Quad Riding and a Camel Camp

I finally got the opportunity to ride quads in the desert! They weren’t the most powerful bikes but it was fun anyhow.  A group of us went out to ride and then had a picnic. After riding we went to a camel camp, yup, more camels! Sorry for all of the camel photos in the last two blogs, they just crack me up!
This camel experience included trying camel milk. I won’t be having it again, blech! And it was warm…I drank it straight from the camel! I have been offered it before from a bowl but haven’t been entirely sure how long it may have been sitting in the bowl nor how clean the bowl was…you will understand my hesitancy about cleanliness when you look at my photos of the camp. So, this shepherd (offered) convinced me to try it direct and I figured it was the freshest and cleanest I would ever get.  It has a fairly strong taste and is thicker than cows milk. Add in the warm factor and I am all set for this to be a one time thing. He also let me try milking the camel, I was terrible at it.  I got a few squirts out but if I ever had to fill a bucket, it would be a long day!
A quad rental guy’s tent
This is how they make fences in the desert in Saudi, and yes, you can move them as easily at it appears!
Camel camp
This guy was calling for attention. He got quiet as soon as we got closer
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I came across this while riding in the desert. Unfortunately, I wasn’t near any of my friends at the time, would have been fun to get a photo of someone posed on it
Our breakfast after riding
Me, attempting to milk. This shepherd got a little close, I bailed shortly thereafter on this experience
I’ve had better moments but it makes a good story!
A sculpture alongside the road. It is huge. Not sure what it represents and don’t really know what anything is other than the hand and sword
Our group on the bus, taken with Sophie’s selfie stick, great toy!
More odd desert detritus
Sophie and her selfie stick!
This photo and the one above show this girl chewing. Their mouths move side to side, it is hysterical
Devin getting some attention. They all come over to the fence when people are near
More of the camp
The shepherd and one of his ladies
Don’t remember what was happening stage left but it was clearly interesting!
I put my hand in there after he showed me this. The camel just kind of gnaws on it, doesn’t bite at all but does sort of pull your hand in farther and farther. Feels funny
Bed and storage unit…
The guy’s sleeping area
Hence my worries about the cleanliness of the milk bowls
Not much better close up
This shepherd also had goats with the longest ears I have ever seen
Check out these eyelashes!
Me on my quad. This dune is a lot steeper than it appears in the photo. You can see how many runs we made trying to get to the top. Never happened
My friend held his go pro out and a camel went in for a taste

Camel Souk

This post is going to contain mostly photos and videos as I had a hard time editing them. I find the camels hilarious and loved almost every photo and vid that I took. Many of the vids are pretty short and worth taking a minute to watch if you want a few laughs. Please let me know if they don’t work. I have heard occasionally that they don’t play. There is an alternate way to upload them, but you lose the sound. The sounds in some of these are a large part of what make them so funny.
Some background, my group of friends has gotten hooked up with an incredible Saudi man named Farris who does trips for us.  He will take us pretty much anywhere that we want to go and he is both knowledgeable about much of Saudi culture and has great connections. We went to the Camel Souk a few weeks ago with him as our fearless leader.  This is a large market just outside of Riyadh and is mostly Saudi’s and all men.  There are some people of other ethnicities but not many. We got to learn about camels and have a ride on one.
Some fun facts:
1) Only one-humpers (dromedary) are native to Saudi. There is one place in Saudi with two-humpers (Bactrian) but they were imported by a rich guy
2) Saudi has white, black, red and brown camels
3) The white and black are called by the arabic words for white and black. The other colors are just called camels
4) The white ones are usually the most prized with long eyelashes being a key feature in the value of them
5) A single camel (usually a bull) can sell for a million riyals (approx $266,666 USD!)
6) People drink the milk and eat the meat, in addition to using them for transportation of humans and loads and the hair is often used for weaving textiles.
7) Camels are very friendly and curious, not at all skittish.
8) They make the strangest noise I think I have heard an animal make. Sounds as if they are dying
9) The herds are primarily females with one or two males. The males are kept separately and the lead female is usually hobbled or tied up. The others won’t leave if she doesn’t.
Due to the connections of our guide, we were invited to take Arabic coffee and dates with some of the shepherds and then he was able to work out an opportunity for us to ride the camels. When we first asked if we could ride them, he made the funniest face and said something to the effect of us causing a scene. This was due to the fact that half of our group was female. He ended up negotiating with three men from Afghanistan to ride their camels a ways away from the souk. We took the bus and met them out there in the middle of nowhere and then we had the opportunity to ride in peace.
Watch how the lips move when they chew
The shepherds move the camels with just a little stick.
The getting up and down part was not very graceful
Much smoother once you got going and actually very comfortable. The “saddles” are more like cushioned seats with backrests
Some of my friends riding ahead of me
Oh, the noises and the faces. I laugh every time I watch this one!
Yes, they really are this goofy looking!
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Eyelashes
This kid is one of the shepherds, he didn’t speak English but he clearly loved interacting with us.  Here he is putting his sunnies on the camel.

 

Who clearly was also interested in showing off!

 

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He moved his head quite a bit and kept them on the whole time.
I didn’t snap this all very fast. He was posing for a while. The kid finally had to pull on his neck to get him to bring his head down so he could get his shades back!
Coffee and dates with a shepherd
These are black camels. Fairly expensive

 

The babies are kept under shelter from the sun

 

Two babies under cover. Take note of the guy on the left, he is nosy, you will see him again in the next photo.

 

This is that guy’s little head poking out of the shelter
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A bull. These guys are HUGE! They are kept separate from females and from each other. Additionally, their front legs are hobbled to keep them from going anywhere.
Not the best photo but it shows the funny shape of the babies. They are all leg

 

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Another baby shot

 

The sheer size and strength of the males is incredible!
Funny feet. This is the male with the rope around his front legs
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A camel bag. The colors are beautiful

 

He is making yarn

 

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Saddles

 

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Different style saddle

 

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Camel accouterments
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These were two of the guys that came riding across the desert to meet us so we could ride out of view of the men.
Good view of the saddle, see the backrest? Your behind slots in between the hump and the backrest quite nicely
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That white bit is the bottom of her foot! I poked it, it is soft. Makes sense to walk in sand but not what I envisioned.

 

Funny knees, small and bony, they remind me of my tiny dog!

 

UGLY
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They make these funny faces a lot
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Took a few tries to get a decent shot. She kept making noises and faces at me!
A man and his camel

 

Legs are too long, makes kneeling awkward
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This is after he got his sunglasses back
The living conditions left something to be desired
They are very curious and we had many times where we would stand in front of them to take a picture and, next you know, they are poking the back of your head with their lips! This one just got me!
My friends

Amaariyah

Still playing catch up from the past few weeks. I got the opportunity to go out the Amaariyah, the country palace that is about 30 minutes outside of the city. It has date trees and greenhouses full of vegetables. Additionally, it has acres of land and we were able to ride bikes or golf carts all around. We did quite a bit of both.

It was incredible, the entire staff pack up food and housewares and all the rest and move out to this palace for 3-4 days. They set up a drinks booth with smoothies, water and soft drinks that was always available and then, in addition to meals, they had huge amounts of snacks around and hired in guys to cook different food items throughout the day.

My colleagues were invited to bring their children and all of the family children were there so it was quite a large and fun group.  The time was spent mostly relaxing and eating with games and fun things for the children. They hired bounce houses and a video game trailer one day and another they had a group come out to set up laser tag for us! Quite a bit of fun.

We ate dinner outside every evening under a huge moon and one night the host had beautifully wraps gifts for everyone. It was great fun.  Each box had a number and we all (staff, family, everyone) probably about 60 people, chose a number from a bowl. Then you found your corresponding box and got to open it.  She had incredible gifts such as a tv, guitar, iPad mini and money. Additionally, some of the boxes had silly things such as a box of tissue or a can of sardines. It made the whole thing quite an adventure as you had no idea what you may get. I got a laptop!

Golf cart touring
One of our security guys giving my colleague a little push!
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The entryway…
Chairs on the lawn
Two of my colleagues walking up to the kid fun area
More kid fun. The round one on the left had a machine that made bubbles. The kids wore bathing suits and it filled with bubbles and looked like great fun. I haven’t seen one of them before
The video game trailer. It had tv’s on both sides and four more inside
One of my favorite places to be, lounging out of doors on the tent cushions. Notice the cooling unit…
Tough day at work
The other end of the lounge area. I liked the cushions much better than the chairs
Kids disaster! They had confetti poppers, it was pretty amusing as they used them directly after the bubble pool so the confetti stuck to them. Bedazzled kids

 

One of the men making Muttabaq. It is a stuffed bread that is delicious. They were making them stuffed with different fillings. Choices of chicken, vegetables or cheese and honey. I liked them all!
Kids getting their guns for laser tag
This was our dinner spot. It was beautiful
The table in the foreground was for the desserts, the one to the right with the warmers on it was the buffet
Trucks would arrive with fresh veggies
Oh, and dates! Until moving here I had no idea there were so many different varieties of dates. I have tried five that I know of. Possible more but I don’t always know the names of the ones that I am eating
Insane amounts of snacks, all the time. I would be huge if I lived here long term! Sweets are always available
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More snacks…and a pile of gifts!
Yippee!

Surgery: Saudi Style

 Long delay in posting. I had eye surgery and have had very limited vision for the past week. I am slowly regaining it but am still struggling with the computer.  Some fun things have happened in the meantime and I have a host of photos so will hopefully be getting caught up on sharing sooner than later.  I want to start with my surgery experience here. It is something that I imagine many western people will never get the opportunity (if that is what one would term it!) to experience here.A little background. I got my first pair of glasses about age 10. I was in the fifth grade and not overly thrilled with them. I haven;t gotten any more enamored of them as time has passed and my eyesight has continued the slow creep downward.  I started with contact lenses just before high school and they have been a godsend.  For the most part I put them in upon awaking and forget about them for the rest of the day. Other than the occasional difficulty such as dry eyes or losing one while kiting I have experienced great success with them. It is for this reason that I have held off on laser surgery. I have looked into it on occasion but am not a huge fan of elective surgeries and really had few complaints about my contacts.KSA is an altogether different animal, though. The combination of extremely dry air (average humidity is about 7%) and sand/dust has made for a long few months. I have found myself taking my contacts out earlier and earlier in the day and not wanting to wear them at all some days. As my vision is not as good with glasses, this caused headaches by the end of the day. Additionally, not being able to wear my sunglasses wasn’t much fun.  So, I got a recommendation for a doctor and went in for a consult.

The man who hired me to work in KSA has a degree in healthcare administration and he staffed a few new hospitals here before deciding to work privately for a family.  Additionally, his son and daughter both had laser surgery done by this doctor so I felt that this was a strong recommendation. Upon getting a consult, I found that I was not a candidate for LASIK and would have to under PRK if I wanted laser correction. Biggest difference to the layperson is that PRK has pain and discomfort associated with it and much longer recovery until full visual acuity.  I came home to think on it and do a bit more research.  First off, I sent a message to one of the eye doctors at the practice I used while living in CT. He happens to be the father of a good friend and I knew I would get sound advice from him. Additionally, I did the now ubiquitous google search.  I discovered that PRK (over LASIK) has better long term outcomes, better visual acuity and no chance of getting bumped or dislodged down the road. I wasn’t overly concerned with the pain aspect as I have a high pain threshold and it was only for a few days, anyway.

But, enough background. The story starts with the consult. I called and made an appointment and arrived on the correct day, approximately ten minutes before my 2 pm appointment. My doctor is located in one of the outpatient buildings and they have their own registrar. I went to the counter and asked for Dr. Al-Shuaibi. The man at the counter said “Dr.Moteb doesn’t arrive until 5.” I said “Dr. Al-Shuabi?” He said “Dr. Moteb arrives at 5.” I decided to assume we were speaking about the same doctor and said that I was sure I had an appointment at 2. He
points to a room on the other side of the waiting room and says to go in there. I walk into the room and find quite a few nurses.  I explain who I am and that I believe I have a 2 pm appointment. One of them “oh yes” and uses a stamp on a post-it pad.  She then hands me the post-it and says “take this to the registrar.”

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My official appointment slip!

So, I walk back across the waiting area and hand the post-it to the same guy from before. He then says “oh, you have an appointment” and proceeds to ask me if I have a file.  I said I have no idea and handed him my Iqama (residency permit.) He proceeds to make a file for me. He asked if I was married and what my phone number was. That is all. Then he sends me around to the other side of the counter to the cashier. The consult cost 100 riyals. This is the equivalent of just under 27 USD.

Finished with the paperwork, I sit to wait. Hopefully not for 3 hours but not actually knowing! Fortunately, I get called in shortly thereafter and have my consult. The doctor is great and does a nice job explaining why I am not a LASIK candidate and I tell him I want to think about this and will call him. Additionally, I ask the cost.  It is 7000 SAR, about 1,800 USD. For reference, it costs about $5,500 in the states.

Short story, I booked the surgery and am recovering fairly well. One eye is a little slower than expected but the doctor doesn’t seem concerned yet. Longer and funnier story is my day at the hospital. I call the day before to confirm my 2 pm appointment and am told that it is at 4, I am pretty certain I had it correct but say ok.  I ask if I need to come early or purchase any prescriptions. I am told no so I arrive approximately 10 minutes prior to surgery. I check in at the counter and am pointed to the Dr’s office. I do the post-it routine again and then go back and get checked in.

I have been told that the surgery only takes about 10 minutes so my driver settles in to wait. At just past 4:30 a nurse finally comes out and gives me eyedrops (never asked if I was the right person) in the waiting area. She then gives them to the woman next to me.

She then comes back every fifteen minutes administering more drops.  At this point I tell my driver he may as well go and I’ll call him when its over. At one point a nurse asks me how many times I have gotten drops…starting to be a little concerned. I say four and she says “ok, good.” In the meantime, I watch the live entertainment in the zoo that is the waiting area.  It appears that everyone brings the entire family when coming to hospital here. Mom, dad and all the kids. There are at least 5 full families in the waiting area. Additionally, the kids are not terrifically well corralled or even paid attention to. And plunking them up on the counter seems to be the standard place for them!

Waiting area boredom

 

Eyedrops in the waiting area.

 

 

Labyrinth boys. There were three of these little brothers
but one was too slow to capture with the others!
This little dude was trying to touch the sign hanging from the ceiling. What is difficult to see in the photo and makes this even scarier is that the sign isn’t directly above the counter!
 
 
It is now about 5:30 and I finally head into the surgery area.  The nurse leads me to a cubby in the front of the room that is draped off with a curtain and tells me to take off my abaya. She then puts a johnny on over my clothes and a hair net on my head. Next is a mask and then she points to the five pairs of clogs on the floor and tells me to choose a pair that fits…no socks, eeww! Suitably geared up I leave the cubby and go lay on the table in the laser room. The nurse puts on gloves, hat, booties and a gown, all from sterile packages. She then says, “oops, I forgot to have you sign this” and hands me the release form. Mind you, no one has ever asked for an emergency contact for me or even the name and number of my driver. I put the release about an inch from my nose to read it as I had to leave my glasses in the cubby and then I sign it.  Shortly after a man in street clothes comes in and starts banging around by my head. He tries to put some items on the cart with the nurses tools (that she just ripped out of sterile packaging) and she tells him no. It bothers me having this non doctor or nurse and non sterile wearing dude banging around and putting tools everywhere. I ask who he is. The nurse says, “oh, hes the technician getting the laser ready for the next patient, she has a different type of surgery from you.” Great! He is now literally leaning on my legs to reach over me on the table to adjust something. I ask if he can do this on that patient’s time since it is for her, rather than me. I am told no, he has time now. Clearly a dumb question on my part. 
 
The nasty clogs

Cross eyed because I’m too blind to even see myself in the iPhone screen w/out glasses!

My cubby

The view from my cubby

This is how the technician kept the surgery room door open so he could traipse in and out w/his tools
 
The tech finally finishes and leaves and the doctor comes in and the surgery is very quick and uneventful except the laser burning my eyeballs smells like burning hair and I worry briefly about throwing up and messing the whole thing up.  I get through it and can see the doctors face more clearly than I have seen anything without glasses in years! It is pretty exciting. He puts a clear contact in each eye and says these will act as bandages. Keep them in until you come back to see me.  I leave and call my driver to meet me at the pharmacy (pharmacy is in the hospital, nice feature) to pick up my prescriptions. I get to the pharmacy and vision is starting to go downhill. They have the take a number system and I can’t see mine or the big red ones over the counter. Plus one of the contacts has fallen out and is on my finger. I leave my driver to fill my prescriptions and manage to find my way back to the doctor’s office. He is in surgery number two so the nurse walks me into the surgery room and puts me in the cubby with this other lady’s abaya and purse. After she comes out, I leave the cubby so she can enter and the doctor tries a new set of contacts on me. At this point I had blinked out the other one, as well. As he is putting the second one in, the first is falling out. He tries one more set and I lose one immediately. He tells me to go back to the pharmacy and pick up a gel that will help protect my eyes. I can see virtually nothing at this point so I call my driver to come get me. He walks me back to the pharmacy, fills this second prescription and then takes my arm to walk me to the car. 
 
The last contact falls out on the way home. In my prescription bag they included the most ludicrous night time eye protection things. They are so I don’t rub my eyes while sleeping. I put them on when I went to bed and, after about five minutes, decided I would take my chances. My eyes hurt so badly that rubbing them was going to be the last thing I did! That first night was awful and at a few points I thought “I can’t do this, it hurts too much.” Seeing as I didn’t have any option but to do it, I just lay in bed all night, counting the seconds between needing to blink, as that increased the agony. Thank goodness it was significantly less painful by morning. Still terrifically not nice but manageable. I have read many articles online about PRK and they all mention some form of pain meds for the first few days. My doctor told me to take acetaminophen…
 
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Unrealistic night gear and very swollen eyes the first night

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Swelling going down the second day
Long story short, the giant text options on the iPhone and kindle were a godsend and I am finally healing up nicely.  I have made the text smaller twice and hoping to be able to go down again tomorrow.  
 
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Not only did this not look huge, I couldn’t even read it for the first four days! I think that the page turner button would get worn out very quickly reading at this size