did look more solid over yonder, but Glenn had had enough sight seeing, largely because the sights were rather monotonous.  Plus it was time to eat.  On our way back to the hillside, we came across some bird life that Glenn had never seen before.  He's a bit of a wild life I had to take some photo's for him.

We were greeted, on our exit from the lake by a rather large swell in visitors to the dunes.  There were over a hundred vehicles.  Four wheel drive families out enjoying the scenery and open air and young men testing out their driving skills in the soft sands.

I had packed our own picnic, so we found a spot up on a hill overlooking the lake and settled on our newly bought arabic rug to enjoy the early evening.  It was quite entertaining.  Vehicles sliding up and down sand dunes, one car (note - a car, not a 4WD - who the heck brings a car out on sand dunes?) was abandoned after it bottomed out in the sand.  Young men, and some not so young, were digging their vehicles out while the women decided to leave them to it out to enjoy the outdoor exercise that walking up sand dunes provides.

We are glad we found the Disappearing Lake, and I am presuming this was 'the' disappearing lake.  Next time we'll save our next visit until there has been a bit more rain.  It would be nice to see what the lake looks like once it has reappeared.

Map To Disappearing Lake

Ka Kite,

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Riyadh Fathers Outings - Secret Mans Business!

My Dad with the kids.
It has become common place, I noted on my recent trip back home, to regularly see men taking their children on Fathers Outings for an hour or two, or sometimes for the day, to give mum a break.  Mr Glenn used to keep the kids out of my hair as they were growing up, but usually by bribing them with a trip to McDonalds.  Sitting and reading at the park?  Not so much.  The amount of paternal interaction happening at home made me realise that Fathers Outings in Riyadh is not something I've noticed so much.

It was quite uplifting seeing groups of Dad’s walking the parks with prams, picnicking with their sons and daughters and helping them out on the slides and swings.  Playing catch or showing their youngsters how to lick ice cream so it doesn’t run all over their little hands.

Dads changing the baby’s nappy. Dads leaning against tree trunks with a child under each arm reading Thomas the Tank Engine (or something similar). Dads’ taking their brood to a café after a fun day of play and ordering Baby Chinos. Yes, such visions certainly warm the heart.

There are two possible reasons why I haven't seen this style of participatory fathering in Saudi.  (There are probably lots more reasons, but I’ll settle on these two).

Have you ever done that mental exercise where you look around the room and take note of everything that is brown and then, once you leave the room, you have to name everything that was blue.  The point being if you don't focus on it, you don't see it.

Until recently, Saudi fathering styles were not on my radar.  My thoughts, to date, have been focused mostly on what women can and cannot do.  This all changed last week when I spent a day on ‘Saudi Dad Watch’.

What did I see?

I spotted young boys, aged around 4 or 5, decked out in thobe and ghutra, walking the malls with Dad (or some male equivalent) and they look so cute.

There were a couple of Dads doing supermarket shopping with their younsters and a few others keeping an eye on the children at the Fun Park.

One Dad was carrying his daughter, aged around three years, from the car to the footpath and chatting the whole time before setting her on the path, taking her hand, and heading into the shop - no mother in sight.

Glenn has been invited home to dinner with a Saudi friend and reported back that he met his one year old daughter - who really is a cutie - and Dad is so proud of her.

The other day a Dad was picniking with his little family and, while Mum fed the baby, he took the two boys off to play football.  Granted, they weren't a Saudi family, but it was good to see Dad and sons enjoying their time.

By far the largest display of Saudi style participatory fathering that I have ever seen was at Janadriyah the other week (Riyadh’s biggest cultural event).   Loads of young fathers wheeling pushchairs and keeping an eye on the youngsters while mums were obviously enjoying their day out, sifting their way through trinkets and displays.

This is the face of Saudi’s fathering their youngsters……and it’s quite normal really.  I’m not sure what I expected when I started out on my ‘Saudi Dad Watch’.

One can get quite negative about this society and its rules and activities that seem to favour the men so they have all the fun.

Although I’ve heard that the women are expected to raise the children, it is nice to see the Dad’s have something to do with that process other than carting the whanau to dinner at restaurants.  I’m not sure if their participation stretches to nappy changing – when I find that out, I’ll keep you posted.

There is another aspect of Saudi Fathering that I don’t get to observe - the gender segregation of this society means I have no idea what the males get up to in their 'men only' times and 'men only' places.

Glenn and I were having a debate about this one day.
Actually, I was debating, he was

It is my understanding, though I'm not sure because I haven't yet cracked that manly sanctum, that ‘men only’ days and events actually means ‘male only' and implies, obviously, that Mr Saudi Man is able to take his sons along with him at these gender specific times (though I’m not sure that includes the baby due to the nappy changing aspects) while the girls get left with Mum.  I do wonder what type of bonding occurs at these times.  Is this when Dad’s would do things like play catch, read books under trees, discuss the ways of the world and generally bond with their boys?  Or are the sons left to run wild at the park with a whole buch of other boys while Dad has qahwah with the other fathers talking politics and such?

My moko bonding with her Dad
Sending the Glen-meister to the ‘men only’ time at the zoo, so he can report back about Fathers Outings in Riyadh, is one way we could find answers to the questions of secret mens business  -  unfortunately, he’s not that keen and I really can't understand why not!

Ka Kite,

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Annual Janadriyadh Festival Riyadh

We went to Janadriyah this year.  It is the largest festival on the Riyadh events calendar.  In fact, it may be the largest cultural event on the Saudi Arabian calendar.

It was great.

One of the things it is difficult to find in Riyadh (at least I've had trouble finding it) is something authentically Saudi. 

From architecture to souvenirs everything here is copied from somewhere else in the globe - possibly because Sauds were traders who mixed with a lot of travellers from abroad, but more likely a fall out from those in charge suddenly having loads of money, flying off to see the world and coming  back to build whatever examples of western life and living took their fancy - and it's all made by non-saudi's.  But it's at a cost to Saudis own identity which, I have to say, is more than Islam.

About the only activity I've found that comes close to truly local industry is the vegetables grown in outlying villages - but those have mostly Pakistani or Bangladeshi workers.

I've been looking for something authentically Saudi, made by Saudis. 

Jandriyah, I was told by some Saudi ladies I met, had lots of old things from the past.  They had no idea why anyone would be the least bit interested in how the people of  the peninsula used to live. 

Haya Tours was offering a bus ride to the festival and a guided tour once there.  Sounded perfect.  Having never been to Janadriyah I wasn't sure what to expect.

We were provided with a map of the festival area and Salwa, our tour guide, explained a little about what was on show.  It would have been good if the map also came with a timetable, but I don't believe the Janadriyah organisers had got that organised.

Basically the festival ground is divided into areas representing the different regions of Saudi Arabia.  Each region develops the area in a fashion most representative of who they are.  Every region had a house made in their local style.  Some were rock, others rope or fibre, others clay. 

And on display throughout Janadriyah were examples of a desert life. 

There were camels being utilsed for grinding grain and donkeys pulling wooden carts loaded with children wanting rides. 

There were numerous reminders that Saudi is surrounded by water, something one can forget when one lives in the middle of the desert, with fishing boats and nets and a man making crayfish pots.

And there were those items I have been searching for - authentically Saudi, home made items - sandles made from date palm, knives and swords, clay pots and camel hide mats and blankets.

What surprised me the most at the festival was the amount of music in each area.  For a country that isn't supposed to have public music, they had a lot.  And traditional dances.  We arrived at the Baha area in time for the mens dance.  Glenn loved it.  I was upstairs drinking qahwah.

Each area also had it's own version of a local market, and they were busy, bustling and occasionally bedlam.  On sale was food, food and more food - breads, honey, nuts and dates.

There were a number of water drinking stations with water kept cool in large clay pots.  You could also buy the plastic water bottle variety if you wanted to as there were also street vendors at the festival selling fast food and the usual cheap, disposable, made in China claptrap.

Also participtaing at the festival were the government agencies.  Glenn spent a bit of time going to see them hoping to make a few work related connections, while my friend and I spent a bit of time in the ladies section getting henna. 

The impression I got from visiting the festival was that it was a family affair - and a Saudi family affair at that.  It was nice to see so many Saudi families and young couples out enjoying themselves.

The funniest part of the festival was when a Saudi man asked one of our tour companions, a tall western bloke, to hold his son while he took a picture.  Why?  He wanted a picture of a tourist!

We really enjoyed the annual Janadriyah festival in Riyadh and will go again next year.

Ka Kite,

Monday, 2 May 2011

The Ball Season And Saudi Shopping

It's the ball season and we have a ball coming up.

The tickets were a bit on the ekky side, so I hope the food and music is worth it.  Not that I'm going just for the food and music.  Of course not!  How shallow would that be?  Glenn and I are going because of the awesome charities the ball organisers support.  

Even so, the success of the ball from our point of view will hinge on the quality and quanitity of food, the music and, last but not least, the number of nice people we meet.

Preparing for the ball has been under discussion recently.
The dress code is 'Formal'.
This means, we were told when my friend and I picked up the tickets, tux for men, evening gown for ladies.

Glenn gave me strict instructions that if a Tux was involved we should back out of this ball. 
After explaining his dress code aversion to the Ticket Seller, I was assured that a nice suit would be fine.
Glenn is unhappy I didn't back out!

My friend and I did a mental walk through our wardrobes to identify what we owned that would suit the occasion.  We have one or two outfits that might do.  Our dilemma is whether or not the crowd going to this ball is the same crowd that attended the ball we went to last year - they may recognise our gear.

It's not that we can't buy new outfits if we wanted to.
It's that we don't really want to.

Shopping in this country is a pain in the butt.  For women anyway.  There are no changing rooms in the shops.  You can't try anything on.  What a pain in the arse that is!

Why are there no fitting rooms?
According to the religious knowledgable, good Muslim women do not disrobe outside of the home which is of no help at all to us otherwise blatantly immoral types, called Western Women.

The fact that all the shop assistants in the all the shops in Riyadh are men, except those in the very expensive ladies floor on Kingdom Mall (where I don't shop because of the words 'very expensive'), makes the idea of undressing in a shop even less palatable for a lot of the ladies here.  They've seen lots of movies with hidden cameras and peep holes and such like.  And quite frankly none of that would surprise me in this country.  (Though it also doesn't actually put me off much either as I doubt anyone will be sexually relieved once they get a gander at the rolls hiding beneath my abaya - they're more likely to be mentally scarred for life and in that sense I believe I'd be doing the world a favour with Desperate Jerk Offs).

So, how does one go about buying an evening gown off the rack in Riyadh.  There are a few options, most require taking lots of money.  You have to buy what you want to try. 

The Take Home Method.
  • Trawl a few shops, if you see something nice that might fit and might look good, buy it.
  • Ask the shop assistant how long you have to return or exchange any purchased, but as yet untried, garment.  Some shops say three days, some go as long as seven.  Any shop that says one day - argue or leave.
  • Once you have purchased your selections from numerous shops in a couple of sizes and colors take them home and try them on.  
  • Return within the stated timeframe, with your docket and what you don't want to keep. 
  • Trawl a few more shops for a few more clothes knowing you have to repeat the 'take it home and bring it back if it ain't right' shinanigans.  
  • Then go have coffee. 
The Take It To The Toilet Method :
  • Go shopping around four p.m. when all the shops open. 
  • Make your selections as above. 
  • During early evening salat (around 6p.m.) take your clothes to the ladies toilets and try them on.  Many of the larger malls have fitting rooms in the ladies toilets (which completely negates the previous disroboing arguement, but hei aha!).  Get there early though, every other women and female teen will be there for the same purpose.

    For the smaller malls, with no fitting rooms, be careful not to drop your selections in the dunny or on a wet toilet floor.
  • After salat, return what you don't want to keep. 
  • Then trawl a few more shops for a few more clothes and at the late evening salat (around 8pm) repeat the try on process. 
  • Return what you don't want to keep. 
  • Then go have coffee.  You deserve it.
Option three is similar to option two except you don't wait for Salat, you head to the ladies bathroom as soon as you've purchased your clothes from a shop, and bring em straight back if they don't fit. 

This sounds easy but factor in walking time to bathroom which, for some strange reason is as far from the shops as possible and waiting time as the salesman deals with other customers while you wait to return what you just bought 10 mintues ago because it was yuk. 

I find the entire shopping process, regardless of the option utilised, extremely expensive, time consuming and a right pain.  I might look more fondly on the whole process if I enjoyed shopping. I don't.

The only good thing about the whole shopping expedition is that returning clothes is not a problem.
And the coffee afterwards.

Option four should only be utilised if you're buying cheap clothes for running around the house.  Basically you try them on over the top of your abaya, or find a corner of the shop as far from prying eyes as possible and do a quick change, trying clothes on top of your existing garments. 

I have done this, usually with Glenn as lookout. 

I'm not actually worried about shop assistants having a perve - as previously mentioned the body is going to hell in a handbasket and the shock value might stop them from attempting to sneak a peak ever again.  My main concern is for those Saudi women who can get quite upset at the antics of uncouth westerners. That thing they do with their eyes boring a hole in you is quite disconcerting,

I admit to having a couple of garments in my drawers that don't get worn and because they look horrible but have kept because the idea of heading back out to the mall again in less than a week to return them was not making me excited.  As I've mentioned previously - shopping and I don't mix.  One day, when I get around to a clothing spring clean, I'll likely take them to the nearest mosque clothing bin.

There is one other option for us buying an evening gown for the ball - fly to Paris for the weekend.
Can you see that happening?

Nope, this years ball season will see me once again in last years ball gown though I may splash out on a couple of new accessories just to bling it up a bit.

Ka Kite,

Eating Out in Riyadh

One of the more common pass times in Riyadh, other than shopping, is eating out.

Riyadh has numerous café’s and restaurants, supplying food from all over the globe, for expats and locals alike to enjoy.

Glenn and I have a couple of places in Riyadh we go to on a fairly regular basis.  However, as people who enjoy food, we make it our goal to find and try as many dining and coffee establishments as possible where ever we live, to get a real taste of the town.

Is that an excuse to stay out of the kitchen as much as possible?  Probably.

It occurred to me one day that I should add an Eating Out page to my blog.  Why not share our thoughts and experiences on places to eat in Riyadh.

If you think we’re food critics you’d be mistaken.  We don’t have the vocabulary (though Glenn thinks he’s a wordsmith – Whatever!).  I have no idea how to identify taste dimensions or comment on the latest cooking innovation – I just know what tastes good to me, what looks good and how to tell a nice waiter from one having a bad day.

If you, for whatever reason, would like to see where we eat and what we thought, click over to my Eating Out in Riyadh page.

I hope you enjoy it.

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