Saudi Arabia – Jeddah, Riyadh & Al Ula

The border crossing from the United Arab Emirates into Saudi Arabia took over 3 hours and we were finally stamped in at midnight. Yippee! We were the first overland truck in history to enter the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and it felt great. From the border, our first official stop was the Bir Hima rock petroglyphs and inscriptions. Next up was supposed to be the hanging village of Al Habala but the cable car wasn’t in operation so we just admired the views instead and made our way to Al Yanfa Village which is famous for its traditional mud built slate topped homes and its tunnel system linking neighbors together. The architecture here is certainly unique! From Al Yanfa, we made our way to Asir National Park which is home to the Kingdom’s tallest mountain (Mt Soudah). The temperature dropped as we climbed higher into the mountain and it was a freezing cold night. All of us were in for a rude awakening with the abrupt shift in temperature, especially after getting used to the warm climate of UAE and Oman. The next morning, we were terrorized by a troop of aggressive baboons that tore apart our trash looking for food but the view looking over the valley below more than made up for it. From Asir National Park, we drove towards the town of Abha and were lucky enough to be there for the colorful weekly Tuesday market. After checking out the rest of Abha’s highlights, we tried in vain to leave the city but trucks are prohibited on many of the roads leading towards the coast. In the end, our truck had to do a 200 km detour just to leave the city and it quickly became obvious that we would not make it to Jazan and the Farasan Islands in a timely manner. The group took a vote and it was a near unanimous decision to push on towards Jeddah instead, skipping the Farasan Islands completely. We did get a consolation visit to the heritage village of Rijal Almaa which was very photogenic. Once we reached Jeddah, morale improved dramatically as everyone quickly fell in love with this handsome port city on the Red Sea. The old town of Jeddah is a UNESCO world heritage site with incredibly picturesque wooden balconies and we were lucky enough to visit during the Red Sea International Film Festival. After leaving Jeddah, we stopped by the Al Wahbah volcanic crater and visited the Edge of the World (unreal vistas from this location). From the Edge of the World, we drove onward to the bustling capital city of Riyadh. Highlights from our stay in the city included visiting the excellent National Museum, checking out the infamous “chop chop” square where public executions take place, haggling for bargains at the Souq al Zel, having dinner at the heritage restaurant Najd Village, and checking out the amazing view from the skybridge at the Kingdom Center Tower. But the best was yet to come. On our second free day in Riyadh, we were able to score some tickets to the MDLBeast Soundstorm Music Festival. The city was abuzz with excitement for this 4 day extravaganza where over 150 artists and musicians performed across 6 stages in front of over 720,000 spectators! After dragging ourselves away from Riyadh, we crossed into Qatar for a few days before reentering Saudi Arabia on our way to Bahrain for a few days. After our Bahrain visit, we reentered Saudi Arabia yet again enroute to Kuwait and after our visit to Kuwait, we entered Saudi Arabia for the 4th and final time. On our last entry into Saudi, we had to ditch the truck (mechanical issues) and ride on a bus. Our bus driver made a beeline to the petroglyph site of Jubbah which has some of the country’s best rock art. Then he drove onward to  Al Ula so that we could visit the UNESCO world heritage site of Hegra (Mada’in Salih). Famous for its Nabataean Tombs, this was a highlight for everyone on the trip. After leaving Al Ula, we drove to Tabuk to take PCR tests. No major highlights in Tabuk and we felt our 3 hour tour of the Hijaz Railway Station and Tabuk Fortress was more than adequate. After over 3 weeks in Saudi Arabia, our time in this fascinating country came to a quick end as we prepared to enter Jordan. What an amazing country that lived up to its high expectations. Saudi Arabia rocks!

Giant waterskin on display by the roadside Robby meets some friendly Saudi teenagers A camel herder leads his camel train Camel train Robby models a warm animal skin 1924 Mercedes Benz truck still going strong Bir Hima rock petroglyphs and inscriptions from 7000 to 1000 BC Camel petroglyphs; Bir Hima Ancient well of Bi'r Hima Gas station scene Becky, Renee, Dan and James on cook group duty Leanne, Dave, Tom, Ryan and Ken sitting around a warm camp fire Camels crossing the road A Saudi woman dressed in a burqa (full body veil) A shepherd tending his flock Madventure group photo - we were on the first overland truck to enter the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia! Spectacular Asir mountain view In the Asir province, traditional houses and towers are built from stone, mud and slate Notice the slate protruding from the upper mud sections of this house - it helps stop erosion A restored traditional building in Al Yanfa village Low timbered ceiling tunnels connect neighboring houses to each other in the quaint village of Al Yanfa Al Yanfa village square Al Yanfa is a congested village built on a hill and the houses are connected to each other through a series of tunnels like this one Grazing sheep; Al Yanfa village Sunset over Al Soudah, Saudi Arabia's tallest mountain Cats enjoying breakfast; Al Soudah National Park It didn't take long before the baboons overran our campsite! Check out Brian standing on top of the truck; Mt Soudah Dan checking out the view from the top of Mount Soudah Traffic roundabout; Abha Covered arch gas station; Abha Saudi woman getting ready for the Tuesday market; Souq Al Thulatha in Abha Handmade wicker containers for sale; Abha Souq Al Thulatha scene Friendly vendor offering free samples; Souq Al Thulatha Robby meets a friendly local; Abha Tuesday market Negotiating a price for spices; Souq Al Thulatha Incense burner souvenirs depicting a Saudi woman wearing a battoulah face covering Aseer Regional Museum; Abha Shada Palace; Abha Traditional houses in the Al-Basta district of Abha Slate detail on a traditional house; Abha The beautiful traditional homes of the Al-Basta section of Abha Becky stands next to a colorful wall mural in Abha Baboons; Asir Mountains Hairpin roads of Mount Souda Our truck wasn't allowed on certain "car only" roads while leaving Abha so we had to detour 200 km to take this mountain pass road instead Munching on ice cream to cool down The beautiful heritage village of Rijal Almaa End of the Road! Free range camels A fruit seller sits beneath an umbrella while selling mandarins by the side of the road The hazards of desert camping! We woke up to find this scorpion under our tent Sign for Jeddah, Mecca and Medina. Sadly, Mecca and Medina are off limits to non-Muslims Cats enjoying a free street meal; Jeddah In 2014, Al-Balad's historical houses earned UNESCO world heritage status Wooden "roshan" balconies in the UNESCO protected old town of Jeddah Building in the historic Al-Balad district of Jeddah (the gateway to Mecca) Projected wooden balconies in the historic district of old Jeddah Many of Al-Balad's old coral stone houses are currently being painstakingly restored; Jeddah Friendly locals in old Jeddah Old Jeddah is full of impressive old houses with beautiful wooden bay windows Al-Balad section of old Jeddah is a maze of 650 traditional buildings built from coral or limestone and adorned with enclosed balconies made from latticed teak wood Most of the buildings in old Jeddah are between 200 to 300 years old A fine example of the wooden rawasheen balconies that old Jeddah is so famous for Al Nasseef - a 4 floor, 40 room house that was built 145 years ago and inhabited by Saudi Arabia’s founder King Abdulaziz Old historical Jeddah is a living, cultural artifact - an open air museum! This tower house is several hundred years old and time has not been kind. Old Jeddah is in the midst of a massive renovation project, targeting those buildings in imminent risk of collapse Street scene, old Jeddah Soccer boys take a break for a photo by the old Mecca (Mekkah) Gate; Jeddah A woman points to the fish she wants; Jeddah fish market Humphead wrasse; Jeddah fish market The Red Sea was once prolific in marine life but overfishing is a real concern as evidenced by the massive daily haul at the fish market Slicing tuna steaks Fish, squid, prawns and crabs - this seafood seller has it all Parrotfish for sale This section of the market has dozens of men (wearing red shirts) who skillfully clean and prepare seafood; Jeddah Fish Market Preparing grouper for the kitchen Robby and a friendly local near the Jeddah Fish Market Proud resident in old Jeddah Detail of the wooden facade of old buildings (abandoned and severely deteriorated); Jeddah old town, a UNESCO world heritage site Poster at the Red Sea International Film Festival; Jeddah Artwork on display at the Jeddah Academy of Fine Arts Becky in picturesque old Jeddah Central courtyard; old Jeddah Stick to the muzzles sign (to encourage everyone to mask up) Selling scallions from a vegetable cart; Jeddah Saudi woman selling kola nuts Vegetable vendor; Old Jeddah Surprisingly, Saudi men appear to do most of the food shopping for the family Fruit vendor in old Jeddah Shoe seller Locals swarm to the corniche every day just before sunset; Jeddah Posing in a marble heart sculpture; Jeddah Corniche Locals gather along the corniche to watch the sunset; Jeddah Every day just after sunset, King Fahd's Fountain spurts a massive column of water an eye popping 312 meters (1023 feet) into the air! It weighs 16 tons (32,000 lbs) and reaches up to 375 km (233 mph) Stranded boat near the fish market; Jeddah Selling prayer rugs; old Jeddah A young boy poses at Canon Square; Old Jeddah Jeddah's Al-Balad district looks beautiful when lit up at night Elaborately decorated doorway; old Jeddah Lights welcome visitors to the Kingdom's first ever international film festival; Jeddah Bab Jadid (Jadeed) lit up at night; Jeddah Dressing up for dinner with Ryan and Leanne Dressed for the supermarket! Puppies at the Al Wahbah Crater Becky at the massive Al Wahbah volcanic crater Gold coin roundabout Our lovely desert campsite Dan taking pictures of sunset over the desert No two roundabouts in Saudi Arabia are the same - they each have their own flair! The emblem of Saudi Arabia at a roundabout Mural of the king and crown prince on the side of a building Hugo, Kristen and Tim getting photobombed by Brenda Hidden cave near the Edge of the World Dramatic cliff scenery near the Edge of the World The famous "Edge of the World" offers unparalleled views of the horizon Robby at the Edge of the World Sabina, Brian, Kristen, Leanne and Ryan join us in reclaiming Team Canada's seats on the truck Palm tree plantation Robby, Kristen and Karen enjoying a local breakfast; Riyadh Becky models her conservative outfit for our Riyadh city tour Meeting a school director in Riyadh Ancient human handprints; National Museum of Saudi Arabia Detailed carving of a ram Visitors checking out a display at the National Museum Bas-relief of a camel used in warfare; National Museum Koran on display at the National Museum Turquoise gold jewelry; National Museum A rare one Riyal note from the 1950s Masmak Fortress Painted windows inside the Al Masmak Fort Carpeted room; Masmak Fortress Painted rocks of Saudi Arabia's Kings; Deera Square (more infamously known as "chop chop" square where public executions take place); Riyadh Becky stands next to a painted rock; Al Safaa (Justice) Square Modeling warm winter coats much to this vendor's delight; Riyadh Souq al Zel; Riyadh Witnessing some illegal gambling debts being paid; Souq al Zel Becky models a Bedouin face mask; Souq al Zel The hustle and bustle of Souq al Zel Carpet seller; Souq al Zel Najd Village courtyard Renee and Dan join us for a meal at the heritage restaurant Najd Village Artwork near the Kingdom Center Tower; Riyadh Visiting the Kingdom Center Tower in the evening was ideal as there were hardly any other visitors Magnificent night view of Riyadh as seen from the skybridge; Kingdom Center Tower Leanne, Becky, Russ, Kristen & Renee at the Soundstorm MDL Beast festival (over 732,000 party goers attended during the 4 night event) The Underground section of the MDL Beast festival where House and Techno sets were on offer Having a great time with these guys - Sabina, Russ, Brian, Kristen, Renee and Leanne; Soundstorm Festival We got to the festival early at 5:30 pm so it wasn't too crowded initially. However, by 9 pm, the place was packed! Joining nearly 200,000 other festival goers in front of the main stage (nicknamed the "Big Beast") which earned a spot in the Guinness Book of Records for world's tallest temporary stage The Big Beast moments before DJ Tiësto performed The shuttle system collapsed with bus drivers refusing to transport festival goers back to their cars which resulted in anger and violence Excited Saudi men welcome us to their lovely country Eating breakfast Saudi style Camels being transported in the back of a truck What an interesting roadside monument! Prayer beads and a hand reaching for a box of incense Robby, Karen and Kristen doing cook group shopping Space mask for men? A misty morning in Jubbah Some of the country's best known Neolithic rock art can be found at Jubbah Look closely to see a king etched in stone to the right and a horned Ibex to the left Hunting scene; Jubbah Jubbah rock carvings cover an area of 39 square kilometers and are considered Saudi Arabia's best open air art gallery. This is a small sample of what can be seen Camel petroglyphs; Jubbah A massive panel of rock art; Jubbah A local smiles when he sees us taking photos of his sheep View of Vessel Hole Rock in Al Ula Elephant Rock with sunken seating to admire the view; Al Ula Coffee shop near Elephant Rock; Al Ula Walking under the trunk at Elephant Rock Another view of Elephant Rock Elephant Rock at night Lion Tombs of Dedan; Al Ula Our tour guide stands in front of several artifacts uncovered from the ancient city of Dedan Snake like carving unearthed at the ancient city of Dedan Lihyan tombs carved at the base of Jebel Ath-Thumayd Dadan was a caravan station and served as the crossroads of ancient civilizations. They all left their mark in this remote canyon valley of Jabal Ikmah Pre-Arabic inscriptions carved on this massive rock; Jabal Ikmah An open air library at the base of Jabal Ikmah with Aramaic, Dadanitic, Thamudic, Minaic and Nabataean inscriptions Raised inscriptions at Jabal Ikmah (these are rare because the surrounding stone had to be chipped away and was very time consuming) A dog and her new born puppies; Winter Park in Al Ula The hidden "hanging lake" at Alula Farm Peering down upon Shalal Cafe near the Waterfall Tourist Resort in Al Ula Bedouin style tent; Al Ula The King and Crown Prince's mural on a water tank; Al Ula Orange orchard; Al Ula Robby in the middle of some feeding camels; Al Ula Hungry camels; Al Ula Taking a selfie with the owner of the camels (he didn't want to smile but was a really nice guy!) Cafe in Al Ula old town Spice shop; Al Ula old town Saudi doll offering candy; Al Ula old town Fruit stall; Al Ula old town Just a few of the 900 mud brick homes that make up Al Ula's old town An old photo of Al Ula old town Nabataean tombs in Madain Saleh (also known as "Hegra") The majestic tomb of Qasr al Farid ("Lonely Castle"); Mada’in Saleh Qasr al-Bint is the most famous of al-Hijr necropolis with 31 Nabataean tombs One of the most elaborately decorated tombs in the Qasr al-Bint tomb complex One of the 31 tombs at Qasr al-Bint; Hegra Tombs at Qasr al-Bint (Palace of the Daughter); Hegra Al Diwan (meeting room) carved out of Jebel Ithlib; Mada’in Saleh The siq (canyon) next to Al Diwan Sunset over our bush camp. Later that night we had torrential rain for hours! Kristen, Dan and Robby visiting the Hijaz Railway Station in Tabuk Taking a selfie with our guard; Hijaz Railway Station Tabuk's early 20th century Hejaz Railway station is one of the best preserved in Saudi Arabia Horse mural; Tabuk Tabuk Fortress. These days it functions as a museum (free to visit) Local visitors to Tabuk Castle The now empty pools of water that come from a spring called Ain al-Sukkar; Tabuk Castle At-Tawba Mosque; Tabuk. This is one of the oldest mosques in the world (the Prophet Muhammad prayed here in AD 630) A local with fresh oranges to sell; Tabuk Kristen, Dan and Robby mimic the King and Crown Prince; Tabuk video lightboxby v6.1

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