Surrendering in Jordan

Vintage Bodhi has a guest blogger this month – Jessica Engler, an American ex-pat likewise living in England who is equally passionate about travelling, finding meaning and a good glass of wine coupled with a good view. (Some photos courtesy of Paul Davis.)

Wadi Rum

“Each man’s destiny is personal only insofar as it may happen to resemble what is already in his memory” -Eduardo Mallea

Everywhere we went in Jordan, the locals asked us routinely where we were from. We answered America – a true if oversimplified answer. As an expat living in the UK, I often feel very distant from my American roots and never more so than when I am exploring far-flung destinations such as Jordan. Their response: “you are very welcome” may have been given entirely out of politeness, habit or indifference, but each time, I couldn’t help thinking there was a kernel of genuine feeling there. And I liked that.

My friend Paul and I initially planned our Jordan itinerary around our visit to Petra, but we got so much more. He was in search of stunning landscapes to photograph (check) whereas I’m always on the lookout for new cultures, new sights and new experiences impossible to get at home (check, check, check). I think being offered a 5-day-old baby goat by a Bedouin vendor certainly qualifies as a new experience, even if she was joking (I think!).

Petra was carved into the red cliffs.

Petra was carved into the red cliffs.

So our weeklong trip got off to a rocky start as we picked up our hire car, conveniently empty of petrol, and attempted to use our infuriatingly useless sat nav to guide us through the hazardous, mad traffic of Jordan’s capital city Amman.

But we persevered and were rewarded with the freedom to explore the country in our time and own way. After that death-defying experience, the feeling of being able to conquer just about anything persisted and served us well as we climbed up Petra’s countless worn stone steps.

The ancient city of Petra was built by the Nabateans and it flourished around the first century BC. These enterprising people carved their city into the red cliffs of the Shara Mountains. At its height, some 30,000 inhabitants lived in this prosperous place, but like many once thriving places, it suffered a decline and was eventually forgotten from memory until its rediscovery in 1812.

So many writers have described what it’s like to work your way through the winding Siq, walking into the narrow chasm, holding your breath in anticipation of that first sight of the Treasury.

The Treasury, flooded with candlelight

The Treasury, flooded with candlelight

Our first glimpse was no less magical. Paul and I joined the Petra by candlelight tour and followed hundreds of tourists traipsing through the dark and mysterious Siq.

Despite the echoing chatter of other people and the slight fear of tripping and falling on my face, the anticipation mounted until we finally spilled out into the plaza where the Treasury was illuminated by dozens of lanterns. It’s touristy, yes, but no less breathtaking.

The soft light bathed the towering facade, softening the edges and providing a marked contrast to the clear sharp light of the moon above. I sipped my mint tea and when our guide began singing, I closed my eyes, simultaneously feeling happy in the moment and yet filled with a shiver of desire to see more, experience more, all at once.

The visit to Petra would have been worth it for the Treasury alone,  but luckily for us we had another day and a half to explore. Coming back the same way in the early morning, we laughed at how much we had missed in the darkness and took a few quick snaps of the Treasury before setting off deep into the heart of the ancient city.

The Grand Canyon of Petra

Photos can barely capture the stunning colors of Petra’s rocks

To satiate that anxious traveller drive that haunted me the night before, we decided to tackle the next best part of Petra – the stunning Monastery perched high in the mountains.

We bounded up the 800 steps with a good amount of energy, rejecting multiple offers of donkey rides. We reached the plaza of the Monastery but as was always the case in Petra, the need to be at the highest vantage point was too strong to resist and so we kept climbing.

From vantage points aptly named “The Grand Canyon of Petra,” “The Top of the World” and the “The End of the World,” we gazed off the back of the mountain and back down towards the Monastery.

To be honest, I can’t really remember what I thought when I was up there. I suppose the scenery – and the physical exhaustion – finally inspired me to get out of my own head and just enjoy that very moment in time, feeling on top of the world in every sense of the phrase.

Stars at night over Wadi Rum

Stars at night over Wadi Rum

There’s so much more that I could share about Petra, and indeed, I would need another 800 words to even begin to tackle our experience in Wadi Rum. In fact, after 4 solid days of exploring Petra and Wadi Rum, the sheer beauty of our natural surroundings had worn me down to the point of complete surrender of conscious thought.

With my back up against a warm rock, sheltered from the wind and with the sun in my face, I looked down into the canyon and saw the view not in its picturesque entirety but rather as a collection of individual shapes, reduced to their most basic forms.

We spend our lives always in motion, in pursuit of something – money, happiness, love, in my present case, travel. Perhaps it was the knowledge that this awe-inspiring symmetry of human achievement and mastery combined with sheer natural beauty is just an echo of the past that finally caused me to let go of my conscious worries and thoughts. But whatever the road that led me there, it turns out that Jordan’s greatest gift was a handful of moments of feeling perfectly welcome.

Me, letting go and welcoming the beauty around me

Me, surrendering to the beauty around me



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