Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Story of Wadi Rum (29 Oct 2008)

Well, the main event for the day (although wandering down the Nile along the corniche was nice, it's not really much to write home about) is still yet to come, so I thought I would concur with a request for more details about my dissatisfaction with my experience in Wadi Rum. I kind of skimmed over it, because I didn't have much of an internet connection (through management's office, and I felt like I was kind of imposing, so I only used it to write a note to the family letting them know where I was and that I was okay). So, we left Petra at 6 a.m. on the 17th, via minibus to Wadi Rum. I mentioned to the driver where I was staying - at Bait Ali, which is actually outside the protected area along the access road - and when we got to the turn off, he let me off the bus, and told me, 'Go down the road, to the right,' and pointed across the train tracks running perpendicular to the access road. I waited for a train to pass, and crossed the tracks rolling my suitcase along behind me. Here's where I ran into my first problem: after the tracks, I had two choices, go straight, which led behind a large rock formation, or go right. Well, duh, I chose the right...that's what he told me to do, and there was a small village not too far off.
So away I go, and at first the unpaved road is okay, but then it gets a little sandy, and my suitcase is now definitely dragging. Soon I reach a dry wash, and from there I'm able to see behind the rock formation, and what I see looks a LOT like what I remember of the pictures on Bait Ali's website. I leave my suitcase behind to take a closer look, and when I do I realize - oopsies! - that I definitely went the wrong way. I'm seeing the humor in it, though, and I figure, what the hey? might as well continue on around the rock formation and come in from the other side. So I get my suitcase and start trekking down the wash, which is actually a little harder packed than the road I was on (most of the time). As I keep going, I see more, and more, and more of the wall that surrounds Bait Ali, and eventually I see where it ends. Right up against the rock face. I believe I actually could have climbed over it, but I thought that entering any sort of Arabic compound - even a camp catering to tourists - by climbing over a wall unannounced, might not be my best idea. However, I can't drag my suitcase back all that way, so I leave it partially concealed behind a boulder, and walk back around, coming in from the direction I should have in the first place. I figure out where to check in, and announce my presence, and explain my little snafu. Mr. Mark (as I later learn he is called) says no problem and asks me to have a seat. So I sit. And sit. And sit. It was about 8:30 when I got there. 9:30 when I decided I should have breakfast. 10 when I decide to explore, and climb the stairs leading up the Bait Ali side of the rock formation, just in time to see a guy set off from the village that I originally thought was my camp, to investigate the mysterious suitcase, ('Is it a joke? Some sort of terrorist threat?' No, sir, just your random moment of stupidity.), which was soon retrieved by the staff. It was around 10:30 when I sat down to read, and then fell asleep, and close to 12 when I woke up from my nap. STILL my room wasn't ready. Yes, I understood that check out wasn't until 11, but I was kind of perturbed because these guys are supposed to be running a business, involving all sorts of cool things - 4WD tours, camel treks, horse treks, wind sailing, just to name a few - and yet nobody asked me what, if anything, I wanted to do that day or the next. I probably should have been more proactive, but I was a little unsure of my footing, considering I didn't even have a room yet. So I just waited. When I finally got my room, I was so tired from my detour and waiting all morning, that I spent most of the afternoon in my chalet...which I shelled out more for than either my room in Amman or in Petra, because I wanted more security than in a tent, yet the lock didn't even work properly. I should have complained about it, but I had already kind of complained about my room not being ready any faster, and kind of felt like anything would have fallen on deaf ears. So I slept with my suitcase propped in front of the door, and kept my passport on me. Anyways, in the chalet (a little two-bed concrete hut), I started reading an Agatha Christie book I traded up for in Istanbul, and when the sun was a little less fierce, I decided I'd go swimming in their pool (another reason I was ready to shell out so much money). I got changed and went to the pool, and when I got in, I swear it was colder than the naeng-tangs at the saunas in Korea. Of course, I guess it doesn't make any sense to heat a pool in the middle of a Jordanian desert, but on the flip side, it makes it awfully hard to swim in when it's NOT summer. I managed to get in as far as my waist, but then I gave up. I sat by the pool, drying and reading for a while, eventually changed, and ate dinner, which was pretty good.
At some point during day 1 I'd talked to someone about taking a camel trek. He didn't really speak English, and I definitely don't speak Arabic, but he kind of understood that I wanted a four hour camel trek, which I amended to 3 hours when he said it was going to cost me 50 dinar...that dropped the price to 35 dinar, which was way more than Lonely Planet quoted, but my Jordan guide was a few years old and many of the prices were wrong, so I just went with it. When we started to leave the compound the next day, he drove off from Bait Ali in the wrong direction for the visitor center. I'm still not entirely sure about what was going on, I saw at least one camel at the camp, and maybe I was supposed to use their camels and trek outside the protected area, but the whole point of going there was to SEE WADI RUM, and we weren't actually in Wadi Rum, so I managed to communicate that I wanted to go to the protected area, that I wanted to see Jebel Rum, and he changed course.
When we got to the visitor center, I paid for my permit and he was talking to some people. While I was waiting for him to figure out whatever it was, I looked at the map, and it listed prices for camel treks, and guess what, rock fans? They were the same as in my Lonely Planet. So I pointed out the discrepancy, and we 'talked' about what I wanted to see, and then set off for Rum village, where he left me in the care of an 11-year old boy, who it seemed was going to lead the camel, on foot, for the next four hours. Except that he stopped by his house in the village for something, and while I was waiting his father came along, and when he heard where we were going, he had some sort of problem with it, I guess that the kid was going to be out too late, or that it was going to get dark, so we went BACK to the enclosure where the camels were kept, I dismounted and got on another camel, and he headed home in a huff. My new guide was a few years older, and the only stop he wanted to make was for cigarettes...and if I'd known that's what he wanted, I don't think I would have given him the dinar he asked for (the other kid got soda and bread from the store, how was I supposed to know?) Anyways, we went off away from civilization, and saw some cool rocks, and I had him head back to the village early because I didn't want him to be out after dark, paid him the originally agreed upon price, and he told me to go ask someone at the Rest House for a ride back to Bait Ali. So I did, and the guy and I agreed on a price of 5 dinar (probably because I said that's all I had), and he said he'd be back with his Pajero in 10 minutes.
Well, he came back, and actually, he had to go out into the desert to help some of his tourists get set up for the night. It was creeping up on 6 now, and I didn't really care - actually, I kind of got to see more of Wadi Rum this way, at sunset no less - but I wanted to be back in time to shower before dinner (I wasn't, but oh well). I got back to Bait Ali alright, and ate dinner, and went to take my shower before an early bedtime, because I was supposed to catch the 7 a.m. bus to Aqaba the next day. Went into the public shower - which I hadn't used yet because, really, I was riding a camel that day, who needs to shower before riding a camel? - and turned on the water, which was just a skoash cooler than lukewarm, and I hadn't even turned on the cold water. I tried all the stalls, with the same result, and determined there was nothing else for it but to take a cold shower. Not particularly pleasant. I repacked my stuff and went to bed after setting my alarm for 6, figuring that would give me more than enough time to get ready, check out, and make my way up to the main access road. I was wrong on that one, too. For my own convenience, I'm more or less cutting and pasting - without consent of the recipient - the scoop on my departure from Bait Ali from an email I wrote to Evil Incarnate. I took for granted that I'd be able to check out in time this morning to catch the 7 a.m. bus down from Wadi Rum, and when the camp staff finally got up and around and checked me out - yes, I should have paid my bill the previous night, but, like I said, I took it for granted SOMEONE would be around - and I huffed and puffed my way up to the main access road, I'd missed it. So I abandoned my suitcase (for the third time in this little misadventure) in the ditch next to the railroad tracks running next to the access road and went back to the camp, got a little snippy with Mr. Mark, because as far as I knew, that was the only bus and a taxi was going to cost me about $35 - $42, had him call it anyways, because I had to be on the ferry, and was waiting for it to arrive when a bus to Aqaba drove up. I've never been so happy in the whole trip (and never felt like such a wench, either - for getting snippy, and for the fact that the taxi that was supposed to pick me up was coming from Aqaba - but I guess life goes on). So I got to Aqaba alright and at a minimum of expenditure, and there was even a dude heading to the ferry who I shared a cab with. Got there, went to buy my ticket, and found out I didn't have enough cash. Alright, so I thought I'd go get some money out of the ATM, since they didn't take credit cards...but it turns out that there IS no ATM at the passenger terminal. I had to go all the way back to Aqaba proper to withdraw money. Today reminded me of WHY I disliked the middle east with such vehemence, and after telling the taxi driver that I didn't want to cross into Egypt via Israel because most other Arab countries wouldn't allow me entry if they could see I'd been through Israel, I found myself wondering if that wouldn't be such a bad thing...might prevent further lapses of judgment. Anyways, once at the dock, once I had my ticket, I bumped into my friend from Petra Kitchen
(did I write about my amazing cooking class experience yet? Oh well, another time...), Isabel (she's the one in the keffiyeh), and it turned out she was in the same tour group as the random foreigners I met in Amman, Phee, Carol, and Carol, and their tour leader, Peter, let me follow their group around like a lost puppy, which did a pretty good job of calming me down and streamlining my entry into Egypt. The End.

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