Saturday, 16 November 2013

The Edge of the World

Rather a dramatic name for a place but when you look at the pictures you will see that it deserves it's name.  Since we arrived we have been trying to establish ourselves and get a social life.  It sound easy - all those expats running around but the reality is that it is quite difficult.  Everyone is new, the same as you, and also trying to do the same thing.  But everyone wants and no-one knows how to do it exactly.  We all get a bit paranoid.  The people here last year are keeping it secret from us. It is like starting school - there are elements of one-up-man-ship - "Oh I am going to the party at the French / Italian / American Embassy" It feels like a popularity contest where everyone is trying to get connected. So it can get a little tense, like starting school or when you start going to parties at 13 / 14  .... you get the picture.

So we joined - or rather I did and Martin is a member with no privileges (I paid he didn't) - Internations.  This is a site for expats and helps you link up with other expats.  There are 'groups' and you 'join' the group and they organise activities in your are of interest.  So there are a couple of 'eating at restaurants' groups and a bowling group and new ones come along all the time.  This group is a 4x4 desert group and a friend (you become friends very quickly here) recommended the activity and I am so glad because it was great.

Trevor (the group host) has been around on and off for 27 years in the construction business and he loves the desert and the different places to go and has organised many trips and events.  Basically people turn up at a meeting place and people who need lifts (all the ladies of course and men without cars or 4X4s) get accommodated and we set off for a destination with cool boxes full of food and drink plus bbqs.  This was Trevor's last trip and so was glad to have made it - he is now working in Russia on the pipe lines.  Let's hope someone else takes up the reigns.

We were both pretty excited about this trip and prepared accordingly.  Martin went shopping and bought a pull along cool box with another mini version for drinks.  He went crazy with the food shopping as well with a couple of racks of lamb ribs ("don't take them all" I said) and chicken.  There were going to be a few BBQs and it was suggested that we bring food to share.  Martin also made 4 boxes of salads - coleslaw, potato salad, green salad, and tomato and onions - he really got into it.  It was gonna be good!

Stopping for a break and a catch-up

Trousers and no Abaya!
We met up at the Mercure Hotel which is French and shaped like a ship and we were allocated to cars.  Martin and the cool box went in one car and I went with Trevor and 3 other ladies. The journey was about 3 hours in total, with 90 minutes on roads and the following 90 minutes over the dessert. There were about 10 cars and 50 people and we must have been a sight as we drove at speed through the desert leaving huge clouds of dust.  We passed many camels who were left there to graze?

The funny thing about this dessert is that it isn't sandy.  More gravelly, hilly and shrubby more like the desert in the wild west!  Driving in the desert is an experience as there are of course no roads and the  land isn't flat at all.  In fact there are rivulets - is that the right word? - like when the tide goes out on the beach but bigger and so this created an effect of travelling over continual speed bumps.  For the three of us in the back seat, we were thrown all over the place and I lost count of the number of times I hit my head on the side window!  It really hurt!!

We stopped several times to regroup but on the last stop it was discovered that one car had got a puncture.  This was the point we found out that new cars are no longer given a spare tyre and there was some faffing around as bits from other vehicles were being utilised to assist the car in trouble. This was a saloon car and the puncture wasn't the usual kind but was the result of a large rock that had ripped a bloody great hole.

Five cars led by Trevor continued on and the others were going to follow on as soon as the tyre was fixed.  There was concern that 20 minutes after arriving the other cars still hadn't tuned up.  A couple of phone calls later - reception was bad - we found out that the injured car could not be fixed and was returning to Riyadh slowly and was to be followed by another car and the rest were going to catch us up.

Martin was in the damaged car and so went back with its owner Bruce having handed over the cool-box with its goodies to Bill who had been herding the train of cars from the rear.

Trevor set up the BBQ and off he went to catch up with the other vehicles.

This is the Edge of the world and as you will agree was absolutely stunning and well worth the journey.

The view between the rocks

One of the peaks

Looking back down from the edge
Trevor came back empty handed.  He had found Martin and Bruce slowly making their way back on their own and made a couple of loops and couldn't see the others.  He couldn't even see any dust so couldn't see where they had gone.  But the cool box was with these cars so I had to rely on the generosity of the rest of the group.   They were real professionals!  By the time Trevor had returned they had lined up their vehicles in a row to create shade and laid down thick red rugs to sit on, plus cushions, set up a bbq using stones lying around and had brought enough chicken kebabs to feed an army!  They had kettles on the boil, coffee made, and shishas at the ready!  What a show.

Between the rocks - see how small the people are on the left!
We took turns to get up and introduce ourselves and there were a wide range of expats from many different countries and industries.   A few teachers, nurses and other medical staff, construction guys and computer and business people.  I had mistakenly assumed that the expat community would be from English speaking countries but there are a huge number from Egypt, Pakistan, India and other Arab states such as Syria and Lebanon.  Internations events exclude Saudis because it would attract the attention of the religious police - the Muttawa - because the purpose of these events is that it allows for mixing of unrelated males and females which is of course forbidden in the Kingdom.

The sun sets
Martin, bless him, had a great time, even though he didn't get to see the Edge of the world - this time. He had a lot of fun enjoying the journey there and back and made a friend in Bruce.  What happened to the others?  They had stayed where they were, thinking Trevor would come to the last spot we had all met at - hence no dust.  They left after an hour, believing that Trevor had left them alone in the desert.

And the cool box? It stayed in Bill's car (the contents had spilled everywhere alas) and it was returned to us a week later still with whatever contents were left.  Of course Martin had taken all the ribs!

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