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