Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum...

Next on our agenda was a Jeep tour of Wadi Rum. Now, when I see the word "Jeep" I assume, you know, Jeep. What I didn't know was that for Arabs, "Jeep" means any 4x4 vehicle. Ours was already parked and ready to go for us, a well-loved and old pick-up truck with padded bench seats in the back. No, not the back seat. The truck bed. Made of plywood and colorful fabric, not dissimilar to our camel saddles. Now, Mike and I had been discussing how best to buckle in Thomas' car seat for our 4x4 trip.

Apparently we didn't need to worry about that. Now all we needed to worry about was being ejected out the tailgate or over the sides into the desert.

Raising our eyebrows at one another, we got in, putting the kids between ourselves and the cab. "You know," I said, "there's no way we'd do this in the States." Mike agreed wholeheartedly, and then our driver tried to start the pickup.

And tried and tried.

"Well, this is a reliable truck to take into the desert," Mike murmured under his breath. The rest of the camp workers were standing around watching with equal parts concern and humor, laughing and giving what was probably advice in Arabic.

The truck sputtered and choked. Finally an Egyptian fellow got into the cab and did something and the engine came to life, reluctantly. He patted our driver on the back as they switched places and we drove off. "We should make him come with us," I said, only about half joking.

Thomas, Audi, Bethy and Audi's "Jeep".

Now we were off, trying to be calm. We drove through the village, past the donkeys and garbage and tires, over the first set of train tracks we'd seen in the Middle East, and out into North Wadi Rum.

I had talked with Harb about where to go on our 4x4 adventure. Now, he said the north, outside of the protected (and fee) area where many of the tours go to the south. He pointed out that it would have fewer tourists, is quieter and that he feels it has just as much to offer. So I went with his recommendation, and was glad.

It was astoundingly beautiful, the wide stretches of sand and the monolithic rockscapes, magnificent scenery, though for the first while we were almost completely preoccupied with getting used to riding in the back of the truck and questioning whether our judgement with the kids could still be considered sound.

Eventually we relaxed enough to enjoy the ride, our driver taking the bumps and turns well enough for us to develop some sort of faith in him, or at least some good old-fashioned Arab fatalism.

We were certainly in the middle of nowhere, no other person visible as we zipped along the sand. At one point a huge pale colored lizard startled out of some camel grass and charged away from us as fast as his legs would go, tail whipping back and forth behind him.

We came to one of the rock formations and stopped, our driver Audi coming courteously around to open the tailgate and let us out. Climbing up the pale rocks behind him, we followed a path into the rocks and back in a sort of cave we found inscriptions carved into the stone from long ago. Thomas, of course, was determined to climb up higher and higher into the rocks, but Audi showed both his willingness and good sense and climbed up after our little lizard and kept him from harm.

Emerging back out into the sands, Audi directed us to wander into a Bedouin tent at the base of the rock. Outside was a table with colorful beaded necklaces. Oh dear. Support the locals...but we hadn't brought a single dinar (Jordanian currency) with us. We were invited to sit upon a rug or cushions and enjoy tea by the owner of the tent, a man with a deeply lined dark face who spoke even less English than our driver. Our problem, not his. He was courteous and sweet, and Thomas was all over the tea bit.

"Salam Aleekum (hello), tea please!" in his little boy voice.

The tea was being made in a kettle on a small but very hot fire in the sand where there was a gap in the rugs, and it was very, very hot. Our Bedouin host solved this issue for Thomas, who is not yet Starbucks trained, by rinsing one glass in a container of cooler water then pouring the tea into it, rinsing the empty glass that had held the tea in the water and then pouring the tea back in, over and over until the tea cooled enough for a child. The rest of us singed our fingers slightly, but Bedouin tea is so delicious it was worth it. Besides, we could probably use some toughening up.

Notice Thomas is not only sitting properly, but has employed his Maisy Mouse as a cushion.

Tea pouring must be done from as high from the receiving cup as is deemed prudent by the pourer. Why this is, I have no idea, but it adds a splash of showmanship to the process and is repeated all around and through the Sahara.

Another group arrived, this one a Korean group of several young women and one young man, who we'd waved to earlier out in the desert while also taking our respective camel rides. Now we were reassured to see that their truck was outfitted the same as ours...obviously this was the way things were done.

They fussed over Bethy and Thomas, of course, and we figured it was a good time to go.

Thomas kissed our host and both kids chorused Shukran (thank you) beautifully. I tried to learn how to say thank you in Korean kamsa hamaida (kam'-sah hum-nee-dah' ) as well, opportunistic language, but forgot it within a few kilometers of bouncing over the sands. Mike was watching the depths of the sands and the speed and hoping we wouldn't get stuck. You could see it on his face. We crested a dune with a steep slope down on the other side and just as I was saying "oh my" the engine cut out and our driver hopped out again.

Thomas the desert explorer, following in TE Lawrence's footsteps, perhaps?
Now we gave the kids a chance to play on the dunes, running up and down and laughing as Mike and I took in the glory of the scenery. We might have done a bit of dune scampering ourselves. I asked Audi about the tracks in the sand, drawing pictures of which animals I though they might be. I was correct with the gerbil and the rabbit, but when I drew a scorpion next to the tracks we'd seen all around the camp he hesitated. "No big," he said, "small, no dangerous." I was making a stinging motion with a hooked finger to try and ask in a strange game of charades out in the dunes.

We got back in the truck. Audi released the brake and we slid silently down the dune, he starting up the engine when we'd built up some speed at the bottom, and off we went again.


*Paula* said...

Wow! It is all so amazing Natalie! It must be so surreal!

Anonymous said...

Discovered your blog accidentally today while looking for Safa Park pictures. :) Lovely to see people out here from WA (I'm originally from Tacoma).

Will be adding this blog to my RSS feed. Looking forward to reading about more of your adventures.

All the best!