When we left Taiwan we had brought a lot of our camping gear as well as a brand new tent because we thought that there were a lot of opportunities for outdoor activities in the Kingdom. When we arrived Jose was intimidated by the all the horrendous driving on the highways. Then it got so stiflingly hot and humid around the summer months that it was just better to stay indoors. Then we had the baby and it wasn’t convenient. Just so many excuses and reasons.
But we FINALLY went camping last weekend and it was AMAZING! We went to the Wahbah Crater, about 3.5 to 4 hours away from KAUST. I have to admit that it is all thanks to my friend Andrea because without her invitation we wouldn’t have had the guts to drive all the way there. We were a group of five families with kids and two dogs.
The highway was very nicely maintained, there were no crazy drivers and we even stopped on a section of road that had lots of baboons. We didn’t get out of the car though since they can be pretty aggressive. I saw one of them actually jump on the hood of a car.
The area around the crater was pretty rocky and I wondered where we were going to camp out if we couldn’t find a flat surface to sleep on. Also there were lots of tourists so it didn’t seem like there was much privacy. However we drove to the back of the crater and we found a spot by the lava fields that was perfect. That area was definitely a known campsite because rocks were arranged to make borders for tents as well as campfires. We saw another group of KAUSTians on the other side of the lava fields as well. When everyone started pitching their tents I felt like we were living in a box while our neighbors lived in mansions. Jose and I had a to share a tent with Jasmine and Casper in a tiny tent. It only worked because Jasmine is small and Casper could sleep vertically below her feet. It worked out though and was surprisingly cozy.
After pitching our tents and exploring the area, we decided to walk to the crater. It was about 1 kilometer away (don’t quote me on this).
Then we went back to the campsite where someone took out their gas grill and people took turns heating their (home prepared) food on it. Meanwhile Jose and the other guys started a fire with some dried desert bushes they found and even a pallet someone brought and Jose stacked some rocks on top of another, getting ready to make a barbecue with the burning coal and a simple grill (this is a technique he perfected in Taiwan that results in amazing wood-smoked barbecued meat but it always takes hours). I informed him that someone had a gas grill that could cook our meat in 20 minutes. He gave up on the wood-smoked meat. After dinner we gathered around the fire and talked while others sang songs on “magic” karaoke mics. Some of the kids (around nine years old) put on a show by singing and playing instruments. They roasted marshmallows. Our dog fended off an angry looking scorpion and gobbled up all the food that fell to the ground. I took Jasmine to the tent but had to stay with her in there for about 30 minutes, until she fell asleep. It was the first time she had ever gone camping or slept in a tent and I was relieved that she adjusted pretty well.
The weather was perfect. It was cold but not too cold with a warm blanket. It drizzled several times throughout the night but so little that our shoes were completely dry the next day. If this happened in Taiwan everything would be soaking wet in the morning.
When we woke up we had breakfast, packed up then headed to the entrance of the trail going down the crater. Several moms and I, who have young kids, stayed by the cars and waited for the others. The internet says it takes about 20 minutes going down but with kids I would say closer to one hour. The photos they showed me made it seem like it was a bit difficult but we had a seven year old girl who hiked up and down the trail no problem so it was probably quite easy. Once again, the weather was perfect. It was cloudy and a little windy which is great for hiking.
Then it was time to drive back home. We were pretty tired and I felt bad for Jose that he had to make that long drive by himself. Because women are not allowed to drive in this country, we couldn’t take turns. At one point he actually fell asleep for a split second, causing our car to slowly veer to the side. He woke up instantly and swerved back to our lane. Basically we almost crashed the car and died. After that he was pretty much awake for the rest of the drive home.