Day 8: Wadi Rum, Jordan
Wadi fucking Rum - I thought Petra was beautiful but holy shit this is a whole other ballgame. We wait an hour after breakfast for the day long tour that was arranged (in Arabic) yesterday. Finally a young, tall and skinny Bedouin man comes driving up in a beater pickup truck with two raised benches and a woven cloth stretched over an overhead frame in the back.
Our first stop is a small gorge where there are inscriptions thousands of years old and predate Islam; there are early Islamic inscriptions just a stone over from years and years later. I only know these things because I stop Muhammad 2 again to translate as the guide is only speaking in Arabic and has already led the others ahead. I ask him if the guide speaks any English which he goes to find out. The others go back to the truck as they’ve finished seeing everything here having already heard all of the information in Arabic. I am upset again and this time it’s more of sad upset than angry upset. It hurts deeper having this happen a second day in a row and I am struck with a wave of self-pity and fear that this is how the rest of the trip will be. Then the guide comes back and starts over for me and I get over myself.
The inscriptions were honestly a bit underwhelming but it doesn’t matter because we’re racing through the desert again and my mouth is open the entire time as I am struck dumb by how beautiful it all is. The sands are rocky and red and suddenly broken by giant mountains all over in every direction. Similar to the colors and stone mountains of Petra but in this wide open context with no people or structures or anything it is infinitely better.
We continue on with purpose though there is not a single road. There are tire tracks in the sand but sometimes not, their existence apparently inconsequential to our guide who knows every inch of these many miles of desert in a way no one but a Bedouin can.
Many of the stops involve climbing - there is so much climbing- but it is always worth it when somehow the view gets even better. We climb a giant sand dune and the race each other running down. We scale a giant rock gorge to see a natural spring. We hike more sand dunes just because. We scramble up smooth and steep inclines to have our pictures taken standing above natural bridges in the stone way above the sand. We drink hot tea at every stop. Sometimes we close our eyes oh so briefly while lounging on mats and enjoying the breeze. We keep going, the landscape keeps changing. The red sands turn into white sands; the stone mountains changing alongside. I take so many pictures and so many brief videos just trying to capture the experience of being there. At one point we stop to rest further in the shade of a white mountain and our guide, Hashem is his name by the way, pulls out a mat from the truck and we secure it with big rocks so we can lay around and play UNO. Muhammad 1 plays some Arabic music on his phone and play amongst ourselves as a demo round for Hashem and then make him join us. He winds up ultimately winning his first game and I learn the Arabic words for the colors of the game and how to say “now you play your turn”. We eventually get back in the truck and drive back into the red sands where we climb yet another dune. I know at this point to remove my shoes at the start as this is the best and fastest way to get to the top. Once there we each lay down and get ready to watch the sunset. We nap a little and then awaken as it gets chilly. There are no colors in this sunset as it is a little cloudy but it is still beautiful.
We get back in the truck and head back to camp. The pickup truck runs into some troubles and there is black smoke coming from somewhere underneath us. With no tools at hand, Hashem uses a rock to get into the radiator to add water. Still not moving and a little stuck, the guys get out to push and we are finally off. The two Muhammads run and climb in but Nassir who is quite a bit heavier, doesn’t make it and continues jogging after us. The two Muhammads yell for Hashem to go faster and we double over laughing as we speed away - Nassir is laughing too and finally we stop so he can get in but then we all laugh some more.
Back at the camp I am exhausted and there is sand everywhere - in my shoes, down the back of my shirt, in my ears... but we have no time to shower because we have to switch camps because of a big group coming. One of our Bedouin hosts rides along with us to guide us through the desert to another camp. Along the way we see an older man with car trouble and we stop to help him. It takes two attempts with both a length of rope and then a flat cloth cable Nassir pulls out of the back, but they guys get the man moving and the truck started and we are back on our way. The next camp is not as peaceful, mostly because several vans carrying teenage boys on a school trip arrive shortly after and they make noise all night long. I don’t sleep well.