My second day in Abha I would like to start with the introduction to the “marvelous” hotel where we all resided for the 3 nights – the place called Azd hotel… generally it was fine, except for some random things like I couldn’t really easily open the door of my room because it was massively stuck on the carpet inside the room. In most places I stayed in KSA the space is not wisely utilised at all, like this table by the window that won’t allow you neither to reach the window, not walk past it… and what is exact purpose of this table? The bed was very comfortable, the a/c was very hard to switch off or switch on, not sure why… and the jacuzzi. Really? I mean sure fancy, but huh… The dome at the reception is an interesting touch. Otherwise nice and clean hotel.
We had breakfast included in our package, but I just couldn’t imagine having breakfast and then going to the strawberry farm to have another breakfast, so I just ate a few apricots from what we bought the previous day and went down to have a coffee. Well, I planned to go to the breakfast hall, but it meant that I need to go down, through reception, past a few corridors, another elevator and somehow guess that I need to go to the fourth floor… which I just had no clue about, so I was just chilling at the reception until F. showed up and summoned me to the right place.
With the right amount of caffeine in our bloods, we hit the road in the direction of the strawberry farm, which was located in an epically scenic place up the cliff.
But obviously before we got to see the view, we sat around on the carpet and enjoyed the tea and bread with honey and that dish that I can never remember what’s it called.
Stretching your legs over the beautiful carpet, tasty breakfast, having lazy conversations, sipping tea, time goes fast… and slow at the same time. The sun isn’t hot, but warming you up pleasantly with it morning glow… you just inevitably feel at peace. We had a privilege to enjoy some fresh strawberry juice, which was just the cherry on the cake this morning… what else one can dream of? Ah yes, honey… the generous owner of the farm offered us to try the honey they make, and even though I don’t generally like honey (unless in a honey cake) I bought a kilo of this honey, because it was so good. It really tastes like caramel… the sidr honey.
Then we did a small tour of the farm where the strawberries being grown in two ways – on the ground and in vertical arrangements, and if you taste two side by side you can really tell the difference. One is more sugary that the other. Interesting…
But the view…
I could just stay here for a while, maybe I could even do some yoga… but we got to go to the next location. Abu Sarrah Palace.
Abu Sarrah Palace is located in the middle of the Azizah Village in Asir. This traditional palace is nearly 220 years old. Normally, you wouldn’t be able to visit this place on a Friday morning, the timing just before the prayer – the most important prayer of the week, but we were treated as special guests and were received very warmly by Abdulrahman Abu Sarrah, who showed us every room in the palace and explained their use, the significance and the materials used in decoration and construction. What I learned from this is that to be able to build a house in the old times, you would need to have at least a hundred years old juniper tree to support the structure of your building, and then you need to have extra wood for doors and windows. The doors are mostly made for not very tall people, but it doesn’t mean that those previous generations of Saudis were short in height, they just didn’t have tall enough trees to make proper size doors. So a lot of us hit our heads plenty of times while navigating around the qasr. The interesting part about the palace arrangement is that they had place for animals on the lowest level, and it still does smell like animals there. The higher you go the more sophisticatedly decorated the rooms become, and on top of the castle there is a kitchen (it is usually always like this in traditional Arabic houses I noticed), the reason being so that the smells would not populate the whole area, as the hot air from the cooking usually goes up. I really loved the view from the palace and the huge Saudi Arabian flag flapping in the air. Another cute thing you can notice in this castle that there’s a small piece of the door missing (or cut out) on the bottom of almost every door – it is a cat path, so that they don’t meow at the doors and can just freely go wherever they want. Next to the Abu Sarrah Qasr (or sort of a part of it) there is a souvenir shop, abaya store, perfume store and a coffee shop (where they don’t sell sparkling water, but there is very decent coffee). We didn’t have much time to spare after our visit, Mohammed said 5 minutes to buy a coffee and we have to be out of here… so we obliged.
Next stop on our itinerary had quite an interesting story to it – the farm of Bu Abdallah and Umm Abdallah. Apparently on the previous Asir Trip Mohammed tried to organize a picnic style lunch for the group, but for some reason the food failed to be delivered. So he was stuck with a group of people who were expecting to eat something but there weren’t any restaurants around where he could take them… so he asked some random Saudi guy passing by for a solution. The guy said, hey there are these people who have a farm, call them, they will make food for you – so these were the people that we went to visit. But before we got to their place we made a quick stop to say hi to the baboons:
You can see plenty of them sitting by the side of the roads, waiting for people to give them some bread or snacks, but I wouldn’t recommend getting too close, because they can be quite mean… Be careful also when filming them with your phone as they can easily steal it, and I don’t think it is a fun thing to chase monkeys on the cliffs since they can navigate it much better than you.
The farm was charming, and we received a very warm welcome from the owners and their son.
After obligatory coffee and dates in the Majlis, we had a large meal of rice and meat, fruits in a room decorated by Umm Abdallah (so talented), finished our lunch outside on the carpet listening to goats and being sprinkled by the light afternoon rain.
Again, would you mind waking up to a view like this every day? Life as a farmer isn’t easy, but it gives you fulfillment and sense of belonging to your place that a lot of us have lost over the years of jet setting and living among the maze of concrete towers. Do you think about the number of people liking your picture on instagram when you have goats to feed, plants to water, food to prepare? My parents always used to grow food for themselves as long as I remember, and my father comes from a family who were farmers for generations… As a kid I used to plant carrots, dig potatoes and collect berries every summer, and it did feel like a chore and we didn’t appreciate the taste of something that you see so easily grown on the rich soils as we do now, now it is a miracle to get a tomato that tastes like a real tomato… so you really appreciate the efforts of people who put their time and energy into the soils.
After this amazing experience we felt like we were in need for some coffee, so we made a stop at the Lavish coffee shop on our way to Rijal Almaa. The coffee shop has interesting decorations where the tables are all made of rocks collected around the area.
Rijal Village is the capital of the Rijal Almaa Province and in translation it means “the brightest men.” This is a UNESCO World Heritage site that provided a natural corridor linking Yemen and the Levant to Mecca and Medina making it a regional commercial center. The place also holds historical importance as Asir tribes defeated a Turkish army of 50,000 in 1825 and forced them to sign a treaty granting Asir independence from the Ottoman Empire. The village consists of about 60 palaces built from natural stone, clay and wood, and the palaces consists of several floors.
We had a wonderful tour given by Ibrahim, showing us the insides on the palace. The earliest mentions of this place dates back to 1329 which makes you really wonder how was life here back then.
We had encountered an interesting behavior from one unknown person, who tried to join our tour, and when we asked him not to take pictures of us as we were a private group, he started saying that he was not taking pictures, and he was not trying to join, although it was obvious that he was. The more hilarious part of this is that he then ended up traveling on the same plane back to Dubai with us, but he pretended that he had never seen us in his life. Reminded me of that time when I was in Iceland, and these bunch of Asian tourists were just insisting to come and stand in front of our tripods with their selfie sticks, and then even when we relocated the cameras to exclude the said individuals, they moved as well and when we asked them to get out of the shot, they just ignored us.
Ibrahim is wearing a traditional Asiri outfit, and just from looking at it you can tell that these people are full of life and proud of their heritage.
Even if you are not much interested in the history of the Rijal Almaa village, you can’t help but appreciate how beautiful it is – picture perfect location and I am sure in no time it will be full of influencers of all kinds (hopefully still respecting the place). It is now undergoing restoration so you will see some parts of it not being in the top state yet, but things are changing…
After the tour Ibrahim invited us to his place for an afternoon tea and snacks, which was very generous of him. He told us that he restored his family house that lied abandoned for a while and nobody wanted to support him saying he was crazy, but now look at this fancy view that he has. You can rent the place for yourself and enjoy the views of Rijal Almaa as much as you want.
After the tea, we had a private flute concert from the celebrity musician of the region, Mr. Hudaish Asiri. He is such a funny person, full of life and full of jokes, made us giggle and laugh, made us dance as well which was very joyful.
After entertaining us, they tried to teach us how to play flute, but let’s just say it was quite a fluke and it is definitely not as easy as it seems. The sounds that my companions were producing with their flutes made me cry of laughter, and mr Kazim was doing something else than trying to play a flute but anyhow we had a good time. Then we went to the roof to enjoy the magnificent view one more time, before we had to go back to “civilization” of Abha City for a dinner with Mohammed’s friend – Esraa, who is a practicing dentist. This time we even had to sit at the proper table and eat with cutlery, which felt kind of strange after having to eat all our previous meals on the floor and with our hands. Mohammed said that we gotta go and experience some traditional Qatt Art Painting on our teeth by his lovely friend, and some of us even believed it. But no, we just had a more or less civilized dinner, where we got to know each other a little bit better. After the clock turned past midnight, it was time to leave and go to the hotel, but not before making a final stop at the ice-cream shop for the last sugar rush of the day.
I hope you enjoyed spending this day with me,
Stay tuned for more epic adventures of day three.
Much love, Anna
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