Farasan Kebir

The ferry crosses the Red Sea from Jizan to the the main island in the Farasan archipelago called Farasan Kebir or just Farasan. The road from the port runs to the main town where an Egyptian vulture is foraging in a dusty car park; the islands are a stronghold for this species perhaps because they are not hunted or poisoned; the bird walks scruffily on the ground poking the rubbish but like all vultures is wonderfully elegant in the air.

The main road runs east to west down the spine of the island from Farasan town where there are fuel storage tanks and the desalination plant and beyond a hotpotch of stark, new buildings sprouting in the desert. After a few miles, the landscape is an empty and monotonous gravel plain punctured by occasional doum palms and stone mounds. In the few runnels there is abundant sea lavender and the Acacia scrub supports succulents and a few butterflies and small birds.

The small town of Sair is a mixture of the old including a finely decorated Ottoman house and not very new with a few small shops and quiet narrow streets. Boys drive cars and others zoom around on scooters. A pair of ravens has a dust up with the resident crows and black-crowned sparrow-larks nest in the square. Sair is peaceful and welcoming.

A small road leads north and gently winds down to the coast where there are pristine habitats and a busy, artisanal fishing port in a sheltered bay called Fisherman’s Cape. Pink-backed pelicans and sooty gulls loiter until a fishing boat arrives and they then all dive in to fight for the tossed waste. Cats are ubiquitous and one hunts a pool for fish. In a nearby bay there are old fishing huts constructed from what appears to be flotsam and held together by a few, well placed nails. On the small cliff above the inlet, an old Egyptian vulture nest is empty but festooned with bones and other detritus. The resident pair of vultures circles lazily over the port as the sun drops down behind the low hills and the gulls gather to roost on the clifftop.

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