Saudi Desert Camping

Camels and bedu at sunset



Desert Camp



This past weekend I had one of those memorable experiences I know I will not forget.  I got to go out into the desert to a traditional desert camp.  First of all to get to our destination we traveled by road outside of Riyadh for about an hour to the point where all we could see on either side of the road were vast stretches of open desert.  Now interestingly, the directions the host of the camp provided to us was to stay on the road until we spotted the “large tree” and then veer off  road into the open desert.  While we speculated on whether we’d be able to follow the directions feeling kind of silly looking for “the large tree” once we actually came upon it, we knew immediately that we had navigated well.  For after all, when you think about it, with open desert on both sides of the road there really are not that many trees around period!


The sand dunes where we veered offroad were immense.  These dunes were of the deep sierra orange color and the texture of the sand reminded me of rolling waves.  Off in the distance we saw a herd of at least 25 camels sauntering along as if they had no care in the world and were simply out for their late afternoon stroll.


We had to travel over a few sand dunes and bumpy knolls when finally off in the distance we saw a series of large tents set up.  Aha….our destination was finally in sight!


The camp was set up amongst the rolling dunes in a very practical manner.  First there was the large tent where everyone was meant to gather, relax and enjoy each others company.  This tent could easily hold 200 plus people.  It was equipped with a/c units, carpets on the floor and soft comfortable cushions to sit down and relax upon.  The tent had windows which allowed one to easily see outside what was going on.  And typical of today’s modern desert parties, a television with satellite tv was a focal point of the room.


In addition to the “gathering point” tent, there were ten separate tents set up for sleeping and accommodations.  These tents easily rivaled a modest hotel room with carpets on the floor, comfortable beds, lamps and bedside tables.  The sleeping tents also had windows which could be open or closed for complete privacy.  And of course they were equipped with a/c as well.


There were three trailers.  One was solely for cooking and contained a full size fully equipped kitchen.  A chef could easily prepare a meal for several hundred.  The other two trailers were equipped with modern western style toilets, sinks and showers.


Last of all was another large tent.  It also had carpets covering the floor and a few cushions.  However its primary function was for eating.  In the desert it is typical to set out one large long tablecloth (sometimes covered with plastic sheeting) and food would be placed along the entire length of the tablecloth.  All guests would gather on both sides of the tablecloth sitting cross-legged and share a traditional meal.  We were served delectable lamb cut into easily manageable chunks and rice which was prepared with succulent spices and raisins.  Several salads were also included.  Now in some cases the entire group would eat from the communal serving platters but in our case, we were all provided with individual plates and eating utensils.


There was not a moment to be bored in the dessert.  For the more adventurous, groups would take off in SUV’s and go “joy-riding” over and under and up and down the sand dunes.  For the more sedate, there were little ATV’s individuals could ride and drive at their own pace up and down the dunes.  The camp was also set up for volleyball and soccer.


For me, one of the most special experiences was simply kicking off my shoes and feeling the smooth soft sand curl up between my toes.  I enjoyed the serenity and the vastness of the open desert, especially as the sun was going down and the stars began to alight the sky.  Until the mosquitoes began to make their presence known, our group enjoyed sitting out in the open and sharing our views and experiences of life in the Kingdom. 


Our host was a Saudi but most of the invitees, like myself, were expats in the Kingdom.  I cannot find appropriate words for thanking our host in giving us such a unique and yet, beautiful traditional Saudi experience.  Spending a day and evening at a desert camp is in my view a highlight for anyone in the Kingdom.

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