Friday, May 25, 2012

Bogged Down: A Desert Adventure

Introduction: Inviting Ourselves Along and Scenery Surprises
Yesterday as we were about to leave to take my son to a school rehearsal, our neighbor popped over for a bit of a chat, where he told us he was headed to the desert in the afternoon with two other families. My husband has been dying to visit the desert, but we haven't yet, so he asked if we could join the expedition. Our neighbor agreed and we planned to get back to the compound by 12 noon.

We packed some food, a lot of water, sunscreen, hats, and long-sleeved shirts and pants for the evening. And we headed out of Riyadh in a caravan of 4 cars. As we drove along, I was surprised by the scenery, with striking peaks that reminded me of the McCullough peaks I used to see near my childhood home. The day was hot and hazy, making the peaks appear almost ghostly.

Part 1: Desert Introduction
After driving for over an hour, we pulled off the main highway and finally found some dunes that weren't crowded with cars or people. The kids jumped out of the car and immediately attacked the dunes, while the mums stood around, abayas whipping about our ankles, and trying to digest the heat. The men got out of the cars and began to deflate the tires a bit, to allow for a greater area for traction. Once they completed that task, we piled back in our cars and set off into the desert and dunes.

I never imagined driving over sand dunes would be so thrilling, but it was. We went up and down the red-colored dunes rapidly. The kids hollered and laughed like they were riding a roller-coaster. My husband totally enjoyed the experience, grinning ear from ear while he drove.

Soon we came to a really great clearing with wonderful dunes surrounding us. We stopped and set up a campsite with umbrellas for shade, a mat to sit on, and lots of chairs. We shed our abayas since we were far away from the road and wouldn't be offending Saudi sensibility. The men got back in the cars to enjoy some more thrills while the children ran up and down the dunes, sliding down the sand, writing in the sand, and digging in the sand. I sat down for a nice chat with the other women. I didn't know all of the women, so I set up about learning more about the other families.

The dunes were magnificent in their harsh beauty. While we were a noisy bunch, the only other sounds came from the wind blowing across the sand. The heat was intense but bearable under the shade and refreshing drinks.

Part 2: Bogged Down and Heat Complications
After a while one of the cars came back and told me that our car was stuck and that the guys were working to pull it down from the dune. I didn't know much about what was going on, only that while trying to go up a particularly steep dune, the car had stopped. (We drive a 4WD Nissan Pathfinder.) There wasn't much I could do and since the men were experienced, I didn't worry too much. Later, the car wouldn't start so the guys decided they needed to try and tow the car to the road, where we would then leave the car until we could get a tow truck out to pick it up, with the other three cars carrying extra passengers back to Riyadh.

We women continued to chat while the children played. Then the wind picked up and blew away our umbrellas. We couldn't properly secure the umbrellas and so built a little wind shelter with a tarp. That was when I started to feel really bad. I began to feel faint and could barely keep my head up. My stomach started rebel and I felt like vomiting. I tried to rest but felt terrible. Fortunately, we had plenty of water and gatorade, so I managed to stay hydrated. I ended up laying down for awhile.

Some of the cars came back and we changed our location, with one car serving as a windbreak. I kept drinking water and gatorade while resting. The kids were amazing, playing with one another and enjoying the sand.

We women focused on keeping the kids protected from the sun and hydrated. I tried to rest so I didn't get worse. And the men worked on pulling the car out of the dunes. The sun started to set and the temperatures started to cool. As the temp went down, I started to feel better. 
We had planned on a barbecue but felt that we had best return to Riyadh. Eventually, they got the car pulled out to the road. We packed the broken car  with non-essential items, loaded up the cars with our family and then returned to Riyadh.
When we returned home, DH worked on finding a tow truck while I de-sanded the kids and got them to bed.

Part 3: Recovery and Hospitality

The security guys at our compound helped us find a tow truck willing to go out of Riyadh to retrieve our car. DH and our neighbor made sure they had the right coordinates and map to find the car. He called a co-worker from Saudi Arabia who is really fluent in English to help translate for the driver. 

But it wasn't so easy to find the car. DH said between the language problems and the dark, it took them a long time. Finally, the driver said he was almost out of gas. About that point, they came across a camp of Saudi men--a family reunion of sorts. DH went and talked to them and discovered that several of the young men spoke English very well. Not only did they speak English well, but they were incredibly eager to help my husband find our car. They took him around in their car and drove around until they found it. Once they recovered the vehicle, the Saudis insisted on taking lots of pictures with my husband. Such amazing hospitality. DH was so grateful to these young men who were kind and very helpful. Without their help, they wouldn't have recovered the car that night. 

Our car is waiting to go the shop. I'm hoping it will only need minor repairs.

Part 4: The moral of the story

Be prepared! We traveled with experienced people who were well-prepared. When we broke down, thanks to our traveling companions, we had the resources to extricate ourselves from a tough situation. I didn't feel scared or stressed because I knew we were prepared. We had enough water and food that we knew all would be taken care of. And next time, I'm bringing a tent, just in case the wind decides to kick up and blow away our umbrellas. 

And yes, we are planning to return. The desert is so beautiful and my kids can't get enough of the sand.


  1. It reminds me of the beach. Only dry. Ha ha :) Looks like fun!

    I also love the tidbit about being prepared. Thanks for sharing this story!

  2. I couldn't see the photos when I read this on my phone. They're cute. So glad you got your car back!

  3. Wow!!! What a crazy adventure!!! I'm so glad you are all safe and that you have recovered from heat exhaustion (or whatever it was)! The sand dunes look beautiful though and it looks like you all enjoyed it even there was some drama!

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