I didn’t know a thing about Jordan when I stepped off the plane. My friend had organized our trip, and wanting to go into the country with fresh eyes, I ignored all of his emails about plans and itineraries and details. It wasn’t that I wasn’t interested; it was just that the year prior I had spent 3 months researching a trip to Saariselkä in the Northern Lapland, exhausting myself with every decision before I even got to the airport. This time, I wanted to play everything by ear; to see the country with fresh eyes untainted from expectation.
Our first stop was Petra, home of the Siq, or shaft. Famous as the climatic backdrop in the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the Siq is an impressive natural feature: a crack formed from a tectonic plate shift that split the mountain in two, creating the entrance to the city of Petra. A path through the Siq leads to several incredible archaeological sites including the Al Khazneh, a crypt carved out from the rock face, and the Ad Deir, a monastery that reaches 50m high, also carved into the rock. Both are formidable constructions sculptured right into the sandstone cliff. Standing below, I could only feel humbled in wonder.
“I followed the path through the Siq, feeling as though I was a character in the pages of an old archeological textbook.”
I followed the path through the Siq, feeling as though I was a character in the pages of an old archeological textbook. This place was ancient, and the walk was steeped in history: The Rose City. The City of Stone. One of the New Wonders of the World. The ruins of a civilisation that flourished some 2,000 years ago. Every now and again, as the canyon narrowed to just a few meters wide, I’d get a glimpse of a cart and donkey sauntering by, or a man racing past on his horse. There were surprises at every turn. The most remarkable and one I’ll not soon forget was the sight of the Khazneh through the Siq. It looked as though two cliff faces were almost collapsed right on top of each other, opening up to the Khazneh. Bright sandstone bathed in sunlight as dark cracks of the Siq opened up to a large courtyard.
After a few days exploring Petra, my friends and I headed to the Wadi Rum Desert. We planned to stay with a Bedouin family and when we arrived at their home, we were immediately offered tea and an opportunity to try on some of their ancestors’ Bedouin swords, used in traditional dance. We were then guided into the back of the family’s pickup truck and drove from their small town to the end of the road and then literally into the desert. As we blasted between enormous sandstone formations on the valley floor, we all looked at each other in confused amazement. What had we gotten ourselves into? We had no idea where we were going or what lay ahead, but an old friend had recommended both the experience and our guide, and we trusted that he would keep us in good hands.
We continued along until we arrived at the family’s permanent camp, nestled right below a towering sandstone cliff that offered some crucial shade. The compound consisted of a few large canvas tents, as well as a great big social area with couches and a fire pit.
Our guide was our host’s brother, Atik. He had spent his whole life in the desert and knew the landscape well, driving us around for miles and miles, in and around and between incredible sandstone formations and dunes. Though there were other tire tracks, we mostly saw other local Bedouin traveling by foot, horse or camel. They seemed to always disappear just as quickly as they appeared, vanishing into the distance like a mirage in the fierce, sunbaked horizon.
Together with Atik, we climbed rocks, explored ancient Petroglyphs, sand boarded down the dunes, and shouted into the caves to hear our echoes bounce across eternity. All the while, we drank Atik’s favorite tea loaded with sugar – a Bedouin tradition as we quickly learned. He showed us how to make a primitive soap out of the desert flora, crushing up the leaves and rubbing them together in his hands to form a soapy foam. Then we climbed more rocks and drank more tea and explored more of the desert before heading back in the ute, saying goodbye to our host family, and heading toward the Dead Sea for some rest and relaxation.
“We thought about how we seemed to have followed in the footsteps of Lawrence of Arabia and Indiana Jones, developing a deep appreciation for the wonders of Jordan and its rich and storied history.”
Coming out the desert I had a new appreciation for the Bedouin people, particularly in thinking and learning about how they lived out in the harsh desert heat with limited opportunities to grow crops. Three days under the sun was sufficient for me; I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to spend a lifetime there. In fact, I was glad to leave it behind after those three days, ultimately trading the dusty desert for the salty sea in Jordan’s north.
Floating in the mineral-rich, salt-heavy waters with our bodies caked in mud, we found ourselves, like in Petra and the Wadi Rum, in a world thick in history still clinging to its past life, enjoying the simple pleasures of the earth, water and sun. We thought about how we followed in the footsteps of Lawrence of Arabia and Indiana Jones, developing a deep appreciation for the wonders of Jordan and its rich and storied history.
Recommendations for your own time in Jordan:
Visit Petra for the walk in the Siq. Pictures don’t do it justice – the sight of the Khazneh has to be witnessed firsthand.
Visit Wadi Rum and spend a few nights there. Bedouin families survive on Eco-Adventure tourism and being in the desert, under the stars and away from any fast-paced city life, is an incredible and unforgettable feeling.
Many travelers head to the Red Sea; I recommend going to the Dead Sea instead. It’s one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world – 10 times saltier than the ocean – and you can literally float on top of the water because it is so dense. Lather yourself up with mud (it’s great for your skin and has other health benefits because of its rich mineral content) and relax.
This piece was originally published on March 14, 2015.