Prelude - the Journey to a Journey

Wilmington Travel Blog

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I can’t pinpoint when I first became aware of Petra, but it was only within the last several years…and love at first sight.  Who could glimpse these magnificent, ancient structures cobbled into the red-rose walls of desert canyons and not be smitten?  Slowly I gathered tidbits around Petra and a desire was kindled to venture to Jordan, where the ruins are located.

Before long Petra became a destination and thanks to some friends living in Dubai, the visit wasn’t just another entry on a wish list.  Mark and Samia have been living in Dubai for the past six years, but I suspect they will return to the US before long.  Since it is difficult enticing others to drop in on a country bordered by Israel and Iraq, it seemed I needed to put something together while Jordan was a cheap, quick flight for my friends.

Serious research began after dates had been agreed upon, and the biggest discovery became learning the value of a journey to a journey.  The effort to learn about ancient ruins in the middle of nowhere would reinforce the equality across all races of humankind, educate me about current strife in the Mid-East, and nurture an appreciation for the need to take care of our planet.  The beauty is how there is no discomfort in the journey to a journey: no physical movement is required, no cash down for vague promises of exhilaration, no worries about awkward blunders from language barriers or ignorance of local customs.  There was little downside, but so much to gain from the inspiration of images of Petra.

My initial forays around Petra focused on the Nabateans, the people who built Petra.  Ingenious Bedouin merchants, the Nabateans prospered by trafficking frankincense to European markets across a desert wasteland.  Did I say ingenious?  The glory of the Nabateans presents more proof that all humans possess equal brain power and it has nothing to do with a particular ethnicity.

You won’t have to invest much time before realizing the Nabateans overcame their dry climate by devising complex systems to channel and store seasonal rains.  Their designs included dimensioning pipes to maximize water flow…a concept only duplicated by ‘modern’ man within the last 150 years!  Grasping this recalled how Frank Lloyd Wright expressed that Mayans were the ultimate architects.  How can any of us claim our tribe is mentally superior when a simple survey of the past reveals such breadth of remarkable accomplishments?  Anyone who asserts their tribe has more smarts merely confesses to an ignorance of history.

My own ignorance was reinforced by stumbling upon Lawrence of Arabia while surfing the net for tourist opportunities in Jordan.  Do you know who Lawrence of Arabia was?  Prior to Petra, the single fact I could have shared was that he was portrayed by Peter O’Toole in a movie I never saw, and couldn’t have hazarded whether he was fact or fiction.  I must have leaned towards fiction, because I was astonished by all the offers to shadow routes he followed in advertisements for camel trekking!

So he was obviously a real person and my fascination grew upon discovering he had written a book titled “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”.  I was intrigued by this lofty title and suspected a philosopher?  Although this conclusion was somewhat mistaken, the story of Lawrence is gripping.  In the years immediately preceding World War I, Lawrence was a college student touring Syria to research a thesis which contradicted popular belief that Middle Eastern castles had been influenced by Europeans.  Lawrence pointed out that it was quite the opposite, with returning Crusaders bringing Arabian influence back to Europe.

A stupid American, I never realized that there was a second theater during World War I.  The United States never declared war against the Ottoman Empire and my countries’ exposure was limited to Europe despite the significant conflict in Arabia.  But here was a second front that Lawrence participated in.

While “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” was not what I anticipated, it turned out to be a captivating autobiography of Lawrence’s adventures during the war.  He basically supported the ‘Arab Irregulars’ --- a hopeful contingent of Arab tribes the British encouraged to rebel against centuries of dominion by the Ottoman Empire.  Lawrence roamed the region to lend assistance to the revolt and a key accomplishment was his notion to sack the port village of Aqaba by venturing 600 miles across deserts and attack the fortress by land (all of the armaments pointed towards the sea).  Lawrence’s subsequent thrusts were intentionally non-life threatening and he preferred to blow up railways and disturb the foe’s supply chain rather than plot direct confrontations which would cost lives.

Discovering Lawrence led to the even more profound discovery of Gertrude Bell, an extraordinary British woman who was deeply connected to Middle East events after World War I.  I highly recommend Janet Wallach’s book “Desert Queen” to learn about an incredible life.

 What I found remarkable in Lawrence’s work was his discussion of how the Arabs had no concept or desire for a “nation” --- they were tribal communities with no aspiration for being unified into something bigger.  Gertrude would likely echo these sentiments as she devoted the final years of her life in a futile attempt to unify Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds into the nation of Iraq during the 1920’s.

The struggle to unify Iraq eighty years ago was plagued with the same issues causing so much agony today, except Gertrude tried to overcome through tact and intimate connections with the people as opposed to brute military force.  I think Gertrude came closer to succeeding all those years ago, but it is astonishing that we plunged into this quagmire without digesting the readily available legacy from Lawrence and Gertrude.  Those who refuse to learn history.........

Bringing up Iraq is relevant because that country shares a border with Jordan…but Jordan also shares a border with Israel.  So the other Mid-East struggle that crops up is Israel and the Palestinians.  Once again I am ashamed at how little I knew about this situation and I won’t bore or aggravate you with my opinions.  I will share that I was thoroughly disgusted after reading several books on the situation: all were biased works aggressively pushing a pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian agenda and I longed for a balanced viewpoint.

God bless Tom Friedman, because he provided the balanced view I desperately sought.  I wholeheartedly recommend “From Beirut to Jerusalem” if you want an honest dissection of what is going on there.  Even though the book is a bit dated now, I believe he has articulated the reality and roots of the conundrum with utmost impartiality.   You can’t sum up such a situation easily, but Tom helped me reconcile my feelings and realize that both sides share blame for this continuing debacle.

Nature is the last stop in this prelude.  I was the last one who would have suspected environmental concerns in a country that is more or less a desert, but Jordan is ground zero for examples of how mankind is messing up the planet. Beyond Petra, the Dead Sea was the only other place in Jordan I could initially name.  The lowest point on Earth, the Dead Sea is 400 meters below sea level and an astounding site.

For eons the Jordan River has drained into this pool to create a unique environment.  Driven by massive evaporation, the salt content of the Dead Sea is seven times what you experience in any ocean.  You can’t swim in the Dead Sea because it is so buoyant, but don’t shave because the salt will smart lick heck!

I wanted to learn about the Dead Sea to enhance my travels, but the journey to a journey helped me understand that the Dead Sea is dying.  Mankind’s thirst for water has reduced input to the Dead Sea to the point where it can’t maintain status quo.  It is believed that the Dead Sea will be gone in fifty years.

Compounding this discovery was having my eyes opened to a more devastating eco-disaster driven by the relentless search for water - the destruction of the Azraq Oasis.  I learned how this natural pooling ground, which provided a unique natural refuge for 250,000 years, was destroyed in less than twenty years when recklessly drained to provide water for the populace in Amman, starting around 1980.  I invite you to read Alanna Mitchell’s “Dancing at the Dead Sea” to appreciate this disaster and how short-sighted we are (Sting’s “Walking in Your Footsteps” has been ringing in my ears ever since opening this book).

Better lay off since nobody will read my blog with all this text and no pictures.  However, I hope this short piece expresses how travel can positively influence our lives ---- and why I love this site!

From a more practical aspect, I will include a few of my preparations.  Before TravBuddy I never packed a camera, but now I do (and enjoy it).  Since Jordan would require a transformer to recharge my camera battery and I have no other need to convert electricity, I just bought a couple extra batteries to bring along.  Because research had me wary of Montezuma’s revenge, my thought was to stock up on massive quantities of bottled water after touching down in Amman.  Further research (and Alanna's book) taught me that this is an environmental no-no since plastic bottles don’t get recycled in Jordan.  Since I already have plenty of water bottles, I ordered enough water purification tablets to provide six liters of water each day --- the plan is to re-fill bottles each night in preparation for the next day’s adventures.

Haven’t shared zip about the actual itinerary, but you'll get that in spades soon.  Pictures too!  Leave in a few days and I am very excited,  please share any tips or advice!!!

vances says:
Wow, have a blast in Petra and Israel, May. I'm glad this still has some's been a few years so I'll look forward to reading your blog and learning what might have changed --> Happy New Year!
Posted on: Dec 27, 2013
cotton_foam says:
We're heading to Petra in a few months so I'm reading your blog... Thank you for writing all these very relevant infos!! I'm learning already :). So besides the "intellectual awareness", I will need to buy extra battery for my camera! I already have 2 so I'll get another 1 :) and the water bottle too I'll remember that!

I might suggest to my husband we watch the movie "Lawrence of Arabia" ;)
Posted on: Dec 27, 2013
dubaimemoir says:
Wow, very informative on history & current situation.Going there Oct & u said there's public beach in Dead Sea for JD51/per person? May I get the area name & how to go there from Petra? Thanks
Posted on: Jul 20, 2010
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photo by: vances