A trip to the desert in the Middle East would not be complete without a camel ride, right? But, a sunrise camel ride was not something I had expected to experience while in Jordan. Luckily, our crew again proved their overall interest in adventure at any cost and we woke at 5 am to hop on camels and see the sunrise over the desert. It was worth every moment of lost sleep to watch the sun rise over the gorgeous red sand of Wadi Rum. As we had arrived in the dark the night before, it was an incredible experience to see the desert for the first time as the sunlight crept in and delicately hit the sands. And the camels had such personality! One in particular kept our group laughing for the rest of the trip with its poop-eating antics.
After breakfast back at the camp, we headed out for a tour of the desert. Wadi Rum desert is famous for appearing in films such as Lawrence of Arabia and, more recently, the Martian. Our first stop was at a neighboring Bedouin camp where Lawrence was filmed. We climbed the dunes and then settled in for tea and more Bedouin music, followed by a lesson in tying a keffiyeh. Then we saw ancient carvings on the walls of the canyon, the location where the Martian was filmed, a carving of Lawrence (he was quite fat) and the ruler of Jordan at the time, and an incredible canyon. I can’t quite find the words to describe the beauty of Wadi Rum, but after visiting I can see why the Bedouins remain there rather than leaving for the cities of Amman or Aqaba.
I think we were all hesitant to leave the camp, but we were all also grateful for the experience as we loaded back up and departed for the Dead Sea. The ride back to the car seemed much less scary in the daylight, although the speed we took the dunes at was a little unnerving. During the 3.5 hour drive to the Dead Sea we got to know our driver a little better. Basil turned out to be quite the character, teaching us a few Arabic words and marveling over how much we pay for tomatoes in the US and Amsterdam. We were forced to stop at a few points where men in military uniforms checked Basil’s license and asked where we were from before we were quickly off again. He said these were new measures enacted due to Daesh. He asked if it made us scared, and if we were scared to visit Jordan. We told him that we were not afraid, but other family members had been afraid for us to visit. He told us that before Daesh became so powerful he had visited Syria often, even just crossing the border for lunch. But those days were long gone. He said Damascus is beautiful, and I told him that I hope to visit there someday. He also hopes to return some day, but for now he will remain safely in Jordan. He also told us that he drove Nicole Kidman around Jordan recently, and we started to notice that he seemed to know everyone we came across on our journey.
It was sad to say goodbye to Basil, but when we arrived at the resort at the Dead Sea it was easy to get excited again. The Dead Sea was another major bucket list item for me. The idea of visiting the lowest point on earth and floating easily in the waters was something that could not be missed on a trip to the area. We opted for the Jordanian side of the sea after seeing pictures of the resorts that spotted the coast. I’ve never been to the resorts in Mexico, but I would say that the resorts in Jordan would give those in Mexico a run for their money. Our resort was basically an oasis in the desert, with palm trees and infinity pools everywhere. After a night camping in the desert, the resort seemed like a whole other world.
The next day was spent enjoying our last day together and Jordanian hospitality. We giggled our way through floating together in the Dead Sea and covering ourselves with mud. It really was an unexplainable experience, floating with no effort at all in the salty water and having to force your legs under your body. We hopped from pool to pool, enjoyed spa treatments, drinking the first easily accessible beers in Jordan, and relaxed. For dinner we decided to venture to the Marriott resort next to ours, which is where we saw the full effect of Daesh on Jordan’s tourism industry. The Marriott is a sprawling resort and was absolutely beautiful. And it was completely deserted. There may have been ten other people there. We had dinner at an ‘American sports bar’ and afterwards one of the men working there took to showing members of our group the memorabilia on the walls and talking about the resort as it used to be. I’m glad I missed this part, because I know I would not have been able to hold back my tears. We stayed at the Marriott a little longer, enjoying the comfy chairs, ice cream, and our last bit of time together. The discussions we had that evening may have been my favorite part of the trip; mulling the way we felt about Jordan, the refugees streaming into not only the Arab countries but also Europe due to Daesh, and the other times in history we have been faced with similar issues. It is one of my great joys in life to talk about these types of issues with friends, and I often wish everyone was having these types of conversations over beers in the US. What a better place our world and country would be if everyone could only have such informed and open conversations.
One message echoed through our visit to Jordan: “Please tell your friends to come to Jordan. Please tell them it is safe here.” They are right, Jordan is very very safe. And the people are so amazing and welcoming. We hear a lot about Daseh on the news in the Western World, and we are told that we should be afraid. Afraid of the Middle East, afraid of what they could potentially do to us here at home. Fear is a very strong motivator in life in the West. We fear what we do not know and we fear those who are different. We fear leaving our comfort zone. We fear the fact that maybe, if we take the time to get to know someone, we may see ourselves in them. We fear the fact that the things that divide us may not be as important as we have been told. My visit to Jordan confirmed one thing in my mind-there is very little to fear in the Arab world, and nothing to fear in Jordan. The only thing you have to lose by visiting Jordan are your preconceptions and a bit of the fear that you have been taught since the day you were born. Add Jordan to your list, and have no fear getting on that plane.