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Published: January 14th 2008
(To make up for the delay in managing to get the last post up, I've knocked up another quite quickly. I've also included some photos of us - for those who've been asking - that cover the last three weeks or so through Syria and Jordan - enjoy!!)
And so on to Jordan. We eventually crossed the border from Syria after a good two hour delay as the border guards proceeded to search every single vehicle intensely - luggage was rifled, engines were scrutinised, door panels were pulled off. We assume that they were searching for arms potentially heading for either Iraq or the West Bank, as Jordan is one of the few Arab nations that actually has a peace treaty with Israel…
Amman was originally constructed on seven hills much like Rome was, but there the similarities seem to end. It isn’t really anything that special, a relatively new city of a couple hundred years and now festooned with multiple McDonalds and KFC outlets, nestled amid some fairly non-descript concrete apartment buildings. The nineteen hills that it now encompasses rise abruptly from the surrounding desert plains. After a night downtown and a totally gorgeous meal at the first
‘eco’ style café we’ve come across, we packed up bright and early and headed south to what is literally The Bible Belt.
This region includes the site of King Herod’s castle and also apparently played host to Mary & Joseph as they made their way west to Bethlehem. First stop for us was Mount Nebo, where Moses first saw the Promised Land after 40 years of wandering the desert and reportedly where his remains still are when he finally kicked the bucket at the ripe old age of 120. We stood at the peak where a small monastery sits and gazed out to the west and all of the Biblical sites that lay before us. In addition to having a prime view of the West Bank, the Dead Sea, Jericho, Bethany and even the spires of Jerusalem shimmered far off in the haze. Although we’re still trying to figure out how it took them 40 years to get from Egypt to here…
Just to the south we stopped at Madaba, home to some incredible mosaics including a huge ancient map on the floor of St George’s Church which illustrates all of the area biblical sites, including the first
pictorial depiction of Jerusalem. And then the drive took us through some of the most incredibly beautiful scenery as we weaved through the desert and down into the wadis. Basically, the wadis are huge canyons which carve a deep crease through the land and they can span a good few miles across. Pretty well like the Grand Canyon in the US or like Karijini in WA on a massive scale. No one told us the landscapes in Jordan would be so breathtaking.
That was about when things started to go pear-shaped. As we started the steep climb out of Wadi Hasa, the engine seemed to strain and then billowing jets of steam erupted from under the bonnet. Jane and I looked at each other, flashbacks of our desert adventure in Syria rushing to the fore. And so it was. The radiator had sprung a leak and the rest of our journey was interrupted by involuntary rest stops every fifteen minutes or so and we repeatedly scrambled out into the rapidly departing sunshine to refill our numerous water bottles in order to replenish the overheating engine. I finally crawled into the car a last time, long after the sun had
finally set, clutching three bottles of icy cold water pilfered from a building site, teeth chattering and fingers and toes frozen to the bone…
We did, however, eventually arrive in Wadi Rum. The region, besides being the home to the many Bedouin of Jordan, was made famous in the West due to the exploits of one TE Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia. It was from here that he first led the insurgency against the French and then later participated in the Arab revolt against the Ottomans. The area is a remarkably beautiful collection of hundreds of these massive mountain-size rocks that rise up from a barren, yet strangely beautiful desert that is peppered with scraggly bushes, and results in one of the most stunning settings that either of us have ever seen. It’s actually a lot like the Kimberley region of northern Western Australia, the mountains shooting up from the sands under the brightest of bright blue skies. We’d bumped into a Aussie nurse, Michelle, who is incidentally from Frankston and is currently working in Riyadh, and the three us hooked up with a Bedouin guide, the wonderfully friendly (and chef extraordinaire) Soleiman, in the village and
After visiting his mate Atayuk’s camels for their brekkie, including a three-day old baby - talk about awkward creatures - we set off in our jeep to visit the numerous fascinating sites that are scattered all over the protected area, bumping and bouncing along the random tracks through the sands and the dunes. We scampered through narrow siqs, inspecting ancient Nabatean rock carvings of camels and ibex and some quite generously endowed men. We clambered up onto naturally formed rock bridges and scrabbled up huge dunes of vibrant red sand and generally gazed in awe at the surreal landscape around us. The sands of the desert continuously changed depending on what sort of rock surrounded it, and we continued along through dunes of white, yellow, orange, red, purple and even black.
As the sun began to drop in the sky, and the temperature plummeted even quicker, we made our way to the camp and while Soleiman set about making dinner, the three of us set off for some scrambling over the rocks. After much exploring, we eventually found ourselves perched halfway up a peak, next to some carvings that even our host had no knowledge of,
and even managed to sip a cold beer as the sun slipped behind the mountains, turning the sky into a wonderful array of colour.
Incidentally, we’ve found ourselves in Jordan during what is known as the Coldest Forty Days, and even during the day it was what could be termed ‘pretty bloody chilly’. At night, and in the desert, the temperature absolutely nose-dives, but thankfully Soleiman had stoked the fire and we were welcomed back to numerous cups of soul-warming sweet chay. We were ushered into a traditional tent, white and black striped and festooned with numerous mattresses and blankets and after dumping our gear, we all gathered around under a large rock overhang next to the fire for a scrumptious dinner of vegetable stew (with the most mouth-watering chicken for the carnivores) and chatted with a couple of other Bedouin who had dropped by for ciggies and tea.
When we finally gathered up the courage, we’d venture away from the fire to gaze at the blanket of stars that had erupted above us, and I am most pleased to say that after nearly thirty years of near-misses, Jane has finally, finally seen a shooting star. And although
bitterly cold, we huddled in our cocoons of blankets and both slept the sleep of the innocent, although with the most vivid of dreams…
Today we rose before the sun did and headed off for a trek up some of the rocks. And although the trudging through the sand was arduous (and something that our legs are sure to curse us for tomorrow) the rock-clambering was great and we slowly rose higher, leaving the desert plains far below. We eventually stopped for lunch at the peak of the mammoth Mount Ha’ash, the desert stretching away in every direction, punctuated by the massive rock formations and peered breathlessly out at much of southern Jordan and over the border to Saudi Arabia.
And now, as the sun sets again, we are in Petra, home to the great Nabatean peoples and one of the most amazing of ancient cities, apparently it rivals Angkor Wat in Cambodia in terms of magnificence and grandeur, so I reckon we’ve got a decent enough couple of days exploring ahead of us…
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