Tuesday, January 29, 2008

To where it all began

The night in the desert was freezing.

We had been given the wonderful opportunity of staying the Bedouin, but the downside of this was that the tent we slept provided us with almost no warmth.

Getting to sleep was no problem. The tiredness and bottle of arak made sure of that... it was the getting back to sleep after being woken by cold that was the problem.

When we woke up, we were bundled back into the car and we headed southwards once again.

Our destination was Aqaba.

This port city was the first place Lawrence of Arabia took with the Howeitat he had gathered in Wadi Rum! It was only a short distance away and we were there in no time at all really. A few more games of cards, a few more short banters and before we realised it we could see the sea again.
"Aqaba!? Was it really Aqaba!?" screamed Omar Sharif's character Sharif Ali.

Well it really was for us!
This was the end of the line for my trip with the boys. We were separating at this point. Guy, Chris and Oliee were heading further south and into Egypt, while I was heading back north for different adventures.

We said our goodbyes and I watched as they slowly walked off towards the ferry. It had been fun while it lasted.

However, now I was relishing the opportunity to travel by myself again! I was excited and a little bit nervous at the thought of doing things by myself again.

Before leaving Aqaba, my driver asked me if he minded if he bought some clothes for his children whilst we were in the town. This was fine by me, so while he shopped, I sat in the shade of some nice trees and drank some mint tea.

It was calming and relaxing. What more could I really want?
After we hit the road again, we decided that it was food that we wanted.

So a few hours into the drive up north, we pulled into a small restaurant. There he introduced me to what he said was the staple of the region "mansif". Buttered rice, bread, yoghurt soup and meat.

It didn't look too appetising but it tasted fine. Very much the type of food I had been hungry for!
My adventures were beginning all over again!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Tonight we dine in Wadi Rum!

The words screamed by Anthony Quinn's character "Auda Abu Tayi" repeated over and over again in my head as our car sped through the desert.

"Tonight we dine in Wadi Rum!"

This is where we were going. We were going into the desert, we were going to where Lawrence of Arabia gathered together the Howeitat tribe with the help of Auda for the attack against Aqaba.

It was also the location of what was reputed to be some of the most amazing scenery in the world.

We arrived into the Bedouin camp around lunch time. There we relaxed and took in the light, cooling wind and the colourful tents of the Bedouin.
By mid-afternoon, we were ready to head out into the desert proper.

We jumped onto the back of a ute and were ready to go!
It was as promised. A sweeping desert as far as our eyes could see.

The sand was incredibly fine and throughout the dunes, large rocky hills and mountains protruded out, as though they were growing out of the sand.
Standing in the sands under the enormous rock formations gave us all a feeling of smallness....
.... incredibly small.....
Whilst standing on the side of a sloping dune, surrounded by two large rock formations, Oliee demanded suddenly that we all stop talking.

We listened to his request and stopped talking.

We all realised why he wanted us to be quiet.

..... nothing.

There was no sound.

Absolutely no sound.

All we could hear was the ringing in our ears.

The sudden feeling of solitude that this created amplified the awe we had for standing in this place.

But after all that quietness, we couldn't help but be a bit noisier. The perfect opportunity presented itself when we reached the side of a steep dune. Throwing ourselves off the side of this dune was incredibly fun! As we ran up and down, we were covered in sand... but it was worth it.
The tour of the desert continued.
Even as the sun slowly set, the sights and colours we saw were spectacular.
Everywhere I looked, the magnitude of the desert's size was overwhelming.
The dunes were beautiful, particularly when framed by the perfect sky, completely devoid of clouds.
We stayed long enough to watch the sun slowly setting behind the hills. Another beautiful thing to behold. The red light that it cast made the desert in the distance look like it was on fire.
After the sun set, the temperatures dropped, and they dropped quickly. I was disturbingly unprepared. With only a couple of thin shirts on, I was soon freezing with my teeth chattering.

The minute we returned to the tents, all four of us made straight for the nice warm fire.
As we waited for dinner, I spoke to the head of the camp.

I spoke to him about my curiosity in the region and the Bedouin tribes.

He smiled at me and told me that his tribe and the camp we were staying in, was indeed a Howeitat (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

He then completely made my trip by telling me that he was also a descendant of the great Auda Abu Tayi. He agreed to have his photo taken with me. Looking at it, I could almost see the image of Auda in his face.
As the night grew even colder, we grew hungrier. It wasn't long until we were called over for food though.

We sat down, and I realised that I was doing what I had hoped to do for years.

I was dining in Wadi Rum!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Little Petra

Petra is just beyond belief.

It's almost as though it was created out of a fairy tale or someone's overactive imagination.
As we all left and headed back to our hotel, our heads spun with the images we had seen that day.
We arrived back at the hotel hungry and tired.

Thankfully, the hotel manager Giris was kind enough to bring us all over to share dinner with him and the staff. We were treated to a fantastic spread of mint tea, bread, fool, egg and galaya.

Guy had gone to sleep due to tiredness, but we dragged him out of bed for this meal. Thankfully he was happy with our decision and didn't attack us for waking him.

The next day, we went to "Little Petra". A small distance from the main ruins of Petra, but impressive nonetheless.
Guy showed us all how to stand tall and high.

Throughout the trip, he had been the climber of us all.

I had tried my best to keep up with him....
But once again, my shoes let me down.... a complete lack of grip seems to prevent any proper climbing.

Guv and Oliee seemed more than content to watch the two of us attempt suicide on our constant attempts to "get a better view".

The City in Stone

After a full day of travelling around Jordan, we were tired.

We crashed into our destination of Wadi Musa where we all decided to take it easy for the night. A bit of snooker, some food and checking our emails was about all that we could muster the energy for.

We couldn't take too much time off though, because the next day we were going to be seeing one of the great wonders of the world.

We were just outside of Petra.

The next morning, we woke up bright and early. We were driven to the entrance and from there we changed to what we felt was a more appropriate form of transportation.
I liked my horse the best! It was a struggle to keep him from galloping off as he champed on the bit the entire time.
After the short ride, we reached the walls of rocks. The horses would go no further so we would have to walk (dammit...)

Guy couldn't help but start humming the tune to Indiana Jones.
It seemed strangely appropriate.

As we continued walking, all of a sudden the temples appeared. We were now well and truly gobsmacked.

This was definitely one of the most amazing things any of us had ever seen.
The sheer size, beauty and wonder of the buildings could hardly be described.

It was also a strangely surreal moment. To have read of this place for so many years and to finally be standing directly in front of it.

.... all of this again added to by Guy, who was humming the Indiana Jones tune even more loudly now.

As the sun rose further, we went searching for a place to have breakfast.

The seats of the old Roman amphitheatre seemed to be the perfect location!

We climbed passed some security barriers and wandered in over the stage and found ourselves seats in the front row.
Considering how great our seats were for breakfast, I can't understand why the boys are all scowling!

After eating, we continued our walk. A hike would probably be a better way to describe it.

Following the directions of Oliee and the sure footed lead of Guy, we climbed over rocks and boulders and reached the highest of high points.
It was here that Oliee decided that he wanted to sacrifice me to the gods....
After more hiking, we reached the monastery.

For some strange reason, we decided the best way to get to the top was to power march up. None of us had any real reason to get up to the top that quickly.... but we seemed to all egg each other on subconsciously. We were up in no time at all really!
It was again, breathtaking.

Oliee and Chris found a nice place to relax for tea and water as Guy and I attempted to find new and interesting places to climb and fall to our deaths.
It was definitely a day of wonder and amazement.

Oliee and Chris rode out of Petra on donkeys whilst Guy and I walked out, slowly taking in more of the beauty of the sites.
Before we walked through the cliff walls, Guy couldn't help but turn around and give one more Indiana Jones pose!

Commanding Heights

It had already been a long day. We had travelled up and down. We had been nicely rinsed off in the Dead Sea and now we were back in the car.

It was a strange feeling though. Even with the showers (which were FREEZING), we still felt disturbingly gritty. We could feel the salt crystals slowly forming on us and everytime I ran my hand through my hair, I was bound to find some granuals of salt in my fingers. Not the most hygenic of situations....

However, onward we pressed.

The next stop on this whirlwind tour of central Jordan was Kerak.

Atop a high peak, this fortress was stunning. A beautiful example of Crusader architecture.
From here, Raynald de Chatillon pretty much single handedly started the end of the Crusader kingdoms.
The man was clearly an ass, disliked by both sides.
But from atop this impressive fortress, it's fairly easy to understand why Raynald felt himself invincible to the onslaughts of the world.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Get Low!!!!

From the dry heights of Mount Nebo, we were driven directly to what was pretty much the exact opposite.... wet lowliness.

The Dead Sea!

As the car wound its way down the mountain roads, we could see the colourful Bedouin tents everywhere, with their camels and goats all foraging nearby.

It was a strange contrast to the gleaming hotels that also began to appear before us.
The Dead Sea is a bit of a tourist destination now! Resorts line the Jordanian side.

We could all feel our ears popping as we rapidly decended in the car. All of us thought we'd have a good time having a swim. But really, it was just swimming... wasn't it?

It really isn't just swimming!

When we first jumped in, we could hardly contain our laughter. It may sound odd... but we weren't prepared for just how much we would be floating! At times it was almost as though we weren't in the water at all, but rather sitting on top of the water, like pieces of cork bobbing up and down.

According to Oliee (and also confirmed by wikipedia later on), the water in the Dead Sea would be lethal if a whole cup was consumed.

Being the incredible intellects that we are, of course we decided to splash around.

Not the best idea.

The water got in our eyes and it got in our mouths.

It left us gagging and in pain....

Still, it was ridiculously fun!

Holy Moses!

Ok, so Amman wasn't the best.

However, the rest of Jordan comes with a reputation. A reputation of incredible sites and spectacular beauty.

After a couple of days in Jordan we went off looking for these sites.
The first of these sites was Mt Nebo.
It was from this place that Moses looked out into the Holy Land. He would go no further as his people continued their quest towards their new home.
It was true, a very beautiful view was there for all of us.

What we could see wasn't particularly green. To be honest, we were curious as to why they called this the "land of milk and honey" at first....

But when we thought about where we had been, the deserts we had seen, we began to understand that this would have seemed like a tropical paradise to eyes that had only seen scorching sands and barren hills.

Hilly... very hilly....

What can be said about Amman?

.... not much.

There's nothing wrong with the place, there just isn't too much to see in the city.

We marched to the top of the citadel early one morning. It was a steep and long walk that involved confusion and arguments (literally) over which was the correct direction to take.

In the end, Guy was right and Oliee was wrong....
The views from the top were nice. But again, nothing particularly special.

Amman as a city is just amazingly hilly. It's a series of ups and downs from one end to the other.

Inside the museum at the top of the citadel, we were treated to a small room that had a particularly interesting exhibit though. The Dead Sea Scrolls!

We spent a bit of time there, glanced at it silently while the swarms of German and American tourists around us chatted and pointed.

The one thing about Amman that we did like was that it was a change from the norm. After being in the Middle East for a while, it was nice to get back to the ultra modern.

So we went to the movies!

Friday, January 25, 2008

A bit of a disappointment...

Leaving Damascus....

I guess we had seen everything we wanted to see in the city, but it was still a shame. I could have stayed there for much longer. On our last night there, we could hardly move through the Old City. There were people EVERYWHERE, all out celebrating the public holiday and trying to have fun.

Every cafe and shisha cafe we tried to enter was a no-go. Each was full to the brim.

But.... it was time to move on.

So we rented a car for the day and headed off for the next country.

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan! We were now entering the heartland of Lawrence and the Arab Revolt. We were entering a nation established by those who had fought with him.

However, as we were driving out of Damascus, the view that I had made me think that this was anything but the land that Lawrence and the Bedouin tribes had entered.

It was too green. Too managed.

Years of development had clearly changed this from a desert country to one that was far more fertile.

We sped passed Dera'a without even a glance and soon found ourselves out of Syria and in Jordan.

This was one border crossing that would go surprisingly smoothly for all of us. The immigration hall was clean and modern. There was none of the screaming or commotion that had followed us into Syria....

As we drove towards our destination of Amman, we stopped in Jerash. This was an ancient Roman city, so we thought that since it was on our way.... we'd have a look.

We were a little bit put off by the cost of entry of 8 Jordanian Dinars each though. It seemed the cheapness we had grown accustomed to was behind us.

It seemed nice enough though...

Everything was in ruins... as promised....
And Oliee decided that he was going to make us pose like a boyband as well!
However, for all of the sites, for all of the old buildings....
It just wasn't up to what we had grown used to.
Again, it was nice.

But it didn't deserve the adjetives of "amazing" and "breathtaking" that we had heard from other travellers.

We had definitely become "ancient ruin snobs". Having been spoilt by the sites of Ephesus, Aphrodisius, Hierapolis and Palmyra, it would now take alot for us to be gobsmacked as we had once been.

And sadly.... Jerash simply wasn't on the same level as those places.