Installement 3 of my trip through Southern Jordan: Wadi Rum
At the base of the mountain the ground is flatter than I have ever seen. It stretches between the rocky buttresses of Wadi Rum like a deep breath, dotted with white tents flapping peacefully in the breeze, camels, goats and sheep gnawing at the memory of green grass. But mostly the world is just brown, a matte tinged with red that embeds itself under your nails and between your toes.
We drove through the town of Wadi rum, a stretch of the main road no more than a mile long, crowded with money exchanges, small shops and coffeehouses. Even out here, surrounded by the blissfulness of nothing, businesses and humans survive.
We settled in our “camp” a luxurious grouping of tents and vaguely permanent structures offering cots, a well established campfire, fully cooked Jordanian meals, hookah, tea and nearly ever other thing you could possibly want. Tucked away behind rocks our camp helped us feel secluded yet later discoveries revealed the presence of various other similar camps within walking distance.
We climbed to the top of a nearby rock, eager to get our hands on the rough sandstone that colored the region a flat tan. As far as you could see jagged rocks loomed up from wide stretches of flat sand. After three days of rather intense physical activity and a series of popped blisters on my heels, the continuous rock climbing and hiking began to wear on me. Luckily we had jeep tours planned for the evening and we roared through the desert in the back of old pickup trucks, bouncing on colorful cushions and hiding behind kaffiyehs to block the sand in our eyes. We drove past high bluffs and through narrow canyons. We raced up sand dunes and toppled down them head first. Finally we reached a large open area surrounded by high cliffs where we climbed over precarious, shifting shale to watch the sunset.
Sitting high above the desert I could feel silence in the rock, blowing in the sands that swept across the desert. The sun dripped slowly over the stone, its death march mundane and heartbreaking. It is a test of fate, staring straight, letting the green spots in your eyes take over, letting them flash purple to red ti gone. Maybe you’re blinded but it’s a soft blinding, a blinding of daylight lost, dripping into a nowhere place, a place of stagnant breathe and chilled flesh. With a brief flash and a count backwards from ten, the sun slipped into darkness and the sands that whipped at our eyes as we drove back could not be counted on two hands.
After a filling meal and the stinging campfire smoke in my eyes, I hiked out under the full moon across the mudflats surrounding our camp. At midnight in Jordan, I sat on the hardened baked and cracked miles of clay bearing sturdy beneath my feet. Besides the dying remnants of Arabic music from a neighboring camp drifting off in the distance, the only other sound is the cool wind blowing past my ears and sending chills through my sweatshirt and kaffiyeh. Through the moonlight I strained to make out stars, faint glimmers struggling to burn through the white light that bleaches my landscape black and white and twilight blue.
For the first time on the entire trip I was entirely alone, sitting a couple miles away from camp eyeballing the ground for scorpions. You could walk for ages out here and not get tired of solitude. The desert at night is a fable of great gray mountains casting moonlight shadows across the gray earth.
I returned to camp with clarity in mind and set out my mattress under the stars, closing my eyes to the brightness of the full moon and listening to the dying night as I drifted off to sleep. At 4 am I woke to the cold air, gathered my blankets and hiked back out across the mudflats to watch the sun color the sky pink and orange. The same mountains that I sat under last night in their stoic gray silence now radiated brightly. For a few moments as the sky grows white, one questions the appearance of the sun, wondering if in fact it has already risen and is lost in the murky haze. You can feel his fingers slipping over the mountains and palming ancient rock in warmth. I fell asleep curled against the warming earth and woke with the sun high in the sky.
My morning commute was very rough that morning as we perched ourselves precariously on the high backs of camels and sauntered across the desert, briefly terrified with the ferocity of these seemingly ancient and eternal creatures. I named mine Presley, a muzzled camel with a serious attitude problem who desired nothing else but to lead the herd and yet was banished to the back. I’ll admit, I shrieked quite a bit, afraid of his rocking gait and knobby knees. But by the end, I warmed up to him, our general dislike for each other reaching a mutual understanding.