Jordan: Lessons From the Other Holy Land
After dinner, we visit the neighbors — Bedouins who sit cross-legged on beautiful carpets in a tent and who kindly smile at our attempts to ask about their lives.
Little girls run and cover their pretty smiles with veils and touch my yellow hair as we walk to the top of a sandy rock mountain and build a small fire of sticks for hot tea as we wait for the sun to set.
But of course, the highlight of any trip to Jordan is Petra.
An ancient archaeological city established sometime around the 6th century BCE by the Nabataean tribes, Petra features red rock-cut buildings jutting several stories high — with huge temples, arenas, amphitheatres and holy spots.
It is the most-visited tourist attraction in the Middle East, and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985 and is now considered one of the modern day Seven Wonders of the World — a merit well deserved.
Like visiting a state park, you pay a fee and then hike (or take a donkey cart) through tall narrow slot canyons. Suddenly, through a tall shadowed slit in the rocks, you follow a slim passageway until you behold the sun on the rose-red windblown face of the Treasury, one of the most famous edifices of Petra.
There is also an enormous ancient ruin called the Monastery, but getting to it involves a long, hot, hard hike up some 900 steps (including boulders and skinny scary ledges). The most amazing things there were not the gigantic ruins at the top but rather the wild tulips that grow in the sandy red rock soil.
Another truth springs from the ground: Take the hard way. There are tulips at the top.
An astonishing fact about Petra is that, for a long while, we actually lost it... It remained unknown to the Western world until 1812 when a Swiss explorer, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, heard stories of it from local tribesmen and asked them to help lead him to there. Burckhardt was stunned by its beauty, calling it a “rose-red city half as old as time.”
Another truth: Just because we haven’t found it doesn’t mean that something wonderful isn’t out there for us. Look for that which is lovely. Listen. Ask directions. Seek the hidden.
Marvels may seem to take centuries to find, but magnificent things are possible. And when you find them, don’t forget. Don’t lose them all over again.
On the way back to the Dead Sea, after our magical time in the desert, we stop to see Bethany Beyond the Jordan, where Jesus is believed to have been baptized.
There are no T-shirt shops nearby or people hawking holy water or Chiclets — no commercial trappings. Just reeds and weeds and a slim murky green river — not deep and wide like in the old gospel song — just an ordinary creek where I dip my empty plastic bottle into the spring and carry brown water back to the bus.
My seventh lesson: God is in the ordinary, the natural, the filthy dirty. Maybe even in me.
The rest of the trip is spent snorkeling in the blue waters of Aqaba from a wooden ship surrounded by beautiful white clouds of elegant stinging jellyfish, and lounging around drop-Dead Sea gorgeous resorts at the lowest point on earth.
There, the lights of Jerusalem flicker in the distance across the sea like a city of tiny lighthouses. In the salt sea, covered in black mud, I stand up stick-straight while floating. Then I shower and swim with my new friend Rogerio in the pools of the Kempinksi Ishtar as the sun sets across the water over the other Holy Land.
On the last night, we dine under willowy Bedouin windblown tents at the Mövenpick Resort and dance to Arabic music, with drums banging, bringing on the dawn.
As I walk back to my hotel room just before sunrise, no call to prayer hangs on the wind here. Still, I pull open the bedside drawer to put away a book and notice a round sticker with an arrow pointing to Mecca hidden inside the drawer.
Just then, I think of something J.D. Salinger wrote: “Jesus knew — knew — that we’re carrying the Kingdom of Heaven around with us, inside, where we’re all too goddamn stupid and sentimental and unimaginative to look. You have to be a son of God to know that kind of stuff.”
I close the drawer on the sticker. I don’t need it. This time I know just where to look.
Al-Hussain Society (Volunteer opportunities in Amman)
Feynan Eco Lodge (located deep in the heart of the mountainous Dana Biosphere Reserve at Wadi Feynan)
Bedouin Desert Camp at Wadi Rum
Hotels accommodations at Acaba:
Sailing cruises at Aqaba:
Hotels & resorts at the Dead Sea:
Petra Kitchen, a relaxed, informal atmosphere where you will gather to prepare an evening meal, working alongside local women under the supervision of a chef.
How to get there:
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