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Published: October 24th 2011
Indiana Jones style!
The amazing Treasury
So I have now been in Jordan for exactly one week (well I had when I started writing this instalment.. it’s now more like two weeks!). It’s the country that everyone says is extremely friendly and hospitable. Well... I have not found that exactly. What I’ve experienced is a lot of testosterone filled men who can’t help but stare at a Western woman walking about on her own... and when I say stare I mean stare, or honk car horns, taxi’s pull over and ask if I need a ride, men blow kisses as I leave shops. It’s not aggressive and they always say ‘welcome’ but there is a sense that because I’m western and I’m on my own I’m fair game... and although I had it in India it didn’t seem to bother me.. But here it is driving me mad; and it means I don’t feel able to wander about the city at night. Annoying. Am I just getting older and less tolerant I wonder?
Right that’s the end of the rant!!
So. Last time I wrote I was in Amman. I left on the bus and chatted to a really lovely, friendly Jordanian woman and arrived
Our lovely group
We slept under the stars.. no tents, no toilets.. just nature.. and a preying mantis on my neck!!
in Aqaba 4 hours later after a brief stop at the ‘border’ control (Aqaba is a tax free city so there are passport checks on arrival – I had no idea!!)
Aqaba is a city on the edge of the red sea with Israel right next door (you can cross the border here) Egypt just over the water and Saudi Arabia less than an hour away! It has a much more relaxed and easygoing than Amman... or maybe I just feel that because I’m back near the water... and diving!
As soon as I arrived I got a taxi to the hotel – “My Hotel” - (the taxi driver drove me for free?!) checked in to my hotel; No cockroaches, actual white towels!! TV. mini bar and room service (not that I used it)!! .. I am in luxury.. and paying for it! Then I went directly to the dive centre (sea and sand water sports) and did my first dive.. and I haven’t stopped since! I have done 9 dives here. The water is clear and there is usually at least 15-20 metres visibility which is great, however there are much fewer fish than I’d have liked
(!) and whilst I’ve seen some great fish (octopus, stone fish, stargazers, sea moth and devil scorpion) it isn’t nearly as abundant as Indo.
I met a lovely American girl called Alex who was working at the dive shop and I’ve decided to hang around Aqaba in order to go to Wadi Rum and Petra with her and some friends of hers who are arriving in a few days. It’s been a saving grace to meet her because at night we hang out with her boyfriend Brahim and his friends and so I’m not sitting in my room twiddling my fingers!
So as I write this instalment I’m leaving Aqaba on the same bus I arrived in on my way back to Amman. I’ve said goodbye to Alex and Brahim. So. What have I been doing this week? Well I waited an extra three days in Aqaba in order to meet up with two of Alex’s American friends (Andrea and Jay) and the 5 of us went to Wadi Rum and then Petra; it was so nice to be able to do this with friends rather than on my own.
So we hired a car and Brahim drove
on the beach.. Arab syle
the ladies sat in their chairs with their toes in the water, covered from head to ankle!
us into Wadi Rum. This is the desert T.E Lawrence wrote about and is vast (over 100km north to south). It is inhabited by the Bedouin people and once we arrived we changed our car for a 4x4 driven by Helyl (a local Bedouin). He drove us around this vast, beautiful, arid desert with its huge rock formations which you can well imagine would have been under the sea thousands of years ago! Unfortunately the visibility was not great and instead of blue skies and views across hundreds of kilometres we had hazy views which ended up making all my photos looking overexposed!! Very annoying... but it didn’t dampen the experience... it reminded me of the Taj Mahal, when I arrived to a near total white out and saw the Taj simply in outline!! We climbed up cliffs, squeezed between narrow rock overhangs and clambered up sand dunes. We took our shoes off and wandered about under the sun in this beautiful natural landscape... it really is stunning. The 5 of us (now 6 with Helyl) clambered about barefoot, took photos (about 80 of camels!!) and wondered at the majesty and beauty of this incredible natural landscape. I’ve never seen
anything like it. We watched the sun setting over the rocks (a hazy sunset!) – Magical.
That evening, we’d opted to sleep under the stars, so Helyl lay down some mats, lit a fire, gave us some sweet Jordanian tea and we all ate, drank and watched the stars. And whilst I’d loved Wadi Rum in the day I adored it at night - the stars were unreal; so many of them, it looked like a constellation map you might find in a young stargazer’s bedroom. It was stunning. As the evening wore on and one by one people started to fall asleep Brahim and I were left sitting round the fire chatting and watching shooting stars (I saw about 12 that night!!) At 3am the caffeine from the tea finally wore off and I was able to sleep! I had a fairly hairy moment when a praying mantis wandered lazily across my neck... and whilst I pride myself on the fact that I’m not a girlie girl about insects, I did leap up shouting and flicked the poor insect off... Andrea and Jay rescued it and took it safely to a nearby bush... I made sure that when
I was going to sleep I was covered as much as possible!!
I slept peacefully and woke up at about 8 the following day... we had wanted to watch the sunrise, however because it was so hazy there wasn’t really much to watch! We headed out of Wadi Rum, had a quick half hour ride about on some camels (more camel photos!) and then headed to Petra.
So after a short journey we arrived in Wadi Musa; the town which boasts Petra. Wadi Musa is a typical brown, dry, sprawling Jordanian city. Once we’d found ourselves a hotel and showered (obviously there were no showers, or toilets under the stars in the desert so a ‘freshener’ was definitely needed!! We paid our 50 dinar entrance fee (it only very recently was increased to this extortionate price – equivalent to about £45 – if you are a resident it is 1 dinar.. for the rest of us it is a whopping 50 JD!! .. but only 55 for two days!
So we (and hundreds of other tourists) flooded into Petra. As soon as you walk through the gate there is a 10 minute walk to the start of
the 200m high 1.2km (and at some points only 2m wide!) Siq; technically not a canyon but a single block of stone that has been parted by tectonic forces!
It is quite breathtaking to walk through this amazing siq. So beautiful and so so big!! As you walk along you suddenly see ahead of you, through the narrow walls at the end of the siq the famous red ‘treasury’ – made famous by Indiana Jones! The Hellenistic facade is 43m high and 30m wide hewn into the rock face. It is breathtaking. The Nabateans built/carved this around 100bc (I think!)... We are talking about some serious history!! It is amazing even with all the other tourists milling about taking photos and the hawkers selling stuff and Bedouins selling camel rides... even with all that it is still jaw droppingly, awe-inspiring –ly (!) beautiful.
So after we had taken enough photos to ensure there was at least one good one! We wandered on past other beautiful and impressive tombs. Andrea and Jay decided to head home and I managed to persuade Brahim and Alex to walk past the colonnaded street onto Qasr-al-bint; the only freestanding monument in
Petra built by the Nabateans in about 30bc! Amazing. We then hired donkeys (which I still feel a little guilty about, especially when I saw the man hit one of them round the hit with a metal bar then kick another one in the balls.. is that really necessary?) Anyway we hired the donkeys (4jd each) to take us up the 900 steps to the Monastery. As our poor, hard done by donkeys clambered up the rocks (trying to keep ahead of the man with his metal rod) we were glad we weren’t having to walk up on our own two feet... it took about half an hour and not for the faint hearted!.. Good shoes are a must (although Alex did spot a woman in a full bhurka ... with high heels!!) As we arrived at the top we turned to our right and their nestled in the rock face was the 45m high, 50m wide monastery. (Built in the 3rd century B.C by the Nabateans) it is, again, breathtaking I mean how did they build these tombs? How long must it have taken? What tools did they use? How many people died to build it? It was well
Selling tomatoes on the road
A whole crate for less than a pound!
worth the donkey ride up (poor donkey – I asked how many times a day they are forced to clamber up and the man said 4.. when I said surely it’s more like 15 to 20 he agreed so who knows what the actual figure is?) As we arrived at the bottom and wandered wearily back to the start we realised we were totally shattered!! We arrived at 1.30 and left at 6.30... 5 hours of wandering around in the sun looking at these incredible sites. It really will be something I will remember for a long time... and so nice to share the experience with my new friends!
So that night we ate (a disappointing meal for me; Jordanians don’t really get the whole vegetarian thing and so when I asked for mixed vegetables and rice and pulled out a meaty bone I sulkily sent it back and got given some falafel – I’ve eaten nothing but falafel, babaganoush and hummus for the past two weeks.. luckily I love these dishes.. but after nothing else I’m getting a little bored!!)
The next day I had the good intention of getting up early to watch the sunrise over
the high place of sacrifice in Petra however with the hazy weather I decided the 5am start was not going to be worth it!!! So we headed instead to Little Petra and then a crusader castle called Shobak – annoyingly Brahim wasn’t allowed in with us because they thought he was a guide rather than a friend, so we had a quick look then headed back on the road to Aqaba.
For my last night in Aqaba we all went to the Rovers Return English Pub (!!) and then I said goodbye to lovely Andrea and Jay before saying goodbye to Brahim and then the following morning to Alex. And so here I am. On the bus back to Amman – the man in front is literally on my lap! Oh well only 4 more hours to go!!
(by the way, the photos are in no particular order!! .. i've jiggled them all about .. please look right to the bottom fo the page to see the rest!!)
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