After having settled in Jeddah for a few months, and once I was able to secure a place to stay and a source of income to cover my everyday life expenses, I was now free to let my mind wander , and think of all the places I would like to visit in Arabia.
As my mind continued to wander, I found myself journeying back to my childhood days, those wonderful carefree days. My whole childhood seemed to be about listening and being in awe of the pilgrims who came from all over the world to Makkah to perform hajj. Oh the stories they told of distant lands full of mystery and wonder. Their words were a delight to my young adventurous mind and I guess that is where it all started for me. I dreamed of far away mysterious places and pledged that one day, I too, would make my pilgrimage out, into the big wide world.
Then, came the question. It was a whisper on my heart at first, and became louder with each passing moment. Finally, it was so loud that I stopped dead in the tracks of my childhood journey, and I heard myself repeating the whisper: “What are you waiting for?” Exactly I thought, what am I waiting for? I have my whole life ahead of me, nothing stopping me. I could do it! It was there in front of me, but where to start??? Almost as if someone had punched me in the face, it suddenly hit me, I had already started my journey. Right here in Jeddah. Jeddah is the hub of the Red Sea, the port that receives ships from all over the world. I could get on any of those ships and go any place I wished. However, Jeddah, magical Jeddah and the Hijaz land which is so captivating entered my thoughts and it was then that I decided to explore the area close by before heading out to other lands. That way I could also learn about my roots, my ancestors and my history.
One, particular morning, as I was heading to the docks to pick up some goods that needed to be delivered to my employer, I thought about replacing my beautiful horse Mohab. I loved him so much, but he was too young for this harsh and hostile desert environment, and, if I were to travel, then I definitely needed something more than a horse. After all I couldn’t really expect him to carry everything I needed across all the deserts of Arabia, and so I continued to argue with myself.I finally reached the docks, and there was Nabeel the Harbor Master standing in the middle of a circle of captains, reviewing ship manifesto’s …..
He was like a Sheppard of the ships. He would wave one arm and then wave the other and these big sea vessels would come to him and dock according to his direction. It looked almost as if the ships were driven by some mysterious force guiding the ships according to his will. I was fascinated as I watched him wave those ships around with his thin wrinkly arms. His dark complexion and white beard reflected years and years of piloting ships into this bay. Each wrinkle on his face looked like a trading ship had passed through there, carrying food and supplies to the east and west leaving its mark on his face..
While I was standing there, watching the regular daily operation of the docks and waiting for the captain to help me, I had strange feeling that something was approaching me, and was about to hit me. As I turned my head to the right to see what it was, I was knocked on my face by the edge of a heavy wooden chest..and this man carrying the chest didn’t even look at me. Did he even realize what he had done? Did he not see me standing there?? I felt a strange numbness from my left eye. I put my hand on my eye, and then looked at my hand and found it bloody.. At that moment I thought I had lost my eye! I was shocked, surprised, angry and hurt all at the same time! The only thing I could remember was looking at this man carrying the wooden chest and walking away from me as if nothing had happened – leaving me in this agonizing pain. So agonizing that I couldn’t even shout!! But what got my attention the most, was this strange looking symbol on the side of the chest!! What was it?? What did it mean?? Suddenly my curiosity numbed all the pain and my mind went into over-drive. Had I seen the sign before? What could it possibly mean? I was at a loss. I had to find out what it meant. At that moment nothing was more important than finding out what the meaning of that symbol was.
At the same time Captain Nabeel, the harbor captain, noticed me. My bloody hand and eye catching his attention, and in shock, he rushed over to me to check if I was okay. He insisted that I should let him take care of the wound, and so I did. After cleaning the wound he seemed a bit relieved that it wasn’t very serious, handed me a mirror and said “You might need to see a doctor to get a couple of stitches.” I looked in the mirror he handed me and there was a split in my left eyebrow!!..I was very lucky I didn’t loose my eye, but now I had this scar that took away part of my eyebrow! And maybe, if I don’t see a doctor, it might get worse. I never ever liked going to the doctor. My parents forced me every time I was sick. They had to trick me into seeing the doctor, but I do not live with my parents anymore, so I decided that I am not going to the doctor, though I didn’t tell the captain.
I took the goods and delivered it to my employer on the other side of the old city near Bab Makkah as fast as I could. But I couldn’t get my mind off that symbol I saw on the wooden box the man was carrying. What did it mean? Then it dawned on me! I quickly ran to the house to let my grandmother know I wasn’t going to be there for supper, but when I arrived she wasn’t there. So I grabbed a piece of parchment and proceeded to write her a note, but I was distracted by a drop of blood that landed on the paper, and I remembered “Right, I need stitches”.
I went into my quarters remembering that I had some thread left over after I had sewn my silk money pouch when I first arrived here. Right… I think I placed it in the little wooden box on the lower shelf where I usually sit to read Quran, and surely there it was. I took the thread and needle and cleaned the wound with a wet cloth. Then sat on the floor, placed the mirror between my knees so I could see, and slowly took the needle and pierced my eyebrow.Then I made the first stitch. That part wasn’t too bad, as the needle was going from the outside in, and the eyebrow was still numb from the pain, but the second time the needle was going from inside the flesh to the outer skin, I yelled so loudly, as I was pushing the needle through, and that was that..I thought I was done. But it looked like one stitch wasn’t enough! So I had to do it again! Same process as I reached the second part of the second stitch, I screamed at the top of my lungs from the pain. Suddenly, the door burst open! It was my friend Zainulabideen!!
“What are you doing to yourself!?” He exclaimed while staring at my bloody eyebrow, it took him about two minutes before he said “Are you stitching your eyebrow??”
I took a minute to wash my face then explain to Zain what had happened and that I was going to the city library to search any information I could find about the symbol I had seen on the chest. Zainulabideen was intrigued and decided to join in the search….
We arrived at the library with hardly enough time before closing time, I was starting to get anxious as I didn’t want to wait till the next day to search again…besides, I have other deliveries I must complete if I want my employer to pay me a bonus at the end of this month. I really hoped I could find some information in the half hour window before the library closed for the day. To my surprise all I had to do was ask the librarian, and as it turns out the symbol represents an old hobby mostly practiced by explorers and pilots and captains from all around the world and throughout history, very similar to treasure hunting. Though I still had another question..why was there a chest bearing this symbol in Saudi Arabia!! Luckily the librarian had a small pamphlet in the desk with a name and an address on it, furthermore he was more than happy to give it to us..
Happy with my findings, I felt like I was floating home, as opposed to walking with a sense of contempt yes all the trouble I went through on this strange day didn’t go wasted!! Forget supper I am occupied with writing a letter to one Ellie Whittacker..I didn’t waste anytime, I was anxious to find out who’s wooden box almost claimed my left eye today. I finished writing the short letter and I waited all night for the mailman worrying that I would fall asleep and miss the mailman and have to wait another day to mail it out..
Only 6 days later, while we are having supper the mailman delivered the first letter I had receive since I moved here to Jeddah, and sure enough it was the letter I had been waiting for the answers to my questions.
They told us a story about an old treasure (they called it a “cache”) hidden near the bottom of a big volcanic crater at the edge of its extinct lava field, situated at around three hundred kilometers to the east of the Jeddah. According to a local myth this treasure was hidden a very long time ago at the bottom of the two kilometer wide and five hundred meters deep crater. For a long time nobody knew the truth about this treasure and thought that it was just another myth, as they have never met anyone who has seen the treasure nor was its exact location ever known. That is, until the first Saudi treasure hunter succeeded in reaching the treasure and the myth became a reality. We were very intrigued by this story, especially since it was told to us by the Saudi Treasure Hunter who found the treasure personally. So my friend Zain and I decided to pursue this journey to find this “crater treasure”.
On this day, the fourth of October two thousand and eleven, we prepared our gear and we prepared Mohab and supplies for our expedition towards the volcanic Wa’ba crater. I mounted the horse first while Zain walked, and we switched places every now and then. We took the pilgrims-road for a comfortable ride bearing south west for the first fifty kilometers, then after passing the Holy City of Makkah my home, we climbed the Al-Hada mountain. As the altitude was increasing during our ascent, the wind became cooler and the air less humid. After reaching the mountain top we took the route to the north-west that directly leads towards the crater.We ended up reaching Wa’ba crater quite easily as the road stretches all the way to the crater.
Before we had left Jeddah I had gone back to the library, to find out more about this crater, some sources said it was caused by a volcanic eruption, others claim that it was a meteor impact, somehow I wasn’t convinced by either one of those two theories, and that’s why it was best to go and see for myself.
The sight of the crater was absolutely breathtaking, the deep circular cliffs, the white base of the crater lit up by the the sun, the mysteriousness it had around it- absolutely fantastic. The pictures, stories and descriptions simply don’t do it justice. I had no idea that such a monumental geological landmark was to be found in the lands of this peninsula, and I am glad to have found it!
We arrived shortly after sunrise, and soon after our arrival we quickly prepared ourselves for our descent to the bottom of the crater, as we wanted to take advantage of the cool weather while it lasts . Of course, it was very important to carry enough water with us for the rest of the journey so that we can be hydrated throughout, and it was also very important for us to make sure that we were wearing good protection for our feet to make it easier for us to reach the base of the crater safely. Furthermore a head-cover was also necessary for us when the sun was at its zenith.
Time was running fast, the sun was steadily rising and we had to do so much in very little time. Without rest after our long travel to the crater, we walked a little until we got to the very edge above the crater, where we witnessed an even more breathtaking view of the crater. Then we descended down the edge of the cliff for a few meters until we reached the trail that leads to the bottom.
It took us about an hour and a half to reach the end of the trail. The Treasure Hunter’s who described the trail to us were not exaggerating when they said that it was one of the harshest trails they came by. There were a few places where the trail was unrecognizable, but none the less we managed to find our way. It was an incredible feeling once we reached the base of the crater after all that effort.
The treasure was located on the opposite side of the crater. It was around a kilometer walk from where we were standing to the location of the treasure that was given to us by the Saudi Treasure Hunters. The sun continued to rise and we started consuming more and more water, and poured some over our heads as well to prevent heat-stroke.
We picked up our pace a little more, but it still took us around forty five minutes to cross the salt-pan to the specified coordinates. This side of the crater was much greener and richer in comparison to the area where we had left our transport. The tall stacks of rocks and the variety of rock formations were absolutely amazing. But as we were in a hurry we could not spend much time observing them.
So we looked around, under the rocks, in the cracks & crevices for about an hour, yet the treasure remained hidden from us! Was the treasure to remain a myth?
We searched and searched and searched. It was quite frustrating to travel all this distance and finding nothing, despite being very well prepared. Our navigation instruments were well maintained and accurate, and we had followed the instructions to the letter. The area where we searched fitted the description well and we were convinced that we were at the right place, so we didn’t waste time looking in other locations and focused on the area where our navigational instruments lead us to…
Still with no result. We were beginning to approach our time limit, as we needed to head back before it got dark. We were a bit disappointed and had to leave so we decided to come back and find the treasure another day.
When we reached home, we sent a message to our aides, the Saudi Geocachers, telling them about our journey and our experience. Unfortunately, we were looking in the wrong place. The treasure was so old and was placed so long ago, that the navigational instruments of the person who hid the treasure were not very accurate. So in fact we ended up getting the wrong coordinates. After thorough research now we have a better idea of where the treasure is hidden , and we are determined to make another journey soon to find the priceless treasure.
On my way up the trail to get out of the crater, I noticed something. I noticed that throughout the time I have been walking in and around the crater, something on the ground was sparkling and initially I thought it was broken glass, but then I thought to myself “who would smash all this glass and spread it over such a vast area?”. So I stopped to have a look, and to my surprise; I found a whole lot of aquamarine and Onyx. I think I might make silver Wa’ba Crater pendants out of them and sell them!!
Though the most valuable thing I learned from this journey was that this crater was not the result of a meteor impact, and quite evidently from what I saw there is not any lava rocks inside or in the immediate vicinity of the crater itself though not too far away, clearly it looks like an explosion. The Arabian peninsula was always known for the underground natural water reservoirs, and this area along the Hijaz Sarawat mountains is a very rigged volcanic area. There are seven different volcanic fields that stretch all the way from North of Hijaz to the very South, another feature of these volcanic fields were the underground lava tubes.
With some evidence gathered from our journey to Wa’ba crater plus a little more research at the library it turns out the crater was the result of a big explosion caused by intersection between lava flowing underground with an underground water reservoir, and that is I believe what the geologists of our time have concluded..