Photographer

Baljurashi to Muhayil

Figuring that today’s ride would be fairly easy and short,  I started with a pre-dawn run around the outskirts of Baljurashi. The light at this time of year is wonderful and the landscape lends itself to the glancing rays of the morning sun. Being Friday morning  the town was very quiet. I met nobody for thirty minutes until I took a back road trying to find a way to one of the old stone towers. A group of Egyptian builders were having a breakfast of foul and bread, squatting at the side of their foundations. They invited me to join them,  which I did for a few mouthfuls. I love this Afghani food but know that it doesn’t make running any easier and I had a long way to go back.  

I spent a good part of the previous evening studying google maps and trying to plan the best route. Pulling out of Baljurashi I found myself on a small winding road through farmland. It is remarkable how different the feeling of this area is compared to the Eastern Provinnce. There is so much more vegetation and the landscape is rich with features, variety and texture. As the climb started, I wondered where the mountain was I had spotted on the map. The road that wound its way up was so sinuous that it suggested it should be huge and steep, yet what was before me was really quite insignificant. Suddenly  a large car park appeared, with baboons everywhere. They were pulling litter out of a skip and searching through discarded polythene bags. I’d just found a local picnic spot. Carefully parking the bike away from the baboon activity I took the time to look around. The missing mountain became obvious. I was on top it. My winding road went down, not up. I was pleased that I hadn’t been describing the route to anyone.

There were warnings about steep and dangerous curves ahead, with advice on using a low gear. These signs are huge, red and bilingual. It’s good advice, but as the road is very obviously steep and twisty, I don’t see the point. By contrast there are no warning signs that suggest you don’t overtake on blind bends, or cut people off at junctions, or generally drive like a twit. The road was magnificent and I badly wanted pictures, but stopping was somewhat challenging. It would have made good video footage perhaps. I was thankful that I didn’t have to share the road with a lot of other cars. Down in the valley a diversion landed me outside a Yemeni restaurant making foul and huge flatbreads, like the ones I had shared with the builders a couple of hours earlier. It was too good to miss. This time I was riding so …

Feeling very content after my second breakfast, justified because of my run, I thought I would go and explore al Makhwah and the jebel that Ray Timm had recommended. Studying the map I hadn’t been able to work out of there was a road up the jebel or just a track, so time for a little exploring. The scenery just got better and better, and remarkably a road appeared going in the right direction, narrow but generally in good condition. I pressed on until I got to a point where I was thinking that I shouldn’t be doing this, but by that time I was committed. It’s difficult to change your mind when on a slope steeper than 1 in 4 and going round a tight bend with a changing camber. The road soared upwards and so did I, slipping the clutch and cursing.  By the time I reached a small plateau my heart was in my mouth and the thought that I was probably going to have to go back the same way was making me sweat. I need to do some off road training!

I went as far up the mountain as I could, before returning rather cautiously. An excellent experience. There is so much rock climbing and hiking potential in this area, it could become a haven for outdoor pursuits enthusiasts. There is good money to be made here. If only Saudi would open its doors a little.

Back on safe tarmac in Makhwah, I decided to head straight for Muhayil and my hotel, which was about three hours away. Straight? Hardly. I don’t think that there was more than a couple of kilometres of straight road in the rest of the journey. Fabulous riding. 

Muhayil left me somewhat unimpressed. It’s surrounded by beautiful scenery and yet the city itself is rather grim. This notwithstanding the fact that the local government has spent considerable amounts of money on carefully constructed plastic play grounds, colourful concrete landscaping and sculptures, and the inevitable bright park with its umbrellas and shades. 

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