From Saudi Arabia to 110 countries — the incredible story of a modern nomad

Nasser Al-Sadhan is not your average traveler; the 35-year-old, born and raised in Riyadh, has backpacked to an astounding 110 countries, each journey, and its chance encounters, leaving a mark on his soul. (Supplied)
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Nasser Al-Sadhan is not your average traveler; the 35-year-old, born and raised in Riyadh, has backpacked to an astounding 110 countries, each journey, and its chance encounters, leaving a mark on his soul. (Supplied)
From Saudi Arabia to 110 countries — the incredible story of a modern nomad
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Al-Sadhan's love for exploration began at a young age. (Supplied)
From Saudi Arabia to 110 countries — the incredible story of a modern nomad
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Nasser Al-Sadhan is not your average traveler; the 35-year-old, born and raised in Riyadh, has backpacked to an astounding 110 countries, each journey, and its chance encounters, leaving a mark on his soul. (Supplied)
From Saudi Arabia to 110 countries — the incredible story of a modern nomad
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Nasser Al-Sadhan is not your average traveler; the 35-year-old, born and raised in Riyadh, has backpacked to an astounding 110 countries, each journey, and its chance encounters, leaving a mark on his soul. (Supplied)
From Saudi Arabia to 110 countries — the incredible story of a modern nomad
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Al-Sadhan has visited 110 countries since 2014. (Supplied)
From Saudi Arabia to 110 countries — the incredible story of a modern nomad
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He was introduced to dumpster diving behind a supermarket in New Zealand, finding all kinds of fresh foods. (Supplied)
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Updated 08 July 2024
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From Saudi Arabia to 110 countries — the incredible story of a modern nomad

From Saudi Arabia to 110 countries — the incredible story of a modern nomad
  • From backpacking to dumpster diving, Saudi nomad embraces uncertainty, learns to live in the moment

RIYADH: As a child, Nasser Al-Sadhan would spend hours watching documentaries on countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia, fascinated by the diverse landscapes and cultures depicted on the screen.

As an adult, Al-Sadhan has been able to turn his childhood fantasies into reality by visiting these countries. Each step he takes in these unfamiliar territories brings back memories of the wonder and amazement he felt as a child.

Al-Sadhan is not your average traveler. The 35-year-old, born and raised in Riyadh, has backpacked to an astounding 110 countries, each journey leaving a mark on his soul.




Nasser Al-Sadhan is not your average traveler; the 35-year-old, born and raised in Riyadh, has backpacked to an astounding 110 countries, each journey, and its chance encounters, leaving a mark on his soul. (Supplied)

Traveling far enough, he discovered that finding yourself is not just a cliche — it is a transformative experience.

At 22, he moved to Canada and then Australia for his master’s degree and PhD in computer science specializing in AI.

“I moved back to Saudi Arabia at the end of 2019 when I became a professor of AI at King Saud University in Riyadh. Now, I am focusing on exploring the world and flow art,” Al-Sadhan told Arab News.

HIGHLIGHTS

• As a child, Nasser Al-Sadhan was intrigued by the sight of backpackers at the airport.

• Backpacking taught him how to live in the moment and seek new opportunities.

• He goes by @flowmad_ on Instagram, where he documents his travels and writes about the people he met along the way.

He goes by @flowmad_ on Instagram, an amalgamation of his love of flow arts and being a nomad.

Al-Sadhan began his backpacking adventures in 2014. Even as a child, he was intrigued by the sight of backpackers at the airport. “I never had the chance to do it (backpacking) until I moved to Canada for my higher education and had more free time and income,” he said.




Nasser Al-Sadhan is not your average traveler; the 35-year-old, born and raised in Riyadh, has backpacked to an astounding 110 countries, each journey, and its chance encounters, leaving a mark on his soul. (Supplied)

He fondly recalls one late-night conversation with his roommate Francis from South Korea. Al-Sadhan said that as they browsed countries on Google Maps, he felt a sense of wanderlust stirring within him.

He knew that that moment was the catalyst for his journey into the unknown. It ignited a spark in him that would ultimately lead him to thrilling experiences across the globe.

“I backpack because normal traveling where everything is planned and everything is booked doesn’t sound exciting to me … there isn’t any room left for spontaneity, no room for unplanned experiences.”




Among Al-Sadhan’s travels to strange lands is his visit to the infamous Darvaza Gas Crater, a natural wonder in Turkmenistan. (Supplied)

He rarely if ever plans his flight and accommodation in advance. “The two biggest obstacles that I had to overcome — that later proved to be very valuable — is going with the flow … not having a plan and not booking anything in advance,” he said.

Backpacking taught him how to live in the moment and seek new opportunities.

“I would often book a flight for the same night I wanted to travel so that I could reach the city and find accommodations there. But sometimes I would not find any place to stay,” he said.

The Saudi nomad’s willingness to embrace uncertainty and new experiences has fostered meaningful connections that transcend geographical boundaries, sometimes restoring his faith in humanity.

Once he slept on the beach in Sri Lanka because he couldn’t find any accommodation. “But then I met an amazing Ukrainian group, and they offered me a place to sleep,” he recalled. “We became friends and we ended up spending the next two weeks together.”

On one trip, Al-Sadhan’s phone stopped working while he was on a train in Poland. “That is when I saw two guys from Brazil with backpacks, so I asked them if they knew of a hostel, they said ‘Yes,’ and I followed them to it.”

The trio traveled together for the next three days and became friends.

“During my trip to Japan, the bus did not have change for big bills… so a girl helped me with the fare.” He noted that the two became friends as she showed him around the country.

Al-Sadhan said that this no-plan approach has pushed him out of his comfort zone and allowed him to break free from his cocoon.

“I have been traveling the world for the past 10 years and never had a hardship that resulted in a bad experience,” he said.

These chance encounters have enriched his travels, exposing him to diverse cultures and perspectives.

Without a fixed itinerary or set plan, he allows himself to be guided by the winds of the moment, resulting in unforgettable experiences and connections.

In 2016, before moving to Australia from Canada, Al-Sadhan made a pit stop in New Zealand and that trip restored his faith in humanity.

“New Zealand is a pretty expensive country and at that time I was a student, so I decided to hitchhike the whole way across the country because I didn’t have much money,” Al-Sadhan said.

Hitchhiking was faster than taking buses and allowed him to connect with individuals from various backgrounds, including a kind-hearted mother and her child, and a scientist studying birds on a remote island inaccessible to the public.

An experience backpacker, he revealed a trial-and-error approach to packing the essentials and emphasized the importance of minimalism and focusing on functionality rather than style. On his trip to New Zealand he carried “a functional sleeping bag, tent and small air mattress.”

During this five-week trip, Al-Sadhan gained a deep appreciation for the importance of community. To keep his spending to a minimum, he resorted to couch surfing —  a form of accommodation where travelers stay at the homes of locals for free.

He stayed at a communal apartment with four rooms and a living room with 30 people staying in it. “I stayed there for about six days because I enjoyed it. People from various countries were there, creating a sense of community where everyone helped each other,” Al-Sadhan said.

There was only one rule in this apartment: “If you cook, you cook for everyone.”

“One day someone came in with a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables and when I asked where they got them, they said ‘From the dumpster behind the supermarket.’”

While dumpster diving, they found a variety of items, including fresh produce, bread, and more. “If we found something like ice cream or eclairs, it would go to the person who went dumpster diving that day.”

While dumpster diving in a foreign country, he discovered a vibrant community of people from diverse cultures coming together to share resources.

Dumpster diving saved him money, but it’s not just about finding free food, but about building relationships and experiencing a new culture.

Among his travels to strange lands is his visit to the infamous Darvaza Gas Crater, a natural wonder in Turkmenistan. It is also known as the “Gates of Hell,” as it is a fiery pit that has been burning continuously for more than four decades, emitting a captivating blaze that lights up the night sky.

“We reached the gas crater before sunset and there was nothing to see but sand everywhere, but after sunset is when cylinder-shaped fiery lights beam from the hole.” Al-Sadhan recalled the eerie sight of birds swirling around the flames, dancing against the darkened backdrop of the desert area.

“My tour guide explained to me that these birds are feeding on the flies attracted to the light of the flames,” he said.

He had another life-changing experience in Varanasi, India. Unlike the rest of the places Al-Sadhan has been to, which he described as somewhat similar, “Varanasi is the exact opposite of that; everything is different, and nothing is the same.”

During his five days there, he had the opportunity to witness the customs and traditions of the region, including the public funeral procession and cremation that takes place along the banks of the sacred Ganges River.

Watching the ceremonial cremation of a middle-aged man, Al-Sadhan said: “They have a different social and spiritual relationship with death.” He vividly described how the bodies were wrapped in cloth before being placed on the funeral pyre and set ablaze.

The solemnity of the ceremony, combined with the spiritual energy of the festival, made him reflect on the fragility of life and the importance of cherishing each moment.


Mermaids make waves in the Red Sea

Mermaids make waves in the Red Sea
Updated 22 July 2024
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Mermaids make waves in the Red Sea

Mermaids make waves in the Red Sea
  • First-of-its-kind diving course in Jeddah offers aquatic adventures for summer

JEDDAH: Inspired by mythical sea-dwelling creatures, a diving center in Jeddah is offering a first-of-its-kind mermaid diving course for those wanting to splash around in cool waters during the summer.

Scuba Schools International at Al-Haddad Scuba in the coastal city offers a whimsical yet invigorating experience for those in search of an aquatic adventure.

All over the world, mermaids represent beauty, danger, transformation, duality, and feminine power. Today they continue to inspire literature, film, fashion, and even marine conservation efforts.

Ali Ayoub, Al-Haddad Scuba, certified mermaid diver

Arab News spoke to Corinna Davids, an Austrian scuba diving and swimming instructor known for her groundbreaking approach to mermaid diving. She developed the SSI Mermaid Program after years of expertise in free diving and swimming.

Davids became an instructor in swimming and scuba diving at SSI when she was 18 and has since revolutionized the diving industry, making waves with her innovative techniques and passion for the sea.

HIGHLIGHTS

• In April, Corinna Davids held the first mermaid diving course for instructors in Saudi Arabia.

• The course comprises extensive theory sessions, in-water training, and evaluations of teaching abilities.

Mermaid diving, she explained, is an art form that combines the technique of dolphin kick used in swimming with an exaggerated, aesthetically pleasing movement. This unique style not only looks beautiful but also ensures efficiency and safety.

“By mastering various fun skills and tricks, SSI mermaids can perform beautifully while maintaining safety protocols,” she told Arab News.

Saudi model Wafaa Al-Masry said the mermaid diving course was ‘a fun and unique experience.’ (Supplied)

Davids says that to become a mermaid one needs only basic water confidence. “The program is easily accessible, and to become a mermaid instructor, one needs to complete additional steps after becoming a mermaid,” she added.

The mermaid diving experience is incomplete without the mermaid costume. Davids recommends using high-quality monofins, such as the Mahina Monofin, which provides efficiency and aesthetic appeal. The tail skin, made from Lycra or scuba fabric, completes the look and will give mermaids the confidence to shine.

In April, Davids held the first mermaid diving course for instructors in Saudi Arabia, focusing on safety, technique and teaching methods to ensure that trainees are able to teach mermaid diving to students of all levels. The course comprises extensive theory sessions, in-water training, and evaluations of teaching abilities.

Initiatives such as the Vision 2030 plan aim to diversify the economy and promote tourism, which includes the development of new recreational activities like mermaid diving.

Ali Ayoub, Al-Haddad Scuba, certified mermaid diver

“The course received an overwhelmingly positive response from the trainees, who showed significant improvement throughout the program,” she said.

The newly certified instructors will be able to teach the mermaid diving program throughout Saudi Arabia.

“The primary aim of conducting this course in Saudi Arabia was to introduce a new, fun program that would appeal to kids and adults alike. Mermaid diving offers an exciting experience for those who may be hesitant to try scuba diving or freediving,” Davids said.

Corinna Davids, a respected scuba diving and swimming instructor known for her groundbreaking approach to mermaid diving. (Instagram/corinna.flowrebels)

Four participants from diverse backgrounds took part in the course, including a swimming instructor and lifeguard, two scuba instructors (one of whom is a doctor), and a free-diving instructor who is also an air traffic controller.

Ali Ayoub, a certified mermaid diver and scuba instructor from Al-Haddad Scuba, told Arab News: “Saudi Arabia has been undergoing considerable social and cultural transformations, with more emphasis on leisure and recreational activities.

“Initiatives such as the Vision 2030 plan aim to diversify the economy and promote tourism, which includes the development of new recreational activities like mermaid diving.”

Ayoub added that mermaid diving requires strong swimming abilities and good physical fitness. “Practice swimming regularly, work on your breath-holding techniques, and consider taking free-diving courses to improve your underwater endurance,” he advised.

He added that mermaid divers can participate in educational programs for schools, community groups, and public events: “They can share information about marine ecosystems, the threats they face, and how individuals can help. Their captivating presence can make learning about these issues more engaging and memorable.”

Wafaa Al-Masry, 22, a Saudi model, took the mermaid diving course under the supervision of coach Ayoub. She told Arab News: “It was a fun and unique experience. Initially, I thought it would be difficult, but with the training and the coach’s guidance, I found it easy and enjoyable.”

She said that breathing techniques, relaxation, and mastering the fin method were new skills she managed differently throughout the mermaid course. “The trainer was excellent in providing instruction, making the experience fun, and delivering valuable information,” she added.

Davids has written a comprehensive guide for those interested in discovering the magic of mermaid diving in Saudi Arabia. The guide provides all the necessary information for new mermaids to stay safe, make informed decisions, and choose the right equipment.

Having trained more than 3,000 divers in the past five years, Al-Haddad Scuba specializes in unique activities such as snorkeling, deep diving and night diving, providing immersive experiences of the vibrant underwater world alongside a community of fellow ocean enthusiasts.

 

 


Saudi farmer turns worm waste into wealth in innovative move

Saudi farmer turns worm waste into wealth in innovative move
Updated 22 July 2024
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Saudi farmer turns worm waste into wealth in innovative move

Saudi farmer turns worm waste into wealth in innovative move
  • Vermicomposting operation is an example of agricultural ingenuity

RIYADH: A Saudi farmer has developed a technique that transforms a common garden nuisance into a useful resource.

Mohammed Al-Shaer, of Al-Dhafir village in Baha, has established a thriving vermicomposting operation on his farm, producing high-quality organic fertilizer from earthworms, according to a report by the Saudi Press Agency.

Al-Shaer’s venture began approximately a year ago with a simple setup: a single 5-meter-long, 60 cm-high tank housing roughly 2,000 worms. The worms were fed a diet of dry leaves, organic waste, and food scraps and were closely monitored for four months, yielding over 300 kg of nutrient-rich compost and a tenfold increase in their population.

Baha farmer Mohammed Al-Shaer’s worm compost accelerates plant growth, enhances fruit production, and improves overall soil health. (SPA)

“Through extensive field trials and research into global best practices, I have gained insights into worm behavior, needs, and breeding techniques,” Al-Shaer explained in an interview with the SPA. His operation has since expanded to four tanks, producing enough vermicompost to fertilize roughly 250 trees on his property.

The benefits of this organic fertilizer are manifold. It accelerates plant growth, enhances fruit production, and improves overall soil health.

FASTFACT

Mohammed Al-Shaer’s venture began approximately a year ago with a simple setup: a single 5-meter-long, 60 cm-high tank housing roughly 2,000 worms.

Al-Shaer added: “The worms naturally enhance soil quality, optimize nutrient cycling for crops, and develop sound agricultural practices to enhance the production of fruits and vegetables.”

Looking ahead, the farmer aims to scale up his project to develop it into a comprehensive operation that produces large quantities of worm compost.

He also intends to raise awareness about this ecofriendly practice among fellow farmers through agricultural festivals in Saudi Arabia, encouraging his contemporaries to use organic fertilizer as an alternative to chemical fertilizers, which can harm soil, plants, and human health.

Local officials, notably Fahd Al-Zahrani, director general of the branch of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture in Baha, have expressed support for the proposal.

Dr. Lubna Saad, an associate professor of applied nutrition at Al-Baha University, emphasized the scientific benefits of vermicomposting, describing it as a potent mixture of worm castings and processed organic matter.

“These worms consume most of the organic inputs, transforming them into vermicompost,” Saad said in an interview with the SPA.

“The resulting material is then sifted and filtered, producing a ready-to-use fertilizer suitable for all types of agricultural fields. It significantly enhances the soil’s ability to absorb and retain water.”

Farmers participating in the recent Khayrat Al-Baha Festival praised Al-Shaer’s initiative, noting improvements in their crop quality after using organic fertilizer, the SPA reported.

 

 


Al-Baha Honey Festival to begin Tuesday

The festival will continue for 14 days until Aug. 5. (SPA)
The festival will continue for 14 days until Aug. 5. (SPA)
Updated 22 July 2024
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Al-Baha Honey Festival to begin Tuesday

The festival will continue for 14 days until Aug. 5. (SPA)
  • Al-Zahrani added that all types of honey exhibited are tested carefully to ensure quality

AL-BAHA: Under the patronage of Al-Baha Gov. Prince Hussam bin Saud bin Abdulaziz, the 16th International Honey Festival kicks off on Tuesday, July 23, organized by the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture and held at the Cooperative Association of Beekeepers headquarters in Baljurashi Governorate.

Fahd Al-Zahrani, director general of the ministry’s Al-Baha branch, said the festival will continue for 14 days until Aug. 5.

The festival will continue for 14 days until Aug. 5. (SPA)

He said the festival will witness the participation of 90 beekeepers from seven countries to showcase their products.

Al-Zahrani added that all types of honey exhibited are tested carefully to ensure quality.

The festival will continue for 14 days until Aug. 5. (SPA)

Nine governmental, civil, and voluntary entities are also participating in the festival, which is one of the most important agricultural festivals in the Kingdom, attracting exhibitors and experts from around the world every year.

 


Financial district in Riyadh earns SmartScore Neighborhood certification

View shows the King Abdullah Financial District, north of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (SPA)
View shows the King Abdullah Financial District, north of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (SPA)
Updated 22 July 2024
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Financial district in Riyadh earns SmartScore Neighborhood certification

View shows the King Abdullah Financial District, north of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (SPA)
  • With this certification, the financial district becomes the first development in the Middle East and Africa to receive WiredScore’s SmartScore Neighborhood certification

RIYADH: The King Abdullah Financial District obtained the SmartScore Neighborhood certification by WiredScore, the world’s leading authority on smart building technologies, for its excellence in advanced digital infrastructure that provides a robust network, sustainability and seamlessness at the level of living, work and leisure.

With this certification, the financial district becomes the first development in the Middle East and Africa to receive WiredScore’s SmartScore Neighborhood certification.

The recognition comes after a rigorous evaluation and certification process that started in Sept. 2023, when WiredScore announced at a Cityscape Global event in Riyadh that KAFD met the pre-certification criteria for the SmartScore Neighborhood certification.

 


Saudi defense minister meets with French ambassador to Kingdom in Riyadh

Saudi defense minister meets with French ambassador to Kingdom in Riyadh
Updated 22 July 2024
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Saudi defense minister meets with French ambassador to Kingdom in Riyadh

Saudi defense minister meets with French ambassador to Kingdom in Riyadh
  • Reviewed relations between KSA and France and discussed number of issues and topics of common interest

RIYADH: Saudi defense minister Prince Khalid bin Salman met with the French ambassador to the Kingdom, Ludovic Pouille, in Riyadh on Monday.

During the meeting, they reviewed relations between Saudi Arabia and France and discussed a number of issues and topics of common interest, Saudi Press Agency reported.

The meeting was also attended by Prince Abdulrahman bin Mohammed bin Ayyaf, the deputy minister of defense and the Chief of the General Staff, Lieutenant General Fayyad bin Hamed Al-Ruwaili.

The assistant minister of defense for executive affairs, Khalid bin Hussein Al-Bayari, and the director general of the office of the minister of defense, Hisham bin Abdulaziz bin Saif, were also in attendance.

On the French side, it was attended by the military attache to the Kingdom Jean-Christophe Guerdet and the ambassador’s adviser Wassim Zammat.