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Expat Life

 

Known as the “City of Roses,” Taif is a city located on the slopes of the Hejaz Mountains in Saudi Arabia's province of Makkah. The sixth most popular city in the Kingdom, Taif enjoys moderate weather throughout the year, even in summer — making it a popular summertime destination for Saudis to escape the scorching heat typically experienced in lower-lying regions elsewhere in the Arabian Peninsula.

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Ever since moving to Saudi Arabia, I've wanted to visit the enigmatic flower men living in the southern provinces of the country and extending into Yemen. They're the descendants of ancient Tihama and Asir tribes dating back two millennia who are known for wearing colourful and distinctive flower garlands on their heads. They also sport an ornate traditional curved dagger, called the jambiya, over a colourful and multi-patterned wrap-around male skirt known as a futa.

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They say that luck happens when preparation meets opportunity. Well, I recently had to cut short a planned 16-day self-drive tour of Saudi Arabia only on the fourth day due to coronavirus restrictions announced by the government. My original itinerary included mostly hotel stays during the first week and mainly camping on the second week – as I hoped to make my way around remote sites in Tabuk Province.

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It’s hard to believe that I’ve already crossed the eight-year mark on my third overseas work experience here in Saudi Arabia. Life as an expat offers many fantastic opportunities on various fronts, but it also comes with some challenges.

I recently spoke to a fellow Canadian expat and colleague, Michelle Ponto, for a podcast episode covering a wide range of topics from how to embark on an overseas work adventure, adjusting to life in a new country, and overcoming the stigma of travelling alone.

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"You're from Canada like Bryan Adams," is what I was told more than once the first time I ventured out on an international trip on my own outside of Canada when I was still a teenager — venturing out on a student work abroad program in England, back in the early 1990s.

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"Over there is where the Paris-Dakar Rally used to end," said my guide when I travelled to Lac Retba, Senegal, a couple of years ago (also known as Lac Rose). Many of the local people I spoke to, living along the salt-producing pink lake, were nostalgic about the rally's heyday. I had heard a lot about the mythical Dakar Rally growing up in the late 1970s and '80s. Being there felt a bit surreal.

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Within the last couple of years, I discovered a new café in Jeddah, which has now become my favourite spot in town for the perfectly frothed cortado. The Caffeine Lab is serious about its mission to create the best possible coffee experience. Behind the cozy and stylish coffee shop, the founding team brings years of experience, training and skill in the coffee market.

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If anybody would have told me back in the summer of 2012, when I first arrived in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, that I would one day attend a concert in this country featuring Sean Paul, Mariah Carey and DJ Tiësto, I would not have believed it. 

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No expat experience in Saudi Arabia would be truly complete without venturing out into the desert, away from the hustle and bustle of city life. One of the best and most memorable ways of doing that is by trekking or trail running through the rocky and mountainous parts of the Arabian desert.

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Nearly five years into my experience as an expatriate in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, I can still point to the historical district of Old Jeddah, known as Al-Balad (translates as “The Town” in Arabic) as one of my all-time favourite travel destinations. Only a few places on earth provides visitors with a genuine feeling of travelling back in time to an authentic by-gone era, unspoiled by modern-day mass tourism. Al-Balad is literally an open-air, living, museum.

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February 17, 2017

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