09 February 2010
The King’s Highway & Bedouin
As terrible as this may sound, my expectations of a place usually end up matching my actual experience in said place quite well. Russia = Hilarious, Mongolia = Immense, Poland = Fascinating. Every now and then, however, there is a shocker; not a place that moderately exceeds my expectations but a place that DRAMATICALLY exceeds my expectations. That place - on this trip - is Jordan. I had heard Jordan was “boring, slow and less then extraordinary” from more than one person. “Certainly with Petra that couldn’t be so,” I told myself. That negative Nancy will remain nameless for fear of shame and retribution because Jordan is spectacular.
It all started the minute we got across the border from Israel, where our parting gift was a taxi driver who screwed us on the fair. $20 to go 2 miles because “it’s a special location departure arrival tax border rate fee.” Whatever. Pan to the Jordanian side, where $8 gets you a 40-mile ride in a luxury sedan. That is followed by a 2-hour bus ride that costs just over 75 cents. I know what you’re thinking - stop it! Well, I can’t it was just that amazing. Another $3 cab ride and we’re at the home of a friend of a friend who is shuttling us into his magnificent apartment - a welcome respite from the chaos of the past several months.
After some R&R and the greatest cupcakes the world has ever known, it’s time to head south. I am driving yet again and the chosen route is the King’s Highway - a mythically titled, seemingly famous path that lives up to its name in every sense of the word. I have never driven a more spectacular road in my entire life. Minus the occasional speed bumps that would leave me slamming on the breaks to avoid going airborne, the 5-hour trek from Amman to Petra and on to Wadi Rum was out of this world. I felt like I was in a car commercial. Winding roads that bob and weave around brilliant peaks, desert landscape unlike anything I had ever seen and a road that swerves around the world’s second largest canyon after the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Who knew, right?
This highway ended at Wadi Rum - the ancient stomping ground of one Lawrence of Arabia. There are no paved roads in the red desert area, which meant hiring a Bedouin four-wheel-drive guide to carry me deep into the region. Basically, Bedouins are the best. Ever. Despite the changing scene of geo-politics (especially in the Middle East), they do their best to maintain a way of life that has proven successful for literally hundreds of years. Slightly nomadic, slightly established, the Bedouins have their own style of dress, their own style of cooking (burying whole chickens in the ground for eight hours then unearthing them in a magnificent display of showmanship and jazz fingers), and their own style of telling time.
“How long does it take to hike to the top of that mountain,” I ask. “4 hours.” “When are we stopping for lunch,” I ask. “4 hours.” “How long will we be staying at Lawrence of Arabia’s House,” I ask. “4 hours.” “How long have you lived in Wadi Rum,” I ask. “4 Hours.” Clearly there was a slight communication breakdown...
More shots of Wadi Rum: