There comes a point on any long adventure where you feel your travel cogs have been oiled in the machinery of culture shock. You suddenly realize that your body has become adjusted to the new time zone and that the foreign language and dress and customs aren’t as mesmerizing as they were the first couple weeks of experiencing them. You begin to feel as though nothing will shock you anymore. But something inevitably will.
For me, it was the stars the night we stayed in the Bedouin camp.
After leaving Petra, we traveled roughly five hours to the Wadi Rum desert to stay in the Bedouin camp. The Bedouins are a nomadic Arabic people who dwell in the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East. Many camps have been outfitted with modern luxuries to draw in money from tourists. Our camp was spacious, complete with an open-air dining facility, boardwalks across the sand to easily access the tents, and air-conditioning in the nicer “Martian Domes.” Although our tent did not have air-conditioning, it did have indoor plumbing, and after dirt-bagging it in the Southwestern U.S. deserts this summer, I appreciated the extravagance of cold, running water.
After a short break and change of clothes, we jumped into the backs of two Toyota pickup trucks with rickety wooden benches topped with dusty pillow cushions and drove off into the Wadi Rum desert. We stopped at a bare area where they filmed the movie “Martian,” a place with caveman-like paintings on the side of a rock wall depicting camels, and a shaded tent area where we were served hot tea. Around the large tent were rock carvings of faces depicting old Bedouin tribe leaders. Lastly, we stopped to watch the sunset over the red, powder sand.
When we returned, everyone drifted apart to do the mundane tasks of preparing for dinner, except me. I wanted to be as clean as possible when I touched the bedsheets and not before. So, I used my dive light to walk over to where I thought the rest of our group’s cabins were and found Jeff, a member of our group, hanging dripping clothes onto wires suspended around his porch. Adam, another member of our group, gave me a tour of their cabin, which was much larger than ours, complete with a living area inside, two separate bedrooms and a large covered porch filled with strangely shaped rocking chairs. We spent the remainder of our break until dinner rocking on the porch and watching the commotion below us of a private dinner being set up around a fire.
Dinner was spectacular. We got there early and found a large couch without too many stray kittens lounging on it, ordered our favorite lemon-mint drinks, and began wondering around. Dinner was cooked in the ground, with hot coals placed around the metal container, for three days, a Bedouin tradition. The cooks made a big show of taking the pots out of the ground, kicking away the stray cats that lingered ready for the food to be pulled from the sand, and shoveling the pot out of the ground. The lamb, chicken, carrots, and potatoes were all very tender as if they had been cooked in a slow cooker. A buffet of traditional naan, vegetables, salads, and dipping sauces were served alongside the main dish.
After filling our bellies and finally showering, I felt it a shame to not sit on the one rickety chair outside of our tent and enjoy the stars. The “jeep” tour of the desert, although endlessly beautiful, was not surprising. The ancient carvings and paintings on the walls, although unexpected, were not surprising; and dinner, although having never eaten food cooked underground, was not surprising. What was surprising, was the stars. They lit up everything. As fine and powdery as the grains of sand below the wooden plank I was sitting on were, there were still more stars in the sky. There are more stars in our universe than every single grain of sand in our world. And it was breathtaking. The milky way popped like it never had before in the world I have known. I was filled with a desire to breathe and to write. So, I did, by the light of my dive light held in my mouth. It was the kind of writing that fills you whole, but is never intended to be published. Words, that, at the time, feel grand and necessary. Sometimes a writer needs to throw up their emotions into a paragraph of nonsense. As an artist feels deeply, so does a writer, only the writer is tasked with finding the right sets of words to describe that deepness. The smattering silence of stars and the moonlight shadows bouncing off the nearby mountain rocks were pierced by human presence. The highway polluted the sanctity of the corner of that desert. It was a tourist trap after all, and the tents did graciously have cold, running water.
So, it was a strange time to contemplate. My surroundings told me I needed to meditate on the vastness of our world and the diversity of our surroundings over the past three weeks, yet the sounds of cars distracted me and sounded alien to the ancient rock walls before me. I was filled with passion to push forward. It is these solitary moments of triumph, these small moments of realization “Look where my feet have taken me,” that propel us to keep going. There is a ringing in the human consciousness. Whether we realize it or not, we are all searching for the balance.
The next day we toured the ruins of an 11th century crusades castle, Shobak Castle. Then, we made multiple photographic stops along the way to the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea was intriguing to say the least. On the other side of the water was a mountain range, and on the other side of the mountain range was Jerusalem. The water was hot and did not supply relief from the hoter, dry air. It was shocking how warm the water was. Still, the most astonishing part was how absolutely weightless you become. Everyone’s seen the iconic image of people reading books in the water with their feet propped up on some invisible surface, and of course, the extremely high salt content explains the buoyancy. But it’s a bizarre feeling to experience it firsthand. Try as you may to sink, it’s as if some force is keeping you up, it is impossible. It feels like some resilient force, completely opposite of gravity is holding you up. The sun almost instantly evaporates the droplets of water on your body when you get out, leaving small salt crystals everywhere, which can irritate sensitive skin. I learned of all the cuts and abrasions on my body I wasn’t previously aware of when we got in.
Again, I thought nothing else could surprise me after getting out. But when we jumped into the freshwater pool to take a break from the hot, salty water. We sunk to the bottom. Two years of competitive swimming in high school and a year of diving had made me a very confident swimmer. Yet, it was suddenly terribly exhausting just to keep my mouth above the water and I had to struggle to get back to the side of the pool to hold on alongside the rest of my party, who were also experiencing new buoyancy problems. Rachel, who had also swum competitively most of her life said it best, “Thirty minutes in the Dead Sea and a lifetime of swimming gone.”
Exhausted, we all slept soundly that night back in Amman. Our last day, we toured the ancient ruins of Jerash in the morning and completed our souvenir shopping in the smaller bazaar next to the ancient city.
We spent the evening resting back at the hotel before departing around midnight to chase daylight for nearly two days. I didn’t see night again until I was back in Oregon. Although, I was sad to end the journey and exhausted from the overwhelming expanse of so many new things, I was happy to come back to my new home. Long adventures are my favorite because you feel satisfied at the end that you experienced so much, yet it’s comforting to return. Most of us in a primitive way, are like the Bedouin peoples, still nomadic at heart, despite the fact that our society encourages us to settle down.
And like the Bedouins, who have adapted to modern society by turning their way of life into a tourist attraction, so can the still nomadic people of everyday norms adapt, by continuing to explore our vast world.
- This is the final chapter of the Red Sea/ Egypt/ Jordan adventure. Thank you for reading and to all my new followers for checking out the blog!
- Look to the gallery at the right of the page for more pictures and watch for my next blog post: summiting Pilot Rock in the snow.