Saved: August 22nd 2012September 25th 2009
Getting to Wadi Mujib turned out to be something that should really be attempted with the freedom of a hire car, a fact which we hadn’t realised would be the case when we decided to go from Wadi Rum, rather than heading all the way up to Amman and back down again. After our night in the desert we ended up sleeping most of the bus trip back to Petra, where we arrived to find a taxi driver who said he’d drive us to Wadi Mujib for 80JD! We politely refused and told him we couldn’t afford it, but we were well aware that we had no other real choice of transport to Wadi Mujib from Petra, and in the end we settled on 40JD between us for the two hour drive down to the Dead Sea. The trip should have been beautiful, but unfortunately a combination of three of us in the small back seat making for an extremely hot and sweaty journey, coupled with the fact that we bought copious amounts of biscuits which meant we started the journey on a sugar high which was soon followed by an impressive crash meant that I ended up in a spectacularly
foul mood, feeling horribly claustrophobic and fantasising about opening the door and flinging myself out of the moving car to the freedom of the open road. By the time we got to Wadi Mujib, after over two hours of very close confinement we were all feeling the heat a little, and the lack of sleep probably didn’t help either. Our driver dropped us in the car park of the entrance to the Wadi Mujib resort, and we made our way inside the tiny visitors centre to find a spectacularly unhelpful man who told us that the basic unaccompanied hike up the river took 3 hours and was very difficult in some parts, which the Americans in Wadi Rum had also told us, that we couldn’t take anything with us as it would involve climbing and swimming, and that it cost 14JD per person. We asked him if we could leave our bags anywhere and he pointed to the floor in the corner and said ‘Put them there’, which we weren’t too happy about as we all had cameras, not to mention passports and money, and Everitte had his laptop with him as he’d come straight from his father’s wedding in
California. Next we asked the man if there was anywhere we could stay nearby, or somewhere to get some lunch before we started, and he pointed vaguely across the road and said ‘There are chalets there but they cost 70JD a night’. More than a little horrified I asked him about the campsite mentioned in the Lonely Planet, and he replied that it had been destroyed a few years ago and replaced with the startlingly expensive chalets. We had no intention of attempting a three hour river hike without having eaten, especially as we were all rather feeling the effects of very little sustenance on our tempers, so hoisted up or bags and wandered out into the blazing sun once again to find our way to the chalets. Back on the motorway in the blazing sun we were at a loss at to where the entrance to the chalets was, and crossing the road to follow the unfinished road opposite we found ourselves in a water purification factory. After a few minutes ranting about the fact there were no signposts a rather swish band new land rover pulled up beside us, and a middle aged man in a suit asked
if we knew where the chalets were. In the end he offered to give us a lift while he searched for them in the car, and as it was air-conditioned we gratefully accepted, and finally arrived at the chalets, which were nearby down another path with an almost invisible sign, in great style.
There was only one big building, which we identified as the restaurant, and we were greeted by the manager who told us we could eat, but that it was buffet only, and it cost 10JD per person. He also told us the chalets were 70JD a night, and that we’d need to take two, but that he could do us a student discount of 20%, and that it included breakfast but that dinner would cost us a further 11JD each. After much discussion, during which the manager discretely walked away and tried to pretend he couldn’t see us niggling at each other and heatedly debating whether we’d rather starve or spend £10 on lunch, and whether it would be cheaper to just do the river walk and then leave and try to spend the night in Madaba, we told him we’d like to have lunch there,
as we had come to the conclusion we really had no other choice. Once again as soon as we were eating we all cheered up no end and started looking at everything a lot more positively, and in the end decided that we were only in Jordan for one more day and we might as well just spend the money and do it properly, instead of messing about getting buses and taxis all over Jordan just for the sake of saving about 10 quid. By the end of the meal Becka and I were slightly hysterical, and the manager must have thought we were mad, as we suddenly changed from being extremely short-tempered to laughing a lot and told him we’d take the rooms. To give him credit he was very nice to us, and offered to make us sandwiches for dinner instead of the set meal to save us money and told us that swimming in the Dead Sea was included in the price of the rooms and that we could swim and shower whenever we wanted.
The place really was weird though, these tiny square concrete chalets all facing out to sea made it look like a
mars penal colony from some low-budget sci-fi film, and when he opened the door to the chalet Becka and I were sharing we saw that it was absolutely full of hundreds of flies, crawling all over everything, and had to go on a bit of a killing spree. There were so many of them that the only effective way to kill them was to crush them in between the curtains and the glass doors, but even after we had made a horrible mess of the window there were still hundreds left. The food had made such a difference to our tempers that despite this we remained calm, and got changed into our attractive ensembles of men’s swimming shorts and strap tops to head back up to the Wadi Mujib entrance. By the time we had all changed and we set off again it was about quarter past three, and the sun was cooler as we walked up the unfinished gravel road, passing a large dead dog by the side of the road, which was covered in flies, and made me feel rather less happy about the flies crawling all over our stuff back in the chalet, and made our way
back to the visitor’s centre.
The same man was at the desk and he asked if we’d found somewhere to stay and we told him yes, and then told him we wanted to do the river hike, at which point he cheerfully informed us that it closed at 3pm and we’d have to come back tomorrow. By this point I think we were all resigned to the fact that the day was not going to be a winner, and we all remained deeply calm as we headed back down the track, back past the dead dog, which looked even closer to exploding than it had 10 minutes before, to the chalets and their waiting army of flies.
In the end we decided just to go for a swim in the Dead Sea and spend the evening chilling out, before going to the river first thing in the morning, so we could be back in time to check out at noon. We changed into our rather bizarre swimwear (Emlyn was the only one with a proper swimming costume, so Everitte was in a pair of khaki dress trousers his dad bought him for the wedding, Becka was in a
strap top and some men’s swimming trucks, and I was in my underwear) and walked down the precipitous slope to the sea, where a very steep decaying old jetty was set forlornly about 10 feet above the water level, testament to the amount the sea has shrunk in the last few years. We spent a surprisingly long time in the water, given that the sea is so salty that it stings your eyes and lips (not to mention any bites, and cuts, grazes and blisters from climbing too many hot rocks with bare feet!) and is actually pretty unpleasant to swim in once you get past the novelty factor, as even when you’re horribly hot it is too salty to be refreshing. We had a great time bobbing around and playing games where you try to keep your legs under you, as it is impossible to stay vertical for more than a few seconds before the buoyancy pushes your legs up and you are once again lying horizontal, half-in and half-out of the water, like a cork. We found a bid old tractor tyre on the bank and spent about 20 minutes getting all the sand and stone out of
it so it would float, but it was weighed down by all the salt crystals which has grown on it, and therefore not as much fun as anticipated, especially as all the salt crystals are really very sharp, and I ended up with various scrapes and grazes, which were of course instantly sanitised by the salt, but which also stung horribly!
When we finally got out of the water, after over an hour, we all felt like we’d been desiccated by the salt, even though it does feel like baby oil on the skin, and it makes your skin incredibly soft and smooth. We spent the evening sitting around in the hammocks, a little subdued, talking and eating biscuits, and after our dinner of very nice chicken sandwiches and fresh yogurt at about 8pm we all felt exhausted and by 10pm we were all in bed, feeling very relieved that all the flies seem to magically disappear at night, so we could sleep in peace, and not, as I had envisioned, with thousands of flies crawling on our faces as we slept.
The next morning we were up bright and early and off to the river, and having paid our 14JD and reconfirmed with the man at the desk that it would take us about three hours to hike up the river and back, we set off. Unfortunately I had no idea where to purchase such a thing as a waterproof camera, so have no pictures, but it was a pretty spectacular walk, almost exactly like the Siq at Petra, but filled with water, which began a few inches deep and gradually got deeper and deeper until it was mostly waist deep, with a few pools which were definitely swimable, although somewhat narrow. We made our way up the small waterfalls which are climbed with the aid of handily placed ropes, and they got gradually harder, although after the first half an hour we hadn’t come across anything which any of us found particularly difficult, despite the very strong current, and were all looking forwards to something a bit more challenging. It was at this point that we turned the corner to find ourselves looking up at a waterfall of about 20 feet, thundering into a round, waist deep pool with smooth rock stretching up on either side, and no ropes or handholds. We spent 5 or 10 minutes looking for a way up before accepting that that was the waterfall which constitutes the end of the unguided river hike. We were a little disbelieving, and definitely disappointed with the easiness of the whole walk, which had taken us, according to Emlyn’s watch, just over 30 minutes to complete. We considered going back to the desk quickly and telling the man it was too easy and asking to do the harder one instead, but after some discussion we decided that even if he would discount us the 14JD we had already paid, which seemed unlikely, we couldn’t afford to spend £40 on a longer hike, and that anyway we probably didn’t have time, as we were aiming to get back to Damascus that evening in time for university the next morning. In the end we decided we’d just take our time on the way back down, and get our money’s worth of aquatic fun, so spent the next hour and a half going up and down the river, playing in al the rapids and waterfalls and swimming and diving in one of the deeper pools. Unfortunately where my light body weight had been a definite advantage when rock climbing it was positively lethal in the river. At the first set of rapids we came to on the way down river I got caught up in the current and, unable to stop myself, was carried all the way down through several small waterfalls among big rocks head-first, banging my shins on all the rocks until they were bruised and swollen, and taking all the skin of both forearms in huge long swathes of bloody grazes. After this I was a little more cautious, and although we all ended up with an impressive array of cuts and grazes and big black bruises, largely because of our tendency to slide down large rocks into other large rocks, we had a lot of fun. There were several places where the river divided into two waterfalls, one much bigger than the other, and the larger, faster waterfalls, which any attempt to climb up or down would have resulted in instant death, were roped off with warning signs, in both English and Arabic, with a skull and crossbones just to make sure. Once again my light weight causes a few problems, and Everitte saved me from being swept over twice when I got caught in the current and was unable to stop myself from being carried towards the edge, by grabbing my lifejacket and physically pulling me out of the current until I was able to find a rock to grip onto. The third time this happened, at the largest waterfall, it took both Becka and Everitte to pull me away from the edge, but on the whole we had a great time doing all the most difficult bits two or three times and finding new and ever more inventive things to slide down and jump off.
At about 11am we headed back to the chalets, past the dead dog, along the gravel track, and as there was no water in the women’s showers Becka and I washed our hair in the sink, before we all packed up, paid the manager at reception and asked him what the easiest way to get to Amman was. By this point it was midday and swelteringly hot, and so when he told us that there were buses to Amman, but they didn’t have a timetable, so we’d have to stand at the edge of the road until one came by and try to flag it down, we were all a little apprehensive. We set off again across the strange unfinished gravels paths, and took a path to the left, away from the dead dog and the visitors centre, which lead us to the main road via a small army base, which we accidentally wandered across before noticing the gun tower with its huge machine gun aimed out to sea and Israel. A soldier did come over and ask us what we were doing, but was very nice and understanding about the whole thing we he realised that we were just crazy ajaanib students looking for a bus. He directed us to a check point where we could stand in the shade to wait, and we hadn’t been there two minutes when a huge blue articulated lorry with a picture of Che Guevara on the door pulled up beside us, and the driver looked down from his immensely high perch and asked where we were going. We told him Amman and he gestured us to climb in, so we all scrambled up into the front of the lorry, which was a lot more spacious than I had imagined with folding bunks which doubled as benches, on which Becka, Emlyn and I sat, while Everitte sat next to the driver, a lovely Palistinian guy who was massively amused when Everitte fell asleep with his mouth open and his glasses all askew. We asked what he was transporting and he told us it was sand, and he chatted to us on and off as we drove steadily but incredibly slowly up the endless incline northwards, away from the Dead Sea, and Wadi Mujib, the lowest nature reserve on earth. At once point he stopped the lorry and disappeared for a few minutes, and came back with cold cans of coke and cinnamon chewing gum for us all, as well as a big bottle of cold water. It was lovely driving along with the wind drying our hair, and Becka and I were very grateful we were travelling with the guys as we would never have felt able to risk the novelty of hitch-hiking in a lorry had it been just the two of us, which would have been a sad day, as the man was absolutely lovely, and even though he accepted 5JD towards the cokes, when he finally dropped us on the outskirts of Amman after an hour and a half, we saved a lot of money and travelled in a lot more comfort than we would have had we had to get the bus.
From Amman it was easy to get a taxi downtown for falafel and to use an ATM, and then we took another taxi to the bus station where despite having missed the last big bus back we were able to negotiate a taxi to take us on the four hour trip across the border to the outskirts of the city for 24JD. In the end it was a lovely way to end the trip, as we were able to stock up on chocolate and other delicious snacks, and Becka, Everitte and I ended up sleeping most of the way back in the back of the taxi, enjoying the novelty of driving in the late afternoon and evening when instead of sweating uncomfortably in the blasts of hot air we were able to relax with all the windows open and enjoy a pleasant breeze.
We arrived back in Damascus at about 8pm, and it felt strange but nice to see the familiar outline of Bab Sharqi ahead of us. Damascus is already, after such a short time, a kind of home for us, somewhere where we cook and sleep and study, and get up early for the bus to university. Life here is not a non-stop adventure like Jordan, but it feels like our place, and in some ways that is nicer.
So despite Wadi Mujib, which cost more than Wadi Rum but was nowhere near as special, having been a little bit of a let-down at the end, after we had been spoiled by the perfection and adventure of the rest of our trip, we arrived back tired and happy (and poor!), with impressive tans and even more impressive cuts and bruises to show for our travels. And there was a happy ending all round to the story, as we were happy to have gone and, by that point, happy to be home.