Being in Jordan was an utter pleasure. It helped that our tour guide was an absolute joy of a person, who, I’m pretty sure, didn’t know how give people a bad tour. His heart was always in it, and he made sure we were comfortable and happy, too.
On our first night in Amman, we went the oldest falafel stand in Jordan, and ate, just as the king does, in plastic stools on the side of the road with our hands.
Then it was to Jerash, the ancient roman ruins - as big as Ephesus in Turkey! But fewer people. The highlight there - a set of bagpipers in one of the stadiums. What a kick! You never know what you’ll see when you’re on the road!
Off to the Dead Sea for a float. We bobbed like corks and covered our skin in the black tar mud known for its “healing properties”. The sea isn’t really a sea at all, but a hyper-salinated lake whose salt levels are so high, that you can only float on it, and nothing can live in it.
Then to Mount Nebo to see the view of the “Promised Land” as Moses supposedly had done. I couldn’t help but be taken by view, and wonder if all the suffering has been worth such a small bit of land.
Off to Little Petra, welcoming port of the Nabatean people, who carved their cities out of the sand. A quiet dusk-time viewing and a fascinating peek into the lives of the people who built the wonder of Petra.
Petra. A sight to behold, hidden amongst the natural stone of the surrounding mountains. It’s a walk to the Treasury, the incredible orange facade, rising out stones. It’s the iconic place, the image of Petra. The home to the holy grail, for us Indiana Jones fans. Then there’s the rest of Petra to explore, with a quick ascent up to the Monastery, an unexpected, but breathtaking site, as rewarding as the Treasury. It’s hard to believe that we nearly missed our chance to see it all - the rain in other parts of the area were causing flash floods through Petra and the site was closed the day before and when we arrived first thing in the morning.
Next it was to the desert in Wadi Rum, where we slept at a Bedouin camp and ate a traditional meal that is baked in the ground, with layers of rice, vegetables and meat. Delicious. in the morning, it was an optional hot air balloon ride over the desert. It was my first time on a hot air balloon and I was more than a little terrified! The beauty was outrageous, which helped my nerves. The hot air balloon captain was charming and had discovered hot air balloons when he was in the United States, and thought “why isn’t that in Jordan?” (Rum Balloon)
Just a few more stops now - a respite on a private yacht on the Red Sea. A relaxing day of snorkeling and an incredible view of Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel all at once.
Finally the Baptism site of Jesus on the River Jordan. A surreal and fascinating experience, as we watched bathers immerse themselves just a few feet away across the border in Israel.
Finally, we’re off to cross the border into Israel. The heightened tensions and shelling in the north of the country are cause for us to adjust where we are crossing border. It’s a bit of maneuvering for our group, and off we go, through no man’s land into Israel for the next part of our journey.
It will prove to be a different land, indeed.
It’s impossible to talk about Jordan without thinking of the desert. That’s what most of Jordan is, after all – a long, outstretched vastness of desert. We arrived in Amman in the middle of the night, and like, most modern airports, we found ourselves on a long car ride to our hotel into the center of town, so we couldn’t really get a feel for the desert until the next morning.
I must’ve fallen asleep around 1 or 2 AM when we finally settled into our hotel, and it wasn’t more than a few short hours later that I was jarred awake by a roaring sound in my room. It was still pitch black, with the clock blinking at around 4AM when the speakers began blaring the call to prayer.
I have to tell you, in the middle of darkness, in a foreign land, I was scared.
And then I was overwhelmed.
And then I was intrigued.
And then, I was tired. And went to bed.
I can’t really described the way traveling thrusts you into a reality not quite your own. It doesn’t always happen immediately; sometimes you’re the proverbial frog in the water, lounging in your pot, until suddenly you realize the water is boiling. Other times, it takes you by the shoulders, shakes you awake from the daze of your tiny reality, insisting to you that what you think is The Way Things Are, is really not that at all.
Hearing the voice of the caller ringing through my ears just before sunset was a startling reminder that were weren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto.
So when I awoke again, with the morning having fully arrived, the sun shining and the colors of the desert before me, I knew we’d come to a different land; and I was ready.
There are some places that words don’t do justice, and most of those places are rarely of man’s design.
Sure, the Taj Mahal is exquisite, in the almost unreal way it sits across the sky. And yes, Macchu Picchu has a mystical stillness when the morning fog hangs over the valley. No one will tell you the Sagrada de Familia isn’t special in a cavernous, physical prayer to God.
But nature has its ways. And usually those ways are the silent, stoic types. The places in nature that enrapture us, do so in a way that knows its ancient place in the Order of Things. It’s been standing here against the backdrop of time, watching us as we come and go through millennia, its lifespan so much longer than our own, that we can scarcely see it changing.
When I’m riding in the back of a truck, speeding through the desert of Wadi Rum, I imagine that this is the Middle East of human history. I see the sun streaming through the clouds in the distance, and I imagine the stories of ancient texts coming to life. The wind whips through your hair and the sand swirls around you and you a part of something that’s been happening here long before you, or anyone else showed up.
Abu means father. If a man has a son, his honorary is Abu. So when we enter Abu’s tent, we know it’s here for us, but the sentiment of the not-so-ancient Bedouins remains. Abu gives us tea and plays a song from his string instrument; we shop. We hear the wind whipping outside the walls of the tent. It isn’t exactly what it used to be, but the feeling is still there. The Bedouins are still connected to the desert.
The sunset in the desert feels different. It isn’t like the gentle vastness of a sunset over the sea, or the slow creep and long good night of a sunset over the mountains. Sunset in the desert is stealthy and sudden; it’s stunning beauty subtly reminding us of the harshness of the waterless expanse. The chill of the night creeps in and cools the intense heat of a desert day.
Sunset in Wadi Rum is for silence. The light and the scene demand it by their presence. As we sit on rocks staring out at stone giants, it’s impossible not to be enveloped by the scene. Bright skies, dotted with clouds, melt into golden rays, which flow into a soft dusk.