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Speleo sausages, hollow stalagmites and more!


© 2005 by John and Susy Pint -- Updated September, 2013

 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.

Well, maybe in some way we have helped to immortalize this bedu joke by officially 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!

In late October of 2002, we decided it was time to have a better look at this cave 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 along the pipeline road toward the Habikah turnoff, through the flat plains we now call Dhubb City (but this time not a dhubb did we see, due to the pleasant weather which for dhubbs is unbearably cold) and into Habikah, where we discovered that the little “lake” had vanished, a fairly common occurrence according to the locals.

Susy at one of the many water holes of Habikah...now dry. 



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 place while Susy and I plus various volunteers, wandered about taking photos of things we had missed on previous occasions...

Saeed Amoudi displays his ladder-climbing technique at the entrance to Black Scorpion Cave... 


...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...                                                                         





...Later, Abdulrahman found a small upper opening in the main passage between stations 19 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. 

That evening, I wandered away from the campsite towards our tent, which we always pitched far from the camp because our cave unit “night owls” never seem to 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.. 

 ...Finally I saw a flashlight coming towards me. It turned out to be Susy, who had seen my light and assumed I was at the tent.

“Our tent? Er, no, it’s not here… I seem to have misplaced it.”

Now there were two of us stumbling around in the dark until we finally returned to camp and with great embarrassment explained our predicament. Wasel the driver assumed it was Susy who was lost and began to explain to her all about the four cardinal points, of course entirely in Arabic.

“Shufi, Sisu…” he began, Look Sisu, that is north and that is south and your tent is 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.

The next day, Susy and I went off to Tayib Al Issam cave to begin surveying it while the others drove to the pipeline road to call their families on their cell phones to tell them they were well. This was necessary because our Globalstar Satellite Phone was not working (as usual).

Just about every square foot of Tayib Al Issam’s entrance is now covered with graffiti. This we believe may be our own fault because the local people told us that once we had proven to them that the cave wasn’t dangerous, the number of visitors began to increase, each one apparently using the entrance wall as a kind of registration book! ...

The latest graffiti update at the cave entrance. Red spray paint is apparently selling quite well at the Habikah supermarket. 

Two separate passages began at the entrance. The right-hand one is the blackest tunnel I have ever seen in any cave anywhere. The floor is entirely covered with dry but very black bat guano and the ceiling and walls are also black, perhaps from the smoke of torches or maybe from the stains of bat urine. I only wandered 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....


Susy playing speleoball. 

 ...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. 


Double-click 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....


"Granola Shmanola!  This is what REAL CAVERS like to munch on."


...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 found inside.

Could this be anhydrite or gypsum-without-water? Have we discovered the world's first tooth-powder factory?


...We halted our survey at a large room with passages going off in two directions. At 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... 

  We then left the cave and bumped into some young men outside who told us about a nearby cave we’d never heard of, which we shall discreetly refer to as “One-Room Cave” and which we decided to try visiting the next day. Then we headed for camp as a light rain began to fall.

After another delicious kabsa meal prepared by our three drivers, we went back into Black Scorpion Cave for more photography and geological studies. Some time later, who did we discover wandering about the cave, but Wasel the driver, without a helmet and carrying only one flashlight...

“No, Wasel, you need a helmet! You have to go back outside.” Well it took some doing but we finally convinced him to leave. A bit later, as sunset fell, Susy and I also left the cave, but Mahmoud and the others were still deep inside, working near the bat passage.

Wasel --unhelmeted-- at the entrance to Black Scorpion. 

Well, we weren’t outside the cave more than a half hour when we discovered Wasel had gone back in, apparently worried about the geologists. After a while, nature 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 pitch dark, which he managed to do with nothing worse than a nastily scraped leg. Of course, he still wasn’t wearing a helmet!

Finally, Susy and I returned to the cave to see if the geologists were OK and we all exited together. 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.

...There was also plenty of rain during that night and the next morning we found the guys who went to bed “to sleep under the stars” all huddled together under a tarp...

"Storm? What storm?" said Abdulrahman when he woke up.. 

That 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 and drove 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 the way, however, (as so often happens) our guides pointed out two other caves to us. The first was all entrance and no cave, but the second was a dahl about ten meters deep with what looked like a big passage at the bottom. Six doves burst forth from this hole as we approached it and of course we named it “Six-Dove Cave.” A few weeks later the geologists came back for a better look (while Susy and I were in Mauritius) and discovered there were no rooms, passages or 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.




John Pint