Monday, September 24, 2012

Searching for the Edge of the World: Part 1

Yes, I am aware that it is 2012 and we know the world is round. The Edge of the World is an amazing place in Saudi Arabia. Blue Abaya wrote a great post with pictures about this amazing site. Saudi National Day was on September 23rd and the King decreed that we should have Saturday off as well. (I know, Saturday and Sunday are the weekend, right? Well, in Saudi Arabia, our weekend is on Thursday and Friday).

When you have a four-day weekend, you have to do something fun, right? Of course! Fortunately, ex-pats are wonderfully flexible and spontaneous. We asked some friends if they had plans on Saturday and they said they were open to suggestions. We decided to find the Edge of the World together.

From experience, we've learned that going to the desert in a group is wise. Within a few minutes, we had a group of families willing and able to go to the desert. On Saturday, we met at a mall, where I stared at the never-ending construction taking place around Riyadh. Once all the cars were gathered, we were off, headed north out of Riyadh.

We drove past some tent cities. There aren't really tent cities but there are a lot of old, run-down tents gathered in small sections of the desert. If you've ever been on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, you find that the two areas are very similar.

Eventually, we passed the tent villages and came to a  small village. After driving through the village, we passed a plantation of date palms and fields with green crops growing. We even passed two men on a donkey cart, being pulled by a donkey.

Once past the fields, things were pretty deserted. We drove for awhile and then turned off the main road onto a dirt/gravel/sand track. At this point, the men started to grin and show off a bit. I don't know why, but men really get a kick out of driving on roads like this. The kids loved the bumpy track and enjoyed bumping along.

Soon we started to see camels grazing around Acacia trees. A camel herder riding a donkey wandered around, keeping an eye on the camels, and, I imagine, the strange foreigners who kept gawking at his camels.

I enjoyed looking at the trees and vegetation, sparse as it was. The ground was hard and rocky in places, and then in other places was like gravel quicksand.

Our caravan found a track, drove down it until we found that the track was washed out. While we all had four-wheel drive vehicles, we simply couldn't get past some of the barriers. So we turned around and tried a second path, which led nowhere. Finally a third path looked interesting.

We drove along a very hard track where the landscape was completely barren without even the slightest bit of scrub brush. After driving this track for a while, we stopped and assessed our situation. We hadn't found the destination, but everyone was hungry. We set up rugs and blankets on the hard, rocky surface that was totally exposed to the sun and wind. There wasn't anything available for shade. The kids were happy to be out of the car.

After lunch, we decided to explore the area for a bit. There was a path down a cliff that looked promising. My kids tromped down the path with their dad. They are pretty intrepid explorers. T found several fossils. In fact, the whole area was very interesting. T gave us a lecture (he is SO his mother's child) about water and wind erosion and claimed that the area showed evidence of water erosion. 

Following this short hike, we decided we had better go back home and try looking for the Edge of the World another day. 

On our drive back, my husband noticed that one of the cars was leaking something, which turned out to be transmission fluid. One of the other cars towed the car with the leaking fluid while we drove ahead to the small village to find out if they had a mechanic available to look at the car. We found a garage and they found a hole in the transmission. 

While we waited for them to patch the transmission, the women and I chatted. Pretty soon all these men started walking around, staring at us because our hair was uncovered. We caused quite a stir. One of the little boys had to go to the bathroom, so his dad took him to the garage bathroom.  Facilities can be SO primitive here and this place was really bad. This sounds awful, but it is even worse because a lot of immigrants with horrible hygiene work at these places. Now imagine the most disgusting bathroom you've ever encountered at a gas station, and then imagine it 100 times worse. These toilets are holes in the floor with a place for your feet. The floors are disgusting with all sorts of yucky stuff on the ground. 

So this little boy couldn't hold it anymore and goes in this bathroom. On the way home, he decided to LICK his shoe. Who knows why a boy of 5 decides to lick his shoe following a visit to a really foul toilet facility, but he did. The next day he was SO sick, with a fever and everything. 

Finally, the car got fixed and we drove to my husband's outdoor office where we women availed ourselves of more modern toilet facilities. Then it was back home to Riyadh.

We later learned from a friend who had been several times to the Edge of the World that the path has changed and even he couldn't find it. I wonder if the authorities have decided to close off the path for visitor access.


  1. Interesting. You are gutsy, woman! :)

  2. Wow, this beats my edge of the world, the garden!