Inukshuk for Peace
Dead Sea, West Bank and Israel in background
When’s the last time you visited a Kingdom (excluding the UK)? How about the last time the value of the currency of the country you were in was higher then the British Pound? Or how about the last time you were in a country that shared the same name with your brother? Tick all three boxes if you’re me in Jordan.
With a beer hard to find and roughly $8 a can, I had a feeling that Jordan wasn’t going to be a big party, but with sights such as Mt. Nebo overlooking the West Bank; the Dead Sea; Petra and Wadi Rum I was pretty excited to see what was on offer.
The border crossing from Syria was pretty easy and by lunch time we were in the capital, Amman. Although we only stopped at a grocery store (for the most expensive groceries I have ever seen!), Amman seemed busy and fairly modern with construction ongoing on every second corner, shinny black Range Rovers and Mercedes Benzes whipping by and traffic lights that were actually effective!
By sunset that day we were trucking up the windy road to the top of Mt. Nebo (the site where God buried
Left Side: West Bank
Right Side: Israel
Moses because he was not allowed into the Promised Land) and after a little off-roading, just before the sun dropped beyond the horizon, we were looking across the Dead Sea at the West Bank and then further onwards towards Bethlehem. It was strange to think that within sight was a place of so much conflict, pain and struggle - not to mention a place that gets recognition on news stations around the world on a daily basis.
As the sky darkened we set up our tents overlooking the occupied territory and saw the lights of the massive segregation wall light up. With a landscape similar to the one we were camping in: hilly, dry, dusty (really with sweet-f@*$ all) it was clear that the people were not inhabiting this “uninhabitable” land for it’s bounty; clearly history and religion take priority over quality of life.
The following morning Kels and I built an Inukshuk overlooking the West Bank and said a little prayer for peace then proceeded to pack up camp. Once ready to go we made our way back to the windy road and then descended slowly and sharply down to the Dead Sea, sitting 420 metres (yes
Dead Sea Coastline
420m below sea level
Four-Hundred-and-Twenty!) below sea level. Now, we’ve all seen photos of people floating in the Dead Sea…so what? When I was five my swimming-lesson instructor taught me how to float in a pool, so what’s so special about this salty, landlocked, “dead” sea? With low expectations and high curiosity I waded in, careful not to cut my feet on the sharp salt crystals on the bottom. Then once I was sick of having my feet stabbed and I had a couple feet of water below me, I splashed forward… HOLY COW! Once my feet were off the ground my feet, legs and butt shot straight for the surface and I had to throw my hands out to steady myself. What’s going on? The closest I’ve been to weightlessness is in water, but you always stay in the water; this water was literally trying to throw you out of the water! After steadying myself, I pathetically made my way to deeper water. There was a few of us out there by now and the experiments were on: on your back with both feet and hands out: float; on your stomach with your feet out behind you and hands out (sky-diver style): float;
In about 5 feet of water.
(now the crazy one) feet straight down, positioned vertical in the water with your hands at your sides (straight as a pin): still floating, with shoulders and head easily above the water! Amazing! If a ship ever sunk in the Dead Sea, I think it would turn out to be a pretty happy ending… except for maybe those whose head went underwater and they got salt in their eyes which burned like crazy and had to be washed out with fresh water (this happened to a couple unfortunate and over-excited swimmers in the group). The Dead Sea blew my mind and I’d go back in a heart beat to do some more floating. After a much needed freshwater rinse from a jimmied water-bottle shower we drove onwards to Wadi Musa, the gateway to Petra.
Built in the 3rd Century BC, by the Nabataean Arabs, Petra was a hub for the frankincense trade routes before the Roman time. The draw-card for the site now is what the Nabataeans left: beautiful “building” facades carved out of rose-marbled sandstone cliffs. In addition to the ancient history, there’s also some very important recent history to the sight… none other then Indian Jones, whose
Dead Sea Salt
By the handfuls...
“Last Crusade” took place here! Having watched a pirated copy of the movie the night prior we now we felt ready to explore Petra. And explore we did! It was a full-on day seeing all the amazing carvings and continuously scratching our heads thinking “how did they do this?” Fortunately we arrived early and were able to see the main attractions - the Treasury & Monastery - before the masses arrived (even though it’s a one hour walk/hike between the two sights). Then when the herds of people from the cruise ships and busses arrived we made our way for higher ground and hiked to the top of the cliffs with our friends Scott, Nicola, Dave and Tat for a picnic with a view, overlooking the Treasury. The hard work paid off as we enjoyed watching the tour groups of “ants” down below, and we all posed in the same spot as Doctor Jones did on his Last Crusade. After a full 8-hour day of exploring the beauty of Petra, whistling the Indiana Jones theme song around every corner and marvelling in the intricacy of the carved facades we said good-bye to Petra with a great sense of accomplishment and
appreciation for these ancient artists and engineers. While we packed as much as we could into one day, those who enjoy hiking could easily spend a few days in Petra seeing the sights from all different angles and view points.
The following day we left Wadi Musa and headed to Wadi Rum where we did a 4x4 trip into the desert made famous by Lawrence of Arabia. We hired old Land Cruiser trucks that bumped and spun through the sand with us in the back as we visited Lawrence’s spring and old house (mostly rubble now) and witnessed the Bedouins who have evolved to still camp in this barren desert. After our 4x4 tour we drove our overland truck out of the Wadi Rum Reserve and into to “another part” of the desert where we set up our bush camp.
This was my favourite bush camp as we were totally in the middle of nowhere, with massive rock outcrops jutting out of the ground, a camp fire and stars a plenty. That night we busted out a few bottles of wine we had stashed from our Turkey-Syria boarder crossing and had a good time with our friends from
The "Indy" Shot
Indiana Jones stood in this exact spot!
the group. The following morning after breakfast we played a little desert cricket as the Brits and the Aussies slagged each other and taught this Canadian a thing or two about how to bowl. After the cricket we packed up and headed for Aquaba, the only port city of Jordan, giving the country access to the gulf of Aquaba and the Red Sea.
We had the afternoon to kill in Aquaba, and since it rained (the only rain we encountered in all the Middle East) we really didn’t get up to much. That night we boarded an overnight ferry for Egypt (that’s been known to leave between 12-midnight and 6am, depending on the Captain, and takes anywhere between 4 and 8 hours, again depending on the Captain). The ferry was an old Scandinavian ferry that was clearly beyond it’s expiry date for Europe, so it was sold to the Egyptians and maintained in a very Egyptian way (not at all). The ferry was packed with people sprawled out all over the floors and the washrooms flooded from people washing themselves before prayer, but we were able to find an abandoned cafeteria that seemed to be reserved for Westerners and
crashed out on the seats of the booths. The ferry left at about 1:30am and arrived around 7:00am and just like that we were in Egypt - or at least customs…
Due to the high prices of Jordan we only spent 4 nights, but managed to visit some of my favourite sights of the Middle East. Unlike the other countries, the Jordanians didn’t really seemed too bothered by our visit, not inhospitable, just not overly fussed or in your face… I have a feeling they earn their money from other industries… Thanks Jordan, it’s been a slice - Egypt here we come… again!
Until Next Time….
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