Off Topic: The Jordanian Desert is Freaking Awesome

by James

in Uncategorized

The past two weeks our family has been visiting us in Israel. For the past 3 months we planned the arrival of 9 family members from 3 different destinations and had everything down to the last detail. Then, a week prior to our family’s arrival, the fricking Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull erupted, throwing everything into confusion and threatening to destroy all of our plans completely. This really pissed me off. In my rage, I even started an “I HATE THE ICELANDIC VOLCANO” Facebook group and I loudly advocated the use of nuclear weapons. Not because I thought it would be effective, mind you: just out of pure, unmitigated spite.

In the end, everything worked out well. Miraculously, the major European airports finally gave the all clear on the very day of 8/9ths of our family’s departures, allowing almost everyone to arrive on time. My father’s flight was cancelled and he decided not to reschedule, as he was worried the volcano would erupt again and he would not make it back in time to do his surgery assists at the local hospital.

The highlight of our family’s visit was the opportunity to pile everyone in a 9 seater van last Thursday and barrel on down to the Red Sea port of Eilat, which is kind of like Israel’s answer to Las Vegas: next to our hotel, we saw billboards advertising the construction of Israel’s first major indoor skating rink. Like Vegas, it’s not supposed to make sense – it’s all about the spectacle. Anyhow, from Eilat, we were whisked across the border and up to Petra, which is an ancient Nabatean city containing these tremendous caves carved into the soft red sandstone. The entrance to Petra is the tremendously impressive Siq, which is a naturally formed, long winding narrow passageway. After over a kilometer of innumerable twists and turns, turning the final corner of the Siq revealed the Treasury – an immaculate 40-foot high facade carved into the sandstone by the Romans that is the most impressive human-made site of the cave city. We spent the afternoon climbing the 750 steps to the Place of High Sacrifice, which allows for a commanding view of the entire cave city and the surrounding mountains.

Our next day was spent in a 4 x 4 rambling through the Jordanian desert area known as Wadi Rum, which is where Lawrence of Arabia conducted his raids against the Ottoman Empire during WWI . The scenery was absolutely stunning. Unfortunately,  there was some miscommunication from our tour company, as we were provided with a driver for our journey,  but no guide to explain to us what we were seeing.  Our driver’s English vocabulary consisted of about 20 words, and after arriving at a destination, he would typically point somewhere and say “Sand!”, or “Go Down”, or “Go Up Lawrence Spring”. The low point was when we were delivered to a large tent in the shadows of the immaculate red-rock mountains for lunch in the desert. After waiting around for about 30 minutes, the driver broke his silence and said “Brother coming 10 minutes” – ostensibly to bring the food.  About half an hour later, we were still in the tent and had no idea what was going on. The driver then said “Brother coming 5 minutes”, after which he pointed at the sky and said “Inshallah”, which means “If God wills it”. This was hardly encouraging.

We were just about to go to the driver and demand to be taken back to town when a truck appeared from over the horizon and a heavily mustachioed Bedouin man named Saud got out with our lunch. Thankfully, his English was very good and after lunch he gave us a very knowledgeable tour of the desert for another two hours.

It was an unforgettable trip and money & time very well spent.  I filled an entire memory card with pictures of gorgeous vistas, desert flora, and our family on camels.  Alas, on Monday night in Tel Aviv, I lost track of my camera and lost it at the hotel. Fortunately, I just got a message from my sister-in-law to say that they accidentally packed it. So the pictures (and my camera) are in Fredericton at the moment. [Update: Top picture – the Treasury at Petra. Middle – my mum under a pistachio tree near Lawrence’s Spring at Wadi Rum. Bottom: the family on camels.]

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