It is nearing dusk in the Wadi Rum Desert in Jordan. I climb a small cliff and settle down to watch the sunset. A brilliant orb of red, orange and gold slowly slips out of sight. A dead calm settles and the word “serenity” takes on new meaning. Later, when I turn to leave, I gasp at the sight of a full moon hanging over the opposite horizon. There was no doubt in my mind that the Bedouins were smiling — and watching from surrounding caves.
My trip to Jordan was so chock-a-block full of memorable moments it’s difficult to tease out a mere handful, but the Wadi Rum desert is a great place to start. T.E Lawrence described Wadi Rum as “vast, echoing and God-like.” The film Lawrence of Arabia was shot there. The day my friends and I spent off-roading by jeep in Wadi Rum included swerving by monolithic rockscapes (like the Seven Pillars of Wisdom) and up, down and around miles of sand dunes.
We hunkered down for the night at a Bedouin campsite and slept in tents made of camel hair blankets. Dinner was a traditional meal called Zarp — lamb that’s cooked in a pit deep in the sand. We feasted around a blazing fire, drank Qahweh (Turkish coffee) and danced like fools while Bedouins played stringed instruments late into the night.
I awoke just before dawn to the sound of wild camels braying. I hadn’t had much sleep, but decided to get up and take a walk into the desert. My reward? A Technicolor sunrise that gave me goosebumps.
Each day in Jordan was dramatically different. Even Amman, the capitol, is a city of contrasts. Western influences mingle with Middle Eastern customs and traditions. My favourite part of the city was the old souq — a maze of back alley food stalls loaded with fresh produce and every spice under the sun. Older peddlers were a bit reserved, but the young guys were entertaining (and flirtatious).
Before I go on, must say that I felt safe any time of day and night, anywhere in the country. And I’ve never met such hospitable people. For example, one day an old man selling everything from tea pots to bags of rice, rope, soap and second-hand men’s jackets bid me to come into his shop. From behind the counter he produced a huge pot that he had rigged up on a small propane burner. He poured me a glass of incredibly sweet tea called Shaai, and we proceeded to communicate with each other using sign language and body motions. Accepting money for such acts of kindness is out of the question; it’s simply their custom.
Alas, for many people, the Middle East conjures up images of strife. True, Jordanians find themselves in a tough neighbourhood; reports from Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq often paint a disquieting picture of this part of the world. But Jordan is an oasis of calm from one end to the other. The only time I caught a whiff of military presence was en route to the Dead Sea, and only because our destination was close to the Israeli border. Yet even there the guards merely waved and grinned as we drove by.
A visit to Jordan would not be complete without spending time in Petra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. This ancient vast city was carved into multi-hued canyons over 2000 years ago by the Nabataeans. A day’s hiking in Petra is both exhilarating and exhausting.
By day’s end I was ready for a Turkish Bath and discovered where the locals go in Wadi Musa (the town adjacent to Petra). I wasn’t surprised when the attendant scrubbed off about two pounds of sweat and sand. I left feeling rejuvenated, if not 10 years younger. I also signed up for a class in Jordanian cooking at “The Petra Kitchen.” Under the guidance of some local women we chopped, diced, mixed, cooked and ate our way through a dozen traditional Jordanian dishes including Magloubet — a chicken/rice dish made in a very large pot, then dumped upside down onto a huge platter. Quite dramatic — and delicious!
The next day, I wanted to return to Petra and signed up for “Petra by Night.” The way in was lit by 1800 candles. Upon arrival I was offered sweet tea, then sat on a carpet spread on the sand and listened to a Bedouin chant while he played a Rabab (a single-stringed instrument.) It was exquisite. Sacred.
All this is merely a sliver of my trip. I yearn to go back to this amazing land. But the next time, Inshallah, will be for two months, not two weeks.
“Sun sets over the sand dunes in Wadi Rum” © Sandra Phinney
“A traveller enjoys camel ride in the desert led by a Bedouin” © Sandra Phinney
“The popular souq (food market) in Amman.” © Sandra Phinney
“The famous Treasury in Petra” © Sandra Phinney
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