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Medina - Al Wahba Crater - Ta'if

Mostly travelling today

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

Finding the hotel restaurant proves a little difficult this morning. We are assuming they do have one (unlike a couple of the hotels we have stayed in so far), so when we bump into one of the Explore group members in the lobby, we ask if he knows. Once we realise that the R on the lift buttons means restaurant, we at least find ourselves on the correct floor, although it is still far from obvious where we go to have breakfast. Again we are saved by another traveller who appears from around a corner. There, well hidden in a side room, is the ‘restaurant’.

While I much prefer to travel independently rather than with a group such as the one we meet here, arranged by the well-known adventure holiday company Explore, it is enjoyable to have a little interlude with other westerners, chatting about travel and sharing stories. Although their itinerary is slightly different to ours, their tour is arranged through the same local agent as ours is. Today, however, they are following the same route as us, but leaving half an hour earlier – at least that means we shouldn’t be at the same place at the same time.

The journey from Medina to Ta’if is scheduled to take five hours, with just one stop along the way.

Still suffering from diarrhea, I soon need the toilet. For miles and miles, all we see is road, road, and more road. No settlements, no service stations. Eventually, Bacha, our ever-thoughtful driver, sees a truck stop and pulls in.


I gingerly open the door to the cubicle, and to my delight, there is a western-style toilet inside. Such a relief! There is no water to flush the toilet with, but that’s another story….


After yesterday’s debacle, you will be pleased to know that I made it in time.

Felling rather washed out as a result of the diarrhea, and from not eating much over the last couple of days, I sleep most of the time during the drive.

Al Wahba Crater
I wake up as we pull off the main road on another well-surfaced road leading to a small building. There is nothing around but flat desert, so I am at a loss as to what we are heading for.

Blurry picture of the flat desert, taken out of the car window while I am still half asleep

At the end of the track is the aforementioned modern building, a small car park, and a footpath leading up a very slight incline to a small shelter. As we make our way along the path, it suddenly all becomes obvious - there is a great big hole in the otherwise flat surroundings: Al Wahba Crater.


At 3,000 meters in diameter, and 380m deep, Al Wahba Crater is the largest in the country. The bottom of the crater is covered in a layer of salt. It is a popular place for hiking, but the two young chaps who turn up are refused permission to enter the crater, being told that the weather is “too hot”. They walk along the rim instead.


As with so many other places, there is a legend attached to how this crater was formed. One dark night, a lightning bolt illuminated the Oitn Mountain, revealing its magic beauty to the nearby mountain of Tamya. Promising eternal love, Tamya pledged to move herself to be nearer Qitn. As often happens in such love stories, a jealous mountain, Chliman, intercepted the move by shooting Tamya with an arrow. All that was left of the poor, unfortunate lover, was this big hole in the ground.


Bacha is amazed to find that the caretaker of the site is from the same small village in Pakistan as he is. Although they have never met before, his house and Bacha’s family home are a mere 3km apart. What a small world.


There is a modern visitors centre with all the facilities here, but guess what? It is closed. We have a picnic in the shade on the porch instead, the guide managing to find a foldable chair for David, while I sit in the car.


There are rolls, samosas, kibbe, and dates

Fearing retaliation from my stomach, I brave just one Kibbe - a deep-fried lamb and bulghur wheat ball

While we are enjoying our picnic, the Explore group turns up. I find it most odd that they arrive here nearly an hour after us, yet they left half an hour before us. We get chatting with one of their members (who incidentally is Norwegian and works less than a kilometre away from where I lived - it seems to be a day of coincidences) who explains that they, like us, stopped at a service station to use the facilities, when one of their party was bitten by a dog. Although not seriously injured, he was taken to the hospital for a precautionary rabies shot. While he was waiting to be seen by a nurse, another group member went in search of the toilets. Once the injection had been administered, the party went on their way, and it wasn't until they'd driven a couple of kms down the road that they realised there was one person missing. The lady who'd gone to the toilet. Thankfully they found her fairly easily when they returned to the hospital, but this is what delayed them and why they turned up so much later than us.

I soon regret eating anything at all, as my tummy goes into cramps. I am, however, assured by the guide that there is a good toilet just two kilometres away in a service station on the main road to Ta’if.

Bacha stops at every service station, mosque, and truck stop we see along the way, but they are either closed or so basic that Bacha doesn’t want me to use them. Finally, we find a huge service station with a reasonably clean toilet. Success!

Back on the road again and we see a mirage of camels being herded by a 4x4 vehicle in the distance, across the flat, featureless desert.


It is not a mirage.


The car is running low on fuel, so Bacha calls in a petrol station to fill up. He comes back and explains that there is “no balance left” on the company card. He takes a photo of the message on the pump and sends to his boss, and we just wait until the boss has added some funds to the account before he can fill up with diesel.

For some reason I imagined Ta’if to be a small provincial town – instead, it is a big, modern city. I didn’t expect that!

Iris Boutique Hotel
Tonight’s accommodation has changed from the original itinerary, and Bacha asks us for the name of the hotel. He proceeds to drive out of town, through some dodgy-looking areas and building sites, down dirt tracks in what looks like some poorer areas. No sign of the hotel.


David looks it up on his phone, and using Google maps, guides Bacha back into the centre of the town, some 25 minutes away, where we finally find the hotel.

It is not a luxurious hotel, but the room is nice, and it is clean. The shower is good, but we find the entire bathroom floor is soaked afterwards.

There is a coffee shop in the lobby, so we go down to see if we can get something to eat. The coffee shop is closed, but the manager explains: “Room service. You can order anything you like”.

We return to the room to peruse the glossy menu and decide on a chicken burger, fajita, a couple of mango juices, and a tiramisu.


We call 807 for the restaurant as suggested, asking if we are able to order some room service. “Ring 0 for reception” is their short answer.

We do.

“You need to ring 807 for the restaurant”

“We just did. They told us to ring 0”. The receptionist reluctantly takes our order.

Five minutes later, the phone rings.

“I am sorry, the restaurant only has croissants”.

“Erm… we’ll have croissants then. Two each please.”

“Would you like anything else?”

“Like what? You said there is only croissants?”

“Coffee? Water?”

As there are a couple of complimentary bottles of water in the room, as well as a coffee maker, we stick with just the croissants.


They are very nice croissants, but...

By 21:00 we still have not heard from Bacha regarding the start time tomorrow, so I message him. He almost immediately replies: “I shall ask Mr George (the local agent)” I then promptly lose the internet, so am not able to receive any further replies. Finally, after using David’s phone – which strangely enough is still connected to the internet, we hear back from Bacha just after 22:00, to say that we will be leaving at 09:00 tomorrow morning.

My tummy is rumbling noisily and ominously as I climb into bed this evening, warning me of a disturbed night with many trips to the bathroom.

Thank you very much to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this fascinating trip.


Posted by Grete Howard 22:01 Archived in Saudi Arabia Tagged toilet camels picnic crater mirage medina saudi legend middle_east diarrhea saudi_arabia croissants taif undiscovered_destinations room_service service_station 'ksa breakfast_restaurant ta'if wahba wahbah wahba_crater kibbe iris_boutique_hotel

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