This past weekend I went on my first Saudi camping trip and it was a lot of fun. As with most things in Saudi it was same same but different.
Al Wahbah crater is basically a large hole in the ground that you can hike into. According to Wikipedia “it is 500 m (1,600 ft) deep and 2 km (1.2 mi) in diameter. The bottom of the crater is covered with white sodium phosphate crystals” (it was brown with white crystals underneath this past weekend)… initially it was thought that the crater was formed by a meteorite… however “it is now commonly accepted by geologists that the crater is a maar crater, and was formed by volcanic activity in the form of an underground phreatic eruption – a massive steam explosion generated by molten basaltic magma coming into contact with subterranean water.”
The crater is located about 4.5 hours from Jeddah. It is not a well known site and the directions are passed on by those who have visited. Few locals have heard of the crater or know how to get there. Our vague directions were easy to follow until we got to the part that literally said “follow to the end of the new road and turn left”. Turns out the new road was not so new anymore and that there was another new road that didn’t go through the town it was supposed to on our directions. We drove for 140km trying to figure out where the end was of this ‘new road’. After back tracking we finally found some locals who knew what we were talking about and they kindly drove us to the crater. Although, in typical Saudi fashion, the fellow said the drive would take 2 minutes. It was more like 60. Over 7 hours after leaving Jeddah, we arrived before sunset with just enough time to drive around the rubble (you definitely need a 4×4) to find a place to set up camp. It is very windy at the top of the crater but there are some lava rock alcoves that provide shelter.
We gathered some thorny branches and whole thorny dried up shrubs to make a campfire. Some people brought coals to set up a little BBQ where we cooked lamb and sausages. We roasted marshmallows but they had green polka dots because marshmallows here come in bright colours. Some people played the guitar and sang. We slept in a big beautiful Bedouin tent that was made of canvas with a red lining and carpets for the floor. The organizer of the trip bought it off another expat who was leaving. It slept 6 comfortably but had room for about 4 more people. A few people slept in their cars or under the stars.
Left: Gas station, gas is ridiculously inexpensive. It cost about $10 Canadian to fill up a 70 liter tank. Right: The bathrooms are always found beside the mosque (the yellow building to the left). There are mosques all over this country, even right at the gas station.
On the way there we took a ‘back’ way that brought us by ‘Marble Mountain’ which you can see on the left. You may be able to tell on the bottom left that a large chunk of the mountain has been removed. There are large square blocks all over the land close by. Right: Flower on a plant in the desert. If you look there is surprisingly a lot of flowers and green plants in the desert.
We drove through a few small towns… they all had a mosque or two. We also passed by about 6 old tin buildings. They look like they may have been homes but we weren’t sure because most of the houses outside of the small towns are made from mud or concrete bricks or canvas just like the tent we used for camping.
There are tons of camels in the desert. This area of Saudi has black camels which I don’t think I have seen before. They all have owners, I imagine it is difficult to keep track of where your camels are because they are everywhere and there are few fences. Just before the main highway there is a camel grate similar to cattle grates you’ll see in BC.
The Bedouin tent. It had two layers of canvas and was relatively warm. The carpet on the ground was comfortable to sleep on.
Left: The campsite, you can see the lava rock in the back. Right: Al Wahbah Crater
Hiking down and the bottom of the crater. It took about 45 minutes to hike down and about 1-1.5 hours to hike back up. There was a nice trail for us to follow. It was quite hot and there was little vegetation. A few of my friends had been to the crater just after the rainy season (it lasts for about 2 days around December – January) and there were small flowers everywhere.
More camels… they really are everywhere. Most of the drivers didn’t stop as the camels were crossing, they drove right through and the camels moved out of the way. We stopped so they could pass and we could take pictures.
On the way back we took another route, not by choice, mostly because we couldn’t find the way we took to get to the crater and it was easy to find the highway. I was happy to see some different scenery. We drove past Taif (pictures above and below) which is a mountainous town before Mecca on the way back to Jeddah. We saw numerous crops growing, I couldn’t tell what most of it was but there were definitely grapes and some sad looking rows of corn. All of the fields looked exactly like you see above with boarders of dirt build up in between each segment.
We were not able to drive through Mecca as non-Muslims are not allowed in the holy city. Instead, we took the ‘Christian by-pass’ which is a highway beside the highway that goes into Mecca. There was a big red sign that read ‘NON MUSLIMS’ so we knew where to go.