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Saudi desert offers respite from virus lockdown

16 Mar 2020
The site offers stunning views of the valley below, a lush grove of acacia trees teeming with wildlife. (Shutterstock)
The site offers stunning views of the valley below, a lush grove of acacia trees teeming with wildlife. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 16 Mar 2020
16 Mar 2020

JABAL FIHRAYN: As Saudi Arabia suspended international flights and shuttered entertainment venues this weekend over coronavirus fears, locals and residents once again turned to wide-open desert spaces for recreation, including the breathtaking “Edge of the World.”

There has been a surge of interest in getaways to the rugged desert just outside the capital Riyadh, guides say.

Those seeking isolation away from home can make the two-hour drive northwest from the capital Riyadh to the Edge of the World site, where 300-meter-high cliffs offer expansive desert vistas.

Described as a “window framed by rock,” the site offers stunning views of the valley below, a lush grove of acacia trees teeming with wildlife and vegetation.

“I came to enjoy trail hiking because many places are closed: Cinemas, public spaces and we cannot travel,” Khalid Al-Harbi, a Saudi from the Eastern Province, told Reuters.

Sarah, a Briton living in Riyadh, said the metropolis had gone quiet nowadays. “But here is an incredible place to come, lots of fresh air, you’re outside. There are lots of people here but there’s such a lot of space,” she said.

Saudi Arabia has reported 118 coronavirus cases but no deaths. It suspended the Umrah pilgrimage and locked down its eastern Qatif region where many infections are located.

The authorities have shuttered sports, entertainment and wedding halls, asked people to avoid shaking hands, and urged the population of 30 million to limit their movements.

Buses and 4x4s transport families and young people to the desert site for a day of trekking and a campfire barbecue with music, dancing and waterpipes. The cliffs, officially known as Jabal Fihrayn, overlook ancient caravan trade routes.

The cliffs in the areas were formed as a result of the tectonic movement of the Arabian plate toward the northeast because of the spread of the Red Sea rift situated 1,000 km to the west of Tuwaiq.

“Corona is negative, but the positive is that this place is full of people,” said Abdulrahman Edres, who knows the area well as a rescue volunteer.

Reuters

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