The Hiker’s Maxim: “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time (J.K.).”
Most travel bloggers do not talk much about the pits of traveling. The thought that such stories could discourage the readers to try the life-changing experience that is traveling is impertinent. They, therefore, opt to hide the worst parts of it and bring the stories out by using the costumes of entertainment instead. Until they realized how equally important it is to brave that road “less talked about”. The rationale is that there is always a lesson or nugget of knowledge from experiencing the terrible sides of travelling.
The Edge of the World is the first on the list of the best places for hiking here in Saudi Arabia. The spectacular sight of vertical escarpments rising hundreds of feet from the ground and the seemingly unending panoramic view of rocky plains make the place a memorably eerie spot for travelers, tourists, and hikers.
Several months ago, my chum and I had an opportunity to seize our long time dream to visit the Edge of the World when we were invited by our colleagues, Sai and Rico, who were planning to set foot on the place for the second time.
Thereafter, on 02 May 2014, we began our journey at 6:00 AM from Exit 07 by heading to the wrong route, causing us to speed up along the highway going to Al Kharj in order to get to the correct road. It took us a couple of hours to get back to Olaya District then pressed on to Uruba Road that would lead to Salbouk village in the west. Gaining about 25 kilometers from there we took the spiral right turn and exited to the road going Jubaylah. We went straight for about eight kilometers until we turned left to an off-road where we landed in a long stretched of a bleached-out desert called Acacia Valley. This marked the beginning of a long and winding rough path to the Edge of the World.
The valley is a well-known wadi that serves as a splay threshold to the Edge of the World. It is an equivalent of a mountain’s jump-off point and it blusters a decent view of desert plains. The presence of a thick green line of trees makes it a perfect picnic spot in the winter. This area is carpeted in different varieties of flowers and grasses a few days after a long rain. The ephemeral desert plants grow new leaves and the flower bearing ones blossom. You can see how the place looks like during the cold days on Kiwi in Saudi’s blog. After several weeks, the greens would disappear and the desert returns barren until the next rainfall.
We drove the rough road westward until we reached a fenced area where the iron gate, which has a sort of tent office on it, showed up. Unfortunately, it was close and there seemed to be no one in the tent. We were supposed to enter that gate and take a right turn to go over a loose track along the border of the fencing that will finally lead us to the destination. Rather than waiting for someone to show up, we took the other open gate just beside said gate hoping it will bring us to the same route.
A little bit later, we passed by a small dam and continued until a guy from a transient house came out waving and talking in a verbally undecipherable Arabic. Nonetheless, we all knew he wants us to stop so we did. Immediately, there were two soldiers, all covered with camouflaged uniform, approached us. The only clear words that came out from their mouths were “military facility”.
Sai, the driver, immediately got off the car to explain. He tried to convince them that we got lost and we were to see the Edge of the World, but all just seemed futile. Subsequently, we were requested to surrender our iqamas. After a few minutes of probing, we got them back; simultaneously we were commanded to leave the premises right then and there.
We headed back to the gate as commanded and by the time we got there, a sentry came out from the tent office. We thought that was a good sign until he kept on shouting these words: “Etlaa barra! Yalla!” That means he wanted us to go away so Sai attempted to sell what we came there for but to no avail.
Somewhere in the middle of the Acacia Valley on our way out, we were suddenly shaking. Since we already experienced it along the way earlier we thought such was just an effect of the stony plains of limestone presaging the vast. The trembling became terrible soon that Sai needed to halt and check the tires. What happened next was we were roused from our seats not by a kaboom sound but a pealing curse sound, which obviously connoted trouble. After a moment, we realized what the expression indicated: Flat Tire! As much as we did not want to find out, we unloaded ourselves, got off the road a bit, set up some shade, and set out to change the tire.
At that very moment, we felt stuck in the midst of a hot, dry, and heartless desert. Aside from Onel, Rico, and our already tattered driver there was not another person in sight. The distressing situation aggravated when Sai said that he never tried changing a flat tire before. The same is true with the rest of us. Be that as it may, we were called upon to do it. So rather than waiting for help, we did what we could. I was tasked to take out the spare tire tucked under the bunk. Onel took the liberty of finding the tire iron (for removing lug nuts), and Rico scavenged for two big rocks. Sai’s tasks were to bring out the emergency portable jack and wedge the rocks under the tires on the opposite side of the flat. In a matter of five minutes, the vehicle was set to be raised off the ground. This was supposed to be simple if we were knowledgeable about changing flat tires. I am talking about the placement of the jack and it goes without saying all of us failed to figure out where.
That was the part where we badly needed help. We tried stopping passersby to give us a hand. I lost hope at one point; nevertheless, I chose to be optimistic about the situation. In the meantime, I looked around at the sparse trees, the sun shining through the whistling thorns, the mounds of a lithic desert in all directions, and the sepia tweiqs in the distance. Reveling in the beauty of these sights made me smile. On the other side of the coin, I had to accept that the plans (e.g., to pose on top of Edge of the World’s highest escarpment) for the day were already derailed.
The next scene in which I found myself in was a car pulled over near us and there came our savior whose face will forever be etched in my memory. The rest is history. Thank God, stories about a Good Samaritan are true.
On our way back to the city, I retrospected to what happened earlier. It dawned on me that the predicament is a blessing in disguise. Had we pushed on to challenge the 20 kilometer distance of the Edge of the World from Acacia Valley, we would have been stuck there for good. It will not take 10 kilometers for our tires to explode gleaning from their looks. On the other hand, we were able to cope well with the situation by being optimistic. Nobody from the group fretted about the plight. And, seeing us enjoying the companionship of each other amid the misadventures gave me such a comforting feeling.
In spite of our failure see the Edge of the World and the series of unfortunate events, which are only some of the worst parts of traveling, Saudi Arabia is still a really great place to travel to and explore because of its unique topography. In large part, the presence of Good Samaritans like Mr. Waqar on the road and, of course, the inestimable lessons (e.g., learning how to change a flat tire and using a 4×4 the next time around). Moreover, the failed expectations and harsh realities of this trip are but just boosters for our hunger to see the place when the chance presents itself again.
The Eco-Warrior’s Creed: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”
P.S. So Jona, it’s not only you who thinks that the worst travel moments are the best stories to tell (Word Traveling: On Emotions and Eula Biss’ “No Man’s Land”).
Beautiful Places in Riyadh: A Trip to the Edge of the World by Lost in Riyadh
Acacia Valley and the Edge of the World by ArRiyadh City Website
Guide to the Edge of the World by Blue Abaya
Intimidating Edge Tuwaiq by The Peninsula Times
Edge of the World by Splendid Arabia
An Adventure on the Edge by destinationryd.com