Snakes, scorpions, sandstorms.
Three words on the risk management matrix when I last went to the desert. It was with a group of children for an outdoor education day and we were heading to Thumamah. I remember that we saw no snakes or scorpions. We did see a huge rat vacant one of the Bedouin camp tents as we walked into it. I remember also that it was very sandy and not particularly pleasant.
Last weekend we went on a different kind of outing. No school children this time, just a group of adults in a convoy of five 4W drives. We were going to Rawdat Khoraim, also known as The King’s Forest. You turn off along the road to Dammam, about an hour’s drive from Riyadh.
After a holiday in New Zealand, the word forest brought to mind tall trees, mid-height plants and low green ground cover. Rimu, manuka, fern. But I was wrong. There was no all-covering canopy here, just the occasional tree and lots of green low growing plants. It was more meadow than forest.
Before leaving we'd read that Rawdat Khoraim had been opened in 2005 by the King, then Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, as a wildlife park. He intended it to be a place where people could escape the hustle and bustle of the city. I’d have to say that we saw very little evidence of wildlife, but we did eventually find ourselves a quiet green picnic spot.
When we arrived we were a little overwhelmed by the throngs of cars and local visitors, including those with tents set up for overnight camping. However, by driving a distance, following the fence line that indicated the forest perimeter, we came to a quiet and almost deserted area of green.
The day was all that one could wish for, just the smallest breeze, blue sky and pleasant temperatures. We set up under a tree and started on our picnic food. In the distance, the orange sand dunes made a striking contrast to the green that was all around us.
A short walk was a great way to discover flowers and plants in abundance. Also good was the fact that because we were in an area with few locals, there was no litter cluttering the landscape. And even better, out here, so far from the long arm of the muttawa it was possible to discard abayas. Mine was first off.
There was time to do as we liked, chat, read, walk or nap. Some of us even flew kites that had been bought on the way at a roadside market.
It’s true it wasn’t New Zealand, and it wasn't all that I’d expected, but for here, the day was pretty close to perfect.