19 July 2017


We spent the last couple of weeks of June in Jeddah, which was lovely.  I didn't quite know what to expect, since it's still Saudi Arabia but everyone says it's more liberal.  And it was, in lots of ways.  It felt like a vacation even though we were there for work.  The place we stayed was like a resort with swimming pools everywhere and even a little grocery store.  It was lovely to be able to get food without an abaya with just a short walk.  

I'd been worried that the humidity would be bad, but even though the heat index was around 120 a lot of the time we were there, it still wasn't as awful as Riyadh at 115.  Everyone liked not being so dry and when the wind blew, it felt good, instead of like someone had put you in the dryer like it does in Riyadh in the summer.  

We didn't end up doing that much in Jeddah except hanging out.  Part of the family went snorkeling one day and got very, very sunburned so there was lots of recovery time.  But we did go to the aquarium and poked around al Balad, which was my favorite part.

We stayed in Taif on the way there and back.  It was noticeably cooler which was so nice.  But I picked the wrong hotel on the way there because it was next to a large mosque and we were getting into the last week of Ramadan so there were prayers being broadcast every couple of hours all night long.  But we survived and enjoyed the cooler weather and got around Mecca the next morning without accidentally going in.  And we were able to drive down the escarpment outside Taif which is amazing and also has baboons.  Really.  We went north around Mecca on the way home which is boring.  

Al Balad is the old city in Jeddah.  The Saud family may have rural roots, but Saudi isn't entirely Bedu.  It was interesting to see and read about the difference between Hijazi and Najdi Saudis, to see different architecture, and to feel like we were in a place that probably wouldn't control everyone's lives so strictly if Hijazis were in charged of Saudi instead of Najdis.  Al Balad is still very conservative, but it's not Najdi.  I loved seeing the old buildings and it was recently declared a World Heritage Site so I hope more restoration will happen.  There are a lot of falling-apart buildings in there.   Mostly it was nice to be in a city that felt lived in, rather than the artificialness of Riyadh (and Tashkent, to some extent, but in a different way).  There was even street art.

One evening we went to a bit of a street festival during Eid al-Fitr.  There were hand-cranked ferris wheels and street food and people selling things and just generally having a good time in a mixed crowd.  We also found a couple of the old embassies from when Jeddah was the capital of Saudi Arabia which was fun.  I seem to be missing a chunk of photos but when I track them down I'll try to remember to add them here.  

I didn't get everything done here I wanted to.  I'd like to spend a lot more time in al Balad, and we need more snorkeling.  I'd like to go back during Eid al-Adha if we can make the logistics work.

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