an ancient Bedu tradition, whenever surveyors, explorers and such would
name of a place that simply had no name, the crafty local people would
“Tayib Al Issim,” (That’s a good name!) and smile as the unsuspecting
stranger carefully penned this into his or her journal. And, in fact,
find this name gracing all sorts of unimportant spots on many a map of
Following an ancient Bedu tradition, whenever surveyors, explorers and such would ask the name of a place that simply had no name, the crafty local people would reply, “Tayib Al Issim,” (That’s a good name!) and smile as the unsuspecting stranger carefully penned this into his or her journal. And, in fact, you will find this name gracing all sorts of unimportant spots on many a map of the Arabian peninsula.
maybe in some way we have helped to immortalize this bedu joke by
calling the big cave north of Habikah by the very “name” the locals had
tried to foist upon us. Tayib Al Issim, you say? So be it!
late October of 2002, we decided it was time to have a better look at
and begin mapping it. Once again we flew out to Ar Ar on Saudi Arabia’s
northern border, met our drivers with heavily-laden vehicles and drove
pipeline road toward the Habikah turnoff, through the flat plains we
Dhubb City (but this time not a dhubb did we see, due to the pleasant
which for dhubbs is unbearably cold) and into Habikah, where we
the little “lake” had vanished, a fairly common occurrence according to
We camped near, but not too near, Black Scorpion Cave (just beyond the area
where you find a scorpion under every rock!) The weather was beautiful and we all
took turns riding about the desert on Mahmoud's bicyle...
Mahmoud exercising what remains of his leg after being bitten by the JAWS formation of Gecko Cave.
...We spent the first day
inside Black Scorpion, Mahmoud
and the junior geologists writing up a geological description of the
Susy and I plus various volunteers, wandered about taking photos of
things we had missed on previous occasions...
...This is how we stumbled
into the Fox’s Den, apparently the normal hangout of the many foxes we
spotted circling our camp every night. Here we found fresh fox
droppings on the floor, overlaying much older “petrified poops” of
hyenas and wolves. We also found fascinating displays of gypsum flowers
similar to those in the Macaroni Room.
Here's one we called THE RIBBON...
And this is THE SWIRL...
Abdulrahman found a small upper opening in the main passage between
and 20, that overlooks a lower passage leading who-knows-where. The
drop is less
than two meters and could be negotiated with the help of an etrier....
Abdulrahman at the entrance to his still unexplored new passage. Note the gypsum flowers all around him.
evening, I wandered away from the campsite towards our tent, which we
pitched far from the camp because our cave unit “night owls” never seem
get sleepy until 2 AM. ..
...Of course, there was no
way to see the tent from camp, just a black curtain all around us and,
of course, the flashlight I was using had a layer of mud on the inside
of the crystal, which I hadn’t gotten around to cleaning, and… well, I
hope those sound like good excuses for my wandering back and forth in
the darkness, wondering where in the world that blasted tent had gone....
John seeking tent but finding thorn bushes instead..
saw a flashlight
coming towards me. It turned out to be Susy, who had seen my light and
was at the tent.
tent? Er, no, it’s not here… I seem to have misplaced it.”
there were two of us stumbling around in the dark until we finally
camp and with great embarrassment explained our predicament. Wasel the
assumed it was Susy who was lost and began to explain to her all about
cardinal points, of course entirely in Arabic.
Sisu…” he began, Look Sisu, that is north and that is south and your
hunak, over there.” He called her Sisu instead of
Susi because a common
Arabic diminutive ends in u. Observing which way
Wasel was pointing, we finally found our tent.
Observing which way Wasel was pointing, we finally found our tent.
next day, Susy and I went off to Tayib Al Issam cave to begin surveying
the others drove to the pipeline road to call their families on their
phones to tell them they were well. This was necessary because our
Satellite Phone was not working (as usual).
about every square foot of Tayib Al Issam’s entrance is now covered
graffiti. This we believe may be our own fault because the local people
that once we had proven to them that the cave wasn’t dangerous, the
visitors began to increase, each one apparently using the entrance wall
kind of registration book!
The latest graffiti update at the cave entrance. Red spray paint is apparently selling quite well at the Habikah supermarket.
separate passages began at the entrance. The right-hand one is the
tunnel I have ever seen in any cave anywhere. The floor is entirely
dry but very black bat guano and the ceiling and walls are also black,
from the smoke of torches or maybe from the stains of bat urine. I only
some 50 meters inside and always found a pall of blackness ahead of me.
We began our survey in the left-hand passage which soon divided into
two parallel passages. We took the one to the right, which
brought us to several interesting features. One was a giant ball
attached to a side wall like an enormous wart....
...Then came a horizontal bridge connected to the ceiling by three vertical columns. Passing another bridge, this one rather broken up, we found the Sausage Room...
On the map, triangles represent the survey stations. You can see the location of the giant ball next to station 5. The Sausage Room begins just after station. 6. Double-click on the map to see the rest of the cave.
...The short, fat,
sausage-shaped formations in this and several other rooms, came with a
ring of spurs at the bottom of each individual sausage and are quite
unlike any formation I’ve ever seen before. Some were broken off by
vandals and revealed a shiny surface of concentric rings. I suppose
this is yet another form of gypsum… Hey Paulo and Carol, how many forms
can there be?
Perhaps this picture could be titled SAUSAGES WITH GRANOLA. We hope it will inspire a totally new style of cuisine for the gourmet caver...
...The narrow passageway
suddenly opened into a room strewn with bones. Here we found the other
end of the parallel passage leading back to the entrance....
...Next we came to four or
five fat stalagmites up to 30 cm tall, most of them broken open at the
top and hollowed out. . What had been “mined” was the soft white powder
halted our survey at a large room with passages going off in two
this point, the four geologists joined us and checked out the
unsurveyed passages which turned out to be a loop. We were at the end
of the cave.
In this area we found more sausages, many attached to the large chunks of breakdown nearly filling the room...
another delicious kabsa meal prepared by our three drivers, we went
Black Scorpion Cave for more photography and geological studies. Some
later, who did we discover wandering about the cave, but Wasel the
without a helmet and carrying only one flashlight...
Wasel, you need a helmet! You have to go back outside.” Well it took
doing but we finally convinced him to leave. A bit later, as sunset
and I also left the cave, but Mahmoud and the others were still deep
working near the bat passage.
we weren’t outside the cave more than a half hour when we discovered
gone back in, apparently worried about the geologists. After a while,
took its course and Wasel’s single light went out. Of course, he hadn’t
succeeded in locating the others, and now he had to exit the cave in
which he managed to do with nothing worse than a nastily scraped leg.
he still wasn’t wearing a helmet!
Susy and I returned to the cave to see if the geologists were OK and we
By this time, the wind had picked up and you could smell rain in the air...
Clouds gathering over Habikah.
That night, a powerful wind hit us with such force, I was sure our tent wouldn’t stand it. But I was wrong and I congratulate the Eureka company, because tents of other brands have ended up ripped to pieces, with poles snapped in two, after only a night or two of subjection to the high winds of the Far North.
was also plenty of rain during that night and the next morning we found
who went to bed “to sleep under the stars” all huddled together under a
same morning, the Emir of Habikah visited us at our camp and kindly
offered to have his sons show us the One-Room Cave. We then broke camp
off to Habikah. After several tiny cups of qawa, as
coffee was originally
called, we went off with the Emir’s boys to check out this new cave. On
way, however, (as so often happens) our guides pointed out two other
us. The first was all entrance and no cave, but the second was a dahl
meters deep with what looked like a big passage at the bottom. Six
forth from this hole as we approached it and of course we named it
Cave.” A few weeks later the geologists came back for a better look
Susy and I were in Mauritius) and discovered there were no rooms,
even doves down below, so they renamed the cave “Dahl Practical Joke.”
One-Room Cave is much more interesting. The entrance is a roundish hole
with a breakdown
slope leading to a single underground chamber which the people of
Habikah use as a meeting room and which they keep very clean. Because
they prefer not to tell people about this cave, we have changed its
name in this report and will not show photos of it..
Once again, rain fell at night, but this time we saw it through the window of our hotel room in Ar Ar. As we drove off to the airport the next morning, we had no idea that Ar Ar was making international news. For the first time in ten years, Saudi Arabia had reopened Ar Ar’s border crossing to Iraq and dignitaries were driving back and forth between there and Baghdad. All we need are visas, gas masks and maybe an armored tank and we'll be all set for caving in Iraq.
LOOK OUT SADDAM,
THE SAUDI CAVERS!