|Final Statistics: Alex & Maz||Total distance: 93,550km|
|Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ||Now settled in Sydney, Australia|
|Final Statistics: Martin||Total distance: 79,698km|
|Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia||Now settled in Bristol, UK|
Heading South towards the rose stone city...
Jordan, Country 11, Diary entry 17-24th Sep 2005, Total distance in Jordan: 1248 KM (On the drive south)
Arriving at the border in daylight and making sure we’d left plenty of time to get through the necessary kiosks before dark, getting out of Syria and into Jordan was infact a fairly quick affair. Martin was still feeling a bit peeky with the last remnants of the flu Elena had kindly given him as a farewell present, so I chauffeured him to our first port of call; Irbad. We vegged for the afternoon in a café where I managed to enjoy a few more chapters of Harry Potter. I don’t know how we manage to do it, but before we knew it, dusk was upon us and getting out of Irbad to find camp before dark was an impossible task!
With a sparrow in hand as a poor excuse for a chicken, we headed towards Umm Qais which was to be our first sight seeing for the following day. Having already passed through our first police checkpoint of Jordan, we began hunting for a camp for the night. Jordan is as populated as Syria and it was difficult to find anywhere. We ventured down a valley and pulled off on to a dirt track which was the best we had found over the hour of hunting. Before long we were tucked up in bed waiting for snooze to come and take over…..
Within minutes of Alex zipping up the tent (I confess I had gone to bed a little earlier to read more of my HP), we heard voices!! Two men walked around the cars and then disappeared again. When we couldn’t hear their voices, we zipped open the tent a little to have a peek at who they were. By now, they had walked back to 2 cars on the main road and began talking with a few other men, before one drove off and the other stayed put, turned its lights off and began watching us. We assumed this would not be the last of the voices that night, but snooze soon came and we sank into a deep sleep.
Unfortunately, sleep didn’t last long and within 2 hours we were rudely awakened by lots of voices around the cars. We lay still in a desperate hope they might go away, but they began tapping on the cars to move us out of our slumber. Clambering out of our tents we were faced with 15 army soldiers each with a machine gun over their shoulder. We weren’t going to argue with them! We were informed that it was not safe for us to be where we were and after being questioned as to our plans and who we were, we were escorted to the tourist police at Umm Qais who were waiting for us! Arriving at Umm Qais a little earlier than planned we parked up next to a Belgium camper van and finished out nights sleep in the car park. The next morning, the Belgian couple told us that out of 14 nights in Jordan, they had been moved on 12!!! This was not what we wanted to hear.
We had been asked to go and see the tourist police the next day but decided to wander round the ruins first. The ruins, a mixture of an ancient Roman city and an Ottoman-era village needed quite a lot of imagination to visualise what they once should have looked like, but the hill-top offered spectacular views of over the Golan Heights in Syria and the Sea of Galilee in Israel. We then ventured to find the police office only to wander into another film set. The cast were as interested in us as we were in them. After being encouraged to jump on a donkey we thought it would be extremely funny to ride through the set during filming to see if they’d notice the western face but decided the crew might not think it as funny as us, so we waved goodbye and found the police.
They were all extremely pleasant welcoming us to Jordan and began asking questions about what we were doing, apologised for our early morning wake-up call and that we could camp anywhere next to the tourist police in any town! After questions regarding what time we were to leave Umm Qais and what time we were to arrive in Jerash, we realised that this was more than a ‘friendly chat’ and we were going to be tracked round the whole of Jordan if we continued to visit the police in each town we visited. This was not how we had envisaged seeing Jordan.
After about 45 minutes we said our goodbyes giving intensions of visiting the TP in Jerash. That was actually the last time we saw them in Jordan! After arriving in Jerash we decided to look for a camp in the daylight so we knew we were out of sight. After reaching a dead end on one road we turned the cars round to be greeted by a gentleman dashing out of his house and asked us in if we would like to have some tea. Within minutes we were sat in the garden of Hassan and Fatma sipping tea with a hint of sage in it.
Hassan had spent 8 months training as a fire officer in England in the 70’s and picked up perfect English while doing so. He was a keen gardener, not to mention having a large family to feed and had an orchard full of fig (6 different types), apple, pomegranate and olive trees, grapevines, herbs dotted all over the land and cactus fruit. Many of which we tried!! We spent 3 hours chatting before heading of into the sunset to try and find camp before dark. A very pleasant afternoon.
We eventually found a suitable camp in the middle of trees where we hoped we would not be spotted. We pulled the cars to a standstill and got out to congratulate ourselves on a good spot only to be greeted by 2 farm boys who had seem our cars approach from the next field! Instantly invited for chi, we followed the guys who would not take no for an answer. After about 20mins we made signs to say we were going back to the cars to cook dinner, said thank you and began the evenings chores.
The next morning we drove back to Jerash and hired a guide for the morning to tell us about the Roman ruins. The site is large but amazingly only about 30% of the ruins have been excavated. About 50% of the ruins will never be excavated as unfortunately part the new town has been built of them, but boundaries have been set for more areas to be hopefully discovered.
On initial sighting, it seems that this is another ruin that has been renovated so much that you don’t know old from new, as scaffolding around Hadrian’s Arch at the front of the ruins is busy with men working on rebuilding it. However, as you pass by this, you discover the original ruins still intact and deservedly a tourist attraction in Jordan well worth visiting. Passing the hippodrome where chariot races used to be held, we entered through the South Gate and headed to the Oval Plaza. With its limestone paving and 56 Ionic columns lining around the outside, the Plaza is large being 90 metres long and 80 metres wide. We then walked down the cardo maximus which is the main thoroughfare and still has the original floor stones in place with ruts carved out by the thousands of chariots that once passed over it.
We spent over 3 hours exploring the ruins, learning about the history and Christian religion before the Muslim conquest that took place thousands of years ago. The highlight of the ruins for me was the South theatre. Built in the 1st century it could seat 5000 people and from the upper stalls there are great views of ancient and modern Jerash. If you stood in the centre of the auditorium there was one spot which was the acoustic epicentre, where anything that you said was magnified as if speaking into a microphone. It was really strange! This is where the narrator would stand for plays in the old days. After having a drink with our guide we headed East to begin our desert tour of the ‘castles’.
We began with Qasr al-Hallabat, originally a Roman fort which was later turned into a monastery. Having grand ideas of what the castle would look like, we were somewhat disappointed with the now crumbling walls and fallen stone which stood in it’s place! To be fair, it was actually being rebuilt so there were a couple of rooms which we could look round. We sat on one of the crumbled walls to watch the sunset with a beer in hand before heading into the desert further for the night.
The next day we were hopeful that our castle would be grander. Initially surprised that it was in a town and not in the middle of the desert, Qala’at al-Azraq had been mainly used as a military base, was the headquarters of T. E. Lawrence during the Arab revolt and looked quite remarkable built entirely out of black basalt rock. With a few rooms left standing and again in the process of being rebuilt, it didn’t take us too long to look round it before heading off to Shaumari wildlife reserve. Established 20 years ago to reintroduce wildlife which had long since disappeared from the region, Shaumari is now the home to the Arabian Oryx, blue necked and red necked ostrich and the Persian Onager. It was nice to visit the reserve and served as a good way to break up the ruin site seeing!
Carrying on the castle tour, next stop was Qusayr Amra, the best preserved of the castles. Once part of a greater complex that served as a caravanserai, with baths and a hunting lodge, the inside walls of the castle are covered with frescoes. Even though it was the smallest, this was probably my favourite out of all of them. The last castle Qasr al-Mushatta is the most preserved structurally with 2 floors of rooms surrounding a central courtyard. It was good to go and have a nosy through the corridors and rooms, but the castle was more impressive from afar.
Even with Jordan being so small there is a lot to do in this country and with Petra being one of the attractions that was a ‘must see’ we decided to head south and spend the next 2 days there. Petra does not disappoint! Palaces, temples, tombs, storerooms and stables were carved from the rock by the Nabataens in the 3rd century BC. To get to the rose-stone city, you first have to walk through a long, narrow defile known as a ‘Siq’ made from the force of plate tectonics which has wrenched one block of rock apart.
Just walking through this is breathtaking enough, taking in the water channels which have been built 3 metres above the floor and the many icons carved into the rock face along the way. That is until you get your first glimpse of the beginning of the city and Al-Khazneh (The Treasury) peeking through the opening at the end of the Siq. Carved out of solid, iron-laden sandstone to serve as a tomb, the Treasury gets its name from the misguided local beliefs that pirates hid their treasure here! With such intricate designs carved out on the rock it really is an amazing first sight! Even in the last 10 years, more discoveries have been found in Petra and only recently another floor below the treasury has been discovered and currently being excavated.
We followed the site round to the street of facades where a weather worn 7000 seat theatre stands and then walked along the colonnaded street which used to be lined with shops many years ago and still is now….. with lots of tourist treasures to buy! We tried to walk past these as quickly as possible so as not to get caught buying something we didn’t want, only to walk past an offer of an ‘air conditioned taxi’ aka camels! Funny to hear it the first time but it does become a bit wearing after the 50th. We then began the long steep climb to Al-Dier (the Monastery), a MUST if you ever visit Petra. The climb took about 45 minutes with a few stops for a quick water break (OK we weren’t fit enough to go any faster!) but was well worth the climb.
As you get to the top you can’t see the monastery straight away. You have to walk a little further and then look back to see this spectacular site. It’s hard to take it all in at once and imagine how long such craftsmen ship must have taken to finish. We spent a couple of hours up there soaking up the scenery and looking round the amazing views offered from the top. After climbing down to the main site again we waited around for sunset to see if the colour of the rock would change for a nice picture. We had no idea where we were supposed to sit for a great sunset and unfortunately the sun sank behind the rocks showing no great display. Having spent 10 hours wandering round the site we were all tired so headed back to the town for some nosh.
The next day we decided to get up early and make use of the cooler part of the morning. Arriving on site for 6am it was all very quiet and we were the only tourists around. A very pleasant change to the day before. Rather than venture down the Siq again, our guide the day before had told us we could walk down the wadi which would take us round to the tombs. Petra’s a big site so we planned our days to make sure so we covered everything we wanted to see. The wadi was another great way to get to the main site, if not a little tricky in parts. The walk began with a gradual stroll through tall rocks many with varied colours through them giving them a multicoloured layer.
As we continued, the track became narrower and in parts we could only just fit through! At one point there was a tree stuck between the rocks where it had been washed down steam from previous floods, showing just how high the water level gets during the rainy season. I wouldn’t want to be down the wadi when the rains start. The rocks were smooth from the erosion of the flow of water over them and mechanical weathering had created hollows where stones and eddy currents had drilled the rocks down. There were a couple of sections where we had to demonstrate of rock climbing abilities as rocks had blocked the path again having been washed down the wadi in the floods. It was a good alternative route to get into the site and miss the flow of tourists along the way.
We then toured the tombs, again with intricate details carved into them and many varied colours in the inside walls. One had a great echo and we were treated to a show by 2 elderly French gentlemen who demonstrated the acoustics of the tomb by singing a couple of songs for their fellow travellers and us. It sounded pretty awesome.
We then headed to one of the other high points of Petra, Al-Madbah (High Place of Sacrifice). Again another hard climb up, but the views offered from the top overlooking the tombs and the colonnaded street is well worth the hike. On a longer look, you can see many more carvings in the rocks which you can’t see from waking round at ground level. It was like discovering more of Petra by yourself and we spent another couple of hours taking in the views. Another 8 hours had passed by and it was time to head south again onto Wadi Rum.
We were a little concerned as we had heard that we would not be able to take our own cars into Wadi Rum, but luckily this was all Arab whispers. Once arriving there, we pulled over at the reception (yes, there is a reception to enter the desert!) to find maps of the protected reserve area and pay the entrance fee. We were greeted by a tourist policeman who made us a little nervous as we hadn’t been accosted by one since leaving Umm Qais, but he was just trying to help us on our way. He was an extremely helpful man, telling us Wadi Rum was a safe place to camp and we were most welcome in Jordan. We showed him our flyer and had a chat to him about the work that CARE do. He was extremely interested in the charity and talked about similar projects in Jordan. By this time we had a gang of about 15 men around us and he began talking to them, there was a little commotion with some men fiddling about with their jackets and before we knew it he handed us some money ‘donated’ by the men for the charity, telling us he wanted to help us! A very kind thought and now in the grand sum donated!
We said our goodbyes and headed in to the desert to find camp and watch the sun set. We hadn’t gone much down the road before we were overtaken by a jeep trying to flag us down. We pulled over and the Bedouin gentleman who had stamped our tickets at reception stopped to see if we wanted to drink chi with him, his name was Mohammed. He asked if we knew where the nice place was to see the sunset and we said no, so he said ‘I’ll show you and then you come and drink chi with me!’ He jumped in the car with Martin and we drove to watch the sunset from one of the rocks. It was beautiful and very nice being in the middle of the desert with only a few other people milling about. As we began driving back to Mohammed’s house, Martin asked him where in the village we could buy some chicken to eat for our tea and Mohammed said “the best chicken in Wadi Rum is in my house!” and we were invited to eat with him and his family. Another humbling experience. As part of the desert code of survival, tradition has it that Bedouin people will never turn a traveller away. They are taken into the home and offered food and plenty of tea and coffee. The thinking is simple: today you are passing through and they have something to offer, tomorrow they may be passing your camp and you may have food and drink – which you would offer to them before having any yourself.
We were treated to a typical Bedouin dish called Mensaf, which was a large plate covered in a bed of rice with chicken on top and all the juices of the chicken soaked into the rice. We were then given a bowl of tomato salad and a tub of yoghurt. We were taught that you put some of the tomato salad and yoghurt on the rice and then mix it all up before eating. Bedouin people eat with their hands, so we thought it only right to do the same, even though one of the boys had dashed off to the house down the road to get us all spoons! We all ate from the same dish and Mohammed showed us the way forward. We all eagerly dug in with our hands, completely forgetting how hot the food actually was!! Instantly we were all a little more careful in picking up the boiling chicken and squashing it between our fingers with the rice before trying as gracefully as we could to shove it in our mouths without dropping it all over ourselves…. A harder task then you might think! The meal was delicious and once we’d had our fill, finished off with raspberry juice and more chi.
After thanking our hosts we headed back to the sunset point to camp for the night. With no lights around us, the sky sparkled with stars, Wadi Rum is truly a special place. Alex had begun to come down with flu which I guess Martin had passed on so we went to bed once camp was set up. The next day was a big day…. My birthday, but unfortunately the boys were in no mood to party :o( Alex was in full swing of being feverish one minute and freezing cold the next and Martin wasn’t feeling great and had actually completely forgotten it was my birthday anyway! (Alex knows better than to forget..!!) Having lost Martin once only to return on our tracks to find him buried in a sand dune digging himself out, he spent most of the day trying to find shade and rest, while Alex made an effort to try and entertain me so my birthday wasn’t a complete washout! We had a great day (mine was probably better than Alex’s!) driving round the desert looking at the different colours, shapes and following sites where Lawrence of Arabia once visited.
We met back again in the evening but the birthday party atmosphere was far from active…..!! Martin took himself off to bed at 7.30pm to watch a DVD and about 15 minutes later I put a shivering Alex to bed to try and warm him up. I then opened a beer and sat under the stars for the next couple of hours contemplating our travels so far, my new age (!) and even though I was by myself, being in Wadi Rum had made it a very special day.
The next day we went looking for the rock bridge’s around Wadi Rum, we managed to find two but one needed a 2 hour hike up the rock before being able to see it, so we ambled our way across the desert to find Aqaba where we were to catch a ferry to Egypt….
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|Comment from Lara|
|Hi Maz, Alex and Martin, |
You all look fantastically healthy and relaxed (despite flu) and it's great to hear all that you're up to. One question - having spent so long preparing all of your equipment and getting the vehicles ready, how are they fairing? What's worked really well and what hasn't?
Take care, enjoy and keep writing to us. love Lara
|26 Oct 2005 @ 17:13:09|
|Comment from Tall Eric|
|Now its sounds like a REAL adventure...shame you got ill - that sucks.|
I like the random donkey in the background of the pic of the week :-) Maybe you should trade in your polluting 4WDs and finish the trip on mules, and we could have a laugh at you trying to put up the tents on top of them (and then - trying to get some sleep).
Also like Lara I would also would like to know which bits of kit you spent tons of money on and they turned out to be less than usefull, but also the bits that were dirt cheap and have been very useful. How about telling us about the most silly & irritating thing you have found in the wagons (excluding the other passengers)?
Wadi_Rum.jpg - how cool is that picture!!!!
Have you spilt yoghurt on the seats yet?
|26 Oct 2005 @ 19:25:18|
|Comment from mandy|
|well now mazley, i would have thought that 15 army soldiers would have been quite sufficient as a birthday treat, if a little premature!! hope you all feel better soon:)|
|26 Oct 2005 @ 20:45:24|
|Comment from Matthew R|
Jordan looks particularly spectacular. We were pretty shocked to realise it's already been three months since you left. Has gone very quickly.
News from here - summer maelstrom of 4 weddings & a christening went well. Finally got a summer holiday in October - just back from 2 weeks in Canadia - somewhat chilly. V&W are engaged. Setright has died, unpicked.
Hope you are all recovered by now - remember, Coughs & Sneezes Spread Diseases.
|27 Oct 2005 @ 01:40:31|
|Comment from Christophe de Bast|
|Looks like a lot of fun there ! Well done getting out of the sand. And nice Benny hill show (My favourit british idol, as you know!). Good luck for the rest, Iran must be very different (and birds are gorgeous, but nobody's ever seen them). Take care all of you!|
|31 Oct 2005 @ 20:57:16|
|Comment from Martin H|
|Have a fantastic journey through Iran, I'm sure it will be! Looks like the adventures have only just begun and we're mega jealous already - stunning pictures in Jordan and great hospitality where ever you go. A belated happy birthday to Maz ;0) I think the desert scenary made up for the lack of entertainment from the boys ... cheers M, H, E & W.|
|31 Oct 2005 @ 21:36:09|