Hiker wants people to explore Saudi Arabia’s natural beauty

Hiker wants people to explore Saudi Arabia’s natural beauty
Hikers in Saudi Arabia can explore landscapes ranging from desolate wadis to lush, wildlife-filled valleys. (Supplied)
Updated 29 November 2019

Hiker wants people to explore Saudi Arabia’s natural beauty

Hiker wants people to explore Saudi Arabia’s natural beauty
  • Ahmed Shata's ‘Jeddah Go Outdoors’ encourages the spirit of adventure
  • Around 80 percent of the hiking group's participants are women

DUBAI: Standing still and surveying the spectacular sights around him on his first hike, Ahmed Shata realized there was more to life than sitting in front of a screen all day.

For the 37-year-old Jeddah resident, the adventure started when a small group in his home city encouraged him to discover nature through hiking.

Now the triumphant feeling of reaching a target destination has inspired him to continue uncovering new trails while also building a business that encourages others to join him.

“The moment I reach the goal after a two, three or five-hour hike, I feel like I have done something, like I can fly,” Shata said. “I thought, ‘why not convert this to (something) commercial and let people enjoy what I am feeling?’”

Shata founded Jeddah Go Outdoors with a fellow hiker in 2014. The group aims to spread the spirit of adventure and inspire people to discover Saudi Arabia’s great outdoors.

A project that began with just three people joining the founders on the first hike has grown into a business with more than 30,000 clients.

The beauty of hiking is that it is an activity that is available to anyone, Shata told Arab News.

Hikers in Saudi Arabia can explore landscapes ranging from desolate wadis to lush, wildlife-filled valleys. (Supplied)

Hikers aged between eight and 60 join the trips, depending on the difficulty level. About 80 percent of the participants are women.

“I don’t know where all the men are,” he said.

Last month the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage announced a new tourist visa program and relaxed strict dress codes as part of plans to boost the country’s traditionally closed-off tourism industry and attract foreign investment.

The moves are part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 initiatives to broaden its economic activities and end its reliance on oil.

Contrary to perceptions, Saudi Arabia offers plenty of nature-rich destinations.

“We hear this a lot,” Shata said when asked about the country’s image as an arid desert. “Saudi Arabia is huge. We have mountains, beaches, islands, wadis, greenery; we have a lot of things.

“There are places like the Maldives in Amlaj, greenery and rain like in Malaysia in Asir, mountains like Kilimanjaro near Abha and Taif, volcanic craters in Wahba — you can see the world inside Saudi Arabia.”

Shata, who works at a telecom company during the week, said he lines up new spots for his weekend excursions using Google Maps. “We study maps and find places to explore,” he said.

On some journeys with professional hikers, he has even come across areas with wildlife. “Once we discovered a lot of animals — wolves, monkeys, donkeys,” he said.

Adventures planned by Jeddah Go Outdoors often include different activities, such as full moon hikes, stargazing, diving, camping, yoga, “color fights,” barbecues, games and entertainment.

“People like seeing new faces, new places and new things,” Shata said. “During the week, we are working. We have managers, noise, stress, a lot of things. In order to move, fly, or escape all these things, we go the natural way. We encourage people to go outside.”

Most importantly, there is not a phone in sight because many areas lack network coverage, giving people a chance to connect.

“I feel happy when I see people smiling and saying to me, ‘Thank you for the trip, I can go back to work, and this gives me the energy to continue,’” Shata said, recalling his own change of routine.

“I found that I was not doing things in a natural way. I was a crazy gamer. I would be playing (video games) or programming five to 10 hours (a day). You would be shocked to see (my life) before. You wouldn’t believe I’d ever become a hiker,” he said.


• This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region. 


The Saudi startup that's taking a creative approach to humanitarian work

Updated 02 December 2020

The Saudi startup that's taking a creative approach to humanitarian work

The Saudi startup that's taking a creative approach to humanitarian work
  • Bab Boutique is helping refugees one stitch at a time

JEDDAH: Women refugees and others facing hardship on the margins are developing their creative talents with the help of a Saudi fashion startup.

Bab Boutique was established in 2016 to give marginalized communities the space and resources to invest in their creativity, and to encourage female refugees and others to celebrate their identity and culture.

The boutique describes itself as a “platform to celebrate stories of survival, striving and invisible success through handcrafted pieces created with care and love.”

Bab Boutique was initially set up by Rafah Sahab, Asma Aljifri, Hessa Alrubian, Mariam Alrubian and Fajer Burhamah as a therapeutic activity to support and help Syrian women who had fled their war-torn homeland.

Sahab, a psychotherapist, said that the boutique’s founders were driven by the belief that mental health is just as important as physical well-being.

“The plan was to provide traditional one-to-one therapy sessions during my visits to refugee camps or by securing funds for local therapists in hosting communities like Lebanon and Jordan,” said Sahab.

However, after a few visits, Sahab realized that many refugees were looking for a job, not mental health support.

“I was humbled by their grit and determination to find ways to provide for their children,” she said. “So we joined with local partners to give them a chance to express their creativity.”

Sahab decided to replace the therapy sessions with handicraft work since it was clear that lack of employment was affecting the refugees’ sense of dignity and self-respect.

In collaboration with the Thekra Organization in Jordan, Bab launched its first collection, “Stories of Syria,” which featured hand-embroidered bags in different sizes that celebrated aspects of Syrian culture, including weddings, and the wheat and olive harvests.

“We asked the refugees what we could learn from Syrian culture, and the women began sharing stories that they loved, and these were converted into drawings which the women then embroidered,” said Sahab.

“We took care of selling the collection in the GCC market.”

The market for Bab Boutique’s hand-embroidered products is bigger than many might think, and includes devotees of slow fashion, sustainability, handicraft and environmentally friendly products.

As their efforts began to bear fruit, the boutique’s co-founders discovered that far from being helpers and the refugees victims, the relationship was more cooperative, educational and insightful for both parties.

“We learned that these people have a lot that they can teach us; they have culture, art and creativity that we can benefit from,” said Sahab.

“They are not just refugees, they are people with dreams, potential, capacity, ideas and skills, as well as pain and disappointments. They’re just normal human beings.”

Sahab said that her work with refugees has taught her that “inside every one of us there is a divine power; there is flexibility, and the ability to be creative and overcome hardship.”

In collaboration with Jeddah-based artist Doa Bugis, Bab Boutique recently introduced “Migrating Birds,” a new collection of finely embroidered bags by Syrian refugees in Lebanon based on art pieces created by Bugis, whose works focus on exploring grief, loss, migration and hybrid identities.

“I have been an admirer of Bab for years. The Stories of Syria collection caught my eye and have drawn me into Bab’s own narrative, values and ethics,” said Bugis. “Knowing what they stand for, I said yes without giving it a second thought.

“Migrating Birds has been brewing in my head for years. I’ve always been interested in hybrid identities and spent about six years researching the subject,” Doa Bugis told Arab News.

“One of the main factors behind mixed identities is migration. It has been a phenomenon rooted in history. People have always relocated for better jobs, opportunities and living conditions. Whether the reasons were religious, economical or educational, uprooting yourself and your family is not an easy journey.”

Bugis sketched this narrative with words and then translated it visually. After many attempts she finally created an eye-catching miniature painting that combined Islamic art and calligraphy.

The finely embroidered bags feature images of birds, and phrases such as “In migration, there is loss and existence.”

Bab now hopes refugees can be valued for the cultural richness they bring with them.

“We want to change the fact that money and property is the judge for someone’s richness. You can be financially poor, but rich in culture and art; we want to make this shift,” Sahab said.

She said that the startup hopes to foster a new approach to humanitarian work that will give people the capacity to build for themselves and sustain their lives.

Bab plans to continue working with refugees on special lines and collections, but is also working on building communities both inside and outside the Kingdom.

“We believe that Bab is an imperfect project, an ever-evolving process of trial and error,” said Sahab.

“We have a growth mindset. We try to have patience and work slowly against societal and business industry expectations.”
Although social entrepreneurship is a new concept in the Saudi market, Sahab is optimistic about the future.

“Social businesses were not popular in the past. However, recently new regulations were set to support them. I expect a better future for social startups and social entrepreneurship.”  

Bab Boutique products are available online and at concept stores in Saudi Arabia. They can be found at https://babboutique.store and Instagram account @babboutique.me.