And so it is that I embark on another trek this year. This
time the plan was Jordan and Egypt. Along the way I spent a day long stop over in Frankfurt, Germany (not so much to say about
Frankfort.... bratwurst, tepid beer, scenic squares, art galleries, angry youth, and people wearing funny shoes).
in Amman, Jordan at 3 am would make the visitor think this city is deserted. As I emerged from the local bus in the wee hours
of the morning I felt excited and set forth with my trusty backpack. The streets are dark and empty at night. I walked past
the occasional all night coffee shop frequented by those incorrigible creatures of habit who appear to have nothing better
to do than imbibe strong concoctions of caffeine while others sleep. There was actually something oddly familiar about the
pervasive aroma of freshly baking pita bread, Arab spices, and the distinctive scent of coffee in the air. I don't know, maybe
it reminded me of the time I spent in East Jerusalem a few years ago or maybe it reminded me visiting my fathers Arabic friends
when I was a kid. As with most Middle Eastern countries one cant help realize you are in a far away land when the exotic
4 am call to prayer emanates from the plethora of minarets that seemingly burgeon into the night sky around every corner.
Wonder around long enough in any big city and you are bound to encounter a seedy hostel, and so I woke up the proprietor and
with a cheery "salem alekum" and 2 Jordanian dinars later I checked in, another adventure begins in the morning.
Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan as its officially called has been a crossroads of culture, occupied at various times by the Assyrians,
Babylonians, Greeks, Romans,Hittites and Crusaders. At the turn of the century it was part of the Ottoman empire. After World
War One the Ottomans lost most of their empire and for a while the Brits gained what is now Jordan. Fervent Arab nationalism
eventually caught hold of the region and the Brits ceded what was called "Transjordan" to King Abdullah in 1948.
Today Amman sparkles. Like Rome, the city was built on 7 hills. With the break of the morning sun the city awakens
into a roar. The streets clog with throngs of dilapidated taxis. It is my strong conviction that by some odd quirk of Middle
Eastern vehicular engineering the horns of these Jordanian taxis are somehow intimately attached to the accelerator in some
inexplicable fashion, cabbies honk incessantly in Jordan for no
apparent reason. Amman's streets are lined with bazaars
vending everything from fresh juice to homemade perfume. Not surprisingly everything is in Arabic and to hear it constantly
spoken around me made me wish I had learned to speak when I was young. A recent spat of bombings in the Middle East has scared
away most would-be tourists, that's ok though nice to get away from all hints of western society....and more room for
anyway. Amman has quite a bit to offer from ancient Roman amphitheaters to aging citadel forts located atop steep hills
overlooking the city.
Jordanians are a friendly people and linguistic considerations aside I had no problem hitchhiking
an hour and a half ride between Amman and the city of Jeresh. Jeresh is a small city famous for its Roman ruins. Sprawling
temples and weathered columns build in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD offer tangible evidence of the timelessness of Roman architecture
More than anything else Jordan
is known for the Ruins of Petra, the red rose sandstone city carved into precipitous cliffs in the middle of the Jordanian
The narrow valley known as El Siq is one of the few paths to isolated cliff city. This narrow valley was formed
millions of years ago by a crack in a towering mountain, the walls 2 meters apart and 200 meters high. As I ambled my
way through the dark inners of the path I had no idea of the spectacle that awaited me at the end. After a mile or so the
great chasm spills into a grand geological courtyard of sorts. It is here that the light at the end of the tunnel emerges.
Through the adjacent rocks I could see the glowing sliver of a brilliant facade of sparkling red rose that the so-called "treasury
building" is carved into. The luminance of the red rose sandstone facade is undeniably spectacular. The building was carved
many centuries ago into the sheer cliff. The great portal of the treasury dwarfs the visitor who stands in the 30-foot
high doorway. Walk further along the city one passes local Bedouins offering rides on their camels and mules. Similarly impressive
buildings and soaring mausoleums line the cliffs of the valley. Later after trekking straight up to the top of another mountain
for an hour and a half I came to the serene monastery, equally gigantic, one can hardly believe the handy work of earlier
civilizations. It is perched from here that I am reminded of why I like to travel so much. What greater reward does life have
to offer than the aesthetic pleasure of staring pensively across an endless desert dotted with looming mountains, as far as
the eye can see the sky a deep blue and further than the eye can discern it fades into a heavy violet haze.
The Desert of Wadi Rum
Peering back I gawked at the
parallel tire tracks left indelible crushed into the malleable sand as they disappeared far into the burning horizon and
seemingly converged at some finite point. Perhaps if the 1970 jeep were to break down in the acrid sun I'm sure I could
find my way back along the tracks....well maybe eventually. Another of the otherworldly jewels of Southern Jordan, the boundless
desert of Wadi Rum stretches endlessly. To drive a day through the untrammeled vastness of the desert is to marvel at
man's diminutive status in the grand tapestry of earth. No roads here, just an endless plain of sand and resplendent rock
formations haphazardly strewn across the desert like an elaborate game of terrestrial jacks. Furthermore, no signs just north,
south, east, west and divers permutations thereof. A land so expansive, I though to myself how did Lawrence of Arabia end
up at a watering hole here prior to his conquest in North Africa? ( ......how did I end up here for that matter I guess).
day's travels took me past exquisitely red sand dunes imperceptively slowly undulating toward ruddy peaks that seem to melt
in the sun. Like a nomad in a bizarre Dali painting I drifted past the occasional Bedouin goat hair long-tent, wild camels,
natural rock bridges, lofty cliffs, and dreamy valleys. The ancient desert is a demurely quiet entity, effectively bereft
of sound and vegetation, a pristine silence so profound
it almost hurts the ear.
Out of Jordan
I finally emerged from the desert and made my way to the Jordanian
port city of Aqaba. The plan was to try to catch a cargo ferry to the Egyptian port of Nuweiba. Turns out I missed the ferry
so formulating "plan B" I decided to continue my journey to Egypt overland via Israel. No problem really I though, spontaneity
always lends itself to more adventurous travel, that's the great thing about having very little semblance of an itinerary. At any rate, I made my way to a massively fortified yet nearly completely deserted border
crossing save the security forces. After an hour of belligerent interrogation-like questioning I walked across the border
and was finally allowed entry to Israel. I traded in my dinars for shekels and headed into the resort city of Eliat. I found
a hostel and went for a swim in the glistening red sea. I ended up finding an international jazzfest that happened to be in
town, quite a contrast to the tranquility of the desert. Went to the Egyptian consulate the next morning and obtained a visa
and set out for the Egyptian border into the Sinai Peninsula.......more on Egypt later