Friday, March 29, 2013

Indiana Jones, camels, and Bedouin dancing

Yesterday was a full day full of excitement, rich culture, and lots of physical activities. We started the day bright and early hiking into Petra, an ancient dead city carved into solid rock by an ancient Arab tribe known as the Nabataeans. Some archaeologists have ranked Petra as the eight wonder of the ancient world, which is understandable once you see it.

Some people may know Petra from the movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which was where the Holy Grail was hidden. The building featured in the movie is known as Al-Khazneh, or the Treasury. It was carved in the 1st century BC as a tomb of an important Nabataean king, but it is also thought by scholars later have been used as a temple. Unbeknownst to me, it is only one of numerous monuments carved into the high sandstone hills known as Petra. Additionally, unlike the movie, the Treasury is not very deep. There is no inner courtyard or secret passages. Nonetheless, it was still spectacular to see this amazing feat of architecture and engineering. As a big fan of the Indiana Jones movie, I could not help but hum the theme song for the movie as I strolled through the valley of Petra. Consequently, I was greatly amused that on the way into Petra I spied a vendor who was selling bull whips and Fedoras like Indiana Jones.

The hike into Petra was one full of beautiful views and people from all over the world. It was approximately a one hour downhill hike to the Treasury. I rode a horse part way down, but probably should have left that part for the hike back up as it was all uphill. On the positive side of things, I got a great aerobic workout. Once we returned from Petra, I did a little shopping before we headed out for lunch and our next destination--Wadi Rum.

The drive to Wadi Rum took about 3 hours. We arrived in the late afternoon to the camp where we would be staying. Run by local Bedouins, the camp consisted of about 100 small Bedoiun style tents with short concrete walls and woven black and white goat hair blankets fashioned over a metal frame. Inside each tent were two beds on wooden frames with blankets and pillows. There were also a semi circle of hospitality tents in the center of camp with benches and tables resting low to the ground for meals and several seating areas with fire pits in the middle. In the middle of the hospitality tents was a large circular concrete patio that I later learned was for dancing.

After checking into our tents, our group had the opportunity of riding a caravan of camels a little way out of camp to watch the sunset. It was a much different experience than riding a horse-the wooden saddle was far less comfortable than that of a horse and getting up and down is a bit more precarious because the camel must sit down and stand up each time. However, I could not imagined a more perfect way to see our first sunset in the desert.

Once the sun went down, we enjoyed sitting around a camp fire before a delicious dinner of roasted lamb, rice, and other traditional Arabic cuisine. Soon afterwards, the DJ begun playing traditional Jordanian music and our companion from JUST, Moath, started leading a group of people in a traditional Bedoiun dance. I was surprised to see just how many faculty traveling on the trip let loose and got down on the dance floor. It was a great time enjoying authentic Aspects of Jordanian culture. Coupled with the opportunity to sleep in the desert in tents, yesterday was the best day in Jordan yet. This trip has been so amazing and has given me a whole new appreciation for Jordan and the Middle East. I am actually considering studying Arabic when I return home. Given our discussions for ongoing partnerships with JUST, I think it may come in handy.

Photo credit for Indiana Jones photo: Google images

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