Thursday, December 15, 2011

Fateful Encounters

I've been participating in the couchsurfing project for a while now.  Couchsurfing is an online forum that allows people to host travelers and then be hosted themselves when they travel.  I've met a lot of wonderful people through couchsurfing, including my friend Mosa, who manages a camp in Disi and over the past year has become one of my closest friends in Jordan.  

In early November, I received a couch request from Carmella, who had decided on the spur of the moment to visit Jordan.  One chilly Wednesday after Eid, I waited for her in Aqaba as she crossed two borders from Egypt to Israel to Jordan to get here.  She arrived with two Spaniards from Cairo in tow and we all headed up together with Suleiman, my regular friendly taxi driver, to Wadi Rum.  After dropping off the Spaniards with their guide, we headed out into the desert with my neighbor Salah with the intention of meeting four mysterious ladies who had come to Wadi Rum to camp in the desert.  As it was quite late, they had already disappeared into a desert canyon for the night - so Salah, Carmella and I slept next to the fire in the camp, making funny rhymes and attempting a communal dream.  In the morning, we awoke to discover that Lana, Ban, Fatima and Ruba had emerged from the desert for breakfast, which we happily shared with them.  Very quickly, we became fast friends - chatting excitedly about life, the universe, tradition, community ... everything under the sun.  We discovered that Lana has been reading Carmella's blog for years.  We decided that, with the support of Salah and his family, we would create women's camping experiences in the desert.  We analyzed gender, cultural and spiritual relations and had an amazing time.    Travelers passing through the camp were quite curious about this laughing group of ladies who seemed to be enjoying themselves so much together in a world that is usually populated by men.  After breakfast and a walk to the sand dune, we hopped into Ban's Kia (same car as mine but newer model!) and headed back to the village where we visited Salah's mom and sisters, sharing with them our ideas.   And then in a flurry of good cheer, the five ladies (minus me) disappeared into the horizon for an adventure together in Petra.    

Tasty breakfast!

Alena, Fatima, Ruba, Ban, Lana, Carmella - wow!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

11.11.11 Full Moon Yoga and Breathwork Retreat

Last month, I had the pleasure of welcoming Lisa Sahakian to Wadi Rum for the first time for a yoga and breathwork retreat under the full moon.  The retreat was a fascinating experience for all who attended, allowing us to learn more about ourselves and our world through the practice of kundalini yoga and ecstatic breathwork.  This retreat also served as a rallying point for more events to come in Wadi Rum!  Keep an eye out for a calendar of events to be published soon for 2012!  

After Dinner on 11.11.11
L - R Top: Salah Zawydeh, Lisa Sahakian
L - R Bottom: Alena Bartoli, David Lloyd, Liesbeth Van Der Giessen

Friday, December 2, 2011

Desert Treasure

At the beginning of November, I was waiting at the bus stop on my way to Aqaba when I was approached by Zidan, a friendly, talkative gentleman who works at Disi city hall.

"Lina," he said, "Dr. Edoardo is here. You must meet him!"
"Can you take me to him?," I replied.
"Yes," replied Zidan.

Dr. Edoardo - a Disi legend - is a Czech-German-Italian paleoanthropologist who has spent the past 40 years studying Wadi Rum and published over 300 articles - all in Italian - on his findings.

And so Zidan and I wandered down the main street of Disi to Dr. Edoardo's house on the far edge of the village. As we proceeded, Zidan took great pleasure in telling the people we met that he was taking me to Dr. Edoardo's house to marry him.

"No, no!," I protested, "I'm already married!" To no avail.

We arrived and were met by Dr. Edoardo and one of his colleagues. As it turned out, the only language that we shared was Italian and so I found myself translating from Arabic to English to Italian so that everyone could communicate. As I was in a bit of a rush to get to Aqaba, I agreed to meet the two scholars the following day for lunch.

I returned the next morning and spent a good part of the day (we had pasta for lunch!) learning about the research that Edoardo and his colleagues had done in the area. Dr. Edoardo's house, which is located on land given to him by Sheikh J'lael, the leader responsible for settling the Zawydeh tribe in Disi, is full of knowledge reflecting the history of the area. The walls of the house are covered with photographs, drawings and articles reflecting his work to date - including several representations of the rock inscriptions found throughout Wadi Rum. Most, if not all, of this rock art - inscriptions of figures and symbols in the sandstone - has been documented by Dr. Edoardo. I was fascinated to learn that the rock art in Wadi Rum can be anywhere from a few thousand years to a few decades old, as this art was the primary method of recording history used by the pastoral Bedouins until their settlement in the later part of the 20th century. My conversation with Dr. Edoardo opened my eyes to the speed and amount of change that has occurred in this part of Jordan over the past century.

Of course, I could not leave without a task to complete. As we looked through Dr. Edoardo's books, he informed that someone had inscribed the death of Lawrence (random motorcycle accident or calculated assassination attempt? you be the judge - the artist sure has!) in a cliff out in the desert. He described the place and I told him that I would go to look. And here, the next day, is what we found:

Taking a Tumble?

Vroom!  Vroom!


The Whole Picture

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Full Moon Wedding Trip Excitement!

One of  my dearest friends in Aqaba, Zainab Chang owns Formosa Restaurant, where I spend a great deal of time when I am in Aqaba!  In recent months, Formosa has become a gathering place for our group of friends.  Imagine Cheers - in Jordan - with tasty Chinese food.  Seriously.  ;)

In August, Zainab's son Khaled got married to a lovely girl from Taiwan - after their wedding they invited their closest friends on a trip to Jordan!  And, of course, one stop was with me in Wadi Rum.  Luckily it was a full moon night in October - warm and beautiful!  The group rode camels to the camp and feasted on zarb before an enjoyable night climbing sand dunes and exploring the desert.  We had a wonderful time together and I hope that they'll be back soon!

At Lourans House Camp

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Disi Dawn

I've gotten in the habit of rising at dawn.  The silence is spectacular and I begin each day with a quiet walk around the neighborhood.  It's a chance to organize my thoughts and to prepare for whatever adventures the day will bring.  The sunrises are most stunning this time of year, as November brings the occasional cloud and the even more occasional rainstorm to the otherwise dry desert.
Dawn from my front door

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Disi Camel Races! (redux!)

As many of you have come to discover, the Disi camel races are generally of an ephemeral nature.   Rumors of their existence occur, sheikhs are known to negotiate over prize money and ultimately the races are held when least expected or not at all.  Those who are able to catch their rare occurrence discover a wonderful experience - dashing camels, raging four wheel drive vehicles, nervous owners, each one hoping that his camel will claim a coveted cash prize, put up by the benevolent sheikh, and, of course, a lot of dust!

As great as these races can be, Mohammad Attallah, the camel race track manager and I thought it might be worth a shot to put on our own set of races, with a firm date and to raise money for a prize by charging for tickets!  The result of our efforts are advertised here and may be enjoyed at the upcoming race on 12 November 2011 in Disi!  Hope to see you there!

And they are off!  14 Oct 11

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Exploring Pharaoh's Island

A few months ago, a friend who works for Sindbad, Aqaba's premier company for enjoying the Red Sea (cruises, water sports, ferries), asked me whether I'd be interested in promoting their work.  A conversation ensued and we came up with the idea of an overnight cruise to Pharaoh's Island, off the coast of Egypt across the gulf from Aqaba.  Named for Ramses II, who is purported to have built its original fort, Pharaoh's Island played a strategic role in protecting the Cairo-Damascus route during the Crusades.  It is now home to a renovated citadel, built by Saladin in the 12th century.  I had a chance to visit the island last week - it was an amazing experience - the citadel was fascinating to explore and the snorkelling off the reefs that surround the island was among the best I have experienced.

Northern Citadel, Pharaoh's Island
Aboard Aladdin

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Luxury is the Difference

A few weeks ago, I was asked by a friend who edits a luxury magazine to come up with the 'most opulent' possibilities for luxury camping in Wadi Rum.  Frankly speaking, I have been waiting for years for this request!  My mind instantly shot into high gear as I began to envision private camel races, rides in the King's helicopter and an on-call astronomy expert, who would act as a guide to the night sky.  I also did a poll of my best guides, Suleiman Sabbah, Salah Radi and Harb Salem, to see how they would create a truly luxurious experience of their desert homes.  Each came up with his own unique plan - incorporating elements such as candle light, night time jeep tours and gourmet desert cuisine.

As Harb and I drove out into the desert to visit his private camp, we discussed the concept of luxury in the desert.  As always, he provided valuable insight - pointing out that for most of his clients, the luxury of the desert was the difference in the experience between their home and his.  'When I make barbeque with my own hands, when I serve them tea that I have made over the fire... that is the luxury... because they are my guests and that is a unique experience of my world."

Harb's Desert Camp

View from the Front Entrance

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The View from the Back Window

For over a year now, I've been fortunate to call the village of Disi, located on the northern edge of the Wadi Rum Nature Reserve, home.  Disi is also home to the 3.000 member strong Zawydehs, a subtribe of the Jordanian Howeitat family, who were made famous by Audeh Abu Tayeh in Lawrence of Arabia.  Disi was settled in 1967 at the behest of King Hussein, who provided Sheikh Jaleel, the leader of the tribe, with all the accoutrements of settled life - from schools and homes to water and electricity.  In exchange, the tribe continues to give its allegiance to the Hashemite Kingdom and many of the graduates of the boys' school in the village continue on to careers in the military.  Disi has grown exponentially over the past 50 years - once home to a few tents, it now lays claim to a water station, post office, two schools, a medical clinic and the homes of hundreds of families.  One of my favorite things about my home is the sandstone mountain that acts as a back drop for life here.  Every morning for the past few days, I have woken to see the moon setting over the mountain and in the evening the sun sets behind it.  Kids play in the nooks and crannies and the names of at least one generation may be found carved in the soft rock.  Here it is!

Looking out the window...

Monday, August 22, 2011

USA: Home

An urgent family matter took precedence over the Ramadan adventure.  Inshallah, it will happen next year!  Blogging will resume upon my return to Jordan in September.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Disi - Rum: Family Time

When travelling through Jordan during Ramadan, one notices a silence in the streets.   The world moves at a slower pace as people store their energy reserves for the long day of fasting.  Seen from a religious perspective, Ramadan is a time to reflect upon one's relationship with God.  From a social perspective, it is a time to enjoy one's relationship to family.  Restaurants are closed, offices have reduced hours and the heat of the day urges all to seek refuge in air-conditioning and under fans.  Passing through the homes of two business partners over the past day, I have observed marathon card games, watched episodes of serial soap operas produced especially for the Ramadan season and reclined on mattresses gossiping about business, news, life in the village and mutual friends.  While this easy pace of life exists outside of the month of Ramadan, the shared fast brings people closer together and more time than usual is devoted to the simple act of being with each other.  As sunset and the time for the breaking of the fast draws nearer, a drowsy haze envelopes all, the mind slows down and the emotions speed up - both laughter and fervent discussion of irrelevant topics characterize the final few hours of the fast, with the last few minutes devoted to the hasty preparation of food which allows all participating in the fast to return to a temporary sense of normalcy before the rapidly approaching sunrise.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Jerusalem - Madaba - Airport - Disi: Skipping Down the Jordanian Interior

As they careen toward the end point, learning is summarized, students reflect and instructors wrap up, time tends to get away from those noble instructors running Dragons' courses.  Such was the case this summer.  A quick recap:

2 Aug:  Our last day in Jerusalem was organized by the group of students who came to be known as the Jew Crew.  The most fascinating aspect of this day were our two guest speakers - one a veteran of and one a reservist in the Israeli Army - two gentlemen with markedly different views of the relationship between Israel and Palestine.  Mikhail works with Breaking the Silence, an organization of former Israeli Army combatants who are working to educate the Israeli public about the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and the abuse directly associated with that occupation.  Mikhail spoke from his personal experience and we were left with the strong impression of his emotions and his experience.  Ori, our second speaker, a captain in the Israeli Army reserves spoke of his love for his country and his desire to protect it.  He spoke of the Israeli management of disputed territory and his sense that the Israeli government was working to empower the Palestinian Authority to eventually manage its own affairs.  This fascinating set of conversations left us with a strong sense of the complexity of the situation but also with hope for the future.

3 Aug:  A long day of travel by bus, foot and taxi took us from Jerusalem north to the border crossing at Beit Shahan, from which we crossed back into Jordan and proceeded south to Madaba, Jordan's Christian capital.

4 - 6 Aug:  Our last days as a group were spent in Madaba, where we were able to reflect together on the lessons learned during our time together in Jordan and Jerusalem.

Moses' glimpse of the Promised Land (2011 reenactment), Mt. Nebo, Madaba, Jordan

7 Aug:  Early in the morning, we congregated one last time as a group for our morning emotional and health check in before departing for Queen Alia International Airport outside of Amman.  Darren and the students boarded the flight and Yoli and I hopped into a taxi for the last leg of our journey back home to Disi, where we arrived mid-day to Ramadan in full swing.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Jerusalem: First Iftar

Today the Muslim group introduced the Ramadan fast to the tribe.  The students rose at 4 am to partake in suhoor, the traditional Ramadan breakfast, which takes place before dawn and is an opportunity for those fasting to hydrate themselves and fill their stomachs before the long day of fasting ahead.  After our suhoor, the students returned to bed and awoke around 9 to begin the tour of the Muslim sites and Mt. Olive.  The day closed with one of my favorite Dragons' student led activities to date: a student run Iron Chef Iftar!  The iftar is the breaking of the fast, which occurs at sunset.  Today, from about four to eight pm, our dear students, slightly loopy and with quite a few giggles due to the hunger of a day of fasting, tracked down ingredients in the markets of the Old City, cooked up a storm in the kitchens of the Citadel Hostel and served to their I-team judges a sumptuous iftar meal.  Spiced chicken, dates, yogurt, couscous, rice, salad and some mysterious M&M filled Ramadan cookies were all put to the test as our team of judges evaluated the dishes prepared by the three teams based on the Iron Chef's criteria of taste, preparation and sassiness!  The winners were the Jews, whose spiced chicken was loved by all. In second place were the Muslims followed at a close third by the Christian contingent.  The group is now on it's way to bed, stomachs full with pleasant memories of our day long celebration of Ramadan!

Our Tribe on Mt. Olive, 1 Aug 2011

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Jerusalem: On the Eve of Ramadan

In order for our students to fully experience the complexity of religion, politics and society in Jerusalem this week, we've divided them into three groups: Jews, Muslims and Christians.  Each group has been asked to research, map and act as tour guides for their set of sites within the Old City, explaining religious doctrine and political history as we proceed.  Today, as the crowded Muslim Quarter prepares for Ramadan and the city is plagued by traffic, our little group of Dragons' explored Jerusalem's Christian Quarter.  We attended morning mass at the Armenian Patriarchate, proceeded along the stations of the Via Dolorosa, where we were guided through the passion of Christ and ended our journey by lighting candles at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Candles by G. Flax

Lamb of God by G. Flax

A visit to Jerusalem offers nearly immediate prompting toward spiritual reflection.  Fur hatted Orthodox Jews share the streets with solemn Greek Orthodox priests.  As I rested at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, I shared a bench with a local Muslim tour guide, an elderly Hindu tourist and a former Russian atheist.  As I reflected upon spirituality and religious practice, the conflicts between the religions so present in today's media seemingly melted away with the realization that each of the Abrahamic faiths simply offers a different take on the human community: man, woman and their relationships with themselves, their God and the universe.

With love from Jerusalem,

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Preparing for a Ramadan Adventure!

Spending the past month travelling around Jordan with a group of rambunctious, curious Where There Be Dragons students has been an amazing adventure.  We've had a range of experiences from climbing Jebel Um Adaami, Jordan's highest mountain to floating in the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth.  We've slept alongside nomadic Bedouins and discussed Jordan's political system with a former member of the Israel-Jordan peace negotiating team.  Tomorrow we leave for a five day exploration of Jerusalem's Old City.  As we have traveled, I have had the opportunity to reconnect with many dear friends along our path, often long enough to say a simple hello, share some news and a quick good-bye before moving on to our next destination.  These encounters, though brief, have allowed me to  recognize the wealth of amazing relationships built over five years in Jordan and how much there is still to learn from the vibrant community around me.  A few days ago, I decided to use the upcoming month of Ramadan to travel around Jordan again, taking the time to visit friends and families along the way in celebration of Ramadan, in celebration of five years in Jordan and in celebration of community.

The adventure will begin on July 31 in Jerusalem on the first night of Ramadan and continue for the whole month as the Dragons program comes to a close for the summer and a new itinerary unfolds.  Please join me in this adventure and anticipate daily blog postings from a variety of locations as the month goes by.

Happy Summer and Ramadan Kareem!

By the entrance to Siq Um Al Tawaqi

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Yoga in Wadi Rum!

I've gotten in to the habit of seeing my dreams come into being this season.  It is a wonderful feeling to share new activities with guests.

Last week's yoga retreat with Yoli Maya Yeh was a fabulous example of this.  We spent an afternoon of meditation and yoga practice in the desert with a six lovely ladies from Aqaba.  Upon completion of the practice sessions, we traveled by camel out into the desert for a feast of zarb in Siq Um Al Tawaqi.  Yoli will return in the fall for more yoga fun in southern Jordan!

Zarb for dinner ... yum!

Yoli and Alena!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Enjoying the Full Moon Gathering!

As promised...
Full moon over Um Al Tawaqi (by M. Pennertz)

Abu Nizar telling stories around the fire (by K. Arnold)
More to follow!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Camel Races in Disi, 20 April 2011

Next Wednesday, April 20, the Disi Municipality will host a series of camel races at the race track outside Disi Village.  A truly spectacular event, camel races in Disi involve camels, remote control jockeys, jeeps and a great deal of fun!  To view a race from two years ago (it's quite long!), click here:

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Update on the Situation in Jordan

This past Friday, the opposition cancelled all protests as a means of reassessing and streamlining the conflicting demands of the different groups.  This is fantastic news for everyone working in the field of travel as we all hope that it will secure Jordan's reputation as a stable and welcoming nation whose population works towards reform through conversation instead of through chaos.  Meanwhile, I am happy to say that the season is picking up and you can look forward to stories of more adventures over the upcoming weeks!

As always, words work well when matched with images!

Al Ga and Um Nfoos

View from Um Al Bdoun

Camel House!

Photos Courtesy of Ms. Echo Tong

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Our First Full Moon Gathering!

In mid-March, we held our first gathering under the full moon in Wadi Rum!  A wonderful evening was spent in the desert by moonlight, hearing stories and learning customs traditional to the area.  Pictures to follow shortly!  For more information or to register for April's event, please visit:

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Kids and Camels - King's Academy Comes to Disi!

This past weekend, I was visited by a group of students and teachers from King's Academy, the co-ed boarding school located in northern Jordan and based on Deerfield Academy. HMK Abdullah II's high school alma mater.  The King's Academy visit was a busy one - activities included a camel ride with Abu Motloq, a jeep tour of the desert and lunch with local students to plan a joint community service project to be carried out in Disi Village in April!  Photos courtesy of Ms. Joan Fox, King's Academy Faculty Member.

Evening at Um Al Bdoun Eco Camp

Ms. Joan and Stephen enjoy a camel trek!

Planning a service project for Disi Village

Abu Motloq prepares tea

Stephen gets up close and personal with the desert!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Another (albeit slower) Season Begins!

The current unrest facing many of Jordan's neighbors, unfortunately, has negative implications for tourism in the region as many people cancel their vacations due to concerns over possible instability.  Fortunately for us, Jordan remains the calm in the storm and the government is quick to address the requests of its people.

My first guests of the new season, Kato and Norihito, from Tokyo, spent the night in Wadi Rum and then enjoyed one of the special activities in the desert - a ride in the microlight!  A microlight is a small propeller run two-seated glider.  Soaring over the desert in the early morning allows for some amazing views - but don't forget to dress warmly!

Norihito, Kato, Jord - the pilot

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Photographic Interlude

Last week, I was visited by Ms. Echo Tong, a former photographer with Xinhua News Agency in China, who was passing through Jordan on her three year world tour.  Echo captured the essence of the desert in a way that I have not seen until now.

See for yourself!

Um Al Bdoun

En route to Siq Um Al Tawaqi

In the canyon

Tea time!

The Henna Cat


Echo's first encounter with a be-hatta-ed gentleman!