Friday, June 5, 2009

Friday in Amman

Sunset in the Wadi Rum. Today's entry in guess who the poop came from. The moon came up before the sun went down. Stone formations in the Wadi Rum. Sand dunes. There is some plant life. The barbeque lunch in the Wadi Rum. The bottom right is from Little Petra. More Wadi Rum.

So my last night in Petra I was sitting in this nice rooftop restaurant recommeneded by Yassin. There were a few other people there and the manager decided to start the music. It was the usual Arabic stuff, just a little loud. I could see the gay guys from Germany at the next table looking overat the speaker, clearly annoyed. It had been so pleasant, watching the lights come on in the homes in the hills, feeling the cool night breeeze. Then the music mutated into Alvin and the Chipmunks go to Jordan. I couldn't help laughing and the guys looked at me. I knew they were too polite so I strolled over and pulled the plug on the amplifier. They applauded. The waiter brought my check and while I was waiting for my change we saw the manager come up and try to figure out what was wrong with the music. The German boys started giggling and I barely made it out of the restaurant before I started laughing my head off.

Next morning Yassin picked me up and we went to Little Petra. What I figured out is that the Nabataeans lived all over in this area. The main site of Petra has a lot of carvings along that valley, but these caves and carved buildings are all over. We went back to town and Ahmad was ready to go. He's 55, a "true" Bedouin, with 17 years of experience leading tours in the desert in this region. There are no roads in the desert, but there are some paths that you can tell are regularly used by vehicles and camels. At one point Ahmad just pulled the 4WD truck off the road and into the Wadi Rum we went. He rally did seem to know the area well. Showed me all the famous rock formations and some lesser known stuff. He showed me a huge cement cistern build by the bedouins to collect water during the rainy months. There were several areas where I could tell we were traveling through dry lake beds. Driving in the sand is a lot like driving in the snow. You have to pick a path where you can get traction, never slow down approaching the top of a hill, and if you get stuck....back up and try again. I saw the sand blowing off a perfect cornice and making the first tracks in the sand is like being the first one down the mountain through fresh powder. We saw very few cars during the day, maybe 3 and a group of camels. We stopped for lunch in a shady spot, Ahmad gathered dried scrub and built a fire. He put chicken, potatoes and onions on a grill, made cucumber and tomato salad, pulled out bread and yougurt. It was great. He threw the chicken liver on the ashes and when it was cooked offered part to me. I ate it although it wasn't my favorite part of the meal. Admad took a blackened old teapot out of the truck, added water, sugar and tea and put it on the fire to boil. "Special Bedouin tea" not like Lipton. It was good. One thing about traveling with just a guide is the quiet. Ahmad's English was passable and he pointed out all the iglights and answered my questions. But he didn't feel obliged to chatter all the time. Part of the beauty of the desert is the quiet.
After lunch and tea we went riding again. Parts of the Wadi Rum have red sand, it's pretty spectactular. The wind started blowing as the sun went down..You could look out and see the wind coming across the sand like water flowing ownhill. After sunset we went to an established camp where Ahmad had friends. There were seats around a fire pit, behind that seating in Bedouin style tents and bunches of tents for sleeping. Boy am I glad I had my bed bag for that cot. There was one other (beautiful, green-eyed) guide there with Lena from Switzerland and Jo from Ireland. Turns out they are part of a program through the World Council of Churches called the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Isreal. Lena has been living in a small village south of Jerusalem where the inhabitants were harassed and intimidated by right wing Jewish settlers and forced out of their homes. The group has people who stay there in 3 month shifts and with their presence some of the old residents have moved back. Jo is assigned to a post in Eastern Jerusalem, watching the Army as they process Palestinians through the checkpoints on their way to work. They have no authority but document and make public and incidents of violence or illegal refusal of the Palestinians to pass. Something had happened to the next group so they wanted to stay 6 more weeks but there visas were expiring. They were hoping that by spending a few days in Jordan and crossing back at Aquaba/Eilat, they might be able to get their passports stamped for a little more time in Israel.
So, we were waiting for dinner when a busload of young Palestinians arrived for the night. Evidently their plan was to party the night away and go to the Wadi Rum the next day. They turned the music up and it was crazy town. I was more tired than hungry so went to my tent. I had hoped to pick a spot outside to sleep but with all these yahoos wandering around didn't think it was prudent. In went the earplugs and out went the lights. This morning I woke up in time to see the sunrise. Jo, Lena and their guide were unable to sleep. Ahmad was curled up on a bunch of cushions Bedouin style when I got up but was awake shortly after. He said he slept only a few hours. We had tea and breakfast and headed off for Amman. The land gradually got flatter, some rolling hills but no huge rocks. As we approached the city I saw some industries and some really nice houses in walled compounds.
The city looks similar to Cairo, lot of cement brick buildings and it's hard to tell if some are being built or are falling down. The hotel is near the King Hussein Mosque, good for a landmark in case I get lost. I can hear the calls to prayer well, too. The room is basic but good esp for the price. There are birds in the lobby and a bidet in the bathroom.. Does anybody know how those things work? I walked out for some food, walked down the street with fruits, vegetables and spices for sale. The men in town seem a little more respectful and try not to touch as you pass in a crowd. The women are dressed all diferent ways, from full burkas to western dress. But it is still pretty conservative. I'm glad I brought a long sjirt. It's comfy and blends in. There are no women working in the stores, restaurants or hotels. We found this true in Cairo too. I did see a mass of men come out of the Mosque after prayers today, Friday and Sat are the holy days and some things are closed. There were women on the streets, too. Shopping and such.
Cell phones are everywhere. How do they get reception out in the desert or in the rock canyons of Petra????? All the men smoke. I though Ahmad was going to cough up a lung this morning. You see the little old ladies sitting on the streets selling cigs for a living. Trash is everywhere. Even in Petra except in the most often used tourist sections. All though the desert and all along the city streets.

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