Intermezzo: Petra & Wadi Rum


I can cross the border between The Netherlands and Germany a hundred times a day without anybody asking me what I am doing, why I want to go to the other side and what the names of my parents are. Even if this may look suspicious, upon identifying myself (and provided I am not carrying illegal goods), I can cross that border a hundred times more. Such is not the case between Israel and Jordan. Getting in to Jordan was not that big of a deal (it did cost $60 though), but getting back to Israel was. But more on that later because spending a day in Petra, a night and a full day in the desert of Wadi Rum, now that’s something special that makes the trouble at the border a minor nuisance. But it does makes you appreciate the EU and Shengen treaty more.

We arrived by mini bus before noon in Petra. I can go to lenghts describing everything, but lucky for you others did this already so you can find the stories and books on the web. Some of the good stuff: Al Khaznah, the Treasury, even more impressing in the dawning sun and the reason why Petra is also called the Red Rose City, Al Deir, the Monastery, as it takes a good 800 steps to get there (some claim a thousand) and the Aramaic inscriptions on some of the tombs. The Nabateans who founded this necropolis employed the Aramaic script, so you can say my ancestors rocked literally. If not famous for its place in history, it sure is because scenes from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade were shot here. The day which constituted a 7 miles walk and the hike up to the Monastery could have ended two ways: in a nice comfortable three stars hotel with a swimming pool and hamam, or in a bedouin camp in the dessert. I chose the latter of course.

The Ammarin Bedouin camp is almost completely surrounded by rugged rocks and mountains. Imagine a natural amphitheater with black tents surrounding a huge sand square in the middle. I was welcomed by an attendee with some sweet thick Bedouin tea. Not that later I met my fellow campers, an American/ French couple from Paris and a couple from Amman, the capital of Jordan who “got away from the hustle and bustle of the city”. We shared a traditional meal, stories and after dinner some more tea near the campfire while listening to Abu Mohammed, the tribe leader, playing on a Bedouin guitar. As the fire got smaller the tea got thicker to a point that I had to refuse. Immerged in stories on culture and habits we lost track of time until we were informed that the generator would be switched off in 15 minutes, so if we would like to brush our teeth, we had to do it then. We brushed, washed up and returned to the fire. We layed on our backs, conversating until all sounds seized to exists. As the generator was switched off and the lights were killed, thousands of stars lit the sky above the dark silhouettes of the mountains surrounding us. “There’s one” were the only words softly spoken as another star shot through the sky. I wonder if Abraham looked at the same sky as he was told: “Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants I will bless you with”.

I got drowsy while still riled up by the spectacle above so I decided to sleep outside by the fire. I got the matress, blanket and pillow out of the tent, prepared my bed and layed there. I did had one concern though “Aren’t there any scorpions around here?” The Jordanian answered, “well, probably there are some, but you know, the scorpion that decides to find you here, will also find you in the tent” with that reassuring thought I went to sleep. I managed until about two in the morning, the cold desert wind blew in my face and sent chills through my spine. The log in the fire place was consumed completely. I took to the the tent, but woke up early enough to find a place on a rock and feel the sun’s first rays as it climbed over the mountains.

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The adventure continued immediately after breakfast. With Mohammed, the driver, guide and cook for the day we picked up three fellow travellers at the hotel (sucks to be them) in Wadi Musa. We only stopped for more Bedouin tea or Turkish kardamom coffee on the two hours drive to Wadi Rum, the valley of sands. We hiked up sand dunes and rocks to capture the breathtaking views of this famous desert. At the start the Seven Pillars of Wisdom can be seen and later on some more places mentioned in T.E. Lawrence’s book, on which the motion picture ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ is based. Depending on the time of year, the desert can be a combination of red, hot, yellow, white with flowers, brown, cold, green or wet (just a couple of days). Me, Mohammed and the Aussies had great fun, did some Bedouin disco (watch for it on my Youtube channel http://www.youtube.com/user/ErwinJI ) and enjoyed an excellent barbeque prepared by Muhammed in his special restaurant “the other drivers don’t have the cars or camels to get here”. He grilled the chicken he slaughtered earlier the day, and together with salads, hummus and bread prepared by his mother we had more than our share. There was just enough room to finish the desert picknick off with a dessert of goat cheese with honey baked in thin layers of pastry (local version of knafeh. Of course we ended in another Bedouin tent where we were joined by the American/ French couple and as custom dictates, tea was served.

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Tired, with a head full of memories and shoes filled with sand we were dropped off at the border crossing. I still do not know what makes me so interesting, but what clearly does not help when going into Israel is having a Turkish last name and a Turkish visum in your passport. Not only was I put through the list of questions, I had to wait half an hour for ‘some extra security checks’. I really hope that they have all my answers and details in a digital file now, as I plan to travel into the West Bank this week. Also, I got a sense of what the bedouin tribes had and still go through, they feel like the desert is their home and the desert knows no national boundaries. Tomorow starts the first visit of this pilgrim to the Holy City. Mode of travel will be an airconditioned bus through the Negev.

On a side note:
– there is a star rating system for bedouin camps too, they range from one star (only tents, not even made from goat hair) to five (bathrooms, sat TV, wifi and a restaurant).
– aside from being sweet, bedouin also put herbs like sage and thyme in their tea, which makes it absolutely super refreshing
– I was mistaken for an arab so many times I decided to get a head scarf, now I am on the market for camels and wives.
– a camel can cost as much as a new Volkswagen Up! A camel can park by itself though.
– Jordanians can talk about food the entire day, Jordanians make me hungry, but also rise to the occasion.

Read next: A week in the Holy City
Read previous: First week in the Promised Land: Diving in the Red Sea

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