The Day My Spirit of Adventure Died

(This post was originally published on life-offtrack.com on June 28, 2012.)

We assumed when we left London at the beginning of February that we had left the only cold we would see all trip behind. When we mapped out our flights, we planned to be in the Middle East in February and early March so we could miss the cold creeping out of the Northern Hemisphere. We assumed it would be warm in February in Dubai, Jordan, and Israel. You know what they say about assumptions and in our case it’s true. This is the story of how misperception can frost bite you in the arse.

We landed in Amman, Jordan on February 17th. We’d booked two night’s at Genny Bed & Breakfast. It was one of those places where we felt the hosts took pity on our ragged selves, tending to our comfort as if we were their kids, but they were probably just good hosts. We ended up staying three nights at the outset and made sure to stop in for one more before heading out. It was 50 degrees Fahrenheit when we arrived. The moment we pulled up to Genny’s, rain hit and the mercury sank. It snowed twice while we were there. When we asked people if this was normal, we got a consistent response, “Well not really. But it is February,” whatever that means.

Amman in February. Photo by Nellu. (See more of Nellu’s pictures from Amman by clicking here.)

Despite being relatively unprepared for the cold, we layered up and headed into town to do some sightseeing.

As a woman entering the King Abdullah I Mosque, I was required to wear a hooded abaya (borrowed from the shop downstairs) and cover my hair. These kind of clothing restrictions for women usually get under my skin, but this time I was grateful for the extra layer.

Happy in my extra layer. Photo by Nellu

Then we headed over to the Citadel in city center to take in the ancient Roman ruins and the Temple of Hercules.

Temple of Hercules, Amman. Photo by Nellu

Now, I bet you’re thinking what Nellu was thinking, “Wow! Ruins! Ruins are cool.” Well let me set the scene a little better. The Citadel in Amman, as many citadels are, is on top of a big, open hill. This kind of vantage point may have protected the fort during a siege in ancient times, but it left us exposed to the cold and the wind on this frigid day in February.

We pose for a parents’ picture on top of the Citadel. I know that smile doesn’t say cold but the eyes do.

We spent some time exploring all that the Citadel had to offer. I can’t remember how much time, but it was long enough for the chill to get so thoroughly in my bones that I begged Nellu to leave so we could find some place warm.

But that was part of the problem in Jordan. Internal heat doesn’t exist in many of the buildings. We were able to find shelter and yummy food at Hashem’s at the foot of the Citadel but most of the famous eatery was open air. We headed to the back corner but the only heat we found came from our hot mint tea.

Looking like a troll at Hashem’s eatery after my deep freeze. Photo by Nellu.

But this day in the cold wasn’t the straw that broke this camel’s back for one important reason: Genny’s had heat.

I didn’t break until we went to Petra days later.

Now just to make sure I don’t get misread on this one – we loved Petra. It was an amazing anthropological site and the reason that Jordan should be high on the list of countries to visit in your lifetime. We’ll have more on Petra in future posts.

More on the amazing Petra in future posts. Photo by Nellu.

The issue that I had with Petra—or more specifically with Wadi Musa, the town that serves as an entrance to the site—was the lack of heat. We planned to spend three days exploring the area:  the first two roaming around Petra and staying at a hostel in town, and the third day we’d check out “Little Petra” and sleep at the Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp just a few kilometers away.

The weather was warm during the day. We shed layers as we toured Petra, climbing up to lookouts and rambling down hillsides. Before the sun went down, we headed back to our hostel. It was cold in our room so we climbed under the thick stack of furry fleece blankets on our bed. The hostel did have heat but they only turned it on between 6am and 9am in the morning and 6pm and 9pm at night.

“I’m not getting out of bed until the heat is on,” I declared.

But when 6pm rolled around, there was no sign of heat. As the sun set, the room just got colder and colder. At 6:15pm I convinced Nellu that he should be the one to get out of bed to assess the situation. He walked over and put is hand on the heater. “I’ve got bad news for you,” he said, “The heat is on.”

“What!? That can’t be,” I shouted in exasperation, hopping out of bed to check for myself.

It was true. The heat was on, barely, and it didn’t make much of a difference. I felt my spirit of adventure, the one that kept me going through horrible train ridescamera accidents, and costly mistakes, quietly slip away. You could say it froze to death.

I may have been ready to go home the day we left Africa but this was the first time I wanted to go home. “This isn’t normal!! This isn’t normal!!!!” I whimpered.

We headed out of our hostel in search of food and somewhere warm to eat. Most of the restaurants in town were once again open to the cold air. We found food but little reprieve from the cold.

On returning to our hostel, I thought I would try a trick I learned working as a TV news producer. The best way I’ve found to get the cold out of your bones after a long day out in the field is to take a hot shower and dry your hair with a hair dryer. Shooting hot air at your head for a prolonged period of time gives you a warm halo effect that can last for almost 30 minutes.

Lucky for me the hostel had a hair dryer (most don’t), but my warm-up plan was flawed. The water coming out of the shower head was indeed hot but the bathroom was like an ice box including the tile under my feet. You had to work hard to stay directly under the sorry little stream of water to prevent frost bite.

Would you rather take a cold shower on a hot day or take a hot shower in a freezing room? After traveling for more than a year, getting exposure to both situations, I can tell you that I’d take the former any day.

As we went to bed that night, I held onto the hope of a warm day in Petra and the promise of returning to Genny’s at the end of the week.

Thankfully it didn’t get as cold in our hostel the next night. We also found a restaurant that had a warm upstairs for dinner. It was filled, of course, with foreigners.

For our final night in southern Jordan, we headed out to the Bedouin camp. My spirits had been propped up by the promise of a camp fire. And while I was comforted by my direct access to an open flame, the realization that every warm piece of clothing I had would smell of smoked meat until I got the chance to wash and air dry them (much of the world does not have clothes dryers) dampened my mood.

The fire may be warm but it makes you smell like smoked meat. Photo by Nellu

Oh, but thank goodness for Genny’s! After a three and a half hour bus ride and short cab ride back to Amman the next day, I washed and dried the smoked-meat smell right out of my hair. It was wonderful moment for me.

That night, I caught myself staring at the hairdryer similarly to the way Tom Hanks stares at the barbecue lighter at the end of “Cast Away.” He seems to contemplate the ease and comfort of modern life. I can relate.

~ Molly