Pilgrim in Jordan – Hiking to the Stars

I wanted to cut this post short, but I didn’t want to run on forever with my accounts of the trip to Jordan. So bare with me a little and read the following in chunks. If you’re not interested, here’s a summary: It was a beautiful journey of pshysical and spiritual endurance, and from it I knew that nothing can stop me from fulfilling anything I desire if I put my mind and soul into it – and have the amazing social support I had. You can also check out the photo album >>here<<.

The last day of my pilgrimage without a doubt contained the most memorable series of events that I have experienced in recent years. It was the challenge of the body, mind and soul – the exact one I have been pursuing in my recent pressured times.

We headed out to Petra before the dawn with roughly a couple of hours’ sleep. The trip itself was relaxing, if a bit long. While I was a bit aggravated with the obnoxious speeding limits on highways (I travel twice as fast inside Dubai), it was a great opportunity to take things in slowly and simply sit back and enjoy the sunrise and the changing scenery. I needed the change of pace.

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We arrived at Petra with a huge amount of tourists. I wasn’t surprised but a bit disappointed (there were just too many people) but that soon brushed off as we started treading the paths between the sheer mountains (the Siq). I was astonished at first that there were no Japanese tourists but no sooner than I updated my Facebook status (so that the guys back home can constantly know Qabbani hasn’t kidnapped and sold me on the black market) and out of no where, a few Japanese tourists were pointing everywhere and oh!-ing.

You gotta love them :)

The road went on and on, and we occasionally stopped here and there to take photos of ourselves, of rocks, and of other people taking pictures of themselves and of rocks.

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We arrived at the magnificent Treasury. I was astonished at the wonderful piece of carved art it was. What an impressive human feat of architecture! Here I was, in the middle of absolutely no where, and before me stood evidence of a civilization that was once living in this very barren lands. If we were to attempt living there now, we probably would just give up (those of you who watch Lost are excluded). But neccessity begets creativity. The water canals are enough proof.

When I thought this was all there was to see, Hamza informed us that there is something else still up ahead.

We continued our way through the open – and hot – landscape where the actual city was. We didn’t take the luxury of exploring every corner, burrow and dwelling, but passing through an ancient city filled with modern people was enough of a paradox to take in.

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We arrived at the supposed end of the city to be informed by the locals that there is a monastery up ahead. We didn’t know that by “up” the guy really meant “up”. We declined his offer of rinding donkeys and instead decided to trek the path.

It started out with smiles, but along the path, it was a struggle of muscle power, will power and stamina. At several legs we almost decided to give up and return. But having been through all of this and coming all this way we decided not to chicken out.

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Becides we would look bad as three young supposedly healthy men giving up, when some old couple as ancient as Petra were climbing without breaking a sweat.

And them Japanese tourists.

We refused to succumb!

We reached the monastery which resembled the Treasury but on a larger scale. It was prettier to take photos of – except I forgot to take the images in RAW format – however the main attraction was the view from the mountain peak.

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It would have been breathtaking if it were not noon and the sun’s rays fried our eyeballs to crisp.

What was breathtaking however is the euphoria we got from reaching the peak. We endured! It was a great test to all of us – and to me especially – that if we only were a bit patient and fight our urge to be lazy, we could really achieve wonders. Just like the inhabitants did when they built this whole place.

From the top of the peak, the path didn’t look too rocky after all.

Two hours’ worth of hiking later, we were back to the car and on our way to Wadi Rum.

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The post is getting too long, no? Perservere!

We arrived at Wadi Rum at sunset. Qabbani went with his cycling buddies to do their thing while Hamza and myself climbed a nearby cliff to attempt watching what was left of the sunset. It was so quiet and peaceful.

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Until one of the camps decided to put dabkeh music on full volume for 4 consecutive hours.

After we had the delicious zarb, we headed out into the dark desert in a group to watch the stars. Some couples drifted off to get personal with the sand. I detached from the main group to go meditate while trying to be away from unsuspecting couples.

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While some poor chap was being live-buried by his friends in the distance, I drew a circle on the sand for no other reason than to create an atmosphere, sat in the center and controlled my breathing.

I closed my eyes to feel the energy of the stars.

A breath at a time, I was able to visualize the sky with my eyes closed. I then lay on my back and opened my eyes to see what I have visualized.

It was just beautiful.

Like a hopeless romantic, I drew the faces of people I loved in the stars. I tried to pick out the stars and constellations I already know, and attempted mapping the rest of the zodiac accordingly. With so many stars though it was taxing on my already-exhausted brain and I took out that time to just relax and enjoy the sky.

My meditation was interrupted by hyenas. I decided to relocate closer to the group in an attempt to not have lots of me eaten by the time I was rescued.

When I was finally comfortable and alone in my thoughts, I was interrupted again by the hyenas. Not one to ignore too many hints, I sat as close as possible to the group who were a major source of noise more annoying than the dabkeh music.

Determined though to enjoy this moment, I silenced them with my selective hearing abilities and concentrated on the stars.

I took many decisions that night regarding the direction of where my life was heading.

The group however had a different plan and decided to go back to the camp. I wanted to be there more but I was pretty sure of the hyenas’ presence (I have heard them and seen them in the shadows) and thought it best that in order to carry out the decisions I have taken, I needed to be alive and preferrably unchewed.

It was without a doubt one of the best nights ever – and I would love to go there again (for a different purpose hehe). The whole trip to Jordan has both been the detox I needed and intoxicating in other things.

Thank you all for your support and making this happen :) I’d never forget that!

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Dune Bashing

This weekend, for the first time in my entire six-year stay in this enormous construction site of a desert of Dubai, I went on a Safari.

It was brilliant.

It really was like in a Land Cruiser TV commercial where you see the car going up and down the dunes effortlessly. Except that I was in the car and it was anything but smooth, but that is part of the experience.

We set out at noon after being delayed by yours truly – I went down in the morning to see someone with a lorry has reversed in the parking lot and rammed into my car. Bugger ran off too as usual. Thankfully there is only a minor dent on the side door as well as a scratch extending the entire width. Everything else seems ok (knock wood). We called the police and an hour and a half later we called them again to “cancel our order”. They were busy with another accident (amusing they have like one patrol car for the entire city). I wasn’t going to let anything ruin my trip.

So we set off and met with the other Land Cruisers who were waiting for us in a remote petrol station that looks like it was featured in the recent Resident Evil movie. They didn’t have the AC and freezers working so everyone was buying the ice creams before they melted. It was funny.

We then rode off in a single file and suddenly swerved into the sand and our bumpy ride started. For the next hour we were dune bashing, going up and down dunes as if they were made of water. It was incredibly wobbly and I had my entire camera equipment with 4 different lenses (which I realized was idiotic of me because I bought with me a macro lens instead of a telephoto lens, sigh). Anyway, I tried to take photos when the car was reasonably steady.

A guy from another car couldn’t take it and we had to stop while he finished vomiting.

We were the only Arabs, myself and my friends. The rest were a German group who were utterly dull (no Asma I am not being racist), an incredibly cute Japanese imperial family (as in the entire family tree up to someone who is probably the last Samurai) and some odd man who was speaking in classic Arabic. My Palestinian friends were thoroughly entertained by this man while I was chuckling away at the Wasabi Clan.

After the dune bashing, we rested on a pretty high dune to watch the sunset and take photos. Man, treading up and down the dunes on foot is an exercise. The sand was incredibly soft and my entire foot up to the ankle sank in with every step. It is a good thing I spent the last weeks running because I had the stamina to climb the bigger dunes while my friends stayed at the bottom mihmihmih.

Later we went to this remote village-like tent made of straws and stuff, where we rode camels, had dinner and watched some belly dancing. The dancing was atrocious. I find it insulting when they bring non-Arabs to do the belly dancing. Utterly ridiculous. But it was fun as she forced the old man from the Wasabi Clan and his 573 year old wife to dance with her. It was hilarious.

Then my Palestinian friends got jealous and they all went down to the dance floor and circled around the belly dancer in a quick and light dabkeh dance.

But it was a different story how she ended up ignoring them and asked me, the photographer, to come up and be with her on a lead group dance. It was awesome and I sparked a lot of jealousy from my fellow hormonal friends. It was a testosterone fight all the way back.

Our trip had to be cut a bit short as the nocturnal animals started appearing and within minutes the camp was being overrun by enormous spiders the size of my fist and scorpions. It was amusing how the Wasabi Clan shrieked in horror and people started fleeing.

And that was the end of our trip.