In the Valley of the Moon

So, you guys know about my trip to Petra. Now, I’m going to wow you with my trip to Wadi Rum. Or maybe I’ll underwhelm you. Whatever your reaction to the following, at the very least it may inform you about where to stay (or not stay) should you ever visit Wadi Rum.

We went to Wadi Rum earlier this month when my mom was visiting. I think we traveled more during her 10-day visit than the entire 8 months we’ve lived in Jordan.

Wadi Rum is a desert valley cut into the sandstone and granite rock about 45 minutes east of Aqaba. It’s the largest wadi (or valley) in Jordan. It’s also really fun to say: Wadi Rum. Waaadeeee Ruuuummm. Rum is pronounced just like Captain Morgan’s.

We chose to stay at the Rahayeb bedouin camp because it was hosting an Easter egg hunt that weekend. I, for one, have a hard time resisting an egg hunt in the desert.

We left Aqaba around 6 p.m. on a Thursday and arrived in Rum just after sunset (around 7). You can’t drive a non 4-wheel drive vehicle into the actual camp, so we parked at the Captain’s Camp parking lot and hitched a ride with bedouin drivers into Rahayeb. There are many camps to choose from in Wadi Rum, some nicer than others. Rum is a pretty well-known tourist destination. David Lean shot much of Lawrence of Arabia there. Bret’s colleague knows the owner of Rahayeb camp so we were able to score VIP tents for the night. More on that later.

The moon hung over the valley as we drove into Rum. It was stunning. And the sand is fine and soft, like a caribbean beach. Without the turquoise water and steel drums.

The surrounding towns of Wadi Rum are really poverty-stricken. Children with dirty faces run around playing with whatever trash they can find on the streets. Herds of goats wander and lone donkeys stand around munching on trash. All the women cover completely and you rarely see them out and about. As we drove through these depressing little towns on our way to Rum, I tried to imagine what it would be like to live in one of them. If it’s all I ever knew, perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad? I don’t know.

We arrived at Rahayeb Camp by 7:45 p.m. and at that point I was ready to eat. Unfortunately, about 150 extras from Spring Break Shark Attack had descended upon the otherwise serene camp and were yucking it up around the campfire. Literally, one hundred and fifty teens dressed in the unofficial spring break uniform (t-shirts, miniskirts, shorts, flip-flops) were standing around, hooting and hollering at nothing in particular. They appeared to be children of wealthy Ammanis and were apparently a last-minute group who showed up at the camp just before we arrived. They were also supposedly leaving right after dinner. Either way, this was not the magical Wadi Rum experience we were hoping for. Yes, okay. I’m old.

After a lively 10 minutes by the raging campfire, we were escorted to our VIP tents by the harried host who kept apologizing for the Girls Gone Wild atmosphere. I told him I didn’t mind as long as I saw some titty.

The tents were rad. Bret, Abby, and I shared one and mom had one to herself. Here are some slightly blurry pictures:

The bed

The sitting area inside the tent.

The tents were lit by candlelight except for the bathrooms, which had their own electricity (and running water!). We had a king bed and a lounge area with a couch and sitting chairs. The bed had grains of sand in it, but was otherwise comfortable.

Unfortunately, we were asked to wait until 10:30 p.m. for dinner. The camp host thought it somehow made sense to make us wait until after the extras from Spring Break Shark Attack had finished eating. Fuck that. I had a hungry toddler to feed. I grabbed two plates (1 for me, 1 for my mom) at 8:30 and jumped into the line. I blended in surprisingly well with the spring break crowd. What can I say? I’m a MILF. I stocked up on hummus, salad, labaneh, chicken, rice, and vegetables. They even had a platter of middle eastern pastries. I scurried back to the tent where mom was waiting with baby bird.

The food was decent. At Rahayeb, they cook dinner on hot coals underground. Right before the camp host serves the meal, the guests gather around and watch as two men pull a metal box out of a sand pit oven with a dramatic flourish. They rip off the tin foil and reveal roast chicken and lamb. Everyone applauds and cheers, not because of the spectacle but because the food has finally arrived.

After dinner, Mom retreated to her own tent and Bret, Abby, and I fell asleep in our gritty bed to the sounds of howling wind and the echoes of drums and oud on the rocks outside. The oud (pronounced ood) is an Arabic instrument that’s a cross between a banjo, fiddle, and a mandolin. Bret’s colleagues stayed up late to enjoy the live music, while I fell asleep dreaming I was Brooke Shields in the film Sahara. What is it with me and that goddam movie?!

The following morning, we woke up around 7. My skin felt dusty and I was tired. I didn’t sleep as well as I had hoped. But when I saw the views outside the tent, I didn’t care. I was so impressed that it didn’t bother me that I was groggy and still had Maria Muldaur’s Midnight at the Oasis stuck in my head.

Here are a few images:

The view from outside the tents. The grooves and ridges in the rocks are formed from wind and sand.

Captain’s Camp, one of the other bedouin camps.

The view from one of the dunes overlooking the Rahayeb Camp.

More rocks and sand

Me outside the tent in my pajamas.

That background doesn’t even look real. It’s real.

Hand-carved benches at Rahayeb.

Wadi Rum is actually very big and seems to go on and on. It’s spectacular.

We had a quick breakfast of boiled eggs and hummus. We also had some Nescafe after five minutes of trying to explain to the camp host that we wanted American-style coffee with milk. The Arabic coffee is very strong and thick and is blended with cardamom. I’m not a fan. I like cardamom in baked goods but not in my morning joe.

Abby played in the sand with a friend’s 3-year-old son:

We were planning to stay for the egg hunt but then the camp host informed us they were expecting 300 people and a DJ. A side note: Jordanians love a DJ. Any chance they get, they throw in a DJ. Get married — have a DJ. Going out of business — have a DJ. Get a chest X-ray –have a DJ. Also, they moved the start time of the hunt to 2 p.m. when it was originally scheduled for 11:45 a.m. Rarely do things start on time in Jordan. Mom, Bret, and I all agreed that a 300-person techno-party egg hunt in the scorching desert sounded like hell on Earth. So, we packed up and left.

Readers, I don’t recommend you ever stay at Rahayeb. There are many camps in Wadi Rum and Rahayeb was not very accommodating. They refused to drive us out of the camp the following morning which is totally unacceptable as that’s the only way to get out. It’s not like you can hail a cab. Fortunately for us, Bret’s colleague had a 4WD vehicle and she drove us back to our car at Captain’s Camp. But part of the service guests pay for at these camps is a ride back to civilization.

Also, Rahayeb charged us 55 dinars (or $77) per person, not per tent. This included dinner and a meager breakfast. At all the other bedouin camps in the area the charge is per tent, not per person. I admit, we had the nicer tents complete with private bathrooms. But for them to make us wait for dinner and then refuse to drive us out the following morning was bullshit. I will not stay at Rahayeb ever again and I recommend you avoid it too.

But definitely go to Wadi Rum if you get the chance. And I also recommend falling asleep to the echoes of drumbeats on the rocks.

EGG-TASTIC!

I decided to jump on the Easter bandwagon this year.

Last year, Abby wasn’t even a year old so we didn’t bother. But this year she seemed ready to experience the strange pagan rituals of Easter.

We were planning to have her participate in an egg hunt hosted by a bedouin camp in Wadi Rum. We’d spent a night at the camp during the last few days of my mom’s visit and we thought it would be the perfect way to introduce Abby to the strange and wonderful ritual that is egg hunting. But the morning of the egg hunt the manager at the camp told us they were expecting over 300 people for the hunt and they’d hired a DJ. Uh…no. We hightailed it back to Aqaba. The good news was that Abby didn’t know what she was missing so it was no big deal.

Instead, I home-brewed some vegetable-based dyes (no Paas coloring tablets in Aqaba), boiled a half-dozen eggs, and Abby colored her first Easter eggs. She loved it!

And I had a blast watching her plunk eggs into the jars of colorful liquid. But she wouldn’t leave the eggs alone long enough to let the colors set, so this is what the first batch looked like:

Didn’t matter. She had fun and that was all I cared about. I actually think her favorite part was ripping each egg apart, crushing the shells and mashing the egg yolks into a paste.

Toddler Godzilla!

After our day of coloring and smashing eggs, I decided I wanted to try the vegetable-based dyes again. I had used a variety of ingredients for the first batch. I just experimented with various fruit and vegetables. Here’s what I tried:

Yellow: Ground turmeric
Orange/Brown: Green tea
Pink/Red: Hibiscus tea
Violet: Black currant juice
Pink/Magenta: Pomegranate juice

I also had a small bottle of artificial green food coloring so I used that to make a bright green dye. It was Ba-right. It was also very artificial looking next to the natural dyes.

The first batch of eggs came out so pale because, like I said, they only soaked for a few minutes. I was curious to see what they would look like if they soaked a little longer. Also, I wanted to try some other vegetables like purple cabbage and beets.

My inner Martha Stewart was unleashed.

So…

After Abby went to bed that evening, I did what any tired mother of a toddler would do:

I stayed up late experimenting with egg dyes.

First, I put a head of chopped purple cabbage in a pot with 2 quarts water, 1 tablespoon white vinegar, and 1 tablespoon salt and brought the mixture to a boil. Then, I let it simmer for 30 minutes. Then, I strained the cabbage and reserved the dark purple liquid.

Here’s a picture:

Then, I did the same with two large beets (chopped and peeled) for pink/red dye. And then I tried 6 tablespoons of ground turmeric for yellow dye. Each mixture contained (aside from the aforementioned vegetable or spice) 2 quarts (or 4 cups) of water, 1 tablespoon white vinegar, and 1 tablespoon salt. I brought the beet and turmeric mixtures to a boil and simmered for 30 minutes, just like I did with the cabbage.

Here are more pictures in case you care:

I let the dyes chill in the fridge overnight, along with a fresh batch of hard boiled eggs.

I was a bit too proud of these beauties. They are beautiful though, aren’t they?

Then, I fell asleep with my clothes on.

The following morning, Abby tested the new dyes. But this time, as soon as she dropped the eggs into the bright liquid, I whisked the jars away from her curious little hands and into  the safety of the kitchen. Martha Stewart was in full effect. Abby was okay with it. I told her the eggs needed to take a nap.

Two hours later, this is what we got:

The blue eggs were from the purple cabbage juice, the yellow from the turmeric, and the green one was the artificial food coloring again. I’ve heard kale or spinach both work well for green, but I didn’t have either of those on hand. Something to try next year.

Unfortunately, the beet liquid turned the eggs (not pictured) a shade Bret described as “real estate white.” They just looked beige to me. Beige and disappointing. Bummer. I think next time, I’ll leave the skins on? Any advice on that, readers?

And because I’m unable to leave well enough alone, that evening I brewed a few cups of hibiscus tea mixed with white vinegar and salt and dropped the “real estate white” eggs into that mixture. I was hoping the deep red hibiscus tea would turn the eggs pink. Or at least a pale shade of coral. Something spring-y.

And then I got distracted by various things online, the state of my old pedicure, and then passed out in my clothes again. What is wrong with me?

The next morning, I hobbled out to the kitchen and found a glass jar of putrid purple liquid with two very soggy tea bags floating in it. Oops! I had forgotten to remove those goddam hibiscus tea bags! My heart actually jumped a little. Did the eggs turn pink?! After 8 hours, they MUST have, right?

No. They turned black.

The charcoal grey/black one in the front is the hibiscus experiment. It also has a few scratches on it from the metal tongs I used to try and extract it from the jar. Wide-mouth jars are always advisable when dyeing Easter eggs.

Kinda Nightmare Before Easter. And kinda sad that this whole thing became my life’s work for a few days.

I’m planning to hold off on any further dyeing projects until next Easter. I hear onion skins are a good choice as they can make cool swirly patterns on the eggs. We’ll see if I have the patience next year to sit there and remove a bunch of smelly onion skins.

I guess this is what happens when one has children. One starts investing a lot of time and energy into the art of dyeing boiled eggs. It could be worse. I could be dressing up in a plush bunny costume.

PETRA AND BLOAT

Two exciting things happened this past weekend:

1) We saved a pufferfish, and

2) We went to Petra!

I’ll start with the pufferfish story because it’s very uplifting. If you want to skip to the Petra stuff, just scroll down. Lots of pictures!

My mom is in town right now. She’s visiting from California.

She’s a devout grandmother who can’t be away from her granddaughters for very long so she visits us twice a year. Not bad considering she lives 7,000 miles away.

She adores Abby. Who wouldn’t? And Abby adores her right back. Abby calls her Namma and when Namma’s around Bret and I become chopped liver. That’s okay. It gives us more free time.

Mom arrived last Wednesday evening after almost 24 hours of travel. By Thursday morning, despite the brutal jetlag, she was up and ready to party (this is not a drug reference).

Thursday afternoon Abby, Mom, and I took a stroll to the beach. It was a beautiful warm day with a light breeze and just a touch of overcast. The ocean was clear and calm so I let Abby sit at the shoreline and throw rocks in the ocean. This is becoming something of a pastime for her.

Then I heard mom say, “What’s that?” She was pointing to something behind me.

I turned around and saw a beached pufferfish, belly-up, gasping for breath. His eyes were wide and his spiny body was rapidly expanding to the size of a basketball.

Puffers are these odd-looking spotted fish who live in warm waters like the Red Sea. They’re slow swimmers, but can quickly ingest huge amounts of water (or even air) to turn themselves into a ball several times their normal size.

This is what puffers look like when inflated.

If eaten, almost all puffers are toxic to other fish and humans because they contain tetrodotoxin. According to National Geographic: “Tetrodotoxin is up to 1,200 times more poisonous than cyanide. There is enough toxin in one pufferfish to kill 30 adult humans (if ingested), and there is no known antidote.”

Yet, some people consider pufferfish a delicacy because some people are dumb asses.

Back to the rescue story.

I shrieked, “Oh my god, it’s a pufferfish!” I ran over to its spiky, bloated body and tried not to panic. He was going to die if he didn’t get back into the water immediately. For a moment I couldn’t remember if they were poisonous to touch or only if eaten. I stood over him, watching his mouth open and close like an eyelid.

And then I thought of Brad Garrett. He was the voice of Bloat the pufferfish in Pixar’s Finding Nemo. Bloat was one of the nice fish in the tank at the dentist’s office where Nemo is held captive. I’ve seen this movie many, many times and I now have a soft spot for puffers.

I was not going to let Bloat die.

Mom immediately grabbed Abby’s sand shovel and tried to roll the spherical puffer toward the ocean. The tide was out and the rocky shore was filled with nooks and crannies and little tide pools. This made it difficult to roll the puffer smoothly into the water.

Mom managed to get him to the edge of this little rock shelf but couldn’t manage to hoist him up over it. The sea was just on the other side, so it was the last hurdle. He was almost home. But he was running out of time!

Abby was watching the drama, mouth agape, eyes as big as saucers. She occasionally muttered, “I saw a pufferfish.” This is what she’s been saying lately to people she meets: “I saw a pufferfish.”

Aside from Bloat in Finding Nemo, we often see pufferfish nibbling on algae in the marina on our daily walks to the beach. The puffers like to swim right up to the surface, and as the water is very clear we can see them perfectly, their wide-set eyes scanning for food, their spotted fins flipping around. Abby sometimes practices the line in her sleep. “I saw a puffer fish,” she mumbles with closed eyes. It seems Abby has grown quite fond of puffers too.

As I watched mom struggle to lift the panicking, bloated puffer with a plastic kid’s shovel, I decided we were going to save this fish goddamit! I told mom to keep an eye on Abby and I took hold of the shovel. I knelt down and tried to scoop him up. He barely moved. He was a heavy sonofabitch! I kept trying. Finally, I managed to get him over the rock shelf and into the water. Success. He floated into the surf.

He was enormous at this point — bigger than a basketball it seemed. He wasn’t a small puffer to begin with but all blown up he was huge. And stark white against the blue water. Mom, Abby, and I watched anxiously to see if he was moving. He was completely still, his large eyes staring out and he was still upside-down. My heart sank. “Is he dead?” Mom asked.

A pair of German tourists walked up at that moment. They were tall and blond and very curious about what we were doing. They watched the spiky ball bobbing in the water. “Vass is zat?” one of them asked in a thick German accent.

“It’s a pufferfish,” I told them, keeping an eye on Bloat for any sign of movement. I explained to the Germans how we found him washed up on shore, trapped in the small tide pools.

The Germans watched for a moment, fascinated by the strange, bloated fish floating in the sea. After a few moments they moved on, smiling politely as they walked away. Fucking Germans.

And then I saw it. A tail flip.

He was alive! Mom and I shrieked. Bloat was moving! His tail flipped and flapped, his fins flicked back and forth, and his mouth opened and closed as he started to breathe again.

It was such an exciting and happy moment. His swollen body started to deflate, slowly but surely. And as he floated back out to sea, his fins getting more and more animated, I felt very proud.

I saved Bloat.

So, without further ado….Petra!

This is called the Siq. It's a pathway flanked by huge rock formations and it leads to the treasury and other ruins.

These are tombs that were carved into the rocks over 2,000 years ago.

These are more tombs. There were many, many tombs.

Wide view of the tombs and tourists.

Bret took this picture from inside one of the tombs.

The view of the Treasury from the siq.

The Treasury

The Treasury again. Amazing, right?

You can ride these camels. I chose not to because I feel sorry for the camels.

Bedouin

Abby loves flying.

Bedouin soldiers? Not sure, but great outfits!

There were donkeys everywhere. Cute little donkeys.

Here's a little souk where they sold trinkets and postcards and the like.

You can take a horse cart ride to the ruins but it's an awfully bumpy ride. We opted to walk.

I'm very proud of this picture. I think it captures my husband pretty well.

Mom took this picture of a Bedouin sitting on a bench.

Ruins and tombs.

Tombs and more tombs

This is a close-up of the top part of the Treasury.

Here we are, Bret and I, at the end of the day. We were covered in a thin layer of sand.

Here’s a little blurb that I copied directly from Wikipedia. Just a little basic info about the ancient site:

Petra (Greek “πέτρα” (petra), meaning stoneArabic: البتراء, Al-Batrāʾ) is a historical and archaeological city in the Jordaniangovernorate of Ma’an that is famous for its rock cut architecture and water conduit system. Established sometime around the 6th century BC as the capital city of the Nabataeans,[2] it is a symbol of Jordan as well as its most visited tourist attraction.[2] It lies on the slope of Mount Hor[3] in a basin among the mountains which form the eastern flank of Arabah (Wadi Araba), the large valley running from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba. Petra has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985.

The site remained unknown to the Western world until 1812, when it was introduced by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. It was described as “a rose-red city half as old as time” in a Newdigate Prize-winning poem by John William Burgon. UNESCO has described it as “one of the most precious cultural properties of man’s cultural heritage”.[4] Petra was chosen by the BBC as one of “the 40 places you have to see before you die”.

Jetlag

Happy New Year! I realize it’s almost February, but as this is my first post of 2012, I thought it appropriate to start off with a little well-wishing.

By the way, at which point is it ridiculous to wish someone a happy new year? After the first week of January? Once February rolls around? Is it always ridiculous? When does a new year cease to be new?

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about. No, I’m here to talk about one of my least favorite things: jetlag. It sucks balls. And I’ve got a mean case of it right now. So does Abby and so does Bret.

We went back to the States for a month over the holidays and now we’re back in Aqaba. It was a nice trip, full of friends and family and bacon.

We celebrated Christmas. At least, our version of it. At my mom’s place in Grass Valley, we all trekked out in the freezing cold to select a Christmas tree. After about 20 minutes of tromping around and debating which one was the most appropriate height and pedigree, we decided on a handsome Doug Fir with long, full branches. Bret had the distinctive honor of cutting it down. By himself. Sorry, babe. Mom and I hightailed it back to the house where it was warm and cozy and coffee and cookies awaited. My stepdad, Gary, videotaped Bret hacking away at the poor Doug Fir.

Once the tree was properly mounted (thanks again, Bret) Mom decorated it with about 100 glass ornaments while Bret scraped the sap from his body. I tried to keep Abby from ripping the ornaments off the tree and biting into them.

In the end, Christmas was very festive and the tree looked lovely but the branches kept poking Bret in the face during dinner. He was so gracious about it. He would gently brush them away and keep eating.

But, again, I digress.

Jetlag. We have it. It sucks.

If you’ve never experienced jetlag, here’s what it’s like:

1) You wake up at midnight, ready to start the day.

2) You’re not sure if you brushed your teeth today. Or was that yesterday? Is today yesterday?

3) You accidentally lock your keys in your car while the engine’s still running and your toddler is strapped in her car seat.

4) You find yourself eating a steak dinner at 3 a.m. and it feels right.

5) It’s 10 a.m. and you’re ready to hit the sack.

6) You catch yourself humming “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley with no memory of how it got stuck in your head in the first place. I RickRolled myself. Without a computer.

7) You find yourself sitting in the dark eating an entire bag of Bugles and a tub of cream cheese. And it tastes amazing.

8) You pass out at two in the afternoon and sleep for 8 hours. Maybe 10.

If you’ve just traveled into a different time zone and you’re experiencing any of the above scenarios, you probably have jetlag. If you have not traveled anywhere at all and you’re experiencing any of the above, you probably have a drinking problem.

It usually takes me a full week to recover from the acute symptoms of jetlag, plus one additional week to feel totally normal again. Abby seems to fully recover in about 10 days. She’s a great little traveler, our girl. I’m so proud of her. She slept 9 of the 11.5 hour flight from Chicago to Amman. But then she was up all night in the hotel room in Amman. Bret and I ordered room service and took showers while Abby watched hours of Egyptian soap operas. She finally passed out at 3 a.m., one hour before our scheduled wake-up call.

I would have taken melatonin if I could. Apparently, it’s amazing. Bret took it when we went home to the States in December and he said it worked like a charm. It’s basically a “natural” sleeping pill that makes you pass out for eight hours whenever you need to sleep. Brilliant!

I decided I would try it on the return trip to Jordan. But first, I did my due diligence. I read the label on the bottle to see if I could take it while breastfeeding. Turns out, no. In fact, my health profile matches every contraindication on the back of the bottle.  Basically, the label should have read: “If your name is Marjie Scott, you’ll die if you take this stuff.” So, I’m just sweating out the jetlag naturally.

Aside from that, it’s actually nice to be back here in Aqaba. Although, I cried on the flight from Chicago to Amman because I was already exhausted and sad to be leaving ready access to Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.

More than anything, I was sad to be leaving my friends and family. It was so nice to see everybody face to face, person to person, in the flesh. I’m grateful for Skype but there’s nothing like being able to sit across from someone and look into her eyes or give him a hug. It was truly uplifting to be home. We didn’t get to see all of our friends because there just wasn’t enough time. We’ll be back in the summer. That’s what I keep reminding myself.

Being in the States was interesting after living in Jordan for almost five months. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. We are so lucky in the United States! We have access to so much variety.

I went into a Starbucks the day after we arrived in Tucson and as I waited for my cappuccino, I heard the guy behind the counter holler, “I have two artisan ham sandwiches for Paula!”

Artisan. Ham. Sandwiches.

Paula, dressed in head-to-toe Coldwater Creek snagged her artisan ham sandwiches and skinny vanilla latte and off she went, her frosty highlights glinting in the sun.

Does Paula know how lucky she is that she can walk into any Starbucks and order not one but TWO artisan ham sandwiches, made to order? Paula, wherever you are, I hope you savored those sandwiches, or at least said a little thank you to the heavens (or your capitalist, democratic country) for them. Because, here’s the thing. Even if you don’t eat ham, or sandwiches, you must appreciate the level of choice we have in the United States of America.

Even if you live in a small town where there is nothing but a windmill and an inbred family next door, you can have just about anything you want shipped to your house!

And the freedom! I felt free to speak my mind without worrying who might be listening. I could wear what I wanted without worrying that I might be offending anyone or sending the wrong message. I only saw an occasional headscarf in the States and it was always worn by an older Muslim woman chewing on pistachios while her younger, westernized family members texted on their smart phones.

The women in the States wear what they want. They go out in public with wet hair. They feel free to  wear sweatpants and tank tops, or fitted dresses and heels. The variety of dress in the States is only restricted by the individual woman’s taste and imagination. This has its own set of disadvantages too, by the way. A sense of decorum is always appreciated.

But the very fact that we are free to have good taste, or not, is so gratifying. Anything less is, quite frankly, soul-crushing. As a woman, as a person, I want to choose the clothes, job, husband, friends, the life that’s right for me. It was nice to be in a place, at least for a little while, that recognizes that.

It was nice to be home.