Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be moving to a foreign country to live, let alone a country in the Middle East. Over the 2009 Christmas and New Year’s holidays, my husband Roger and I discussed what we wanted the next part of our life to be like. He thought that before retiring, he would like to do one more airport project but only if he could find something very interesting. I half-jokingly agreed that would be fine but could he try for an exotic location? As usual, Roger came through and soon we were headed to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. This blog is a recap of our "leap-of- faith" wanderings around the Middle East and beyond. We joyfully share these expat experiences.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Travel to Jordan . . . JORDAN JOURNEY - Romantic dining . . spiritual wanderings . . desert romance!

I wonder, wonder who. . .
Who wrote the book of love?

Since the beginning of time, romantic journeys have been a beloved subject of novels, the movie screen and stage. Romance comes in so many packages: long passionate nights, wanderings together in foreign places, languid dinners with fine wine, deeply personal conversations, and an ineffable oneness shared with your lover! Romance gives our souls permisson to soar deepening our passion for living life fully.

Add to this, exotic and spiritual places, and you have a most memorable and romantic encounter. Our 8-day Jordan experience proves to be spectacular, where in unexpected places, romance reigns.

Romantic dinner in Amman
After taking a very early flight from Dubai to Amman, Jordan, we spend the afternoon lazing poolside at our Marriott Hotel. As the dinner hour approaches, we begin the search for an interesting restaurant. "Let's not to go for Jordanian food," I suggest. "We will eat enough of that during the week. Let's try this quaint little restaurant boasting of Spanish cuisine."

The Bonita Inn, a family run inn located on a small side street in the diplomatic area of Amman, is charming with only 6 guest rooms. We choose to dine on the romantic and intimate garden terrace. Here the evening temperature is mild with a slight breeze, brilliant pink bougainvilleas travel across a stone privacy wall, the lighting is soft, and the man I love is at my side. How much better can it get?

Roger orders a very nice bottle of Spanish vino rojo which we leisurely enjoy as we ponder what the week’s excursion through Jordan will bring!

Roger’s meal is wonderful – a crisp salad of marinated tomatoes and ripe avocado and a mouth-watering, perfectly grilled filet of beef with tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. My taste buds are salivating for a nice Spanish meal, but I find the tapas offerings include such strange items as chicken wings, chicken nuggets, fried shrimp and the like.
In fact, I discover that the regular menu has very few Spanish entrees. I settle on what I hope will be a refreshing gazpacho soup and a spicy marinated seafood salad. Both are tasteless! I find this rather odd considering all the wonderful spices available in this part of the world . . . and in Spain! I do not think Roger and I had the same chef; however, dinner was saved by another wonderful bottle of Spanish vino rojo and the intimate pleasure of Roger’s company!

Spiritual wandering in Umm Qais
Umm Qais was once such a thriving creative centre of Hellenism that it was compared to Athens. It was called Gadara then and is considered one of the most brilliant Greco-Roman cities of the Decapolis. In the Bible, Gadara is identified as the site of one of Jesus’ miracles.

When they arrived on the other side of the lake, in the country of the Gadarenes, two men with demons in them met Him.  . . they began screaming at Him “What do you want with us O Son of God? You have no right to torment us yet.” A herd of pigs was feeding in the distance, so the demons begged ," if you cast us out send us to that herd of pigs.” “All right,“ Jesus told them. “Begone.” And they came out of the men and entered the pigs, and the whole herd rushed over a cliff and drowned in the water below. ”Mathew 8:28 – 32

Gadara’s importance comes from being strategically located along important trading routes between Syria and Palestine and being blessed with fertile soil and abundant water. During the reign of Augustus, Gadara distinguishes itself as a cosmopolitan city nurturing writers, artists, philosophers and poets. And given the innate beauty and majesty of its views, the area was a favorite vacation resort for Romans.

This is one of the more remote historical sites, we have the place almost to ourselves. We see only a couple at the restaurant and a group of five Iraqi men we encounter on the cardo, the main colonnaded street. This merry band, in the tradition of world travelers inquires, “We are from Iraq. Where are you from?” At the response, “America,” contemplating the current Iraqi/USA strife, they quickly qualify themselves, “We are the good ones. We are with Save the Children. Click, Click – they take a photo with us and quickly scurry on.

The 3,000 seat West Theatre is constructed of black basalt an extrusive volcanic rock formed from lava as it cools on the earth’s surface. The theatre, built into the side of a hill, has a semi- circular design that enhances the natural acoustics. I take to the center stage and in my best theatrical voice pronounce, “I love Roger Foster with all my heart!” The terraced seats have special sections for the dignitaries, and I take my rightful place front and center. I am, after all, the matriarch of our family!

The cardo takes us past what would have been the busy market centre of the town. Today all we see are the ruins of the shops made of stone. In the silence surrounding Umm Qais, we can image the voices of the merchants and shoppers bargaining over the wares. As we turn the corner, we see the ruins of a 6th century church where the only remaining structures are columns that form the octagonal sanctuary. Walking on a little further we can see the east-west-oriented main road, which once ran all the way to the Mediterranean coast The road also reveals ancient baths, mausoleums, gates and nymphaems, ancient Greek or Roman monumental fountains consecrated to water nymphs.

We look for the Umm Qais Rest-House at which Rasheeb, our guide, suggests we enjoy a restful lunch. As we don’t see anything but the ruins, we are a bit perplexed as to where this highly recommended restaurant would be.

Roger discovers a massive set of stone steps leading to what looks like a patio, “The restaurant must be at the top of the steps. You will never make it. Perhaps we should go back to car and have Rasheeb find us another place to eat.” Yes, the enormity of steps is daunting for my knees, but I am determined to savor every experience. Gallant Roger patiently helps me climb these formidable stone tiers.
Time for lunch!
Breathlessly reaching the top, it is abundantly clear that it was worth the effort. We are stunned by the spectacular views of Israel and the Palestinian Territories.  Off in the other direction, we see the city's ruins and the main cordo that disappears into the horizon.

Dining al fresco on the terrace of an ancient home sitting on a promontory overlooking the Yarmouk River, Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights is the most enjoyable and romantic afternoon of our trip. We fantasize that this rustic stone house overlooking such a peaceful ancient city is all ours. So lovely are the appointments and the scenery that we linger over our delicious lunch and savor our time together. So sorry, no vino here but that does not diminish the joy of each other’s company, the spectacular view, and our profound sense of peace at this site of a once vibrant city with such an illustrious history.

Desert Romance in Wadi Rum
Wadi Rum, unbounded, silent, and starkly beautiful, epitomizes romance in the desert. It is in this place of raw beauty that Roger outdoes himself and surprises me with a most treasured experience.

Known for being the land traveled by Lawrence of Arabia, Wadi Rum is a series of beautiful broad desert valleys of pink sand walled on either side by towering cliffs of red weathered stone. Soft desert winds provide much welcome relief from the desert heat as the red-brown cliffs tower over us like watchful guards protecting Wadi Rum’s secrets. Ancient Inscriptions decorate many of the sandstone cliffs.

In the past, life was simple for the Bedouin tribes who roamed the wadi – their days were filled with managing herds of goats and sheep and looking for water. Here is where the “herdsmen can sing and the mind can rest in the cradle of the sand.” Bedouins are romantics, too! Wadi Rum, described by T.E. Laurence as “vast and echoing,” has been the land of several Bedouin tribes for centuries.

Unbelievably, during the Greek and Roman times, vineyards, olive and pine trees were plentiful. Today, you can see scattered foliage clinging to the mountain sides, and the desert floor boasts a plethora of small plants. Many of these are used for medicinal purposes by the Bedouins and enjoyed by hungry camels as well. Around the springs are various gardens of figs, ferns and watermelon that also provide habitats for small animals.

As we approach our accommodations for the evening Roger takes one look and raises his eye brows questioning, “Are you sure we want to spend the night in a Bedouin tent in the middle of the desert? This is not going to be the Ritz you love!” Captains Camp, situated outside the village of Al-Diseh on the rim of the reserve, is truly the most unique place we have spent the night together. What a way to keep the honeymoon going!

When we arrive mid-afternoon, it is rather warm, and we have survived a long drive. At this point, Roger and I are looking for some respite. We enter the compound, wedged between two red towering rock edifices, to find a majalis (sitting place) tent made from brilliantly colored blankets. Past this communal area, we see rows of individual black Bedouin tents lined up again the cliffs. To the left are the common bathroom and shower facilities. There are only 12 other guests which should enhance our enjoyment of this rustic desert experience.

Our tent is located towards the back of the compound and is simply furnished with one large bed with white overhead netting, a small cot and a rustic table. The bedcover is made of rough camel or sheep hair. There are no lights and the “door” is merely a flab of the tent. An old carpet covers the ground. But so sweet are the towels sculpted into interesting shapes. I collapse on the bed and declare, “This bunny needs a few minutes to re-energize!” Roger goes off to explore.

Beaming with that wonderful twinkle in his eye that I love, Roger returns announcing, “Be ready for a surprise at 5:30 pm.” I wonder what he could have found in this wilderness to surprise me – on second thought, options are probably inexhaustible. I decide I need to clean up a bit before the surprise. Upon inspection of the bathroom, which really is very clean, I decide to forgo the communal shower facility and just spruce up a bit in the sink and rearrange my head scarf. On this trip, I have discovered that these Arab women are pretty smart – nothing takes care of a bad hair day like a head scarf. And with no electricity, I am taking bad hair to new heights – make that lows!

Some of you who have read past blogs know of my disappointment of not yet riding a camel. What better place to ride a camel than in a Jordan desert at sunset. Yes, my handsome prince has arranged a romantic, sunset camel ride into the Wadi Rum. Ashaban, the camel driver, has appeared with a family of five camels: husband Zaked , two wives, Hiluwa and Zakea, and two babies. Strangely, one baby is tied to its mother so it can suckle, yet the other is tied to its mother so he can’t. I wonder why?

Even when camels are seated, they are quite high so it takes both Roger and Ashaban to help me up on the mother beast. This was not done in the most graceful manner but who's watching? Al humdu Allah—Thanks to God, I am on my mother of a camel! Roger has mounted the father camel, and we are off. What a pleasant riding experience. The gait is a loping, gently rocking motion that is not uncomfortable in the least.

As we ride through the desert, the sun is just beginning to set turning the desert sand and cliff faces an awesome color of deep red. A slight breeze has picked up cooling us from the heat of the day. The two baby camels frolic just like little children teasing each other. Ever so often the camels stop to munch on some tasty morsel of vegetation which Ashaban patiently lets them enjoy.

Roger is too awesome! Here we are, the two of us on a romantic sunset camel ride in the Wadi Rum desert, just like Lawrence of Arabia and Gertrude Bell did many times in the early 1900s. How sureal is this!

After a while, Ashaban motions that we are to get off the camels. It proves easier to get off than to get on. I wonder what we are doing. Ashaban lays a blanket down on the desert floor for me to sit on and gets busy collecting twigs with Roger’s assistance.

More surprises--we are to enjoy a pot of Bedouin tea while we watch the setting sun. This is becoming a very mystical moment. Ashaban makes a fire and sets the tea pot to boil. When the tea is ready, he goes over to the mother camel and proceeds to secure fresh, I mean really fresh, camel milk for our tea. Now I know why the poor baby was not allowed to partake of his mother’s milk. It was being saved for us! Ashaban, in the best Bedouin tradition of hospitality, has made certain that everything is perfect. 

I am not sure if it is the romance of the moment, the awesome sunset, the peace of the dessert or just being with my darling Roger, but this is the very best cup of tea ever. It warms me right to my soul.

As the final rays of the sun glare through the cliffs and pull out the last colors of the rocks, it is time to go.

Oh no, the spell is broken as I must mount the camel again! Roger refers to this moment as the “Camel Rodeo.” Dear sweet Hiluwa decides to stand up before I am on, and I get hung up on the rigging and proceed to swing from the side of the camel. Roger is already on his camel so poor Asaban is left to save me by himself. This requires getting the beast to sit down and then getting me untangled. The second attempt works, and we head back to camp. Was this scary??!! Not as much as it was embarrassing!

Love writes a transparent calligraphy
Love at this stage in life is such a slow, easy dance. Silence and peace are heartfelt; we are two mirrors reflecting each other. Our decision to marry five years ago fashioned a deeper dimension of existence for each of us. The poet Coleman Barks said it so eloquently, “Love truly is the response of beauty in the heart reflecting inner kindness and generosity.” Each day I thank God for the gift of Roger in my life.

I hear nothing in my ear but your voice.
Heart has plundered mind of its eloquence.
Love writes a transparent calligraphy, 
so the empty page my soul can read and recollect.

Jelaluddin Rumi

Post Scripts . . .

Rumi the Book of Love  . . . Jelaluddin Rumi, Sufi mystic and poet, expresses the ecstacies and mysteries of love in all its forms - erotic, platonic, divine. I received this remarkable book from my good friend Anne Platt at her infamous Christmas luncheon. It came with other assorted unmentionable apparati that have since been re-gifted to astonished friends. The book I treasure for it lyrical and insightful reflection on love.    

Bedouin tea . . Ashaban explains that the Bedouin tea is made with tea, dried sage and cardamom. I try but the delicious tea we enjoyed in Wadi Rum escapes my culinary talents. And besides, the camel milk I purchase in the grocery cannot compare with Hiluwa’s!

Gertrude Bell, Queen of the Desert . . . my new heroine was a aristocratic Victorian lady of means who, going against all norms of her times, explored the Arabian Peninsula on camel, discovered important archeological sites, became  friend and confidant of the tribal leaders and was highly influential in creating the Hashemite dynasties in what is today Jordan as well as in Iraq. An incredible read!    

Travel resources . . . I cannot let this opportunity go by without once again recommending with whom we booked this trip. They were most accommodating in tailoring this tip to meet our every need. And, I simply can’t go an any travels without my Lonely Planet guide book!  


  1. Transported me all over again--great photos!

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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