Hello, hello from the Sand Dunes!

The weather here has been beautiful. Most days, there isn?t even a cloud in the sky. Unlike what you may think about being in the desert, it isn?t hot 365 days throughout the year. The weather right now is like our Florida, cooler but very dry. Nights have been chilly getting down to the lower 60?s with the humidity around 25% to 35%.

Now, after New Year?s many families have returned and very quickly I?m being introduced to them. Many of the men went home and brought their wives back here also. There is a women?s group that meets several times a month, with their own ?little house? that was refurbished during December. Within the next week or so they will be having their first function there. Activities include a cooking class, book club, mahjong, bridge, arts and crafts, luncheons and more.

There are several sports facilities, only one strictly for women. The ladies facility is very nice including a pool, which is too cold right now to use. However, in the summer the water will need to be cooled. A few of us have been going here for aerobics every Saturday, Monday, and Wednesday. However, starting this week is the Hajj Holiday and the instructor who happens to be Moslem, has cancelled until she returns, about the 12th of February. On Tuesday we go to the coffee shop inside the Star Market which is similar to a Wal-Mart Super Center. After coffee we do our grocery shopping and take taxis back to our homes since the women are not allowed to drive -- not bad really, since the taxi driver helps us with our groceries both into and out of the trunk of the car.

As more families have returned after the New Year, and as a way for those of us ladies who are new to meet one another we went to lunch at an Indian restaurant last week. This week, we went for coffee at an Indian lady?s home which was more of a brunch that started at 9:30 a.m. Next week, the Radisson Hotel will be sending a bus to pick the ladies up to take us for a special luncheon only for women. This luncheon will start at 9:30 a.m. and they will bring us back around 3:30 p.m.  Hopefully, we won?t be eating all that time! Every time there is a gathering, there are more new ladies, like me, or others who have returned from an extended stay in their home countries, therefore the gatherings are a ?welcome back? to those who are returning and a ?welcome to Saudi Arabia? to those of us who are new.

The Radisson also has a fabulous buffet breakfast/ brunch starting early on Friday mornings. The weekends here are Thursdays and Fridays, so this is more of a "Sunday" brunch. A large group meets there weekly. The hotel gives us the whole large dining room which they tell us is to be considered a ?family area? in order that the men, women and children can all be together.

This last Friday after breakfast we went with several other couples out to the desert up into the jebbels (mountains). Having been so clear lately, we can see the jebbels in the distance from the main streets here. We went to see the Turkish fort. It was built sometime around 1935 to 1943. It is about an hour away, and is a really beautiful drive. Along the way we past several herds of goats and camels. It was so sweet to see the baby camels tagging along with their much larger parents or just playing out in the field. We also went to a deserted village. Both the village and fort is in ruins, but we could see signs of reconstruction especially at the base. The village was up high on a hill and was originally surrounded by a wall. We climbed up the rock hill and found ourselves walking in an ancient village complete with a communal center. Looking down below we could see evidence of rushing water in the sand. The surrounding mountains were deeply gouged from centuries of water erosion.

The nearby fort was up much higher than the village. We climbed up the sides of the fort and found ourselves in awe looking down to the dry river or lake below. We found some sea shells along the lake or river bed, giving evidence that this land was at one time under the sea. The fort, although much smaller and in better condition, was also being restored. There are several large holes dug around the inside of the fort for storage of food, ammunition and water. It was hard to determine which was which as they were filled with debris and sand. At both the village and the fort, the rocks dug from the desert used for the restoration were fabulous. We saw beautiful rocks in black, orange, pink and red sparkling with crystal. We also saw some white quartz.

We then decided to take a drive out to the dam. Along the way we passed more camels and goats, but as we got closer to the dam, there were many date farms. Once we turned down the side road toward the dam we could see it in the distance framed by the date palms along the road. As we got closer and saw clearings between the date palms we saw the dry lake or river bed. The road wound upward toward the top of the dam. The guard house was even up higher on the mount than the dam itself. We wound around the road expecting to see water somewhere. There is evidence of rushing water in the dry bed, but nothing. Finally we reached the top, and were amazed that even the other side of the dam was totally dry. There were little islands in this dry lake or river, and we could see the waterline on the dam itself, but not one drop. It is amazing for the two weeks that it does rain, that so much water can accumulate in the area up to about 120 feet high and then be dry as a bone for the rest of the year. The mountains surrounding this area had huge gouges from the water erosion. The view was fantastic, like being on top of the world. We were all a bit tired from our climbing and hiking and glad we were able to drive up to see this.

I?ve missed my tennis and can?t wait until our racquets arrive in the air shipment. There are tennis courts nearby at the school and I can?t wait to step foot on them. From what I have been told there is no actual ladies tennis leagues, but there are many very competitive players. Guess they'll be glad to get some ?fresh competition? once I get my racquet.

We?ve both been kept considerably busy, and find many things similar to when we lived here before, however, we also find so much has changed. The new housing of yesterday, has become older housing of today, the new plants of yesterday have matured and made shady streets and lovely boulevards for the main streets. We are enjoying meeting new people and starting new friendships.