Friday, 17 June 2011

Camping Wahba Crater


On approaching the edge of Wahba Crater, the site of our first ever camping trip in Saudi Arabia, our reaction was, quite simply, 'Wow!'

While trawling the internet one day for 'things to do in Riyadh' I stumbled upon a website that mentioned Wahba Crater.  Not a lot of information was given regarding it's location but my interest was piqued enough to store knowledge of  its existence in the 'That sounds interesting' file in my brain.

Then one day, not so long ago, I was sent the name of a tour company, Haya Tours, here in Riyadh and wouldn't you know it they organised weekend camping trips to Wahba Crater.

After a few phone calls, e-mails and reminders to Glenn that he did agree to this trip (He says he didn't agree he was told, which really is the same thing), we met our travelling companions (a lovely British lady and two German gentlemen) in the car park at Granada Mall, were given final instructions on where to go and who to meet and off we set.

We drove five hours from Riyadh, on the Jeddah highway, to the meeting point with our tour guide, a wonderful young man named Mohamad.  He led us convoy fashion, accompanied by local security who were with us for the whole weekend, through salt pans, small villages and lava fields till we reached the end of a newly laid road.

You'd expect a hole in the ground that is two kilometers wide would be easy to spot, but it's not till you get out of the car that the crater reveals itself.  And, as I mentioned earlier, the sight is impressive. 

Our cameras came out and numerous shots were taken before Mohamed pointed out our accommodation for the weekend - a white speck in the distance, right on the crater's edge.


A short bumpy ride over the volcanic rock, fortunately we had hired the Yukon for the weekend, had us delivered to our simple lodgings. 

Story has it that a group of Afghanis had set up home at this particular camping spot with a view to developing it for a tourist business and, I have to say, they had done a lot of work on the site. 

They had built paths out of lava stones, started an ablution block and kitchen, built a flat viewing platform, planted trees and fenced the area.  Then the Saudi government said Wahba Crater was a national treasure, put it under the protection of a government agency and instructed the hard working Afghanis' to leave.

The paths are still there, as is the viewing platform and block built kitchen.  The ablution block is unfinished and, I could say falling into disrepair, but actually it looks like some unhappy person has taken to it with a sledge hammer and smashed it to bits, so it's unusable.

Until they implement a few upgrades, camping at this particular spot beside Wahba Crater is not for those who like luxuries.

The only option available for relief was to duck down behind the remains of the toilet block hoping no one else came wandering over the rise and, more importantly, hoping the rock you picked up to cover your own 'squat job' wasn't already being used to cover a previous deposit. 

Washing was of the sponge bath variety or wait till you get home.

Our accomodation was a large tent (and if you've started to like gender segregation you're plum out of luck on this tour) with a dicky pole that required German ingenuity to strenghten it against the wind that was picking up outside, and carpets spread over the rough scoria ground.

Our tour information said to only bring sleeping bags....if you're the sort that wakes up grumpy without a soft bed I'd suggest you bring a bit more than that.  One of the German gentleman, who was a bit more clued up than us, had a camp bed.  

The Wahba Crater's Edge  Hotel. Absolutely fabulous :)

The Dicky Pole
The facilites may have been minimal, which didn't bother anybody on this particular weekend, but the welcome and subsequent hosting was warm indeed.

That afternoon, after qahwah and dates, we walked up to a higher vantage point to take photos of the area surounding Wahba Crater.  Then it was back down for kapsa dinner, sorting out the sleeping arrangements and chit chat as the sun set and the stars came out above us, while over yonder was a lightening display.
 

Mohamed and his cousins, who were there to assist, had intended on lighting a fire for us that night, but we were a little concerned that the wind would throw a spark at the tent, so decided to flag that idea.  Besides, it was very pleasant sitting in the glow of a small generator run light enjoying the company and conversation until it was time for bed. 

The weather was nice enough, with the breeze keeping stifling heat at bay, that we dragged the carpets outdoors and slept beside the crater, under the stars, safe in the knowledge that security was a stones throw away, hunkered in their Landcruiser.

Bright and early the next morning, before the day warmed up, we headed down into the basin.  The descent, a little narrow in places and not recommended for those with vertigo issues, was fairly easy via a path cut into the rock face or laid out with stones that led us all the way to the bottom

Track to Wahba Crater


The bottom at last...


Once on the bottom we headed out into the middle.  For some reason we wanted to see how soft it was...sinking mud meant we didn't make it there.  So instead we sat and contemplated various theories on the craters origins (a meteorite versus volcanic activity of some description), how long it would take to walk the entire circumference of the basin (not that we intended to), what else we were going to do that day and the looong walk back up for breakfast.

And, of course, we had to take a few photos....


The Wahba Crater Crew
... and test the white deposit to see if it was salt.

video

The hike back to the top took slightly longer than the trek down (no kidding), but we weren't in any hurry so stopped often and I had plenty of water and an energy drink in my backpack.

We also did our bit for environmental care, collecting empty drink bottles that previous sight see-ers had discarded (a nice way to say biffed, dumped or inconsiderately dropped) on the side of the path.

Back on top, the wind from the day before had died and the boys had a crackling fire heating the kettles for qahwah and tea.  After huffing and puffing our way up the hill, it really was a welcoming sight.

The cook...

...the supervisor!
We sat in the sunshine, soaking in the view and the opportunity to share across cultures and thinking how lucky we were to be here with these wonderful people. 


After the boys had shown us a few games the bedouins like to play to pass the time away (known in NZ as tik tak tow, knucklebones and target practice), it was into the 4WD to bump and bounce our way over the rocky terrain to the oasis located on the verge of the crater with lovely, cool spring water supporting an old date palm plantation.



The Tour Guide Crew
The place really was beautiful except for all the rubbish! 

By the end of our stay Mohamed, a bright young man who loves his part time tour guide role (his full time job is teaching), was fully versed in the importance of being environmentally conscious and he assures us the Powers That Be will be duly advised.

Some people wouldn't enjoy the trip to Wahba Crater that we did because of the lack of facilities, and moves are afoot to add amenities (a long drop - I wouldn't like to be the guy trying to dig the scoria out of that hole - and a solar shower), but to be honest, the simplicity was a large part of the reason why we loved our camping at Wahba Crater.