From riding camels in the desert, to climbing mountains to ancient monestaries, to getting held up at one of the tightest borders in the world, my first month in the Middle East has been unforgettable as well as exhausting. In this blog post, I’ll talk about my weekend trips to Wadi Rum and Petra. In my next post, I’ll talk about my trip to Jerusalem. It has taken me a bit longer to complete this post that I would have liked, due to the fact that I’ve been pretty ill since I’ve returned to Amman. I’ll write more about that in my next blog post, which I hope will be more introspective. For now, I thought it would be important to discuss the other famous cities within the Jordanian borders for those interested in learning about studying abroad in Amman.
My first venture out of Amman was to Wadi Rum, as part of the many optional excursions my program offers. On Thursday, we had a four hour trip into southwest Jordan, close to the border of Saudi Arabia. When we arrived at the desert camp, we unpacked our bags into our “glamping” tents and our Bedouin hosts tied keffiyeh (a traditional Jordanian scarf) around our heads to protect our heads from the sun and our faces from the sand. We made our way outside the camp where several pickup trucks were waiting, and we loaded into the makeshift seats in the back. Our caravan, made up of some ten Bedouin drivers, some well under the legal driving age in the United States, took us into the desert, surrounded by the ancient sandstone mountains that inspired Lawerence of Arabia. (Side note: people are really obsessed with Lawrence of Arabia here). We stood up in the back of the truck and danced and played music. The drive itself was ridiculously fun, and the views were amazing. We stopped at a mountain for about an hour, and we were free to climb. Some of us climbed much higher than I think our chaperones expected us to, but the views were incredible. I’ve never been in that much empty space before, and it felt incredibly freeing. After we somehow got back down, we were hurried back onto the jeeps so that we could make it to the camels before sunset. Camel riding is not overrated. There is nothing that can prepare you for riding a camel. You hop on while they’re sitting down, and when they stand up, you realize just how tall these animals are (if you manage to stay on). The word in Arabic for camel is basically the same as the word for beautiful, and ancient Arabic love poetry uses camel metaphors. It’s weird, but I get it. Everyone got weirdly attached to their camel. We rode the camels a few miles through the desert as the sun set, and I truly felt that it was the most beautiful view I’ve ever seen anywhere. I felt relaxed and free, and listened to my favorite songs through my earbuds as we approached yet another mountain, climbed that, watched the sun finish setting, and walked back to camp. We were greeted with a delicious meal prepared by our hosts that consisted of chicken and lamb cooked in an oven under the sand. The food was delicious, and I was stuffed. However, I did get food poisoning the next few days along with many other people. I’m still in the process of deciding if it was all worth it. We lit a bonfire underneath the desert stars and recounted the day. I really, really, want to go back to Wadi Rum.
I don’t have too much to say about Petra. I don’t know if we were tired from Wadi Rum the day before, or if it was just too dang hot, or if the volume of tourists in Petra was just overwhelming after spending the night in the quiet, huge desert. I know it’s one of the seven wonders of the world, but I didn’t love it. I am closest with the people who live in the same apartment complex I do, so I’m around them all day, every day. We’re used to being a bit more independent, since we’re part of the minority who don’t stay in homestays. Naturally, we walked way ahead of our tour group, and climbed to the many tombs and monasteries in the ancient city. I was beet red and soaked in sweat, and so was everyone else. I did get some good pictures though, and the beauty and historic relevance of the ancient city is undeniable (I know this because my friends and I decided to watch a documentary on Petra the next day, since we skipped out on the tour… then we watched Indiana Jones). The history is extremely interesting. The native Bedouin population that had guarded the city for centuries was removed by the government and moved to a town outside the city. They now make their living selling everything you can think of at stands throughout Petra, and the children can be really aggressive. We were encouraged not to buy anything from them because that might discourage them from attending school. The bus broke down three times on the way back to Amman, and everyone was pretty irritable by the end. That said, I don’t regret the trip, and I would like to come back one day and be able to take my time touring the city.