“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” -Mark Twain

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Jordan Here I Come!

I’m off to Jordan. More than a few times I’ve been asked the question, “Why Jordan?” Why? Why NOT? Petra! Wadi Rum! Jerash! Amman! Seeing the great movie sites of The Last Crusade, Lawrence of Arabia, The Martian, and Hurt Locker. Legendary hospitality. The tribal culture. The serenity of the deserts. To see the Dead Sea before it evaporates. To appreciate the history of the Jordan River. Because tourism is down 50-80% in places. Because they need our tourism dollars to support their families. Because it’s under-appreciated. Because I’m attracted to places off the beaten tourist path. Because I have an “I’ll show them” attitude about visiting the Middle East compared to many Americans who put too much stock in media hype and Jordan’s shady neighbors. Because it’s been on my list since I was a child, picking up a book in my parents’ library about biblical archaeology with a picture of Petra’s Treasury on the front and wondered where this magical place was. 

And because the ticket was $499 nonstop round-trip. How do you say no to all that? Surprisingly to me (maybe not to you), not many (any) were interested in making the same trip. So here I am, settled in to my seat after a delicious chicken makhni dinner (I confess I love airplane food) and watched The Devil Wears Prada for the umpteenth time. Two Xanax in and I’m not even caring that this plane is bouncing about over the Atlantic. I hope it rocks me to sleep first. 

This is my first flight aboard the Dreamliner and I announced my excitement to the crew that greeted us at the door. One attendant took me on a brief tour of the first class cabin, complete with wooden floors, the infamous magical Dreamliner windows (they don’t have shades, they darken digitally!), and even offered me a cup of Arabic coffee when I commented on the pleasant smell of cardamon filling the front cabin. I carried the cup back to my coach seat and settled in. The Dreamliner is spacious and pleasant, and so very quiet compared to most jets. Following dinner, I retired to the loo to change into my pjs. Listen, on any flight over 6 hours, I’m going to attempt to feeling a human on land and go through my bedtime routine just the same, and change again after breakfast service. Staying in the same clothes for 16 hours does not sound appealing. Although in the 10 minutes I was changing, someone absconded with my pillow and blanket as later lingered in the galley stretching my legs, hydrating, and practicing Arabic with the FAs. So they didn’t seem too peeved when I reported my missing bedding and rolled they’re eyes with an exasperated “oh, passengers!”  Pretty confident it wasn’t directed at me. 

So what’s planned? After some quick R&R upon arrival in Amman, it’s off to Petra for two days! I opted to stay right outside the entrance in case I want to catch sunset, sunrise, or the Treasury illuminated by a thousand candles at night. I can’t wait to be inspired with my camera again. The next day I’m off on a Bedouin-guided 13km hike into the back of Petra. They claim it’ll take 3-4 hours. I’m counting on 2. I learned my lesson from hikes in Peru and China that this time I’m prepared with a trekking stick and proper shoes. And a compass. You never know. 

Thanksgiving will find me dining at a Bedouin camp in Wadi Rum eating a roasted lamp cooked in a sand pit, under the desert stars. Have you ever been in the remotest parts of the middle eastern and Arabian deserts? It’s as beautiful and calming as the sea. I look forward to the solace. Life since July has been punching me from all directions; professional, emotional, physical, psychological, financial, social, along with my own doubts about my future, whatever that looks like. Insert midlife crisis. I have fine-tuned my life to be as devoid as drama as possible, yet sometimes the planets align against you and test your blood pressure. I need an astrologist, not a therapist. This all has been necessary. Looking forward to walks and silent meditation under the infinite stars and the red cliffs. 

Next stop will be an Ecolodge well far off the tourist track in the Dana Biosphere Reserve, names by Condé Nast Traveler As one of the The 10 Best Ecolodges in the world. Since the Ecolodge I’ve wanted to visit in Egypt (Adrere Amelal in Siwa is too close to the Libyan border for comfort), Feynan will do. No electricity, no refrigeration, all food is grown on the property, the lodge is lit by candlelight, and the lodge proceeds support the nearby village, where the women cook all the bread that’s used as the lodge. 

I didn’t want to hop on a generic tour bus here. I wanted my money to mean something and make a difference. So I chose an organization to organize my driver and activities that had partnerships with initiatives that directly enrich local communities. For instance, after Feynan, I’ll depart for a small impoverished village on the Dead Sea that the Jordanian conservationists are trying to revitalize. This is exchange tourism. Helping with the olive harvest, learning the art of local crafts, baking bread, cooking, and passing down stories helps enrich not only my view of the world, but my funding contribution is used to fund micro loan programs that the villagers use to start businesses and hopefully find a way out of poverty. Forget staying at a Marriott and hopping on and off a tour bus. I want to make a small difference to someone. 

My next stop is oh-so-characteristic of me. It will be in Madaba, the home of Byzantine-era mosaics. Artists would apprentice here and then set out across the Byzantine empire to practice their craft and adorn places of worship like the Hagia Sofia. On the floor of one of these ancient churches is a mosaic map of the Holy Land as it was known nearly 1500 years ago!  I’m crazy about maps, new and old. My Greek is a bit rusty, but if I learned one thing in my college sorority, it was the Greek alphabet, so I’m hoping to interpret some of this famous map, located next to Mount Nebo, from which Moses allegedly viewed the Promised Land. 

And then onward to Amman, where I’ll spend a half day exploring Jerash, the largest collection of Roman ruins outside, well, Rome. I hope to be able to squeeze in a couple afternoons of shopping in Amman, with the ultimate weeklong goal of grazing on a great platter of mansaf, Jordan’s office’s dish. If I haven’t made this dish for you yet, reminded me to invite you over for this indulgence. Perhaps I’ll find time to squeeze in a mansaf cooking class, but this week is already jam-packed with activities. 

It’s been 20 years since I embarked on my first solo trip - to San Francisco and Silicon Valley. It was for a fencing tournament and a friend backed out. I swore then I wouldn’t let someone else spoil my plans, so continued without him. Since then I’ve embarked overseas solo to Dubai, Rio, Europe twice, and now Jordan. Solo travel gets a little easier each time, although some mild pre-trip anxiety is normal. But once I’m at the airport, the jitters are gone. The Middle East is a magical place in which I’d love to share the experience with someone else so we can exchange ideas and perceptions and reflect on our visit. Don’t dismiss this part of the world because of the raucous neighbors. You’d be missing out on what makes the culture and religious customs so great. Actually, this will be my first trip back to MENA when it’s NOT Ramadan, so I’m also looking forward to what normal daily life looks like. 

It’s interesting... Middle East, Paris, Spain, any Spanish-speaking country feels more comfortable to me than many parts of America. It’s no secret to myself that I feel more at ease around diversity, or even when I’m in the minority (I’m one of two blondes on this flight).  Perhaps because the world fascinates me so I, that I’ve dreamed of exploring the world from such a young age that this has became familiar to me. And yet I continue to surprise myself with every trip with how much more I learned and am humbled but why I don’t know. Exploration feeds my yearning to learn. I am so excited fo what lay before me and what I’ll take away from this trip. 

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