Coming from almost three months in south Asia, we both gaped at the incredibly different scenery as we sped away from the Amman airport down the King’s Highway. A man in a red and white checkered head scarf herded a flock of shaggy sheep away from the edge of the highway with a long stick. Women waiting at the bus stops wearing head to toe black burkas, their eyes peering from slits in the hood. Flat red earth tilled into tidy rows of green. Fortress-looking estate homes built from rock and concrete, grilles on the windows, enormous sparkling SUVs parked out front.
As we traveled farther from Amman, the evidence of wealth melted away. We started to see nomadic Bedouin tents studding the increasingly brown landscape, herds of long-eared goats munching on scrub brush nearby. Camels lumbering by on spindly knobby-kneed legs. Long stretches of barren sand-colored landscape.
Next we stopped at Mount Nebo to see the mountaintop where Moses, having led the Israelites for 40 years through this barren corner of the earth, finally looked out over the Promised Land (Israel) and then promptly died. We drove along the edge of Wadi Mujib, Jordan’s Grand Canyon. Despite the cold wind blowing, the air was grey and moist, and the 1200-meter deep canyon disappeared off into the haze.
Our driver Ibrahim waited for us as we explored Karak Castle, the crumbling sand-colored remains of a fortress built by Crusaders almost a thousand years ago. Our guide through the castle was a sun-weathered old many wearing a brown ankle-length robe, a red and white checkered head covering, and a corduroy coat. His grin was gummy, punctuated only by three remaining nicotine-stained teeth. Finally arriving at Wadi Musa after dark, we were jet-lagged, wind-burned, and thrilled to collapse into bed early.
We woke before sunrise to dueling muezzin’s calls from the town’s several mosques. We fueled up on a hearty breakfast of pita bread, soft cheese, apricot preserves, hard-boiled eggs, and powdered coffee. I was bouncing up and down with excitement (literally, which Mohit did not appreciate as I pestered him to hurry up) because this day of exploring Petra was one of the days that I had been most looking forward to on our long journey. It did not disappoint!