Monday, January 17, 2000

Royal Kingdom Of Camel-lot

After a very long trip we arrived in Saudi on January 5. By the time we stood in 4 lines at customs and the guard interupted his phone call on his cell to his friend to stamp our passports it was well after midnight by the time we got home. Since we were all wired up and Don was working nights we wandered over the the hospital to say hi.

The first few days we were here things were pretty quiet as it was Eid (the celebration at the end of Ramadan) Nothing was open, and if it was the hours were at the proprietors discretion. There was no knowing when the best time to go out was.

We quickly decided that of all the places we have been this one is the most foriegn. Landscape is completely different, cultures are incredibly's just really different!

So far we have had the opporunity to experience the following:

  • We traveled to the 'Edge of the World'. Riyadh is on a plateau and at the edge of the plateau there is a drastically sharp drop into the desert... it almost feels like you are standing on the edge of the world...thus the name.

  • Yes, Camels are wild animals and they wander all over the desert where ever there is vegetation for them to eat. I thought they would be more like horses in Canada, mainly living on farms and fenced in areas but that is not the case. They are penned in the Camel Souqs, which you can drive around for a long long time and not see them all. One very kind Somalian man really wanted to show us his camels and be in our photos.

  • Had a trip to the grocery store, which was quite an experience. Mary and I had a cup of coffee there, but being female we had to stand to drink it.

  • Went out to one of the camel trails. This is the route built for the camels to walk up the escarpment. Quite a remarkable undertaking for the time that it was built. We had to remember not to put our hands under any rocks because of scorpions!

  • Visited Baa'ta souq. This is the second hand souq, and you can get anything from generators and hub-caps, to rugs, TV's, sterios and dune buggies. You can also get the ugliest dresses ever. They are old princess dresses which would have cost a fortune to make originally and have great potential but they are made with hidiously ugly fabics, awful colours, too much lace and so many beads that they weigh up to 20 lbs!

  • Saw a beautiful palace being built for King Khalid... who is dead!!???

  • Visited Dir'iyah, the ancient city of Riyadh. This was home to 5000 people with 500 travelers stopping every day, and was being lived in until the beginning of the 20th century. All houses are mud brick with no ammenities. They look very ancient and it is hard to believe people have lived in them so recently. This one place where you could really see how far behind western culture this country really is. Mary figures they are 50 years behind. As a result things we take for granted, like recycling, are not in existant here. We are conditioned not to throw out plastic bags, milk jugs, newpapers and cans, but here there is not such thing as recycling. It's so hard to throw these things away!

  • Rode dune buggies in the sand dunes! Very fun!!

  • Went splunking and at the bottom of the cave was a pool of water that we went swimming in. Some people have carried dive tanks down and tried to see how deep it was. They did not find the bottom at 150 ft!

  • Went on a weekend trip to Mada'in Saleh. This was one of the last main known settlements of the Nabetean people. They lived here from 100 BC to 75 AD. It is like Petra, inhabited by the same people who developed Petra, and this is where they went when they left Petra. The trip included camping in the desert (very cold), and stops at several sub-stations from the train line blown up during the Arab revolt in the time of Lawrence of Arabia. Our guide was Islamic but married a western woman and would answer any and all of our questions about being Muslim, about Saudi and the history of Mada'in Saleh.

  • Went shopping as the souks are finally open as Eid is over. Been through a couple gold souks and actually bought some gold. You can't afford not to in this country, it is SOOO cheap and all you pay for is the weight of the gold, not the intricate designs or craftmanship!

  • Found desert we just have to find somewhere to get them cut.

Over the past week we have also experienced quite a few toilets and we are really starting to appreciate the MacLachlan's toilet. You learn pretty quick to 'go' everytime before you leave the house. The public toilets are never clean, smell awful and are usually holes in the ground...that is when they let me use them. Being female I am not always allowed to use public toilets! (I've never had any troubles...- D) All restaurants have family sections and men sections, including Burger King and Pizza Hut. You have to be careful not to get caught in the restaurant during prayer time becuase they turn out the lights and lock you in until prayer time is over. This is hard because they pray 3 times between 4pm and 8pm. You have very small windows of opportunity to go and eat if you don't want to get locked in!

Going desert camping with the MacLachlan's this weekend (Thurs-Fri) then off to Dubai on Friday night. After spending the last month with family getting going on this adventure may be a rude awakening, but we are excited!

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