Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Hofuf Out With The Locals.

Once upon a time, not that long ago, we embarked on a long and arduous journey to Hofuf in search of the legendary Caves of Ali Baba and ended up experiencing a Thursday night out with locals.

We hired the trusty GMC Yukon and took my mother along for the three hour ride.  As per usual our map consisted of instructions garnered from the internet.

Most people presume such instructions include GPS co-ordinates.  Our Yukon doesn't have GPS.  We could purchase a mobile GPS thingy, but we don't want one.  I mean, how much fun is there in actually knowing the way?  Very little.  We are of the 'Point Your Nose That Way I'm Sure We'll Find It' brigade.  GPS mapping is a complete contradiction to our style of adventure.

Of course such sense of adventure does not mean our journeys are without stress.  What would be the point of a stress free adventure?

Suitably ill-prepared we packed the vehicle and set off.

At one point in our journey we thought we had taken a wrong turn.  Our directions told of an alternate highway, however, the miniature version of the map that I could fit onto a printed page made the actual turn off to said highway....obscure.  When one has left the main drag and is cruising along barren, narrow, bumpy and empty roads for long periods of time, one can start to question whether THAT turn-off was THE turn-off.

Our only sign of humanity was the occasional car going the other way and a hazy set of structures on the horizon that may, or may not, have been a town.  It turned out to be the Aramco Compound.

We breathed a sigh of 'we are not alone' and continued on.  Our perseverance paid off and we came across the other highway with a sign to Al Ahsa and a lot of trucks going our way.

We stopped en-route so mother could get a photo taken alongside free ranging camels. 

Once Al Ahsa was in sight we decided that, prior to heading to our accommodation, we would do a little tiki tour, otherwise known as drive around.

Hofuf/ Al Ahsa is an older city.  There are numerous narrow streets with  run down buildings that still house local residents and businesses.  We came across the market center which was closed for the afternoon and drove by the old fort that I had put on my list of things to see...will have to see it next time.

About the only helpful thing to come out of our recon decision was finding, on entry to the town, a McDonalds to use the toilet and a Segafredo with WIFI just next door.  We came back often.

After our city tiki-tour, instructions to the hotel were retrieved from my bag.  They proved totally useless.  Asking people for directions once we reached the conclusion we were lost, proved equally frustrating.  

Hubby was driving and the numerous requests to go back to Segafredo's so we could use his laptop to look up Google Maps fell on deaf ears until, with stress levels running high from going round in long but continuous circles, he decided to pay heed to good advice.

At least it would have been good advice except that Hofuf was not, at the time of our visit, on Google Maps list of 'towns with directions'.  We left Segafredo's having copied the names of streets from the net, hopeful of success.... and failed miserably.

Another trip to Segafredo, this time to get the phone number of the hotel and call it for instructions.
Where are you?
By McDonalds

Unfortunately there are, we discovered, two McDonalds in Hofuf/Al Ahsa and the bloke on the phone gave us instructions from the other one.

Back to Segafredo's.

The young barista got much better at hand signal communication and pigeon English by the time this day was over. 

Fortunately two Saudi men were having coffee in the shop.  One spoke English, one did not.  The one who did not knew exactly how to get where we needed to go, right down to the last traffic intersection.  The one who did, wrote it all down.

Their directions took us past the second McDonalds.

Finding our hotel had taken us almost as long as finding Hofuf.   The whole affair was quite exhausting.

After a little kip, we headed out for dinner and to see the sights.  The gentlemen who had given us directions had recommended visiting the 'place with moving lights'.  They had given us directions to that as well.

We spent the evening at a local park with rides and music and a fountain light show.  We tried some freshly baked local bread made with dates...very nice. 


And we watched an acrobatic troupe performing.  The audience had to be split up to watch the show, men one side of the outdoor auditorium, women the other.

The women got a real treat.  The troupe performed right in front of them, tight leggings and all.  The men's view, reported Glenn, was terrible.  They couldn't see much at all.  We did wonder if, the next night, the seating arrangements would be changed.

I sent Glenn a text while Mum and I were seated amongst the ladies. 
'Where are you sitting?
'Next to the guy in white'...

Smart arse!


The ladies we were sitting among were very friendly and starting chatting, asking where we were from, how we liked Hofuf, how long we were staying - all in English.  My Arabic is not going well at all due to the local persons proficiency at my native language.  The young women even flipped up their niqab's so we could see how pretty they were!  I have to say, I was surprised and possibly slightly afraid.  Niqab flipping at fun parks was not what I expected to see and I could imagine the Morality Police blaming such activity on the terrible influence of the western women present!  But the ladies were so charming and so much fun, that any thoughts of trouble left as we shared a laugh on the seats of the outdoor amphitheater.

We had a great time at the park.  It was nice experiencing a Thursday night out with the locals in Hofuf and we were looking forward to the next day and the Caves of Ali Baba.

Ka Kite,

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