Peter O'Toole Can Kiss My Ass

Trip Start Dec 31, 2004
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Trip End Apr 22, 2005


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Monday, March 21, 2005

Wadi Rum. The name itself rings hollow for most though it'd be safe to say at least once in your life you've seen at least a fleeting image of its glorious desertscapes either on television or the silver screen. It is yet another location in Jordan recognizable to moviegoers around the world. A man by the name of T. E. Lawrence spent some time in a desert here and Hollywood came to film the story of his exploits. The Oscar-wining picture is called Lawrence of Arabia.

"So" Nasser explained, "The Mercedes couldn't make it so I got you this guy to take you to Wadi Rum. Oh, and the admission fee for the desert is 2 dinar not one - sorry I made a mistake." Hmmm. I admit I was a bit disappointed mainly because of the comfort level of five people in a car for a long drive but I've been through worse so I didn't complain. We waved back at Nasser wondering if somehow this entire excursion that he'd planned for us was somehow a sham. We'd just gone around a bend in the road by the Dead Sea when our driver asked if we had accommodations in Wadi Rum. "Didn't Nasser organize this with you?" we asked. The man was clueless so we had him call Nasser who said that someone would be waiting for us at the gate. Skeptical we held our breath as the day's events unfolded.

A couple hours later we pulled into the entrance. A lanky stick of a man in white galabia and Jordanian kefieh branded with a black birthmark that resembled a smashed beetle approached the car. Our driver spoke to him in Arabic and I right away assumed that we were being setup. He introduced himself and we immediately if not so slyly grilled him. "It's 20 dinar each, yes?" "And you know Nasser, right?" "The 20 dinar includes the jeep ride through the desert, right?" "For how long?" "Can we see everything we want to see today?" "The price includes accommodation, dinner and breakfast in the morning. Is that correct?" "So there are no extra or hidden charges are there?" "Awrighty then, let's give this a shot."

While Mohammed organized some things behind the scenes we handed over our money to Thomas who was taking care of our admission fees for us. He handed over a ten dinar note for the four of us. The reception area didn't have any change. If everyone pays two dinar each how could the man in the ticket booth not have two dinar to give us for change? We received our tickets then as we were getting into the jeep Thomas told us that he hadn't paid. Well, he'd tried to pay but was unable to. Though it was exciting to be fugitives hiding out in the desert, I thought it's also another reason for me to live in fear.

Mohammed took our luggage and put it in his office and after some minor pestering consented to having it delivered to our tent. We lathered up with sunscreen, Peter riding shotgun his head completely obscured by his kefieh and Thomas, Daniel and me in the back of the open-air jeep.

Our first stop to see the Lawrence Spring that he purportedly used was crammed with tour buses and we worried we'd be fighting the tours all day. Mercifully it was the first and the last of them however. The rest of the long day until sunset we would not see more than a handful of tourists after we'd left their caravans at the first attraction. We pulled up to some dunes and Thomas and I ran up them and snapped some shots. I lied down and looked out across the desert and dug my feet down low to the cooler sand. I'd have been content to stay there much longer but the others were more content to hide in the shade of a large boulder. Soon enough though they'd be getting their workout while I lounged about in another part of the desert.

Mohammed pointed to the top of a mountain to a natural rock bridge tiny in the distance, "That's it up there. You want to go?" We confirmed that that was the same rock bridge we'd seen in the photos and I was crushed. It was way too high a climb for me in leather slides and I was cursing myself for having sent back my tennis shoes when I was in Rangoon. The guide without hesitation told me that he wouldn't advise me to attempt the climb in my sandals. The boys all wanted to go and I certainly couldn't begrudge them the opportunity and encouraged them to go up and to leave me with a strange man whom I felt certain was going to rape and murder me. "Are you kidding me? Y'all have got to go up there, I bet it's amazing" I assured them. An hour up and an hour down he told them and they started their assent.

Mohammed and I were heading to a shady spot when he offered to let me drive the jeep. I don't know how to drive but that didn't stop me. The car was 15 years old and it bore the scars of hundreds of dessert excursions. Trying to learn how to drive a stick shift in desert sand is asinine I've since decided. After practically destroying the gears in my overly zealous and feckless attempts he seemed content to let me drive it in a low gear loudly and slowly over humps and in the paths of previous vehicles. We parked and he began the inquisition that all the guidebooks advise you to lie about if you're traveling solo. I was winging it and making it up as I was going along. Here's what I came up with: My husband's name is Alexander, he's very handsome like a young Julian Sands, he's in Cairo on business and for some damn reason he's an artist. When asked more about that I played the fool, saying it was "the kind of job that I don't understand". Alexander and I don't have any children because I don't like kids in the least. Why? Because they irritate me -- that's why. Mohammed then asked if women in America and Europe can have two husbands and I assured them that they cannot. I then decided to get out and go for a walk.

A little over an hour passed when I looked up and saw some minute specks moving across the bridge. I zoomed in as much as I could but even then you couldn't even make out which of them it was on the bridge nor could I even see what color the person was wearing. As promised an hour later they descended.

As we were heading back to pick them up I asked Mohammed what was next on the agenda. "A smaller rock bridge" he told me. I asked if it was one that I could climb and he answered the affirmative adding that it was very easy. When the guys came down from what they all agreed was a difficult climb I told them where we were heading next. They thought I was joking.

We pulled up to a one story rock bridge and they seemed incredulous. I was thrilled to be able to go up my own baby-sized bridge and even then I was so terrified that Mohammed had to help me every step of the way. We got up, posed for photos and climbed down.

The sun was slowly starting to set so we began to head toward the campsite stopping along the way to play on another sand dune. Had the prospect of an overnight tent stay in the desert presented itself at the beginning of my journey I'd have been a bit hesitant. Now however I figured that it couldn't be any worse than some of the hotels I've slept in.

It was a large black Bedouin tent made of goat hair and filled with pillows, cushions and rugs, a hookah and a hearth overflowing with used coals and ashes. It was tall enough to stand upright in places and the décor was similar to my old Moroccan room I had when I lived in Chicago. It was more comfortable and better decorated than I'd anticipated and I was thrilled. Mohammed brought us tea in little glasses on a tray and we relaxed before heading out to snap up the sunset.

As darkness spread across the desert our guide lit a gas lamp and went to cook our meal for the evening. He returned with a gigantic steaming pot of stewed chicken and vegetables, a large bowl of rice and some yoghurt. Afterward he started a hypnotic fire in the metal hearth and we sat around and talked for hours. The temperatures outside had plummeted as we warmed ourselves by the blazing fire, squinting through periodic billows of smoke.

There was a so-called toilet out back but I conjured up everything inside me to remain calm and to stay put until I'd found a proper toilet. I was successful but Peter wasn't as lucky and went half the night across the cold sands of the desert to that dark hole. Each time he returned he was thrilled to regale us with fully detailed reports. I was far from envious.

After a better sleep than I thought possible I awoke to the subtle scratch of sand blowing against the tent like tiny pelts of ice. I wrapped my kafieh around me and stepped out to the rising sun, feeling the cold sand under my feet and stepped up on a boulder. Surveying the desert landscape in complete silence I brushed my teeth. What a way to wake up.

Moments later we gathered around a low table topped with a Bedouin rug as Mohammed's brother entered with a tray of pita bread, jams and cheese and a kettle of hot tea. We planned out our onward journey. We would share a taxi to the port city of Aqaba. Daniel would stay there and venture back north upward to Amman then onward to Syria. Peter, Thomas and I would take the ferry to Dahab, Egypt and branch out from there. Peter would stay in the Sinai for a few days before heading to England briefly before returning to Australia. Thomas' journey would be over in three days and he would fly out of Cairo and back to the Netherlands. I planned on relaxing in the beach town of Dahab for a few days and later make my way up to Cairo.

In the cab ride out of Wadi Rum the driver asked if we liked Arabic music. He turned up a warbled cassette of what sounded like very angry men singing under water with a strong pronounced beat. It was like a road movie playing the feel-good hit of the summer as the credits rolled. There we were crammed in the back of a taxi speeding past desert scenery dancing the spastic Nasser Dance as hard as we could and laughing ourselves mad.

It was great.
Christina
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