Written by Tomas Gordo-Churchill (Northwestern University), Student Correspondent for CET Jordan, Spring 2023
During your time in Jordan, there is one thing you will never forget (besides your Arabic hopefully), and that’s the class trip to Petra and Wadi Rum, the most iconic sites Jordan has to offer. People fly across the globe just to see the sheer majesty of these world wonders, so there’s no doubt it will be a highlight while you’re here. As such, you’ve probably already seen the pictures and can easily read a travel guide on any other website; however, with this blog, I want to walk you through my perspective of CET Jordan’s whirlwind journey around Petra and Wadi Rum to prepare your expectations before your own arrival.
The Arrival: 16:00
After a four-hour bus ride consisting of several delays, a quick lunch break, and a well-deserved nap, I woke up to a sparsely populated, desert landscape, a stark contrast to the sprawling urban mass that is the city of Amman. As the bus pulled into the parking lot, you didn’t need a sign to mark your arrival to Wadi Rum because the massive cliffs that surrounded us said it silently with their awe-inspiring presence.
We hopped off the bus and gathered in the parking lot before driving to our campsite located deeper in the desert. Waiting for orders to head out, I felt the excited buzz in the air as everyone laughed amongst each other, almost as if there was something in the cold crisp air that brought us back to life after an exhausting bus ride. Finally loading my bag onto the pick-up truck, we all jumped in, not knowing it would be a ride to another world.
Taking in the Views: 17:30
The pavement stopped abruptly after passing the last few houses of the Bedouin village, but as the road ended, the pick-up drove onto the vast expanse in front of us. There was no real need for asphalt because the tracks in the sand from previous trucks guided the driver through the truly alien landscape. The sheer size of it all had all of us in a sense of disbelief at first, but as our driver started speeding up and the wind rushed past, it transformed into its own rollercoaster ride, except on the back of a Toyota truck driven by a Bedouin man, something Six Flags can never recreate.
Afterward, we stopped at a giant rock formation in the middle of a valley, the perfect look out spot to admire the giants that towered in front of us. Although the picture doesn’t do them justice, the size of Wadi Rum can make any human respect their smallness in this big world (See if you can find the couple walking in the photo).
On Top of the World: 18:30
As we continued our route to the campsite, we disembarked at another, even bigger, rock formation and began our ascent. With each step, I could feel my inner boy scout emerge, and soon I started jumping from outcrop to outcrop. After scrambling up the first point, everyone gathered to take photos and watch the sunset from there, but I set my eyes on the highest summit I could see.
Unsatisfied with my current altitude, I kept climbing while using a combination of running, jumping, and mixed hand signals to my friends below. Although my lungs struggled to keep up with my excitement, I finally reached the highest boulder overlooking the entire valley. With a view of the sun and my friends below, it was like I had the whole world to myself and the time to reflect on the natural beauty for miles in every direction. To get the most out of Wadi Rum, my advice to you is to unleash your adventurous side, or at least your inner mountain goat.
Coffee by the Campfire: 19:00
The next event was a traditional Bedouin campfire complemented by an absolute necessity in Arab culture: coffee and tea. While we sat by the fire, we all had time to rest and watch the sun set as the faint crackling of the fire set a calming tone. That energy we had before gave way to the peaceful relaxation that can only be attained after separation from civilization. Once the water in the kettle started boiling, our guides prepared the drinks, making sure to add plenty of sugar as well. Pouring the rich black liquid into my cup, each sip was like another breath of meditation and a chance to appreciate feeling so alive despite being in a lifeless desert. The chance to escape the work and stress of daily life in such a beautiful place is a treasure in and of itself, so enjoy every single bit of it.
A Dinner and a Show: Bedouin Style 21:00
Getting back to camp, everyone took a moment to chill, yet before long, the sound of my stomach rumbling and overhearing talk of dinner time brought me to the main dining tent. It was a strange mix of CET students and Austrians that shared the camp with us as we waited for food to be served.
The first thing I noticed was the absence of tables; however, that wasn’t a surprise to me. I had already eaten at restaurants where you eat on the ground, and that’s where you will eat the best food in Jordan. My expectations were set high, but when I saw the chicken that had been cooked for hours in a traditional Bedouin barbeque pit, I had no doubt. I served myself a portion of lentil soup, bread, along with a generous amount of chicken and potatoes. Sitting together with some of the juiciest chicken I’ve tried, I started to connect with other people in the program I hadn’t spoken with before.
Full physically and socially, I sat back with one of my language partners and new friend Abdul-Hamid. Sharing hookah together, we watched on as the night concluded with tea and music, and dance from our Bedouin hosts and a few CET students.
You’ve Made It: 13:00
I woke up to my tentmates getting out of bed for the sunrise, but I preferred the warmth of my bed over anything else. I only forced myself up after I heard the call for breakfast, after which we packed our bags and quickly started our way to Petra. On the hour-long bus ride from Petra to Wadi Rum, I couldn’t help but think of all the times I had dreamed of going to see Petra, of the pictures and movies, and now I was going to see it with my own eyes.
Once you arrive at the visitor center, it’s easier to see how this is a tourist attraction complete with its own, and occasional porta-potty; however, nothing could prepare me for the first glimpse of the World Wonder. After the descent into the network of canyons that make up the ancient city of Petra, our group turned a corner, and then out of nowhere, appeared the famous treasury building. Unable to think at first, I started to sense the history carved into the walls around me, and looking deeper into each carving, I could imagine what people did in the same place thousands of years ago.
New Friends 14:00
Before arriving, one doesn’t realize that Petra is a sprawling network of ruins dating back to the third century BC, and it can be easy to feel lost. Luckily, we had our Jordanian neighbors and language partners as useful guides. One of them was Elsa, who accompanied me to explore the amphitheater and royal tombs in the city, but more important than the incredible views were all the new words I learned in Arabic along the way.
From learning the word for “adventure” to “ants,” I didn’t feel like a tourist coming to take pictures, buy souvenirs, and leave; instead, I was a student learning from the culture, the language, and the people there. With that knowledge, I feel richer in human tradition after getting to know such an remarkable place.
The Way Back 15:00
After three hours of walking under the sun, it was about time to head back to the parking lot. In only twenty-four hours, my senses had been overwhelmed in nearly every aspect, yet I felt I could come back to my studies refreshed and re-inspired. All I had to do was walk the mile uphill back to the parking lot.