Archive for February, 2011

Living like a Bedouin

In Tanzania with Baba David behind the wheel, “polie polie” or “slowly, slowly” ruled the day.  In the great Wadi Rum desert with Abbasouz driving, it was “YaLLah!” or “let’s go”.  The contrast couldn’t have been starker.

Wadi Rum, aka Valley of the Moon, is a valley cut into sandstone and rock in southern Jordan towards the Saudi Arabian border.  It’s perhaps best known for the British Officer T. E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia) who based his operations here during the Arab Revolt of 1917-18.  Today, hiking, climbing, and adventure activities draw people from all over the world to this Valley and have brought prosperity to the few hundred Bedouins who have the fortune of calling Wadi Rum home. 

The landscape is impossibly beautiful with intense colors all around you – from the deep blue sky (no moisture no clouds) to the many shades of red, yellow, and orange of the sandstone.  Since we’re still in winter, there is even some green (not much) with grasses and small bushes in parts of the desert.  It’s a timeless and harsh landscape (maybe this is what the red planet Mars looks like?) that takes your breath away!

And here we were, spending three days exploring this wondrous place with an 18-year old crazy Bedouin behind the wheel, driving an ancient Toyota 4*4 with so many miles I think the odometer stopped long ago, and taking us for a high octane thrill ride in-between hiking and lunch stops.  Never backing down from a dare from other drivers, he pushed both the car and his excellent driving skills to the limit, flying across this sandy landscape without getting stuck (a few close calls) but providing plenty of thrills to go around.  It was an adrenaline ride that only an 18-year old can provide.

But it was also so much more.  Abbasoz gave us all Bedouin nicknames (Kajsa was gamra – meaning star) and together we hiked up impossible rock formations, lunched in the shade of massive sandstone mountains, listened to him sing Bedouin songs (about camels?), and laughed a lot together.  We will never forget him, nor the experience, and I think he will always remember the girls as they might have reminded him of his own two sisters.  He and Kajsa quickly became kindred spirits wanting to climb every steep rock formation in sight (and giving her parents plenty scares along the way.)  Are we really destined to have a free rock climber in our family?  Ugh!

At night, we stayed in a Bedouin camp with a handful of other travelers.  We slept on mattresses in tents called “Beit Shars”, ate traditional Bedouin food (rice, lamb, bread, jams, and fruit), and listened to our hosts sing traditional Bedouin songs around the campfire.  And before going to bed each night, we were treated to a spectacular night-sky complete with millions of stars and even some shooting ones.  It was like being in a planetarium – simply awesome!  And throughout, the sound of silence – the complete lack of sounds (no birds, no animals – just the occasional camel grunt).  I guess this is what a sunset sounds like – nothing – yet soul-stirring.

Thanks to Saleem and the rest of the Jordan Tracks folks, we had an incredible experience, one we will always carry with us, along with a strong wish to one day come back to this very special place.

Back on the grid …

We’re back in Petra after an AMAZING three days in the desert with the Bedouins thanks to Jordan Tracks.  With all of the uncertainty in some parts of the Middle East at the moment (not Jordan), we just wanted to let you know we’re back and all is well.  Once we’re settled in (we’re spending one more day in Petra and then off the the Dead Sea), we’ll tell you stories about crazy Bedouins, hiking up a mountain to look at Saudi Arabia, riding camels in the desert (Kajsa is thrilled!), our new British friends, camel hair blankets and pillows, and much much more.  To sum it up, it was incredible and we would do it again in a heartbeat.

Stay tuned …

Back off the grid!

I read my horoscope in the Jordan Times this morning as we indulged in one more great breakfast at the LeMeridien Amman hotel (thanks to more Starwood points!)  It read: “Use your imagination to create an unusul venue for romantic interaction.  You want to share your feelings and today’s the perfect time.”  Well, there you go!  Our choice of Petra and the Wadi Rum desert for the next four days seems like a perfect choice.

We picked up our rental car (the biggest one yet – a real sedan) and made our way through Amman and onto the King’s Highway that runs north-south in Jordan.  Unless one is comfortable driving in NYC and Boston during rush hour, Amman traffic is not to be recommended.  But, we made it through just fine (even the roundabouts where survival of the bravest clearly rules the day.)

After a 2.5 hour drive through a desert landscape, we turn a corner and suddenly find ourselves in a village straight out of Alibaba and the 40 thieves (reminder, we need to download that onto the girls’ kindles).  We have arrived in Wadi Moussa, home to the ancient rose-city of Petra.  A romantic place worthy of my horoscope?  Check out the pictures and judge for yourself.

With all the political unrest in the Arab world at the moment, we just wanted to post this quick update to let you know that we are well.  More than well – terrific!  Jordanians are so kind, excited to show us around, and genuinely happy to see us as most hotels and tourists sites are almost empty.  It’s a bit like having the place to ourselves and it feels very calm.  We will be off the grid again this week as we are heading into the Wadi Rum desert early tomorrow morning to go trekking with the Bedouins, stay in a Bedouin camp a few nights, ride camels (Kajsa’s main wish for this trip), and explore Petra. 

So “salam aleikun” for now and we’ll be back this weekend when we’re off to the Dead Sea for a cold float.

…eating our way through Jordan…

Let me be clear…we have eaten very well on our trip so far.  Though we had some challenges in regard to cooking for ourselves (what can we make that doesn’t require buying too many ingredients?), we all feel that the food we’ve tried has been great.

 Then we arrived in Jordan.  You would think we hadn’t eaten for weeks!  (And clearly we have, because both Per and I think we gained weight in Tanzania.)  Our mealtime conversations were drowned out by the sounds of “mmmm” as we tried dishes, both new and familiar.  The food here is so flavorful, fresh, and varied.  Hummus and warm pita bread for breakfast?  Wonderful!  Mixed grill with an array of salads for lunch?  Fabulous!  The coffee…..ahhhh, the coffee!  Amman is a sophisticated place with so many cultural influences that you can find everything from a falafel to a fine French pastry on the same city block.

 Our challenge now isn’t finding something to eat…it’s trying not to eat too much.  And whatever you do, don’t get between Kajsa and the hummus!