Mars on Earth in the Wadi Rum Desert

Today we are headed to the protected Wadi Rum desert, which you’ll probably recognize as the otherworldly backdrop for movies like The Martian and Rogue One.  After a truly exhausting morning of hiking through Petra, we were picked up by our pre-arranged driver to take us to Wad Rum.  We had booked a “high end” transfer service, so imagine our surprise when a busted up taxi rolled in to pick us up.  The drive is less than two hours, so we figure we can make the best of it.  Except it gets worse. Once in route, our driver informed us that he had to get to a class at the University and that his dad would drive us instead.  We asked the obvious question – where the hell is your dad?  Oh, Dad is just at home.  So now we are making a pit stop at a random house in Wadi Musa to get dear old Dad.  When we arrived, Dad came out and informed us that his son would actually be driving us.  Not the son who picked us up.  His other son, who reeks of cologne and stares a little too long in the rear-view mirror.  We basically met the whole damn family at this point.  Stay with me here, people, because it gets weirder.  We stopped at an ATM and Drew hopped out to get some cash, leaving me in the car with Jordanian Rico Suave, who told me I am beautiful and said I could put my feet on the center console if I’d like.  I graciously declined.  He then mentioned that he does some side work as a masseuse “for women” in Petra, and said he can give me a foot massage “no problem” while he drives.  I laughed.  He did not.  I swear to you this man was dead serious. Homeboy had a legit foot fetish. He even asked me what size shoe I wore.  It was the longest ATM run of my life.

The rest of the drive was uneventful, through barren desert and large red mountains that reminded me of Utah.  At one point we passed by a group of shabby tents that looked like a desert crack den and I joked to Drew “we’re here!”.  I then asked him what he would have done if that was actually where we were staying and he responded, “I would strangle you and let the driver massage your dead feet”.  That boy is such a fucking gem.

Once we arrived in Wadi Rum, we transferred to a jeep and were driven out to our desert camp for the night.  From the back of the jeep, the stunning landscape of Wadi Rum came into view.  It really is Mars on earth.  We pulled up to Memories Aicha Luxury Camp, which is the premier fancy-ass desert camp of Wadi Rum. This place is supposed to be as good as it gets.  I don’t want to say the website lied, but their photographer should definitely get a raise.  And probably a job with national geographic.  There is a lot of new construction going on as they are building new domes to expand the camp.  I hate arriving at a hotel and finding construction is going on.  But you gotta roll with the punches on Mars.

Mars bubble tents in Wadi Rum

Our tent, however, is delightful.  It looks like Ali Baba’s brothel.  I’m into it.  The restaurant and lounge area in the back of the camp is also quite fabulous, so I’m warming up to the place quickly.  We have a few hours to spare before our sunset desert jeep tour, so I spend some time relaxing in the outdoor lounge while drew took a nap (he is still sick and feeling like complete and total shit).

A few hours before sunset we head out on a jeep tour of the Wadi Rum desert.  This tour was awesome.  It lasted the optimal tour length of 2 hours, and covered all the highlights.  Our first stop was a large sand dune with sweeping views of the unearthly landscape of Wadi Rum. It was an astounding view of the stark red desert surrounded by gargantuan monolithic rust colored mountains.  I’m going to let the pictures do most of the talking here…

The next stop was Khazali Canyon, a deep and narrow crack in one of the towering mountains that you can hike through, with pools of  rain water at your feet.  The walls are lined with Nabatean petroglyphs and Islamic inscriptions.  While climbing out we encountered a French couple very fond of extreme sports and going to great lengths to impress the same interests on their young child.  They were trying to teach him to rappel down a rock from a rope that his father was holding.  First mom showed him and then insisted he try.  This kid could not have been older than five.  He gave it a shot and smacked his face into the rock.  He was scolded his Lara Croft wannabe mom who yelled at him “you know how to do this!”.  Andrew speaks high school level French so we are all up this family’s business.  They were borderline bullying their own child.  As someone who has far less athletic ability than everyone else in my family, I was appalled.

The next stop was Little Rock Bridge, a bridge-like rock formation that offers more great views of the desert.  And who did we run into here?  The adrenaline junkie Frenchies, of course!  Femme fetale Mom and Dangerous Dad were urging their son to jump off a VERY high boulder.  I’m talking ankle-breaking high.  He was visibility terrified, but at the insistence of his parents he jumped.  I cringed.  At the bottom he grabbed his lower legs, crying that it hurt.  Mom told him he was fine.  Is this a child rearing technique?  Because I am not into it.   They probably made the poor kid sleep outside the tent tonight for embarrassing them.  I could practically write the script to that kid’s future therapy sessions.

Little Rock Bridge, Wadi Rum

Lastly, we made a stop at a rock formation that we climbed to watch the sunset.

Let’s talk about dinner.  It was, quite frankly, the Middle Eastern buffet of my dreams.  This was the food I had been expecting to eat all damn trip.  An amazing assortment of mezze in a beautifully arranged spread, with a chef at the end of the line serving me roasted lamb.  Finally.  Andrew was still feeling shitty with very little appetite so I had no choice but to pick up the slack.  There is no “I” in team, and there isn’t one in “fast ass” either.  By my second plate I was fully aware of the uncomfortable night I was signing up for, but I proceed eyes wide open and accepting of my fate.  Because this is food that tastes as good as skinny feels.  I brought my own wine to dinner but didn’t even crack it open because that meant less room for the food.  I’m completely serious.  I went to bed with meat sweats not shortly thereafter.

Rise and shine at 5am for our sunrise camel ride!  By the time I get home, waking up for work will just feel self-indulgent.   We did a quick fifteen minutes camel ride out to watch the sunrise, led by a ten year-old Bedouin guide.  I think this may have been the kid’s first solo mission, because he looked stoked that dad was letting him take us out on his own.  At least until one of the camels kicked the shit out of his leg.  He limped a little after that…Andrew and I both later confessed that we wondered if he got kicked on purpose to increase his tips.  We are such cynical and contemptuous pricks.

After breakfast we packed up and headed back to town for our pickup to drive to the dead sea.  I’m not going to go into too much boring detail, but suffice it to say that this tour company we used to book all our transfers screwed the pooch again.  One fuck up I can forgive.  Shit happens.  But two in twenty-four hours and I can only assume that you are either lazy or just suck at your job.  Either way, I’ve overpaid.  It was the last straw – I called the owner and lost my shit on him.   Remember in real housewives when Vickie Gunvalson goes bat shit crazy on a driver service for sending a “family van” to take her group to the airport? It was definitely not that bad. Over and hour of my trip has now been wasted, which doesn’t sound like much, but I did the math and that is almost 1% of my total vacation.  So yeah, still not much at all.  Now that I’m looking at my calculator I might feel slightly like an impatient psycho.  I’ll take a note to work on my patience if the rest of the world will take a note to stop fucking with me.  For the record, I did get us reimbursed for yesterday’s kinky-feet transfer.

We’ll continue this adventure about four hours north at the Dead Sea!

The Petra Triple Play

Drew and I were up early to cross the Allenby Bridge border crossing from Israel into Jordan.  This border crossing is notoriously a complete shit show that can take up to five hours and just happens to be the only crossing into Jordan where they do NOT issue visas upon arrival, so preparation was key here.  First, we had to mail our passports to the Jordanian Embassy in Washington D.C. to get our visas ahead of time.  We then arranged for VIP border crossing transfer service.  What a fucking racket that is.  We showed up at the border expecting to see something akin to a third-world refugee camp, and instead found a completely empty building with more workers to assist us than people actually crossing the border.   They took us into a joke of a VIP lounge for about ten minutes, then ushered us into a VIP van, where they drove around the building in a complete circle, back to the front to retrieve our bags, which were about ten feet from where we had originally handed them off to this VIP team.  They then drove us to the Jordan side to another empty building where waited another ten minutes while they cleared us through immigration and then kindly said get the hell out and wait for your driver on the curb.  After all that build up I’m almost disappointed it was so damn easy.  No doubt that VIP service was completely unnecessary, but better to be safe than sorry.  One quirky thing about Jordan – everyone kept saying “you’re welcome” to us, and I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to have thanked them for.  It took me a few hours to realize that what they meant was “you are welcome in our country”.  I thought they were being sarcastic and calling me ungrateful.  In summary, I’m a jaded bitch and the people of Jordan are quite lovely.

We hopped in a lovely air-conditioned Hyundai and drove about three hours to Petra, stopping at shitty tourist trap buffet restaurant on the way, but hey, a gal has to eat. We checked into Petra Guest House Hotel, which literally overlooks the entrance to Petra.  Convenience is key when you have less than 24 hours to cover one of the seven modern wonders of the world. The original plan was to attend “Petra by night” tonight and then be up at 6am when the gates open for a half day to explore tomorrow.  Plans changed once I got some information at the visitor’s center and decided to do a few hours with a tour guide today so we could get all the historical info at the typical tour guide snails pace, and then power through the aggressive hikes early tomorrow morning at our normal insane pace.  This way I avoid trying to rush the guide so that I can squeeze in the hikes I want to do in just one morning.  That means three trips into Petra in less than 18 hours.  I know, I’m a lunatic.  Drew is slightly less than thrilled but is humoring me because I have been waiting for this day for a very long time.

We napped for a few hours until 4pm when it cooled off a bit and met up with our Petra tour guide, Ahmad, who led us leisurely through the Siq (picture the Zion narrows without water), to the Treasury (the insanely famous temple you have seen a million times), and down the main drag to the Theater and Great Temple complex.  We stopped often and were given a lot of information, but I didn’t mind the unhurried pace because Ahmad was on his shit.  He grew up as a Bedouin in Petra, and would actually take refuge in the old tombs of Petra during the rains as a young boy.  This guy isn’t just a local, he’s a legit descendent of the Nabateans (the people who built Petra).  He is also full of little gems of wisdom, for example, “Jordan is like a quiet house on a noisy street”, in reference to the peaceful nature of Jordanian people.  Overall, it was a great introduction to Petra.  We headed back quickly to shower and have a dinner before Petra by night…

Here is what “Petra by Night” is marketed as: Meandering through the narrow and mysterious canyon of the Siq in the dark, guided by nothing but candles, until the awe-inspiring beauty of the majestic Treasury comes into view, lit up by twinkling lights while a local musician to serenades you.  Petra by Night in actually:  Stand in a hoard of tourists waiting at the entrance gates and then be bum rushed while you very unconfidently stumble through the Siq on uneven, sandy pavement guided by some candles but mostly iphones.   As the Treasury comes into view, you must first maneuver around the ignorant tourists who have stopped dead in their tracks in the middle of a moving line to take a picture, and you are rushed into rows of seating on the ground.  You then spend twenty minutes watching people repeatedly attempt (and fail) to get a decent picture in the dark while a random flute plays in the background.  They finally light up the Treasury façade with some rave lights and the crowd goes ape shit with their cameras.  An old Bedouin tells a “story” that is actually a sales pitch to use their guide services the following day.  The end.  Luckily, we brought rose in water bottles – you are not surprised – so we had our own entertainment. For those of you who took bets on the Israeli wine situation – I don’t hate it.

The next morning, we were ready at the gates for the 6am opening.  Andrew woke up sick, but he’s a champ and will power through it.  Our first stop was the hike to the infamous viewpoint that overlooks the Treasury.  Our guide from yesterday warned us that this hike is dangerous and we should definitely not do it.  Sorry Ahmad, but that Instagram pic ain’t gonna take itself. We paid the Jordanian kids at the bottom of the Treasury to show us the way up the side of the mountain.  It actually was not bad at all from a danger standpoint.  And you are talking to the gal who bitched out on the Angels Landing hike in Zion, so if I say it’s safe you can trust me.  Since the early bird catches the worm, we had the entire viewpoint to ourselves.  On our way down we passed some girls in dresses and flip flops making their way up.  For the record, that is definitely dangerous. But I’m sure they’ll look adorable in their pics, so priorities.  We decided they were Americans, for obvious reasons.

Next up was hellish hike up 850 stairs to the Monastery, which looks somewhat similar to the Treasury, but with much more peace and quiet since all the fat, lazy tourists have been weeded out.  I’m sure some of you smug ass holes are sitting at home on your ass and thinking that 850 stairs doesn’t sound all that bad. And you might be right.  But please note that I said STAIRS and not STEPS.  That does not take into account the parts of the hike that are not technically stairs.  Please also factor in that we are in the middle fucking east and it’s hotter than hades.  By the time we finished the Monastery hike, were exhausted and dreaming of the breakfast buffet waiting for us back at the hotel.  We hiked back to the Treasury where we found a guy with a horse-drawn carriage and we happily paid the man to sprint us the last mile back through the Siq and up to the entrance gate.  It was about 9:30am and the tourist mafia was out in full force.  We chuckled as our horse galloped through the masses, yielding to no one, while the tourists clung to the walls of the Siq to avoid being trampled.  Out of our way losers, mama needs breakfast.  That’s a wrap on Petra – we head to Wadi Rum next in the next blog…which was in actuality about two hours later.  This trip actually is a sprint, not a marathon.


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