I started my Jordan journey in the desert. From Aqaba to Wadi Rum is about an hour and a half and I was not about to endure another wasted day of public transportation so I hired a car to transport me there. Wadi Rum can best be described as desert meets rock. If you have ever read Lawrence of Arabia or seen the movie then you know a little bit about Wadi Rum. Picture red sand, towering sandstone rocks and wind gusts sweeping the sands across the surface like waves. The combination is a worthwhile venture but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near the dessert in June, July and August. I survived a sand storm and couldn’t believe my guide considered it nothing. Feeling particularly energetic my guide, Allatellah, a 24 year-old Bedouin took me in a 4X4 through the desert for four hours. I even did a bit of rock climbing but the biggest jaunt occurred when I had to find some facilities away from tourists and I kept climbing and climbing and then realized I would have to get back down without killing myself.
After some wild adventures, my guide invited me back to his house. We bonded after four hours together. His father has four wives and 29 children with one on the way. The Bedouin are nomads but there are 2500 of them living at Rum Wadi. Despite my concerns, I figured my driver knew to meet me at 3 pm so someone would come looking for me eventually. Allatellah drove me to his house which consisted of 2 large rooms one completely devoted to prayer. The first room was covered in cushions and rugs. I sat there waiting for my tea until 5 people ran in at 3:30 to pray. Can you say awkward? It’s not like I’ve been in this situation before so I pretty much kept my hands folded and stared at them bowing for 15 minutes. As for the second room, I peaked in before leaving but was told no pictures because there were women present. Arabic women cannot be photographed. The children were running around pointing and laughing at me. I gathered most Bedouin’s marry young and have multiple wives and loads of children. Every person I talked to or dropped by the house to say hello to the American seemed to be Allatellah’s cousin or brother or uncle. I couldn’t keep up with all the relatives. My tea experience was interesting to say the least. I find it bizarre that I can sit there with 8 Arabic men and drink tea (they were smoking as well) but the women cannot even say hello to me.
From Wadi Rum, I made my way to Wadi Musa (PETRA). It was about a two hour drive through the desert and I do mean nothing but this carved out road existed. In fact, there were men sweeping the roads along the way. Think about it. If they don’t clean the roads, the sand will cover everything. Jordan is one large desert with the Red Sea bordering Saudi Arabia and the Dead Sea bordering Israel. A friend compared Jordan to Switzerland and it’s very true. Jordanians are friendly to all cultures serving as peacemakers also sandwiched between Iraq and Syria. I suppose being surrounded my “rogue” states one needs to take a neutral position.
Freezing in Petra- I am talking 35 degrees-I needed warm clothing quickly. After a look at the shops, I realized my selection was limited to scarves and belly dancing outfits. Seeing that I have 300 pashminas, I settled on the Bedouin scarf which is the long checkered(think Saudi) red and white scarf with black agar (no idea how to spell) but I call it a scarf keeper-oner. One guy suckered me into a black one but then I wanted a blue and white checkered scarf so now I have 2 Bedouin head pieces. Yes, I am not likely ever to wear these after leaving the Middle East. Anyone need a Halloween costume?
Stuffing my face with hummus and bread as a source of carbohydrates did not prove to be the smartest choice for my climb up Mt. Sinai or Moses’ Mountain as the locals call it. About five minutes into my climb, I was belching up garlic and wishing for once in my life I would not have over indulged. My team of climbers included a mother and son from Sweden, an Englishman, a Frenchman and me. We were guided by a local Beduin man who later wished he had never met me.
After making our way to St. Katherine’s Monastery, we started our climb at 3 AM. Our guide a 24 year-old smoking fiend had us running up a pretty steady incline. Now that I hiked with Jeri and Troy and conquered Mt. Kili, I consider myself an expert climber and informed him as such. He didn’t seem to appreciate me telling him he was jeopardizing my health. I gave him my “I know everything speech” that went something like the following: “It is not safe to run up any mountain and it’s especially not smart when altitude is a concern. You said we have 3.5 hours to get to the top and we are already a 1/3 there. You have 2 older men who would very much like to make the summit.” He did not like me telling him what to do and basically pushed to the front of the group and ignored me. Everyone in my group felt the climb so at the next break I told him again that slow and steady wins the race and the goal is to get to the top not die trying. Since he seemed in no position to save me, I took it upon myself to do the climb at my pace. While climbing in the darkness, I did find it a bit ironic that here I was telling off a local Egyptian on the very mountain that God gave Moses the 10 Commandments.
The two and a half-hour climb ended at the Steps of Repentance where 750 very steep steps stand between you and the summit. Since we hauled up the mountain, we had another hour before sunrise (please note I told you so). My group and I warmed ourselves in a hut where the Beduin men handed out very thick wool blankets for 20 Egyptian pounds. The wind was a killer at the top. Most people including me purchased a blanket and hunkered down in the shack. When it came time to climb the steps to the summit, there were about 200 tourists on the same pilgrimage. The sun decided to pop at about 6:30 AM and it quickly disappeared behind the clouds. I will fully admit climbing the mountain did make me feel closer to God. Whether or not I am religious is not the point, it made me think about spirituality and those that have gone before me. I was standing there looking out into the horizon imagining what could have happened in ancient times…in the time of Moses.
As I was making my decent, I stopped a few times to enjoy my surroundings (and to pee at $5 Egypitan pounds a stop). The mountains, a deep red color, have these incredible jagged edges that resemble fingers. I laughed at one point because the scene reminded me of the planet Krypton from the Superman movies. Some Hollywood executive likely visited Egypt and said wow this will make for a great set one day. Being in the desert is pretty amazing. The mountains are covered by a film of sand that creates a shadow and distorts viewing from a distance.
Back on level ground, we visited St. Katherine’s Monastery, the site people believe God appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush. I have to check this out but our guide said that people have tried to remove this particular “bush” many times but it will only live at the Monastery. He also told us there are no other known types of this tree/bush in the world. It gave me pause to think. The Monastery, built around 530 AD, is sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims. It remains an active Monastery and is home to 200 Greek Orthodox monks.
I finally returned to Sharm el Sheikh around 2 pm and decided a bus trip to Nuweiba on the Egyptian border would have to wait until the next day. Instead, I succumbed to my cravings and walked directly to the Hard Rock Cafe where I had a large plate of nachos with extra guacamole and a beer. The waiter suggested I go with the small but after thinking about all the cheese I could get with the large I could not help myself. From there, I moved on to Starbucks where I had an enormous piece of dark chocolate cake and a latte. YUMMMMMMY!
While sipping my coffee and sending my friends pictures of my Starbucks find, I met a lovely young woman from Finland who was traveling Egypt. We chatted about our travels and I was impressed with her spirit. She is 38 and has been everywhere. She is off to live in Norway next but hopes to be in Afghanistan in the near future. I so love meeting adventurous people. It affirms my desire to travel and see the world.
Early to bed and early to rise, I was ready to leave Egypt and discover the land of friendly in Jordan. I caught the 9 AM bus to Nuweiba and was off to a good start. I even met a friendly Australian, Tim and we chatted on the journey. As nothing ever runs smoothly in my travels, I should have known something was up when I called to book my hotel in Aqaba and the reservationist said he would “see me tonight.” When I said no I get in at 3 PM, he never responded. Locals know best.
Tim and I purchased our “fast ferry” tickets and grabbed lunch. We had 2 hours to kill. (I will from this point on refer to the roasted chicken I ate as the last supper because I was fairly certain the fast ferry would never reach Jordan.) After passport control, Tim and I were directed to stand in a very long line. I glanced around and realized there were about 3 women in a room full of 1,000. We waited there for a few minutes before we started to move. All of a sudden 3 police officers started screaming at people to get out of line (all in Arabic mind you) and everyone was pushing–some throwing punches. We stood there like ignorant tourists until a nice police officer escorted us to another section. He spoke in Arabic to a younger police officer and we decided this guy was going to take care of us. Having no understanding of what was being said, we decided it was Friday(the weekend), these people likely migrant workers wanted to go home and their slow ferry was cancelled. The police needed to take care of the tourists so we were placed in this secure section. It got to be ridiculous when no less than 25 locals tried to sit in area and police officers would start screaming for them to move. Tim and I sat on this bench in this semi-guarded section alone with locals starring at us for hours. In one instance, a fight broke out right in front of my feet. My bag even got involved in the action. It took everything in my power not to laugh until I saw another man crying. This ferry terminal and everything that it entailed could be a blockbuster drama. Just imagine if this was your only day off and you had to spend it with 1,000 other men at a ferry terminal trying to get home. It made me feel sad for them.
Eventually, the fast ferry with the 2 pm departure boarded at 5:30 pm and departed at 7:30. On the ferry, there were about 15 tourists. We completely stood out as we were all Caucasian from Australia and Europe and me the lone American. We were even escorted up to first-class by the smiling porter. People call Jordan the land of smiles. So far it’s true. The people are full of smiles and there doesn’t even seem to be an ulterior motive like in Egypt. We arrived at 8:30 and after some time received our passports back (they were collected on the boat and we were all confident that would be the last time we saw them). Jordanians are very hospitable. From the time we got on the boat, we were rushed to the front of the lines, treated like royalty and given welcoming smiles at every turn.
Alas, we arrived in Aqaba. I shared a cab with 2 Aussie girls who were traveling the world for a year. Three strangers at first, we were bound by a ferry and a journey that we thought would never end. After the longest day, we split a triple room in a budget hotel and I was so tired I didn’t even dream about the dirt!!!!!