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December 30, 2016

Today we enjoyed 4×4 Tour through the protected area of the Wadi Rum dessert.  Fayez attended to us and another family from France.  The family was lovely and lived the last ten years in China!  I would have never guessed that.  Eleanor, the oldest of the two girls recently graduated from the London School of Economics and currently resides in London, while Constance is finishing up school in Montreal.  The family travels often and their mom Beatrice has two French passports!  Who knew you could do that?!?  But it is accommodated for those who must send away for Visas frequently.  They said Iran is amazing.  For us US citizens, that’s a tough place to visit, but maybe one day.

Anyway, the eight of us bundled up and piled into the back of the pickup truck for the start of our journey at 8:30am.  In the sun, the weather was pleasing, but in the shade and with the wind chill from driving, it was chilly.  Our first stop was in a canyon where we found writings etched in stone from different time periods at near the entrance.  We continued into the canyon until it became difficult to scale where we listened to Fayez tell a tale about an army of men who tried to capture a wealthy man that lived in the desert to steal all his belongings.  It is thought that the man was chased into the canyon where we sat and he climbed atop the rocks only to be trapped.  When the leader heard his men fighting over the herd of animals and treasures that they were about to attain, he decided to spare the wealthy man’s life so the infighting would end and they lived peacefully.

From the canyon, we drove to a sand dune to try out sandboarding.  On the way, we passed an area where the Martian was filmed.  Only a small portion of the movie was filmed in this area.  The rest was filmed in another part of the desert.  As far as sandboarding goes, while I haven’t done any type of boarding in my life, I have sledded down a sand dune in Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado as well as down a cinder cone in Nicaragua so I volunteered to go first.  I slowly trekked up the dune, fortunately it was mostly along its ridge and it was that high, so it didn’t take that long to get to the top.

At first I tried strapping on the board while standing, but then I remembered snowboarders are always on the ground, so I sat down to give that a try.  The board (which was a snowboard from Europe) only had one of the two straps for the front foot and both for the back, however, it must have been made for a man or for someone with large snow boots as none of the straps touched my feet!  I thought to myself, this will be interesting.  I’ve never boarded and the last time I downhill skied was twenty years, and now I’m going to try to slide down a sand dune with a broken board.  While I was going to try my best, I expected I’d fall on my face immediately.

I stood up at the ledge and slowly hopped forward until I gained enough speed to begin boarding down the dune.  I took a seated position like I was leaning forward in a chair, I held my arms out to keep my balance, and I put more weight on my back foot to remain upright.  I certainly didn’t know how to turn and when I pressed my weight slightly forward to slow down, I felt like I might endo so I basically stayed in position until I got to the bottom of the hill when I wanted to stop.  I really didn’t know how to do that either, so I planned a graceful fall on my stomach.  I was so pleased I made it to the bottom without falling, I briefly considered picking up snowboarding!  Then I remembered how much I hate being cold!  Fayez asked if I had ever boarded.  I told him no, and he said, I did well.  I bet he’s had quite a few laughs watching sand boarding attempts.

Eleanor went next, and she did the same as me…went straight down and then bailed to stop.  Though she looked like she knew what she was doing.  Margaret decided to sit on the board on slide down!  She had to turn over to stop too.  Constance went next.  She didn’t climb up quite as far, so she was able to come to a graceful stop on her feet.  Syreeta followed in her footsteps and she came to a nice stop while sledding.  Suman and the parents passed on the activity, so Eleanor tried once more.  She almost stopped on her feet, but she had to bail at the end.  It’s funny, because when watching, it looks like everyone is going so slow, but when riding, it felt super-fast!  It was quite fun, but it was time to move on to our next activity.

We stopped at another spot with historic writings.  It was near an area where it is thought that Moses wandered when he was lost in the desert for forty years.  While we were listening to the stories, Fayez pointed to the left and said, “If you keep going that way for 20K, you’ll be at the border of Saudi Arabia.”

Speaking of Arabia, our next stop was at the relics of a home once occupied by Lawrence of Arabia.  Near the home was a trail which I explored while others were offered tea from local Bedouins.  This is probably sad to admit, but I never knew Lawrence of Arabia was a real person!  Then again, I wasn’t much of a history student.  If only we could learn history while visiting these places…much more interesting!  I had only heard of the 1962 film which was before my time, so now I will rent it.

Thomas Edward Lawrence was a British author, archaeologist, military officer, and diplomat.  Soon after the outbreak of World War I, Lawrence joined the British Army and was stationed in Egypt.  He was sent to Arabia on an intelligence mission and quickly became involved in the Arab revolt.  He convinced the different tribes to work together to defeat the Ottoman armed forces which culminated in the capture of Damascus in October of 1918.  He later went on to write The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, an auto biography of his involvement in the revolt.

At this point, it was only 11am, but our group was already hungry, so Fayez drove us to a nice spot in the dessert and laid out a picnic blanket.  While he prepared lunch, we walked around and napped.  I was surprised to spot one lonely, yet pretty flower.  Fayez had a lot of lunch to prepare.  He started a fire to cook a stew in black pot.  He chopped up vegetables to make cucumber tomato salad.  He mixed up some tuna fish with onion.  Of course, hummus and pita bread accompanied the spread.  I’ve eaten more bread in the last three days than I have in the last three months!  Anyway, lunch was nice and we didn’t waste much.

From lunch, we drove to a spaceship rock.  I have no idea of the significance other than it looks odd.  Then we four wheeled over a sand dune and continued through the desert to see a natural bridge 207 meters high.  Apparently, there is a trail up to it and Fayez has crossed it, but we didn’t pursue this feat.  We moved on to take a walk through a canyon.  All the rock formations are what makes the Wadi Rum Desert special.  Many deserts are simply sand.  The canyon narrowed where we had to climb up over some rocks, but most of the time we trounced through the sand, at least everyone except Syreeta.  She had enough hiking for the week.

Our next stop was at a much lower natural bridge.  This feature, we were allowed to climb.  We followed in each other in a single file line up a slanted rock.  Fayez stood on the edge of the trail to protect us from falling.  He along with some other Bedouins were like mountain goats.  He’d just leap to the next place where we might need help.  We climbed up through a crack in the rock and reached the top.  Margaret was the first to stand on the natural bridge, about three feet wide.  I joined her and then the sisters posed for pics that the rest of our group took from below.

Soon we reached another sand dune where we just goofed around.  Fayez wrote our names in Arabic.  Margaret made a sand angel.  We jumped for fun pictures.  And we just enjoyed the scenery as we waited for the sun to set.  After another beautiful sunset, we returned to camp ready for the same dinner ritual as the previous day.  This time, we stood outside beside the small fire and watched them remove the tower of metal trays from the sand oven.  Unfortunately, we still couldn’t stay awake for the sheesha and dancing, but we vowed to stay up for the New Year’s Eve party at the Dead Sea, tomorrow’s destination.  Until then…ETB

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