وادي موجب والبحر الميت

So after sightseeing around southern Jordan on the first day of our weekend excursion, we left the Feynan Ecolodge early Friday morning to drive to the Dead Sea. First, we did a 2-3 hour hike through Wadi Mujib, which was one of my favorite experiences so far here in Jordan. The valley was gorgeous, and because there was water everywhere, the hike included a lot of rappelling and fighting the current on the first half of the trip. The hike included coming back in the same direction we had came, which was awesome since it meant we were moving in the direction of the current, and could float for a  significant part of the way back. 

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Picture courtesy of my friend with a waterproof camera

Next we were off to the Dead Sea itself, which turned out to be an interesting, though not entirely pleasant, experience. For those of you who haven’t been to the Dead Sea, you may know that, as the saltiest body of water on Earth, the Dead Sea will make you super aware of any small scrapes you have on your body, as they will all start burning the second you get in the water. Well, I was aware of this as the trip was coming up; I was careful not to shave my legs for a few days before the trip, and I was relieved when after being knocked around a bit in Wadi Mujib, I seemed to only have bruises. But of course, when I was within sight of the sea, I slipped on a steep slope we were climbing down and got scratches all over my body. So needless to say, my first foray into the Dead Sea was a pretty painful experience. However, after getting out and back in 3 times, I was able to stay in the water for a few minutes and experience the strange floating experience that the Dead Sea gives you.

But then I made one of the stupider decisions of my life. A warning to anyone swimming in the Dead Sea: UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU PUT YOUR FACE IN THE WATER. I was trying to swim over to my friends, and figured it would be quicker to get there if I just went completely underwater. Of course, I realized that this was a mistake the second that it was too later. With my eyes still closed under the water, it occurred to me that normal ocean water can make your eyes burn, and this would be significantly worse. So, as I predicted, opening my eyes was not at all enjoyable. Luckily, someone who wasn’t in the water had fresh water on them that I could splash into my eyes, so everything turned out fine. But I definitely learned a lesson about being more aware of my surroundings.

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First glimpse of the Dead Sea from our bus

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Dead Sea Coast (rocks white from salt crystals)

10/1/2014

An All-Time Low

I hit an all-time low on my recent trip to Feynan and Wadi Mujib with my program. Wadi Mujib is actually the lowest nature preserve on Earth, and shores of the Dead Sea it opens on to are the world’s lowest altitude on dry land. This was quite a concept to understand, especially since wadi translates to a canyon or gorge, meaning these ravines were surrounded by soaring cliffs of solid rock and mountains that overlook the Dead Sea and the nations beyond. 

We started our Thursday early, meeting for the bus ride at 6 AM. After two hours and plenty of snacks, we arrived at our first stop: Montreal (Shoubak) Castle, built by the Crusaders and left in ruins for us to explore. We were the only tourists in sight, and were greeted by two period-costume-clad “guards” who hastily extinguished their cigarettes to welcome us. As such, we had the place to ourselves for a short half-hour of exploration before climbing back in the bus for the last leg of our trip. After 15 minutes of stomach-dropping views from winding, dirt mountain roads, we arrived at what seemed to most of us a random off-road stop on the outskirts of Feynan. This was where we were to begin our eight-hour trek through Wadi Feynan. Our guide, ‘Ali, was an experienced Bedouin trip leader, and along the way showed us the best Bedouin snacks (ordinary-looking leaves that contained a lot of water), a hidden, naturally-clean drinking pool, and (near the end, with impeccable timing) a plant that made soap when mixed with water, for dirty travelers. The hike started as an easy downhill walk to the base of the mountains, where the real wadi opened. Its level of difficulty waxed and waned, and while we largely maintained our low altitude, the abundance of small and not-so-small stones that constituted our path had my ankles aching. After a quick jump in a surprisingly deep and cool pond that blocked our way, we stopped to enjoy lunch in the sun and dry off before wading through more (welcome) water.

Some eight hours later, we tromped out of the wadi toward dinner and our lodging for the evening. I had heard that there was no electricity at the place, so I was hoping for a sandwich and mosquito net at best. I was pleasantly surprised by Feynan EcoLodge, which despite its lack of modern lighting systems, delivered a delicious buffet dinner (promptly devoured) and damp towels upon arrival. Although several students stayed up to chat and stargaze on the roof, I lasted only a half an hour before showering and hitting the hay.

The following morning, we piled into the back of pick-up trucks and rode through the adjacent Bedouin camp to our bus once more. A shorter trip later, we reached Wadi Mujib, where the fun really began. We didn’t hike so much as swim our way through the beautiful gorge, enjoying the natural shade provided by the sun and shielded from the flies that flock the air around the Dead Sea. 

Across the street from the Wadi Mujib preserve is the Dead Sea. There wasn’t really a beach so much as a steep and rocky hillside that led straight into the salty water. The Dead Sea would have been something out of a dream, floating in the warm water with postcard-perfect views of the Jordanian, Palestinian, and Israeli shores. However, when you hear “salty” you might mistakenly be reminded of oceans you’ve visited, as I was. This is not even close to the case. The salt in the water stings any open sores on your body, even the ones you didn’t know you had. This was no small issue for me, having been ravaged by mosquitoes the previous few nights. And you are painfully blind if you try to dip your head back; there’s no way to avoid that powerful salt getting EVERYWHERE. It was the definition of a once in a lifetime experience.

a chilled and profound soak-in of the reflections -

of wadi mujib.

of a day filled with mad adventure.

of struggling against the current of an awesome waterfall,

and a rocky water-bed below my feet.

of rock-wall climbs, ropes, ripped pants and lost hijab.

life exposed at it’s bare bones.

of the insignificance of said struggle.

of the distraction of the struggle.

of when you realise to look up.

and forget your little self:

to witness the Majesty and awe-inspiring view’s above,

the brother/sister-hood shown beside,

and the freedom of having my ego lost in the current and trapped for a minute below.

no camera to hide behind the lens, no phone, no wallet, no nothing.

just clothes against on skin, under a daggy old float vest.

just humility.

just absolute perfection.

just the waterfall.

just the Manifestation of His Absolute Strength and Perpetual Beauty. 

photo taken at sunset with a view to the dead sea, jordan, somewhere along the road to the ‘lowest place on Earth’ and ‘prophet Lot’s cave’

The Lowest Point on Earth

I truly mean it when I say I think I just had the best weekend of my life.  The feeling of the Dead Sea breeze while laying in a hammock is the type of feeling that when I saw a shooting star, I couldn’t think of one thing to wish for.  I was completely and utterly content where I was.  It was easily one of the most serene moments of my life.  To back up a bit, we left Amman around 5 pm on Thursday in a small bus packed with backpacks, excited Americans, and “energy bars” (Snickers — told you this junk food thing is out of hand).  Our departure put us just in time to see the sun setting over the Dead Sea.  It was nothing short of beautiful as you can see by the photos I posted below.  I am an avid sunset chaser so this was a big high point for me.  When we got to our lodging, my breath was taken away yet again.  We each had an “ice cube” (basically a four by four box with two twin beds and lots of air conditioning to share) with our own patios that looked out onto the Dead Sea.  I would not mind living there for the rest of my life.  After we ate dinner, we played my favorite camp/childhood game, Mafia.  Everyone got very into it and it made me feel like I was 10 years old again outside the dining hall at Colvig Silver Camp, one of the best places in the world.  After the mafia killed the detective and the angel and all the townspeople off, we headed back to our chalets to stargaze.  Ignoring the early 6 am wake up call, I looked at the stars for hours as the wind whipped around my face.  

I woke up to realize that I had not been dreaming and I was still in this little piece of heaven.  We set out to hike Wadi Mujib, a river canyon with a 25 meter waterfall in the middle.  Throughout the hike we floated, repelled, and climbed down water obstacles (maybe that is not the right word…)  For those of you reading this from Durango, it was like Cascade Creek but warmer and a lot longer/wider. Our guide, Muhammad, took a liking to all the girls on our trip.  He deemed me a “beautiful Bedouin bird” and tried to hold my hand…which was absolutely appalling after all of the PDA guidelines we have been told to follow here (haha, i found it entertaining…not actually that offended).  Not long after this episode, I started seeing a lot of dead birds and bird feathers along the canyon walls.  MY FAMILY! SO SAD. Haha, it became the running joke of the trip.  As we walked out of the canyon into the light and could again see the Dead Sea, I seriously felt like I was reborn or something.  It seemed so incredibly beautiful to emerge from the canyon walls into the world again, especially sloshing through water with the canyon walls widening into the abyss.  At that point, I realized how perfectly at home I felt in nature.  Although I am thousands of miles away from Colorado, I constantly saw similarities in the landscape and geography.  Amman is a city like none I have ever lived in - dirty, smoky, and full of undeveloped land and over flowing trash - but characteristics of nature can be found anywhere.  This thought gave me such comfort and confidence, in that - where ever I go - I am at home.  

After our hike, we went back to our chalets for a swim in the Dead Sea.  Its true everyone, you FLOAT.  On the other hand, the salt is KILLER.  It burned anything it could on your body, and don’t even think about getting it in your mouth, nose, or eyes.  I found it hard to enjoy the experience because of all the stinging and especially because there was no mud to cleanse ourselves with!  Ah well, I can say I have floated in the Dead Sea, which in itself, is an experience.  Lunch was absolutely delicious and after my three platefuls of pita bread, hummus, chicken, beef, veggies, and salad I was stuffed (oh and some mango juice).  Although no one wanted to say goodbye, we boarded the bus and headed back to Amman.  

The festivities were not over though, as today it was my friend Will’s birthday!  His roommate Todd organized a surprise party at their host family’s house and as I am not living with a family, I was ecstatic to go meet one.  While we were waiting for Will to come home, we chatted with Will’s Mama.  She tried to make us all speak in Arabic to her as she told us that was the only way we will learn (its hard when you only know half the alphabet!).  She also looked like a part of her died when I told her I did not have a host mother.  All of the children, and grandchildren were also present along with their golden retriever puppy - Bella.  This was probably the highlight of my life.  After the big “surprise” moment, we dug in.  There was mountains of rice, salad, chicken, and more.  It also reiterated to me that Jordanians main stapes are rice and chicken — which is fine by me.  We continued our eating spree with Jello, flan, and birthday cake and ended a couple hours later with hot tea.  This was the point where everyone went into a food coma.  It was so great to be in the presence of a Jordanian family and see the dynamic.  The kids were running around the house wanting to play, crying, or eating cake.  The parents were sitting and chatting, coming in and out of the house.  The grandparents were offering more food and sitting soaking all of us in.  It was a perfect assortment of generations, and a display of the hospitality and love that Jordanians have for their guests.  

I also forgot to mention — this morning I found the famous — Sugar Daddy’s Bakery!  It was better than expected, and my expectations were high.  I went with Becky and Colleen, two of my friends who live my apartment for breakfast!  We had cupcakes and coffee and tea and I easily fell in love with the place in about five seconds.  The Coconut Key Lime Pie Cupcake was moist and light with key lime filling and shredded coconut frosting.  I easily could have eaten ten of them.  The guys working were so nice and happy to serve us and asked us to return soon!  Oh I will…no need to ask.  :] 

Week 2 of Classes starts now!  have a beautiful week habibis xo

Wild Wadi

This past Saturday, my friends and I embarked on a day trip to the Dead Sea, where we hiked in the river-filled canyons of Wadi Mujib. Here in Amman, there is a branch of the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) called Wild Jordan, which provides hiking opportunities and overnight trips in several locations throughout the country. Last week, we paid 32JD and signed up for a day trip to Wadi Mujib. After meeting at their offices at 8:30am on Saturday, we were off.

            On a bus filled with CIEE students, we made our way to the reserve. Although the drive was about an hour and a half and everyone was restless and excited about the day ahead of us, the view from our bus acted as a beautiful distraction. For most of the drive, the bus drove alongside the Dead Sea. No photos could have prepared me for this sight- to put it simply, it was breathtaking. The Levant region has produced some of the oldest cultures in the world and hosts several historically and biblically important sites. When you are living in a bustling city such as Amman, it is easy to forget this. However, in the presence of the Dead Sea, with mountains behind it and not a boat in sight, it was easy to imagine the scene as it was two thousand years ago.

            When we arrived at the site, we put on our life jackets and headed down into the canyon. We began the trail by climbing down a large ladder while one of our guides splashed water on us. Throughout the hike, the water was at least as high as our knees. With the help of ropes and our guides, we climbed up and over rocks blocking the trails. I’d be lying if I claimed that some of these climbs didn’t scare me. One climb required that I walk almost vertically on a rock with only a rope and my strength to help me. Finally, we made it to the end of the trail, which consisted of a large waterfall. We spent thirty minutes or so relaxing in the river and venturing under the waterfall. On the way back, we were able to float most of the way. We now had the opportunity to slide down many of the rocks that we climbed up on the way to the waterfall. When we slid down the largest rock that was the hardest to climb up, I don’t think there was one of us that didn’t scream on the way down. Wadi Mujib was an amazing experience that left us all feeling proud when we finished. It was nice to enjoy the nature in the region for a day before returning to our urban lifestyle in Amman.

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            After two hours hiking in the canyon, we drove across the street to the Dead Sea. Wild Jordan rents several chalets and offers meals in one of the buildings. When we arrived, everyone headed down the cliff and into the sea.

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While the Dead Sea is beautiful, it’s also painful. With a 29% salt content, compared to the 4% salt content of the ocean, you suddenly feel every scratch on your body that you didn’t know existed before getting in the water. After scratching my knee on the hike, I thought I could tough it out. I was wrong. I only lasted about two minutes before heading to the showers. After this, everyone enjoyed a lunch buffet of soup, hummus & pita, rice, and chicken. Full, exhausted, and satisfied with our incredible day, we finally headed home.

[Tuesday, September 16, 2014]

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