Green Taif in the rain!

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LAST week, I took my family to Taif as Jeddah became a bit hot and humid. After a busy and sweaty Eid day, we felt a change of scenery and weather would be nice but it turned out to be more than that!

On our first day, rain and under 20-degree Celsius temperature exceeded what we bargained for. The next day we had some snow. Not to mention the beautiful green mountains and valleys, hospitable locals and Eid mode.

The cabinet in the resort we rented surprised the most optimistic of us. On top of a mountain overlooking “Thy Gazelle” valley in Al Shafa town, spread over a wide, green terrain, included lots of open space for picnic and playgrounds for children. The service was reasonable and the price was great — SR265 for a chalet. Traditional food was delicious, plentiful and affordable. Lunch cost us only SR110 to feed a population of eleven!

I tweeted pictures and videos about my experience, and many were interested. Still, many were skeptical. While they agreed we do have great summer vacation areas, they complained about the quality and cost of services. I told them about my own experience, but that was not enough. It seems some people still remember unfortunate visits or they heard of what others had gone through.

I can’t tell if they were right or wrong. However, in the last few years, I have witnessed a lot of improvement. Hotels, motels and resort are plenty. Prices, if you search right, are reasonable. Things to do, places to visit, activities and events are increasing in quantity and quality.

While we are not there, yet, let’s remember that we can’t reach our goals if we, as tourists, are not helping. We need to discover our national treasures by doing our own research and smart scheduling our visits to the right places, at the right times. We need to provide feedback to service providers and concerned government agencies about what we need and suggest, what to correct and what is correct.

We should also remember that this is home. You don’t litter your own garden, violate camping rules, cut trees, endanger species, and abuse private and public facilities.

My recent visits to different parts of the country, in the last few years, showed me how much we do not know about it. National tours helped us, family and friends, learn more about our nation and people.

We have a great, diversified land. After few hours drive, you feel as if you are in a different country. Summer transforms into spring or even winter. Culture, while having basic similarities, changes, too. Cities are typically different from villages, urban areas are different from desert, and so are the people.

We come from different backgrounds and that is what makes us beautiful and complete. The more we know each other, the more we accept our differences and embrace our diversity. Tourism certainly helps bring about social inclusion and societal tolerance.

I am not saying we should not vacation abroad. Travel is great for understanding the world, telling our side of the story, and presenting our nation and people to a global audience. However, first thing first! Before you present your country and culture you need to know it. And before your kids can express their patriotism to the world, they must learn how great their homeland is —first hand.

My family was pressing me on a vacation abroad this summer. They searched the internet for the best promotions to the most beautiful countries we haven’t visited yet. In the middle of the search, I invited them to this Taif trip. They didn’t expect much, and, honestly, neither did I. The pleasantly shocking surprises helped in changing the narrative. Now, they are searching similar areas in Al Baha, Asir and Najran regions. Eventually, they might come back to that irresistible Azerbaijan visit package, but for now we are off to more of our beautiful, cool, rainy and green mountains and valleys.

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at kbatarfi@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @kbatarfi


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