Going home for winter break essentially means two things: catching up on the sleep you missed out in term-time and gorging on Mama’s food. Having successfully ticked off that long list of tasks, there was one more thing I was desperately longing (well, maybe three): sun, sand and the sea.
Unfortunately, all hopes for this final task dwindled as I was unable to mobilise my old school friends or my family on a plan for this. But as the last night of my break approached, it all suddenly panned out…
In just a few hours, a friend and I planned an early morning run along the corniche and then breakfast. Not the sandy beach I was imagining but at least I would get to feel that humid and salty sea air. Remember the first task on the list? Well, I was fervently working on that and so my sleep schedule had me up till late at night and waking up at midday. I wasn’t exactly sure how the early morning plan would work but I tried to go to bed early and surprisingly, I was up an hour before the alarm. And serendipitously, so was my friend! With more hours ahead of us, the plan was updated and as we got into the car, instead of just going to the seafront in the city, our destination changed to a place eerily called “The Ships’ Grave” about 80km outside the city of Jeddah. So into the sunrise, we drove.
After about an hour on the wide six-lane highway, we turned off an exit and drove for a bit on a single-lane road which then turned completely off-road and was simply a dirt path, flattened by the many tires which had met it over the time. As the salty air filled our lungs, the name of this place started to make more sense; out in the sea, the bobbing wreckage of ships filled the horizon. The sun had just risen and it was only 7 am but there were still a few cars parked along the shore. These were likely campers who had stayed all night rather than just drove in like us.
Still surprisingly chilly weather for a country on the equator, we decided to go for a run to warm up. Not bothering with shoes, off we were on the sandy path which curved along the bay. On our way back, we noticed a huge but shallow bit of water that was fed from the sea. Cautiously at first, we first jogged along its perimeter but then soon, running knee-deep in the water, getting completely drenched. Not knowing whether your next step would be stable or you would just crash in the water, this had to be one of my favourite runs in a very long time – the best track to do laps on!
An enjoyable 5km clocked and warmed up, we were ready to dip. Although from the car the ship looked almost on the beach, in reality, it was not that close. We weren’t exactly sure what we were going to do but we set off to at least get as close as possible to the ship.
The water was surprisingly shallow for a long time and we picked our way between the coral reef. But suddenly, it turned so deep that I couldn’t see the bottom! There is something truly remarkable about being completely enveloped blue; the clear skies above and azure water in which you float.
Finally, we reached the shallower water in which the ship had grounded itself. Up close, it was massive and tilted at an angle of almost 30 degrees, it loomed above our heads. Clung onto the very rusty metal railings, my rock-climbing helped me manoeuvre and get on. I quickly realised that this ship may be a wreckage but it hadn’t been abandoned. It was home to…
Pigeons! Hundreds of them! Trying to avoid the splinters and rusted metal bits to get inside, I heard the collective whoosh as hundreds of pairs of wing caught the sea breeze and lifted into the sky. We slowly made our way along the inside of the ship, following a combination of German and Arabic inscriptions. We got to the bow which was described as “الكافتيريا” or the cafeteria. It was designed like an American diner with booths made up of fat leather chairs arranged along the edge so you could look out onto the sea through the (broken) windows.
Barely holding onto the edges of chairs, we made our way around then back out and discovered a rusty set of steps which led to the upper deck. On reflection, it probably wasn’t smartest thing to do but barefooted and avoiding a step which had rusted into nothingness, we reached the top. Perched on the edge and rocking gently with the ship, this was probably one of the coolest things I’ve done in a long while. Weirdly, it was colder out in the open than inside the water! So after careful assessment (i.e. not at all), we cannonballed back into the water.
And thus, we washed up safely onto the shore, albeit with scratches all over wherever we brushed upon the coral. A truly exhilarating and spontaneous adventure came to an end.