In The Jordanian Desert: Petra and Wadi Rum

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The next day, after exploring Amman and Jerash, my guide drove me all the way from Amman to Petra so that I could mark off a significant wish list item for me, to see the ancient city of Petra in the south Jordanian desert. The journey was quite long (four hours or so) but I was pleasantly surprised how well done the roads are in Jordan. It’s a modern country with modern roads and there was certainly plenty of company out there of other western tourists making the trek south. For a small country, it has a surprisingly diverse ecological landscape – Olive trees and hot deserts in the north. No olive trees and red sand, and even hotter desert in the south!

Once you get past the persistent panhandlers and aggressive sellers the natural and manmade wonders of the place are truly awe inspiring. It’s a lot larger than I’d thought and took several km to through even just a chunk of it.

On the journey through Petra, you must pass through ancient passageways in rock to reach the famous site of the Treasury. It’s about a 20 minute walk just to get through the mountains to that point. The passageway has been so changed by earthquakes over the centuries that there are a few pieces of rock nearing collapse.

Pictured above is the most iconic spot, the treasury. My original goal was to see it at night but I’ll have to come back on a future trip to accomplish that.

Many people believe that the Treasury IS Petra but actually, the ruins of the city are expansive, covering a huge area with some more “treasury-like” structures and ruins of palaces and courts and dwellings for both the wealthy and the poor alike. It would take a day to see all of it on foot. Pictured below is the Roman amphitheatre and ruins of some of the palace tombs, among other things.

The next day I took a jeep with a Bedouin guide literally through the middle of the open desert to Wadi Rum. It felt a bit like driving around Mars! The protected area of Wadi Rum in Jordan is as beautiful an example of natural beauty as I’ve seen in the world.

Unfortunately, the Jeep broke down out in the middle of the open desert and the language barrier (not even sure what language the Bedouin speak) made it an interesting experience. Eventually, we made it to camp but not before stopping on a cliffside to watch the sun go down. I was the first person there but over time 20 to 30 other people showed up to watch the sunset too.

Folks from at least a dozen countries were represented on that rock that evening. It felt like a moment of shared experience that transcended nationality or race or religion. So many languages on that rock but yet… we understood.

It’s funny that in that moment I allowed myself to let the exhaustion of the journey, the fact that little seemed to go right getting there plus being more or less alone in the middle of the Jordanian desert get me down. I even remember my explorer side of my brain screaming out to let go of the trivial issues of the day and take in the overwhelming beauty. Stuck on a mountain with my shoes sinking into the red sand dune, I briefly realized the energy and the serene quiet of the place was truly magnificent. I realized how lucky I was to be there at that exact moment and to see something on the other side of the world that might as well be another world altogether. It was a moment I’ll never forget and a lesson I’ll always remember.

My travels through the Wadi Rum desert brought me face to face with the local Bedouin’s who apparently live in the town of Wadi Rum in addition to some (a small number) in the mountains. I didn’t meet the mountain Bedouins but I did meet the ones that carry cell phones and drive old jeeps. Also their camels, who usually seemed to be either eating or sleeping.

It was here that I got to try the national dish of Jordan; Mansaf, pictured above.  It’s a traditional Jordanian dish of lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt served with rice on top of shrak bread. Very different from anything I’ve ever tasted, I think I’d even go as far as to say it’s the most unique dish I’ve ever eaten! The lamb has a unique flavor and falls off the bone while the creamy yogurt sauce makes for delicious and addictive creamy rice. I’m pretty certain there’s nothing in American cuisine that comes close…

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