There has been so much I have wanted to write about and so little time! Classes start tomorrow meaning this was the last weekend of orientation. As a big finale we did a trip to Taif, a city about 3 hours away from KAUST. At 6:30 AM we met up at the student center, grabbed our packed breakfasts, and boarded our coach buses and we were on our way towards Taif. Along the way we were driving along the road to Mecca, and because it is Hajj season, there was a lot of police security stops along the way. We even got escorted for portions of the trip which was pretty amusing. By the way, Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca (the most Holy city for Muslims). I was told that millions of people make this journey every year, but the country requires a permit which is pretty hard to get because the facilities only hold a limited amount of people (although they are working to build more hotels/restaurants/ect) in the area. You can only do Hajj once every 5 years or so and most only do it once in their lifetime. I also don’t know how legit this is but I was also told that to get the permit they have to submit an itinerary of their visit to Saudi including exact times they are going to be in different cities and where they will stay ect (which I am assuming is why there are so many police stops).
Anyways, Ta’if is a common “summer home” destination in Saudi due to its higher elevation which makes it a lot cooler. It’s also known as the “city of roses”, as they make rose water and create fragrance out of the roses. Unfortunately it wasn’t rose season (it is in April) but we still got to see the distillery and learnt how the process works. According to the internet, The famous rose of Ta’if is the 30-petal damask rose which has a scent so robust, spicy, and dizzyingly complex, that it has been used in several luxury perfumes including Ormonde Jayne Perfumery, Chanel and Guerlain.”
Ta’if rose plantation
Another cool stop was to the Sharif museum. This museum showcased Arabic home living, and had different rooms set up to teach us what different objects were used for. They also taught us about different specialties like metal smithing, basket weaving, ect.
The next stop was for a buffet lunch at the Ramada hotel. The food was delicious and the views were spectacular! Being vegetarian/vegan in Saudi is possible but meals get pretty repetitive. I have eaten hummus with almost every meal, served with pita, peppers, and carrots. There’s also rice and lentils at almost every meal. And I really love the lentil soup as well! Fruit is also pretty easy to find, there’s tons of watermelon, pineapple, pomegranates, strawberries, apples, bananas, mangoes, ect. There’s even a farmers market on campus that sells these, not too far from my house!! Anyways, the hotel is known for its view of the Shafa Mountains. any people think of Saudi as entirely desert, covered with sand and camels, so the view here is pretty cool!
The highlight of this hotel is a Gondola ride they offer. It is super long, almost 40 total minutes (down and back) but the views were incredible. It went over this crazy windy road that leads up the mountain. And my favorite part was seeing baboons and wild dogs! Apparently, Taif baboons are the only monkey in the entire world that week dogs! Apparently, according to a documentary, the baboons kidnap puppies from tourists and villagers and raise them sort of as protectors. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U2lSZPTa3ho (from the documentary, “Animals Like Us”. Super random sorry, but hey now you have a fun fact about baboons!
Another stop after this was to a little roadside vendor area where locals could bring their kids for food, and to ride camels and horses. I personally chose not to because I didn’t love the way the animals were treated (whips and kicking) so I didn’t ride one, but here are some photos of that!
The last stops of the day were to two different souks (markets). One selling fruits and veggies and the other was in the city selling goods (like clothings, house stuff, food, ect). I enjoyed walking around and taking in the culture and views. I am learning so much here! Not just about Saudi but so many other regions of the world. People attending KAUST are from all over the world so it is fun to meet and talk to students from all kinds of backgrounds!
After our three hour bus ride home, we finally arrived at Kaust around 1 AM. I was pretty exhausted and had a full night sleep!