I absolutely could not be there another moment. I was so uncomfortable, my skin was crawling and my eyes darted around the dark tent making sure another person didn’t come in. I listened intently, worried that someone would barge in. I strained my ears to hear footsteps among the sand and blustery, Middle East wind rustling in the palm trees. There were distant recordings of the call to prayer blasting from minarets late at night and early in the morning before sunrise. My friend and I made a pact that we were in it together. We had just spent a full day crossing the border from Israel to Jordan, taking multiple taxis through the desert, and touring the ruins of Petra with a friendly, flirty tour guide who’d been recommended by an American guy in our Tel Aviv hotel.
I hadn’t been worried all day. Rather, it felt like my friend and I were adventurers on a secret mission as part of our tourist holiday. We hadn’t alerted anyone back home of our plan to visit Petra, as we knew we’d be scolded for going by ourselves. We were both seasoned travelers but we somehow forgot to wear appropriate clothing. Instead, we wore tank tops and shorts for our hike through Petra. We should have packed scarves for our heads and shoulders and skirts to show modesty. Oops.
Our guide, Hamza, seemed kind and caring for the first part of the day. Then, as day turned to dusk, he grew sharper and strongly suggested we stay a night in Wadi Rum, the quintessential desert experience of sleeping under the stars in a luxury hotel. We couldn’t pass up this opportunity, so we agreed. Driving through the desert with his brother in their pickup, we left the paved road and traversed the sand. The truck got stuck a few times and we became terrified as they dig out the tires and cursed in Arabic. Why had we decided to stay in the desert with our guide and his brother? Was this really an adventure or a death wish?
A couple hours later, after passing camel carcasses and skulls of other animals in the sand, we approached a tiny village with Jordanians sitting in front of makeshift buildings constructed out of plywood and cinder blocks. The wind picked up. We finally drove past some gorgeous hotels, the kind you’d see on the cover of Travel and Leisure. We kept driving. We arrived at our hotel, a camp of men who were praying and surrounded by canvas tents on platforms. We were the only two women.
We were called to dinner, and all eyes were on us. We didn’t think we were welcome and maybe the other guests thought we were special entertainment. Our sense of adventure left hours ago, after we were pot-committed to the journey. We didn’t have an exit plan. We were at their mercy.
I stared at the tent door and vowed to check the time on my watch every hour. My heart was racing and I was sweating. My friend and I discussed how we could get out or if we should even try. We agreed it would be better to wait until morning. Literally, each time I looked at my wristwatch, one minute had passed. That felt like the longest night.
By 6 am the next morning, we were woken by feral cats meowing and went outside to see an amazing sunrise. Miraculously, we hadn’t been harmed. We climbed some rocks and watched a camel caravan pass on the slick sand. A few hours later and we were back in the truck on the way to border crossing near Eilat.
This was a case of “very poor planning and no exit plan.” In retrospect, everything worked out perfectly but in the moment, we were scared. During the night, when I was attempting to protect my friend (ha!), I wondered if the adventure was worth it? Were we short-sighted to agree to this adventure, or was it really once-in-a-lifetime? Who knows.
I try to think of the worst case scenario when making a big decision and have an exit plan in place. But, sometimes (well, most of the time), we act impulsively or think it’s going to be okay and there is not exit plan in place. Other times, we have little or no control in certain situations and have to accept whatever is happening. I guess, in those moments, we have to hope for the best.
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