The Captain gave new meaning to the term handlebar mustache. He wore a white shirt with Marine-like patches, a dark jean vest and a brown corduroy fedora hat. Only The Captain could wear this outfit and make it not only respectable, but damn cool. I don't know if he was a real captain, but that’s what he told us to call him. He drove the bus with ease, drinking from an open cup of tea, smoking out the window, playing DJ for the rest of us and clapping to his music. There was a sign at the front of the bus that said, No Smoking, but no one was going to tell The Captain he couldn’t light his Marlboro Lights. The music was important and as we left the city of Amman early in the morning, The Captain cranked the volume, and with a calm and steady voice, asked the passengers why we weren’t partying? Our destination was the desert. The Captain was the one bringing us there. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
The city quickly disappeared, the box-like buildings fading, growing smaller in the rearview mirrors. The brown land on both sides flat, the horizon visible. Signs for Wadi Rum led us away from the rolling trucks, rocks became visible, then larger, growing into hills, mutating into cliffs and mountains. At a point, after driving deep into the valley, and now surrounded by mountains, we turned off the road and headed into the desert. We were off-roading in a large coach bus. Sand kicked up from the wheels, dust clouds in our wake. Coming around a steep rock-face, we rolled to a stop.
Mid-afternoon, and although the sun was hot, the temperature was tolerable. We grabbed our bags and walked into the Bedouin camp. Sadly, my only reference points for Bedouins comes from the film Lawrence of Arabia. The camp had a large square in the centre for the entertainment, and it was flanked by rows of tents. We dropped our stuff in our allotted tent and immediately headed out into the desert.
Wadi is the Arabic term for valley. Wadi Rum is sometimes referred to as The Valley of the Moon and is located in southern Jordan, sixty kilometers from Aqaba. The highest elevation is Mount Um Dami at 1840 meters, and on a clear day, it is possible to see the Red Sea and Saudi Arabia.
Walking up a hill covered in sand was much more difficult than you may think. My feet sunk into the sand up to my ankles and little headway was gained with each step. I’m rewarded at the top, and following along the rock, it kept going higher, like giant steps leading up to the sky. It’s not exactly rock climbing, easier, but once I reached the top of the rock cliff, this was what I saw:
I’m not sure if a photograph does justice at displaying the magnitude. The wind incredible, if you leaned into it and let go, it supported your weight. We stood, watched the sun set, sat down, just sat, not feeling anything or forcing a moment. There was no forcing of moments, no need, the weight of the desert overcomes any thoughts, instead, forces you to focus, not on anything specific, but on the vast emptiness before your eyes.
Walking down a hill covered in sand - much easier. Time to eat and time to dance. There was no formal entertainment, the Bedouins had a full sound system and blasted music loud enough it probably echoed in every corner of the desert. Visitors got up and danced dances while other sat around the perimeter of the stage, eating and smoking hookah.
At night, my friend and I explored a different mountain. From the camp, we saw a group of people walking and decided to join them. We walked deep into the desert, someone grabbed a bare bush and lit a fire. The singing started, the dancing started.
Back at the camp, people were scattered lying on the cushioned benches around the entertainment area. The tents were hot inside, so many people decided to sleep under the stars. The Captain sat talking to another bus driver, pot of tea at his bare feet, Marlboro Light between his fingers. I grabbed a pillow and blanket, found a spot along a bench. A while later, the camp generator was turned off, extinguishing all artificial lights. The world above us became visible. The sky, full of stars, pressed down, immediately above, like you could reach out and touch them. It’s at times like these where people say they feel small. But like the wind supporting me earlier in the day and the vastness of the desert, it makes you feel like you are a part of something larger. You are not small, you are a piece. A piece that is required.
The next morning, I woke up early, headed back up the mountain for one last look. A scorpion scuttled past me. At least, I think it was a scorpion. I was told that green scorpions were poisonous and you'll probably be dead before you get any help. The black ones were okay. Wait, or were the black ones poisonous and the green ones okay? I saw a black one and it didn't bite me, so I'm fine for now. As the sun grew brighter, and hotter, by the minute, I realized that out here, the sun, stars, sand – none of it – has any discrimination. When you step, your footprints disappear. No one cares about your past, who you are, where you’ve been, or where you’re going. There’s just now, this moment, right here. And this one, now. And Now. Now.