Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Jordan - From the Top to the Bottom

Checking in from Amman with a report on our past week of exploring the fascinating landscape of Jordan.  We reached the highest point in the country, the 6,083' summit of Jamal Umm ad Dami near the northern border of Saudi Arabia, and also visited the lowest point on Earth, the Dead Sea.  In between has been an absolutely incredible tour of the entire length of Jordan hitting the ancient city of Petra, the adrenaline inducing gorge of Wadi Mujib, the Martian-like desert of Wadi Rum, and all the way south to the city of Aqaba to swim in the Red Sea.  And all of this was during Ramadan, as the month-long Muslim ritual of fasting from sunrise to sunset began the day before we arrived in Jordan.  Suffice it to say we did not participate in this tradition but it made for an interesting cultural experience, particularly as our guides, drivers, and the vast majority of this Middle Eastern population did not eat or take a sip of water all day in the hot sun with daytime temperatures never dropping below 90 degrees F. 

Extreme buoyancy floating in the salt and mineral dense water of the Dead Sea. At 1,385 feet BELOW sea level the increased atmospheric pressure is like have an extra 15% oxygen with every breath.  Less than 10 miles across the water is the West Bank of Israel.  

Venturing upstream into the deep gorge of Wadi Mujib was a spectacular geological sight wrapped into a fun and exciting experience unlike anything we have ever done before.  We spent 2 1/2 hours trekking, climbing over boulders and up waterfalls, swimming against swift river currents and pulling our body weight with the aid of ropes.  We were rewarded with a massaging shower under a beautiful waterfall and a
 return journey back downstream floating and even launching ourselves off the end of a smoothed natural rock slide into a cool deep pool.  
To fully appreciate Jordan you MUST partake in this Wadi Mujib adventure.  Thank you to John Parmentier for adding this to our itinerary and especially for inviting us to join you in Jordan in the first place and extending to us the immense hospitality of Aram Rabadi and his family to stay in their home and get a full immersion into Jordanian life.

The ancient and once lost civilization of Petra was the main allure of visiting Jordan, 
and it did not disappoint.  Carved into the side of a massive sandstone rock wall, the tomb known as the "Treasury" was a jaw dropping sight to behold.  Most recognize it 
from the Indiana Jones movie "Last Crusade" and the three of us even rode out by horseback emulating Harrison Ford!  

From Petra we continued south and east into the unique red desert of Wadi Rum.  More than 12 popular movies have been filmed here including the classic 1962 award winner "Lawrence of Arabia", and the more recent Mars movies including the 2015 blockbuster "The Martian" starring Matt Damon.  Both of these were shot almost 
entirely in Wadi Rum.  

We arrived in our Bedouin camp just in time to witness a breathtaking sunset over the "Martian" landscape and were then treated to a traditional Bedouin feast of lamb and other meats cooked underground to a tender and tasty perfection. 

The fuel and rest were definitely needed for our adventures that began early the following morning.  There was a small mix up between our van driver Mahmoud and our climbing guide Abdullah that necessitated taking the van a short distance across the desert.  The moment we began sliding and sinking in the soft sand, we knew we were entering a situation in which a phone call to AAA could not possibly resolve.  John, Denise and I began digging and pushing in the hot morning sun while our calorie-starved fasting Mahmoud hopelessly spun the wheels in the sand only to submerge our van even deeper.  

We toiled away at this for about 45 mins until Abdullah finally showed up in his 4X4 Landcruiser.  The start of our intended adventure to climb the highest mountain in Jordan, was now well behind schedule and the blazing heat of the sun was quickly intensifying.  An hour drive across the desert without a single sole in sight, along with a few unnervingly similar episodes of our 4X4 getting temporarily stuck, finally brought us at 10 AM to the base of our objective: Jabal Umm ad Dami, the highest mountain in Jordan.  

Other than the heat, the climb itself was not difficult, involving some scrambling/bouldering but no need for ropes.  Having Abdullah along to show us the route was extremely valuable, but half way up he announced he would go no farther.  Because of Ramadan he was fasting and had not drank one sip of water all day in the punishing heat approaching 100 degrees F.  He pointed us towards the summit and attempted to explain the direction of the route.  Abdullah was bound for some rest in the sparse shade of a large rock, and we were bound for the top!  

We were thankful for the ability to stay hydrated and on trail to eventually reach the summit by mid-day.  The views from the top and into the Saudi Arabian desert were fantastic and yet so foreign to us compared to the snow and ice capped peaks we are more accustomed to climbing.  

We retraced our steps back down the mountain and across the Martian landscape to rejoin Mahmoud and our van (now freed from its sandy trap).  At this point we changed our plans and opted to make a shorter drive to spend the night in the seaport city of Aqaba.  After a long and hot day in Wadi Rum, the allure of a swim in the Red Sea was too tempting to pass up.  It was well worth it and much to our surprise the waters of the Gulf of Aqaba were significantly cooler than our dip in the Dead Sea two days prior.  

All in all we cannot say enough positive things about our time in Jordan and the good people who were kind enough to show us their beautiful country.  

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