Monday, September 24, 2012

Let me take you to a land far away...

I just had an absolutely incredible weekend, possibly one of the best in my lifetime. It is great to be young and exploring new countries! I owe CIEE a big thank you for putting together such a great trip, considering the logistics of taking 133 students from Amman to Wadi Rum, Aqaba, and Petra on as varied modes of transportation as broken down buses, World War II-era jeeps, camels, boats, donkeys, mules, and horses. But I am now back in Amman, steeped in work and homework, with many new photos and stories to share with you.

We left early Thursday morning. Air-conditioned buses and Jordanian breakfast pastries awaited us at the UJ parking lot, followed by a very long ride down to southern Jordan. On the way we made a pit stop at a huge tourist trap in the middle of the desert, where they decided that a simple sign saying “Old Stuff” would suffice in advertising their wares. We eventually arrived at the Wadi Rum Visitor’s Center and had a delicious buffet lunch at Captain’s. After lunch I learned how to tie a keffiyeh, which I had purchased in downtown Amman two days before. The keffiyeh is used to assert national identity within the Middle East, and each area has their specific colors, however they all share the same criss-cross Mesopotamian pattern. The Jordanian keffiyeh is red and white, Palestinians wear black and white, Syrians wear beige and white, and Lebanese settled for all white. Men usually wear it draped over the head and fastened with a black ring, but both men and women can also wear it tied around the head in order to keep out dust and heat while in the desert.

Before leaving the center we watched a very short and clichéd documentary on how to think of Wadi Rum poetically. The intriguingly named “Interpretation Theme Hall” next door is much more informative, with large displays showing facts about the history and geology of Wadi Rum in three different languages (Arabic, English, and French). From the visitor’s center we went in groups of five in 4x4s through the blistering desert, stopping at various points. At one point we climbed up a sand dune, which is much harder than it looks, and then ran down it, which was so much fun. At another point we could climb up on a ledge to view rock art of hunters on camels, made by Bedouins passing through the same thoroughfare 2000 years ago.

After conquering the bus and the jeep, it was time to tame the camel. I was picked out of the crowd by a 17-year old boy named Abdullah who led me to a tall female camel with an unattached but loyal baby at her side. Another CIEE student rode my camel’s other offspring, which was now full grown. Camels are not the most comfortable mode of transportation and I have so much respect for Bedouins who spent days and months on the animals. I guess you can get used to anything in time. After getting off the camel we climbed up the red rocks of Wadi Rum to see the sun set over the desert. The amazing thing about the desert is that with the lack of a multitude of colors, the few elements present are intensified and therefore so much more impressive.

At the luxury Bedouin camp we stayed in, also affiliated with Captain’s, we were treated to a wonderful feast with kebabs and freshly baked flat bread followed by dabke dancing to a live Bedouin band. It was so much fun, and dabke is very easy. The rest of the night was spent smoking shisha and looking for shooting stars. Eventually a few of us decided to stay underneath the blanket of stars for the night, and lay our heads down on mattresses atop the cold desert floor. It was amazing to wake up every half hour or so and find the constellations in a new position. The world really is turning! At 5am I groggily noticed four people leaving the camp out of the corner of my eye and on an impulse threw on flip flops and ran across the desert to join them. I wasn’t going to sleep under the stars and then miss the sunrise! Climbing up a mountain in flip flops and pyjamas was a challenge but the view was worth it. The moment that first sliver of gold slipped across the opposing mountaintop took my breath away. I walked back to the camp on my own listening to El Mouqadima – Mashrou’ Leila as the sun slowly rose over rolling sand dunes.

Back at the camp we had breakfast and then got back on the buses for a short ride to Aqaba. In Aqaba we were quickly piled onto four different boats. The boat I was on had a huge cushioned sun deck and being a sun-deprived Swede, I only left that sun deck for an hour or so of jumping off the second floor of the boat into the bright blue Red Sea and snorkeling around the colorful coral that the sea is famous for. A huge grey fish with blue spots particularly interested me, and the whole experience made me want to go scuba diving again very soon. For lunch they grilled kebabs on the boat, accompanied by the obligatory pita bread.

After Aqaba we proceeded to higher ground where the ancient Nabatean city of Petra hides among jagged mountaintops. After a short tour of Little Petra, the caravan stop for the main city of Petra, we continued to our hotel for the night in the small town of Wadi Musa. At the hotel I took a much-needed nap and ate mansaf, but this time I ate it with my hands on a communal plate, as is the tradition. It felt much more authentic. For some reason, I feel like eating things with your hands just tastes better. Dinner was followed by more dabke dancing and some intensely un-Islamic music.

Early the next morning it was time to walk the short way to Petra from the hotel, where we had a 2-3 hour tour going into the famous rose-colored city. The creations are just stunning, but it took traveling there to realize how much is still unknown about the Nabateans. For example, the famous “Treasury”, the impressive building welcoming you after the long and narrow entrance, is not actually a treasury and the Grand Temple has stronger arguments for being a palace or a bank. The names should reflect this uncertainty more in my opinion, but of course place names are essential in the tourist industry. Speaking of the tourist industry, Petra has the most aggressive peddlers I’ve met so far in Jordan, and they have all learned how to say, “Keep your promise! One dinar! Take a look!” in perfect American English.

After the tour and lunch we hiked up the Deir Trail to the "monastery", which I highly recommend. The hike is intense but the view when you get up there is incredible, and so is the actual monastery. From there we kept on climbing to a viewpoint where a man was playing traditional music and offering tea as you surveyed the surrounding mountain range. It was one of the most beautiful moments I've had in Jordan so far.

On the way back I rode a horse for the last part of the way, convincing the driver to take me for two dinaar. However when we arrived at the exit he said that he required additional tip. Since I didn’t have more on me than two dinar, and another man offered me to try his horse for free, I just jumped on the other horse and galloped away from the situation. I quickly returned though, since I haven’t ridden on a horse in years and didn’t want to risk breaking a limb this early into the trip. The day finished with another long bus ride, followed by another large tourist trap in the middle of the desert, and ending finally back at the University of Jordan, where over-exhaustion and a lot of homework awaited me.

I already have some exiting plans in the making for next weekend. My supervisors at Friends of the Earth Middle East have asked me to help out with a weekend educational trip for 30 underprivileged Jordanian boys at the FoEME Eco Park, where I will be giving lectures on grey water, solar power, and composting, assisting on hikes and excursions, and who knows what else. It is a daunting but stimulating task, since I am a huge advocate for increased educational campaigns about climate change, especially to underexposed audiences such as the Jordanian 15-year old boys I will be lecturing. I’ll make sure to tell you all about it upon my return!

1 comment:

  1. Marielle,
    I was so intrigued by your accounts of this journey. You are a fantastic writer - just like your mom. I really got the feel of being there. Good Job. And I realize more and more that I need to travel there soon. I've been putting it off for ages but after reading your blog, I have put it firmly in my mind to go. Thanks so much for sharing. Love, Joanie