7am breakfast for 8am start. Today's the main event; our outing to the World Heritage ruins of Madain Saleh. The site is surrounded by chicken wire fences with a guard post. It's swift enough to get in though, and the bus transports us to the first tomb of significance. We get an explanation of the history of the site - there were Saudi living here despite the curse until 1985, when they were forceably moved by the local government.

The site is all but empty - we only see one other group all day - and with the size of the site, it feels like we have it to ourselves. The tombs are carefully numbered on plaques nailed to the sandstone. It's open in contrast to closed feel of Petra. The tombs are scattered across a wide area in a desert plain punctuated by sandstone outcrops. The interiors of the tombs also appear a little more ornate than Petra's, with carefully cut shelves and alcoves carved in the sandstone. Dotted around the site are well-preserved animal carvings and Nabatean writings.

After our exploration of the first group of tombs, we come across a cluster of mud houses, the remains of the last recent settlement before they were removed. And after that we climb to a high lookout over the site for an explanation of Nabatean worship and sacrifice.

Scattered around Madain Saleh and Al-Ula are sleepers and rails from the Hejaz railway, which passes through the site on its way between Damascus and Madinah. They can be found supporting roofs and lining wells. Part of the rebuilding for the tourists here includes the Madain Saleh railway station. They're slowly building an engine and a coach, presumably to wheel the punters up and down the short section of restored track.

On the way out, we stop again at the gate to take our leave from the police. After a slightly too long wait, the guide returns to announce that there is a problem with our permits. Happily, it seems to be the sort of problem he can resolve personally with the guards and we're freed to go back to the hotel for lunch and checkout.

As we get ready to begin the drive back to Thuwal, it emerges that we've been offered a police escort back to campus. And so an 8 hour game of tag begins, with each area's police escorting us through their section rather faster than the bus is comfortable for, each car telling the next who we are, until we finally get to KAUST where the final car tells the nonplussed Aramco security that we are Italian tourists from Medinah.

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