The Edge of the World

March 2016

Back in Riyadh again…

The Edge of the World… one of the major “tourist”attractions near Riyadh… a must see for any expat in Saudi Arabia. Check out Blue Abaya’s Guide to the Edge of the World as well… http://www.blueabaya.com/2012/08/guide-to-edge-of-world.html

Not too far outside Riyadh, the Tuwaiq escarpment drops away to nothing but hazy desert for miles and miles as far as one can see. The cliffs are magnificent and terrifying… but so breathtakingly beautiful.

We rode out across the desert in strong, sturdy 4×4 vehicles… across soft sand and rocky desert… through a small flat plain with scrabbly bushes and many camels…

…Up steep hills to the top of the escarpment.

The world just seemed to drop away. It did really seem like the “Edge of the World!”

In the bright sunlight, (thank goodness for the cool breeze!),  we climbed up loose rock covered hills, and down another steep rocky hill and over to a narrow point, protruding far above the desert floor below…

Heart pounding I stepped out onto the mandatory precipice for a quick photo… hoping the unruly wind wouldn’t suddenly push against me, as I felt quite feeble and insignificant so high up there on that rocky ledge…

A friend climbed up to a small cave at the top of an even higher rock formation… and dropped his sunglasses. We watched them free fall for what seemed like hours until they disappeared from view and smashed at the bottom of the cliff…

Ummm yeah… now I’ll definitely be even more cautious around that edge!!! :/

It was absolutely worth the bit of anxiety climbing over the rocks and standing on those rock Ledges… the view was just so stunning…

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So, If you’re not living in Saudi Arabia or have never had the chance to live in Saudi Arabia… I hope you do get the chance to go and visit this beautiful country  and experience its culture and unique natural beauty for yourself someday!

Eid Mubarak

My sincerest apologies that this is a little late… I have a really bad habit of starting a post and leaving it in my draft box…

So I actually began this on the first day of Eid… And Eid is over now… But…

Eid Mubarak to all my Muslim friends around the world! I hope you had a blessed Ramadan and had a blessed Eid al-Fitr!  

It’s 3am in Riyadh right now and I’m wide awake, sitting in the blissful warmth outdoors, letting it bake into my bones… Listening to gentle water movements from the pool… And all I feel is gratefulness.

Earlier today I was so upset with Saudi Arabia… I felt like nothing was going right all day and all the little frustrations built up to a point where I was just raging!

But a couple hours later… A beautiful dinner with friends at a gorgeous gem of a hidden Riyadh restaurant… Several very intense games of mafia… A lot of laughter… And my mood completely reversed!

How much you enjoy life in Riyadh is absolutely all about the company you place yourself in and the people you surround yourself with. I am so blessed to have a multinational and multicultural group of friends who I’ve shared some incredible experiences with!!  Dinner conversations are stimulating and thought provoking… And filled with laughter and fun and completely trivial discussions as well! They open my mind to new ways of thinking… To new opinions and beliefs… They’ve helped me to grow as an individual in so many ways!

And as far as religion goes… Ramadan has officially come to an end. The last month has been filled with many discussions about Islam and the purpose of Ramadan… I’ve learned so much!!! For those of you who don’t know, I’ll include a couple links to sites with more information about Ramadan… but briefly: Ramadan is the 9th month of the lunar calender and a month of fasting for Muslims around the world. Ramadan begins on the first sighting of the new moon, and ends 30 days later with the next sighting of the crescent moon. So as you can imagine the crescent moon is hugely symbolic of Ramadan and Eid.

However, Ramadan is not just fasting, it is abstaining from smoking, sex, drinking and from anything excessive or inappropriate. Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, about 17 hours depending on the time of year and the location one lives in. Pregnant women, the elderly and the very young and the sick are excused from fasting. As a nurse, especially an oncology nurse, we have to check with our patients to ensure they are not fasting. It is a difficult thing to tell them not to fast as we know how important it is for them. However, for patients going through chemotherapy, they’re very sick and need to eat to keep up their energy, and especially they need to drink a lot of water as chemotherapy is very toxic and needs to be flushed from the body!

The purpose of Ramadan and of fasting in general is to cleanse the soul and the mind, focus on God. Fasting (sawm) teaches spirituality, humility and patience. Spiritual rewards for fasting, especially during Ramadan are multiplied. Fasting and restraint from everyday enjoyment and curbing wicked intentions and cravings are considered to show obedience to God, and amend for past sins, and mistakes.

During Ramadan, Muslims request forgiveness from sins and pray for direction and guidance for the future, and try to cleanse themselves through self control, prayer, fasting and acts of faith and charity.

Fasting begins at sunrise and the last meal before fasting begins is called suhoor. The first meal that breaks the fast at sunset is called iftar. Prayers are called salet, and Muslims pray at least the 5 prayers a day if not more. Towards the end of Ramadan in Riyadh, the prayer call goes out much more frequently than usual and prayers last for much longer than usual also.

The mood here during Ramadan is special. Everyone is in vacation/holiday mode.  From friends who have fasted in other places in the world and are now here in Saudi fasting during Ramadan, they say it is actually much easier here than elsewhere. Muslim staff work reduced hours during Ramadan, making life easier for them! Working a 12 hour shift while fasting would not be easy! Especially as many people tend to spend a lot more time sleeping during the day, and are awake a lot more at night, so having to be awake all day to work would be additionally challenging. It is an entire month of the year when families spend a lot of additional time together visiting, sharing meals, etc.

While I did not fast during Ramadan, I had many friends who did, and I had the pleasure of breaking fast with them on more than one occasion… many hotels and restaurants here have large buffets for iftar… like the Ritz-Carlton and the Narcissus Hotel… I enjoyed a few of these meals with my Arabic/Muslim friends or with my Western friends…

Now it is the end of Ramadan, and the Eid celebrations had begun. The mood is so upbeat and happy in Riyadh and around the world. Seeing the Eid al-fitr live feed on snapchat was amazing… But even more than that… Being surrounded by people celebrating Eid… It’s wonderful!

Eid is basically a celebration, and Eid al-Fitr is a feast/festival to celebrate breaking of the fast. It is the first Eid of the year and occurs after Ramadan. The religious Eid is a single day that occurs on the conclusion of 29/30 days of fasting. Special Eid prayers are performed on the day of Eid. But the celebration continues for 3 days in most Arabic countries. Many charitable gifts and donations are given at this time. People celebrate with many dinners and special events with family and friends. It is a happy time of year… and I don’t mean this offensively at all but the it reminds me a lot of Christmas at home!

The city is decorated with hundreds of flags for Eid on all the overpasses on onramps… there are beautiful purple and green and white trees everywhere… lanterns and beautiful cresent moons everywhere for decoration…

And people everywhere wishing you “Eid Mubarak” which is the traditional greeting. Mubarak means blessed and Eid is celebration. So: blessed celebration!

People appreciate it so much when we say Eid Mubarak to them! My friend and I were going to the DQ on Friday afternoon and when we said Eid Mubarak to the guards at the entrance they were so happy and excited, saying Eid Mubarak sisters back to us!

So… I wish peace and happiness, grace and forgiveness to all my Muslim friends around the world, and all my friends actually!! This is a special time of year for Muslims… But it really is a time for peace and respect all around the world. It’s a time for us all to open our eyes and appreciate the different cultures and religions around us…

So Thankyou Saudi for giving me the experience to really experience Ramadan and Eid… For opening my eyes to this beautiful culture…  

Iftar Buffets: Perks of Ramadan

Ramadan… the holy month of fasting in Islam.

Days of depriving oneself during the day… Followed by nights of family time and friendship… and food and drink that is much more appreciated than usual.

Being non-Muslim, I didn’t participate in fasting. But I was somewhat deprived of food and water during the day as I couldn’t openly eat or drink at work.

Iftar is the meal that breaks the fast… the first meal Muslims eat after fasting all day long. It starts immediately after Maghrib prayer, the sunset prayer. (Almost sunset below… over the fountains at the Ritz-Carlton Riyadh).

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Riyadh has many beautiful hotels which hold large Iftar buffets. The Ritz-Carlton is supposed to have one of the best. This was the first Iftar buffet I experienced with friends.

So much food. It was unbelievable! Salads, seafood, hummus etc. Huge platters of kabsa and a full roasted lamb… a pasta station… traditional arabic foods… and a massive dessert buffet with traditional Arabic sweets, heaps of baklava, fresh fruit and a massive chocolate fountain… it was SO good!!

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I ate dinner with a few of my Western and Arabic friends… it was a beautiful evening of laughter and food and just enjoying the opportunity that Saudi has given us to celebrate together… this religious and cultural holiday!

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The next Iftar buffet I went to blew the Ritz out of the water! The Narcissus hotel… probably one of the most gorgeous hotels in Riyadh… smaller than the Ritz… but it smells amazing inside… florally… I couldn’t place the scent initially… but then I clued in… the Narcissus is a flower… obviously they’d make the hotel smell like the flower it is named after!

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I went with a group of girlfriends… one last supper together before I move back to Canada… one last Iftar buffet as Ramadan was due to end the next day. The East meets West buffet. Initially we were seated outside, but when we requested to be moved inside as it was too noisy outside with all the air conditioning… they seated us at a long table in a beautiful private dinning room.


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The food was absolutely heavenly. Tempura prawns… the best item on the menu. Beautiful scallop salad. Sushi. Traditional Arabic food. Indian food. Italian. Salads. Beautiful meats. Fresh fish. Fried goodness. And then… beautiful deserts… more chocolate fondue… And then… Saudi Champagne, arabic coffee and dates… peppermint tea after dinner…

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The food was INCREDIBLE!! Definitely the best buffet I’ve ever had in Riyadh… but it was really the company that made the night so special! We arrived around 630 for dinner and definitely didn’t leave until almost 9. I’ve never spent so much time over dinner as I do here in Riyadh! But generally, you get into conversation and enjoy the time with friends and before you know it you’ve spent a few hours over dinner.

imageimageimageAnd then… probably one of the highlights of the evening… a beautiful baby grand piano in the lobby of the hotel… I couldn’t resist sitting behind it and stroking the keys… couldn’t play it though because I’m pretty sure that would have offended more than a few people! Music is almost never played in public in Riyadh… and especially not during Ramadan. So I’ll have to wait to play a real piano for another week or so until I’m back home…

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So Ramadan for me hasn’t been about fasting… but it has been about family… my Saudi family. It’s been about culture. About educating myself on Islam and the traditions and beliefs and values. It has been really wonderful.

Racing in Riyadh

March 21, 2015

When I say racing… I wish it was me… in a car. But not in Saudi! This time it’s horse races!!!

I’ve never been to horse races in my life… so this is definitely going to be a very unique experience!! I’m sure the festivities surrounding horse races in Saudi Arabia are much different than in the rest of the world!!

And… in a couple weeks I’m going to the Dubai World Cup, the richest horse race in the world! So this will be a great little warmup.

I went with a bunch of girls from work to the Equestrian Club of Riyadh… wearing our prettiest dresses because we could actually be abaya-less at the restaurant at the race track… so exciting! (It’s the little things here… the little freedoms…) And… we were able to sit in mixed company as well at the Club Restaurant… we were just a table of females… but there were tables around with men and women. Some women still wore abayas, but others removed their abayas and had just modest clothing beneath. It is honestly so nice to find a bit of normalcy here in Riyadh some days!

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We had a nice big table with a good view out the glass wall overlooking the racetrack. Waiters served us Saudi champagne on arrival… cheers to non-alocholic bubbly. :S And we stuff ourselves on the massive buffet!!! Traditional Saudi food and a massive selection of salads and fresh vegetables and food, fish, chicken, lamb, rices… and a beautiful dessert buffet also. It was all absolutely delicious!!

From the balcony of the restaurant, we had a great view of the track. The track itself was really nice… with beautiful fountains in the center…

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We watched them get ready for the races… walking the beautiful arabian horses round in circles… trying to guess which horse was most likely to win the race. And then they’d run past us at a slow canter… warming up as they made their way over to the starting gate.

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Then, the gates would fly open and the horses were off!!! It was amazing to see the horses go flying past with the small men – the jockeys crouched on them… the horses rich and shiny and muscular … their hoves a thunderous roar… (these guys don’t skip leg day thats for sure!!!)

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The sky grew darker and darker… and at one point it started raining. Quite a downpour actually. Bit of a mess for the horses to run in now!!

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Near the end of the races, we left and headed back to the hospital. It was a really great experience… but I think it would definitely be better with something more than non-alcoholic Saudi champagne to sip on!

It was a really a great way to spend a Friday afternoon… something different for a change… something a bit more free…great company… plus… watching the horse races got me really excited for the World Cup in Dubai in a couple weeks! Can’t wait!!

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Happiness is: Going home

January 22-February 14, 2015

Happy. Happy. So happy. I’m finally going home!!! After nearly 6 months in Saudi… 6 months with FaceTime and letters/emails being the only contact I’ve had with my family… 6 months of living in a new country half a world away where the culture is completely and entirely different to the one I’ve known all my life… I get to go back home and hug my family, enjoy family dinners and debates, and be surrounded by all things familiar!

Now, my first 6 months in Saudi Arabia have been absolutely brilliant! I couldn’t have dreamed it would be this good! I thought I’d be severely homesick, but the homesickness really comes in waves and at unexpected times… A song, watching people interact with their family in ways I wish I could with my own, a palliative care patient… The little things… They get me homesick! But usually I stay so busy and there’s always something fun to do or to look forward to… So it keeps the homesickness at bay!

For a good week before leaving Riyadh, I felt so happy. The happiness was constantly spilling over. I couldn’t stop smiling, singing, and just loving life! Driving through Riyadh one evening (clarification: sitting in the backseat of a taxi riding through riyadh) looking out at Kingdom tower high above me and Faisaliyah… This city really feels like home some days and often I really do love it here!!! (Maybe I feel that way just cuz I’m leaving… But still).

So… I packed my bags and one Thursday after work, I headed off to the airport and off to Dubai… for a 9 hour layover before carrying on to Seattle. Below: a few of my favourite things: Starbucks, a suitcase, my passport, and boarding passes to somewhere else in the world… this time somewhere else being home!!

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In Dubai, I’d booked the Dubai International Airport hotel. Brilliant idea. Quite possibly the best one I’ve had in a while. I’d just come off a full week of work… and a 10 hour shift… so I was exhausted and the last thing I wanted to do was sit around the airport for 9 hours listening to boarding announcements, never able to fully relax. This  offered me the opportunity to relax in peace and quiet. Nap. Relax in the massage chair. Hit the gym. Shower and freshen up before flying 14.5hrs in a cramped airplane!!

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I hit the gym first for a good pre-flight workout…

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And when I returned to my hotel room and turned on the TV, I saw the terrible news that King Abdullah , the current King of Saudi Arabia had died. A sad day for Saudi Arabia and for the world in general. I’m sure that there will be many changes happening in the time that I am away from Saudi Arabia… a new king will be appointed, King Salman, and I hope that it will all be for the better of the country!

So. Friday morning, I flew out of Dubai headed towards Seattle… up and away above the city… (can’t wait to come back and actually see more of Dubai than just the bird’s eye view!!)… across sandy desert… the great white North… and over into the Pacific Northwest… landing in Seattle in a bit of fog and cloud and damp cold that feels just like home!!!

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Coming up the escalator to meet my parents, I was faced with a dilemma… who to hug first??!!! Fortunately they made the decision easy… my mom taking a picture of me riding up the escalator to them while my dad stood at the top waiting to give me a hug. There were definitely a few tears shed. Honestly… a good proper hold me tight like you never want to let go hug from each of my parents is possibly the best part of coming home. I have missed proper hugs from people I love!!!!

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Honestly though… I absolutely adore these people I call my parents. I am so blessed to be their eldest daughter… to be a part of their family. They have always been my greatest champions and supporters… they love so unconditionally… even when I make decisions that they struggle to accept and support… like moving halfway around the world away from them to Saudi Arabia. And I love them so much more for loving me and supporting me despite disagreeing with that decision. So blessed. And so grateful to be home with them again. Being apart has really opened my eyes to see how much I really truly do appreciate them and everything they’ve done for me through the years!

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So… We drove home in the rain… through Seattle… and back up across the border into my home and native land… Oh Canada!!!

The whole family was gathered together my first night back… and I cherished every moment of family dinner… games (the farming game… yes we’re a bit redneck)… a good proper whiskey beside a cozy fire… sitting on the couch talking with my mom and showing pictures from the last half a year… debates and great intellectual conversations with my dad and brother… Just all the small little things that make home life wonderful.

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I handed out presents from Saudi… boxes of Saudi dates (actually a gift from a patient to me to give to my family)… my little brother got traditional head gear I had picked up on my trip to Egypt (he loved it and insisted on wearing it the whole night)… An adorable bib for my niece that says “somebody in Saudi Arabia loves me”.

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And the best part… cuddles with my niece… who has turned into a chattery vivacious sparkling little thing!!!! Absolutely adore this child and it makes me sad already to think of having to leave her and the rest of my family again!

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And so… that’s about the end of my first evening at home. I am going to thoroughly enjoy every minute of the rest of my time at home!! Already sad when I think of leaving again!!!

Desert Series: Camping

A year in Saudi Arabia (never mind a year… a visit to Saudi Arabia!) isn’t complete without a desert camping experience!

So far I’ve been quad biking in the Red Sands…

I’ve been on several hash runs…

And now… camping!!!

There are several ways to camp in the desert…

Under the stars at night beside a fire…(sounds dreamy but it gets cold in the desert at night!!!!! Plus it’s sandy. And sand gets EVERYWHERE!)

Or… spending the night in a traditional Bedouin tent… A really legit way to get a true Saudi desert experience!

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Or… I was lucky to combine those 2 methods… plus… sleep in a temperature controlled caravan in a room with a king sized bed and a full bathroom complete with rain shower!!

My first desert camping experience was a very spontaneous trip… that happened to fall on the coldest weekend of the year!!! The temperature hovered right around freezing out in the desert. Between 0-5 degrees… and that desert wind just cuts right through you!!!

And… as the trip was so spontaneous… I didn’t have time to pack much to take along, and also didn’t expect it to be as cold as it was. I spent most of the night bundled up wearing a sweater, leather jacket, covered by a down filled puffy jacket that’s supposed to keep you warm at Mount Everest temperatures… and then even a traditional Saudi fur robe!!imageBut braving the cold was absoutely worth it…  I sat outside underneath a black sky filled with brilliant stars, beside a blissfully warm fire …

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I sipped cool drinks beside a bed of coals seated on rugs in a traditional bedouin tent… listening to a musician play haunting arabic music…

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And eventually I went to sleep, tucked into a cozy king sized bed in a nice warm caravan.

The next morning when I awake, it was still freezing cold. When I thought I’d take a nice hot shower to warm out, I couldn’t get the water to warm up!!! Ao I had to take a tepid at best shower… which only enhanced the cold!!!

But… then I went and lounged back in the tent for a while in front of the fire.. sipped a gorgeous Turkish coffee… filled my belly with a beautiful breakfast… and suddenly I wasn’t so cold anymore!!

And then it was time to play… quad bikes… dune buggies… It’s been at last 5 whole months since I last sat behind the “wheel” of anything… and I LOVE driving … so living in Saudi where I can’t drive has been a challenge for me!! But… Now I’m here… out in the desert… on private property… and I can drive a dune buggy!!  A wonderful powerful machine to tear up the dunes…

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We tore up and down and round in circles in the beautiful red/orange sand dunes…. cruising freely around without a care in the world…

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It was incredible!! And I just can’t get enough of this beautiful desert!! The red sands… sculpted by the winds… ever changing… constantly in motion…  like waves of sand…

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And that was my first desert camping experience. In January. In the cold. A bit windy with a constant haze in the distance from blowing sand… But gorgeous!!!!

The second time I camped out in the desert it was  months later and so much warmer!! It was beautiful…

I met some friends out at the camp and  we ate a delicious dinner  prepared by the camp chefs… and after dinner, went and sat at the edge of the traditional Bedouin tent and watched a movie play on a massive screen blown up a few feet away from the tent…. A private outdoor “cinema”… what is this world I live in?!!

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The next morning we set up a little shooting range and took turns shooting some bottles set up in the dunes… so fun!! My aim is TERRIBLE… but I felt pretty dangerous!! (I probably was actually with my terrible aim :P)

Did a lot of just lounging around and relaxing in the sun… which felt absolutely gorgeous and just baked into your bones… a nice mid 20 degrees day…  Soaked up the sun lounging near the previous nights fire… gazing out at the mystical desert in the distance…

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And… of course… quad bikes, motorbikes, and dune buggies again… zipping around like maniacs…

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We found camels this time!! A few wandering through the dunes and the salty flat areas… looking for bits of vegetation… not much here though!!!

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While we were out on the dune buggies… the sky grew dark… clouds gathered….

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And then… nearly the best part: a surprise rain shower at the end of the day… just a gentle misting of rain… a faint but beautiful rainbow just faintly showing through… just a little reminder… It was amazing.

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(note the “shooting range”… our target practice in the middle of the pic? 😛

So, the was the last time I went camping in the desert… and honestly, just writing about it now makes me want to go back again!! It is so calm and quiet and peaceful out there. The weeks in Saudi are long and busy and so stressful… and the weekends are never long enough, especially when they’re filled with parties and fun and not nearly enough downtime! So being out in the desert forces you to slow down, relax, enjoy the moment and seriously destress!

(Now it’s June as I’m writing this and its a good 40-45 degrees every day… more in the sun… so desert camping is a dim memory and something to look forward to in the relatively distant future!)

Next up… My first trip back home!!!

Once a waterfall…

Once a waterfall… now a gorgeous desert experience…

Another hash run… again out in to the desolate desert outside of Riyadh…

Along the outskirts of Riyadh lies a long escarpment, the Tuwaiq escarpment. We went to a part of this where once a waterfall and river flowed down the escarpment and through the valley below.

Now it is just sharp, jutting rocks and flat, sandy riverbed. But it is absolutely gorgeous!!!

This hike reminds me again how incredibly breathtaking the desert is.

So dry, dusty and desolate. Remote and rugged. But quiet and peaceful. Only the sound of the wind and my footsteps crunching on the sand and gravel. Occasionally chatter and laughter from my fellow harriers. And the air is fresh and only slightly dusty…

The hash started with the typical hash traditions… welcoming new harriers to the group… gunging (aka punishing) the ones who misbehaved on the last hash and didn’t follow the rules… They got drenched with water. (Not such a bad punishment in the hot desert!!)

So we started the hash by walking along a bit of a wadi over towards the hills…

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After crossing the bit of a valley, we entered the climbing phase of the hash… some gentle hills first…

Check out the beautiful striations and markings on the rocks below… incredible!!

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And then some much more intense hill climbing!! We scrambled over rocks and ledges as we made our way up the former waterfall…

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Above… looking down the waterfall from high above…

Trecking past beautiful rock formations…

imageimageimageWe traced our way along a narrow path winding through a small valley between the escarpment and another hill.

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In the distance, just flat, empty desert for miles…

But behind us… steep cliffs and dangerous looking rocks!!

After hiking upwards for some time and maneuvering our way through treacherous looking hills and valleys… we walked back down into the wadi… the valley that once contained a river… and traced our way along the dry riverbed back to the start…

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It was another absolutely remarkable experience.  One of those beautiful days that make this experience of living in Saudi Arabia such a unique and special experience!

This hike was particularly fun as a friend of a friend was visiting Riyadh for the week and we were showing him a bit of Riyadh life… this being a typical Friday afternoon experience. And you can’t really show someone a full Saudi Arabian experience if you don’t get to go out and really see the beauty of the desert! I wish that I could take my family and friends from home through this beautiful desert… the bits n pieces I’ve seen… and show them how stunning it is… Inshallah one day. But for now… here’s just a lot of pictures for you all!

My desert camping experience to come next maybe?! Or soon… anyways!!!

That’s all for now…

xo