Last week, I was invited to join some friends from choir, church, and Whitman in a weekend camping and hiking trip to Wadi Hasa. I eagerly accepted, always ready to see some more of Jordan’s famous natural Wadis. Although Wadi Rum is by far the most well-known tourist wadi, the more adventurous seek the kilometers-long canyons and valleys of the “true” wadis, filled with waterfalls, palm trees, and of course the still-present and meandering river that originally carved it out millenia ago.

Google Earth to the rescue! 18 KM of fun

Google Earth to the rescue! 18 KM of fun

Google Earth KMZ file available here if you want to “see” the route we took with detail on campsites, etc.

These wadis can of course be treacherous. Our two leaders, Ruth and Janelle, had both visited Wadi Hasa last year and carefully gave the other six of us lists of what we should bring and what we could expect. Deep water, lots of biting insects, and oatmeal. Without a water filter and iodine water purification tablets essentially impossible to find in Jordan, we’d be bringing our entire weekend water supply with us in our hiking packs.

I didn’t have a hiking pack, and neither did most of us other hikers, but through our contacts throughout the expat community and the boy scouts in Whitman, we were all eventually provided with stout and sturdy hiking backpacks. In my case, double emphasis on the stout part; I had difficulty fitting through my front door when the thing was finally loaded with water, granola bars, instant coffee, and an extra set of shoes.

"He was last seen wearing a massive hiking pack and a goofy expression"

"He was last seen wearing a massive hiking pack and a goofy expression"

Fellow Whitman teacher Jon lives right down the street from me, so he and I met up at 6:30 in the morning on Friday, and walked the short distance to where Janelle and Ari live. He and I were the last to arrive, and came to their apartment where the others were already busily stuffing double-ziplocked bags of food and other items deep into our massive bags. Jon and I had made quite the sight walking up the street in the early morning hours. Traffic is always at almost zero on the Islamic holy day, and people stopped and stared at us with their usual gape-jaw at the two foreigners with bags almost as large as the bearers. A taxi pulled up next to us and honked about 20 times. “HEY HEY WHERE YOU GO.” Friday mornings in Amman.

Now successfully rendezvoused, the eight of us flagged down a couple nearby taxis (not the one from earlier) and were able to neatly stuff all of our huge bags into the trunks; it was like the taxis had been designed for wadi-hikers. In a few more minutes, we found ourselves outside the southernmost bus station in Amman, and grizzled men were eyeing the four women in our group and directing us raucously to get into this bus here to go to city of Karak, the first of two bus trips we’d need to take to reach the wadi’s entrance.

The bus ride took about two hours. The girls sat in the back and tried not to inadvertently show too much exposed leg to the men on the bus. Of course, we were the only foreigners on the bus. I chatted with my seatmate to pass the time – his name was Mahmoud, he was a Palestinian refugee, and he was going back to Karak for the weekend to visit his mother and father. He enjoyed looking at the wadi guidebook Janelle had brought with her, showing trails and photos of dozens of Jordan’s best wadis. He told me he’d love to do something like that himself someday, but he needed to work all the time to support his parents.

Once in Karak, we were able to quickly rent another mode of transportation to take us the rest of the way. Janelle quickly found a microbus, and negotiated a price of 35 JD for the transportation to the wadi’s head. Our driver was a cheerful young man who helped us toss our heavy packs into the back of us bus, and hummed to himself as we drove farther south through the mountains. Jon and I sat in the front seat, and the others sat smashed in the rear passenger section.

Perhaps it was my front-seat location or the fact I was wearing a bright red Jordanian keffiyeh on my head like some sort of sheikh but when we were stopped by a military checkpoint who demanded to see our passports, the driver and the two soldiers turned to me for an explanation. They wanted passports and they weren’t interested in the fact that we didn’t bring anything as valuable as our primary identification with us to get drenched in a wadi. “This has never happened before,” said Janelle from the backseat. The girls were about to try the usual tactic of “distract the Arab men by looking cutely out the window,” but I took things into my own hands. “My dear friend!” I cried to the officer. “We’re just American tourists going exploring in the wadi. These are my coworkers. I work with Iraqi refugees, to help them in their sad condition.” The officer gestured for me to exit the car, then adjusted my keffiyeh on my head, kissed me on both cheeks several times (I’ve gotten used to this sort of affection by now) and sent us on our way. Sometimes you’ve just got to play the works-with-refugees card; and I had brought business cards with me for that reason just in case.

Janelle and Ruth directed the driver to drop us off on a desolate hill next to a gravel path that led away down a hill and disappeared into reeds at the bottom. We unloaded our packs, heaved them onto our backs, and started down the hill, enjoying the surprisingly cool breeze and the bubbling sound of a creek below us.

There was a family of Tufilans at the bottom of the wadi, having a picnic under a tree. Tufila is a medium-sized city in the southern desert that has a “reputation” in Jordan as being the hillbilly province. My biking buddy Omar has a Tufila family name, and he’s always greeted with an amused smirk and chuckle from other Jordanians whenever he goes anywhere. I’d never met any authentic Tufilans, but they were all pleasant to us, shaking hands all around and inviting us to sit and have tea with us. The women in their group gazed in awe at our female hikers, noting their clothing, and greeted them with a smile (per usual cultural dictate, the men and women didn’t speak to each other).

After what we thought was a safe distance away, the girls stopped to change their clothes into something more wadi-suitable behind some rocks, but were stymied when a couple curious farmers came out of the reed fields on the other side of the river and attempted to crane their necks to peer behind the rock, as if their ears were keenly tuned to people undressing in fields.

The small creek that we had splashed through next to the Tufilans almost immediately sank down into the rocks and became what we had been looking for: Wadi Hasa. We had arrived, and now we just needed to find a way back down into it so that we could get started. We spent 15 minutes hunting around for cracks in the rocks that would allow us to drop down into the water, and Ruth finally found a sloping path through some thorn bushes that would allow us to slowly slide ourselves and our packs down into the water.

We splashed into the water at about 10:30 AM, and immediately sank up to our waists in the cold green river. Janelle and Ruth commented that it was much deeper than last year, which could probably be attributed that we were visiting a month earlier in the year than they had. The closer you visit to the flood season in early March, the higher the water is in Jordan’s wadis.

Tragedy struck after only a few minutes. Janelle went forward down the river to investigate, and leapt into a waterfall which turned out to be over 10 feet deep, far more than anything than we had ever seen in any other wadi. Ari and Jeff volunteered to climb up over some rocks above the water and hand our packs down to us, as Janelle tread water below us. I reached to my chest to unbuckle the straps holding my pack in place, and then suddenly Jon said, “uh, there goes the camera, Zach.”

Janelle had given me custody of her water-and-shock proof (wadiproof, she had jokingly termed it) camera to sate my photo-happy urges for our trip. I had strapped its case to my pack a few minutes earlier before climbing into the water, and already taken about 30 pictures during our journey and arrival. A low moan escaped my throat as I whipped my head around and watched the small green pack bob up once in the water, and then shoot off the edge of the waterfall and hit the depths below. It sank instantly and was lost from sight in the murky green water. Jon and I dove into the water to search for it, trying to fight the powerful current from the waterfall to feel for it on the ground, but it was to no use…the camera was gone and with the water like it was now, there was no chance of retrieving it.

I apologized over and over again to Janelle, but she treated me kindly and told me not to worry about it. I was absolutely mortified about my fatal mistake that had cost Janelle her camera, but the others encouraged me to not let it ruin the trip for me and that I’d just have to “take mental pictures.” I didn’t mention that I had just spent my trip to Egypt taking mental pictures and I really wanted to take some real pictures!

We were able to get our bags across to a moderately dry spit of land by forming a human chain to pass them along from shore to shore. Ari and Jeff would hurl them to Jon, who precariously balanced on a bit of rock sticking up in the water, while I stood behind him to support him when the heavy bag inevitably knocked him into the water. Jon would throw himself forward and fall under, but always fought to keep the bag above water with one hand so that I could lean forward and grab it. There was a metal pipe that the Bedouins had put into the river here to collect water that I could use to hold onto to lean forward and collect the bag, but it sliced up my left hand fairly badly and left me with deep cuts all around my index finger. I would in turn pass them back to Ruth and Janelle, who paddled them over to Joanna and Joe next to the shore. We made a good team, and with the exception of my gigantic overstuffed pack, the bags barely touched the water.

Those twenty minutes were the hardest of the trip, though. Between losing the camera and the extremely deep water (that I swallowed probably a bit too much of during my frantic dives), I was pleased to be able to go through waist and chest deep water for the rest of the day. The massive boulders around us meant that we would constantly need to stop to remove our packs and then shimmy over something, one by one, before having them handed down by someone up above. I mournfully tailed the group for awhile, looking at rock formations and waterfalls while making a square with my hands and muttering “click…click.”

We stopped for lunch on a large rock in the middle of the river, and Jeff broke some dead reeds nearby to make a fire for his can of stew. I chewed on white raisins and wondered if that weird gurgling noise from my stomach was due to the amount of river water I had accidentally drank. Janelle and Ruth told us that we were right next to a waterfall “slide” that went down into a hidden cave. Jeff, Jon and I went with Janelle to check it out from an obscure ledge beneath our rocky lunch spot while Ruth took the girls to scout an easier path. The waterfall’s pressure was so strong that it shot me under the waves and almost into the far wall of this cavern. It was somewhat difficult to find a way out, but eventually we played a game of Marco Polo with the others and retrieved our bags to continue on.

Throughout the day, we found ourselves surrounded by enormous oleander bushes that gleefully would WHAP! us in the face if we hurried carelessly through the underbrush. I had never seen so many of them in one place before, and their sweet smell surrounded us. More pragmatically, their long stalks provided readily available ways to quickly test the depth of water before leaping in headlong. At one point, I thought I’d try my hand at exploring off of Janelle’s beaten path, and brashly marched down a waterfall as the rest of the group picked their way down the shore. Suddenly, as I rounded a corner and the current suddenly vanished, I fell headlong into water that was at least a few feet above my head. It seemed that without the water current carrying silt down the water at high speed, the “natural” depth of this part of the river was far greater.

I bobbed up like a cork immediately. It seemed that with all of those gradually-emptying bottles of water in the lower part of my pack, it was like having a bizarre set of water wings strapped to my pack, and I dog-paddled through a narrow canyon, surrounded by strange styrofoam planters (gifts from the Bedouins in the hills above us, no doubt) and oleander petals. It seemed like a dead end though, and although Jon and Joe attempted to lift me up the the canyon, I discovered that the river actually went underground in the rocks below where my scrabbling feet were kicking. I was fervently thankful that the current was so slow, otherwise I probably would have been sucked under it and into probable danger.

Some hours after lunch, we came across a Bedouin man and his children, standing with a nervous-looking flock of sheep in a shadowy oleander glade in the wadi. The man was wearing a ripped up and dirt-darkened tunic and was standing in the river up to his knees, as he and an older son held a kicking sheep on its back in the water. A daughter played on a rock above them. The girls all simultaneously reared back when we rounded the corner, and someone murmured, “oh no, he’s about to kill that sheep in the river, isn’t he!”

The Bedouin family looked up from their work and play and silently regarded us, then another son moved the cluster of sheep slightly so that we could pass by them. I was half-tempted to give the Bedouin man my business card and ask him to “call this number if you discover a camera in the river, please” but decided it probably would be a moot point. As I passed the submerged sheep, I closely watched the man’s hands, and he tenderly raised the sheep’s snout from the water so it could breath. His other hand did not hold a knife, and in fact was gently rubbing and kneading the brownish wool on the sheep’s stomach. We passed within mere centimeters of the other damp-looking sheep, and the shepherd boy extended a calming hand towards them and we passed without a single sheep bolting away from us. I took a moment to explain that the man was actually cleaning the sheep and working the lanolin around in the wool more evenly to aid in waterproofing.

It was about five in the evening when the canyon began to widen and the boulder-jumping became less frequent. The reeds here pressed against us and in some places their fallen husks formed strange matted passageways that made the river itself impossible to see. But we could still hear it all around us and underneath us, unceasingly burbling away. Freshwater crabs scrambled out of our way as we approached, and clicked their claws menacingly if I bent over them to take a closer look. If I reached for one, it would skitter away into the cloudy shallows and leave little claw marks in the wet mud.

As Janelle led us in another criss-cross of the street, she suddenly stopped abruptly and called out triumphantly, “We’re at the hot spring!” Sure enough, half of the street was the usual chilly water, but the other half was as warm as bathwater. We immediately dropped our packs on the shore and traced the warm water to a narrow side stream that fed into the main river. With sighs of relief, we sat in a circular outcropping in the hot water, jacuzzi-style, and agreed that this would be a good place to make camp for the night.

Ari, Joe, Jeff and I tried to trace the hot stream up the side of the mountain, rapidly finding signs of Arab habitation in the discarded fuul containers, candy wrappers, and Pepsi bottles carelessly tossed on the shore. I muttered darkly under my breath about this for awhile, but after 20 minutes of walking up this side stream, we had not yet found the source and decided to head back to where the others were building the camp. We came across a rough dirt road and I took a moment to run to the top of the hill to find a full-on construction site in progress, complete with wiring cables, concrete blocks, and a bit of foundation already built. There was no one there, but I could see that something big was about to be built on this hill overlooking the river. On the way back down, I saw a couple Arab men with black bandannas moving around fields on the far hill, looking down at something in the wadi. I assumed they were farmers, but when I told the others back at the camp, everyone was happy that we had come in such a large group. All of us remembered the story from a couple months ago, regarding some tourists on the trails near Jerash that had been held at gunpoint by marijuana farmers.

Dinner was a delicious mix of chili and spaghetti, which had been willingly carried by Jeff in his pack the entire day. The men dragged massive logs from a lightning-struck tree on the other side of the river over to the campsite while the women tidied the sticks and boulders out of the sandy campsite. We were all exhausted, but took turn stirring the pots over the little fire we built against a large boulder. I spread out the sleeping mat I had borrowed from Wajih under a nearby tree and watched the stars fade in and out of view, depending on the fire’s intensity. I hadn’t brought a sleeping bag for the decrease in space it would have allowed me for food (always thinking responsibly, I am) but I slept comfortably enough with my keffiyeh thrown over me as a blanket and my dry change of clothes tucked under my head as a pillow. Our drying clothes hung around the campsite like flags, some draped over boulders near the fire, and others, like mine, suspended in tree branches above my mat. As the fire and our conversation slowly died down, the full moon swam into view above the edge of canyon and I found it almost too bright to sleep!

The next morning, the flies were our alarm clock (Jon groaned and pulled his blanket over his face, leaving his bare feet comically sticking off his mat into the dirt like some sort of crudely-wrapped mummy). Jeff commented darkly, not for the first time, that he wondered how the flies amused themselves when they weren’t biting touristy humans. My body made strange cracking noises as I stood up and I realized that I probably should have stretched a lot more before laying on the hard earth all night.

Breakfast was fresh scrambled eggs. I was amazed that we were having real eggs and not some powdered deal, and Janelle described her ingenious method of preparing them for a wadi hike. She had taken 20 of them and cracked them into a Nalgene water bottle, and then froze them overnight before the trip, keeping them unspoiled for our entire first day of travel and ready for breakfast May Day morning. Jon and I volunteered to do the dishes, and he and I waded out into the hot spring a few meters from our camp to scrub our dingy plates and pans with a combination of sharp stones and purple dishwashing detergent. It was an amusing combination of the primitive and the new (and scented!)

At 9:45, I poured the last of the morning’s coffee into my sealed mug and  I shouldered my repacked bag and followed the troop into the sunlight, splashing back into the water that our clothes had worked so hard to dry off from overnight. Ah well, at least we had gotten to enjoy them for the ten minutes since changing from our sleep clothes back into our hiking gear. We kept the rising sun behind us and headed west along a wide, flat plain, even briefly leaving the sound of the water behind for a moment to walk through a planted field (I think it was a tomato field, but I didn’t check too closely for fear of finding gun-toting men behind me).

I was beginning to wonder if we’d ever get back to our familiar canyon from yesterday as we tromped through a field that seemed to be populated entirely by tiny frogs and toads that sprang haphazardly around our boots between their holes in the gray mud near the river. I wasn’t to be disappointed; after another half hour of walking through this flat plain, we came to a waterfall that plunged the river back into eroded narrows yet again.

The water in this part of the journey was bright blue and the sunshine had warmed it to a pleasant temperature reminiscent to yesterday’s hot spring. We traversed downward in a noticeable descent for an hour through several waterfalls, before Janelle told us we should stop for awhile and check out our surroundings. It seemed she remembered this area from last year as having “massaging waterfalls.” Even the water level was much higher this year, the waterfalls she was referring to had a perfect shape and height to sit under and get warm water drummed along your back. We stopped and had “first lunch” in this spot, sprawled out on the bright white granite boulders or in warm sand on the miniature beach.

The scenery changed yet again as we moved on. The canyons around us stretched up into mountains and towering palm trees joined the ever-present oleanders and reeds. The wadi widened out again, and as we came into a “field” Janelle pointed out a blood-red patch of earth and stream of water shooting out of a hill above to splash onto it. We took turns holding our hands under it and discovered it was a “hot spring shower.” We must have been much closer to the source of this particular spring, because the water was much closer to scalding temperatures. I risked bending my head underneath it for a few moments, and asked if anyone had any shampoo (I could dream, at least). I picked up one of the red-tinged rocks and scraped at it with my dirty fingernail. The red flaked off in my hand; it was merely red iron deposits. The mineral content of that water must have been incredible.

Suddenly we heard a shout down the river in front of us. A trio of men in tall galoshes and gray camouflage were splashing towards us. Looking beyond them, I could see several tents and more men standing near them, watching us. It turned out that they were Jordanian soldiers on a fishing trip. A huge soldier with a gray-flecked beard sidled up to me out of nowhere and asked me casually if we were Israelis. I looked him up and down and resisted the temptation to ask him if he was actually Fidel Castro. The men were friendly enough; besides making the usual offers to us to stay and eat their fish with them, they seemed more interested in taking surreptitious pictures of the girls, and then asking our entire group to pose with them for some more digital pictures.

As we left the soldier’s camp behind, we came across more and more hot springs. We saw (and I stood in) at least 6 other reddish streams of scalding water before the field closed up again and we re-entered the canyon. If I thought that the area had been full of plant life before, the hot mineral water caused the flora to flourish even more and it rapidly seemed that we were in the tropics. Waterfalls splashed down the canyon walls around us, muffled by the thousands of ferns growing up out of the river to meet them. Palm trees were everywhere now, growing out of cracks in the mountains above us and leaning crazily over us and sending drips of water like rain down onto our heads. The water was filled with thin, worm-like strands of green algae which the strong current wrapped around our ankles. I’m not sure who started it, but we soon found ourselves in an algae-ball-fight, laughing and tossing balls of the sticky green slime at each other, while trying not to let the current and heavy packs cause us to topple over. Startled birds reacted to our juvenile behavior by trilling down to us and flapping around our heads. I hoped they were eating the biting flies!

It was starting to look like Jurassic Park. Even though the hot springs were now far behind us, the warmth of the water stayed with us as we plunged deeper into the canyons and the sun was almost blocked by the height of the mountains that were still faintly visible above the lip of our canyon. Green growth was on every rock and as we splashed onward through the calf-height water, we could feel the slime of the algae on everything we touched. I wouldn’t have been entirely surprised if a diplodocus had appeared around the corner, neck stretched up to reach the palm trees high above our heads. It was a breathtaking, surreal experience and we stayed silent much of the time as we hiked, drinking in our surroundings (we were still avoiding drinking the water itself; the blue color definitely meant massive microorganism growth).

It was becoming a fact, though, that we were running out of water. We had brought an average of 6 liters per person with us, but after using some for cooking as well, many of us were down to our last bottle. Janelle spied a Bedouin-installed plastic water spout shooting a stream of waterfall spring water into the river, and she waded over to it and asked me for some of my empty bottles to fill up from this relatively-clean water. I held up the bottle and inspected the tiny little specks dancing and cavorting excitedly in the water. “Hurray! Please drink us and get dysentery!” they seemed to shout. “Don’t worry, I have iodine pills with me,” Janelle reminded me. “I have enough for 8 more liters of water; that will get us through tomorrow.”

We had a brief scare after second lunch, when we felt a few drops of rain on our heads that definitely did not come from moisture-soaked palm trees. “We should probably get to higher ground,” Janelle had time to mention just before the heavens opened up and we were pelted with ice cold water. This is exactly what we had been hoping wouldn’t happen – rain while we were trapped in a high-walled canyon. I pointed back and to our right, “Up there! We can climb up there and get out of the direct flood path!” We quickly and silently crossed against the current and climbed up the slippery slope of packed reeds. We stuffed our bags under some dense reeds to try to keep them from getting too wet, and huddled against the wall. “Look on the bright side,” I commented, “At least behind this huge rock, we’re somewhat hidden from any massive walls of water that might come roaring down the wadi. And we can cling to these strong looking pieces of bamboo.” The others were not amused with my comments. I got bored and wandered out of our protected high place and sat in the warm water with the rain drizzling over me. “If you see me get carried away down the wadi by a wall of water, DON’T follow me!” I called up to them.

The rain itself only lasted for about 15 minutes, but we waited in that little alcove for another 20 minutes before venturing out again. The skies stayed cloudy, however, and we walked uneasily, looking for a place called “Submarine Rock” where we could camp for the night. Janelle and Ruth remembered it clearly from last year and figured that from that rock, it would only be another 3-4 hours to reach the village of Safi and the end of the hike. Jon tried his hand (literally) at skipping some stones through the river, and accidentally pegged Ari in the back of the leg. Ari had her revenge, though; she “acquired” a very large crab by grabbing it by the claws and carried it at least 200 meters to catch up with Jon, and then hurled it onto him. And here I was without a camera to capture the mirth that ensued…sigh.

A few minutes after the crab attack, we came to another L-shaped bend in the river and a large rock formation that looked like a backwards lowercase “h”. We collapsed on our bags. Jeff proclaimed that it looked sort of like a submarine and proceeded to roll out his sleeping mat and pronounce this location as the night’s camp. Ruth and Joe did some reconnaissance and discovered that the Submarine Rock was only 15 minutes ahead of us, but it was surrounded by rocky and painful looking terrain, whereas this “h” rock was surrounded by sand, and even had a firepit dug and stocked by previous campers (possibly the boy scouts). We decided to take Jeff’s advice and set up here for the night.

Dinner that night was macaroni and cheese in shells. I had proudly carried the velveeta cheese packets myself, but I believe it was Joe that had been stuck carrying the large tupperware containers with the pre-cooked shells. We were all so hungry that I’m sure that we would have been fighting over who would get to finish off the pots if we hadn’t been such a polite and well-mannered group (pay no attention to the algae-fight stains on our clothes). Jeff proclaimed himself Master of the Fire and prodded it for hours as the rest of us were trying to roast marshmallows after dinner. I didn’t know that the Joe would be bringing the marshmallows, but I had happened to bring some graham crackers (or their Jordanian equivalent) and we were able to almost have s’mores! As we started getting ready for bed, a chilly breeze blew huge sparks from the fire towards and we yelled at Jeff to quit feeding the fire and go to sleep. Before bed, Janelle took our collected bottles of spring water and added the iodine tablets.

I wanted to tell the story of al-Rajal Buwadi, or The Man of the Wadi, but the girls, correctly guessing at the genre of this story, voted us down and said they didn’t want to hear horror stories regarding a wadi they were about to sleep in. The men were much more curious, but by the time the girls drifted off to sleep (I could hear them snoring somewhere down by my feet) I was too tired to remember whether the Man of the Wadi gored people to death with his giant mutant crab claws or whether he served them tea and cookies.

We awoke to raindrops hitting our faces instead of flies. Seriously, Jordan? TWO rainfalls? In the month of May? This far south? We were practically in Aqaba, a city that sees rain maybe once per year – if they’re lucky! But for us wadi wallopers, this was not a good sign. It sure was incentive to repack quickly, though; we had our stuff bagged and dragged under the hump of the “h” within five minutes. Our quick breakfast was wolfed down; hot oatmeal with some non purified spring water. We didn’t have time for coffee, so I mournfully stirred my dry nescafe powder in with the oatmeal. It looked and tasted fairly pathetic, but I just couldn’t face the rainy, stiff-jointed morning without my instant coffee. Next time: air mattresses. My spinal cord was about to rebel against me and leap out of my back and find a new home.

Today’s environs were less tropical than yesterday, and the overcast “about to rain” look of the sky followed us for most of the morning. We quickly passed the Submarine Rock, a long slab of sandstone weathered into the shape of a triangular prism on its side. I personally felt it looked more like an aircraft carrier, but oh well. Even without the palm trees and warm water, I enjoyed the “Colorado”-esque appearance of the wadi today. Less welcome were a new kind of grayish biting insect that had the temerity to bite a hole into your leg so that blood dribbled from it, and then it would sit on your leg and lap up the blood. Like a mosquito, except without the decency of a proboscis.

Our bottles of iodized spring water looked less than appetizing. When Jon and I sat up and beheld them this morning, I thought at first that perhaps someone had peed in them during the night. The chemicals had actually turned the water yellowish and if anything, it looked even less appetizing than before. Janelle taste-tested it, and then after noting that she didn’t gag or pass out, I sampled it too. It tasted like regular water that had a couple teaspoons of swimming pool water mixed in. All and all, not terrible. Thankfully, we were prepared: the girls had brought powdered packets of Gatorade with them that we mixed in with our purified water, turning what could have been an un-appetizing beverage into something almost tasty.

As we drew ever-closer to the mouth of the river and the village of Safi, we started to see signs of visitors that had come up from the village. Arabic graffiti on the walls, empty soft drink cans…everything pointed to signs of the usual mindset of visitors. On the contrary, we had committed to carrying out every bit of trash we had brought in (we told one of our number, under penalty of dirty looks, that he could not throw his soup cans into the rocks). Janelle told us that she had heard of some people even driving Hummers and 4×4 trucks up the wadi in the summer when the water was lower.

The last few kilometers were blissful. Our legs were definitely dragging by that point and we were taking longer and more frequent rest breaks to chow down the last bits of our snacks or to drink our iodized Gatorade. I helped out my female companions however I could, acting as a stationary weight in the fast-flowing river to help Ruth or Joanna along (the latter had injured her knee slightly the day before). Ruth jokingly called me the Crane, and I responded by attempting to balance on one leg in the river and make whooping noises before promptly falling over onto my back like a turtle. Most cranes don’t have 20 kilos of weight on their backs. They’d probably whoop less.

And at 12:30, we rounded a bend and suddenly, the girls shouted out that they could see a watch tower. Moments later, the rest of the village walls came into view and suddenly we all realized, very conspicuously, that we were covered in mud/grime and our hair looked like something out of a horror movie. The women adjourned behind some rocks to change into “Clothes suitable for visiting a little Jordanian village,” which, knowing Jordanian villagers, was still not going to be enough to prevent men from gawking at them with their tongues on the ground.

As we walked along the wide, rock-strewn flood plain towards the city wall, a man in a long white robe shouted to us from a flood wall, about 30 meters away. I barely grunted in response to his hail, but Janelle said, “perhaps he knows a faster way to the bus station!” and went over to converse with him. Jeff squinted in his direction. “Wait a minute…he’s not wearing anything underneath that dishdash, is he.” The wind blew against the man’s figure and sure enough, the outlines left nothing to the imagination. “It’s like staring into the sun,” I muttered. “I’m surprised Janelle’s head hasn’t exploded by now.” The man straddled the rock like some sort white-cloaked, Michaelangelo-carved Adonis, and Janelle was successful – the man would drive us to the bus station for 5 JD’s, a bargain since it would take us 10 minutes to reach the buses instead of another 45 minutes of walking.

We dragged our packs over the flood wall and dumped them into the back of the man’s truck. The men were told that it was our responsibility to ride in the truck with our driver. Padded seats! My back and I certainly weren’t complaining. As we entered the village, I asked the driver if he knew anything about the sheikh of the village, Suliman, whom I had visited two years ago. The man replied he certainly did know the village elder. “Do you want me to take you to him?” he asked me hopefully. “Errrr…uh, no. Not now. We’re not exactly dressed for visiting right now,” I replied, trying to remember my Arabic after two days without using it.

Jon, seated in the front seat, looked out at the crowds of villagers in the streets of the village, and commented that he wasn’t sure if the highly-visible, highly-exposed truck bed was the best place for four foreign women to be sitting. I watched the eyes of the men around our truck…we had several folks who looked as if they wouldn’t mind climbing into the truck with us. I kept my window rolled down, shades on, and tried to look as imposing as possible. (I don’t think it ever works.)

I asked the girls if they enjoyed their beauty-queen truck bed ride as we hopped out at the bus station, and received several withering glances. Janelle and I negotiated ticket prices for ourselves and our bags to return to Amman with an ancient man wearing a keffiyeh, and we settled on a flat rate of 20 JD for everything. The bus was leaving shortly, but we had just enough time to grab some heavenly hot falafel, fuul, and hummous from a restaurant across the street and I think we literally shoveled it into our mouths. We must have been quite a scene to the small crowd of villagers that had gathered to watch us.

The bus started off from Safi half empty, but rapidly filled up with other people going to Amman. We men each sat next to one of our female hiking companions, but nothing could stop the young men on the bus from eyeing them frequently. To make things more interesting, the bus got a flat tire on the highway next to the Dead Sea, so we all had to climb out, feeling our muscles scream in agony, and stand by the side of the road for half an hour while the driver attached the spare. Drivers honked as they sped past. I was tempted to wave and behave in a goofy asinine way, but I found myself unable to move from a leaning position and decided to use my body as little as possible.

My biking (turned hiking) gloves had stained my hand an ugly purplish black. You can see the ugly cut near my index finger where the pipe sliced me the first day

My biking (turned hiking) gloves had stained my hand an ugly purplish black. You can see the ugly cut near my index finger where the pipe sliced me the first day

We eventually made it back to Amman at about 5 in the afternoon, and I promptly napped for the rest of the day, waking only to stretch my muscles so that they wouldn’t harden into rocks and possibly cause me to bond with my chair. Definitely air mattresses next time. And will there be a next time? I can only hope so. This was by far one of my favorite trips I have ever taken before, not only because of my wonderful companions but just because of the variety scenery, the solitude, and the complexity of the travel. I’m already making plans to go back to Wadi Hasa next month when the water level is lower!

Don’t forget – if you want to see our path on Google Earth, you can download the KMZ here. Don’t forget to turn on Panoramio shots in Google Earth so you can see some real pictures of the area!

And if you’re an adventurer in Jordan…visit Wadi Hasa. You won’t be disappointed, guaranteed!