Thanks to a winning combination of coffee and pseudoephedrine I was able to drag myself out of Dahab and onto a bus, followed by a ferry, arriving late in the afternoon to Aqaba, Jordan. The next day, still feeling a bit rough, we slowly made our way to Wadi Musa. The “Valley of Moses,” this little town draws its name from the biblical miracle that occurred when Moses struck a stone with his staff and a stream began to flow. The town itself wasn’t anything special, mostly set up to cater to the hoards of tourists heading to play Indiana Jones in the ancient Nabatean city of Petra. (Gary feels it is important to note here that I actually haven’t seen India Jones, but I feel like I still get the idea.)
We woke up early to join the masses the following morning, grey skies and chilly winds welcoming us to the ruins. Immediately after entering through the ticket booth we began walking past ancient homes carved into rock faces, not what I was expecting from all the pictures I had seen over the years of Petra. The path eventually narrowed as we approached the mile-long siq, a twisting, narrow gorge usually no wider than 3 feet, with walls a high as 500 feet, like a bolt of lightening through the rock. The Nabateans transported water through the siq using a terra cotta pipe, still visible and functional today. Anticipation building with every step, through the passageway in the distance we at last glimpsed the red, carved facade of the Treasury. Finally the path opened up, and we were standing in a little clearing directly in front of the building. Iconic and impressive, it absolutely took my breath away, plus we somehow managed to arrive maybe ten minutes before any tour groups, capturing photos before the place became a madhouse.
The entire rest of the day was spent exploring the area’s many crypts and administrative buildings, elaborately carved into the numerous salmon-colored mountains. I never wanted to lick a mountain before visiting Petra, rock-faces swirled with brown, orange, purple, yellow and pink, they seemed to change color every hour of the day. Aside from the interior of the two most famous buildings, nothing else was off limits, and we scrambled up and around and into as many ruins as we could, following dozens of worn staircases cut into the sandstone. We probably wound up walking nearly 15 miles, and just as we were leaving got completely drenched from a hail storm as we ran shivering through the siq, almost the perfect day.
The following morning we were lucky enough to be the only people exploring the ruins of Little Petra before an easy hike to the Monastery, arriving just after noon in time for lunch with a view. The bedouins we met at several viewpoints must have been the inspiration for Johnny Depp’s ‘Jack Sparrow’ character, from the eyeliner, to the jewelry, to their long dark locks wrapped with a bandana, to their layered scarves, or even their sassy indifference, it was dead on. After hiking down from the Monastery we explored the various Roman ruins within the city. My favorite was the Grand Temple, massive columns still on their side from the earthquake in 300CE thought to have destroyed the majority of the town. Towards the end of the day on a whim we hiked up a staircase carved into the backside of the Royal Tombs, and wound up panting at the top of a mountain with a perfect view of the Treasury, where I drank the most scenic Coke of my life.
After two big days exploring, we arrived to Wadi Rum early the next morning quite sore. Wadi “Slum” was a horrible town, redeemed only by the massive outdoor playground making up the surrounding area. Here massive granite and sandstone mountains as high as 2,100 feet soar from the sandy desert floor, described by Lawrence of Arabia as “vast, echoing and god-like.” The entire town, on the other hand, looked like a giant construction site, with barbed-wired walls covered in graffiti and streets covered in trash. On the walk to our guesthouse a gang of horrid children followed us, throwing rocks and spitting, and we spent the rest of our time legitimately scared of them.
Threat of rain wound up changing our original plans to climb some big sandstone walls, but honestly it was for the best, as a couple easier days gave us a chance to rest our weary bones. Our first day we visited a small ruins site and a spring said to have been the bathing place of Lawrence of Arabia. After enjoying peanut butter and jelly on pita alongside a laughing little waterfall, we scrambled up Jebel al Maeen. Some easy class 2 climbs brought us to the summit, and even having gained elevation, we were still surrounded by massive rust-colored cliffs in every direction. After making our way back down to the valley, we lay on a rock watching the clouds stream over the tops of the towering walls above us, totally relaxed.
Rain that evening created dozens of waterfalls cascading down into the valley from the cliff tops, transforming the landscape the next morning. Scrambling past puddles, a brief journey up put us smack in the middle of one of the imposing mountains. Everything seemed joyful and blooming, and the call to prayer bouncing off the walls around us without any visible mosque made it sound like the chorus was coming from the rocks themselves. Eventually we scrambled down around the other side, emerging from the red-walled city onto endless, undulating sand dunes, feeling like we’d somehow stepped onto another planet.
Two days exploring was not even close to enough time, but we sadly said goodbye to the desert and boarded a bus for an all day journey to Amman. Amman was packed with cars and square beige houses teetering precariously on cliffsides, with everything feeling very hip thanks to the tons of young expats from all over the world crowding street side cafes. We wound through a maze of one way roads and hills, every block smelling like blooming honeysuckle, eventually reaching Gary’s friend Vedis’ place. After a very healthy dinner of nachos and beer we went to bed early and slept hard.
Our only day in the northern part of the country we rented a car with our travel buddy Erik and cruised up the road to Jerash, where there were tons of Roman columns littering a hillside, and even more school groups and tour buses. From there we drove across the pastoral countryside to the Dead Sea, which I had expected to look a lot more, well, dead. Instead it was a vibrant, welcoming blue, with low lying Palestinian hills across the water as a backdrop. We followed some locals down to a free swimming spot, where I was amazed by just how buoyant I was, bobbing along the top of the water like a piece of styrofoam. The water looked and felt strangely oily thanks to the high salt concentration, and after smearing ourselves in refreshingly cool mud famous for its healing properties, we washed off in a nearby freshwater spring before driving back to the capital.
That night after more nachos and beer, it was time to say goodbye to Jordan. What a whirlwind of a trip, a big shoutout to coffee for making it all possible.