Jul 28th, 2009 |
Known among expats as the Wahbah, but pronounced (in the Arabic internet lingo) as Wa3ba (Wa’ba), this is probably one of the most amazing sights in Saudi Arabia and definitely on the to-visit list of anybody with any desire to tour the country.
Just an hour’s drive by highway (a bit longer offroading) from Old Muwaih lies Saudi Arabia’s Wa’ba crater. It can be reached by taking the exit right after Muwaih heading west and following the road signs. The Ministry of Tourism has done a good job, paving a road to this little known site.
1/500s @ 18mm (Sigma 10-20mm), f/5.6 ISO200
Along the way you will run into several Bedouin villages. While the bedouins’ mannerisms may be a little disconcerting at times, they are a very warm hearted and hospitable people. One man offered us wood for our campfire in the evening, and we were invited to have dinner with one family (an offer we declined graciously).
1/1000s @ 14mm (Sigma 10-20mm), f/5.6 ISO100
The road to Wa’ba is surprisingly deserted. You will very rarely run into more than one or two other people visiting the crater. The only people that seem to know about it are the locals, which is heartbreaking, given that this is probably the most amazing natural site in Saudi Arabia.
1/60s @ 10mm (Sigma 10-20mm), f/6.3 ISO200
The Wa’ba crater. 2 kilometers wide. Half a kilometer deep. Might have been a 5 hour drive to get here, but it was worth every minute of it.
1/125s @ 10mm (Sigma 10-20mm), f/7.1 ISO100
It was initially thought that Wa’ba may have been formed by a meteoric strike in the desert. However, given that the crater lies in the volcanic region of Saudi Arabia, it is more plausible that the crater was formed by a massive volcanic eruption.
1/50s @ 10mm (Sigma 10-20mm), f/8 ISO100
While there might be a paved road all the way to the crater, a 4×4 is necessary if you want to travel around the crater to see some of the more amazing angles.
Fill Flash, 1/60s @ 10mm (Sigma 10-20mm), f/5.6 ISO100
Sunset at the Wa’ba crater. Truly Beautiful. Something I’d like to tell my kids about one day.
Camping at Wa’ba
Simply said, camping close the edge of the crater is not safe. Due to the strange geology of the area, there is a near constant strong wind blowing towards the crater. A strong gale could easily push a tent off the edge of the crater cliffs. Your best bet is to set up tents in one of the shelters built there for just this purpose. The have a wall facing the wind so any tents you set up will be protected.
Flash Ceiling Bounce, 1/60s @ 10mm (Sigma 10-20mm), f/4 ISO400
Our campsite at the Wa’ba crater.
1/10s @ 24mm (Sigma 24-70mm), f/4 ISO400
Given the wind, a campfire burns strong and fast at the Wa’ba. Don’t plan for a long lasting fire unless you bring a lot of firewood. Still, the wind makes for an interesting pyrotechnics display!
Sleeping at the crater is also not very easy. The constant wind can make things very noisy in the tents. Local bedouins will also tend to drive their cars around the area looking for their camels and shining bright headlights all over. There also appeared to be a number of wild dogs in the area (I thought they were wolves!!) which can get loud at night once the wind dies down.
Morning Hike at the Wa’ba
Despite the sheer vertical cliffs of the crater, there are points on the north-western edges of the crater that allow for hiking down to the bottom of the crater. The hike is by no means easy, but it can be accomplished in around 40 minutes (going down, allow for an hour to come back up). Breaking camp just as the sen rose, we loaded our camping gear into the Jeep and drove to the hiking trail. Since this was the height of summer, it was important we complete or hike before 9am, or risk dehydrating on the cliffs from the heat.
1/80s @ 10mm (Sigma 10-20mm), f/4 ISO100
Morning at the Wa’ba.
1/20s @ 20mm (Sigma 10-20mm), f/5.6 ISO100
Local bedouins will usually drive down to the cliff to watch the sun come up. Locals will usually not linger at the crater longer than a couple of hours.
1/50s @ 10mm (Sigma 10-20mm), f/8 ISO100
Starting the climb down. The first leg of our hike involved climbing down some very loosely packed dirt on the side of the crater.
1/80s @ 20mm (Sigma 10-20mm), f/5.6 ISO100
The volcanic rock around the crater is an ideal hunting ground for semi-precious stones. I’m holding a small topaz and obsidian (volcanic glass) which we found on our way down.
1/50s @ 20mm (Sigma 10-20mm), f/5.6 ISO100
Work has been done to create a safe hiking trail down to the bottom, however it frequently becomes covered by flooding during the rainy season making it tough to navigate in some places.
1/40s @ 20mm (Sigma 10-20mm), f/9 ISO100
For some reason, none of us decided to bring water with us, given how short the hike would be. This meant we would later dehydrate. Always fun.
1/125s @ 20mm (Sigma 10-20mm), f/7.1 ISO100
Reaching the bottom, first thing you notice is that there are plants growing on the sides of the cliffs. There is a spring at the northern edge of the crater allowing plants and some insects to flourish, even in this inhospitable climate.
1/250s @ 10mm (Sigma 10-20mm), f/8 ISO100
The bottom of the cliff is covered with Sodium Phosphate crystals (mmm.. Phosphate). Pretty to look at and a pleasure to walk on after the hike down the cliff.
1/320s @ 10mm (Sigma 10-20mm), f/7.1 ISO100
The white ground makes the lighting conditions really excellent for taking shots of people! And the surrounding cliffs make for a very interesting acoustic environment.
1/160s @ 10mm (Sigma 10-20mm), f/9 ISO100
Sadly getting back up the cliff isn’t as easy as getting down. A rock at the start of the trail reads “In the Name of Allah”. Damn right, we’d need all the help we could get to climb back up.
I guess we should’ve planned a little ahead and brought a little bit of water with us. We obviously misjudged how hot it was going to get and by 9am, in scorching heat, we made our way back to the top. It took all of 1 hour to climb up the cliff. We would crawl into our 4×4, and make our way to the nearest village to quench our thirst.
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