It was the end of the winter in 2002. I went with my favorite friend on a road trip. We were used to going on those trips to discover new places in the desert over the weekend. That week, I read a news report about a sinkhole (Dahl) close to one of the oil fields less than 250 kilometers southeast of Riyadh.
It is close to a small town called Al-Hani, on the road leading to Al-Ha'ir overlooking Wadi Hanifa. The report included photographs and stories of those who explored the Dahl, the first person to discover it was - who happens to be a man from the Hawajer tribe used to work as a desert guide with one of the engineers looking for oil.
The cave has not been visited by many and thus the information about the route was scarce and unconfirmed. And satellite Navigating systems were not popular at that time.
So I gathered what ever information I can get to from over the internet and some old books I kept for such occasions. And before 7 am I was on the road with my dear friend Abu Fawaz, loaded as usual loaded with the necessary food water and several tools and safety kits. I chose to take a different road that I thought would be more fun because it is longer which would allow us to explore more.
From Riyadh we went to Al-Kharj then south to Haradth and then to the town of Attawdtheheya. From there we went east through unpaved routes some of which have never been used except for occasional transportation of heavy oil exploration machinery.
I thought we would reach the Dahl in maximum two hours but it was two pm and no sign was in the horizon.
I began to doubt that we have lost our way. My fears increased when I noticed that we haven't seen any villages, camel herders or shepherds for sometime now.
My eyes started to fixate on the car meter, calculating how much petrol we still have in the tank and how long it will take before darkness ..
While we are in this status, a car appeared on a distance and it looked like it was moving towards us.
I started flashing lights to the driver then I got out of the car and waved so he would know that we needed help.
We noticed the driver was an old man. His features were full of anticipation, inspecting our body languages and facial features in attempt to figure if we were from the region or not. As soon as he arrived, we saluted him. He was about to get out of his car out of politeness, when we insisted he should not tire himself with that. I stood by his door and asked him about the town of Hani and the Dahl nearby. He said he knew the place well. In fact, it was where he was personally born! His mother was herding her camels when her water broke and gave birth there.
The old man pointed his index and middle fingers towards the direction we should lead. Along a line of of electricity poles. And He confirmed “the distance is not more than two kilos.”
Our worries and fears just flew away!
We hurried down the road to the point he ushered hoping to reach the town before darkness.
Two kilometers passed and two more and we added two more ...and no town was yet around.
One kilometer after another and on the eleventh there was few small houses.
I looked at my friend and we were confused. Why would an old experienced man misguide us about the distance saying it is no more than two kilometers while it is more than ten kilometers? Was he mistaken or what was he thinking?!
The only justification we imagined is that distances are relative. What we may consider long, Bedouins consider short. The expression”2 km” is but a metaphor that it wont take long. Just the way you tell your friend “ I ll be there in a jiff, it’ll take a couple of minutes.” You know it may take you ten - fifteen minutes. This metaphor expresses how we view the world around us, big or small, far or close, beautiful or harsh. It is all relative.
Perhaps from there came the popular proverb (the urban gets lost in his palace) The urban considers himself lost if he did not reach his goal during a certain period of time that he is used to in the city, but the nomad won't consider himself lost except if he exceeded his target and did not find what he is looking for. He is always willing to go an extra mile.
When we arrived, the villagers did not hesitate to invite us for lunch and insisted we should at least share their Arabic coffee. After that, they showed us to the sinkhole, which turned out to be one of the most impressive I have ever visited..