What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Desolace at Petra
We climb up to the plateau above the main structure in Petra, passing a few confused Bedouins on the way up. Tourists, like myself, apparently don't frequent the area. I'm not sure whether I should take this as a sign of caution, or a sign of privilege.
When we get to the top, I feel complete silence. Some sort of stillness, not just quiet — almost like this is the end of the Earth.
When I look right, the plateau continues. To the left, I see a Bedouin tent structure and people cooking within. Behind me, the jagged rock path I came from. In front of me, something extraordinary.
Nothing. I see nothing. There is rock and sky and nothing else. It’s rare that you're able to look at something so vast and untouched. Brutal, barren, and beautiful. This feeling, simultaneously desolate and vibrant, has stuck with me.
In the distance, a couple appears. Like a movie — the heat rises from the rock and sand, the sun beams down, and the silhouettes slink towards me.
One of the people splits off and calls to me and my Dad. She asks if she can pretend to be part of our family, and for good reason. The other man who I had mistaken as a spouse is following her, harassing her.
Perhaps he has no true intention of doing anything grim, but what if he does? From her perspective, what can you possibly do if you run into a stranger on the plateau?
The man, following about twenty paces behind, sees us talking and seemed to lose interest.
Most of the Bedouins inside their homes, and most of the tourists are walking through the Siq below. Up here, we're mostly alone.
Taking respite under a cave "canopy" as the heat ramps up, we start eating our packed lunch. It's not great, but we're both extremely hungry.
The goats are hungry too.
We hear bells in the distance, getting closer and closer as we scarf down our meals. Soon, the bells are around the corner. We see a small goat peek from around the corner, and within a second there are at least twelve goats coming towards us.
They stop about six feet away from us, and we promptly shoo them away whenever they inch closer. This doesn't stop them from leaving. We give them scraps to enjoy, and take satisfaction in watching the goats eat a good lunch. After all, goats are kind of cute, and we can't help it.
The sand is literally red, pictures cannot capture it. I’m hanging out with a local in Wadi Rum, a desert. This guy has an Android and excellent cell service in the middle of nowhere. He’s showing me a video of a camel race in the UAE, and tells me about how a certain Sheikh had come to buy one recently. The proceeds go to the local settlements, whose business is raising camels.
He explains to me briefly what makes a good camel and a bad camel (“thalul”) — weight, chest size, hooves. In the video, I see camels running against one another, and people riding in expensive cars alongside the track. Hanging out the windows of their G-Wagons and Range Rovers, very wealthy Arab businessmen and royals egg on their prize camels.
Lost in the desert
During a small trek into the desert with my Dad, we almost got lost. We had entered a canyon, and managed to walk a ways in. The problem is: there are lots of turns, and everything looks similar.
Small, often indistinguishable variations on red rock and sand are what make up the desert and nested slot canyons. These small winding valleys are a refuge from the sun, but also provide their own challenges. The formations themselves are all unique, yet simultaneously indistinguishable - formed by millenia of floods and tectonic movements. It's easy to get lost.
I'm dumb and dehydrated.
We make our way through the entire castle, observing the slots made for archers to defend from incoming invaders. On the way out, we see an old man with a cane approaching us. Without uttering a word, he points out some of the features in the structure above, looking back at us to see if we're following.
Given that we've already gone through the castle (and the fact that I hate tours), I suggest we leave. My Dad refuses. He respects the old man's hustle and says we should stay - I guess I'm convinced.
The man speaks some English with us, but we mainly rely on Google Translate. Our Arabic is not good, and I suppose that's okay.
We see areas of the castle we missed the first time. We take some photos together, pay the man and thank him as we walk back over the moat.
On the way to our car, the vendors who gave us a place to park tell us the recommended "donation" for their service.
"Five, tenty... twenty?". We haggled a bit, paid $10 ("tenty") and they threw in some water and snacks.
When we get to Khirbet al-Mukhayyat, we park our car to take a hike on the mountainside. During our hike we come across a herd of goats that walk adjacent to us, and a herder up above.
The hike is fairly diverse: rocky hillside, swamp, with some fields and foliage in between. The winding turns and switchbacks carry us back and forth.
A particularly charismatic goat greets us from above, bleating at us in his goat tongue. We try to bleat back, but I don't think he understands us.
When we get back to our car, we're surprised to see the windows to our car are broken. Looking inside, many of our belongings are still there - thankfully we hadn't left too much inside. The one thing that is actually missing: my headphones. Too bad they didn't take the cord - no music for thieves I guess.
Maybe the goat did it.
In Al-Sifa, we drive to the supposed "Lot's Cave" from Genesis (The Bible). If you're not familiar with Lot or his daughters, time to read.
Whatever your religious stance, Genesis is an intense book.
The place itself has a small museum that takes only a few minutes for us to get through. A small, rickety shuttle picks us up and drives up a rocky incline to the cave. The cave is surrounded by scaffolding, and you can peek in, but you can't go much farther. Too bad.
It's unclear whether this is an actual biblical site or just another tourist trap. Probably the latter, but still interesting nonetheless.
I'll add as I have time to write more. There are a lot of things missing from this, namely:
- Bed bugs in Amman.
- Roman ruins.
- Waking up to King Abdullah Mosque prayer call.
- Eating lamb mansaf for the first time.
- Driving by the border (lots of missiles pointed at West Bank).