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"Open, Sesame" - unveiling the secrets of Saudi-Arabia and Jordan (ASJ2302)

Saturday, November 18, 2023 | Markus Hellrigl | Asia

Admittedly, many of the things we will see are no longer secrets. Nevertheless, they fill us with a fascination that contains what is unknown to us. Even more as Saudi Arabia has so far remained more or less closed to the Western world. You know a lot about Jordan, but this country still offers a lot that you would like to discover again or for the first time.

Let's open the door to the unknown in the next two weeks and lift the veil a little!

Arrival day in Jeddah

Most of us arrived a day early so we had time to explore the city of Jeddah. Unfortunately, there is not much left to see of the classic Arabic architecture, but there are still a few corners in the old town. The new Corniche was designed with a lot of love for this purpose. The welcome briefing and the motorcycle handover took place in the late afternoon. First, our curiosity about the coming days was rekindled and then we took over the actually new motorcycles that Rathijen and Ibrahim, our companions and van drivers, brought with them from Dubai. Now we are ready to rock 'n roll!

First dinner together

Riding day 1: Jeddah to Al Baha

A wonderful morning to start the tour

After some of us had already experienced the city traffic in Jeddah in a taxi, either on the ride from the airport to the hotel or while exploring the city, our biggest concern was, how we would get out of the city in one piece. But it wasn't all that bad! The guides had found a moderate exit and the traffic wasn't nearly as dense in the morning. After an hour we were able to take a first break on the southern beach promenade south of the city. Then we took the highway to Al Lith. From here the road led inland and within a very short time the first mountain ranges appeared. It's impressive how quickly the landscape changed. One mountain range after another rose, each higher than the last. Finally some curves! After a quick visit to Thee Ain Heritage Village we climbed 600 meters! 30 kilometers to Al Baha up to 2200 m high. A total of 460 successful kilometers on the first day of a long journey!

First break at the beach
First spectacular mountains
Thee Ain Heritage Village

Riding day 2: Al Baha to Ta'if

After we were only able to ride up the artfully laid out road in the dark yesterday, the tour guide decided, that we should extend today's day by a few kilometers and drive down and up again a bit. It was definitely worth it, turn after turn the road windes its way up the steep mountain wall to the plateau on which Al Baha is located. Afterwards we started the official day of riding to Ta'if. If there's one thing you don't associate with Saudi Arabia, it's an incredible mountain landscape. Parallel mountain ranges disappear in the distance in the haze, the road winds around hills or simply follows the course of the ridge. At every stop the smile on the faces gets bigger, and the locals, especially the young people, also think we're cool. They try to have a conversation with us using the few bits of English they know. There is still a little rain in the afternoon, but even this can't spoil our wonderful day of driving.

The road to Al Baha
Rainer is happy!
Wonderful landscape
Mountains everywhere
Christian and Karl are admireing the herbs and spices
the young ones celebrate us....
.... the older ones are more remote
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Riding day 3: Ta'if to King Abdulah Economic City (KAEC)

Despite a technical defect on the trailer, we set off and made our way to King Abdulah Economic City, more simply known by its abbreviation KAEC. What makes the day longer is the fact that Mecca is between our starting point and the destination. To the north there is apparently only one path that does not lead to Mecca and that all the "infidels" and the trucks have to take. From the halfway point onwards, we continued on the old road with far less traffic. Following a wadi that leads to a widening valley and finally ends in the coastal plain, we reach the entrance gates to KAEC. But before we drive into the pretige project, we visit the High Speed ​​Train station, an extremely futuristic building. Our luggage only arrives shortly before dinner (first technical problems on the trailer; later massive heavy rain with torrents in the wadis) but that doesn't dampen the good mood. It's an adventure tour!

Now we know where we have to go!
No, it's not a spaceship - it is the KAEC highspeed train railway station

Riding day 4: KAEC to Yanbu

After exploring KAEC we headed inland. The plan was to cut through the mountains away from the main traffic routes and later return to the coast, where today's destination, Yanbu, is. A few kilometers east of Masturah we entered a wadi which comes through the mountains from the direction of Medhina. When the navigation system showed the turnoff from one wadi to the other, the tour guide thought he had made a mistake because there was nothing there. So we drove in the wrong wadi to the end of the asphalt. We turn around. Getting back to the indicated, but now invivible junction, even saying “Open sesame” didn'thelp. The road remained gone, buried by gravel and sand washed through the wadi by a flood following a strong thunderstorm. Back on the coastal plain, we soon reached Yanbu, an interesting port town with a long history, as we learned at the Heritage Center.

Ready to explore KAEC
At the end?
Sheltering in the shade at 40° C
Christian wants to buy a new truck
In front of te old town of Yanbu
History lesson at the Heritage Center

Riding day 5: Yanbu to Al'Ula

Finally out of Yanbu we took the road east. After about 50 km we stopped at the first highlight of the day, the Al Jabriyah Water Spring. The village youth were there straight away and of course they had to show us what they could do. From here the landscape also changed, mountain ranges accompany the wadi on both sides, which we follow towards the north. The crowning conclusion of the day was the drive up to Harrat View Point.

One of 20 existing historical water sources at Yanbu al Nakl
Kids having fun
Trading hats - it's a deal
Remnants of a Heddjaz railway station
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Harrat Viewpoint

Day 6: Al'Ula

Instead of kilometers, today there was culture. We took a bus from the oasis of Al'Ula to the desert to Hegra. Better known today as Mada'in Salih, ancient Hegra was a trading metropolis founded by the Naabtaeans and built on an important trade route. In modern times, Mada'in Salih is primarily known for the over 100 Naabtaean rock-cut tombs, which date from the first century BC and the first century AD. As a contrast to the graves carved out of the sandstone, we visited Maraya. The name means "mirror" or "reflection" in Arabic and you have to see the building to believe it. A steel frame is covered by 9,740 m2 of mirror surface and holds the Guinness Record for the largest mirrored building in the world. A late but very good lunch rounded off the day before we returned to Sahary.

Little dessert guy
Edelweiss guests looking for some shade
Tomb of Lihyan
What is it?
Size 100x100x26 meters, 9470 sqm of mirrors, 3000 mirror panels
It is MARAYA - the opera house near Al'Ula. It holds the Guiness World record for the largest fully mirrored building in the world
Not enough guests on the tour? Just clone them

Riding day 7: Al'Ula to Tabuk

Despite yesterday's full program, everyone is fresh and alert for the almost 400 km to Tabuk. We follow the well-developed road into the mountains. Different rocks, bizarre rock formations and seemingly familiar landscapes alternate. While petrified volcanic vents rise into the sky in one corner, Monument Valley becomes visible around the next bend. But we are still in Saudi Arabia. The road takes us out of the mountains over a barren, stony plateau and into the plain of Tabuk.

Attention - camel crossing
And here they are!
Karl inhales the landscape
Monument Valley in Saudi Arabia?
Road from nowhere ........
....... to nowhere

Riding day 8: Tabuk to Aqaba

Today the adventure "bordercrossing into Jordan" was on our agenda. But first things first. We left Tabuk heading north on the highway. As we left the city, the city name Amman appeared for the first time, an indication that we were heading in the right direction. But after about three quarters of an hour we turned west towards the Gulf of Aqaba. Mountains in the desert, sometimes rugged, sometimes round, alternated with sandy areas. The influence of the great desert in the east is clearly noticeable. At Haql we reached the sea and soon we were at the border with Jordan. Now patience was the order of the day! Leaving Saudi Arabia was relatively quick by Arab standards; we were through within an hour. The entry into Jordan was a little slower, but after almost three hours in total everything was done and we were able to complete the last few kilometers to Aqaba. The successful border crossing was celebrated with a “real” draft beer at the hotel bar.

Endless mountains and dessert
Be patient and wait
Celebrating the successful entry to Jordan (and it is real beer)
Looking towards Eilat, Israel

Riding day 9: Aqaba to Wadi Rum

Today it was almost a rest day with a bit of motorcycling. Thanks to a late check-out, we didn't meet for the briefing until 1:30 p.m. and shortly afterwards we rolled out of the city. Everyone had spent the morning individually, but now we were traveling as a group again. The Dessert Highway took us north and after about an hour we left the highway towards Wadi Rum. When Markus turned into the Hedjaz train station, he was shocked to see that this highlight of the day was not there. After half an hour the nostalgic train rolled into the station; the tourists who got out had experienced a touch of “Lawrence of Arabia”. Filming for the film, which was made in the 1960s, also took place here. From Wadi Rum Village we transferred to off-road vehicles that took us to our camp.

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The Hedjaz Train rolling in

Riding day 10: Wadi Rum to Petra

After a good breakfast we were ready for the desert drive through Wadi Rum. Bizarre rock formations, canyons, petroglyphs and incredible landscapes accompanied us throughout the morning and left us with a lot of impressions. After a quick lunch break in Wadi Rum Village we headed to Petra, the famous rock city.

Day 11: Rest day in Petra

21,501 steps in Petra! This is no small walk! We headed to the Visitor Center early at 8 a.m. to get there before the crowds, but apparently others had the same idea. So we hiked with others through the narrow gorge to another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The weather gods were kind to us and kept the sun behind a light cloud for most of the time, so that everyone could live out their urge to move and climb to the ideal photo positions. The impressive site built by the Naabtaeans, which was later settled by the Romans, left a deep impression on everyone. Words really can't describe the magical attraction (not just for tourists) that this place has.

The view opens to the Treasury
In front of the Treasury
How many donkies are there?
21.501 steps - Karl had the stepcounter on

Riding day 12: Petra to the Dead Sea

Somehow you could think that overnight we had been beamed into a different region: 11°C and fog. For the first hour of the day we couldn't see much of the landscape along the Kings Highway, but then it got better and, above all, warmer. The crusader castle of Kerak was worth the visit, although the huge complex would have been worth a more intensive visit. After a short lunch break we continued through an impressively scenic wadi down to the Dead Sea. We headed north 421m below sea level to to our hotel to have time to float in the Dead Sea. Of course, a mud treatment was a must!

Crusader castle Kerak
Saladin, who besieged the castle
Dead Sea in the distance
Will be good for the skin
Everybody looks the same: Rainer, Radjit, Alex, Christian, Michael and Karl (from the left)
Floating Michael

Riding day 13: Dead Sea to Jerash

For an adventure tour you also need a real adventure! After a leisurely start through the Jordan Valley, which is used for agricultural purposes, we followed a wadi that meanders between the hills. We reached the next valley over a ridge and went back down into the valley via a small road. The road that the navigation system now showed was a gravel road, the tour guide decided to go around it - with the result see below. But that's not enough! Thousands of small roads cover the hills, errors are possible. In the end we still got to Jerasa. The remains of the city built by the Romans are stunning! The onward journey to the hotel turned into a little odyssey with a landing in the middle of nowhere - thanks Vili for the help finding the hotel!

Looks like a dead end road!
Jerash - amazing remnants of Roman footprints in the Middle East
Live on stage - Karl und Christian
Deserved beer
Arabian cousin to it's best

Riding day 14: Jerash to Madaba

Fourteen days have passed and after about 3,500 km we have reached the end of our journey in Madaba. The last day of driving took us north of Amman towards the east. One last time we drove through barren desert landscape, the vastness of the stone desert stretches forever. After about three hours of driving we reached Al-Azraq, known for the remains of a Crusader fortress. Now we head back towards Amman. Of Jordan's numerous desert castles, two are located directly on the road and invited you to stop. Qasr Amra, the “little castle” impresses with frescoes from the 6th century, while a little further on, Qasr al Kharanehal's monumental building attracts attention. In the late afternoon we finally reach our destination, Madaba.

Crusaders castle in Ar-Azraq
Unimpressiv from the outside .........
.....but fascinating inside
Qasr al Kharanehal


It was a special tour, Edelweiss is the first to try to combine a trip on motorcycles through the (still) unknown Saudi Arabia with a ride through Jordan. I am extremely pleased that I was able to be your guide and that you had fun and enjoyed discovering this unknown with me. A concentrated load of culture, paired with unforgettable impressions of the country and its people, the endless expanse of the desert, and much more make this trip what it is: an adventure. Thank you also for your feedback, it will help me makeing the tour even better. We are pleased that we were able to make this tour a special kind of experience for you!

Your three musketeers Markus, Ibrahim and Rajith

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