A Steamy Encounter in Wadi Musa, Jordan
“Margery Franklin!” I heard a voice calling from the back of the bus. Early that morning I had joined a group of singles and couples at the Israeli-Jordan border at Eilat. We did not know each other, but our guide led us through the gates by the small border control-officer’s booth after collecting our passports. The metal mesh border was topped with barbed wire – lots of it. Once in Jordan we boarded a bus for a day tour of Petra.
I had not realized when I booked a two-day tour that everyone else had only booked a one-day trip. “You get off here,” the guide told me as he escorted me off the bus and collected my suitcase from the hold. He ushered me into a small travel office and told me to take a seat. “A taxi will arrive to take you to your hotel.” With that, he was gone and I was sitting alone for five minutes, not even knowing the name of the small town where I was.
A beautiful young woman appeared from the back. She smiled and told me she was a representative of the company I was traveling with to the Wadi Rum. This is where Lawrence of Arabia was filmed, and where–as part of the British Army–T. E. Lawrence had fought valiantly with the Arabs against the Turks in the First World War.
She explained they had booked me into a hotel that offered a buffet supper and breakfast in the morning. after which a taxi driver would pick me up to take me to the Wadi Rum. She told me that they had also made arrangements for me to return to Amman to catch my flight to Tel Aviv, where I would connect with my flight to London. I was relieved to hear all this, as I had encountered numerous obstacles trying to arrange transport back to Tel Aviv.
The taxi came to collect me and took me to my hotel, which was set on a hill on the outskirts of Wadi Musa. The purple bougainvillea climbing around the entrance was most attractive and created a positive first impression. The staff were welcoming, although they had limited English. I could smell the food from the buffet dinner, and it was enticing. In the lobby were large, well-worn brown leather armchairs, the sort you sink into, as well as huge ferns and ceramic vases almost as tall as I was, all creating a dated feel. After checking in and leaving my luggage in my single room with a view over the town, I went down for supper.
I thought I was melting in the steamiest steam room I have ever experienced. The door opened and the receptionist returned to tell me that the female masseuse had gone home for Ramadan. Would I mind a male masseuse?
The buffet was extensive: colorful tabouleh salad made with bulgur wheat, finely chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, scallions, garlic, parsley and mint dressed with fresh lemon juice and olive oil; baba ghanoush, a roasted eggplant dip; hummus and pita bread; and what I would call dolma but that was labeled mahshi, which are grape leaves stuffed with cooked rice; meat (probably goat) ground with pine nuts and spices; hearty lentil soup; fattoush salad made with quinoa and topped with chicken. The highlight for me was the falafel, a vegan food made from assorted legumes formed into round balls and deep-fried in grapeseed or olive oil until crisp, then served with a choice of garlic sauce or fresh plain yogurt.
It was quite a spread, and after I had satisfied my appetite (stimulated both by my nine-kilometre walk in Petra earlier in the day and the enticing aromas from the attractively presented dishes) I hardly needed baklava as well, but the honeyed puff pastry quite literally melted in my mouth. I had no map of the area and was reluctant to venture out alone after dark, so I thought a swim would work off a few of the calories I had consumed.
I tested the indoor pool with my foot and it was freezing (I have become a wimp about cold water as I have grown older). I was disappointed, but then I noticed a sign: “Turkish Bath.” Ahhh. It provided my excuse not to swim in the cold water. The young lady receptionist welcomed me with a cup of delicious herbal tea, and handed me a soft white toweling robe and slippers. She told me to start in the steam room after leaving my bathing suit in a locker. The masseuse would come for me after fifteen minutes.
I thought I was melting in the steamiest steam room I have ever experienced. The door opened and the receptionist returned to tell me that the female masseuse had gone home for Ramadan. Would I mind a male masseuse? I wasn’t about to quit now, so I told her I didn’t mind. I wasn’t used to showing my naked body to men, but knew that I’d never see him again.
The receptionist led me by the hand into the massage room. I couldn’t see the masseuse through the steam, but a hand extended so I took it, and collected my white robe from its hook outside the door. It was quite a shock when he handed me a clean white cotton sheet with which to partly cover my body, and indicated I should get onto the stone table after hanging my robe on the hook. He spoke no English, but we communicated well with sign and body language. For the next 40 minutes he pummeled and kneaded me with expert hands, working all the muscles of my legs, arms, hands, feet, neck and back, asking for permission before touching any part of me, with hand gestures that worked for both of us. I had indicated not to massage my breasts or abdomen. My sleepy half-conscious post-steamroom state was jolted by my encounter with the cold stone slab, which was quickly warmed by my body-on-fire.
I became aware of feeling invigorated both mentally and physically. The masseuse worked extremely hard for 40 minutes, and after he had finished, he helped me off the table and waved goodbye. I left feeling as though I could go out and climb a mountain.