September 3rd, 2006

To the 'Edge of the World'

1 Sept 2006 - Friday

As sure as the sun rise and sun set, another Friday dawned on me in Riyadh. Not that I knew how the dawn was like as only until the kitties played 'king of the mountain' on me that I was persuaded to get off my bed.

I was thinking which corner would be a nice corner to check for the day. There was this area, Arabian Shield West of Riyadh, where I could go to to walk about the rocks of PreCambrian times of 2 billion years ago when our ancestors were just oozing along as primordial slime. I love to crunch their remains under my foot.

Then another entry caught my eye. With the title of 'Edge of the world', and with it to the North of Riyadh, I thought it should be the place to go to as I never taken Osama to the North yet.

JR, my cameraman, left us for his vacation in France. What was worse was that he ungraciously decided his camera was to go with him as well to take his family and family cat instead of leaving it for us to take camels and sand and us.

Osama came by at 945am. I happily told him I had 2 packs of ciggies with me. Osama in return told me he also had two packs with him. I decided not to tell him I had another 3 packs in my backpack. We learned from our lessons in digging out ciggie butts from the ashtray the last time.

Lots of water, lots of petrol, lots of ciggies to set us off happily even though we had no camera with us this time. You understand with 4 digi camera in Singapore (including the one I forgot to take with me) and my wife with 5 digi camera, I was very reluctant to buy another camera. Osama was still contemplating the bewilding array of digi cameras available and still in that state of confusion as to which one to buy as yet.

We went off onto that freeway towards Mecca and turned off Northwards towards Old Dirayah. Instead of taking the turnoff into Old Dirayah as I had done 5 times before, we continued to head North on Route 535 N to the music of Paul Simon 'Graceland' and other oldies.

Amazingly, the directions as to the km readings given on this were accurate enough. We turned off towards Al Jubayla. Our destination was to the part of Darb Al Hijaaz. Darb meant route and this was used for centuries before by travelers moving across Arabia.

The Turks of the Ottoman Empire came by this old route to sack, pillage , rape and burn that Old Dirayah in 1818.

We were on this small road hugging low hills to the right with a vast plain on the left. I then saw a barely visible track on the left at 29 km after Al Jubayla as mentioned with a pile of tyres left as indication. The book said one tyre, but I guessed more tyres joined that early solitary tire to keep that from feeling too lonely. As we turned off onto this track, I told Osama it might be a good idea to engage the 4WD. He said it looked like a good track and not sandy at all and perhaps I should not be too paranoid.

Our Panjero crunched its way slowly on that track, rumbling occasionally as that inevitable corrugations on ground appeared. We were entering and in the midst of a dried up acacia wood with many ground plants still clinging on to life where they can. I can imagine after rains that this would be a place teeming with life and flowers and greenery. But at that time when we went through, they were dormant and waiting to be called back to that brief periods of life.

A few km later, I asked my Bedouin friend to pull up under the shade of an acacia tree. No leaves were at all on the tree, but the dense interlocking branches did provide shade. As the engine was turned off, the sound of this area emerged to surround us. It was very different outside the Panjero. In the SUV, you were in a cocoon traveling through. Outside the car, the true surrounding surround you. It must have been pushing 48C in the shade. But the wind blowing with a soft murmur made it felt like a blast furnace. Even so, there were small birds and tiny birds that I could not identify. I had seen birds before, but then, we were in vicinity of farms and hence water. In this part where we were alone as far as the eye can see, with no farms and hence water in sight, the life was not all dormant.

We continued on and bumped and rolled ourselves slowly on the track. Then it got slower and slower as the SUV came to a halt. I thought it was no problem as engaging the 4WD would get us out. As the gas was stepped on, the SUV rocked and remained still bringing disquiet to the two of us. Luckily, the reverse engaged and we got out. Needless to say, the 4WD was kept engaged all the time after that.

About 9 km after the road, we saw a line of fence post and our hearts sank at the thought of another Emir yet reclaiming a piece of the country. To my relief, and to Osama sinking spirit, an army kind of emcampment came into view. We did have differing outlooks. To me, an absentee Emir would always be one I would not be able to win over. Anyone else would be fair meat to this sheepish looking touristy Chinaman out to gawk where few sane people would go too.

As we approached the opened gate, a Bedouinish looking man walked up to us with me flashing my teeth as widely as I could looking as innocent as a rogue can look like , jabbling away in English on the weather and scenery of which I thought he would not understand a word. If he did, I was prepared to revert to Chinese language with the same impact. As earlier discussed, my friend then engaged him in Arabic ignoring me as the backdrop noise. So he as the suave Bedouin with his idiotic Chinese friend wearing Bollywood sunglasses gained us all entry through the gate with directions as well.

Osama smiled and shaked his head saying he never thought we could get through against my optimism that it should not be any problem.

I told him we still had 22 km to go. We were in a low valley. The low hills surrounding us kept enough of the wind away for this niche of nature to survive and bid its time for the next rain. Now and then we passed by little encampments of camels and their herders. I declined his offer to stop by at one to get more camel milk. Once was enough for me.

10 km or so, we climbed out of that low valley. It was stark, so incredibly stark. If anyone needed a place to make them think they were in Mars, get over to here. I felt anytime the lunar lander might popped into sight on the grayish brown landscape which stretched on and on. 4WD and high clearance as well were absolutely needed as we slowly drove on. Little wadis with their sparse life and vegetation that I thought were sparse before appeared as oasis brimming with life against the rest of the area.

I had to change the music, those 70s music felt so inappropriate to me in those stark surroundings. The music of Kintaro should be played. I did not have that with me, but digging through my stash, I found a CD I bought 4 years ago from down under and never played yet which I thought to be most appropriate. The sound of David Hudson Didgeralia came to life from the speakers. The primordial music of aboriginal Australians with drums, with cries , with the whum whum whum of their didgeridoo pulsed their rhythm as we drove on in this surrealistic landscape.

Poor Osama got an education into music that he did not want or liked , but he was too polite a gentleman to ask me to change. We were driving almost in a bowl and approaching the lip. We been through this a few times in the last half hour or so. After the top, we then would have a low incline ahead of us to drive down and then up again.

Then after driving up a very gentle slope, he stopped. I took a closer look, and asked in the calmest voice I could muster that perhaps he reversed a little bit before parking while keeping my hand on the handbrakes. From the angle of the car and where I was sitting, we were on the edge of a huge huge drop.

We were in between two big outcrop of rocks, with the edge of the Tuwaiq escarpment broken away and down and down to the plains below. We got out of the car, leaving the doors open with the hum of the didgeridoos calling and calling out.

I looked with askance on the name ‘Edge of the world’ given to this place earlier. But I had to agree with that now. The idiot in me, the mystic in me, asked me to step closer and closer to that edge while the paranoid together with the coward in me whispered to me ‘no closer, no closer’. Somewhere in the background, I heard Osama calling me to ‘get back, get back’. Part of the edge was overhang holding up itself with the grace of God. I took courage knowing only the good will die young. Bad guy like me will live on until the sky fell down on all of us.

I reached an equilibrium with me standing on that edge. I would not know if we were 200 meters up or 1000 meters up from the drop. The desert plains far below with tiny wadis spreading like a tracery of maidenhair ferns gave no frame of references to judge the height by. The winds were blowing softly, then strongly as if playing a heavenly canon for one to meditate by. I could just stood and be one with that place for hours.

We got ciggies, water, petrol but forgot to take hats with us. I thought briefly taking the floor mat from the car and using that as a hat but felt that was rather undignified. The sun not only beat down directly on me, it was gathered by the side of the cliffs and dumped onto us in unbearable heat. I walked a bit more along that edge gathering that into my heart and mind as much as I could. I then turned back to the car.

We had no camera. But hopefully the shots taken by satellite and presented to us by Google Earth might give you an idea. I am not positive that I located the correct spot, but that should be close enough. If you are one of those who have been there with a GPS, then more precise coordinates will be appreciated from you.

Satellite view of that area


Bird eye view of that lookout at "Edge of the world" - The last bit was actually on an upslope before the lip fell away.
This might not be that place but will give you an idea


From another bird

I noticed the music was off. We sat in silence for a while in the car and then drove away
As we crossed back one of the small wadi, Osama saw some corals at the edge. That could only be from the Cretaceous period. I got out of the car to pick a small piece of 60 million life form to keep me company. At his request, I dug up Teresa Teng CD for his listening pleasure. After he patiently indulged in my strange listening pleasure, I happily obliged him in his new found pleasure of listening to Chinese songs. He happily agreed to introduce me to his favourite Arabian singers and crooners. Good songs are good songs even in languages that one might not understand.

We found a typical Saudi restaurant in Al Jubaylah. You know that from the total lack of chairs and tables. The dining area would be sub divided into walled off areas where you leave your shoes outside and sit on the carpeted floor with your dishes placed on thin plastic sheets. I was his guest as he ordered a mutton feast.

Yes, I had enough of sheep head.

This will be the last entry for this chapter of life in Saudi Arabia. I might make one more trip on 8 Sept before my flight on 9 September.

After that, I will be back in Singapore. My time then will be spend with wife, YS and Ivan and my friends and nieces and nephews and getting reacquainted with beer and pork chops. Other reports, if any, will be on Yingshiong and bird based. I doubt I will have the time to write much in those few days.

Then I will be away again. Now is too early to write of that. But in time, I might be in your part of the world and it will be nice if you can spare the time to have a few beers with me and talk of your parrots and 2s.

I promise to write nice things of you if you buy at least a round for me.

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