road trip days 2 & 3: petra, wadi rum, aqaba

Mom and I woke up early at our hotel in modern Petra city. We wanted to see as much of the ancient, archaeological city of Petra as we could. We only had half a day to do so before heading to the desert campsite at Wadi Rum.

Petra during the day is a sharp contrast to Petra by night. We took the same path to the Treasury Building that we had walked the night before. Gone were the paper bag lanterns that had cast a warm glow on the boulders shaded by night. Instead, the sun spread its light on every rock crevice. The landscape had gone from midnight purple to dusty pink and sandy orange. My eyes, freed from the limits of night vision, could finally make out the sheer depth of the stone formations around me.

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My mother was convinced that we should ride horses for at least some of the journey, partly to save energy but mostly for the novelty of it all. Little did we know that choosing which horses we would like to ride would spur a mini brawl amongst their owners, who seemed a little more than eager to win us over as customers.

Many people from the local Bedouin community work in the Petra archaeological city, selling rides on horses, donkeys, and camels; postcards, scarves, and jewelry; tours, and even a few minutes of music to be played on the rabab. Competition inevitably ensues between vendors to attract tourists, and sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming. In any case, we eventually got on our horses and my mother was as happy as she could be.

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We arrived at the Treasury Building and it was buzzing with life. Thousands of tourists from all over the world come everyday to visit this site. It attracts so many people because it is one of the Seven Wonders of the World and truly a sight to behold. I heard Italian, Chinese, Spanish, and other languages I couldn’t discern all around me. There was plenty of English being spoken too, but in different accents: English, American, Indian… the list goes on.

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We weaved among the crowds to get a few pictures in front of the monument, and decided that we wanted to spend more time in this area just taking it in. Mom and I ordered tea and Nescafe from the coffee stall nearby. We sipped our caffeinated drinks and pondered the sculptures that adorn the Treasury building. I later learned that the central female figure on the façade is probably a combination of the Egyptian goddess, Isis, and the Greek goddess of fortune, Tyche.*

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We spent a few more hours strolling around and still there was so much to see by the time we left. I guess the rest will have to wait until next time I visit Petra!

We packed our car and drove a couple hours south. Soon enough we ended up at Wadi Rum, a desert area near the border of Saudi Arabia. The beauty of this place is so outlandish that the movie “The Martian,” which is supposed to be set in Mars, was filmed here.

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To enter the desert reserve from the highway, you need to park your car and get in a four-wheel truck. This transition of vehicles only elevates the sense that you’re entering a different world. Mom and I sat in the back of the pick-up with the wind in our faces. The wheels whirred up sand and we entered the depths of the desert.

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Sand the color of burnt sienna surrounds us for miles; huge formations of rock stretch from the ground to the blue sky, which turns to pink, purple, and eventually black as the day passes into night.

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We spend our time in the desert relaxing at the campground, sipping sage tea by the fire. For sunset I climb to the top of a nearby dune and watch the light change before me. My mind feels quiet for the first time in days.

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Night sets in. There is a large traditional feast, with the meat and vegetables cooked in an underground oven. This is followed by music by the campfire. My favorite part of the evening is sitting amongst the stars. In the desert there is no light pollution like there is in the city. The celestial bodies of the sky burn bright in their unclouded brilliance. It’s as if someone scattered handfuls of glitter on a piece of black paper. They feel so close I could touch them. My mother grabs my hand and I can tell she’s thinking the same thoughts.

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The next morning we enjoy our last few moments in the desert relaxing over breakfast and more tea. And then we set off for our last destination on the road trip: Aqaba.

We drive west from the mainland to the coast. It only takes an hour to get to Aqaba. The city’s namesake is the Gulf of Aqaba, which feeds into the Red Sea. For a minute I feel as though I am in a different country. It’s not so unlikely: when standing at the port of Aqaba, you are merely a few kilometers away from Egypt, Israel, and Saudi Arabia.

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Aqaba is the only coastal city of Amman, and you can feel it in the air and landscape. It is strange to see a sandy beach in this country I have come to associate with beige valleys, mountains of rock, and occasional hills of green.

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We pass the day with simple pleasures: a boat ride along the water, lunch at a street side café, a stroll along the boulevard. We soak up the last of the sun’s rays and then we are back in the car, making the long trip back to Amman.

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* Thanks Khan Academy for educating me about all the cool historical artifacts out there! The citation regarding the statues in Petra comes from the following site: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ancient-art-civilizations/nabataean/a/petra-rock-cut-facades

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