Above: Donette and Marin at the base of Desert Rats in the Shade (5.10+).
Our friend from Bulgaria, Marin, arrived in Aqaba on the evening of March 3rd as planned. He had a direct flight from Sofia to Aqaba on Ryan Air for nine (9) Euros! The following day, we returned to Wadi Rum for more climbing. On this portion of the trip, we stayed in Khaled’s house in Wadi Rum village with his wife, Enzela, and their three sons (Zaid , Hamad  and Eiad [18 months]). It was a truly special experience to eat meals with the family and play with the boys. In most homes, we would never see the wife, let alone interact with her. We saw Zaid off to primary school each day, batted balls back and forth with Hamad and played peek-a-boo with Eiad. At one point, we shared a video of Olivia—our amazing grandbaby—with the family. Eiad took Donette’s phone and spoke to the video of Olivia, saying “baby, baby” over and over. At one point he kissed the phone!
Each evening, we sat in the living room and talked at length with Khaled about a host of topics. Enzela would sit with us if she wasn’t too busy. As an example, from Khaled’s perspective, Saddam Hussein was a tyrant, but Iraq and Jordan benefited greatly from his rule. Under Hussein, Jordan received very inexpensive fuel, free university schooling and access to cheap materials and goods. This all ended after the US invasion and the Jordanian border with Iraq (and Syria) subsequently became extremely dangerous. Speaking of Syria, Jordan is currently housing more than one million (!) refugees from the war there.
Khaled and Enzela and many of their siblings live in the village, but Khaled’s mom and Enzela’s parents prefer to live in their camps in the desert. They live in traditional goat-hair tents, tending their animals and enjoying a more peaceful (and spartan) life. The kids keep rooms in their houses for their parents and visit them often, picking up goat milk, bringing out water and supplies. Enzela made us a wonderful meal with some of the goat her mom supplied that day. Enzela also has a stand-alone 5-gallon yogurt maker that she uses to process the elder’s fresh goat milk into cheese, milk and yogurt. We ate those products frequently.
We also talked about wildlife with Khaled, trading pictures of the various birds, mammals and snakes in Wadi Rum and Joshua Tree. I showed Khaled and Marin pictures of jackalopes and totally had them on the hook before eventually revealing the joke. We laughed so hard we cried.
Each day we went climbing. A few days were spent at the big cliff near town (Jebel Rum), but most days were far out in the desert – the real reason to visit Wadi Rum. One day, we went to a classic climb called Desert Rats in the Shade, which is located about 24km south of Wadi Rum village. From the end of the 4WD track, we hiked about 45 minutes up to the route and did some very fine climbing (including a new two-pitch route).
When we returned to our gear at the base of the wall, we discovered that Marin’s wallet and phone were missing. We were in a really remote place and the theft was inconceivable. We triple checked all of our gear looking for Marin’s stuff, because it made no sense that someone would steal anything, let alone just his wallet and phone when ours were there too. As we hiked back to where we had been dropped off, we found some fresh footprints in the wash, so we knew that someone else had been in the area.
When Khaled returned to pick us up and heard the news, he went into a frenzy. In his world, the theft was completely unacceptable and he vowed to get Marin’s property back. We then drove all around the area - checking washes for footprints, questioning Bedouin who were gathering firewood or grazing animals and stopping at the sole Bedouin camp for miles around. It was fascinating to watch Khaled’s interaction with the camp occupants. While a multi- generational Bedouin himself, to the herders who lived in a tent in the middle of the desert, Khaled was a village dweller. Khaled stopped short of the camp, exited the vehicle and waited for the elder herder to approach him. They then formally greeted each other and sat down to tea before Khaled broached the theft. The case was unresolved by nightfall and Khaled informed us that we would return with his brother and track the thief.
The next morn, we returned to the area with Khaled’s brother, Hassan. We hiked back to the cliff and identified tracks, which we then all tried to follow for a couple of hours. From a saddle a mile or more beyond the cliff, Hassan spied a herder in the distance and took off after him. The rest of us returned to the truck and drove around the entire mountain to rejoin Hassan. Hassan caught up with the herder, who was a 17-year-old boy, the grandson of the elder that Khaled had met the previous day. According to Hassan, the young man was mentally deficient and despite Hassan’s interviewing efforts, would not admit to knowing anything about the theft.
Above: Donette Swain climbing Bedouin Camel Boys
We returned to the village and climbed nearby that afternoon, convinced Marin’s belongings were gone forever. The next day we did the excellent 500- foot (Bedouin Camel Boys) near the village of Disi. When Khaled returned at the end of the day to transport us home, he had Marin’s wallet and phone! During the day, Khaled revisited the Bedouin camp to speak again with the elder. The elder had spoken with his grandson and searched his belongings to no avail. Khaled then applied his interrogation skills to the youth, who eventually admitted taking the items. Once the confession was obtained, Khaled, the young man and the elder went back toward the climb to look for the items, which the 17-year-old had stashed under a rock. After two hours of searching, the items were found! No money was missing and the phone was in working order.
On our last day at Wadi Rum, Marin and I did a great hike with Khaled. He took us to an area on the Saudi Arabian border, about 27km SE from the village. We hiked around looking for mushrooms (Khaled found three in the sandy terrain shown below; the mushrooms form underground and rarely reach the surface), eating various edible plants and enjoying the scenery. Khaled also brought the ubiquitous teapot and made Bedouin tea.
While Marin and I were hiking with Khaled, Donette returned to Aqaba and went scuba diving in the Red Sea, a day that had been on her bucket list since she started diving. Her PADI Dive Master was a hijab-wearing (even in the water), Ray Ban sporting, rap sing-along, rock star gal named Wa’ed (“Promise”). When we reunited at the hotel in Aqaba, Donette was beaming.
On the 14th, we went snorkeling in the Red Sea. The coral reef and sea life were great. I did a second snorkel over a Cold War era tank and C-130 airplane that had been purposely sunk by the Jordanian king as underwater attractions.
We rented a car in Aqaba and will have it for the remainder of our time in Jordan. After some food shopping and a visit to a hardware store for climbing supplies, we drove to Petra yesterday afternoon. We are now in a hotel sitting out a cold, rainy day. We’ll spend 2-3 days here at Petra, then head back to Wadi Rum to put up some new routes that we discovered just before we left. From there, it will be north to the Dead Sea, some historic sites and Amman.
This is yet another great trip for two of the very luckiest people there are.