Its been a crazy few months and I needed a few days to clear my mind and get away - what better place than a bedouin camp with no wifi a few miles outside Petra. The camp is truly wonderful..... a few bedouin tents scattered among the rocks near Little Petra, lit by lanterns at night, until the generator shuts down at 11pm and the night sky lights up with a million stars. It is the perfect place and really does feel like a million miles from anywhere familiar, which is just what I needed.
Ive been looked after by the wonderful Sami and the guys who are managing the camp in the absence of the owners, Jane and Atef who are in Sri Lanka on holiday. Sami was reassurance personified. A tall, slim, gentle but authoritative soul who took care of me from the moment I arrived. I'd been feeling unwell since leaving Amman - the one and a half hour delay on the side of the highway after the bus driver broke the suspension of the bus by carelessly driving into the running pothole that is the slow lane - didn't help.
We were offloaded at around 7.30am to wait for a replacement bus, after leaving Amman at 6.30 and the temperature was still freezing and I was nauseous after a bad night in a dodgy hostel in the old city. Arriving at my lovely bedouin camp 5 1/2 hours later, I was exhausted. Sami made sure I was taken care of with a traditional bedouin remedy of sage tea and bed rest in my cosy tent. From then on, he was always around to make sure I was OK and take care of anything I needed. He was also the gracious host for the evening, serving our delicious homemade traditional bedouin dinner... usually a rice dish such as Chicken Majboos, soup, salad and arabic sweets.
Today, my last day, I went for a wander among the rocks and found a spot overlooking the valley, with the sun on my back, perched on a rocky outcrop in the middle of desert scrubland between two sandstone rocky mountains, which appeared like piles of scooped caramel ice-cream refusing to melt beneath the warmth of the arabian sun. As the light changed and the sun moved around, different faces appeared in the rocks.
I became restless, as I am with all things these days. Never satisfied, never content, never able to reach that point which seems continuously out of reach. A commitment phobe - not even able to commit to sitting in this spot without thinking that somewhere else might be better. The feeling got the better of me and I moved.
The semi domesticated dogs which patrol this valley in pairs looking for goat rustlers, circled me in the distance with hackles raised and a few warning barks to remind me of my place. They continued to keep an eye on me until I settled into my new spot, higher up in the rocks, not far from what appeared to be a place of sacrifice - or at least a place where several goat skins were left nestling in the rocks.
There is an almost silence here like Ive never known. The desert quiet is similar to that found in frozen landscapes..... the lack of vegetation means that you don't even get any of the gentle rustling of leaves on trees when the wind blows. The silence is so much more remarkable here because the sound travels so far and echoes around the rocks. A quiet conversation on side of the valley can be heard on the other.
Occasionally Id spin around to see who was approaching me, only to discover I was hearing a guy talking to a friend who was taking photos of the valley more than half a mile away. He sounded as if he was right next to me. The other sound breaking the silence is the buzzing - incredible high pitched hum of insects on whose flight path I seemed to find myself..... various large flying somethings which I ducked to avoid, fearing an imminent attack.
Its easy to forget that this is a very wild place. A wide variety of creatures are here from the insects already mentioned, including a large number of beetles that roam the camp, which I carefully avoided stepping on at night when venturing out to the toilet block. There are a lot of lizards who love to bask in the rocks and scamper around nervously all over the place..... from tiny ones which I've seen many times before in other places to rather larger specimens around a foot long -quite impressive but too shy and quick for me to capture on film sadly. There are snakes too - which I reminded myself to check for before making myself too comfortable! There are also rather more warm blooded critters - in addition to the cats, dogs, horses and donkeys which are plentiful, some even sleeping on the side of the road - there are hyenas. The arabian striped hyena, pictured below is a Petra resident.
As I sit, the sun moves behind the rocks and the shadow covers my little spot. As it does so, the call to prayer rings out across the valley. There is a small mosque in the nearby bedouin village - one of the ones built in 1989 by the Jordanian government, to move the bedouin out of their traditional cave dwellings into houses with electricity and running water. Last night, the little mosque delivered me a blessing.
I woke up around 4.30am, needing a trip to the bathroom block..... after losing the internal battle with myself to stay warm under the blankets, I ventured out in the freezing desert night to a silent sky full of stars...... as I took a moment to gaze, a low murmur began to echo around the valley, which grew and grew ...."Allahu akbar"..... the call to prayer. I couldn't believe my timing. What an incredible feeling - standing in this beautiful landscape, wrapped in my shawl but still shivering a little, looking up at a million stars and listening to this wonderful sound echoing around the rocks. I was thrilled and took a moment to soak up the atmosphere, knowing for sure I'd come back to this magical place. I stood there for as long as I could bear before tiptoeing quickly back to my tent to my cosy blanketed bed.
These are the best moments - unplanned, no tour guide, no ticket, no instructions, no one else around. But the most magical and memorable moment of all.
I did go to Petra - and did the tourist thing for the day - more of that and my day spent with a bedouin guide in Little Petra.... in my next instalment.