My husband and I are accustomed (maybe even addicted) to frequent travel. Wanderlust is in our veins. Due to the pandemic, however, we hadn’t left Riyadh for more than two months. Our holiday plans to travel were canceled. Our “Plan B”, to fly to Dubai, also was negated. Bursting with cabin fever, we decided to engage in some domestic travel within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which was still permitted. Due to a then recent rise in COVID cases, we were a little reluctant to fly. Therefore, on December 26th we packed up our SUV and hit the road from Riyadh to Jeddah.
It is not advisable to travel through the desert in the dark, pretty much in any country, so we hit the road at first light. With an estimated drive time of 10 ½ hours, we planned to reach Jeddah by sunset. Traffic was eerily light at 6:00 a.m., although there were some intrepid folks out there. We made it across town in record time and headed down the descriptively-named Mecca Road.
Riyadh is in the middle of the country, and sits on top of a plateau. You don’t really realize it until you reach the edge of the plateau and are able to look down. This ledge is referred to, locally, as the Edge of the World. We like to hike around the Edge of the World, but that is another post for another day. Make sure you watch for it!
Once you come down off the escarpment, you are on the desert floor. But that’s not to say it is geographically flat and monotonous. The topography is rolling sand, with occasional craggy hills topped by scrubby little trees. We saw a few little oases, like the one in the top photo. Clusters of palm trees and other greenery just seem to pop out in certain parts of the desert, likely due to a natural spring or man-made water source.
Our more than ten-hour trek was certainly not dull. We saw lots of camels, sheep, goats and donkeys, some of them riding in vehicles! Very surprisingly, we also spotted a group of baboons (who knew they lived in Saudi?) sitting in a semi-circle on top of a heap of a trash near a truck stop. A Pakistani trucker in traditional dress was attempting to creep up on them to take a photo with his phone. Sadly, I was not quick enough to get a photo myself, and they were not there on the return journey. Gas stations were plentiful, although ladies’ restrooms (clean or otherwise) were very few and far between. From the looks of things, very few females make this drive. It was a cool surprise to see some castle ruins atop a ridge.
We were a little worried about accidentally driving into Mecca, where non-Muslims are forbidden to go. However, our concern was un-founded: the signage was extremely clear as to which way we should, and should not, go. Even more exciting, we experienced two dust storms and a flash flood in that single day. The latter occurred on our final approach to Jeddah, which was a little frustrating since we were anxious to arrive and get out of the car. However, in spite of everything, we made it to our hotel in time to walk down to the beach to see the sunset!
All in all, I think I would take the airplane next time, but I am glad to be able to say I made the journey and had the chance to experience Saudi Arabia outside Riyadh a little bit.