Jordanie 2/2 – Lost in the landscapes

Hey hey, all good? Here is our second article about Jordan in the continuity of the first one. Still at the first person telling, mix of our personnalities, we tried as good as we could to integrate our thoughts and feelings of the country in the story of our journey.

Since we are in Dana, the valley is teasing us. We decide to walk a loop and come back some days later to the village where we left the useless equipment. After shopping is done we start to walk down the valley. It is a bit too much for me, I don’t know where I’m supposed to lay my eyes on. Every hundred meters is different from the one before, between red and flat stones, pebbles sleeping in the dried river, sand or rocky blades coming out of the mountain flank. Rare thing in Jordan, we don’t see anybody for more than several hours until we reach the Bedouin tents just before the desert. What were their tents made out before UNHCR handled over tarps or before they gathered some pieces of fabric here and there? And why did people come and settle here??

"Tente bédouine en bas de la vallée." "Bedouin tent down the valley."

At nightfall our camp was all set up, and after advice from a guide living here, far from the snakes prowling around the trees. We climb the hill to spend the evening with the guide and his family. Under the desert stars these neo-Bedouins laid some carpets and, apologizing for only having leftovers, bring us their food and a chemical drink that I cautiously avoid to drink. While Marie, despite of being “officially” my girlfriend tonight, gets hit on by the stodgy guide, I have to undergo series of funny videos on a Youtube connected cell phone. “Do you have music instruments?” “Oh my grandpa has one, but we don’t need anymore, we have the phones”. Bedouins too have the right to Internet in the desert, but it still hurts my ears a little to hear the same ringtones as my old university buddies and to see that these young fellows listen to the same shitty music we have on our dear French radios. I have to admit that I had another image of Bedouins, I surely was a bit naive. We will not let ourselves convince by our Bedouin friend who tries to decide that the “better for us” is to rent a 4WD to carry our equipment while affirming, sure of himself, “this is the program”. We are now used to these kind of conversations. Marie neither has not let herself charmed so we walk back to sleep under the open sky, just outside of our tent that we yet had pitched.

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We continue our loop trekking up the Wadi Ghuweir. Yesterday’s guide, far from him any idea of selling his company and the famous 4WD to bring us back to Dana, warned us that the entry was blocked by a huge rock (impassable for us incapable Europeans). But well, I am 1/64th Guatemalan so I manage to climb it. Again my brains gets a slap, it is too much for me. It is my first canyon, a real one, with water and narrow corridors, white rocks like waves, palm trees almost falling on you, and all and more. It is so much of a paradise that we decide to spend the night somewhere in between. Marie allows herself a bikini under the sun, rare luxe in these regions. But she is quickly interrupted by one of the guide’s brother and his friends. He comes to offer her his heart and wants to spend the night with us. I have to get upset so he leaves and we move our campsite a bit up in case they decide to come back. The place is incredible, it is full of life, and after having spend days in the desert and fought against the Dead Sea, I really fell like I am in heaven, the fresh and clean water always close to us. We play with our huge dancing shadows against the rock created by the fire, and I dive into these cartoon images.

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Next morning we shall leave with regret our beloved canyon because food supplies start to be limited. But before we bath one or two times. The more we walk up, the rarest the water, the river disappears under the rocks to reappear some fifty meters further, and finally slips in again forever. While we exit the valley I wonder if I will ever come back and how it will look like. The first signs of civilization emerge in the form of plastic bottles and shisha aluminum foil, taking its apogee when we meet a hunter while finishing our last crumbles. Now no choice, we have to go back to civilization not to starve.

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Here we are on this empty asphalt road except from a black sedan that very gently drops us in Shobak at nightfall. At iftar, Ramadan’s fast breaking, it is pointless to hitchhike, no car is passing by because everybody is supposed to eat at this time, so we do the same. Just next to the main road there is a big tent made out of these colored fabric I have often seen in this country. Under it some tables and chairs as well as plate of chicken, rice and dates. During Ramadan nobody can be excluded of eating, so people organize themselves so that even the poorest can have a meal. Once again I am surprised by this solidarity and generosity, and tonight added to the needy and the people passing by there will be three Frenchies eating with pleasure. I wonder how it is possible to hate and love at the same time a culture, it will be important to only keep the good sides.

As we head back to Dana, it is already night but very quickly someone stops to take us. To my surprise it is a luxurious car, a first one here. The nice and young guy brings us all the way to Dana despite he is not going there. He talks about his thirty camels that he does not really use for anything, just because he like camels. It is his collection, like stamps actually just a bit bigger. Incredible.

The next day it is time to say good-bye to our little hotel guy, Mohammed (a very rare name in the area), because we leave for Petra.

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Since we arrived in Jordan, and even before, I heard about Petra a countless amount of times, incredible site, world heritage unmissable i tutti quanti, so that I almost want not to go just by plain contrariness. All over Jordan we are offered taxis to Petra like if there was only this. Of course we don’t go to Petra by taxi but hitchhiking, until one of our drivers decides without really asking us that we will come to his place to eat and sleep. It is a bit of a classic trick I have the feeling, where everybody knows better than you what is good for you and it starts to irritate me. How many times will I hear in these Arab countries we crossed the famous “this is better for you”? We arrange to sneak out to get a last lift to Wadi Musa laying right next the archaeological site. Jordan is a Bedouin country so no worries to camp, but still now there is some challenge as we are in the most touristic place of the country. In roughly two seconds a guy managing a small snack comes to us and pays us a tea followed by a meal. Thousands of phone calls later and 500 “yes-yes-no worries-my-cousin-is-arriving-to-pick-you-up-ah-no-actually-it-will-not-be-my-cousin-but-my-friend”, we are sitting in his brother house who has a good ex-prisoner’s face. Jordanians, besides being the nicest and hospitable people in the world, are sometimes a bit pushy and oppressing. Here it is the opposite: take a seat, have a tea, I’ll do my business and I come back every half-hour to see if you don’t need anything. Everybody a bit in his world, each of us laying on the floor sofa, we sink one by one into our dreams.

Petra the pink, Petra the gorgeous, Petra the unmissable, Petra the super mega expensive. Too much for our budget. Jordanians explain us that entry fee is that expensive because many tourists only come to Jordan to see Petra and otherwise stay in Israel, so some don’t even spend a peseta in the country. The site is huuge and luckily for us, poor people, is not fenced. The three of us try the different canyons to get in, we unclimb, we jump, until at the corner of one of them we get a glimpse of a small carved image that amazes us and comes confirm that we did not do all this walking for nothing.

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As good VIP, we arrive from behind and I quickly go to loose myself in the pink rock houses. They told me unmissable, and I have to admit it is true. Especially in these times! The daily several thousands of tourists have been scared since the start of the Syrian war and it is low season: we are around fifty in this vast place. Having Petra for ourselves is not bad, we thank all the people scared by their TV’s, despite Jordan maybe being the safest country in the Middle East. Proud as a French rooster I leave in the end of the day the beautiful Petra through the main gate with a mocking wink to the tourism police.

Another funny thing is that all the hawkers, organizing camel or donkeys tours, are dressed as Jack Sparrow. Yeah yeah, like in the movie. Don’t ask why…

Jordan’s second “must” is Wadi Rum, the Rum valley. I mean, I think this is the right translation, I have to check. Not easy to reach hitchhiking but I decide not to talk bad about tourists anymore because it is some of them who stop and bring us there. We walk a bit further from the last village until the spring right where the desert starts. Boh, and what a desert. Red, thin sand, a corridor spreading to the infinite surrounded by hills and bare mountains. Arrived at the spring we put camp under the only available tree.

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Two hundred meters up on the rocks we find the spring’s source where I sit and admire the desert which distances are hard to estimate. And then little by little I see dots in the far growing and growing. These are not people, these are not cars. Camels! I run down the rocks (taking care of my safety as promised mummy) and arrive just in time to talk with a Bedouin who came to check on his beasts. Those live in semi-freedom and come about once a week to the spring to drink, the rest of the time hanging around the desert looking for drugs. Euh no food. When time comes where camels would like to go further to find food, the owner clog them so they cannot go too far. I imagine quite well Momo taking out his new Samsung to call Ahmed when he his camels “oh Habibi I saw your camels, they are on the way to the trough”. Under the moonshine in the middle of our conversations we see big specters walking swaying to the water trough. All night different camel processions will come with cuUuUute babies. After not having filled their hump but just their belly, because it is a legend that it is their water tank, the specters’ caravan fades again in the sand. A magic moment, we really arrived at the right time.

"On observe des chameaux qui viennent à toute heure du jour ou de la nuit s'abreuver, avant de repartir pour une bonne semaine." "We observe camels that come night and day to drink, before going back for another week."

Moving during day time is a mission only hyper trained secret agent elite camels can fulfill but still we try to cross to the other side. I would have sworn that the mountain over there was only ten minutes away. Walking in the desert is actually quite spiritual. One feels so small, crushed by the heat and the immensity, every step not really making you go forward, so I empty my soul and let myself getting absorbed by the sand.

"Marie dans le sable." "Marie in the sand."

Our final stage is Aqaba that we reach thanks to two technicians passing in Wadi Rum to check the cell-phone antennas. It seems like an evidence for them to invite us for dinner at the driver’s home. Our host goes carefully hide his wife so that we, foreign men, cannot see her. While Marie was invited several times to talk with our different hosts’ wifes, we as men, have only had very few interactions with the other gender. They then take us to the southern beach so we can spend the night there, I don’t say no to the offer. It is incredible that it is possible in Jordan to squat, camp or sleep wherever, people don’t care or better, are happy about it. There is wind but I start to be an expert in all-weather-proof shelters. Three days long we will squat this beach where men can, Ô folie, swim topless without risking a general panic attack in the crowd. Our friend keeping the neighbor little shop takes us for snorkeling trips. Even in the water it is not us that choose what we see and how long. “So we are going to see this coral, and then this coral, this is better for you”. Too bad because if the Red Sea corals are astonishing, we have the feeling to overlook everything, our guide leading the tempo. And of course, Marie who is a woman, thus weak, must not drop our guide’s arm because he decided that she cannot swim well. I’m really perplex. How can people be so nice, and at the same time not leave freedom to others and reduce the women’s condition like this?

"En route pour le Wadi Rum." "On the way to Wadi Rum."

Two kilometers further a big marina for rich Thomascookians has been build. Another universe, other rules. When I arrived in Jordan, I thought it was a country where alcohol was flowing in torrents which surprised me a lot. Actually I think that people where drinking the country’s reserve before the month of Ramadan when it becomes almost impossible to get some. But this marina is not Jordan, it is ghetto for rich and there the shop does not have restriction on alcohol selling.

Before taking the ferry we spend the night on the city center beach, overcrowded during Ramadan. Everybody lives at night in this month. But nobody comes to wake up the three Frenchies installed there to sleep. We wake up with the first sunbeams to take the ferry to Egypt, the rest is another story!

Kiss from Arthurémi. And from Marie as well, though we did not ask.

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