Praise be to Allah, I experienced no such thing. Our guides were fantastic, there was plenty of chill-out time between activities, and with the rare exception, my fellow travelers were adventurous, open-minded, and good-humored. I had expected to be sick of them after 2 1/2 weeks. Instead, our last day brought a torrent of tears. After crossing the desert together from the Nile to the Holy Land, sweating our way from Cairo to Amman on every mode of transport from train to donkey, going our separate ways was a bittersweet conclusion to our journey.
And what did we see during our wanderings in the wilderness? If I may, a few highlights:
I arrive in Cairo, which is completely safe. All the locals want to talk about is their new democracy. They're so proud. "Things will be better now," they all say. "We have a president!" The Egyptians are positively basking in revolutionary honeymoon glow.
In other news, I miss the Welcome/Orientation meeting. Off to a good start.
Agenda items: Pyramids at Giza, Sphinx, Egyptian Museum
I get my first real dose of Egyptian summer heat. Sweat through my clothes by 9:30am. See King Tutankhamen's treasures at the museum. Can't believe I'm standing in front of that blue and gold mask I used to see every day on the cover of my 6th-grade geography book. No shower tonight since we're sleeping on a train.
Agenda items: Nile, Nubian village
Get off the train in Aswan, down-home southern Egypt, the heart of Nubia, just a few hours from Sudan. Our hotel room overlooks the Nile, which is outlined with green plant life and frequented by sailing vessels, with only desert sand beyond the green border, just as I imagined it. Lunch is traditional fare in a Nubian village where all the houses are bright blue despite the constant sun-bleaching.
Agenda items: ...
Group wakes up at 3:30am to visit Abu Simbel. But not me. I sleep and stare at the Nile from my balcony. (I need do-nothing days occasionally.)
Agenda items: Sail the Nile
We board feluccas and sail down the Nile all day, stopping only once to swim. There are cushions to lounge upon, loads of scenery, and a pleasant breeze. Utter bliss.
Agenda items: Kom Ombo Temple, Edfu Temple
It is blistering hot, but I don't think I've ever seen anything cooler. The temples feature Egyptian murals and script with grand imperial Greek columns. Evening is spent sipping cold, fresh juice at a rooftop pool in Luxor, where they coined the term "luxury."
Agenda items: Donkey ride, Valley of the Kings, Temple of Queen Hatshepsut
Riding a donkey is like riding a jackhammer. I lose a flip-flop, and my trusty steed Ali Baba envelops me in a bush while stopping to snack. I walk bow-legged like a cowboy for the rest of the day.
Agenda items: Citadel, Mosque, Old Town Market
Lunch in Khan Khalili becomes legendary when a surprise birthday extravaganza breaks out for the male half of the honeymooning couple, Jan and Alyssa. What starts as cake, quickly snowballs to involve Arabic pop music blasted on giant speakers and fireworks set off dangerously close to human flesh. It is a true spectacle.
Agenda items: Chill at Red Sea resort
We cross the lawless Sinai peninsula in our van, driving under the Suez Canal while an ocean liner passes through. Arriving at our beach resort on the Red Sea, we spend the day swimming and snorkeling, and the evening throwing our own beach-side dance party.
Agenda items: see Day 8
More relaxing, more snorkeling. The resort manager helps me conquer my fear of jellyfish while guiding me around a nearby reef. The fish, coral, and transparent, purple jellyfish are all gorgeous.
Agenda items: Ferry crossing to Jordan
I am gutted to learn a pair of American tourists were kidnapped driving across Sinai a mere hour behind us. That should've been me!
On the ferry, Danish Caroline and I are stopped by a gaggle of Egyptian women wanting their picture taken with us. I'm used to that by now. What am I not used to? Emerging from a toilet stall to see one woman giving another an injection in her backside.
Agenda items: Wadi Friggin' Rum
I used to think deserts were hellish, barren wastelands bent on human destruction, but spending a full day and night amid the stark beauty of the Wadi Rum has converted me. We serpentine across the rust-colored moonscape in 4x4's before bedding down in Bedouin tents for the night.
Agenda items: Little Petra
Upon arrival in the town of Petra, Spanish Elisa and I are so excited about tomorrow's exploration of the ancient Nabotean site, we sing the Indiana Jones theme on a loop.
Agenda items: Petra, Petra, and more Petra
Wake up at 5am to reach Petra first thing before the other tour groups show up. We are there for the next 10 hours. Walking through the ravine towards that first sight of the Treasury is stunning. At night, do we rest? Of course not. Time for a rooftop dance party.
Agenda items: Karak Castle, Dead Sea
More than 400m below sea level, the Dead Sea is hot, even for July in the Middle East. The air feels heavy and the water could boil tea. Nevertheless, we dutifully enter and bob on the water's surface like beach balls. Oddly enough, it's actually more comfortable floating in the salty sea than standing on its edge. Until I get out and notice sections of my skin feel like they've been splashed with acid.
Agenda items: Mt Nebo, Amman's Rainbow Street
From the top of Mount Nebo, Moses saw the Promised Land and passed away. Today we see only haze, but on a clear day supposedly visitors can see all the way to Jerusalem. I'm only now realizing how much of the Bible took place in this region. Once in Amman, we have our own "last supper" at a trendy expat cafe where Ramadan is optional and shisha is plentiful.
Agenda items: Keep it together
The day is nothing but long goodbyes. Travelers leave for the airport in threes and fours until our numbers dwindle to nothing and we've scattered back to the winds. The adventure is over. I'll miss the desert. I'll miss the shisha. I'll miss the calls to prayer. And against all expectations, I'll miss these people. Within any luck we'll meet again on the desert sand under the cloak of an Arabian night. Inshallah.