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Published: June 26th 2017
Today we arrived in Aqaba. Aqaba is Jordan's only port and is at the top of the Gulf of Aqaba. If you picture the red sea with 2 prongs at the top, we have just come through the Suez Canal in to the left prong (the Gulf of Suez) then made a sharp left turn into the right prong!! Aqaba lies at the very end of this prong. 4 countries converge on Aqaba. Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. In fact the ship passed the popular Egyptian resort of Sharm El Shiekh. The daily programme explained that we would be passing Sharm at about 2am where you could see some of the worlds most beautiful and unusual coral. Roisin and I weren't sure if this was another 'lost in translation' thing or there was actually a scuba diving tour in the middle of the night. I was actually tempted to go on deck at that time to see if there was anyone with a torch shining it down from the 12th
deck in to the water!!!
Aqaba is also a very close neighbour to Israel. Eilat is clearly visible from the quayside at Aqaba. Finally Saudi Arabia is only down the road. Saudi is
not a place that openly welcomes visitors and I understand you can still get stoned for the slightest misdemeanour, and I don't mean in a Pete Docherty ‘fun' kind of way, either!!!
Today, there were only 2 official tours available. Petra and Wadi Rhum.
Petra is considered to be one of the great wonders of the world (although I don't see it listed in the top 7!!!) This was a full day's tour. It is a 2-½ hour drive from Aqaba. The tour lasted 7 hours. That meant only 2 hours in Petra. Before coming on this cruise, I spoke to people who had been there. They said it is a huge world heritage site and a full day is required to do this justice (if not 2 days). The cost was €130 each. This seemed a lot to pay for sitting 5 hours on a bus and just to see the large building carved out of rock (known as the treasury). 900 passengers had booked to go to Petra. If we stayed on the boat, the crew would probably out number us by 12-1 so we decided to sign up for the Wadi Rhum excursion. There were
2 coaches set aside for this tour amounting to about 100 people.
Before the last ice age, this desert was part of the Great Rift Valley that forms most of what is today, the Red Sea. The whole of Wadi Rhum was, at that time, covered by the sea. Many fossils have been found in this area.
Wadi Rhum is probably best remembered for T E Lawrence who became better known as Lawrence of Arabia. He used to sign his name TE Lawrence (Lol). The locals thought he looked quite peculiar in the Arab attire and used to laugh out loud at him as he passed. Hence textspeak was invented, 65 years before the mobile phone!!!
Lawrence of Arabia helped Sharif Hussein Bin Ali, who is the great-great grandfather of the present King of Jordan, lead the Great Arab revolt in 1917 and defeated the Turks who had occupied Jordan under Ottoman rule for some 400 years.
It was a 1-hour drive to the start of our off-road trip across Wadi Rhum. Wadi in Arabic means desert while Rhum is a shortened version of Erhum. This was a name on one of the ancient inscriptions that
are dotted all over the desert.
The first thing Roisin and I were impressed with is the state of the roads in Jordan. The Great Desert Highway stretches from Aqaba to the North of the country and is well maintained despite extreme weather conditions throughout the year. Even after 40 minutes when the bus turned off onto a small road, the condition was one of smooth asphalt.
Our first amazing sight was a mountain called ‘the Seven Pillars of Wisdom.' If you're reading this, Ms Rowling, I have a great title for the 8th
Harry Potter book…. ‘Harry Potter and the 7 pillars of Wisdom'.
In fact this works for anything: ‘Scooby Doo and the mystery of the 7 Pillars of Wisdom'.
We arrived at the visitor centre where we chose the 4 wheel drive that would take us on a 2 hour safari across Wadi Rhum where Lawrence of Arabia made men wearing dresses fashionable (Lol) oh and the Great Arab revolt started!!!
Not only were we in a 4-wheel drive but the vehicle actually had 4 wheels!! They were open top jeeps that sat 6 persons in the back facing each other, military
style. Roisin and I had the MSC official photographer and 2 Germans from Austria!! I say this because after hearing them speak German I asked, ‘Where about in Germany do you live?'
To which the reply I got was, ‘Austria!!!'
We sped along the desert weaving in and out of the shrubs. At one point I nearly got flung out of the jeep, as the terrain got a little bumpier. Thanks to Roisin's quick reflexes she managed to grab on to our water supply and my camera!!!
Our first stop was a sand dune!! Now I've seen sand dunes before. I used to go to Ainsdale with my dad. We stopped for about 10 minutes and were given the opportunity to climb the sand dune if we wished. It was like nothing we'd seen before. Primarily because it was attached to a mountain!!! We climbed about 20 or 30 feet where I turned and faced the open desert. "It looks like the tides out and by the look of it, it ain't coming back??'
I shouted across to Roisin.
‘Look!' exclaimed Roisin, ‘A bush! Just like the one that spoke to Moses.' ‘Except that one
was on fire',
I said, producing a souvenir lighter from my pocket. (Un)fortunately it was time to get back on board the jeep. I never got to re-enact that famous scene from Cecil B de Milles epic film, The Ten Commandments.
(Maybe they'll let me do it in work nearer Christmas time as I seem to be staying put??!)
We were off again!! Off to look at some ancient carvings. A mountain loomed in the distance with a sharpish peak. The tour guide assured me this was Mount Bin Neavas. No! Surely not? Don't try to Wikipedia this. I've already tried and can't find it. Maybe I have spelt it wrong but that's what it sounded like!!!
As we turned a corner the jeep came to an abrupt halt. The driver got out and proceeded to let air out of the tires. The jeep front wheels were caught fast. His colleague pulled up along side, jumped out of his jeep and was immediately on his mobile phone. Firstly, how the hell could he get a signal in the middle of the desert? Secondly, I'm betting the Jordanian equivalent of the AA or Green Flag breakdown service don't have
a policy to be with you within the hour. ‘Where are you sir??'
‘I'm in the desert!'
‘Yes which desert sir. Jordan is full of them!!'
‘I'm by the one with the carvings on the wall!'
The one by the Bedouin's who are always making tea and trying to sell you stuff made in China??'
‘Yes, that's the one?'
‘Will you be needing a courtesy vehicle?
‘Would that be dromedary or bactrian??!!'
We stopped in a Bedouin tent that happened to have pitched it about 20 feet from said carvings!! We were told that we might be offered sweet tea with mint. As I was offered the tea, I was expecting the Bedouin to ask me if I wanted one hump or two!!! As it turned out, the tea was already sweetened. We were also told that the Bedouin's did not expect payment for this hospitality but in return just browse at what they were selling!!
The opportunity arose to have a camel ride for €2 or €3. A few of the group took them up on their offer. It was just like a donkey ride for adults. The owner would lead the camel 100
yards up the desert then back again. My only experience on a camel was some years ago in Tunisia when I was accosted by a man with a camel who, after haggling agreed to let me on the camel for free in order to take a photo. I was naive back in those days. Once I was up on the camel he wouldn't let me down until I paid him!! This has given me an inferiority complex with camels so I was sure to keep my distance.
Ancient carvings marked the way for caravans from Saudi Arabia on their way to sell incense such as frankincense and oils like myrrh. These caravans were ultimately travelling to Rome. The place where we stood now was a kind of stopping off place. You could say it was one of the first caravan parks!! The direction, in which the camel carvings were facing, was the direction in which one should head.
We were off once again. In another 10 minutes we were in a small canyon looking at a rock with the carving of a face chiselled in to it. When asked, ‘Who did we think it was',
Roisin actually thought
it was Mother Theresa!!! An easy mistake to make although the fact we were in Wadi Rhum, the location of the start of the Great Arab revolt lead by Lawrence of Arabia, should have given it away!!!
In the vicinity of this rock stood another few Bedouin tents. One particular tent seemed to be attracting a lot of attention. It was a fairly large tent, very sparsely decorated inside, except for a bed in the corner. A few tourists were around this bed. As I approached, I realised there was someone in the bed. Some poor Bedouin was trying to have a kip and we were all treating him like a big tourist attraction!!!
Our final stop on this tour of the desert was at a Bedouin encampment where we were entertained with tea and biscuits and indigenous music. Just as we reached the head of the dune for our final decent on this camp, one of the trucks that were accompanying us sped on. We think he probably rushed ahead to forewarn the Bedouins to stick the kettle on!!!
We had the opportunity to wander around this camp. I noticed that each tent had a number.
Not too sure why tents need to be individually identified unless it was for the postman to ensure mail doesn't go astray!!!
So, this was our experience of Jordan. We would certainly consider returning to this country as it has so much to offer. We will now be aboard the MSC Lirica for 4 days before arriving at our next port of call, Salalah in Oman, 1919 nautical miles away. This will take us down the Red Sea passing Sudan, Eritrea, through the strait of Djibouti around in to the Gulf of Aden, passing the horn of Africa (Somalia). This is pirate domain and I understand that we have to undertake Pirate training. In other words what to do in the event of an attack from Pirates!! I'm sure it won't be a case of walking around saying; ‘Ooh aah, me hearties!!' (or will it??)
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