A DAY IN AL-’ULA, SAUDI ARABIA
There are times when you are acutely aware that you are
“not in Kansas anymore.” And there are times when you when you feel mentally, physically, spiritually, and achingly, oh-so-far from home. I had both of those moments when I arrived in Al-’Ula, Saudi Arabia to spent a long but adventurous day.
The delight truly came once the trip planning began. Since watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (true story), I’ve been drawn to the ancient site of Petra, Jordan. Al-’Ula was once at the southern part of the same ancient civilization and boasted many of the same remnants of a necropolis (a city of ancient tombs). This was my chance to see Petra, only a little further south and a lot less crowded.
Welcome to Al-’Ula
Our trip began with an early morning chartered flight from Riyadh to the airport in Al-’Ula, Prince Abdul Majeed Bin Abdulaziz-Mogayla Airport. It was a lesson in patience and the loosely defined construct of Saudi Arabian time. We did eventually arrive but it was two hours later than expected so after a wonderful folk welcome, we were bussed to a lunch site in the middle of the desert.
Lunch in the Desert
Stepping off the charter bus into the sand, surrounded by mountains and tents and hearing the chants of local dancers, this was the moment when I could feel that I was literally on the other side of the world.
I walked into the tent to take my first sip of Arabic coffee – a drink I never thought I’d like since I’m not a coffee drinker – I soon learned to love every tiny cup that was handed to me everywhere I went.
Driving to Mada’in SalEh
Mada’in Saleh is a well-known archaeological site in the region located in the Sector of Al-’Ula within Al Madinah Region, the Hejaz, Saudi Arabia. A majority of the remains date from the Nabatean kingdom (1st century CE). The site constitutes the kingdom’s southernmost and largest settlement after Petra, its capital.
Our final stop in Mada’in Saleh was an area called the Diwan, a place reserved for religious gatherings, that was a frequent stop for those on the Syrian Pilgrimage Route. In fact, you can still see ancient carved inscriptions from some of the travelers.
Four-Wheeling in the Sand Dunes
After seeing sites that few Westerners have seen, we weren’t done yet. We traveled to nearby sand dunes to take full advantage of the Toyota Land Cruisers we were tooling around in. It soon became pretty clear that this is a hotspot for locals to have a little fun. As was typical for the day, no one really explained where we were going or why. We just entered the sand dunes and, literally, held on for dear life. It turns out there was an actual destination. As the dunes leveled out, we found ourselves settling into a temporary campsite in a high-walled canyon. Our hosts had provided seating, fires, music and, of course, coffee and tea. It was a lovely way to watch the sunset and get to know my fellow travelers.
After the canyon air turned chilly and the sun had set, we headed back to our lunch tent for a seafood extravaganza before heading to the airport for our 90 minute flight back.
It was an exhausting day. I was running on little sleep and plenty of jet lag and still felt wired when I made it back to our hotel. But this is an experience I won’t ever forget. I made sure to savor every moment of the day and treat it like the once-in-a-lifetime experience that it probably was.
About the Author
Fadra is a lifestyle blogger currently living in the Baltimore area with her husband, son, two dogs, two cats, and parakeet. When she’s not blogging or vlogging, you can find her writing about cars, travel, and entertainment, among other things.