Part 1- Introducing Thelma and Louise
I’m honestly not even sure how to start telling the stories of the last couple of days, so I guess I’ll start at the beginning.
On March 25, 1991 a little gal named Elizabeth was born…
Just kidding! That may be the beginning of my story, but this particular set of stories begins with my friend Emily and I and a plan to go to Wadi Rum. Girl road trip!
She’d never been before and I have been looking for a chance to get back to the desert. A few phone calls later we’d booked a campsite and rented a car for a couple days of adventuring in the beautiful south of Jordan.
What was supposed to be a bright and early start to our journey was slightly foiled by a faulty alarm clock and me blazing out of bed an hour and a half late, but we were soon on our way in our sprightly blue rental car. And let me tell you, for someone who has never had a car and hasn’t driven significant distances in the past year, the freedom of being behind the wheel was unparalleled!
Getting back in the swing of driving was easier on the empty streets of Amman on a Friday morning. We headed down the Desert Highway which is pretty bumpy and bleak, but what an adventure we were having channeling our inner Thelma and Louise.
We missed the turn to Wadi Rum (I was a bit overwhelmed by all the things you need to pay attention to while driving) and ended up at the Aqaba customs terminal, where a very nice guard turned us around and got us back on our way. Soon we were descended into the desert with the massive mountains of Wadi Rum visible in the distance behind camels and desert scrub. The train on the Hijaz Railway steamed next to the road and we were soon past the visitor’s center and into Rum Village.
Part 2- Following The Footsteps of Lawrence of Arabia
We met our guide and drove a little ways into the desert where we hailed down a camel herd and hopped on. Camels are right up there with the platypus as far as goofy animals go! My friend Emily had never ridden a camel and I stuck her on one for about 4 hours- bless her for hanging on!
We hit Lawrence Spring which is a natural spring coming from the top of one of the many rocky mountains that make up Wadi Rum. Petroglyphs and ancient Arabic inscriptions can be found in many places and we saw a few nearby.
Next stop was a sand dune which I climbed up while Emily was entertained by our young Bedouin guide, Yousef, in the tent below. The view was extraordinary and the wind up top was strong- like living in a hair dryer! Skipping down the dune was even more fun and the sands of the wadi are now officially in my shoes forever.
Our third stop across the desert saw us hot, dry, guzzling water and our hips aching like arthritic grandmothers atop our beasts of the desert. I had a camel in training attached to the back of my camel and he made delightfully weird growly noises whenever he had to do anything. Camels sound a lot like a drunk Chewbacca from Star Wars, if you can imagine that. They also have a tendency to get mad and gargle their spit, at which point you need to get out of the way because you might get a projectile camel lugey shot in your direction! I quite enjoy the rolling motion of the camel and could easily have wandered like that for a good while, minus the discomfort of the wooden saddle.
Our last stop before our camp was a small cave in which ancient inscriptions can be seen, as well as more modern carvings. There are little pools of water that gather in the cave, too. Emily and I sat in there for a bit after a large group of Italian tourists vacated the premises. The wind whipped through the canyon and it was refreshing, as was the tea we were served in the large Bedouin tent nearby. You wouldn’t think tea on a 100+ degree day would be good… but I oddly think it is!
We sat in the tent for a while drinking tea and making small talk with our guide Yousef and his two friends. They were brothers, one was maybe 9 or 10 and the other was maybe 17. The older brother informed us that he had 15 brothers and sisters living in various areas of Wadi Rum- I can’t even imagine! He and his brother goofed around and teased each other like brothers around the world do. I bought a fragrant bag of sage tea and can’t wait to brew a batch of it.
Part 3- Home Sweet Sunset Camp
We made it to our camp as the sun was going down, put our bags in our tent and were enticed by a massive pot of tea that became quite commonplace during our short trip. I am never one to pass up on delicious tea!
Soon we were whisked off in a truck to hike to the top of a rock and watch the sun set. It was pretty great! 3 other American girls and two other campers joined us along with Mohammad, the young truck driver. The sunset was gorgeous and the world, besides the wind, was silent.
No traffic, no horns, no call to prayer, nothing except the sound of Mohammad playing Angry Birds on his cell phone to punctuate the grandeur.
Back at the camp dinner was a delightful affair and we all sat silently, shoving our faces after a long day of driving and playing in the sun.
Part 4- Would You Like Some Stars With Your Tea?
More tea was served and Emily and I sat in the big common tent, soon joined by the camp manager Emad and the truck driver Mohammad. We made small talk in English and Arabic as Emily played music on her phone, granting great background noise to the display of stars that were rapidly appearing outside the tent. The draw of the night sky was soon too great to pass up and we headed into the desert, barefoot and tripping as we stared up at the night sky.
I’m no stranger to epic expanses of the universe- between my first trip to Wadi Rum, Colorado, and Eastern Washington there have been many nights of star gazing and geeking out over shooting stars and flickering lights in the night sky. Emily has nearly always lived in big cities and this is the first time she’s seen the Milky Way, which was out in all its glory.
I spied a few little (and not so little) desert bugs in the light of our torch, and tried not to think about them as we all settled into the soft sand outside the camp, still warm from the day. Emad kept trying to pull me away from Mohammad and Emily- it seems someone had a little crush! As there is safety in numbers I elected not to stray farther out into the desert with a stranger because of all the reasons you can likely imagine.
Emily and I joked about Dr. Who, our love of academics and the untimely demise of Pluto as an official planet. Uranus jokes were thrown about and increased when Emad pointed out that we could actually see Uranus in the sky. I can’t even type that without giggling- let’s face it, my immature sense of humor might keep me forever young!
Emad pointed out since we were so interested in the stars we might as well sleep outside… and just like that, mattresses and blankets were grabbed from our tent and there we were! Visions of creepy crawly desert bugs still dancing in my head I mummified myself in my big blanket.
Part 5- Declarations Of Undying Love
Emad was lingering.
‘Leeez,’ he said in his thick Egyptian accent. ‘I must speak with you.’
Le sigh. ‘Ok, Emad. What’s up?’
‘No. I must speak with you on the mountain.’
Emad led me slightly away from where Emily and our stuff was located (with the explicit instructions to find me in 5 minutes had I not returned), sat me down on a rock, turned off his flashlight, and then proceeded to give me the most heartfelt speech declaring his affections for me, in Arabic.
I was floored. And kind of flattered. But mostly confused.
Like, who does that? Who declares love for someone they’ve met hours before and spoken briefly to in the meantime?! Arab men. Arab men do this. Frequently.
I was flattered because he seemed sincere, but at the same time… the guy probably sees a bazillion foreigners in and out of his camp during the year, so maybe it was a ploy to get the American girl to sleep with him.
Confirmation of which came approximately 10 seconds later, when he asked me if I would meet him after one hour.
That would be a resounding, ‘HELL no!’
I then proceeded to explain that as much as I would love to meet his family in Egypt I had much more pressing matters at hand involving visiting my family, achieving a higher degree of education and, most immediately, catching a few more shooting stars before catching some much needed winks of sleep.
That didn’t go over too well, as you can imagine!
Part 6- Meanwhile, Under The Stars…
Whilst I was off repressing the advances of dear Emad Emily was just a few meters away being wooed by her own suitor, the young Mohammad. He brought a candle, grapes, and a pomegranate to share while they conversed in a mixture of his broken English and her broken Arabic. She was invited to stay in Wadi Rum just a few more days to meet his family and I dare say she contemplated it, being the curious anthropologist she is!
We each attempted to gracefully remove ourselves from our erstwhile companions and I was finally able to snuggle back in my bed. There is nothing better than being safe and warm underneath the stars, nothing between you and the universe. It was quiet, dark, and beautiful, and I don’t think I’ve ever had a better night’s sleep.
Part 7- The Morning After
My rebuffing of Emad the night before had no visible effect on his demeanor as he rousted Emily and I out of bed bright and early (ok, 7:30) for breakfast. I was nowhere near ready to leave my comfy nest but the sun beckoned. Breakfast was delicious and we were all too soon driving away from camp and back to where we parked our car.
Emily was last seen giving her facebook information to young Mohammad, and I will not be surprised if I get a wedding invitation in the near future. Haha!
Part 8- Hello, Officer
On our way back I was pretty tired and sore! We decided to visit Aqaba briefly since it’s just a few kilometers away from Wadi Rum and Emily hadn’t been before. We dipped our toes in the Red Sea and joked about the nearness of the Saudi Arabian border, which was nearly visible (as were Egypt and the southern point of Israel).
A few hours down the road we were both tired and desperately trying to find a working radio station. There are a few police checkpoints along the way which we had been either ignored or waved through by a bored officer tired of sitting in the sun. After one, however, a police car whipped out behind us and flashed his lights. Knowing I was speeding (but within the realm of a normal Jordanian driver) I pulled over and said hello to the young officer who came up to the window. I handed him my license and registration and he asked where we were from and where we were going.
‘Amman.’ We said, still not sure what I’d done wrong.
‘Perfect!’ he said. ‘I am from Naour. Can you drop me near there?’
Emily and I looked at each other, not really sure what to think.
‘One minute!’ he yelled. ‘I’m going to call the boss!’
So he calls up his boss to get off work early and hops in the back of our car- not to worry, my taser was in close proximity to me (although he had a gun…).
Let me tell you- it’s pretty hard to talk to a strange policeman in the back of your car in Arabic with the windows down whilst still paying attention to the crappier sections of Jordan’s highways as to not run off the road or get hit by a semi-truck.
It’s even harder when he starts asking for, how should I put this… ‘love advice’ for he and his wife, which I am completely unqualified to give in English or Arabic. He’s been married 7 years and when I suggested that he simply talk to his wife about whatever issues, I was met with a blank stare that had nothing to do with my Arabic skills. Whatever, man, just tryin’ to help!
Despite the windows being down and the radio up he kept insisting on asking me questions in Arabic and desperately trying to draw Emily out of her book, which she was peacefully reading in the front seat. He got a little creepy at one point (there was some shoulder stroking for Emily and an offer of a massage for me) and invited us over to his home for dinner, and I doubt his wife would have appreciated that! Thankfully we had a deadline to get the car back to the agency and soon dropped him off near his exit on the highway.
Part 9- An Affair To Remember
After making our way through the busy streets of Amman (I didn’t even have to use my horn!) we retired to Books@Cafe for a much needed date with some food and arguileh. I got to see some of my former coworkers who I haven’t gotten to see yet- one of my old managers chastised me for not coming to visit sooner with the words, ‘Why have you not visited? We are your family! Why would you not visit your family?!’ There there, I’ve been warned! Note: always follow up with everyone you know when you visit a place you’ve lived before, because you just never know how many people will be totally stoked to see you.
Part 10- The Return Of Thelma And Louise
Walking out of a restaurant with keys to a car, getting in and driving off into the sunset (aka the rental car place) is an awesome feeling. Waiting to hail a taxi? Not so much usually.
We returned the car in one piece, everything intact and together including ourselves. Needless to say many pictures were taken, some random adventures were had, and more memories have been added to the many other wonderful times I’ve had in this country!
Thus ends this tale of the present day Thelma and Louise, minus the suicides and robberies.