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Published: March 19th 2016
Leaving Petra in the early morning, I caught a local bus to Wadi Rum, or rather to an intersection 20-25 kilometers away, since for me, it was the cheaper option, rather than catching the tourist bus. I didn’t have any idea if it was going to be easy or not to hitch a ride through the valley to the UNESCO World Heritage Site so all I could do was start to walk inlands towards the desert area and hope I could flag down a passing vehicle. 15 minutes and ½ dozen cars/trucks later a red-colored goat-hauling semi pulled over onto the shoulder ahead of me. I ran towards it and the driver kindly waved me in, which was easier said than done, as it was quite a climb up the vertical steps to the high cab above. A heavy pack on my back only made this feat even more difficult. I eventually made it, breathing out a sigh of relief, both for the much-appreciated ride and successfully making the climb. Introductions were next. My driver’s name was Bassam and he was from a nearby town called Ma’an; he had a wife and three children and one little one on the way.
That was it for communication in English.
Twenty minutes later, he dropped me at the turnoff, 3 KM from the Visitor’s Center. I thanked my driver, wished him well, somehow managed to clamber down from the cab, and once back in the blasting heat I quickly walked over to the shade of a large tree at the small nearby outpost, already exhausted. It was here I met three policemen who all offered me coffee but unfortunately didn’t have the number for the contact person at Salman Zwaidh Camp, where I had a booking for the next couple nights, despite the website stating, “the policemen have my number. They can make a call for you.” I realized at that point I had no way to contact the owner to find out where to go next. These kind officials tried making some calls to track the appropriate person down, seemingly to no avail. A number of times I tried to move on, as it was getting later in the day, but they wouldn’t let me go. Without being able to effectively communicate in a common language I didn’t really have much of an idea as to what was to
Salman Zwaidh Camp
My desert home for two nights
happen next; I just sat there, waiting patiently for fate to take hold.
The police/security guards (which consisted of the original three men plus two new guys who showed up, and then eventually back to the original three again) just wouldn’t let me leave. I watched a few near-empty cars and pickups drive past, turning right at the nearby Y intersection, heading towards “Rum,” as opposed to the villages outside the park, to the left, where I needed to go. The inquisitive yet polite and non intimidating policemen/security guards of course asked me my marital status, child status and age, something I haven’t heard since I left Nepal, since I have been traveling with others the past three weeks. This “so typical” question only gets asked when I am out and about on my own. I told the driver of the semi I had a boyfriend at the camp but no children and I told the security guards I was married. It may be a lie, it may be a fib, but it keeps wandering minds from, well, wandering, and the men from getting too frisky.
The guards kept telling me to “Wait, just wait.” Eventually they managed
The one on the right with the thick blankets as doors
to get a hold of someone and got the phone number for Salman Zwaidh. Before I knew it, the owner’s brother appeared, threw my pack in the trunk and with a quick wave of thanks to my saviors, we were off. It was another 20-minute drive to his village. We pulled into the house of Salman and his brood, where his 33-year old wife and seven children (one boy, 6 girls, the ages ranging from 6 months to 10 years old) greeted me kindly. At first shy it didn’t take long for his kids to warm up to me and soon we were playing patty cake and looking at family photo albums waiting for their father to show up to take me to the desert camp. His sweet wife made me tea while I waited….and waited some more. Finally, hours later, Salman showed, we quickly introduced ourselves, and then I was off. Again.
He drove me out to his hidden hideaway camp, down makeshift tracks in the sand, tucked somewhere deep in the desert. I threw my bags and two thick blankets into a two-bed “dorm” tent and then set about making dinner for myself, cooking up the scraps
The Inside of My Cozy Tent
I didn't have to share with anyone
I had managed to bring along from a nearby grocery: plain pasta with one piece of pita bread. As the day was rapidly coming to a close, and it was getting rather chilly, Salman made a warm and inviting fire outside in the portable fire pit. After dinner, while sitting on separate thin mattresses spread out on the ground around the fire, we drank tea that my host had made.
We made small conversation, as his English was limited. He told me he would be staying the night out there at this remote desert camp (in a different tent), which, for safety’s sake, was a good thing. There were no other guests staying at the camp for either of my two nights there, so, other than the owner, I had the place to myself. It was, in essence, my own private desert camp.
I finished my tea, called it a night, and headed to my tent under a sky littered with stars, and a beautiful half-moon illuminating the surrounding granite rocks. It was unusually quiet and I figured I was probably the only one around for miles. It was peaceful, relaxing, and perfect. I looked forward to having
no agenda the next day, just reading, resting and exploring my surroundings.
Days end early in the desert when there isn’t anyone to talk to and with a nearly-dead battery in my head torch and exhaustion setting in quickly, it didn’t take long before I was sound asleep. It was 8:15pm.
After a morning cup of tea and warming up by a freshly made fire, my host left for the day. He said he’d be back in “four or six hours.”
Before he left, Salman asked if I wanted chicken rice for dinner and once again I told him I had my own pasta, which would suit me just fine for an evening meal. He said there would be no charge for the meal and he wanted to make it for me. Well, how could I argue with that? Chicken rice it was then.
I busied myself during the day by wandering around the camp, climbing a few rocks (although I didn’t go too high – I’d be seriously screwed if I fell) and trudging through the thick sand, explored the nearby area. I found another neighboring camp not so far away, although it was deserted
since it was off-season. I luxuriated in the fact I didn’t need
to do anything that day and wasn’t in any sort of hurry.
I watched the sun go down behind some distant rocks but there wasn’t much for me to do after 5pm, when it was already dark, but sit and wait for my host to return to the camp again.
He arrived exactly at 6pm, over nine hours after he had set off this morning, bringing firewood from the village. In true Jordanian spirit and hospitality, he set out straightaway to make me tea, and once we got the fire going, he surprised me with a humungous platter of chicken rice with all sorts of delicious vegetables, herbs and homemade goodness. He also brought pita bread. I gorged myself silly on the wonderful and tasty meal that he later told me his wife had made for me.
We talked again this evening over another fire, this time under the roof of the rain shelter since it was too chilly to sit outside. Conversation was stilted and awkward, with his limited knowledge of English and my non-existent knowledge of Jordanian or Arabic. Many things were repeated
View of the Camp
...from inside my snuggly tent
just for the sake of conversation. I stared deep into the fire, mesmerized as always, and full to the brim with a satisfying dinner.
I soon staggered to my tent and fell instantly into a food coma. I was tired from my do-nothing day, despite it only be 7:45.
We left camp the next morning and were in his small town by 9am, at which time he dropped me off on the side of the road near a bus stop.
I waited at this bus stop only fifteen minutes and then decided to start walking, as I had no idea if a bus was even going to show up, let alone stop for me. One man stopped his truck and offered me a lift to Wadi Rum, but I declined since I wasn’t going that direction. I started walking, naturally thinking all the while, “Am I going to get picked up?” At 9:30 a man decked out in a red and white turban with two kids in the back seat said he was going “seven minutes up the road” to the gas station and would I like a lift; at least, I thought, it would get me
that much closer to where I needed to be and accepted his kind offer. At the gas station, I thanked him, waved goodbye to the utterly confused and bemused children, and continued on my way.
It only took five minutes of walking when a lovely elderly couple picked me up in their run down SUV and took me to the crossroads, where the bus had dropped me off a few days before my relaxing desert camp experience. I got there at 9:55 just as an Aqaba-Amman bus sped past. “Damn,” I thought to myself, “I missed that bus by mere seconds,” knowing they only come once an hour. At the crossroads there were two other people (locals) also trying to hitch. “I think it is not going to be easy to catch a ride,” I kept thinking to myself, as time slowly ticked onwards. Cars and trucks zipped by constantly and it was then I gained a new appreciation for hitchhikers. It was windy, dust and sand were in the air, but thankfully the sun kept me warm.
Then, a semi truck stopped. I hadn’t even flagged it down; in fact, I had just walked over to one
My (hitched) Ride Back to Amman
It actually took me five rides to get from Wadi Rum back to Amman, but I managed to get there in one day
of the other hitchhikers to ask a question (Are you going to Amman?) when the big rig pulled over to the side of the road, behind me. I don’t know why this man didn’t think he could go as well or take the first come first serve attitude and hop on board instead of me? Was it because I am a female? Was it because he was going a different way? Was it because I am a foreigner? Maybe the driver signaled to him that he was there to pick me up and not the guy – what do I know? Certainly not the answer. All I know is this other hitchhiker indicated I should take the ride and I took it.
I hopped aboard and met 37-year old Achmed the driver and Mohammed, an 18-year old kid riding with him. The kid moved to the seat behind us, graciously offering the front passenger seat to me. As soon as I got settled they offered me a cigarette. Oh great, smokers! I should have known. We stopped at a roadside trucker café for a thick cup of Arab coffee to go, and the
driver insisting on paying for mine. They both spoke very little English but of course the driver asked me about my marital status by imitating putting a ring on the appropriate finger of his left hand. I had to say I was married of course – it’s just easier that way when dealing with certain men. The boy smoked once in the vehicle before the coffee stop but they could both see I was struggling with the fumes and I think for my benefit they didn’t smoke as much as they otherwise would have. When he just had to light up, the polite driver made it a point to blow the smoke out the window.
At noon, we passed a sign indicating there was still 190 KM to go until Amman. Sitting high in this semi truck I realized it was not going to be a fast journey; we were traveling about 100 KM/hr max speed on the empty roads. My driver and his young friend were kind but conversation was practically nil, naturally, with no understanding of each other’s language. This sure makes a rather exciting and adventurous way of traveling.
We soon stopped at a small
building. The driver got out, disappeared inside and soon came back with sandwiches for all. It was just as tasty as it looked although as hungry as I was I could easily have eaten a second one.
The driver looked like a cross between Burt Reynolds back in “the day” and George Clooney today. Achmed even had a good sense of humor and asked a number of times if I wanted to drive his truck. He insisted on giving me his number although I would never call it. Sometimes I’m glad I don’t have a phone.
Rather unexpectedly, 2.5 hours after climbing up onto this lofty rig, I got dropped off on the side of the road on the outskirts of Amman. No sooner had I crossed the road expecting to stand for a while before getting a ride, a vegetable truck came along and stopped for me. I hadn’t even been standing there 20 seconds. The driver’s cigarette was extinguished instantly when I expressed dislike for the thing; I didn’t have to say anything, it must have involuntarily been written on my face. I drew a picture of a bus, he nodded profusely, and then we both
erupted in laughter at the pathetic-ness of my attempt at a drawing and also at the absurdity that we were able to communicate effectively with zero common words between us and one sad-looking picture. I was hoping he would understand I was looking to take a bus into the city and would he mind taking me to a city bus stop somewhere.
Nineteen minutes later, the polite, kind veggie deliveryman dropped me under an overpass so that I would be able to catch a bus into town on that busy highway. When I hopped out of the vehicle, he gave me a solid man-handshake and grinned really wide. Feet on the ground, I turned and instantly met a man named Mahmud who just happened to be waiting in that very spot for a friend of his. Instead of taking the bus, he volunteered said friend to drop me near where I needed to go. His English was good and he seemed harmless; he was a businessman, a gentleman and someone just trying to help a stranger out. Perfect! About 10 minutes of waiting and a few phone calls later, he found out his friend had taken the wrong road
and was too far away to turn back and pick him – or us - up. Mahmud decided to just walk home, which was supposedly near that overpass area. He told me he worked at the Thrifty Car Rental, which I was able to see from where I had been patiently waiting. Mahmud said it’s “dead season now” with relation to the issues going on in Jordan’s neighboring countries, especially with the civil unrest in Syria. He said tourism was seriously down.
We walked together over to the nearby Thrifty where Mahmud arranged for his Mercedes Benz driving work comrade to drive me to the City Center (what a smooth, luxuriating ride that was!), whereby, at the street corner where I had asked to be dropped off, he (the driver) offered me some money for my hotel room, thinking I might be short on cash. I assured him I was fine. “Are you sure you have enough?” he inquired, more than once. I nodded, thanked him for this starling display of generosity but politely declined. He insisted on giving me his number and email address, in case I “get into trouble” or need someone to translate.
This ride turned out to be a perfect and unexpected turn of fate. This driver of my fifth transport of the day was heading home anyway, and didn’t live too far from where I happened to be staying so he wasn’t going out of his way at all to drop me off.
He, like the other drivers today, is an example of an unselfish, honorable person with no expectations, just a genuine heartfelt display of concern and thoughtfulness, something I found throughout my short stay in Jordan.
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