Our road trip to the south of Jordan started on Wednesday, when we left Amman early in the morning from school to the Dead Sea. We arrived around 9:30 am at a lovely beach and pool complex, where we could "swim" in the water, or the gorgeous pool, as much as we liked. My friends and I ran down the hill to the beach, even though the weather was already stifling. The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth, 330 meters below sea level, so it's reeeeally hot
. When we got in the salty water, which is 8 times more salty than a normal ocean, we were shocked to find, even though we had heard all about it, that we floated on the surface! We could do synchronized swimming, roll around like floppy manatees, and read books while sitting in the warm water. The water was really slimy from the intense salt, and we would be in great pain if it got in any cuts or our eyes (which happened a few times). Still, it was an incredible experience to feel so buoyant and invincible on top of the water. We didn't want to get out, but my hair was covered in salt after around an hour, and my body felt really icky, so we took showers and went swimming in the beautiful pool, which was surrounded by palm trees and looked out over the sea. However, when I first got in, I forget I actually had to work to stay afloat, so I sunk right down to the bottom! My friends got a good laugh out of it and it was certainly a good lesson learned haha.
Sadly, as much as none of us wanted to leave, we had to continue our journey, so we got back on the bus and left to go to Madaba (again) for lunch. It was a quick stop, where we ate falafel sandwiches from a roadside shop, and then it was on to Aqaba. The journey to Aqaba took a good 4 to 5 hours by bus, and we stopped a few times at roadside Arabic "trucker stops", which were even more dirty and gross than their American counterparts. Thankfully, though, we made it to Aqaba around 6 pm, and checked into our very nice, Air conditioned, hotel
. I had forgotten what luxuries air conditioning and big beds were! It was awesome! Then, our teacher, Khalood, took us to her favorite shops in the town, where she buys lots of pretty shirts and dresses and other souvenirs. She's an incredibly sweet and wonderful woman, so we had a lot of fun shopping with her. We ate outside at the Ali Baba restaurant and watched the sunset while eating kebabs and hummus and all sorts of other favorites. The sunset over the desert hills surrounding Aqaba was incredible, and after the sun was down, we decided to walk around in the warm ocean breeze. We made it down to the public beach, which was, to be honest, absolutely disgusting. It smelled like sewage from the port-a-potties that were leaking everywhere, and trash was everywhere. We climbed over the rock wall onto the beach itself using a bent piece of sheet metal shaped like stairs that everyone was using, and walked carefully to the shore where people were swimming in the kind-of nasty water. We only stayed long enough to look around, and then we decided to head back to the hotel. Margaret and Gabe, brave souls, went back to swim later, but the rest of us hung out in my room and watched the first part of Lawrence of Arabia on Duncan's computer. It was fun to see some of the sights we were going to, as it was all filmed in Jordan, but it's a slow, older movie so I ended up falling asleep on my bed a few times haha.
The next day, Thursday, we woke up early to eat breakfast and then leave to go out a few miles south of Aqaba where there are huge reefs for snorkeling and diving
. We hired a glass-bottomed boat for the whole group, and, wearing our bathing suits, got in to explore the reefs. They were gigantic and the water was so clear! We saw tons of different kinds of fish, a sunken Turkish boat, and coral in all different shapes and sizes! Then, the driver stopped the little boat, and my friends convinced me to jump off of the front of it with them into the clear water below. I was so scared! Margaret and I counted to three, and jumped into the warm water screaming haha. The surf was very strong because of all the wind on the water, so we had to swim hard to stay afloat in the tall waves. But, we were determined to see the reefs, so five of us, facing buckets of salt water in our mouths and noses, managed to get on some masks and look at the incredible coral beneath us. I swam with some tropical fish, and hovered over enormous pieces of coral. I was so scared, but it was amazing! By the time we got out, we were exhausted, but well worth our energy. As the boat drove us back to the shore, we sat on the front of the ship and felt the wind in our hair and the sun on our faces as we bobbed over the waves. It was so much fun! Back at shore, we carefully tip-toed through the sharp rocks and coral to get a little deeper where we could swim in the warm water. I cut my feet a few times, but it was worth it to relax in the waves. Around us, lots of Jordanians were playing in the water. It was fascinating to watch the women and girls, though, because they all had to war long sleeves into the water as a part of their Muslim beliefs
. Everyone was having a great time, though, and a few kids bumped into us while they were face-down in the water with their snorkeling gear on. After another hour on the beach, we reluctantly had to leave, so we took quick showers and hopped back on the bus. However, we were all really excited for our next stop, which was Wadi Rum.
As we drove north of the Red Sea to Wadi Rum around noon on Friday, the landscape changed dramatically. All of the sudden, we were in a region of giant sand dunes, colorful stone mountains, and entirely uninhabited areas. As we drove into the Wadi Rum national park, surrounding us were red and tan stone mountains emerging from the vast sandy plains. We reached our camp after driving twenty minutes in the park, where we each had little tents with two cots and a table with candles on it. They were so cute, and very late- 19th century explorer- esque. Our camp was nestled in between two large rock mountains, and there was a "bayet- shar", or Bedouin style tent with mats to sit in, a camp fire, and an amazingly clean bathroom! Hooray! Almost immediately, we emerged from our camp to see a herd of camels and their owners in the parking lot, ready for us to ride them. So, for the first time ever, I climbed up onto my camel (it was one of the really big ones!), and then my camel lurched up onto its feet, with me almost screaming on top. It was so scary! I was sooo high up, but it was so cool! All of the group then traveled around on our camels, like a big caravan, which was so much fun
! Just when we thought things couldn't get better than camels, three pickup trucks pull into our parking lot. Each on had these benches in the back, and we were told to get in to go DUNE BASHING!!! It was absolutely incredible. Our drivers took us flying through the desert, over dunes and in between mountains in the back of our truck. It was awesome! We stopped at one mountain and climbed a rock face to the top, then explored some caves below. Then, we found a giant sand dune on the side of a mountain, which we all climbed (slowly) to the very top. Once we had caught our breath, we rolled down the red sand to the bottom! It was incredible! At the bottom was a "bayet shar" tent where a Bedouin man made us delicious tea while we shook the sand out of our clothes. I couldn't stop smiling haha. Afterwards, we got back in the truck and drove to another mountain, where we climbed to watch the sunset over the mountains. It was the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen, and even made me tear up a little. Sadly, my brand new camera was acting up a lot because it got a ton of sand in it from the desert, which was a real problem, so I wasn't able to take any pictures. Don't worry though, because the next day, with the help of some amazing friends, I was able to get it fixed, so I have plenty of pictures, but that's a story for a little later. As the sunset, we sat on the top of the mountains and saw the mountains light up in deep reds and yellows and purples. It was breathtaking. Once it was dark, we climbed down the rocks, and drove back in our trucks to our camp
. But our night was far from over .
When we returned, Alissa, Gabe, Margaret, and I climbed up into the valley between the two hills at our camp, and laid down on a rock ledge to watch the stars. I've never seen such a clear night sky. As we talked, I saw around twenty shooting stars, and a few satellites (which at first I thought were slow shooting stars, because I had never seen a satellite before, but turns out I was wrong haha). The Milky Way was so clear and the stars were really twinkling, which I had never actually seen before! We had to go, though, because it was time for us to eat a delicious meal cooked at the camp. We had chicken and lamb that had been cooked in an underground over, that basically looked like a pit walled with metal and then covered with a metal lid. The food was delicious, though! We ate around a roaring fire the Duncan, Xander, and I worked hard to create, and talked about how great our day had been. After dinner, two men with drums and a guitar/lute-like instrument set up close to the camp fire and began to play music. It was very catchy, and soon everyone was up and dancing. We learned different dances to do in a circle, and other ways to dance to the specific music. We were having so much fun, but then we realized that Gabe and Margaret had gone. Where were they, we were wondering? Suddenly, our teachers started smiling, and a big group of people emerged from behind the tent with Margaret and Gabe in the center
. But, they had dressed them in typical Bedouin wedding clothes, and were pretending to have a wedding ceremony! It was so funny to see the two of them playing along, with Gabe making jokes about how many camels he paid for her and all of us saying "M'brouk!" or congratulations while we all danced to the music around the campfire. It was so much fun! Eventually, though, everyone started to get tired, so we prepared for bed. Alissa and I moved our mattresses and blankets out of the tent onto the ground so we could sleep under the stars (which I had never done before!), while Gabe, Margaret, and Amira dragged blankets up to the rock face to sleep between the hills. It was so beautiful, but I quickly fell asleep counting shooting stars...
Around 5:30, all five of us woke up to watch the sunrise over the hills surrounding our camp. We walked into the center of a vast, dry plain and sat down to watch the sun come up. We sang "Here comes the sun" and "the circle of life" as the whole valley lit up. It was so much fun, even if we were really tired. We tried to go back to sleep afterwards, but I couldn't, so Gabe and I sat in the shade of the hills and chatted. Soon, we left to go explore behind the hills at our camp, so Gabe, Alissa, and I hiked through the little valley between the hills and emerged into another giant valley, with even more rock hills. We decided to climb one of them, and even though I was scared to death, the other two pushed me to try, so I made it up pretty high, even with almost a sheer drop down below
. I got really scared, though, so the other two climbed even higher while I carefully shimmied down the smooth rock face to the ground below. One I had made it, though, I felt such a rush of pride and self-esteem- I could do anything! It was such an incredible feeling. Once the other two came down, we walked back to camp for breakfast. As we entered camp, though, we found out the Margaret had been stung by a scorpion in her tent while we'd been gone! We were scared to death, but we soon found out that she had been taken to a local doctor to get the shots she needed, and while she was shaken up, she would be fine. We were so relieved when we saw her that we all gave her a big hug. Then, we sat down for a lovely breakfast in the hot morning sun, and soon after packed up to leave. It was sad to leave such a beautiful place, but we were on our way to Petra.
That's all I'm going to write about for now, because I'm tired from the trip and need a nap. Also, I don't have the pictures I took from this half of the trip yet, because my friend Amira was kind enough to download them onto her laptop when my memory card ran out of memory so I could have more space. Once I get them from her, though, I'll post them so you can see. She has a website with all of the amazing photos she's taken from this trip, with her very fancy camera, so if you'd like to see them you can go to this site- http://picasaweb.google.com/septemberdilemma/AmiraInJordan?authkey=30sCLJR3p_Q
I promise to write more once I get a chance so I can tell you all about little Petra, Petra, Dana nature reserve, and Karak (aka the rest of the trip). I miss you all, but this trip was incredible, and I hope some day I can take you all back with me here to see these places. I hope you're all doing well! I miss you very much!
Well, I'm back from my trip, safe and sound. It was literally one of the most incredible experiences of my life, and it was so much fun that I never wanted our travels to end. I took tons and tons of pictures, so hopefully I'll be able to post a lot of them, but if not I'll make sure you see all of them eventually. I did things I never thought I'd do in my life, and grew a ton as a person. So much happened that I'll try to tell you all as much as I can, but be patient! Haha. So here it goes...