Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Bringing in the New Year

Before January ends, I want to write briefly about the unforgettable New Year I had back in Jordan. I promise my next post will be about Germany, but my last couple weeks in Jordan were a whirlwind of last minute sightseeing, project work, and emotions. I have decompressed since and would love to share this last Middle East adventure!

On New Year's Eve, a good friend and I took the bus from Amman to Aqaba, a coastal city in Southern Jordan on the Red Sea. Aqaba (and the Red Sea in general) is known for being a great snorkeling and diving site. Upon arrival, Catriona and I immediately rented snorkel gear and wetsuits and headed for the water. Like everything else in Jordan, this experience totally exceeded my expectations! No more than 10 meters from the beach, I felt like I was transported into Finding Nemo! The fish were exquisite, the plant life was unbelievable. It was just incredible.

While we could have explored for hours, it was a bit chilly. We warmed up and walked along the beach, watching the sunset and marveling at the fact that we could see Israel and Egypt across the water. Even more interesting was the signpost near our hostel that read "10km to Saudi Arabia". A nice little reminder of where I was in the world.

That night, we ate the most delicious fresh, grilled fish ever. I hadn't had fish since Japan and this was a welcome change from lentils and pita bread. I think the only thing Catriona and I could talk about during dinner was how good the fish was. Ok, now my mouth is watering, excuse me while I go get a snack... :)

The next day (New Year's Day), my travel buddy had to head back to Amman. But I traveled to Wadi Rum for a one day/one night tour of the desert. A whole group of us bobbed around in the back of jeeps and pickups as our Bedouin guides showed us the sights. Here are some of the highlights:

Met this guy when I first arrived.

This was the first of many rock scrambles/ hikes/ climbs for the day, to what used to be a spring. I didn't see any water, but was greeted instead by some goats!

This was my ride for the day. The sun was out and it warmed my cold bones. 

Next, we went to this HUGE sand dune. One of the guides gave me his board...I attempting to stay standing, but it was much more fun to just sit and slide down. Also, I unknowingly brought a bunch of red sand with me to Germany. I am still dumping it out of my shoes and finding it in my bag. Oops.

Here are some ancient camel hieroglyphs! I'm only partially convinced that these are ancient... Come on, how easy would it be for people to just add some nice carvings into the rock...? Just kidding. I'm sure they're legit. ;)

Our lunch spot. The most "in the middle of nowhere" I think I've ever been. We gathered some kindling for a small fire so we could have hot tea. I was glad I got to have more Bedouin whiskey before I left Jordan.

The afternoon was filled with more hiking, the supposed site of Lawrence's house (Lawrence of Arabia), interesting trees, and a climb up to a rock bridge that ensured I exceeded my adrenaline limit for the day.

Yep, that's me up there on the bridge... Now, I'm not afraid of heights, but I am quite cautious. I was acutely aware of the fact that one wrong move of my weary legs could be detrimental... Let's just say I was glad to be back solidly on the ground after this climb. This whole day also made think about how we really can't do stuff like this in the U.S. Tour companies or parks would be way to concerned about liability issues. You'd have to sign some kind of extensive waiver and follow all the rules. My tour guide/jeep driver, Ahmad, didn't seem to concerned about safety, just that we have a good time.

We watched the sunset, with more hot tea, before heading back to the camp for a delicious meal and chatting around the fire. When I got up from the fire to head to bed, I happened to look up at the sky. What I saw literally took my breath away. I have NEVER in my life seen so many stars. Despite the cold, I wandered a little way outside the camp in the pitch dark, laid down with a rock as a pillow, and just took it all in. I had spent the day marveling at God's creation, but being underneath that blanket of stars, I couldn't help but pray and sing praises to Him.

I can understand how the Israelites might have complained a bit after 40 years of wandering around in the desert. But you know what, I would quite like to wander around Wadi Rum for a few weeks, eating manna and exploring the vastness. One day just wasn't enough. 

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