Arabic phrase of the week:
Something is up : “fee inna” : في ان
On our way to Wadi Rum and Petra last weekend, we stopped for a bathroom break along the highway and were turned away at the rest stop without any real explanation. With no desire to stick around and ask questions, our program director simply concluded, “fee inna.” And off we went. The long desert highway stretching from Amman down to Aqaba isn’t much different from I-5 in California, just with camels instead of cows. At a checkpoint, our tour guide hopped out to offer the officers and other cars some of our extra desserts, including a couple of American tourists in front of us – needless to say, they declined the offer. Rave all you want about Arab hospitality, but Americans know better than to accept sweets from strangers in white vans.
Our time in Wadi Rum on Friday was amazing. When you see “4×4 desert tour” on the trip itinerary, you assume it means buckled into a Jeep Wrangler driven by a professional tour guide, with the tourists able to focus on the gorgeous scenery zipping by – definitely not the case. We sat on benches bolted into the bed of an old pick-up, driven by a Bedouin kid who was easily two or three years younger than us. There were no restraints of any kind, so we held on tight.
Not to worry though, it was actually the camel ride that proved to be the most painful experience of the weekend. I don’t care how many blankets are draped over its back, there’s nothing comfortable about it. But we had just been given our own dish-dashes (the white robe-like thing) and shmogs (the red scarf), so at the time I was too distracted attempting by best Lawrence of Arabia impression to be bothered with the bruising and chafing. Ironically, my Bedouin guide spent the entire walk watching videos and texting friends on his cell phone. For the life of me, I cannot figure out how he has perfect cell coverage in Wadi Rum when I lose service in our living room in Rocklin. Regardless, I think AT&T could learn a few things from the cell networks here.
We arrived at the Bedouin camp around 6:30, just in time to climb up one of the nearby hills and watch the sunset. Fordinner, our hosts used a makeshift oven – a fire pit encloses the food, which is then buried under sand – to hold a three-level rack of chicken, fish, potatoes, rice and veggies. No idea where you get fish in the middle of the desert, but it was all delicious. We spent the rest of the night around the fire singing, dancing and playing games.
We took off early Saturday morning to head to Petra. Set back into cliffs outside of the small town, it’s no wonder that it took so long for the city to be discovered. I always pictured the different parts of the city to be relatively close and condensed, but it took an entire day of hiking around to see everything. After emerging from the trail, the first thing you see is the iconic Treasury building, which everyone knows from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The intricacy and detail of it is impossible to describe. If you look closely in the pictures, you can see the holes along each side of the building, used to support the scaffolding during its construction under the Nabataeans.
After a 20-minute climb up the crumbling staircase across the city, we reached the Monastery building. The exhausting ascent is a pretty strong deterrent for most tourists, so it was much less crowded than the sights down below. Combined with an exceptional view of the peaks and valleys around Petra, the climb was definitely worth it. Besides, we had a massive lunch awaiting us at the bottom of the staircase. And well into a decent food coma, we were greeted with a pack of donkeys to take us back to the road to catch our van to Amman.
Safe to say, the two destinations definitely lived up to their hype and even exceeded my own expectations for the weekend. I stood where wagon wheels had worn away the stones on the road into Petra, when the Silk Road enabled an entire city to thrive and prosper in the most unlikely of locations. I sat under the stars, surrounded by the cliffs jutting out of the Wadi Rum desert, savoring the kindness and generosity of our Bedouin hosts. I am struck by how deep history runs in this dry, desolate land, with its precious landmarks – natural and manmade – dating back thousands of years. They provide a tangible connection between modern Jordanians and generations of the past, a history unrivaled in our young country across the Atlantic. They are reminders that we are each but a footnote in the pages of time, allusions to a narrative that is simply too vast and too complex for our narrow minds to ever comprehend.
How to preserve this indescribable sense of perspective and awe? Stock up on Facebook profile pictures, of course! I think I have enough to last the next several years….