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Published: January 20th 2010
Ali the guide drinking sweet mint tea at the tent in the middle of nowhere
Well, just to update you on what I have been up to recently, as you can see by the title, I had a quick trip into Jordan. This involved a 5-6 hour journey from Haifa down to Eilat in the south of the country so that I was able to enter Jordan via Aqaba.
The journey south was fairly uneventful, but different to do it by car after doing it a couple of times by bus. We drove from Haifa to Tel Aviv, then to Beer Sheeva and down to Timna (where we did the desert hike from) and stayed overnight in a kibbutz that had lovely little cottages to rent on a B&B basis. After having a quick cup of tea and a freshen up we headed into Eilat……what a shock….all lights, noise, crowds and glitz. Some of the hotels were really beautiful from the outside, the designs amazing, like ships in the distance as you drive into the town. But to find this ‘Blackpool’ in the desert was a bit of a shock to the system, however, we did manage to find a nice little restaurant and have a good meal, before heading back to the desert and
our little B&B. We had a fairly early start, but the breakfast was worth waking for and arrived in a huge basket. We had tins of tuna, fresh tomatoes, carrots, cucumber, yoghurt, cheeses, hams, jams, apples, eggs which were a mix between fried and scrambled and pitta breads, along with a large jug of home made lemon juice, strange mix, but was fine for me. We were to meet up with our guide (one of the many) who was to take us from the Israeli side to the no-mans land part of the border crossing. After this we had guide number two who took us from no-mans land into Jordan, then we were introduced to our guide (Ali) for the day and his smart looking Toyota Landcruiser. BEWARE smart looking things are not always good….. we were all in and belted up ready to roll, Ali turns the key to the Toyota, whir whir, click click, whir whir, click, click and again and again, I could see the sweat start to break out on Ali’s forehead, the damn thing does not want to go, the bonnet goes up, three or four other men arrive from nowhere and heads peer into
Lunch break in Wadi Rum
the engine compartment, then a long lump of metal is shoved in and bashed around, still the car won’t start, three different men try to start it, all with no luck. The gearshift, (automatic), is shoved around, still it won’t start. The vehicle is then pushed around the car park area, still it wouldn’t start (I always thought you couldn’t bump start an auto?). After much head scratching, cursing, cigarettes and engine bashing, by the assembled men, and much laughter by me, it was decided that maybe they should try to start it with jump leads as a last attempt…..whey hey, it started, so off we all went with a very grumpy looking guide….boy I thought, are we going to have fun with this one. Anyway after about 20 minutes he started the proffessional guide bit, apologised about the car (not his car of course) and the tour started. We were to have started in Aqaba, but due to the unforeseen problem, we were behind schedule so we headed straight to Wadi Rum. The journey was fairly similar to start with as being on the opposite side of the border in Israel apart from the very square buildings, and on
the odd occasion that we did pass someone, the dress. But then we turned into the desert, this was more like I expected to see a desert look. The Israeli desert is mainly rock and not too much sand, this one had sand, lots of it and big dunes, all rising up to meet the mountain. Funny though with both deserts I did not expect to see the mountains, I suppose we tend to see pictures of deserts that are just sand hills. Anyway we arrived at Wadi Rum visitor centre where we had a short talk about the area, before we entered the Wadi for the drive through. At Wadi Rum Centre there were hundreds of jeeps and Landrovers all waiting to take a tour out into the desert
The Desert is an incredible place, the mountains and rock formations are lovely, the sheer vastness of the place is mind boggling and how the Bedouins and our guide know their way around I just don’t know. The dunes are wonderful and fun and scary driving up and down them at speed. The sand whips up a storm without warning which is again another view of the desert. To
The super power
Liz lifts up one of the famous rock arches
be driving in the middle of nowhere and see a camel train is just, well just what you see in books and on TV, to be there experiencing it is awesome. Our Guide, Ali, was a brilliant driver and despite the speed and the drops down the dunes I was never feeling unsafe.
We stopped at a Bedouin tent in the middle of nowhere to have a tea break, lovely hot, sweet mint tea, served in little glasses, sitting cross legged on brightly coloured rugs on the ground. The water boiled up on the camp fire in a lovely, worn, copper kettle smeared with soot. Outside were the camels relaxing in the sun. After this we drove on through the desert, the size of the Wadi is just so BIG. The mountains so high, the colours ever changing in the sunlight, other than the odd camel, Bedouin and donkey we saw no other life, except I was lucky enough to spot a pair of bald headed eagles gliding on the thermals, a beautiful sight to see. We were driven into a sort of canyon where we stopped and Ali prepared lunch, a wonderful array of salads and bar-b-que chicken,
As revealed through the sandstone canyon
all prepared there, followed by fresh fruit and more mint tea. I have managed to get all this into a short paragraph, but really this was several hours tour, and I just cannot find the words to describe it.
At the end of the day we headed from the Wadi to Petra where Ali dropped us at our hotel, lovely except it was right next to the Mosque, very pretty one, but the wailing is not my sort of music! It was quite funny though because every time it was time to call to pray, we heard the microphone switch on, then the guy cleared his throat, he started off with his singing. After he finished you heard the other mosques in the area finishing just on a delay…it was all like something out of a bad comedy. Talking of bad comedy’s, Ali liked his music, I didn’t like his music, but he was driving and so he was in charge. But it was funny to see him driving along doing that head nodding thing with his arm out the window, just like you see on TV on the comedy shows.
The next morning we were picked up
Up the hill another carved-in building
at 7.30am to be taken to Petra old village by our guide for the day Mohamed or something like that. Well if I thought the desert was great, Petra was mind boggling. I went as a complete innocent, knew nothing about Petra I am ashamed to say, but really in many ways this was the best way to go as I had no expectation, and at each turn the day just got better and better. Petra is approached by a downhill walk of about 1km. As you walk down you are passed by people on horses and in the Taxi’s (carriages pulled by horses), to the left and right as you walk you see many many tombs some just holes in the rock face, other intricately carved masterpieces. You then get to where the rock face just seems to part, and you walk into the canyon, you feel so small, it is huge. All along the entrance are carved little niches with gods carved, more tombs, amazing water channels and reservoirs. Then a few hundred yards before you get to Petra you see (only just as the sandstone is eroding) the remnants of a camel train lead by a robed
Amazing colours on the sandstone rocks
man, heading into Petra. This was apparently the welcome to Petra sign of the day. There was also the opposite carving with the meaning of farewell from Petra. There is only one entrance and exit for Petra, and it was only discovered by a westerner in the early 1800’s. I can only begin to imagine his excitement as he walked into Petra, the first westerner ever. As I was walking this road I was impressed by the carvings, the canyon, the colour and light and was not expecting much more so imagine my shock, surprise as we came to the end of the canyon and it opened out, in front of me carved into the rock face was a huge building with intricate carvings and the height of it just dwarfed everything. I was in a sort of courtyard and around me were camels and horse drawn carriages, a Bedouin tent that was being used as a gift shop and Café. At first glance it seemed as if I had walked out of a time machine back in time. The colours of the camels saddles, the tent and the gowns worn by the Bedouins were so bright they hurt your
eyes. The faces dark and lined by the sun, with big grins and broken teeth.
Old Petra is a village/town of 45km² so if I try to tell you everything you will be asleep in a few minutes. All I can say is that if you ever get the chance to go, you must, it is mind blowing. The colours of the sandstone are amazing, the area is rich in minerals and these have all seeped into the rocks leaving the most spectacular artwork you can imagine, my little brain was working on overtime all that it had to take in. The people, the Roman influence the Nabatean influences, the carvings, the mosaics, just everything. It was as if I was in a dual time with westerners around me but also the Bedouins who still are dressed and carry on life as I imagine it must have carried on in the time of Jesus.
I entered Petra old town at about 8am, I walked all day and left at about 7.30 and still I did not see all there was to see. But tired as I was I had had a thrilling day, so much more I could
add but I won’t for now.
The next day we were collected from our hotel by Ali, who took us to another canyon, where we drove up the water filled Wadi and had yet another fabulous meal all prepared there by Ali. Again it was a fantstic day with so much to see, paddling in the wadi, seeing the local kids swimming, talking to some of them, their English is so good and some of them no more than 8 or 9. Driving back towards Aqaba through the farming area which was amazingly green and productive looking for the desert, again passing camel trains, and small villages, both Arab and Bedouin. Ali told us so much about the Bedouins, their lifestyle, their customs, and their laws. We talked about his life growing up, how his uneducated father managed to educate seven children, all to degree level. Ali had a degree in Chemistry but ended up as a Major in the army, until a few years ago when he left to join his relation in the Jeep Tour Company. So interesting to learn about how others live.
We arrived in Aqaba at about 7pm where we had a local
dish of knafeh, a dish of cheese, something like semolina on top, cooked in honey and oil, very rich, sweet, fattening and delicious. We then made the trip back to the border, said our goodbyes and reversed the process with the different guides seeing us through the border controls.
The whole Jordan experience was not to be missed. The only thing I didn’t like in the towns mainly was the fact that there were no women, all the shops were run by men, all of the cafes were filled with men, the people on the streets were men. Not only that, they seemed to look at you, watch you, it made me feel very uneasy. Even though I was dressed moderately their looks made me feel as if I was walking down the street with no clothes on…..this is most definitely a man’s world. The other thing I felt was that although the guides, the shop owners, café owners, people in the hotel, were all very nice and seemed to be friendly and helpful, their smiles never really appeared to me to reach their eyes, it was not genuine friendship being offered, more it was that they need us
people from the west to survive and profit from the tourism, but they still did not have much respect for us in their private thoughts…is this just to do with the religion….I don’t know, and maybe this is just me seeing things that are not really there.
I would also say that I had a really wonderful time in Jordan and Petra, however, I was there at the very end of the season, soon it is too hot for people to be in the desert much. This for me made it all the better as there were not so many other tourists about. I can imagine that in the high season the desert is filled with jeep tours. That Petra is just bursting at the seams and I think this would take away some of the awe, some of the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere, completely alone, and some of the feeling of being in a different century.
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