The picture is beautiful. A blue water lake fringed with green grasses and a jet boat pulling a water skier. If that is in Saudi we need to go find it, I said to Hubster. So Google was searched and searched again for the location of Layla Lakes.
We took Mr UK with us on this trip. He was on a short stint back in Riyadh and loves road tripping with us. Either that or he didn’t have a better offer this particular weekend.
An early departure was set because our first stop was just south of Riyadh to watch a falcon display organised by Haya Tour in the desert. There were Ooooo’s and Ahhh’s as the birds were carried out on their perches and displayed. Then Oooo’s and Ohhhh’s as the live bait was bought out and released into the air for a raptor type breakfast.
Mr UK and the rest of the group were impressed with all falcon related activity and the falcon handler was a wealth of information. The birds displaying their speed, grace and aggression as they swooped in on their prey in the brilliant blue sky, a perfect backdrop to the brick red dunes on a crisp but clear autumn morning, was spectacular to watch.
The sight was only marred by all the rubbish sprinkled over the desert. If someone could please invent biodegradable plastic bags – and cheap ones because Saudi businesses won’t buy them otherwise – that would be great. (And I’m looking at SABIC here – you great massive corporation of plastic related inventiveness. Take up the challenge for your country if not the world and create truly safe, biodegradable plastic bags! Either that or sponsor nationwide education on how to put rubbish in bins, preferably in all languages of those who live in the country because, lets face it, its not just resident Arabs throwing their shit around the countryside. Or sponsor the supply of reusable canvas bags in supermarkets while training the grocery packers on the concept of “Less plastic, Better Environment.” PS – I know someone happy to spread a Two Bag Rubbish Revolution message if you’d like to sign him up).
The ducks who made a dash from their open cage narrowly escaped becoming a mid-morning falcon snack. We watched with mounting tension and nervous chuckles as one escapee waddled up the dune, past a falcon resting in the sand, seemingly oblivious to the imminent danger while the falcon, looking on in total disbelief at the sight of the bird shuffling through the sand in front of him, seemed stunned into inaction.
The Falcon man caught the duck and put it back in the cage. We asked why the Falcon didn’t seem interested in ripping the duck to pieces. Probably, he said, because the duck was too big. The birds won’t take on large prey if they don’t have to because of the risk of damaging a wing. Wing damage is not good for a hunting bird.
A sigh of relief was breathed for the duck that this Falcon had already eaten. This group was not into totally unnecessary blood letting.
To top off the morning, everyone who felt inclined got to hold a falcon. Or rather, the Falcon got to hold them. The claws on these birds are quite large and very sharp. Leather gear is a necessary accessory for this photo opportunity, as is not minding holding bits of shredded pigeon – presumably an incentive to keep a falcon steady and quiet for the photo shoot.
After a spot of qahwah, a few more photos and a chinwag with fellow early morning Falcon watchers, it was time for us to head out of town, further south, to our intended destination of Layla.
Layla is about 300km’s from Riyadh. It wasn’t so much to the township we were heading as to the lakes outside of it. According to my research there were 15 lakes in all, some of a very large size. Having unearthed a map on Google we headed toward the pin drop on my phone, and yes, having an almost direct route to our destination felt like I was cheating on this expedition. We are so used to traversing this country almost mapless.
Although our early activity had taken place in the cool of the morning, we arrived in Layla in the hottest part of the day. Possibly not the best planned timing but then I was driven by this picture of water based sports…
Yes this is Layla lakes only a few short decades ago.
On the other side of town we turned onto a side road at the end of which was a rather long fence, slightly old, and a gate, slightly ajar. The vehicle was parked and we walked through to see what could be seen.
Just a few of the comments being made by my weekend travel companions about the deserted buildings we were looking at. They were confused. I was excited. We were in the right place. This was the reputedly never opened Layla Lakes Resort, built when the lakes were a weekend respite destination from the heat of the desert.
We stood at the edge of the now dry lake beds They are rather large. So large in fact, we didn’t make our way around them – the heat beat us back. We looked for ways to walk into the bottom of the deeper hole – the water must have bubbled up from some cavity in the ground and that would have been a great find – but there was no easy trail. Part of a natural bridge between two of the deeper lake’s had caved in as well, suggesting a search in that area might be a risky adventure. The pigeons we disturbed were easily flying in circles in the shade of the deep wells, teasing us with our clumsy efforts.
The small formations on the side of the big lake, shaped like cups that one could imagine making excellent cascades as water poured over them or making homes for fresh water critters, and the much larger ball and boulder shapes making up the sides of the deeper lakes are apparently of significant geological interest – a Saudi Caves article has more information for you geologically inclined readers who would like to find out more about this. All I know is the formations are slowly, but surely, turning to dust.
Though this location can be marked off as something interesting we visited in Saudi, it was a sad sight not just because of the sand filled, graffiti covered haunted looking buildings that we sat amongst to enjoy our picnic lunch. Saudi has a major water crisis that I’m not sure everyone in top positions has been appropriately addressing in their rush to build new homes and expand their cities. And for people who historically hail from the desert the Gen Y and Z populous don’t seem to have much of a water conservation mindset. Water is wasted everywhere.
Drivers can be seen early in the morning washing sponsor cars every day, I’ve watched maids run water in the kitchens cleaning the dust from between the drupelets of blackberries till the fruit practically shines – a completely unnecessary exercise if you ask me. And it is possible to stroll past water leaking on to the road from a hidden but obviously broken pipe for days in Riyadh. In saying all that though, I have to admit, as I look out at my well watered compound residence with its green trees, lovely swimming pool and quaint but unnecessary rockery water feature, my choice of home probably isn’t helping the water situation much.
Rumour has it that the guys responsible for this country’s watery plight are now playing a ‘Steal from Peter to save Paul’ strategy, which basically means locations in Saudi that still have sufficient underground water for their local population, like Al Ula for example, are being ‘encouraged’ with lots of wheeling and dealing, much to the disgust of the local residents, many of whom are small plot family farmers and gardeners, to send their precious resource to other areas of the country marked for rapid expansion. Not exactly a long term strategy and one can easily envisage Al Ula winding up with sinkholes like Layla Lakes and Al Kharj (whose sinkholes you can read about in this post Al Kharj and the Eyes of Najma).
We left Layla Lakes contemplative of the future of this country and its drive to rapid modernization and growth wondering if it was all really worth it if such action is bleeding the country dry. One day, perhaps like the falcon and the Layla Lakes resort owner, the country will be left stunned at how it buggered its water supplies up because of their early arrogant lack of concern for its limits.