Arrived after 6hr trek from Jeddah. My tummy was a bit dodgy so I slept most of the way. Our campsite is an extinct (I hope) volcano called Al Wahbah. The king has a lodge here, in case he decides to stay. There was a resident caretaker who lives in a trailer. He is Pakistani and has been here for 6 years. He got very excited when he met our two Pakistani drivers. He seemed very sad when we were leaving this morning and hugged one of the drivers like he didn’t want to let go. I wondered what his backstory was or what sort of a life he had here on his own in this cruel country. But I don’t, and never will, know.

The weather was glorious; warm, dry and sunny. We’re about 1000 metres high so the air is clearer. We walked around the crater, messed about a bit and then set up camp and pitched our tents. The ground wasn’t exactly sand, more of a fine compacted gravel with lots of sharp large stones. Thee were some level patches of just fine gravel and I pitched my tent in one of these. I was about 40 or 50 metres away from the nearest tent so I enjoyed the solitude I sometimes miss on this crowded trip.

We had dinner early (potatoe and chicken curry, delicious) while it was still bright. A first, I think. By the time we were finished, the sun was beginning to set and the sky looked magnificent. I kept moving my chair back to keep out of the increasingly lengthening shadows and thought how rarely we just sit in the sun on this trip. It gets dark early and there’s so much to do. Eventually, the shadows engulfed me and it suddenly got very dark and very cold. We hung around for a bit and then rambled off to our tents at around 6.30pm to read etc. I watched an episode of Dr Who on my tablet (series 7 – dinosaurs on a spaceship one) and some excellent shorts from Peccadillo Films. I then read a bit and was spark out by 9.30pm. 9.30pm!, that’s the middle of the afternoon.

Before I nodded off, I spent a while gazing at the stars. Although it gets very cold in the desert at night, I decided to leave the top flysheet of my tent off so I could see the stars through the mesh. Most of my tent is transparent mesh except for a privacy strip about 40cm high at the bottom. I lay in my sleeping bag and just marvelled at the huge numbers of stars but also at their brightness. The moon was new and was just a thin sliver and not at all bright, so the stars had no competition. There also isn’t much light pollution around us. An odd optical illusion occured when I looked at the stars through the mesh with my glasses off. They seemed very clear and my vision was better than if I was wearing my specs. Strange that.

I slept the sleep of the just from 9.30pm until 6.40am this morning with a few nocturnal calls of nature. That’s 9hrs sleep. Very unusual for me. I got up – it was very chilly – and took my tent down and stowed it away on the truck.

Merry Christmas, somebody said. Oh yes, it’s Christmas Day. Because we’re in a Muslim country there’s no sign of Santy or reindeer and all that Christmas shite. As a paid up member of the bah humbug school, I didn’t really care anyway. We all then ignored it.

Back on the bus on the way to Medina, the 2nd holiest city in the Muslim world. Holy moly.

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