by Janet Pinheiro
Visitors to Al Fayfa Mountains struggle to decide what is more hair-raising — going up its daunting mountain slopes, or coming down.
Locals grow up navigating the challenging corners of its steep contours, and claim they know when someone new has moved into their soaring neighborhood.
“There is usually an accident,” they quietly commiserate, adding that new residents drive either too fast or too close to the plummeting edges — or both.
Nature’s Meeting Place
Things are geographically dramatic in Saudi Arabia’s southwest Jazan Province.
Covering about 120 km2, Al Fayfa forms part of the Sarawat mountain range, whose solid granite interiors seem to whip effortlessly around each other.
Despite reaching more than 2,600 meters into the Kingdom’s skies, Al Fayfa is a mere 60 km from the Red Sea.
Some of the rises are so steep that a small cable car system needs to haul goods and people up and down its higher corners.
Those with 20/20 vision can stand on one of Al Fayfa’s elevated points and spot the Red Sea’s intense blue-green waters lying in the distance, possibly feeling the soft hint of a wafting salt-laden sea breeze.
At night, when you gaze up from one of its summits, it seems you have accidentally stumbled into a private meeting between the Earth, moon, and stars.
In the morning, as you look down the plunging view from your hotel window into the swirling layer of clouds beneath, you notice how the sun is straining to rise and shine light above the mountain’s lofty heights.
With a moderate climate, Al Fayfa is a green jewel whose fertile lands have provided plentiful agricultural bounty over the centuries. Oregano, lavender, mint, and basil faintly scent the mountain air, and in-season fruits include mangoes, lemons, guavas, figs, and avocados — but honey, with a distinctly pure taste matched only by the stunning views, is the agricultural standout. (Photos: Mohammed Alshaikh/MPD and Musleh Al-Khathami)
With a moderate climate, Al Fayfa is a green jewel whose fertile lands have provided plentiful agricultural bounty over the centuries.
Millet, corn, cocoa, coffee, fruits, and aromatic plants grow on mountain terraces, securely held in place by ancient stonewalls constructed by hand.
Oregano, lavender, mint, and basil faintly scent the mountain air, in-season fruits include mangoes, lemons, guavas, figs, and avocados — but honey, with a distinctively pure taste matched only by the stunning views, is the agricultural standout.
The lush environment is home to 20 tribes and clans, each with a rich cultural heritage.
Flower Men, descendants of the ancient Tihama and Asir tribes, are renowned for their strong dispositions and warfare skills.
These fearsome tribesmen hang silver daggers from their belts, wrap colorful cloth around their waists, and for centuries have worn exquisitely scented colorful flower wreaths in their hair.
Never underestimate the awesome power of flowers.
Visit the Saudi Tourism Authority’s “Visit Saudi” website’s new “Break free” section for information on how to experience a summer destination in the Kingdom: https://www.visitsaudi.com/en/packages.
Refreshing Laid-back Harmony
An introduction to a local journalist during dinner reveals that, along with foolish driving by the uninitiated, landslides are a favorite conversation topic among locals, who feel that new residents do not always build to suit local conditions.
Yet, the pressures of modern houses leaning toward treacherous edges and narrow windy roads blur into the background at Al Fayfa.
It is a place where life harmonizes with nature, daily routines are set by the sun, and the only thing bigger than its peaks is the friendly hospitality of the relaxed locals.
An early morning stroll up a main winding street opens up a generous invitation from a busily occupied farmer to a self-guided viewing of his crop planting area.
Another helpful resident calls a friend, who in turn will get a message to the pharmacist to open the shop where the locals buy their legendary honey, while someone else uses the neighbor communication network to see if a coffee farmer can open his shed.
After hours of friendly translated discussion with the two farmers and pharmacist, I start to feel like a resident — although it is clear that passing judgment on novice driving and landslides is a privilege reserved exclusively for implanted locals.
Laden with a recycled glass bottle containing a liter of unbranded honey, green unroasted coffee beans, and gifts of oversized custard apples, I explore my way back through the buzz of nature to the hotel.
High life at Al Fayfa feels naturally right.
— The Arabian Sun: July 29, 2020 | Vol. LXXV, No. 30