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Jordan: Jewel of the Desert

Wandering through a narrow, rose-red sandstone gorge, I saw a light shining through the mountain slits. I walked to the canyon opening where the magnificent Treasury carved into the rock stood glowing from the sun.

It was hard not to gasp at such a dramatic introduction to the elaborate tomb façade. I can only imagine Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt’s glee when he beheld the towering tomb for the first time in 1812. Before his discovery, Petra lay unknown to the rest of the world, as it was guarded by locals who believed the place held a legendary treasure. The Treasury holds no gold but rather a tomb built by the ancient Nabataeans between 100 B.C. and A.D. 200.

“All the things you will see today are 2,000 years old, plus or minus a hundred years,” said Jayousi. “The city was forgotten until 1812. That’s why it’s called the Lost City.”

Impressive water conduit systems and rock-cut architecture line the walls of the city of Petra. Valuing the afterlife more than the current life, the Nabataeans chiseled out tombs for their dead all over the surrounding canyon walls. It was hard to look somewhere and not see signs of this ancient society. I spent the entire day exploring the huge UNESCO World Heritage site, and still didn’t see half its wonders.

Still overwhelmed by the stunning monuments created by the Nabataeans, I left all civilization for the wilderness of Wadi Rum. Many of the scenes from Lawrence of Arabia were filmed in this picturesque desert, and it is no wonder — colossal rock formations jut straight out of the flat desert for a humbling effect.

On a jeep tour of the desert, I caught glimpses of Bedouins riding camels in the distance but not many other signs of human life until I reached my group’s private campground. With a bathroom and private accommodations, the upscale campground wasn’t very rugged but provided the perfect opportunity to see more stars than I ever thought possible.

That evening, the staff shared a delicious Bedouin tradition, cooking meat for dinner by burying it under the hot desert sand. As we ate, our hosts began singing lovely Arabic songs that became livelier as they went on. Soon the singers invited the campers to come up and mimic their happy dance around the fire, and I gladly joined in the fun.

My final day in Jordan was spent in total relaxation at the Movenpick Dead Sea Hotel. My skin felt baby smooth after soaking in the 27 percent salt water and mud bath. I floated about without even trying while reflecting on my week in Jordan.

“Jordan is a small country in size but a big country in what it has to offer,” said Nayef Al-fayez, managing director of the Jordan Tourism Board, at dinner that evening. “Our country has been described as the Switzerland of the Middle East. The political situation here has been at peace for many years.”

I still feel very thankful for that peace because it allowed me to experience so many biblical stories through travel, as well as meet some of the warm, interesting people who make Jordan such a treasure.

Jordan Tourism Board North America