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Ha'il - Jubbah - Sakaka

Ancient petroglyphs and modern trains

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

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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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



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




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.




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



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?


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.


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



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.


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.




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.


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.



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


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


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)


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.




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.


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.


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.


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.


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 Comments (1)

Mbuzi Mawe - Seronera Part II

Rain doesn't stop play, it creates photo opportunities

View The Gowler African Adventure - Kenya & Tanzania 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.


Lake Magadi

After leaving the ‘Lion Tree’, we try to find somewhere to stop for our picnic lunch. Malisa’s initial plan is to park down by Lake Magadi, but there is no shade whatsoever and the sun is relentless.





On the shores of the lake, a number of terns are congregating: Whiskered, White Winged Black and Black.
As we get closer, they all take off en masse.









Rueppell's Long Tailed Starling


Grey Backed Shrike



We finally find a tree to take our picnic under, listening to the grunting of hippo as we eat. When Lyn comments to Malisa that the sounds appear awfully near, his reply doesn’t exactly re-assure her: “This is leopard country…” Seeing the paw prints in the sand, Lyn makes a hasty retreat to the car.

Banded Mongoose

This is an enormous family!






Cape Buffalo

A buffalo tries – unsuccessfully – to hide in the long grass.



A male ostrich shows off his typical breeding plumage: bright pink legs and neck.



Moru Kopjes




Gong Rock

On top of one of the kopjes is a strategically placed, strange-shaped rock. This large rock with holes emits quite a gong when hit with a stone. In the old days – before the Maasai were relocated to make this an animal-only national park - it was used as a form of communication, to call together clan members to meetings. These days I guess they use mobile phones.









Maasai paintings

The kopjes here at Moru also hide a number of rock paintings believed to be several hundred years old. The colours used are similar to those on the Maasai shields, so it is thought that they were painted by a band of young Maasai warriors who wandered this area for several years before settling down to their pastoral life.




The colours used were created from plant matter: the black from volcanic ash, the white and yellow from different clay, and the red from the juice of the wild nightshade.



I am intrigued by the bicycle.



Rock Hyrax

The area around the kopjes is supposed to be home to Serengeti’s last remaining black rhino and is a favourite hangout of leopards apparently. But all we see are a few rock hyraxes.



My tummy really is in a bad way now, causing me quite some concern; and I beg Malisa to find me a proper toilet. “We are very near” he tells me.

Dark Chanting Goshawk



Serengeti Rhino Project Visitors Centre


Half an hour later, we reach the Rhino Information Centre, where the toilets are indeed very good.



Mostly as a result of poaching, the black rhino population has declined to a critically endangered point, with an all time low of 2,300 individuals in the wild. Fewer than 700 eastern black rhinos survive in the wild, with Serengeti being home to around 30 of them.



Named after the German conservationist Michael Grzimek who devoted his life to the Serengeti, the Visitors Centre has displays about the rhino and how the conservation strategies are being employed to ensure the continued survival of the rhino.




The exact location of the park’s rhino population is a well kept secret, with a small army of rangers and wardens looking after the animals 24/7.




One of the reasons the crocodile is often found with his mouth wide open, is to attract insects, who are drawn to bits of meat left in the croc’s teeth. The insects again attract birds, and as soon as an unsuspecting bird enters the mouth – slam! The bird is no more.



For some reason that reminds me of this Youtube clip.


Squacco Herons



These enormous nests take the birds up to three months to build, and are the height of sophistication, with three rooms inside. The nests can weigh up to 90kg, measure 1.5 metres across, and are strong enough to support the weight of a man! These birds are compulsive nest builders, constructing three to five nests per year whether they are breeding or not. When the hamerkop abandons a nest, Egyptian Geese move in.



Many local people believe the hamerkop to be a ‘witch bird’ because they collect all sorts of stuff for their nest building, including human hair!

More Ostriches






In Africa, rain is a blessing, for humans, animals and the environment.

♪♫♪ I bless the rains down in Africa… ♪♫♪

"Africa" by Toto

I hear the drums echoing tonight
But she hears only whispers of some quiet conversation
She's coming in twelve-thirty flight
Her moonlit wings reflect the stars that guide me towards salvation
I stopped an old man along the way
Hoping to find some old forgotten words or ancient melodies
He turned to me as if to say: "Hurry boy, it's waiting there for you"

It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had

The wild dogs cry out in the night
As they grow restless longing for some solitary company
I know that I must do what's right
Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti
I seek to cure what's deep inside, frightened of this thing that I've become

It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had


Rain can also be a blessing for photographers, creating some lovely moody shots.



Seeing a herd of Lancruisers in the distance, and knowing that they always hunt in packs, we surmise there must be a suitable prey around.


We are not disappointed. Wet and bedraggled, there is a pride (or sawt) of lions in the long grass, with what’s left of a dead wildebeest.


Two mums and three cubs (around 1½ - 2 months old) gather around the carcass.




The rain is persistent now; so we put the roof down to stop everything in the car getting wet. Although, looking to the west, it does seem that it might clear up soon.


Actually, almost as soon as we put the roof down, the rain eases off. Typical. We leave it down for a while to see what happens, but as the rain seems to hold off, we raise it again to allow for more movement and ease of photography.





One of the mums has had enough, and goes off, growling.


She then lies down in the short grass to tidy herself up from the eating and the rain.


Followed by a quick roll on the ground.


Before continuing her stroll.


The other mum watches her girlfriend with interest.


And decides that she too would like a roll in the long grass. Copy cat!


Obviously her tummy is not quite full yet: she goes back to the wildebeest for another bite or two.


The cubs try to emulate mum, tugging at their dinner.



I have to say that the normal cuteness associated with lion cubs is not very evident in the wet!



Eating is boring when you’re a young lion cub, playing with mum is much more fun!






Mum, on the other hand, is not impressed. “Will you stop that for goodness sake, I am trying to eat!”


"But muuuuum..."



Meanwhile, the sun is trying to come out.



It seems mum number two has also had her fill for the day, leaving the kill behind; licking her chops as she wanders off through the long grass.


She stops to sniff the air; her face still bloody from dinner.


Aha! So, that is what she could smell!


Dad settles down for a rest – or at least that’s what he thinks. The cubs have other ideas.


Just like mum, dad is not amused either and growls at the playing cubs, who have been jumping up and down on his back and rolling around all over him.


The playful kitties go back to annoying mum for a while.






She is still having none of it.




I am sure this is an expression mothers throughout the world can relate to: the sheer frustration of pleading young eyes.


Eventually they realise it is less hassle to just play amongst themselves.




Time to get a move-on

We reluctantly leave the playing kitties to head for camp. It is already 18:15 and we have another 45 minutes drive from here. "Depending on what we see on the way", as Malisa always says when we ask him how long it will take to get somewhere.

The roads are wet and slippery and in his rush to get to camp before we get into trouble, Malisa starts to skid on the muddy track, then over-compensates. For a brief moment we are hurtling sideways at some speed before he manages to skilfully correct the car. Well done that man! Although I found the ‘Serengeti Drift’ quite exhilarating!


This weather seems to have really brought out the hyenas, as we see a dozen or more during one particular stretch of road. Or perhaps they just like this specific area.


Shooting straight into the setting sun makes for some spectacular backlit images.





Seeing the rainbow, I ask Malisa to find me a giraffe for the foreground. Not too demanding then!

The nearest I get is an elephant and a tree. Beggars can’t be choosers, I guess.



This evening’s stormy clouds have created one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen in Africa, with moody, threatening clouds and ever-changing colours.

I hang out of the window with my camera all the way to the lodge; constantly changing the settings (mainly exposure and white balance) to try and achieve different effects. You can see some of the end results below.













Serengeti Serena Lodge

Just as we arrive at the lodge – in the dark – a long tailed mongoose crosses the road. A very rare animal to spot, it is a first for us. Even Malisa is exciting about it!


The car park is full and very dark; and we have to negotiate lots of obstacles to get to reception. They are busy and check-in is the slowest we have experienced so far. Eventually we are taken to our rooms – it is a great shame that we cannot see them, as they look very unusual and rather fancy from the post card!


The design of this hotel is based on traditional Maasai dwellings, with a number of thatched-roofed rondavels dotted around the ground. We give it the nickname of the ‘Nipple Hotel’ due to…. well, I am sure you can figure that out yourself.



The restaurant is disappointing, with no available tables when we arrive, and most of the buffet food is finished. I am feeling quite weary this evening, and I can’t even finish my one bottle of beer. I must be tired!

As he walks us back to the room, the escort points out a bush baby in the trees.


Lyn and Chris' room.


The room is much too hot despite a fan, and I cannot bear to be surrounded by the mosquito net, so I remove it. I am covered in bites anyway, and they itch like mad in the heat this evening so I struggle to sleep.

Despite an unsatisfactory evening and night, we had an otherwise excellent day on safari. Again. Thank you Calabash Adventures and guide Malisa.


Posted by Grete Howard 13:15 Archived in Tanzania Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises trees birds sky rain beer sunset road_trip restaurant travel vacation hotel roads museum cute holiday fun africa safari rainbow tanzania crocodile mist moon unesco birding tourists picnic wet photography buffalo lions giraffe hippo roadtrip lion_cubs ostrich conservation serengeti hyena heron terns starling misty mongoose hyrax jackal skidding rock_art stunning bird_watching hippopotamus game_drive backlit road-trip adorable safari_vehicle canon_eos_5d_iii calabash calabash_adventures the_best_safari_operators which_safari_company best_safari_company hammerkop lion_kill serena_hotels long_grass_plains central_serengeti kopje stormy_clouds rock_hyrax banded_mongoose moru bedraggled black_backed_jackal nile_crocodile squacco_heron lions_in_the_rain serena_serengeti seronera rhino_project muddy_roads mud_on_road controlled_skid lake_magadi hamerkop hamerkop_nest rhino_conservation cape_buffalo moru_kopjes gong_rock maasai_paintings mosquito_bites rim_lighting Comments (0)

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