Sunday, 10 November 2013

Cave Swimming in Riyadh's Ain Heet

We went back to Ain Heet Cave this weekend as Mr Noor, who went the other weekend with a few mates, said the swimming was spectacular.  Really, seriously, are you sure?  Oh yes, he assured me.  It's much better than the first time we found Ain Heet Cave.  He was right.  And I have to admit of all the things there is to do in Riyadh, this is one of my favourite.

This weekend we took a newcomer to Riyadh (we'll call him Mr UK) who has been staying on our compound for a few weeks.  He has the car.  (I know, we're bludging!)

Before departing the compound Mr UK was a bit concerned about what attire to wear in the pool having heard that it's best for expats to be in long sleeved shirts and pants when out and about.  He was assured that swimming trunks would be perfectly acceptable in the cave itself as it was highly unlikely there would be Saudi's down there. Apart from the fact the thobe and abaya are completely inappropriate attire for mountain scrambling, most of the locals aren't what I would call, ummmm....physically adventurous.

We reflected how the situation was a rather good analogy about Saudi's and their attitude to, well, anything requiring effort.  Real effort.  The dig deep and do whatever it takes, suffer through pain, difficulty and adversity, character building type of effort.  You know what I'm talking about.  (In case you don't, let me clarify...Saudi's love reward. They do.  However, they only want to make minimal effort (if any) to get that reward.  [Not that they are the only people in the world with this type of thinking - I know a few relatives back home with a constant hand out...but that's another story].  So, swimming in a cave might sound fabulous, really exciting and fun, but most would prefer that the cave pool be brought to them on a platter.  They aren't that interested in climbing down a difficult path to reach the reward, and, sure as sheep, the effort required to climb back up after the reward would seem rather silly.  Stereotypical generalizations I know, but not a lot of folks  who live and work here would argue the point!).  Which is not, I'm fairly certain, the attitude that Saudi of old had else they would not have survived life in the desert.  Ahh...the new generation these days.  Such a soft bunch!

Anyway, on the way to our destination we were regaling the story of our first trip to Ain Heet Cave.  On that trip there was only us and Mr Noor and we didn't swim.  As we approached the cave this time we were surprised by the number of people present.  Obviously it was Filipino Day Out, and good on them I say!  Life here can be sucky for many of the workers, so it's great the folks can get out for some relaxed fun and socializing.  

After Mr UK parked the car and he and Hubster commented on being the only white people around,  we surveyed the steep descent under the mountain.  It was full of folks making their way, like a trail of ants, scrambling up and down through the fallen rock.  We also studied the mountain overhead as Hubster, once again, reminded us we'd likely be crushed by any rocks that might decide to detach themselves from the mountainside.  (We swept the thought wasn't very helpful!)

The walk to the bottom wasn't quite as difficult this time, as a path of sorts had been laid among the boulders, plus a rope has been anchored half way down the decline for those needing something to hang on to.  In saying that though, it's still necessary to crouch and clamber, so my thighs were starting to sing a little even before I got to the bottom.  I knew the body was gonna pay for the effort again the next day (and it is!)

As predicted, once at the bottom, Saudi's were few and far between (I counted 1 and he was a dark skinned bedu which, to some of the Saudi I know, doesn't really count, which probably makes them snobs or racists, or both!).
Everybody else, though, was there in abundance.
And they were having a blast.

We found a spot to set down our bag and shoes and the boys stripped to shorts and jumped in.  I had bought shorts to wear for the swim too, and turned to the bloke behind me to let him know I was gonna be doing a quick change if he wanted to look the other way.  (Have no idea if he did or not, cos I just got on with it - I was on a swimming mission).  Once the knee lengths were off and the shorts on, I clambered in barefeet the short distance from our chosen spot down to the water.  It was lovely.

Near the edges you had to be careful of submerged rocks but out in the middle the pool was deep.  It's amazing lying on your back, looking up at the roof of the cave and remembering there's a mountain above you.  One also has to wonder where the water has come from.  Perhaps the inclement weather in other parts of Saudi has filled the underground water table, sending fresh water up the aquifers, one of which feeds this cave.  I'm sure a geologist would know.  Hubster was surprised the water was warm, he was expecting aquifer cold.  And it was a lot clearer than our first visit.  (It did concern me, just a little, that the water might be run off from Riyadh Recycled River, but we'll brush that thought aside too, cos it's not very pleasant).

We spent a bit of time swimming about, watching others jumping off rocks or attempting to climb the back wall (which is covered in tagging by the way) and took a few photo's before drying off and starting our ascent.  The climb back up didn't seem as difficult this time (maybe I'm a bit fitter) though three quarters of the way up, the thigh muscles were telling me if I didn't do some decent stretching at home, tomorrow was gonna be a stiff day!  (Heeding good advice, even my own, is a bit of a challenge for me, hence the legs are still stiff today).

The number of people at the top had thinned considerably by the time we got there.  I'd packed a picnic, so we lay our carpet in the shade of the car, (it's winter in Saudi but when the afternoon sun shines it's still warm), and enjoyed turkey salad sandwiches and tea while appreciating the result of our climbing efforts.  Hubster reckons the picnic is always the highlight of a desert drive.  I don't know - this time I think the swimming eclipsed the food.  If you would like to swim in a cave just outside of Riyadh, here's a map location.

Map Location of Ain Heet Cave

It's interesting that, just this morning, Mr UK sent me a message, 'What's the name of the place where the cave pool was?'  He'd shown the pictures to folks at his workplace and one of the young Saudi's didn't believe it was in Saudi.  On one hand I'm always amazed how little the locals know of their own backyard.  On the other I'm kinda glad, otherwise the really cool places would be closed down!  Maybe I'm going through a pessimistic phase in these slowly changing times (I was seriously hoping that women would be driving by now, really!), but it would be just like the Bearded Ones mentality to close Ain Heet Cave and the physical and social activity that cave swimming provides, even though none of them could acutally be bothered climbing down to see it.

Ka Kite,

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