The excursion to Jordan was the only part of the trip that I had booked in advance, other than the hotels in Cairo and Dahab. I went with Memphis Tours because they specialize in short trips and handle all the necessary arrangments for visas. The representative from Memphis Tours arrived at the Isis right on time at 11:00 PM to pick us up. We left the greater part of our luggage in a storeroom at the Isis and headed out with one small suitcase and our backpacks. Downstairs, we found a nice van with two drivers who spoke almost no English. We settled in (each having our own bench seat), inflated our neck pillows, and prepared to sleep across the Sinai Peninsula.
When you think about it, that's an enormous amount of trust in your fellow man. The Sinai is still mostly desert wilderness, and the English-speaking rep didn't accompany us out of Cairo. So we were alone with people with whom we couldn't communicate well in the pitch-black darkness all night. It turned out fine, but there were a few frightening moments. At one point I awoke because the van slowed down considerably, and saw that we were driving through a sandstorm. The road had completely disappeared, and I could see only about ten feet in front of us. I don't know how the driver kept going. It lasted about fifteen minutes, but it felt much longer. Even when there wasn't a sandstorm blowing, the road would occasionally be gone, I guess because of sand drifts. On awaking from another short doze, I listened to the two drivers speaking in Arabic. I speak and understand some classical Arabic, but don't have any experience with dialects, so I couldn't understand much. I could tell, though, that they were talking about money, and doing your job because that's what is right to do. I had horrible visions of murder in the desert, but thankfully that's more an American movie stereotype than reality. We finally reached the seaside resort town of Taba without incident at about 6:00 AM.
We were met there by another rep from Memphis Tours who took us through immigration and got us on the ferry to Aqaba. It was amazing that the tour company had such a great set-up, with a dedicated person in each place to meet us and smooth our way. The ferry was a huge catamaran, very nice and modern. The ride across the Red Sea took less than an hour, with waves splashing over the windows to the top of the boat most of the way. Those of you who know how seasick I usually get will be surprised to hear that I made it across feeling great, if a bit tired.
|The Sheraton Guesthouse|
|You can see the snaky valley entrance to Petra on the right.|
It was dark by the time we returned to the hotel. My dad fell asleep on his bed fully clothed after a nice shower. We had intended to have dinner, but everyone was too tired. Abby was next to crash, laying down to read Harry Potter and getting through less than a page. I found Mark gone after I finished my shower, and promptly conked out without even worrying about where he might be. It turned out he had to explore the Cave Bar, where he met some tourists from Hong Kong. He didn't stay there long, though. We had effectively been up since 8:00 AM the previous day, and we all enjoyed sleeping in and having an excellent buffet breakfast late the next morning.
Rushdi picked us up at noon for our trip to Wadi Rum, a desert valley of softly sculpted dunes and weathered sandstone arches. It was every bit as beautiful as Petra, only completely natural. Rushdi dropped us with a driver, Yahya, in a Land Rover, for the tour. It was awesome to take off over the dunes and lose all sight of civilization. Yahya stopped and had us take off our shoes to climb a dune. I loved the feel of the soft sand, and clambered to the top like a kid. (Just as fast as Abby, I might add.) Abby and I examined all the tracks in the sand, and found fox, bird, and beetle paths. We next stopped to pet some camels, and Abby rode one with a bedouin guide to the nearby stone arch. She dismounted giggling, telling us about a hobbled camel that hadn't wanted to be left behind, but hopped along behind her camel with its front two legs tied. We climbed the arch and got some great pictures, then drove to see an ancient dam (when could water have flowed here?) and some petroglyphs, which we surmised were advertisements for rest stops on the trade route. We then traveled on to what is known as "Lawrence's House". It's a great block of sandstone sitting on the desert floor that has been carved out on the inside, with just a small doorway on the side facing a sheer wall of stone. What a great hiding place! I imagined Lawrence and his bedouin fighters sitting silently inside while Turkish soldiers rushed past looking for them after they had carried out an attack on the railroad which still runs a few miles away over the desert. Now, however, it's used as a nursery for baby goats by the descendants of those same bedouins.
We arrived back at the Isis Hotel at 3:00 AM and slept for two hours. My dad's flight to London and then Houston was leaving at 8, so he had to get to the airport. It was awful saying goodbye, but I was so grateful for the time we got to spend together seeing such marvellous sights. We all came away from Jordan wishing we had more time to spend there. It has less of a tourism-driven economy, which was a pleasant change from Egypt. The people we met were proud, independent, and friendly, and the scenery is spectacular. My dad was itching to ride off into the mountains on a motorcycle, something he never thought he'd contemplate in a Middle Eastern country. I think Jordan defied our preconceived notions, and I hope to go there again someday.