The moment I arrived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, I was greeted by an orange sky which soon shed tears of sand and blood. Slowly, the distance was bathed in the eerie glow of a wounded world. The simmering heat cooled. The winds gathered. A blanket of clouds pulled over the city, running from horizon to horizon, shunning all sun in its wake save for its round, crimson outline bruised against the burning sky. A red sandstorm was upon us.
Darkness fell. A devouring blackness which lay siege to daylight for a good hour before its whipping winds and red haze yielded back to blue, leaving as quickly as it came.
In all my travels, I've never experienced such extreme power of nature over land. Such marvelous display of colors brushed on the canvas of our heavens. But just as foreign to me was Jeddah's void of tourism. Most countries I've traveled to gave off a worldly vibe, a sensation of commuters coming and going, voyagers, explorers, and backpackers on a journey. But Jeddah seemed reserved, shunning the masses. As if a city born from A Thousand and One Arabian Nights. A city which looked historical, very foreign, where the hail to prayer from loudspeakers atop mosque minarets romantically called across its dusty streets. A peaceful flower.
Now there is a popular misconception that Saudi Arabia's people, especially its women, are repressed. But walking through Jeddah's bustling Corniche gave me anything but that impression. It looked more like a place brimming with fun and activities, and old shops (called soukhs) which shared space beside shopping malls that looked far more modern than many I've seen in Europea and the U.S.
Somewhere in the background of its dreamy lull leaks news of the outside world; a war in nearby Syria, a president exiled in Egypt or re-elected in Iran. But whether by design of its censored media, or the care-free nature of its citizen, I found myself shielded from all that was negative and disparaging. Jeddah isolates you fully, shies away from extreme capitalism and provides you with an Arabian experience unlike those of heavily-visited Egypt and Jordan. If you compared these countries to coffee, the others would be flavored coffee beverages while Saudi Arabia stayed true to a strong, home-brewed cup of gahwa.
Not a place for everyone, it's a far cry from Western appearance and ideals, yet Jeddah still holds a seductive allure with a welcoming and very attractive people. A desert pearl where great beaches tempt you to sit and revel under a splendid sun, losing yourself in a moment of imagination.
A moment of storybook fascination.