We went on our first desert outing of “the season” yesterday. I calculate “the season” as “not summer.” Kinda like the symphony season. The theater and ballet and debutante and ballroom season. You’re still wearing long dresses; they’re just…simpler. Less colorful. Less flattering. Dustier.
I’ll tell you what, though. Desert outings are CHEAP. Gasoline (91 octane) in Saudi Arabia is selling for about .45 riyal for a litre, which equates to about $.46/gallon and .09 euro/litre. So I apologize to the earth for burning through it so gaily, but I hope the earth will cut me a little slack. This is Saudi survival. I use collective transportation for every freaking other thing I do and there aren’t many places to go. On the whole, I think my carbon footprint comes out about even. Deal with it.
Lacking any awesome ethnic fairs or bike races or neighborhood parades or high school car washes or 5K fun runs or Costco sample surfing or picnic venues or peach festivals or farmers’ markets or beaches or concerts in the park…it’s out to the desert. (In the spirit of full disclosure, other options do exist, as follows: Go to the mall. Sit in the house. Go to the pool. Leave the country.)
But “go to the desert” is actually a really great option. There’s the camelspotting, of course, but did you know there’s also baboon-spotting?
Those babies are 25 million years old. Plus or minus a few million. That part of Saudi Arabia was once a coral reef where I would have loved to dive. More refreshing, certainly, even if it would’ve been a mite more dangerous. I look forward to going back and looking for more, but it’s still early in “the season.” which means I’m good for only about 30 minutes outside at a time. I guess it’s kinda like using your dive charts to figure out how long you can swim around the reef. Temperature + distance from the car lay out on a chart roughly the same as depth + length of your previous dive.
Desert trekking is not like an American or European recreational day in the countryside. You just, kinda, go out there.
A lot of the territory you travel doesn’t really have “roads” (which I guess is also kinda like sea exploring). You hear about a destination from other people, check it on Google Earth, and come up with a plan for the day, but things do tend to look different on the ground and you just make your best guesses as you go. In a four-wheel-drive. With at least two other cars, some strong backs, a shovel, a rope, a jack, a spare tire, and plenty of water.
There’s also nothing to eat along the way, unless you want to shop here:
Saudis go into the desert for recreation a lot. City-dwellers will pile into the car to camp or picnic, usually just driving for a while, stopping somewhere or other, and hanging out. You’ll see cars pulled a hundred yards off the road and a cluster of people in the sand under some acacia trees, just reconnecting with their desert roots. One of my favorite shopping stops last year was the Saudi version of an REI, which was about the furthest thing you could imagine from an actual REI. Sofas. Rugs. Chrome coffee service sets. Tufted stools with gold gilt legs. Nothing you could ever call a “pup tent.”
Living in Colorado, I had plenty of outdoor resources available. Yet I was not in the habit of calling up four other families and asking whether they wanted to join us in driving around all day for a short-ish hike in uncomfortable temperatures, a picnic with a lot of flies, and then a long drive home again. Turns out that was a shame, because days spent like this are my favorites here. I doubt I could sell the idea back home, but here we need each other, and we cherish the time we spend together. (Plus we don’t have any household chores on a Saturday.) Our fellow expats are our comrades in arms, and the only people who will ever really understand what life here is like.
So yes, three carloads of people, aged four to fifty-plus, drove for two hours, got out of the car to stare at the dirt for 45 minutes on the chance of coming up with one or two fossil teeth, drove back for two hours, ate lukewarm hamburgers, and called it a great day. We can’t wait to get back out there. It’s cooling down! The season has begun!