The village of Rum puts the “off” in “off the beaten path”. From there, entering the Wadi involves leaving the bus behind for a 4×4. Once you reach the end of the road, you just drive off the end and into the sand. And that’s when the journey begins.
On an aside, if you know much of the story of T.E. Lawrence, then you may remember his character in “Lawrence of Arabia” crying out, “To Aqaba!” Where did he set out from? Wadi Rum, the place where he learned to live among, and then lead, the Bedouin.
Our guides drove us about twenty minutes into the desert to our camp, which far exceeded our expectations! The camp consisted of Bedouin-styled tents sleeping two each, alongside an eating/gathering tent, and a bathroom area. All these shelters are made of walls woven from goat hair, which creates shockingly waterproof and windproof shelters. Arriving last night, we were all wiped. Relaxing in the gathering tent, we sipped tea (black tea mixed with sage—tasty!) and caught up on our journey thus far. Supper followed, and it was a special treat. After soup, they led us out into the now-dark desert for the main course. Pulling off what looked like a lightweight manhole cover (minus the holes), they pulled our supper out of a buried barrel. Chicken, potatoes, zucchini, and onions had been cooking for hours down there. We were intrigued… and well-fed! Supper was followed up by leisurely visiting and a pile of laughter. This group has quickly become special. There’s a certain intensity to relationships when you travel closely together and share somewhat intensified experiences, and I am glad to be doing just that with this particular group. Some great folks are around me!
And then it was sleep time. Rest was patchy, as our community of tents revealed a number of snorers among us. Couple that with the desert heat that really didn’t dissipate until 4:00 AM or so, and rest was short but sufficient. Our time in Eilat tonight will offer a chance to catch up a bit, I hope.
This morning, we awoke around 7:00 AM, enjoyed a simple breakfast, and began our two-hour desert tour that would lead us gradually back to town. We stopped at three spots along the way for chances to explore and shoot pictures. These spots featured an a natural archway that could be hiked over with some exertion, a sand dune of no small size, and some carved inscriptions and images from before Christ. I marveled at seeing these images of people and animals, imagining them being crafted by people living before the “AD era”—you’ve got to be kidding!
The desert planted one word in my mind: Vast.
That one rolled around my mind from the first moment we traded asphalt for sand. I shot a pile of photos, but I just know that they will not communicate the magnitude of the desert. These heights and distances dwarf every human trace—trucks, camps, people—almost to nothing. The darkness of the sky last night, along with the visible stars, continued the theme, as does the silence and stillness of the landscape. There is little wonder that “desert” has been tied to numerous spiritual dimensions over history. Even my guide book refers to this by describing an overnight desert experience: “It can be an unforgettable way of stripping the soul back to basics”. I’m not sure that our accelerated tourist version of the experience was capable of capitalizing on that aspect of the desert, but there’s no doubt we got a taste of it. Perhaps it will whet our appetites for more of such a life, with or without sand and camels.
Re-connecting with our bus, we were driven to Aqaba, a popular Jordanian vacation spot on the tip of the Red Sea. We stopped long enough to see the ruins of what some claim as Jordan’s oldest church, dating back into the 300’s. It was small and fenced off, but we shot a few photos and had Charles fill us in on a few details. Then we made a quick stop along the pier just to look at the Red Sea with Israel’s Eilat across the water. The temperature was reading forty-one degrees in Aqaba—I kid you not! Needless to say, we happily headed to lunch in an air-conditioned restaurant.
On to the border. We were there by 2:10 PM—it was to take hardly any time at all. We left the border at 5:10 PM. Again, I kid you not. From our group of thirty-three, seven of us were held at the border for “a few questions”. Among the queries that some of us received: What is your father’s name? Grandfather’s name? What is the ethnic background of your name? Do you have another passport? Why were you in Syria? Do you know anyone in Syria? Know anyone in Israel? Home phone number? Cell number? Email? Where will you stay in Israel? And round and round it went. By the time all was said and done, we’d been sitting on the sidewalk outside (gratefully in at least partial shade) for over two hours! Now, I’m appreciative of quality security and understanding of Israel’s concerns, but this was a bit ridiculous. Several times, the door opened, as some officer entered or exited, and we could have sworn the “big guy” inside was reading a paperback novel! Perhaps he was waiting for a phone call or some piece of information. Or perhaps he was just being a jerk. I don’t know. I do know that it was very nice to finally board our bus and get into town for the free day that had partially evaporated at the border.
Our hotel here is beautiful, right on the shore of the Red Sea, overlooking the lights of this holiday town. Tomorrow, we’ll take in a marine life observatory (I’m guessing that means “aquarium”). This was not on our itinerary, but our travel agent gave our group passes as a gift, so we figured we’d use them as part of our free half-day tomorrow. Then after lunch, we’ll hit the five-hour road for Tantur Institute on the outskirts of Jerusalem. And class begins Monday morning!
Much love to everyone at home. Thanks for your notes. I trust that this finds everyone well!