There was a storm starting up in the mountains when we were leaving the Asiri Flower Men Camp site, the skies were getting dark and the lightning was flashing at regular intervals… We decided go to the souq Thalatha (or Thuluth), the Tuesday market even though it was Saturday to get some souvenirs and just have a look at what’s in the souq. One thing which is true, that though Asir region is aspiring to become a tourist heavy destination, they don’t really sell any souvenirs just yet around the places of interest. At best you can buy some food items on the side of the road or some Qatt Art if you go to the atelier of Fatimah.
It started properly raining and we were sort of trapped into one shop where you can find anything from spices to clothes, pottery, daggers, hats, all the things really in one place. The lady who was selling things didn’t want to haggle on any prices, and the prices weren’t much high anyway. I bought a blue dress to go together with my blue abaya, and people on Instagram told me I look like a genie from Aladdin. Sure, whatever… Random moment that happened while we were buying some more bread. So cute.
Rain finally stopped, and we went back to the hotel to chill for a moment (but really just a moment), then went back to crazy roads on the side of Soudah Mountain with Saudi Fannaneen left and right. Stopped for the coffee at Abu Sarrah palace (casually drinking coffees at the foot of the palace), it was getting rather chilly, maybe 18 degrees and though many Arabs enjoy these kind of temperatures, I honestly freeze these days to anything below 27. And yes, you can comment on my Russian blood all you want, the environment I’ve been living in for past 10 years has made me heat resistant, and not cold-proof. Never enjoyed cold weather much, sun all the way.
We were sitting there and talking about our memorable travels, and how traveling changes you into more tolerant person, how traveling helps you deal with unbearable people who are not ready for traveling and all they get out of their travels is how they actually just want to go home and experience their normal life, and their familiar food and speak the language they understand. But when the coffees ran out and the night grew colder, we got into the car and drove back into the city through the mountains of lights, unexpected traffics and ordering McDonalds on the way (yes, I know), made a brief stop to buy some fruits from the street venders and ended our journey in the art studio, called Studio Phi.
Art scene in Saudi Arabia these days is like a desert plant that suddenly got rained on after the years of drought. There is so much going on, and it absolutely wonderful to see every aspect of it. Arabic language itself is like poetry and the creativity of people whose brains are shaped by this language is unparalleled.
In the gallery we are met by Hatem and Saeed, who showed us both on what they are working on which includes printing, engineering, making sculptures, painting, film development and what not… then joined by Shahd, who introduces us to her work representing our relationship with Earth in her creation. Mindblowing work!
We sit around in a circle, talking about ourselves, dreams and inspirations, chewing our McDonalds and sipping tea. Somehow it is almost midnight and we didn’t see the time passing… I just met these people but I love their energy and I wish they were my friends so I can come and hang out in their studio, seeing them create.
We go back to our glorious hotel, and yet again, though I am so tired, I am just overwhelmed with the experiences, and can’t sleep.
Next day we have to check out of our hotel, so I pack my belongings into the suitcase, and descend into the hall to go for breakfast in the old Abha police station converted into a restaurant. In the lift I meet a young Saudi lady who is asking me in Arabic where are the conference rooms in this hotel, but I have no clue, so I tell her better ask at the reception. We drink some coffee and talk about the grandfather of F. who was an artist and poet in Bahrain, but after he died her grandmother got rid of most of his art and painted his studio into a normal room, erasing all the memories of him making art out there.
Finally, we make our way out and walk across the Ottoman bridge to the old part of Abha city. We encounter a young Saudi exercising in the streets in his thobe, and can’t help but giggle at his attempts, but he is giving it the beans.
We walk around the neighbourhood a bit, admiring old doors and cacti growing everywhere, then finally go to have our breakfast again in a traditional sitting arrangement on the floor with half walls. The neighbors behind the wall seem to be listening some religious sermons while waiting for the food, while we share stories of the cheesiest pick up lines ever used on us or by us, and laugh too much… the religious moods of our neighbors don’t prevent them from trying to airdrop us their snapchat codes and pictures of questionable character. One thing that you have to be aware of in KSA (especially in crowded places or the airport) is that people will try to airdrop you strange things in an attempt to lure you in. I don’t know what’s the percentage of success for these endeavors, but I just prefer not to accept any. When the neighbors finishes with their meal, we see that those were two rather aged Saudi gentlemen in rather short thobes and with rather long beards, accompanied by women and children. Alas, we never will become snapchat friends.
Then we return to our trusty vehicle, and set off to grasp the last breath of the fresh mountain air from the Soudah Mountain. On our way we stop by another abandoned village, which Mohammed tells us he tried to acquire to turn into the lodge and restaurant, but the Saudi Authorities didn’t let him do so. It would have been amazing, but it is not meant to be. The views from that place fill you in with eternal peace, and the walls seem to have seen some interesting lives of past generations… we find a fig tree in the gardens with small fruits on it, I wonder if anyone will come to pick them up when they are ripe.
Finally we made way to our final stop on the observation deck of the national park on top of the mountain. We didn’t speak much, just roamed around engulfed in the beauty of nature, the silence of the mountains overlapping each other… not believing that in a few hours we would have to get back on the plane to take us back to the hot and humid Dubai.
Needless to say, we all wished this moment can just last a little longer.
Before going to the airport we stopped for a coffee in High City of Abha, the newly opened place full of restaurants and cafes… they told me it’s strange how I am a foreigner in their group but they don’t consider me to be an outsider, because they did have foreigners join their trips before but they always felt that they have to explain themselves to those people, but they feel like I am one of them. How often it happens in my life that I don’t belong where I supposed to belong, and I feel myself at home in places that supposed to feel very foreign.
On the way to the airport we laughed about some banana stories too much, that Mohammed even missed the right turn and we had to do a big detour to get in. We didn’t even say goodbyes yet and I already missed them all.
The plane was late, and the waiting in the terminal was uneventfully long. We did however see the guy who tried to ruin our Rijal Almaa experience on our plane and we found it ironic, even though he pretended that he has never met us in his life.
The sunset was absolutely out of this world, and with heart full of love once again I returned from KSA third time this year, awaiting impatiently when I can go back again and discover more of this land full of mysteries and adventures.
Thank you for following my trip, I hope you had fun and stay tuned for more.