An expedition to the Rub Al Khali

A mixed group of thirteen people with nine nationalities went on an expedition to the Rub Al Khali; A journey of a lifetime. The organizers Mohammed AlKhamis and Adi AlKhamis had been preparing the trip for weeks. The whole team got together on several occasions to finalize the details. It became clear that every participant was very excited and that we would be in for many surprises!

On the day of our departure a generous Arabian style breakfast was prepared at the AlKhamis residence after which the group departed for the first leg of the trip.

Three trucks and two SUV’s carried many gallons of petrol, water supply, food, all kinds of equipment for the journey off road and all our bags and sleeping bags.

Last but not least we were accompanied by four saluki dogs, of which two young ones in training for their hunting and running tasks.

Our hosts knew exactly what they wanted to share with the rest of the group. Both brothers have experienced the might of this part of the desert and Saudi Arabia on many occasions. Their joy of the outdoors, working with nature and being with friends was exemplary. It would be the first time for them to take foreigners to these beautiful and isolated places. And we would listen and look.

The coordinates and modern guiding gear lead the drivers of the vehicles through the desert, but plans could be altered to the liking of the hosts. The first surprise was that we visited the site were in 1863 a meteor hit the ground, which left a crater and burned rocks and stone of melted sand and meteorite, scattered all around. The driving in patches of soft sand showed the skill of the drivers.

The desert dictates the pace and the driving from one kilometer to the next. The drivers showed their experience by looking at the structures of the sand and the dunes, by scouting and messaging over the Porto phones and by never taking any risks.

The rhythm of their driving felt like a comforting dance. The rhythm stuck with us throughout the trip. At the end of day one we made camp for the first time. Everybody was busy fetching wood for the campfire, making tea, preparing individual sleeping spots and preparing dinner. After a day of driving and amazement with all that the day had seen, we gathered round the fire. Stories were told, questions were posed and laughter filled the silence of the desert. This was a good start!

The next day a similar pattern would develop in the days to follow in the early morning. A group of three would start the fire, make coffee and tea and watch together the setting moon and the rising sun. Sometimes we were sunk in a contemplative silence. The dance of the full moon, the stars and the sun would equally have an influence on the rhythm of the group. Participants started to sleep deeper, wake up before sunrise and go to bed earlier. After breakfast, and breaking up camp, everybody was fresh and ready to continue his or her path. In the cars music, announcements and conversations would be followed by a concentrated silence.

The desert changed with every turn or hill. We could see sand changing from grey to yellow, from yellow to marbled and from marbled to red, orange and pink. We started to recognize the rhythm of ridges of dunes and planes and we could see the difference when we arrived to the area were huge star shaped dunes arose. The light was as variable as the sand. Perspectives became wider and wider.

Untouched by human presence bright green bushes and beautifully scenting yellow flowers decorated this breathtaking landscape. The presence of these bushes and the tracks of beetles and other small animals contributed to a feeling of awe and respect for the resourcefulness of nature. You realize what you actually don’t need and are aware of what you couldn’t do without.

In this respect our hosts took excellent care of us by providing us with all the things we would appreciate. The group could enjoy three visits to hot springs and have a sensational feeling of cleansing and feeling healthy: One with nature.

Two times per day we would eat like Kings enjoying traditional dishes, freshly baked bread and replenishing drinks. There would have been enough for guests if we had encountered them. At lunch or teatime group members shared their sweet treats and fresh products generously.

The surprises kept coming; we would eat local hare, exotic Elk sausages, delicate ginger cookies, sturdy Scottish Haggis, fragrant Kabsa, and all in a seemingly effortless manner.

Last but not least the whole group was sharing ideas, responsibilities and friendship in a unique and open-minded way: Laughter without borders.

Mohammed and Adi AlKhamis showed us the way and we deeply sensed the beauty of this shared experience. We appreciate the lessons learned, we will find the rhythm and we will keep our eyes open. Until we meet again.

Riyadh, 10 February 2013