Jordan’s Wonders

Despite my challenging circumstances getting to Jordan, I quickly moved on from Aqaba.

My first stop was a visit to Wadi Rum, where I had arranged to take a hiking and jeep tour through the desert while spending the night in a Bedouin camp. With no buses running there from Aqaba I had to take a taxi albeit at a good price.

It was my most expensive activity of the trip so far but based on what I had read it seemed like a must. From the moment I arrived at the home of Attallah, who runs the tour company that I went with, Bedouin Lifestyles, and is a Bedouin who spent his first ten years living in tents, everything was first class and completely taken care of.

Fortuitously, a Canadian couple (John and Brenda) living in Dubai, showed up soon after I arrived and since we were dong similar tours I was able to tag along with them, both lowering the cost of my stay and giving me some company.

camel riding in Wadi Rum

As a brief aside, I should mention that since starting in Egypt I have really focused on socializing more in touristic situations like staying in hotels, taking buses / trains and in tours. I’m glad to say it has been very successful both in terms of allowing me to meet people from all over (many of whom I have bumped into later on) but also providing me with groups of people to spend time with. This has been even more prevalent thus far in Jordan.

We started off our tour with a 45 minute camel ride to meet our Bedouin guide Ali for some tea before we headed off further into the desert in his jeep. From the moment that you leave Rum Village and head into the desert you can’t help but to be taken in by how the vast expanse of desert is framed by the majestic rock formations that surround it.

overlooking the desert

wide open desert

Covering this terrain by jeep allowed us to see so much of the desert while we had frequent stops to hike and climb. In the past six weeks I have seen many, many sites but as of now this ranks as my favorite. The fact that the desert is practically empty combined with the uniqueness of the landscape stood out to me. And the climbing is top rate. Many of the rocks have natural notches to place your hands and feet making this in many respects like a super-sized jungle gym.

Doing the tour with John, provost at the Canadian University of Dubai, and Brenda, who works in costume design for movies and television, was great. It’s so much nicer to spend the day with people you can talk to rather than by yourself. They have also traveled to so many places so we could swap travel stories. And traveling in a group makes it easier to get pictures of myself.

using my strength to support John

In the middle of the day, Ali dropped us off for a 45 minute hike where we met him in a small canyon as he prepared lunch. We soon sat down to a delicious meal of tuna with vegetable stew and hot bread plus plenty of the hot tea that the Bedouin are renowned for. I was almost too full to keep going but we plowed on.

we hiked through this canyon in our way to lunch

Ali preparing lunch

My favorite site in Wadi Rum was a place known as Lawrence’s House where T.E. Lawrence, of Lawrence of Arabia fame, is reported to have stayed when he was in Wadi Rum. I liked it so much because of the stupendous 360 degree views of the valley it affords you as climb higher and higher. I had to cut my climb short because we were running low on time but at that moment I resolved to come back some day with a group to spend a few days just climbing around Wadi Rum.

what a view from the top

By the time we made it to camp, right before sunset, I was exhausted. The camp, which is built right into a mountain, has about a dozen Bedouin style tents along with a large tent for meals and a bathroom with showers. It’s location is sublime as it affords wide open views of the desert.

It also provides a great vantage point for seeing the sunset right before dinner. We were joined in camp that night by a young Italian couple and French guy.

tents in the camp

sunset in Wasi Eum

As we sat down for a Bedouin dinner of chicken with rice, three different salads and more hot bread, life was good. But the conversation amongst us was even better with everyone discussing their travel plans, highlights from Wadi Rum as well as their background. Despite only meeting one another that night, we all bonded very quickly as we sat around the fire under the stars sipping tea.

I capped off the night chatting with Colin, a Princeton student spending the next four months helping Attallah run the camp in exchange for improving his Arabic he is a font of knowledge on Jordan’s history and culture. It was his ability to describe the Bedouin lifestyle and sites in Wadi Rum that elevated this to such a first class experience. On the whole, it was really a magical evening.

I would have stayed longer but with my time in Jordan short and the expense of touring, I had to leave more climbing for another trip. After breakfast, I caught a ride to Petra, which has been described as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

The Treasury from up close

and from up high, where you can see how it was carved right into the rock

While it is certainly impressive, I felt that it paled in comparison to Wadi Rum because of the number of tourists who visit, the aggressiveness of the Jordanian hawkers trying to sell you donkey rides (almost Egypt-like) and the fact that I simply preferred how wide open Wadi Rum was.

What did strike me about Petra is how impressive the architecture is. With so many buildings in the area built right into the rock they are very well preserved. While I saw all the major sites (The Treasury, The Monastery, The Sacrifical High Place) my first day there, having a second day afforded me more time for hiking the site. It is a wonderful place for hiking and more challenging than I was expecting.

Once again my experience there was helped by having a group to go with my second day. In my hotel, I befriended Jenny and Allison, two American Peace Corps alums traveling through the region. I tagged along with them on our second day of Petra as we hiked up one of the rock formations to get a better view of the Treasury. They both spent their time in the Peace Corps in Cameroon so for them traveling through Egypt and Jordan is like a piece of cake.

caving in Petra

great colors

While the town of Wadi Musa, outside the Petra site, doesn’t offer much, I lucked out when I stumbled upon a restaurant next door to my hotel. I asked a woman sitting out front about an item on the menu and before I knew she brought me inside to sample seemingly all of the chicken dishes they had, which were fantastic. She helps to run the restaurant, which specializes in Bedouin cuisine, with her boyfriend. She also happens to be from Traverse City, Michigan and had moved to Jordan several years ago while working for the UN.

Jordanian chicken fajitas

After a wonderful dinner there, I joined the couple and a few of their friends as we drank tea and they quizzed me on their trip. I learned that Bedouins drank much more alcohol than I had thought (the chef prefers whiskey and even drank during Ramadan, which you’re not supposed to do). They will sometimes go out into the desert at night with a bottle of whiskey, which they pass around as they play music and sing under the stars.

looking out above it all in Petra

Seeing Wadi Rum and Petra are not easy on the wallet despite being must sees in Jordan. They are also quite tiring so I decided spend my few days in Amman relaxing a bit before heading to Japan. I am Couchsurfing here, which is something I haven’t done in a few weeks. I’m enjoying one last local experience before leaving the Middle East.

Link to Jordan pictures

The Adventure Continues…Up Next: Amman


3 Responses to Jordan’s Wonders

  1. Sounds like you had a fabulous time!

  2. stuschis says:

    Great stuff. The differences between the Middle East and Japan I’d imagine are extreme. Sounds like you’ve had a blast though. Take care, bud.

  3. Pingback: 3 Months on the Road « Raw Focus

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