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Sam-I-Am Violin on the streets, fundamentalist Judaism, planting organic vegetables, and the like.

Roses and the Bedouin Mafia

JORDAN | Sunday, 13 April 2008 | Views [1905] | Comments [2]

Here lies the Holy Grail.

Here lies the Holy Grail. "He chose...poorly"

I think I will add both Petra and Wadi Rum to the short list of Wonders of the World that I've seen. Of course Petra already had official status as such in the latest vote on such Wonders. But it's every bit as incredible as one might think. When a fellow traveler says to you, "It's great, you'll love it", he doesn't even begin to paint the picture.

By all accounts, it's not possible to get to Petra too early, because so many tourists come that it can hamper the experience. But I got there too ealy. Like, before it was light enough to traverse the Siq, or narrow canyon entryway, into the ancient Nabatean site. I waited alone in the desert until the sky got light enough at 5 AM. And then i walked, and walked, and the Siq never ends, until finally you see the huge colums down at the end of the alley, a sneak preview of the epicness to come. The Treasury, which is the building from Indiana Jones, greets you as the first and most ridiculous of the old tombs. I had the Rose City, this Wonder of the World, to myself for an hour. Pretty unbelievable.

The rest of the day I spent climbing up and down and through paths and non-paths among inscriptions and cisterns and more tombs and the orange rocky mountains of the area, meeting bedouins, ones with tea and goats, ones with cell phones, ones who sleep in the desert and race donkeys. I didn't know that the entirety of the Petra Basin is a world to explore, its not just the old buildings that are amazing. You could spend days here.

And the next morning, I was on my way to another incredible exhibit of Mother Nature, though marred by a network of Arabian thieves the length of Jordan. The supposedly public bus was in act private, and by the end of the journey to Wadi Rum, the bus attendant had extracted five dinars from us for a two dinar busride, and everyone on the bus had been signed up for the same Bedouin tour guide at our destination. Arrival at the entrance to Wadi Rum was a glimpse at moneyed Muslim mafioso joking around and drinking tea in their long white robes. Our guide was clearly anything but sincere. We (me and my new friends) held out from paying until the end, but I was quite scared that our guide was going to put a shiv in my back in the darkness of the tent that night, or else the village shiekh was going to take us hostage and extract further large sums of money.

No matter. I am in one piece and glad to have seen the great Valley of Rum. People in Israel like to talk up the Negev desert; I guess it's holy, I'll give them that. But I have not seen a desertscape as hauntingly beautiful as this Rum, ever. HUGE formations, shapes never to be repeated even once over the expanse of the region, things to climb for miles. Aaron, who needs to climb trees when you have gigantic pock-marked rocks looking off into the desert nothingness. Everything fascinated me: shimmering beetles crawling by their lonesome; footprints in the sand of prowling pumas; gigantic sand dunes that challenge you to climb, sliding back downwards with every step. The Bedouin financial tactics were frustrating, but desert's silence and dominance erases your memory of yesterday, and even today.

So it was nice. And so we journey down to Aqaba, and then the next day I left the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, hopefully not for ever. The Hebrew signage and casually-dressed man with a machine gun were in fact an incredibly good feeling for me when I got to the Israeli border - I felt like I was coming home again. Arabia really is a foreign place.

The home feeling is a short-lived one. I'm off to Egypt momentarily. Wish me luck.

Tags: desert, petra, wonders of the world



Great descriptions. Your stories are a very attractive advertisement for Jordan's natural wonders, though I'll be sure to watch out for shifty tour guides.



  Matt Apr 14, 2008 6:57 AM


Sorry about your baksheesh experience. It seems to be universal in the Middle East. Incidentally, the natural wonders of our owncanyonlands far outshine the ones of the Arabian deserts. Come see them.

  Harriet Rosen Apr 21, 2008 6:14 AM



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