Wadi Rum (Wadi=valley, Rum= ‘high point’), or Valley of the Moon, refers to the valley in between two large sandstone and granite rock formations in southern Jordan. It is the largest wadi in Jordan and has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Dunes form along the sides of the massive rock formations as the sandstone erodes, and thousands of years of weathering leaves holes and ridges in the rocks — they simultaneously resemble sponges and hills of jagged coral. Some of the smaller, more weathered rock formations are rounded on top and smoother. They feel like varying grades of sandpaper. The taller rock formations are more textured and covered with ridges, so they’re fun to climb, but you have to be careful because sandstone breaks apart easily. I found that out when I was climbing and my handhold broke off the face of the rock. I fell about ten feet before I managed to land on a small platform that jutted out along the route I was climbing. It was a long way down from there, so I’m really glad I made it to that platform. Everyone was watching, and as I was falling, all I can remember was the sound of my camera lens scraping against the rocks and everyone standing below, yelling “Oh, no”. After almost falling to my tragic death, everyone in the group mounted camels and we rode through the wadi and then dismounted our camels and climbed a rock formation to watch the sunset. After sunset we walked back to camp and had dinner and tea, and there was a debkeh circle, which I briefly joined. In the evening I wandered out into the desert to listen to the silence and look at the stars. The moon was too bright to see much, but it was pretty nonetheless. I woke up around 5 AM to watch the sun rise, which was beautiful, of course. As the sun crept over the horizon, it illuminated the faces of the rocks with a bright golden orange color. The shadows cast by the pieces of rocks sticking further out from the facade were even more beautiful. Aside from the occasional wild dog howling, and the sounds of your own feet walking, the desert is incredibly quiet. The plateaus of the rock formations are covered with loose stones of various sizes and shapes, though most are pretty flat. As you walk across them they scrape against each other and sound sort of like broken terra cotta pot shards being scraped together. It’s a higher pitched sound than you’d expect from rocks because sandstone is less dense, more like pumice.
Petra was possibly the most beautiful place I have been, after Wadi Rum. It’s a huge archaeological site home to an ancient Nabatean city, at one time the center of civilization but then lost for centuries and now still being excavated. Although Petra is easily Jordan’s most popular tourist attraction, Summer is the low season, so the crowds were manageable. Visitors must enter and exit the site through the same entrance and walk for the better part of a kilometer before even reaching the entrance to the “siq”, a narrow gorge that formed between two huge rock formations thousands of years ago. What is left of the ancient city is mostly tombs, caves, and facades of buildings once part of the city, all of which were cut into the live sandstone and granite. The city is huge, and walking through it is not easy, especially in the extreme desert heat and sun. Once you reach the end of the city — or at least the end of what is excavated — (about 4 km from the entrance) you are faced by some 800 steps leading up the mountain to a monastery. The steps are uneven and cut into the natural rock, exhausting to climb, but every time you turn around, the view has changed (because the steps spiral up several sides of the mountain). Once you reach the monastery, it’s about another 10-15 minute walk in all directions to all of Ad-Deir’s lookout points. I chose “more than the best view”, for obvious reasons. At the top there was a large cairn in front of it with a chalkboard leaning against it, offering tea and cold drinks. There was a sizable tent nearby, from which the vendor sold his snacks and drinks, but I looked around and didn’t see anyone inside. There was also a small seating area shaded with various pieces of plastic and colored fabric material which were blowing in the breeze. I stood on the edge and looked out over miles and miles of mountains. The West Bank was apparently visible from where I was standing, but it’s hard to know. It became sort of like my private view of the world. And then, after I started making my way back down the mountain, convinced that the day could not have gotten any better, I stumbled across a litter of adorable puppies.