Tuesday, August 2, 2011

محيطات الرمال -- Sand oceans

This weekend, I had the amazing fortune to travel to Little Petra and Wadi Rum, in the southern part of Jordan. We left via bus from ACOR at around 5 p.m. to begin the roughly 4-hour drive to the camp. And while we had intended to arrive at our destination sometime between 8:30 and 9 p.m., after a few rest stops, that proved to be somewhat overambitious.

Instead, at about 10 p.m., we turned off the main highway onto a desert road winding into rock formations that most closely resembled something out of Salvador Dali's imagination, smooth and abstractly formed, pocked with little caves lit up by tiny flickering luminaries. A short distance into the desert, we arrived at a Bedouin camp, complete with a large tent and a firepit surrounded by cushions. There, we were greeted by a friendly middle-aged gentleman sporting a camouflage jumpsuit, a red-and-white keffiyeh, and one of the most impressive moustaches I have ever seen! He welcomed us to the site and gave us a sneak peak of our dinner--a mix of vegetables, chicken and lamb that had been slow-cooking in a traditional underground oven for several hours.

After dinner he sat near the fire and began singing traditional songs, in a voice that was glorious and full--not unlike his moustache! I introduced myself as "Warda" (my Arabic name, which means "rose"), after which he insisted on referring to me in English as "Desert Flower." He made me sing something, and my mind was drawing a blank, so I sang a song by The Cure that had been stuck in my head. The combination of traditional Bedouin song and 80s synth-rock was very amusing...to me, at least. :)

Later, the majority of the group decided to go on a nighttime trek around the site, but I decided to stay back and enjoy the now-quiet camp. I shared an apple-flavored arghile with my friend Tenly and our new friend Abdullah, one of the other Bedouins working at the camp. Aboud, one of the CLS speaking partners (who loves Pink Floyd), played "Hey You" on his cell phone speakers, and we sang along. We sat around the fire and smoked arghile until two a.m., before finally tucking in to catch some sleep under the stars.

The next day, our guides took us in four-wheelers around the nearby terrain. We explored Little Petra, which as the name suggests is a smaller collection of Nabatean ruins outside of "big" Petra. We also trucked up to a point high up in the desert where we made tea and enjoyed the view.

Later we returned for lunch, packed up, and left. A misunderstanding about money dampened the mood somewhat, especially for the speaking partner who went to bat for us, but in spite of that, about half of us decided to press on to Wadi Rum instead of head straight back to Amman. Wadi Rum was two hours further south from Petra -- in other words, very, very south of Amman -- and we discovered soon after arrival that it was well worth the extra trip. The weather was HOT, still well over 100 degrees, even in the late afternoon.

We had originally intended to explore on foot, but we were not expecting the sheer expansiveness of the desert, so after re-assessing the situation, we figured we'd cover a lot more ground if we just hired a four-wheeler to take us around instead. Speeding around the sand dunes in the open air like that, stopping now and then to dip my toes into sand oceans was.... magical. I'm not quite sure how to describe the feeling. Limitless? Perhaps. Let's say that if Walt Whitman was there, I think he would have "sounded his barbaric yawp." It was like that. :)

The evening ended with a rock scramble up one of Wadi Rum's many high, jagged mountains. We climbed all the way to the top of a peak and watched the sun disappear behind the hills.

Oh, and did I tell you how we ran out of gas on the way back out of the desert after the sun went down? Apparently our guide was too busy doing donuts in the sand to notice how low the meter was. But as is always the case here in Jordan, you are never more than a cell phone call away from the kindness of (relative) strangers. After a short wait (during which we made sand angels and debated whether or not we ever wanted to leave), we were back on the road towards Amman.

It was a wonderful adventure all in all, and well worth the 6-hour drive home. Actually, I think Wadi Rum might just be my favorite place in Jordan.

It was that magical. :)

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