Day 7: Amman to Petra and Wadi Rum, Jordan
I suspect I am the only one who set an alarm; I am up at 5 and spend my time alone showering in peace, enjoying my coffee and writing. At 6:11 it is clear no one is getting up unless I wake them up so I wake Nassir up and leave the rest to him. Surprisingly we walk out the door at 7:30. It keeps getting mentioned that it is a 3km walk just to get to the main part of Petra and I am starting to believe it is more out of concern for themselves rather than a belief that I will struggle. As we drive out of Amman I see a big sign advertising a store called “American Products” which must only include kitchen utensils because that is what is on an equally large sign directly below. There are shacks along the highway and some are restaurants and some are shops; the shops are distinguished by red and black checkered exterior walls. Some of the shacks have signs and others don’t and sometimes the ones that don’t have their information spray painted above the doorway. We stop at one of the restaurant shacks and the guys get some sort of potato sandwich and I get foul, which is essentially a soupy kind of refried bean dish but with a totally different flavor. The foul is hot and I use it to heat up the leftover rice and hummus I grabbed from the fridge before we left. This foul isn’t like any of the others and it has a strange minced green topping which I hope is relish and proceed mixing everything into one dish. I start to feel a bit queasy about an hour later and alternate between closing my eyes and fantasizing about all the foods I wish I was eating right now because at this moment I don’t want to see another spoonful of foul or hummus ever again. Greek yogurt, strawberries, Chocolate Sea Salt Rx Bars, these are stuffs of my dreams.
We go up and up and up, the highway snakes endlessly and then suddenly it all opens up and we are driving through an epic expanse of red rocks and sweeping hills and dramatic valleys. Nassir has been here before and he is driving but the rest of us immediately start rolling down the windows and taking pictures; he pulls over about 100 feet later and we get down to more serious picture-taking business. We are looking down above Petra, or rather, the national park of Petra.
We do the ticket thing and start the 3km walk which I don’t really notice because the entire way is filled with one thing after another I want to take in and of course photograph. The majority of the walk to the carved city is through a natural gorge that extends high above my head. The red stone has been worn away by water, wind and sand; the walls are soft curves broken only by the light of sky peeking in between. It goes on and on and then... I pass through the final stone gate and the famed carved Treasury building is right in front of me. It is as beautiful as I anticipated but what is not is the mass of loud tourists in front, along with screaming camels and small children yelling at them in Arabic and hitting them with rope, occasionally kicking them. Every which way people are taking selfies and other pictures and it is a madhouse. I get closer to the building in the stone wall and see that the lower section is protected by wood and wire but you can look down to see the doors and hollow spaces - and tourist garbage. I finally see the guys come through and go over to meet them. To the left is what looks like steep stairs up into the mountain and to the right is a turn and I can’t see what lies beyond. I want to go up the stairs and Nassir tells me “it’s closed” which is bullshit as I can see people walking up and say so but he just continues that it is just “high place” and basically he’s not interested and so they’re going to go the other way to something he can’t remember. The stairs are not closed, but as I try to make my way up I am stopped by yells of “lady! lady!” and a man tells me I need a guide to go up. I say ok fine and turn away and he says he’ll take me for 10JOD which seems reasonable and I accept.
I am an experienced hiker but not an experienced climber, mostly because of my crippling fear of heights but I scramble along right after the guy. Now that I’m right in it, I can see that there are far fewer steps and much more steep rocks than I realized; my guide is wearing sandy leather motorcycle boots and jeans but he is moving like a billy goat. How is he getting traction?! I make it to the top and the view is so worth it and also there is hot tea. It seems counterintuitive but ingesting it makes the air feel cooler to your body and it works like a charm. This place has a handwritten sign in English requesting a donation of 1JOD to enjoy the view and tea which ok fine - still worth it. On the way down another guide comments on my shaved head and how much he likes “my look”. I thank him and walk away to go around the turn and see the other attractions which turns out to be another Roman theater/colosseum, more mountain stairs, more tombs, more carvings. Halfway there I run into the guy with the compliments and he walks with me pointing things out then takes me up the other rock stair to the “Monastery”. At the top I sit down to catch my breath and enjoy the view and he starts playing George Michael on a bluetooth speaker which for a moment is hilarious and perfect. But then I glance over and realize he is facing me with his hand resting on his dick. I avoid eye contact, continue minimal small talk like nothing is happening and as I get up to leave he asks me for a kiss. I assure him there is zero chance of that and after some more words he finally points out how to get back down the other side because he’s going to stay and enjoy the view. Did I mention he also invited me to come see his cave? The guides are all Bedouin people and they live in caves and tents. I accept a horse ride on my way out that is included in the ticket price and the guy leading the horse extends that same invitation in addition to saying a host of other disgusting shit to me about how how lucky the saddle is, how lucky the horse is, etc... I can not get off this horse and out of Petra soon enough despite the beauty.
Back in the car we head to Wadi Rum to camp in the desert. It is a protected area and so there a ticketing gate before a small village of tents and low stone walls. Once through the village there are more tents and then just desert and mountains. We are driving behind more Bedouin guides as they are the only ones able to navigate the landscape. Having managed to get here without incident, we miraculously make it to the camp as well, save for a few moments of getting stuck in some loose sand up the last incline. After parking, the guys have a conversation with the guides entirely in Arabic and then move away to do God-knows-what because no one is telling me what’s going on. This is the first time on the trip that I am frustrated by the language barrier; listening to the guys converse and joke is one thing, but now they are exchanging information and making decisions all without a thought towards what this is like for me and it is infuriating. I pull Muhammad 2 over since he has the best English and is the kindest and he explains where we are going, where the bathrooms are, etc. Also that we have no service and there is also no electricity and so I am faced with two days of being completely off the grid. I am immediately anxious that I didn’t get a chance to finish the prior day’s post this morning and also that I will be temporarily ceasing the daily updates I had committed to with no warning. But then I turn around and look at where I am and I chill the fuck out.
Dinner will be starting soon and we play UNO in the "lodge" which is a very large tent with low seats, overlapping carpets on top of the sand and a fire pit with a chimney pipe extending through a hole in the cloth. One full side is a half wall so you can look out onto the desert while relaxing or eating inside. There is a giant tea kettle with the infamous hot tea; I ask and am told it is mix of sage, cardamom and cinnamon bark. Also sugar, lots of sugar. The kettle is full and on the fire at all times and the hosts refill my cup many times, assuring me by the end of my time there it will have made me fluent in Arabic.
As it gets darker candles are put on each table though they are not enough to distinguish the blue cards from the green cards so we use the flashlights on our phones to keep playing. Suddenly electric lights go on overhead and this is the signal that the food is coming. We are all herded outside for the big show of our dinner being raised from deep within the earth - a two-level tower of delicious. The meats and vegetables have been cooking all day, buried under a pan, a wet cloth and sand, after being submerged upon coals and then sealed up to keep flames from starting and burning the food. The tower is brought inside and placed at the end of a long table with the standard foul, pickles, hummus, rice, pita and some cucumber/tomato salad. My Omani companions (and the Bedouins) eat everything with their hands and I follow suit, cheating only to use my spoon for the rice which isn't sticky and I'm not sure how to eat it with my hands. Later I see Muhammad 1 squishing a handful of rice in his fist before putting it in his mouth and then I learn.
There is no electricity anywhere in the camp besides the dinner time overhead lights. I am surprised to find running water in the bathrooms - there are stalls for two toilets and another for one of those piss-in-the-floor deals and two showers, the sinks are outside and rolls of toilet paper are hanging up on coat hooks. The sleeping tents hold three twin beds are made of cloth walls upon raised wood platforms. There are small square panels in the cloth that open as windows and soft bedding with a heavy blanket for the drastic drop in temperature at night.
I go to pass out soon after eating only to return a minute later to get Nassir to close the door to our tent from the outside lest I lock him out from the inside. It is too cold to leave the door open but inside with the tent closed up I wind up hot under the heavy blankets.