We arrived at Aqaba port in the late afternoon of 18 June and were met by Iyad, our Jordanian guide required by the Government to travel with us throughout the country. I find it easiest to remember names by word association and Iyad quickly became ‘idiot’ which wasn’t very complimentary so I changed it to “Illiad” which was much nicer. Maybe I was a bit hasty....
We breezed through customs very quickly (in high season it can take a couple of hours) and a minivan took us to our hotel in the centre of town.
The change from Egypt was apparent immediately with cars obeying road laws and driving within the lines.
The cars were also nicer and more expensive – a sure sign that the country was more prosperous which was quickly confirmed when we saw more of the people. While there were still a lot of robes and women all covered their hair, a lot of people were dressed in western clothing and flashing expensive watches and jewelry.
We stayed at Classic Hotel was really nice and I had the biggest room ever! I had to ask the guys to come in and inspect it and they were suitably jealous.
Iyad gave us a talk about Jordan and what we could expect over the coming week. He wasn’t exactly the most ‘Intrepid’ like guide I’d come across but we didn’t have much choice with a government supplied guide. He asked us if we’d like him to organize a picnic lunch for us the next day (in Wadi Rum) charging us $8 each – and that it would cost us a lot more to buy lunch for that in a supermarket. Obviously there was something in it for him. I said ‘yes’ just to get him to stop trying to coerce us. He also said that he could advise a good restaurant for us for dinner but Brendan already had one in mind – Ali Babar. We all decided to go with Brendan’s recommendation (after Iyad had again tried to convince us otherwise and wouldn’t tell us the name of the restaurant he recommended). Anyway, Iyad called Ali Babar before we got there – obviously to ensure that they gave him some 'baksheesh' for the ‘recommendation’.
After we got that all sorted out we went to the town centre to change money or to get out from an ATM. That done we then wandered down to Ali Babar and had a lovely dinner. It was stinking hot still so we decided to grab a couple of drinks and head down to the waterfront. We stopped at a bottle shop (Aqaba is a duty free town) to stock up and then hit the beach. It was absolutely packed – Aqaba is Jordans only real beach resort so locals flood there for its clean sandy beaches and nine months of summer weather during autumn, winter and spring.
Kids were in the water splashing about with their parents keeping an eye on them (sometimes not a very close eye), beautiful horses prancing around waiting to be ridden for a small fee, hibiscus juice sellers in their traditional costumes and young kids with bags of fairy floss (sugar candy for those American readers out there).
Israel glittered a bright blue just across the bay, so close that individual lights could be distinguished. We drank our takeaways while we watched the holidaying Jordanians Aqaba swelter in front of us.
19 JUNE - Wadi Rum
Poor Dustin wasn’t feeling great so Ben and I headed out after breakfast for a quick look around town. It seemed that the temperature hardly dropped overnight and we quickly worked up a lather as we walked along with waterfront where the crowds had thinned but a couple of the women were paddling, fully clothed, with their kids.
Mamluk Fort wasn’t far away - we poked our heads inside but didn’t bother to go much further.
On the way back we stopped at Gloria Jeans (an Australian coffee chain) to get a iced chocolate – it was truly delicious but I probably didn’t need the large. Still, it meant I got to stay in the aircon for longer!
At around midday we headed out towards Wadi Rum. We said goodbye to Iyad and hello to Sheik Zayid, the chief of a Bedouin tribe of approximately 300 people, who was to be our host in Wadi Rum. Sheik Zayid runs a tight ship, accompanying each Intrepid group on their Wadi Rum safaris as well as resolving issues within his tribe and undertaking the various responsibilities of a sheik. Sheik Zayid drove on of the 4X4s and I was in another with a young man – they picked us up at the entrance to the National Park and we set out to explore the beautiful desert scenery. Wadi Rum is full of weird and beautiful lunar-like rock formations. Traces of ancient civilisations can be seen in the many carved inscriptions found throughout the Wadi Rum area, from pictographs to Thamudic, Nabataean and Arabic texts. The most enduring monuments in Wadi Rum, however, are those carved by nature - the natural rock bridges, towering rose-coloured sand dunes and scattered rocky peaks. Here are the Seven Pillars of Wisdom which greet you upon arrival.
and then the tarmac ran out....
Our first stop was Lawrence’s spring, formally known as A ‘in Al Thamody (The Thamodian Spring). The spring itself isn’t hugely impressive but the large stones nearby with 5 – 10 thousand year old Thamodian inscriptions are. These inscriptions are a road map for other travelers and it says that the next watering hole or spring is approximately 5km north. They used land marks such as mountains and salt lakes to give better direction as their language was very basic.
Thamodians were pre Nabatian and were pretty much Bedouin and nomadic. They crossed over from Saudi Arabia and roamed the desert for pasture and water. Eventually the Thamodians settled in Petra and built the Red Rose City.
We stopped for our picnic lunch in a Bedouin tent where we were offered a customary small glass of tea. There is no expectation of payment, but the Bedouins do appreciate it if you look at the small array of wares they are selling – with no obligation to buy. This was a welcome change after Egypt and one that I got pleasantly used to while travelling through Jordan and Syria.
We drove short distances between each of the sites and there were always lots of photo opportunities along the way.
After lunch we visited Khazzalah Siq (Canyon) which was used by Lawrence of Arabia during his campaigns against the Turks. He used this spot as a refuge and set up sharp shooters on the mountain above. It is said that he could hold off the Turkish Army with only two sharp shooters while the rest of the Bedouin army climbed out the other side of the mountain and circled back round behind the Turks, thereby defeating them.
There is more Thamodian art work in the canyon which is also approximately 10 thousand years old as well as two Arabic inscriptions – the first is a small verse from the Koran and the second is a curse warning the Turks to stay out or they would be doomed to wander the desert until they died. In the winter time the Siq fills with water until early spring and the local Bedouins use it for watering their sheep, goats and camels.
Our next stop was a big sand dune which we clambered up – the bright red sand accentuated beautifully against the red rock.
The next Thamodian inscriptions were quite basic but probably the most incredible given they are said to be 30 thousand years old.
We visited a rapidly deteriorating structure which is meant to be where Lawrence built a home to winter in. Its location was perfect for seeing all approaches to the houses and would give ample warning if the Turks were approaching. The mountain behind gave cover and protection to him and his troops if they needed to escape as well as a look out post.
Last, but not least, we climbed on top of the Um Forth Bridge, a large stone bridge formed by wind and rain erosion.
After that we made our way to our camp. It was a protected little enclosure - tents on three sides and matting in the 'courtyard' which we pulled out mattresses to sit around. We slept out there too.
Brendan had warned me that, although he was sure I could take care of myself, Sheik Zayid honed in on the single ladies saying he was looking for a second wife. After we’d unpacked the cars and settled down to have a cup of tea on mattresses outside the tents the Sheik quickly asked if I had a husband. “Yes, yes I do”, I responded. Everyone around quickly pricked up their ears and asked what his name was, “John” “What’s his surname?” “Wilson – I took his surname”. On and on this went – “What is his profession?” “Chemical Engineer”. Dan suggested, on my behalf, that perhaps John worked at Vanderlay Industries (where George Castanza (from the hit sitcom Seinfeld) made up that he worked as an architect when he wanted to impress someone). “How old is John?” “Where did we meet?” “Why isn’t John here?” “How can work be more important than travelling with your wife?” My lovely new friends made it very hard for me to keep a straight face and the Sheik watched the conversation with an eagle eye. He asked me the following morning when the two of us were having a chat if I’d made John up - I didn’t want to offend him so told him that I hadn’t. I’m sure that there’s no truth in Sheik Zayid saying he’s looking for a second wife – it’s all just a bit of fun. Anyway, John stuck and I was married for the remainder of the trip with the guys often saying things like, “I wonder what John would do in this situation” or “I bet the blue of the Dead Sea is the color of John’s eyes”, etc, etc. And whenever someone said they didn’t know something I would say, “John would know the answer to that”. He’s really something, that John, almost too good to be true……
I took myself off to catch the sun set – the color of the sand turned the most beautiful red and the rock seemed like it was melting.
We had a Bedouin bbq with the chicken cooked in a drum under the sand (like a Maori hangi) with some veggies that were cooked in the underground oven too – the onion had caramelized and was so tasty.
The sheik then excused himself to do sheik business and we all hopped under a blanket and watched the stars come out. Lucky we had Ben, our own personal astro physicist, with us who could tell us all about each of the stars, their history and what constellations they belonged too. Unforutnately the glow from his iPhone was brighter than all the stars put together and we quickly found out that he was using the SkyGazer application to identify the night sky! Ha! Astro physicist indeed!
We all drifted off to sleep after nearly everyone had seen a shooting star and the odd satellite passing over.
During the night the moon disappeared and I woke up to a sky so bright I had to wince to look at it. There were shooting stars every few minutes - it was such a treat to lie there and have all that twinkling happening above me. I felt like I was the only person in the world having that experience at that time. It was all mine.
20 JUNE – Petra
Happy birthday Mikey P!
I woke up at dawn and shot off a couple of photos of our sleeping group....
Then took myself off for sunrise into the desert to watch the earth come alive.
A cup of plain black tea with the usual copious amounts of sugar greeted me back at camp and we had a simple Bedouin breakfast of flat bread with oil and dakka (dakka is made from desert plants like zachum tree, wormwood, watercress, prunes and thyme. It is dried, ground and then mixed).
We set off for the entrance of the park where Iyad was waiting to pick us up in a minivan and we drove around 2 hours through hilly, rocky country which was dotted with Bedouin tents (which were basic structures, the same that we’d slept in the previous night - three sides and a roof with the coverings made from large camel hair blankets). Every so often we’d pass a Bedouin herder with his flock of goats and we stopped at a high pass to get a photo - naturally there was a 'stall' with genuine antiques.
It was unbelievably hot when we got to Petra in the late morning. We were staying in Wadi Musa (the Valley of Moses) which is a small village built up around Petra. Our hotel was a short walk to the entrance of Petra.
Hewn out of the rose-coloured rock face, the ancient Nabataean city of Petra is one of the Middle East's most spectacular destinations, and one of the new Seven Wonders of the World (Apparently 7 million Jordanians voted for Petra to become a new Seventh Wonder even though the population of Jordan is only 6 million!!)
It is difficult to determine exactly when the history of Petra began, and evidence of the earliest Nabataean settlement is also sketchy. Strangely, few inscriptions have been found at Petra making dating the civilisation a real challenge for historians. We do know that settlement of the Nabataeans, Arabic nomads from Western Arabia, does not go back farther than 6th century BC. Over time the Nabataeans became a rich and powerful kingdom by plundering their neighbours and later charging a tax on the passing caravans. Their rule expanded over time and their ‘zone of influence’ extended as far as Syria and Rome.
The Nabataean’s finally fell to Rome in AD106 and Petra was absorbed into the Roman Empire, bringing an end to the native dynasty. The city, however, continued to flourish for a century later when Romans diverted the nearby trading route to Bosra (Syria) and Petra fell into steady decline over the ensuing centuries. A few of the original structures were altered for Christian use but the majority remained untouched. Petra was largely forgotten except for passed down knowledge of the local Bedouin until 1812, when it was discovered by Johann Ludwig Burckhardt - a Swiss explorer. The first excavations were carried out in 1924 and continue to this day – preserving and unearthing more of the treasures of the ancient inhabitants. In 1985, Petra was designated a World Heritage Site.
We set off pretty smartly to visit her, starting with the exciting walk through the narrow Siq.
The Siq ended at the most famous of Petra's monuments, the Treasury.
After admiring the iconic view we continued through the site along the Roman road, past impressive rock-cut tombs, temples and the amphitheatre.
Cpt Jack Sparrow at the ampitheatre......
It was incredibly hot and the heat radiated off those red rocks without much respite - beautiful as they were.
After that we headed further in along the Colonnaded Street towards the Great Temple.
The views back towards the tombs were really something
And then up behind the major sites to houses in the rocks which were still occupied.
Most of the crew headed back to the hotel for a break but I decided, while I was there, to walk up the steps to the stunning Monastery. Ben and Dustin joined me – they chatted about politics for most of the climb while I sweated my guts out coming up the rear, unable to participate in the conversation (even if I had something to contribute) for all the huffing and puffing! It’s probably worth noting that a lot of walking is required to see all the sites and viewpoints of Petra and a basic level of fitness will enhance your enjoyment of your visit. But the Monastery was really worth it - and we had it pretty much to ourselves.
Walking out of Petra took about an hour and we were so ready for something cold by the time we got out. We’d glimpsed an icecream store on our way in and had it in our mind’s eye for most of the day. Unfortunately they were missing most flavours so I made do with an icy pole (popsicle for our North American friends) which was cold and wet and did the job.
The village of Wadi Musa (the Valley of Moses) was more touristy and expensive the closer you got to the entrance of Petra. Further away, up the hill of the valley, are where the locals live and where the cheap accom and eats are located (head up to the roundabout for falafel). There was a strip of souvenir shops and restaurants leading up to the entrance and our hotel was a street behind that. That night we went to a fantastic restaurant in the touristy section down a little alley way – we got a table outside which caught a little bit of the evening air and sat down to a really wonderful Jordanian meal. Lots of mezze(hommus, babaganoush, pickled vegetables, etc) to start and then four big dishes put in the middle of the table that we all shared around – lamb cooked in yoghurt on a bed of rice, meat in a tomatoey sauce, etc. I still wasn’t feeling great so I didn’t take full advantage of the food but a taste here and there was perfect to get the general idea.
21 JUNE – Petra
The airconditioning wasn’t working in our hotel so we all had a hot and steamy night – windows open didn’t offer any respite except for a call to prayer at 4am to at least give me the heads up that the long night was nearly over and dawn was on its way.
We had a free day today and I had every intention of heading back into Petra and walking up to the Sacrificial Alter and just wandering around taking photos and doing the sites in my own time and way. I think it was the thought of the hour walk in, and then a further 45 minute walk uphill, that put me off – it was stinking hot again. Instead I caught up with blog backlog, went for a wander and bought (and wrote) some postcards. I met up with Brendan, Dan, Ben and Dustin for a Mystic Pizza lunch and they settled in to watch the World Cup.
Wandering on I found a great little spot where you could cook a three course Jordanian meal with a chef, then eat it afterwards. I would have loved to do this but figured it would probably be wasted on me with the way my tummy was behaving.
Everyone went up to the locals area for a street food meal but I didn’t want to venture too far from a loo so I stayed put and sweated in my hotel room for the second night in a row. The good thing about this weather is that when you wash your clothes they dry in minutes!