It’s about 2:00 in the afternoon on a very warm day in Israel, sometime in late July. The Hebrew and Arabic Intensive programs at the University of Haifa have just ended a few minutes ago, and the campus is slowly being deserted. Almost all the students are dispersing to various parts of the country or returning to their international homes.
At least Eight students have elected to stay in Israel for the remainder of the summer, six of whom are currently packing or getting rested… The other two, an American and a Brit are sitting in one of the student community buildings listening to a very eclectic mix of Dire Straits and Mos Def over the (almost deserted) building’s sound system. In about 7 hours these two will join the other six and board a bus for the southerly town of Eilat.
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It was just getting dark as the bus departed from the Central Haifa bus station and embarked on a 5 hour drive to Eilat. It was about 6 hours later that the bus finally arrived at it’s destination and all passengers disembarked with the same sort of well rested appearance one would expect to see in vinegar after it has spent a bumpy bus ride surrounded by heaps of baking soda.
Our group of eight met up with a German friend who arrived about the same time from Tel Aviv, and together the nine of us set off for the Israeli/Jordanian border crossing. The sun was rising and the day was already heating up when we arrived. As we waited for the crossing to open we sat around on benches hoping to finally get some sleep. In a mostly sleepless hour or two the border crossing finally opened and we walked up to the barbed wire surrounding the Israeli checkpoint, and prepared to leave Israel.
On the Jordanian side of no mans land, border security checked and stamped passports while asking questions through puffs of cigarette smoke... Welcome to Jordan!
We soon found a group of taxis and set out in groups of three for Wadi Rum. You know that cliche phrase used in writing often: “before his head hit the pillow he was fast asleep”? Well, I honestly don’t remember much of the taxi ride because I’m pretty sure that before I even got into the taxi I fell fast asleep.
I do remember periodically waking and looking out the car’s window at blue mountains, dilapidated buildings, and lot’s and lot’s of sand. After an hour or two we arrived at our destination and met with our Bedouin hosts in a little town outside of Wadi Rum. They brought us to a little desert hut and offered us tea. Keep in mind that this is late July, and the Jordanian heat is nearly 130 °F (Almost 54 °C for those who don’t measure temperature in freedom units). One would think that tea is not such a ‘hot’ commodity (Ah ha. Ah ha… PUNS!!) in this kind of weather, but believe it or not, a piping hot glass of sweet tea is surprisingly refreshing on such a hot day.
We then rode in the back of a pickup down a small dusty road which faded quickly into the desert, and eventually arrived at the desert camp. Tents were set up, and there was a circle of stone seating around a fire pit.
Most of the day was spent hiking around the desert and climbing up various rock formations. It was soon after this day that I discovered a feature in my shoes which I was previously unaware of. My shoes now have the ability to either manufacture sand, or otherwise transport it through some kind of magical portal reaching from their sole to the Jordanian desert. It’s uncanny how much sand can be shaken from that pair of shoes even to this day.
In the evening our group decided to watch the sunset, so we set out for a particular rock formation which one or more of our Bedouin friends had recommended. We climbed up to a ledge overlooking most of the desert, and sat on it’s westward side. Nine very different paths had converged by chance in Israel, and now for the present moment were running side by side through a landscape that the greatest artists can hardly imitate.
The evening colors became increasingly vivid as the sun’s warmth spilled through the atmosphere and seeped into the sandy canvas at it’s feet. The sky and ground together took on a certain otherworldly quality. The air was still and calm, and then as suddenly as it had begun, the most beautiful sunset I have seen came to an end, and a blanket of darkness fell across the desert.
Pretty dramatic eh? Sorry, but I did say that it was the best sunset I’ve ever seen… So the writing style had to reflect such a bold claim. “We watched the sunset”, although incredibly accurate, would hardly have cut it.