A December to Remember!

For us, December was an absolute whirlwind of emotions. One day, we’re on cruise control and going through the motions of our normal lives. Next, we’re drinking more coffee than is advisable by medical science because we’re out of gas and spent the last few days running on fumes. Early in the month, our job hunting process had reached full speed which involved staying up late or waking up early to do interviews with various schools in differing time zones. Coupled with the background research needed for each interview and the actual application process for each school, it turns out casual job hunting is a part-time job. Adding to this emotional rollercoaster ride were our actual jobs, which continued to challenge us by mixing both in-person and online learning; often in the same day! 

We stayed strong and braved the storm as best we could by cooking up some wonderful food at home and spending time with our friends. Our weekly date-night ritual also helped us to recenter and stay focused. As we mentioned in a previous post, our job-hunting season officially ended when we very excitedly accepted positions at a small community school in Bali, Indonesia. This huge, challenging, often daunting task was now behind us! We spent the rest of December working hard with our current students as exams are right around the corner! But we also had a bit more time for the fun stuff! We did some cool running events and hit the rock climbing gym together. We visited one of Sofia’s outdoor Christmas markets where we sampled the delicious mulled wine, sausages, and other goodies for sale. One of the vendors was selling Bulgarian-made hot sauces; naturally we bought a few to try and spent the next week eating spicy wings and having friends over to try the new sauces we found! 

For our holiday break this winter, we traveled to Jordan for a fun mixture of diving and desert exploring. After weeks of hybrid school learning we were itching to head out and explore some new places. We had three decent snow falls here in Sofia and were eager to pack up our diving gear, grab our hiking boots, and head out. 

We decided to spend the first week diving around the city of Aqaba. It was very convenient since our flights were direct to Aqaba from Sofia. We purposely left the second week unplanned. We had a rough idea of what we wanted to do, but thought we’d talk to some people once we established ourselves and got a feel for things on the ground.

Diving the upper Red Sea/Gulf of Aqaba was remarkable! We spent most of that first week underwater exploring various dive sites that are all just a few meters from the shore. We dove some amazing wrecks including a passenger ship and even a sunken C-130 airplane! One of the highlights for us was a dive site called the Military Museum. In an attempt to encourage reef growth and an overall healthier ecosystem, the king of Jordan (who we learned is also an avid diver), had various jeeps, tanks, helicopters, and other military machines sunken just off the South Beach shore. Within a few short years the reef is starting to grow and various fish and other marine life are now calling this place home. It was quite a sight! We both remarked on how interesting it was to see these former tools of war and violence used for such a life-giving purpose. All I could think of was the timeless Jeff Goldblum quote from Jurassic Park, “Life finds a way.”

We became friends with a young couple who owns one of the dive shops we dove with. As it turns out, his mother is Taiwanese, and both her and her Jordanian husband had been running a traditional Taiwanese restaurant in Aqaba for many years. Since leaving China, Alison and I have both been craving authentic Chinese food and were seriously not disappointed! OMG, the ginger beef! The spring rolls! We almost ordered two of everything and had to roll ourselves back to our hotel room; smiling the whole way.

After talking with some locals and other tour guides, we made a plan for our second week. Half we’d spend in the Wadi Rum desert and the other half in the famous ancient city of Petra. We hopped on a bus and made our way to our first stop, Wadi Rum.

So here’s how Wadi Rum basically works. The Bedouin people run all of the tours in and out of this protected area. For a nightly fee, you stay in tents or camps run by the Bedouin community. They offer different types of tours that involve riding in the back of a Jeep/pickup truck to various sites and excursions. One such excursion is camel rides; but we did not partake in this. The tour guide drives the Jeep from place to place along the “highways” in the sand of this ever-expanding desert. The Bedouin tour guide cooks traditional meals and shares their stories and experiences from living in this unique landscape. Pita was served with every meal and sometimes the bands of roaming camels get spoiled by the leftovers. Some of the highlights included seeing 3,000 year old carvings, seeing the night sky without a hint of light pollution, scrambling up vast rock structures,  and walking through gorgeous sandstone canyons that offered breathtaking views and wonderful photo opportunities. One of our guides, Yusif, taught us a very fun traditional Bedouin strategy game that uses nothing but sand, sticks, and stones. The silence of the desert was at first haunting, but then addictive. The sound of wind blowing along the sand dunes was most calming and restoring.

Our next stop was THE most visited tourist attraction in Jordan, the ancient city of Petra. Made famous by National Geographic and the third (and possibly the best) Indiana Jones film, the city Petra was constructed around 2,000 years ago. There was much to see and explore along this ~8 kilometer trail from the visitors center to the end of the gorge, where a beautiful carving called “The Monastery” awaits all who make it there. The ancient city has many beautiful carved walls, tombs, and various structures. We knew that there was more to offer than just the single “Treasury” carving (the one from Indiana Jones) but we were shocked at how many other unique and equally beautiful sights this location had to offer. Some of our highlights from Petra include the Monastery at the end of the trail, the night walk where the trail from the visitor center to The Treasury is lit only by candles, mouth-watering traditional Jordanian food, and some much needed canine snuggles from our B & B host’s dog, Bessie.

We returned to Aqaba briefly to get a COVID test before our flight, walked around the downtown area, and also indulged in yet another delicious Chinese meal! We had an absolute blast touring and exploring just a few of the many places that Jordan has to offer. We also had the opportunity to meet many nice and lovely people, fellow tourists and locals alike. It may not surprise anyone reading this, but Alison and I don’t look Jordanian. Needless to say, we stick out a bit. But during some of our walks around, many people stopped us and simply asked where we were from and wanted to welcome us to Jordan. It was just the recharge we needed!

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