I‘m scared to get gas. I don’t know how to do it here. I’m ok with driving solo over a mountain in a powerless vehicle but the prospect of looking stupid in front of a stranger that I’ll never see again intimidates me.
I’m tempted to just ride-out the tank all the way to Wadi Rum but decide against it, recalling past times of running precipitously low on fuel at night or in a strange place, the knot that would grow in my stomach and the subsequent silent vows to never again endanger myself. Sometimes I actually learn from my past mistakes.
The man at the pump regards me curiously with a glint of a smile. I am clearly an oddity in these parts, but the reactions I’ve received to being a blond-haired, blue-eyed, solo female traveler from the Midwest in the Middle East have been respectful. And — it turns out — getting gas here is no big deal, either: I hand the guy some cash, he fills my car, and off I go. Maybe *some* things are easy.
ROAD TO WADI RUM
There’s a fork in the road. I consult my directions to Wadi Rum. They do not address a fork in the road… Well I have a 50% chance of getting this right…
Crap. I’m lost. The road I chose dead-ends at a village. Turning randomly, I disrupt a game of street soccer, scattering pre-pubescent boys to the left and right. They point at me, shout. I have not seen a single woman. I do NOT belong here. Google Maps will not help me here, my directions are worthless and one wrong turn might land me in Iraq!
Good thing I got gas.
I eventually arrive at Wadi Rum.
Wadi Rum is a series of desert valleys punctuating red canyons that run from north to south. British army officer T.E. Lawrence trekked this land and the famous movie about him was filmed here. Pilfered from the Visit Jordan website:
A maze of monolithic rockscapes rise up from the desert floor to heights of 1,750 meters, creating a natural challenge for serious mountaineers. Hikers can enjoy the tranquility of the boundless empty spaces and explore the canyons and water holes to discover 4000-year-old rock drawings and the many other spectacular treasures this vast wilderness holds in store.
Both Mohammeds spoke passionately of sleeping under the stars at Wadi Rum when I asked them about their favorite destination in Jordan. In addition to camping, visitors to the UNESCO World Heritage Site can hike, ride camels or 4 x 4 vehicles, and fly in balloons or other aircraft. It all sounds fun, but traveling solo, I’m up only for a camel ride: the activity’s been on my bucket list for years.
Multiple teenage boys rush me as I exit my vehicle. One tenacious teen has apparently “claimed” me, and he dogs me to hire him as a guide all the way to the Visitors’ Center. The man at the ticket booth pushes various activities on me and attempts to talk me into a longer, more expensive camel ride. I’m already annoyed.
My camel driver is a cocky kid of about — oh — eighteen whole years. I nickname him Akbar in my mind, and dub my camel Jeff. Akbar coaxes Jeff onto its knees, I climb atop him, and Akbar tethers us to his own camel.
My head hurts. No, my head is pounding. The coffee at Feynan Ecolodge yesterday was undrinkable and I forwent coffee at the hotel this morning as it was only available as part of a $30 breakfast buffet. Now I’m suffering the consequences: a mean case of caffeine withdrawal. And this bouncing up and down isn’t helping any.
My butt hurts. Five minutes of riding on a camel is fun; ten minutes is not. Akbar and I fail at conversation and Jeff doesn’t have much to offer. I tell Akbar that I’m ready to go back. He ignores me, insists that we need to continue to the watering hole so that Jeff can have a drink. I can’t argue with that.
We arrive at the watering hole and Jeff drinks. I insist that we return NOW — fucking headache — and Akbar insists I go look at the ancient wall drawings.
“I don’t WANT to look at the ancient wall drawings. I WANT to go back.” Akbar informs me that we’re not returning until we have our tea.
“I don’t WANT to drink tea. I WANT to go back.” But I’m stuck, just like in the movies! The bull-headed, independent, uppity, spoiled American woman is stuck and can’t do anything about it but stew and swear. And then she eventually falls for her captor, of course, but that’s not happening here: I’m not feeling any Akbar love.