A Travellerspoint blog

Ha'il - Jubbah - Sakaka

Ancient petroglyphs and modern trains


View Saudi Arabia 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Breakfast
Having established with the reception staff last night that we would like breakfast at 08:30 this morning, I am a little surprised to get a phone call at 08:00 asking if we would like breakfast. Knowing that the staff here speak very little English, and feeling somewhat confused, I tentatively reply with a single word: “Now”?

The guy doesn't reply to my question, but counters with his own: “Buffet or room”?

Again I am confused... if the breakfast is a buffet, why would they even offer to bring it to the room? I decide to find out by simply replying: “Room”.

It all becomes clear, when five minutes later three massive bags of food are delivered – from an outside caterer.

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Obviously last night they needed to know what time to order the food to be delivered this morning and this morning it was probably easier for them to take it straight to the room rather than spreading it out on small tables in the lobby, as I doubt very much that they even have a dining area.

We later find out that it is quite the normal thing for Saudi hotels to operate in this way, with guests ordering food in for breakfast as well as dinner, rather than the hotel providing it.

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There is so much food: a large bowl of fuul medames each (a typical Arabian breakfast dish of mashed fava beans), six tubs of water, a massive bag of bread, some really tasty falafels, hummous, babaganoush (smoky aubergine dip) and another salad which I can't quite make out what is. Tomatoes, cucumber, and pickles on the side. Not sure what is in those small containers at the front, it tastes like oil. A dressing, maybe?

The only thing missing is cutlery, as most Saudis will eat with their fingers. While I am happy to use my hands to eat, I do find it easier to use a fork or spoon. Thankfully I always pack a couple of sporks.

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We drive out of town on straight, empty, smooth, and fast roads. I see a sign just outside town that reads: NEXT GASOLENE 250 KM. Road trips take a very different type of planning here. You can forget driving electric cars on these roads.

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Jubbah

While there is still a settlement here in Jubbah, this was once a thriving oasis filled with people and wildlife, as documented in carvings on the rocks dating back 10,000 years.

We meet Abduljamid in the car park of the largest archaeological site in the area, now protected by UNESCO. He has kindly arranged to borrow his mate's 4x4 vehicle, so that he can drive us around the most interesting petroglyphs.

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The site is huge, with a good path circling the two rocks, as you can see in the Google Maps image above.

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The carvings indicate that this area was once a savannah and home to numerous species of animals.

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David goes with Bacha and Abduljamid to take a closer look, as well as climb specially constructed steps that lead to strategically-placed viewing platforms. I stay behind in the car, fighting with the pesky flies that have made this ancient site their home.

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I am disappointed to see how many people have carelessly discarded empty water bottles from the top of the steps.

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The petroglyphs here cover three distinct time periods, dating from 10,000 years ago, 5,000 and 2,000. It is like an ancient open-air library with its images and writing. They were such prolific carvers. I wonder why they all came to this particular place over the millennia. What drew them to these specific rocks?

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The figure known as THE KING

The rock itself is made of sandstone, which I guess is reasonably easy to carve. It is thought that sharp pieces of basalt were used to make the inscriptions.

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We continue to a second site nearby, where, like the first place, we are the only visitors.

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Leaving Jubbah and Abduljamid behind, we continue on our journey north. The temperature has been slowly creeping up as the day has gone on, reaching a high of 39 °C. Thank goodness for the efficient A/C inside the car.

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Saudi Arabian Railways
For mile after mile, the road runs parallel with the railway line, which carries some amazingly long goods trains. At one stage we estimate there are about two hundred carriages, mostly filled with phosphoric acid.

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I set Bacha a challenge that I would like to get a decent photo of a train (rather than the drive-by-shooting through the window at 120 kph as in these pictures.

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After an hour or so, we strike lucky (he later admits to me that he was concerned about how he would fulfill this challenge). We are leaving the main road and turning right across a bridge over the railway, and seeing the train approaching in the distance, Bacha finds the perfect spot on the bridge for me to get my pictures.

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I have never before seen a train that requires not just a front and back engine, but also a double header in the middle!

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The train driver spots me and blows his horn three times in a friendly greeting.

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Or is it?

I suddenly panic that maybe I am not supposed to take pictures of trains in Saudi Arabia. I know some countries are very strict about what subjects are permitted to photograph, such as bridges, stations, and even banks (as I found out to my horror when I was chased down the road in Algiers and ordered at gunpoint to delete my photo!)

I spend the rest of the journey into the town of Sakaka, where we are spending the night, looking over my shoulders to scan the roads for police cars. We see more cop cars than I have ever seen in my life, every street corner seems to have at least one, or maybe I just don't normally notice them. They don't pay any attention to us, of course, and I slowly start to relax. It obviously was just a friendly greeting after all. How sweet.

Fakhamat al Orjoana Hotel
I am jolly glad that Bacha is able to read Arabic, as from the outside, there is no indication that this is even a hotel. (Bacha, incidentally, speaks/understands at least seven different languages)

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The porter arriving with a trolley confirms that this is, indeed, a hotel. Check-in is smooth, and unlike the last couple of hotels, the receptionist is able to locate our reservation without a problem. We soon find our way to the room – or rather the suite: in addition to the bedroom, we have a separate sitting room complete with a kitchen area. No crockery, cutlery, or glasses, but there is a working fridge.

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Like the last place we stayed in, this hotel has no restaurant and serves no food, not even breakfast. There are, however, a couple of take-away menus on the coffee table, and we decide to order in some kebabs.

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We go down to reception to ask for some help with the order. The receptionist speaks no English, so calls on another worker to help us. He, on the other hand, cannot read Arabic. Between them and us, we think we have ordered two chicken kebabs. This could be interesting.

Five minutes later there is a knock on the door:

Man: “Money”

David: “Huh?”

Man: “Money”

David: “Food?”

Man: “Yes”

David follows the man down into the car park where another chap in an unmarked car has a card machine to take payment, and David walks away with a bag of goodies.

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We have a different local guide in each destination, and our new guide here in Sakaka, Abdul Al Ali, WhatsApps me to confirm arrangements for tomorrow. I am rather pleased when I discover we are meeting in a restaurant for breakfast – at least that means we don't have to try and arrange delivery to the hotel.

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Not just any restaurant either, it is one that I had seen on the internet before we left home, and rather liked the look of. I am now thoroughly looking forward to breakfast in the morning.

We settle down to an early night, but sleep evades me. The building is creaking, and every few minutes I hear what sounds like a car or train horn (David thinks it might be the A/C), David is suffering from hypnic jerks which makes him unwittingly jump around in bed every couple of minutes, and when I finally manage to fall asleep, I almost immediately wake up from a nightmare. Time and time again. It is going to be a long night.

Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for another great day here in Saudi Arabia, Check out their website for this and other fascinating trips.

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Posted by Grete Howard 22:40 Archived in Saudi Arabia Tagged train breakfast unesco hot railway ancient petroglyphs sandstone suite delivery saudi rock_art middle_east nightmare hummus saudi_arabia ksa undiscovered_destinations fuul sar kebabs basalt take_away ful_medames humous hummous babaganoush jubbah rock_carving littering saudi_arabian_railways phosphoric_acid phosphorous fakhamat_al_orjoana hypnic_jerks

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Comments

Wow, I'm always fascinated by petroglyphs and these look like brilliant examples! I'm not convinced however about Saudi Arabia as a destination for us, mainly because I don't like the idea of having to eat in the hotel room every evening :(

by ToonSarah

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