LAPD. LA, California

Back on the road, this time on a business trip to LA. It has been a long time since my last business trip and it was a mixed feeling. On one side it is exciting to see new places and meet colleagues I have never met before. On the other side, I have to overcome the sloth of the long air trip that once I enjoyed so much. LA doesn’t disappoint the visitor. Too many things to see (too few time to see it these days). A random walk around Downtown LA after lunch with a friend and you can get a lot of good pictures. Finally, the trip is worth.

The edge of the world. Saudi Arabia

Arrived at this place and couldn’t see anything. The mist and the dust erased the horizon. None of us could see what was down the cliff. The magical landscape surrounding us and erasing time and distance. Lost of sense of reality, any misstep and would disappear in the white cloud below. Suddenly, a ray of light started to show the huge plain below. Traces of water flows, dried by years without rain. Few bushes remained alive. The land of scarcity, the search for survival.

Stages 10 and 11: End of trip. Back to Dubai

04.02.2022 – 05.02.2022

The sunrise is again very beautiful with the sun coming out behind the mountains in a quickly changing cloudy sky. It is windy and cold, but I manage to get some pictures of the sun rising from the top of crater in the surroundings of our camp.

Torch

It is a long journey to Dubai that we will do in two stages. We leave our camp in the “real middle of nowhere” early morning. The night has been cold, but a bearable cold. We head directly to our first stop in Riyadh, where we will stay for the night so that Marta can take her plane back to Madrid early morning.

Tired and worn out by the long days and short nights, we want to come back. However, at the same time, we would love to have more vacation days to keep on visiting more of this exotic country. We have left many things out of the original itinerary, but we will come back in some other occasion for more adventures. The next trip I would love to do will be to the Saudi side of Rub Al Khali. Let’s see if I can find companions up for that experience. Anyone interested and prepared, come along!

Beware! Hyenas around.

We drive Southeast to Medina and then we take the long and straight road East from Medina to Riyadh. We pass by Tamya mountain, a big table mountain, which is almost the only interesting point in the flat landscape. Around Qassim and Buraydah there are nice sand dunes, which would be worth riding with my desert driving crew, the Sandmasters.

Not enough pictures of old petrol stations

We cross scattered desert storms as we drive along the Nafud desert. One noticeable thing on the road is that there are bridges for camel crossing from one side of the road to the other. Otherwise, there would be herds of camels crossing this highway.

We reach Riyadh after 11 hours of trip and 1,114 km. We have booked a hotel just fifteen minutes away from the airport to make it easier for Marta to get to the airport in the middle of the night. It is a proper hotel, not luxurious, but good enough and not expensive at all. Modern, a soft bed, a good bathroom, all we need to rest between the two long driving journeys.

Old time Deliveroo

A good and plentiful dinner in Benihana makes our day. Pablo was very excited for this. We deserved a treat.

The trip to Dubai is 1,000 km more. We leave before 8, completely restored after a good sleep and shower.

Heavy sandstorm in Ad Dahna

There is a huge sandstorm while we cross the Ad Dahna desert. As I wrote in one of the previous stages, these strong winds transport the sand from the Nafud desert to Rub Al Khali. We drive through the sand clouds for more than 400 kilometers, which makes it a really difficult drive.

The throne of the petrol station

It has been an amazing trip. Not just for the places we have visited and the local people we have met, but for the nice crew Marina has put together to come along. Thank you Marina for organizing this trip and for letting me and my kids to be part of it. I am very grateful for having found Ali to come along us, and again thank you Ali for all that you showed us. Finally, thank you very much to the rest of the travelers for your good mood, the pictures and the endurance you have all demonstrated. It was a pleasure to share this experience with all of you.

This trip is not for everyone. You need a lot of endurance and adventure spirit, as well as an ability to cope with uncertainty and resilience to uncomfortable situations. However, if you are ready to put yourself through the unknown with a flexible attitude, I highly encourage you to come and explore Saudi Arabia and all that this land has in store for the rest of the world.

Trip data

Al Ais to Riyadh. Total distance: 1,114 km; Total time: 11 hours; Moving time: 9 hours 35 minutes; Average moving speed: 116 km/h.

Riyadh to Dubai: Total distance: 999 km; Total time: 10 hours 12 minutes; Moving time: 8 hours 5 minutes; Average moving speed: 111 km/h

Playlist

Al Ais to Riyadh
  • U2 – 18 Singles
  • Van Morrison – The Best of Van Morrison
  • Tribu X – Pirueta Radical
  • Queen – Jazz
  • The Rolling Stones – Tattoo You
  • LCD Sound System – The Long Good Bye: Live At Madison Square Garden
  • The Corrs – Forgiven, Not Forgotten
  • Maribou State – Kingdom In Color
Riyadh to Dubai.
  • Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV
  • Pink Floyd – The Piper And The Gates Of Dawn
  • Yes – Yessongs
  • Crazy Heart OST
  • Bananagun – The True Story Of Bananagun
  • Buena Vista Social Club – Buena Vista Social Club
  • Club Del Rio – Lejos Contigo
  • Quincy Jones – Q’s Jook Joint
  • Baby Driver – OST

Stage 9: Umluj (املج) and the Black sand dunes

03.02.2022
Blues

Another night in paradise for hot water and a proper bed, although the hotel is not up to a minimum standard. Very old and run down furniture, taps full of lime, carpet where your feet sink, hard as a stone bed and I will let you imagine the rest. There is hot water and that is essentially what we are looking for.

Black and blue

We depart from Al Wajh early morning, and we head South to Umluj, a small city two hours away along the Red Sea coast. The road along the coast is not very nice as you can only see the sea from afar with the exception of a few spots. We pass beside the entrance to the Red Sea Project, one of the stellar touristic destinations that Saudi Arabia is developing. It is an area full of islands and shallow waters that must be impressive for scuba diving and snorkeling in the vast coral reefs.

Tropical

Umluj has a nice corniche overlooking the Red Sea. The different tones of blue of the sea, from the turquoise close to the beach to the deep marine farther away make the view very impressive. This coast is certainly worth visiting. We will come back here some day when these touristic developments are finished.

Muddy
Volcanoes all over

We want to buy some meat for tonight and get away from the omnipresent chicken, so we ask a couple of Egyptian guys who are finishing their lunch for some recommendations. They point us to a butchery that is close by, but the guy only has camel to sell, no lamb nor beef. Disappointed, the two guys offer to take us to a place where we can buy some lamb. We follow them for around 5 kilometers, and they come with me to ask the butcher for the meat. We buy two kilos of lamb chops and some kebabs. It is going to be a great feast tonight.

Life struggle

After finishing our shopping we head East to Al Ais, where we will find the black sand dunes. It is another volcanic area, packed with craters of old extinct volcanos. We roam around this volcanic sand area that has big flat plain lava fields . The black sand is more a fine gravel than the sand you see in the desert. The area is stunning, surrounded by the craters of the volcanos and all these lava fields with very sharp rocks. I am worried they will cut through my tires and leave me stuck here for some time.

Lava fields

We have been in many “middle of nowhere”places in this trip, but none like this “middle of nowhere”. There is no mobile signal for more than 25 km. We set up the camp, we take pictures of the cloudy sky in the sunset and we cook our dinner, which is delicious and leaves us full. After dinner, Marina shows us the footage that she shot with her GoPro going up and down the wadi yesterday. There are some amazing clips that we will be able to see in rewind when she shares them at the end of the trip.

Now our exploration comes to an end, and we start the way back home from this remote area. We are 22 hours drive away that we will cover in two stages. We will stop in Riyadh tomorrow night and the next day from Riyadh to Dubai. Around 24 hours of driving to cross the Arabian peninsula diagonally from coast to coast.

Cloudy skies

This trip has taken us to many remarkable and marvelous places, so much so that we have to leave out many other stops out of the itinerary. We were supposed to go to Tabuk, the Gulf of Aqaba and Neom (although I am unsure it can be visited). This may seem unfortunate, but we have saved many hours of car and a lot of land to cover so we have an incentive to come back to this incredible land. We feel somewhat fortunate to have this desire to explore Saudi even more.

Bright volcano

Trip data

Total time: 8 hours 30 minutes; Moving time: 5 hours 34 minutes; Total distance: 374; Average moving speed: 67 km/h

Playlist

  • Joe Jackson – Big World
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd – The Essential Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • Joan Manuel Serrat – Dedicado A Antonio Machado, Poeta
  • The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty – OST
  • Marcus Bonfanti – Shake The Wall
  • US3 – Hand On The Torch
  • Parcels – Day/Night

Stage 8: Wadi Al Disah

02.02.2022
Mushroom rock

It has been a very cold night with temperatures below zero, probably minus 3 or minus 5. When we wake up the thermometer marks -1°C. The water in the bottle has frozen partially and so have we. We are at a pretty high altitude of around 900 meters above sea level and the wind blows gently from the East to increase our cold. It is still dark outside and we are about to witness the magnificence of the sun rising behind the volcanoes. It emerges right above the crater making it even more spectacular.

Sun lava

Marina cooks some shakshuka, completely different from the ones we have had for breakfast these past few days. Very spicy and with poached eggs in a vegetable stew. This restores us from the cold wake up and gives us energy to pack up the camp and start another day of exploration. We are certainly tired as we get going one hour later than what we had planned. No drama. At this stage of the trip we are all in easy going mode.

Before resuming our way to Wadi Al Disah, we make a quick stop at Mushroom Rock. Another pretty impressive spot that we reach after some more off-road driving.

So lonely

We then head to the wadi through a stunning road. The landscape changes by the minute, going from the black volcanic rocks to sandstone and sand desert. Easy road and reckless driving of the local people, especially the big Land Cruisers. A usual practice here on the road is to drive onto the shoulder to let the car behind overtake you without any risk. Sometimes you can even be pushed out of the road by someone eager to show his ability and braveness. Crazy!

Modest mosque. Proud worship

After climbing a steep road for some kilometers, we find a stunning view from the top of the hill over a big valley surrounded by big mountains that somewhat resemble the Grand Canyon.

Stunning view from the top of the hill

Wadi Al Disah is south of Tabuk and a touristic place for the region. Wadi Al Disah translates to “valley of palm trees”. There is a small brook running along the wadi with puddles, big and deep puddles. You have to cross them with your car if you want to get to the end of the valley. In one of them, Marina’s car gets stuck in the mud, the wheels fully covered in mud and water. Unfortunately, there is no possibility to dig the mud to get out as we do in the desert. We have to rely on the winch she carries and the help of my car. They get you in trouble but also out of it. We get our feet wet, but this is the sort of adventure we knew we would have at some point in the trip.

The sandstones of Wadi Al Disah

The wadi is beautiful, full of palm trees, bamboos, and all kind of trees and bushes. It is called ‘valley’ for a reason. There are some local families that come here for picnic. Just after rescuing Marina and while we are stopped to refresh and have a snack, three young Saudi guys approach us. They are excited about talking to foreigners and they are very friendly and welcoming once again. We have the typical chitty-chatty, where are you from, how do you like Saudi, how long are you staying here… when the park rangers come asking if we can help a family that has gotten stuck at the same place as Marina had. She goes with her car and winch and rescues the man, who was very grateful. Another guy who helps in the rescue invites us for lunch to his home in Tabuk. Unfortunately, we cannot go as we are heading in the opposite direction. The man who needed the rescue, will still be scratching his head asking how was it that a woman driving a car helped him out of that situation.

Someone was joking about reflections on water in Saudi. Here they are!
More reflections

After admiring the wadi, we head to the coast where we will sleep tonight. We choose Wajh Beach as a good place that is not so far from the wadi, but still gets us closer to our next destination: Ummluj, which is too far away to reach today. We have dinner in a local fish restaurant: grilled faris (I guess this is the name) and the inevitable rice, this time black rice. It is a relief to not eat chicken for a whole day, the first day in the whole trip. We were starting to worry we were going to grow wings.

Old Toyota FJ Cruiser

The hotel is far from what I would like, but seems to be the only one available in the area. Really cheap and run-down.

The past few days have been much more scenic and landscape focused than the first stages where we had more of a cultural and historical experience. Saudi is a jaw-dropping country that is not disappointing us at all. However, our trip is coming to an end as tomorrow will be our last day of full discovery. We are now more than 2,300 km away from home, where we have to be on Sunday by the latest. This is more than 23 hours of driving to be done on Friday and Saturday. We will depart from the group on Friday morning after camping in the Black Sand Dunes and we will stop over in Riyadh.

Trip data

Total distance: 430 km; Total time: 11 hours 25 minutes; Moving time: 6 hours 20 minutes; Average moving speed: 67.6 km/h

Playlist

  • Kokoroko- Kokoroko
  • Miguel Ríos – Rock & Ríos
  • M.O.D.A – ¿Quien Nos Va A Salvar?
  • J.J. Cale & Eric Clapton – The Road To Escondido
  • The Who – Tommy
  • American Hustle OST
  • Fischer Z – Going Deaf For A Living
  • Fleetwood Mac – Rumours

Stage 7: North of Al Ula

01.02.2022

The lovely house in a bizarre way in Al Ula provided us the right rest and we are restored after the night in the desert. A hot room, a good bed and a hot shower in the morning is all that you need to feel fresh and ready for the action. We take it easy in the morning as we are starting to feel worn out of the long days and the camping nights and we need some relax. Nobody says it explicitly, but is easy to figure it out from the faces of the team.

Petrol station junkie

We go to the Al Ula old town, and large part of it is still in ruins. The Royal Commission for Al Ula is restoring part of it and creating a commercial and recreational area full of fancy shops, restaurants and cafés. Al Ula is one of the areas in KSA that the government wants to promote the most and hence all these renovation works. In my opinion, these commercial sites for promoting mainstream tourism somewhat spoil the traditional Arab spirit. However, as the tourism is still in its infancy, our experience still feels unique. At night it must be very crowded in high season as there is a lot of places for outside dining, shops, and art galleries. Some of them don’t open until later in the morning and we cannot visit them.

Early family stroll

We have a good shakshuka for breakfast with a very good coffee in the Palm Garden, a terrace overlooking some ruins below and the mosque and the mountains in the distance. We buy some souvenirs, and we head out to Wadi Disah at around half past ten.

Nice old Al Ula

It is a scenic road with big rocks covered partially with sand on both sides. We don’t move fast as the speed limit is no more than 90 km/h and there are a lot of police cars along the road. We have been given some side spots to visit by a German guy who seems to be a good traveler and has spotted some great sites. He told Dawn, one of our team members, that he was jailed the second day he was in the country because he allegedly took some pictures in a place where it is forbidden. He spent the night in jail until they cleared out the incident.

Rock against blue

The first stop is at a huge arch of rock where we take a lot of pictures. We have to drive off-road for some kilometers in order to find it. The day is clear, the sky is intense blue and there is no clouds in the horizon. They are the perfect conditions for photography. We do our best with the pictures. You, my precious audience, will be judging the end result.

The Arch

After some more kilometers we go off-road again and we find a former railway track from the time of the Ottoman Empire. It is a very special stop for Marina as she loves trains very much. This same railway could be the one that Lawrence of Arabia bombed to help the Arabs in their struggle against the Ottoman Empire. The tracks are not there anymore, but the bed is still in good condition, and we can drive on top of it. After some kilometers we reach the old train station, now in ruins, but that would make a great location for a resort. The station is certainly from the Ottoman Empire as there is an inscription with the Crescent and the Star.

Waiting for you, Lawrence

Then we head on deeper off-road into a stunning forest of “finger rocks” with incredible shapes that have been formed over millennia by erosion. The track is full of stones and the way is too bumpy. Poor old Naranjito, my Jeep trembles and it feels like it is going to fall into pieces. Fortunately, it is a star and resists all the awful things I put it through. With the new suspension system it drives better at 80 km/h than at 30 km/h. At high speed the car seems to float over the bumpy terrain, which is such a difference.

The goose
Mr. Nose

We happen to drive to an area full of volcanoes, which is an impressive landscape. Black terrain and mountains, small cream bushes and a deep blue sky make a unique scenery. We are all astonished at these surroundings. The best is when we spot some camels roaming around, grazing with their little babies. They are white and cream colour, which is a bigger contrast in the black of the volcanic landscape.

Can’t catch me

The day has gone, and we have not reached our destination. Nobody is bothered by it as we have had an amazing exploration day. We find a very nice spot for camping close to some volcanoes and clear of stones. It is freezing cold and very windy, which anticipates a bad night. Pablo cooks some chicken on the barbecue and prepares ramen noodles for all. Marina in the meantime prepares the basis for the shakshuka that we will have for breakfast tomorrow.

Volcano camping site

The night is so dark that we have an incredible sky full of stars. None of us have seen a similar sky ever. There is no moon and there is no light pollution. 

I am laying on my bed while I write this, and my hands are freezing. It is probably around 5 degrees now and we will surely reach -3º at some point in the night. I still have to go through the photographs that you will enjoy tomorrow while you drink your hot cup of coffee. We will post it as soon as possible as we have no connection here and it will still have to be reviewed by my Editor in Chief, my son Pablo.

Data of the trip

Total distance: 254 km; Total time: 6 hours 45 minutes; Moving time: 3 hours 45 minutes; Average moving speed: 67.7 km/h

Playlist

  • Joo Kraus – Low Sky Sketches
  • Esbjörn Svensson Trio – Live in Gotenburg
  • C. Tangana – El Madrileño
  • Curtis Mayfield – Curtis

Stage 6: Al Ula (ٱلْعُلَا)

31.01.2022
Pink over blue

Sunrise in the desert is always an experience, but the one today is one of the most stunning ones I have ever witnessed. Ali wakes up at around 5 am and with him the rest of the crew starts to get up. The clanking noise of the kettle is difficult to muffle in such remote and silent place. It is surprising that Arabs go to sleep very late and are up early for the first prayer. After this, their day starts. To make up for the short sleep they take a nap every now and then to keep going. Ali is one of these. He tells us that he wakes up very early and then, at some point during the morning, he has to close his eyes for ten minutes to recharge. Anyway, even with the short sleep we got, we are grateful for being able to admire the beautiful colors of the sunrise in the middle of this desert. The pink clouds against the blue sky create a dramatic effect that stops all activity in the camp. Only Muna and Ali keep doing their tasks as they probably have seen this so many times before.

In the distance, the camp site

After a cup of coffee and packing up the camp, we say good bye to Ali as he has to go back to his regular job in Riyadh. Ali is an excellent guide. Entertaining and full of stories, with a good insight of the history of the Arabian peninsula, very deep knowledge of the terrain and a lot of contacts with the local people that allow you to explore off the beaten track.

After wishing Ali a safe trip back, we depart towards the famous Al Ula. According to Ali, ula is the name in Arabic for the light sand that the wind carries on top of the rocks. Hence, this place is called Al Ula (العلا). Fine sand with a flour-like texture tries to cover the rock formations. For off-road fanatics like me, this kind of sand is extremely challenging to drive in even with half deflated tires as we have them today. That is another fact Ali gifts us for our future experience in the desert.

The road to Al Ula is a little bit more fun than the usual roads we have frequented so far and, lucky for me, full of abandoned petrol stations! Ali tells us that, at some point in time, there was a regulation imposed by the government according to which gas stations had to have certain standards and the owners of those which needed big restoration and couldn’t afford the work abandoned them. Might be true, but we also encounter a lot of working petrol stations in not such good shape. I wonder in what condition would be the ones that were abandoned.

Give me shade, please

Al Ula is famous for its proximity to Hegra (Mada’in Saleh), the second capital city of the Nabataeans. The only buildings left from this civilization are the tombs carved on the huge rocks in the middle of the sand. The Nabataeans were a nomadic tribe that traveled across the Arabian peninsula and Levant that created a civilization and political system between the 4th and the 2nd centuries BC. Their capital city was Petra that they abandoned when it was conquered by the Romans and made Hegra their second capital city. The landscape is amazing, with a combination of rocks and sand. We are lucky as the blue skies are an excellent companion, especially for us photographers.

The place is beautiful, but I feel a little bit disappointed as the expectations were very high. The pictures we have seen in so many advertisements create an expectation that is not met in the actual visit. In any case, we enjoy the visit a lot and we learn new things about these ancient people.

The house where we are staying tonight is lovely in a very bizarre way. The lay out is somewhat strange. One of the bedrooms is outside the house and two of the bathrooms as well, which means that going to the bathroom is going to be freezing cold. There is another bathroom out of the house for one of the two bedrooms that are inside. The kitchen is close to the outside bedroom and there is a comfortable majlis and TV room. After all, three bedrooms and three bathrooms as that is all we need. Everything is new with the protecting plastics still on. Really strange. Not very cheap for what it is.

Tonight there is no signal so this post may be somewhat delayed. Not the worst of inconveniences.

Data of the trip

Total distance: 469 km; Total time: 14 hours; Moving time: 5 hours 53 minutes; Average moving speed: 79.6 km/h

Playlist
  • Ziggy Alberts – Laps Around The Sun
  • Mac Miller – Circles
  • Jamiroquai – 2001: A Funk Odyssey
  • Camarón De La Isla – Calle Real
  • Brad Mehldau & Mark Guiliana – Mehliana: Taming The Dragon
  • Black Sabbath – Paranoid
  • Cody Canada and the Departed – This Is Indian Land

Stage 5: Jubbah (جبــــة) and the dessert around Hibran (حبران)

30.01.2022

It is always good to sleep on a proper bed with clean sheets and take a hot shower, especially when it is 6ºC outside. Tomorrow when we camp it will be a whole different story. No bed and no hot shower (actually, no shower at all). But we are on an adventure and that’s what it is all about.

We meet at 7:30 for an opiporous typical Saudi breakfast. Some shakshouka and coffee to kickstart the day. We head to Jubbah, a city just 130 km away. There is no easy driving in Saudi Arabia, specially in a hectic Sunday morning. The drivers here go crazy, changing lanes without blinkers, speeding well beyond the limit and pushing the car in front out of the lane. All your attention might just not be enough to survive to their mad driving.

Jubbah is home to an interesting archeological site with petroglyphs dating back to 10,000 years ago. It is a UNESCO world heritage site that opens just for us as there is no other visitors around. We will possibly be the only ones they have today. The rock art you can see here belong to three different ages: neolithic, chalcolithic and Iron Age; ranging from 10,000 years BC to 3,000 years BC. This site is right next to an oasis rich in water that used to be a frequent stop for caravans and now has palm tree farms scattered all over the area. This fact is crucial to understand the context of the engravings on the rock.

We stop in a private rural museum where they show us the traditional way of living in a Saudi farm. How they lived, the different rooms with the original menage and the most fascinating one, how they used the camels to bring water out of the well. As always, they offer us the mandatory dates, Arabic coffee, fruit and sweets. They are very proud of showing us their estate and how they have preserved this original way of living for so many years.

We head to do some shopping in a local supermarket that happens to be temporarily closed for the midday prayer. We wait a long while for the owner to come back from his religious endeavors, the perfect time for me to photograph the petrol station on the other side of the road, the couch outside and two men that are around the petrol station. Poker!

I prefer the armchair, if you don’t mind
It works!

With our cars loaded with fresh supplies, we head to Hibran from where we enter into the desert. Easy driving on rocky track and some very soft sand. No dune bashing as I would do with the Sandmasters in Dubai. The crew on this trip is not fond of wreckless driving and it is better not to risk the car integrity in such a remote area. This is a rocky desert that resembles Wadi Rum in Jordan. Red sand and big rocks create a fascinating scenery. On the way to our camp site we stop to admire some of the rock formations and the fabulous scenery. We peek a camel caravan in the distance and we carefully approach the pack travelling with their shepherd. In this modern days the shepherd drives a Toyota Land Cruiser pick-up truck.

More petrol stations
Proud Ali
Here I am!
Lady of the desert
I am coming!

While we are setting up the camp, Mona, our guide’s assistant cooks kabsah dajaj, a succulent local dish made with rice and grilled chicken. It is served with a very thinly chopped salad with lettuce, tomato and cucumber very well seasoned with parsley and mint by Ali, our entertaining guide. We have a delightful dinner listening to the amusing stories that Ali likes to share of his adventures in the desert. Then he prepares Arabic coffee for us in the traditional way that we have been hearing all about throughout the whole trip: roast the coffee beans in the fire, grind them and finally infuse the boiling water. Then for the authentic Arabic touch, Ali grinds some cardamom and he mixes everything to get a delicious coffee that, combined with some dates dipped in tahini, makes for the perfect dessert to our dinner.

Data of the trip

Total distance: 250 km; Total time: 8 hours; Moving time: 3 hours 15 minutes; Average moving speed: 77 km/h

Playlist

  • Pat Metheny – Travels
  • Miles Davis – Tutu
  • The Who – Who’s Next

Stage 4: Buraydah Camel Market and Hutaymah Crater (فوهة الهتيمة)

29.01.2022

We wake up very early to reach the Al Qassim camel market at the outskirts of Buraydah, the largest in the world. A quick coffee, pack the camp and ready to go at 7am. The market starts at around 6 in the morning and it hosts not only camels, but also goats and sheep. The first thing that surprises us is the size of the goats that are traded here. As we enter the market one huge goat falls from a car and escapes its owner, while trying to keep the other one safe at the back of his Land Cruiser pick-up. Unfortunately for the man, when he starts again, the other big goat jumps from the car and escapes as well. It took quite a while to the man to recover the poor animals that were probably smelling the knife of the butcher.

The goat that didn’t want to be slaughtered
These have not heard of the butcher yet, but they will see him soon

Camels are traded only certain days of the week (Saturdays is one of them), but goats and sheep are traded every day. This is one of the liveliest and most colorful spectacles you can see. I love these popular events rooted in the past, very far away from today’s clean and ascetic technologies. I hope these kind of things are never lost and traditions are kept by the people. The camel owners trade their camels either for breeding or for meat (the butcher is just some minutes away and you can take your camel in pieces back home, just in case you are hungry). It is fascinating how they trade the animals, all the shouting, the simulated fights and the final handshaking to seal the deal. Another astonishing thing is how they handle the camels and lift them into the trucks with the cranes.

Happy camels and happier owners
Only five!
Don’t let us down, please
Son, we did bad business today

Another remarkable thing to me, while I mix with the people with my cameras, is that they ask me to take pictures of them and share them to their whatsapps or they take a photo of the picture from the back of my camera. These people are os friendly and amiable that is hard to believe the misconception we have in the West about them and their supposed animosity against westerners. Far from true, they are generous and hospitable and always willing to engage in a conversation.

After the visit to the market the manager of the market invites us for a very big breakfast with dates, sweets, cheese, eggs and plenty of Arabic coffee. For those who have not lived in Arabia, Arabic coffee  is made from roasted coffee beans, which can be roasted lightly or heavily, as well as a mix of spices like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, or saffron. It is usually prepared from start to finish in the presence of the guest and the time while it is preparing allows for small talk and preparation of the business talk.

We leave the camel market in the direction of Ha’il a city to the north. On the way, we stop by an uninteresting archeological site and the impressive Hutaymah crater.

Hutayma crater

I am starting to become fond of remarkable petrol stations as I am of couches on the street. I cannot resist to photograph these places. I think I will need to travel around Arabia more than once to get a good collection of petrol station photographs (only hoarders like me would understand it).

Today we sleep in a hotel, which is a great relief for us. Tomorrow we will head West to Al Ula and visiting some archeological sites on the way and we will sleep in the freezing desert. Alhmadulillah

Data of the trip:

Total distance: 374 km; Total time: 12 hours 35 minutes; Moving time: 4 hours 40 minutes; Average moving speed: 80 km/h.

Playlist:

  • Kase.O – Jazz Magnetism
  • Pillow Talk – All The Time
  • Michael Jackson – Off The Wall
  • Booker T. Jones – The road from Memphis
  • J.J. Cale – Naturally
  • Lettuce – Rush!

Stage 3: The Edge of the World (Jebel Fihrayn) and Ushaiqer (أشيقر)

28.01.2022

We start early with a good cup of coffee and we head to the Edge of the World. There is a lot of dust in the air, which is normal in Riyadh and surroundings. The sky is yellow, full of sand and dust that veil the sun. The north wind transports the sand from the Al Nafud desert in the north to Rub Al Khali (the biggest sand dune desert in the world ‘The empty quarter’ in English) through Ad Dahna and this makes the Riyadh region very dusty.

The Arabian peninsula was under the sea million of years ago and you can find many coral fossils and seashells in the middle of the desert.

Coral fossil you can find in the Nejd
The big valley underneath

We drive more than one hour from Riyadh to reach the big cliffs of Jebel Fihrayn with some easy but rough off-road track as we get there. The views are stunning even with the big cloud of dust that floats around us. The cliffs are more than one thousand kilometers long and the drop ranges from one hundred and three hundred meters.

Our guide Ali admiring the view
The big plateau
There is always a place to rest in Saudi Arabia

After a short and frugal lunch, we head to Ushaiqer with a short stop in Shaqra to see the city walls and a short explanation of the life in the desert before the oil age. These small towns were caravan stations and places for the pilgrims coming from Levant on their way to Mecca. Ushaiqer is one of the oldest cities in the Nejd.

Shaqra
Decorated doors welcome visitors
Chat, chat, chat

All the buildings are made of mud and wood and some of them are still untouched. A lot of restoration has been done by the locals and converted into touristic attractions. The walls are decorated with white geometric motifs at the top. The mosque is small and coquette with a beautiful minaret.

The mosque and the minaret

Fortunately, we escape the cloud of dust and the sky is blue and clear.

We finally drive to Buraydah were Abu Omar, a friend of our guide, invites us for dinner. Arabic hospitality at its best. I could practice some of my Arabic, thanking him for the amazing food. After dinner we go to the camping site.

Camel, chicken and pigeon with the inevitable rice

It is freezing cold and windy. We will reach 5ºC during the night and, although we have brought our blankets, we will surely be cold.

Tomorrow the promising camel market and Ha’il. Let’s see how it goes.

Data of the trip

Total distance: 542 km; Total time: 14 hours; Moving time: 7 hours 43 minutes; Average moving speed: 70 km/h.

Playlist

  • Don Mc Lean – American Pie: The Greatest Hits
  • The Rolling Stones – A Bigger Bang (Live)
  • ZZ Top and Gary Moore – Live
  • lettuce – Witches Stew
  • Pink Floyd – The Wall (Live in Nassau)

Stage 2: Riyadh

27.01.2022

Riyadh is the capital city of Saudi Arabia since it was established by king Abdul Aziz Al Saud in 1932, when he established the third Saudi state. It is a very large city with a population of 7.6 million people. It has been under massive developments in the past ten years and it would be impossible to recognize for someone who came here just three or four years ago. Entertainment and shopping malls are mushrooming everywhere, fancy restaurants, all the global brands, even a touch of hipness is in the new Riyadh air.

The surroundings of Al Safa Square have been renovated

There is also an enormous effort to renovate historical places like Al Diriya (Ad Diriya in Arabic) or the area of Alsafat square. This is the reason why our visit is not very successful as both places are closed due to renovation works. We visit the Al Masmak fort close to Al Safa where we learn a little bit about the history of Saudi Arabia and the struggle of the Saud family over the centuries to control the big territory against the other tribes. The Saudi state was destroyed twice and was only restored in 1902 by King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, the one who unified the different territories under what is Saudi Arabia today.

Al Masmak fort

Crossing the street from Al Safat you get into a maze of streets and ruined to the ground houses that create a strange feeling in the visitor. It is very surprising that just a few meters away from a very popular place, home of festivals and social life, you find yourself in such an abandoned place.

The inevitable sofa you find in any Middle Eastern old city. You never know when you will need a rest.
A beautiful old minaret
Even the most modest door is well decorated
Information Age
Some masonry work is required here

Saudis, especially the young ones, are very friendly and welcoming. They are willing to meet and talk to you and sometimes (happened to me with my friend Angel in Jeddah some time back) they will invite you for lunch, just to get to know you while they have the chance. Arab hospitality is notorious for a reason.

Friendly and joyful Saudis

An amazing local food dinner in Najd Village closes the day. We have the opportunity to finally meet the rest of the group. A mix of nationalities (Irish, Indian, British, Saudis and Spanish) spread across the Middle East ready to take on this adventure along us.

Colourful dinner in Nejd Village
Nejd Village

Tomorrow we start the real trip. We will visit the Edge of the World and whatever this untamed land has in store for us.

Stage 1: Dubai to Riyadh

26.02.2022

We depart from Dubai at 8 in the morning, after loading the car with all the camping gear, cameras, drone and other equipment to survive along these 10 days. The roads in Arabia are mostly straight when they go along the desert. No obstacles to get around, no turns to entertain your drive. It is very boring and you need to have energizing music (see playlist down below) to stay awake.

It takes us one hour to cross the border, even with only 4 people before us. These days, on top of the visa and registration in the system you have to show the vaccination passport and the PCR test that have to be stamped in a different office. Then you go through customs where they inspect the luggage. We are lucky as they don’t search the car. Finally, you have to buy an insurance for the car and go through a third checkpoint. All the Saudi officials at the border are very friendly and willing to help.

Old petrol station on the road to Riyadh

After crossing the border there is barely nothing on the road except for a couple of petrol stations. We stop at what the navigator shows as a petrol station and rest area. To our surprise, it had been abandoned many years ago. There is still a workshop working, but the few houses and the mosque have been eaten by the sand.

We stop at another ruined petrol station where there is a small supermarket and an “amazing” restaurant. We eat a delicious grilled chicken on rice, which is like a delicacy for us, given the time and the long hours driving.

The “terrace”
The waiter
The fabulous chicken

We finally arrive at Riyadh at 6:30 pm after almost 11 hours that don’t feel so long at all.

Data of the trip

Total distance: 995 km; Total time: 11 hours; Moving time: 8h 55m; Average moving speed: 122 km/h.

Playlist

During the trip we listened to:

  • John Lee Hooker – Live in Montreux
  • Dr. Lonnie Smith – Breathe
  • Deep Purple – Machine Head
  • Led Zeppelin – Long Beach 1975
  • Nick Mulvey – Wake Up Now
  • Late Night Tales: Nightmares On Wax

Saudi Arabia trip

Today we start an exploration trip to Saudi Arabia. The route is not yet fully defined, but it is most likely that from after crossing the UAE from Dubai to the border, we will visit Al Hufuf and the Yellow Lake and Al Qarah mountain. From there, we will then drive to Riyadh and to the Edge of the World, the big cliffs to the East of Riyadh. Going to Shaqra to see Ushaykir Old City, Unaizah through some desert drive and heading to Hail and stopping at Hutayamah Volcano on the way.

Then we will head to Al Ula with a detour to Vulture Valley, afterwards to Hegra and heading NW to Tabuk with a stop at Wadi Al Disa. From Tabuk we will head to Al Shaq Canyon and then North to Tabuk Canyons and Snake Gorge just beside it.

On the road to Al Humaydah we could stop at Al Aqan Canyon. From Al Humaydah, going down South for a little swim along the coast of the Gulf of Aqaba. All the way down to the point where we will find the Catalina Seaplane “wreck”. From there we will pass by Neom and continue down to Umluj where will turn inland to check the Black Sand Dunes. We will head to Yanbu and might be to Jeddah or straight to Dubai.

The Roughly Estimated Total Distance is 5,742km according to Google Maps straighter options.

If you are not overwhelmed already as I am, wait for the pictures and stories of the trip that I will post here regularly.

The car is fully packed with camping stuff and some food. Let’s see how old Naranjito resists this long trip around the Arabian peninsula.

Dubai Skyline

The tube. Formigal, Spain.

Presidencia Comunidad de Madrid

Eye Dubai (II)

Eye Dubai (I)

Liwa (XXII – XXI in Color)

Liwa (XXI)

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