]> Sojourn in the Middle East

Sojourn in the Middle East

Part 2 of 9
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This is a blog of some of my impressions during a seven-month period living and working in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (the "KSA") in 2007-08.

The Desert

Riyadh sits on top of a vast plateau some 2,500 feet above the main surface of the Arabian peninsula. I had the opportunity to go out to the edge of this plateau, some 30 miles outside of town, with a group of expats. (The Arabs, too, are apparently big on going out to the desert, many of them only one or two generations removed from being bedouins themselves, but I'm not on sufficiently friendly terms with any of them yet to be going with them.)

We set off in the afternoon, passed through a couple of small, outlying towns, and then got really out into the hills. At one point a small herd of camels crossed the road in front of us and we had to slow. Their herder displayed an almost maternal aspect as he lovingly watched over his camels making their way across, keeping an eye that all vehicles slowed and stopped with plenty of room to spare.

We carried on through increasingly empty territory.

At last, we reached our destination, "The Edge of the World".

A brief look-out was all we had time for, as we hastened to set up in a camping area a mile or two back from the edge. Surprising numbers of Acacia trees surrounded us, despite the apparent lack of water anywhere.

The next morning I awoke early and revelled in the refreshing cool temperatures. Walking out onto a nearby plain, I was fortunate enough to see another herd of camels go by. Despite having seen them before in zoos, I was not prepared for the sight, nor can this still photo capture it. These animals were marvels of efficiency -- as they trotted by their bodies moved not an inch up or down, just straight forward without any energy wasted. Their hooves did not pound the ground, and the only sound of their passing was a "tit tit tit..." as they glided over the hard-packed sand.

Almost before I knew it they were receding into the distance, into the great Arabian desert.

Later on, after catching a picture of myself...

.. we headed out for a hike along the edge of the world. Pausing every so often to admire the view from various perches.

The desert itself was as I have said the Arabian desert -- the prototype of all deserts in popular fancy. The Arabian desert first, followed by the Sahara because of its vastness. After that everything falls off. We have desert in the American southwest, even in California, but it had always been hard to think of that as "real" desert. Even after I went out and saw for myself the sand dunes, cacti, and searing blue skies in southern California, I knew: Real desert had camels, bedouins, and sheiks.

Well, here it was. The camels were here. The bedouins, they seemed a bit borderline, but there were tents and they were outside the city limits:

But in the end it looked a lot like California, just with different plant life.

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