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Published: April 27th 2008
(He can do you a good deal)
People are, by and large, lovely in Jordan. Normally, conversations with the locals commence like this:
"Hello, where you from?"
While it is true that quite often this is followed by an attempt to sell you something, no one is so pushy as to not take no for an answer. And they have some good lines. In the morning, as you wander around Petra, you will be greeted by requests to ‘Open my day’. Likewise, in the evening, you will be invited to ‘Close my day’ with one last sale. There was the boy who, offering donkey rides, promised that his were ‘Fully, air condition’ and the blokes with the horses who say in response to your ‘maybe later’ or ‘maybe tomorrow’ for a horse ride they say 'Tommorow, tomorrow. Do not put your fun away until tomorrow. You may not survive the night!'. Even the guys with guns at the checkpoints on the way to the Dead Sea - once they have sternly scrutinised your passport and determined that it is safe to let you in, they smile and say ‘Welcome to Jordan’.
The most prevalent
however, are those offering tours. Everyone has a tour company, or cousin with a tour company, offering great value at the place you are about to go - and all of these people (and their cousins) seem to be called Mohammed. Unfortunately for these blokes, we had most of our trip pre-planned, but had we not, we would not have been short of opportunities!
I guess it is apparent by now that I spent Easter in Jordan - with a mate of mine from netball. We headed first to Petra, which you might think of as one of the great wonders of the world (it has been listed as one of the 7 new wonders), but for me is inextricably linked with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Full of excitement (not the least because the weather was warm (YAY!)) we arrived just after lunch following a 3 hour drive from Amman.
From the minute you pass through the ticket office, there are any number of people suggesting that walking is too tiring. The first option is a horse or carriage ride from the gate to the entrance to the Siq (translates as the ‘Shaft’ -
basically a narrow canyon leading to Petra proper) - about 1 km. Were you to accept, on dismounting, you would then be offered donkeys to take you through the Siq (about 1.2 kilometers). The Siq is pretty cool - in parts only a few metres wide - and windy, zig zaging along, so you can’t see what lies ahead. The colours of the rocks are also pretty awesome, I think it is different minerals that make it look variously, yellow, blue, grey, cream and (most commonly) different shades of pink. It is very deep - in places the walls reaching up to 200m high. There are carvings and drains built along the sides (as you can imagine, it can be prone to flooding), but the main excitement is the fact that around one of the corners you will catch your first glimpse of the Treasury - the most iconic building in Petra. Some smaller level of excitement is generated by the fact that you may be run over by a carriage at any time - they seem to halt for no man (or woman, oblivious photo taking tourist, elderly person or small child). Of course, I could not help humming
the Indiana Jones theme song to myself as I walked through.
Finally, you round a corner, and there it is! Just as impressive as all the pictures - the Treasury (al Khaznah) - an intricate building carved into the rock itself. It truly is amazing to watch as it reveals itself as you continue along the Siq. As you can imagine - I took a LOT of pictures (but have included a small sample only). It was all but impossible to avoid people though (anyone who has traveled with me will know I am slightly psycho about not getting hordes of tourists in my pics) as the whole area was pretty crowded. We were there just at the right time and the rock looked really pink (you can see why they call it the ‘rose-red city’). It's big - some serious work with a chisel went into that one and looks different colours depending on the angle of the light hitting it.
When you finally leave the Siq, you come out into a ravine and the Treasury is revealed in all its glory. Protected from winds, it is remarkably well preserved. You can no longer go inside (no
full Indy re-enactments allowed and hence, I was unable to find the Holy Grail) but I suspect it is the outside that is the most impressive anyway. The intricacy of the carving is impressive, as is the sheer size of the thing. Although it is called the Treasury, in fact it was not a treasury at all - but more likely a tomb or temple of some kind. The rumours about it being a Treasury started because one of the images on the front is a large urn, which caused people to believe the hidden treasure of a pharaoh was inside. Apparently the Bedouin spent ages trying to crack it to get to the treasure - turns out it is solid!
Here, once again, are blokes offering camel rides (surprise, surprise). When not being used, the camels sit in the square in front of the Treasury - perfect for a photo op.
Quick Petra facts
Petra was built in about 300 BC ago by the Nabateens, a formerly nomadic tribe, who became very wealthy after settling in and around Petra and controlled the trade routes through that area, requiring taxes to be paid. For people who are
interested in that kind of thing, apparently it is of interest that they adopted building styles from around the world, so that different parts of each structure have variously Grecian, Roman and Egyptian styles.
Petra was discovered by way of a trick. The Bedouin tribes had closely guarded its location for over a thousand years. Then a Swiss guy (Johannes Burckhardt) came along and pretended to be a Muslim pilgrim and they took him through the Siq ….. and the rest, as they say, is history.
It is thought that Petra ceased to be occupied when it was largely destroyed by earthquakes in 512 AD.
In 1914, British adventurer T.E Lawrence (of Lawrence of Arabia fame) described Petra as the most wonderful place in the world.
But the Treasury is not the only amazing thing about Petra. The whole site is massive! I had no idea how big it was. From the Treasury, the ravine widens out, and there is a bewildering array of temples and buildings, in various states of repair. Some are made even more impressive by natural colour bands in the rock itself, giving them stripes. Most are carved into
the rock face but, later the Romans built some freestanding buildings. Of course there are also offers of donkey and camel rides, postcards, and many, many stalls, all selling nearly exactly the same magnets, necklaces, bracelets and carvings. When you reach the ‘end’ of the canyon, you find the place branches off in both directions (although the carved buildings there are not as impressive … the ‘burbs perhaps?)
There are two ‘high places’ you can go to - the Monastery, from where you can look at the valleys beyond Petra, and the Place of High Sacrifice, from where you can look over Petra itself. Of course, I did both. At each of them, there are blokes with donkeys, offering you rides up (1 hour walking, 20 minutes on a donkey’ they say (which is interesting, because they themselves walk with the donkeys!). It is quite a long way, and I wondered how many times a day the donkey guys make their way up and down.
It is too much to see in an afternoon (and too tiring to do both the ‘high places’) so Vin and I returned the next morning. The site opens at 6.30, and while
we did not make it there quite that early, we had walked the Siq by 7.30 and boy, was I glad we had. Without the hordes of others, and the donkeys, camels, horses and carriages barreling past (and barrel they do when without paying customers, as the kids in charge of them have a bit of fun), and with less people trying to sell stuff, it was lovely and peaceful. Being there for the extra time also meant we could move ‘off the beaten track’ a bit. This meant that we climbed to the Place of High Sacrifice the back way (highly recommended especially in the morning as it is more shaded and I think easier (less of a constant staircase) than the main way - with no donkeys bringing other tourists up). We also exited via the ‘small Siq’ although not without a few qualms. We met a couple of kiddies on the way, who took us through the main part of the Siq. I am glad they did - as there were a few scrambles over rocks and branches trapped in the narrow gorge (clearly from flooding in previous rainfalls) which might have made me turn back, and
We climbed a LOT of these
at least one junction (not mentioned in the note I had read about the small Siq!!). At the end, you find yourself coming out through a tunnel which, is pretty cool (at least once you realize that you can see all the way through from each end (on approach - it looks pitch black inside!).
During our only evening in Petra, we did a Jordanian cooking course, which was pretty cool. We made some traditional Jordanian dishes (basically like Lebanese food - so hummus, tabouleh, cucumber and tomato salad, babaghanoush). First impression? Jordanian food requires lots of chopping! Our head chef looked a little like Borat - don’t you think?
Taxis - Jordanian style
There is also a funny story about our taxi driver who took us to the entrance to the site on the morning of day 2. His name was Mohammed (surprise, surprise). Of course he asked where we were headed next and whether we had transport. When we said we had not arranged a taxi to Wadi Rum, he offered to take us. The price being in the range, we agreed and he said we could get in contact with him by calling in
on his cousin at the Indiana Jones gift shop (true!) and getting him to call. So, when we were ready to head off, we made our way to Indiana Jones’ snack shop of delights and waited for Mohammed. While we were waiting, Mohammed’s cousin (not Mohammed - but Zada) amused himself by dressing me like a Bedouin (headscarf wise in any event) and telling me I was amazing. Well, no complaints from me!
Mohammed was very chatty on the 1.5 hour trip to Wadi Rum and, of course, asked about our onward plans. In particular, he was very interested to know about our plans for transport to the Dead Sea. When I told him we’d arranged a taxi through our tour guide, he promptly tried to telephone the guy and asked if he could take us instead. Unfortunately he could not get though, but asked us to put in a good word and said he’d call later. Needless to say, I made it very clear that, if we finished the tour and Mohammed turned up on spec, with the other taxi there as well, we’d be taking the other taxi!!!
The first night in the
Sunset at the Monestary
The buildings are shope of entreprenerial Bedouins. One of them told us at length how he likes all visitors - except Germans (so Germans, take care!)
Wadi Rum area (a wadi is a valley, and the Wadi Rum is the biggest wadi in Jordan. The ‘Rum’ part means high/elevated) we stayed in a ‘posh camp’ with pre erected tents and camp beds and proper toilets and showers. It was pretty cool, we watched the sunset from a big rock and they had a communal fire area where everyone sat around and drank the hot, sweet tea with herbs in it that the Bedouins favour (someone said it was 'Bedouin whisky').
The next morning we were picked up early for our jeep tour in the desert. I loved the Wadi Rum. You all know how I love a good rock. Well, the Wadi Rum is full of them, in cool formations - as well as sand dunes (another fave) and beautiful scenery, enhanced by bands of different coloured sands. Seeing the lack of growth in the area, it's no wonder the Bedouin are such nomadic people - you wouldn't think you could support a flock of sheep/goats out there - let alone several!
We checked out some Nabateen carvings, sites from the movie Lawrence of Arabia, sand dunes, gorges and cool rock formations - including
rock arches. I loved it all. That evening we were to sleep in a desert camp. It's still not 'proper camping' - its on a permanent site and the tents are already set up, but we were the only ones staying there which was pretty cool. They had a fire pit with bench chairs covered with cushions around it, they cooked a delicious meal and, after dinner, our guide and the kid who cooked sat around and sang Bedouin songs - all good. They also took us to a(nother) high rock to watch the sunset - nice (only thing that could have improved that was a cold beer!). Back at camp, we watched the moon rise before bed, and then got up to see the sunrise (no sleep ins this trip!).
We rode camels back to the Wadi Rum village. I have discovered that I definitely do not have my 'camel legs' - my back was sooo sore after the ride. My camel was also a bit feisty, wanting to run off and play with his camel friends in the desert, rather than keep with the group. This meant he kept trying to push in front of the guide,
whose camel, in turn, became a bit cranky. There was a bit of a tiff, my foot kept getting jammed between my camel and that of the guides as mine tried to push past, and the guide decided we should dismount, so he could calm the camels down. Turns out for the best that he did, because in the excitement of the camels standing and sitting while they were being whipped into shape by the guides, Vin's saddle fell off (!!). All I can say is, lucky he was not on the camel at the time. Still, it was an otherwise peaceful way to check out the desert. In case you were wondering, we arranged all this through a group called Jordan Tracks, who I can recommend.
Attraction - Jordanian style
When we arrived at the village, a different taxi driver (not Mohammed) was there to drive us to the Dead Sea. 'Ahh' I thought, 'He lost that battle'. About 20 mins into the trip, the driver’s phone rings. He chats for a while and then hands the phone to me. 'It's Mohammed, your driver from yesterday. He wants to talk to you.' Needless to say, I am
a bit shocked. I take the phone. Turns out the driver is Mohammed's brother. Apparently Mohammed only got the go ahead for the trip that morning and he was in Amman and so could not do it. He says he is very disappointed he could not make it, because he loves me and wanted to see me again. He wants to come and visit me in the Dead Sea (unfortunately I had to decline).
Finally, we arrived at the Dead Sea - the lowest place on earth (394m below sea level). We stayed at a very posh place in the Dead Sea - which was great for washing off all the Wadi Rum sand (although over three weeks later I am still finding it in my sneakers!) and relaxing. They even had cool towels ready when we arrived to freshen up after our journey before check in.
Swimming in the Dead Sea is decidedly different. All the salt makes it a bit slimy, and scratches and sunburn sting a bit (although I did not really suffer from the 'ring of fire' issue I had heard about from others. But it is ture about the ease
of floating - it's amazing. It's impossible to just hang vertically in the water - your feet keep wanting to rise to the surface - on the other hand, reading a book is easy! I also tried the mud - and I think my skin did feel softer after (although I am sure swimming in the chlorinated pool after slightly negated the effect...).
All in all - Jordan was amazing, the weather was great, the sights are fab (the right mix of 'old stuff' and nature) and the people are lovely. And there is so much more to see - it definitely deserves a longer trip.
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