A Travellerspoint blog


Wet wet wet wet wet FISH wet


Oh splashy wet cool water how we've missed you! We arrived in Aqaba in the far-too-early morning after a 6.30 bus from Wadi Rum and after a quick nap headed straight out into the sea, stopping only to pick up some flippers and a mask. The corals around Aqaba are relatively quiet and unspoiled although they're the book-end to the much more well known Eilat in Israel or similar sites in Egypt.

We spent the next three days in the sea or by the little pool in our bargainous sea-view hotel (which was brand new and willing to give us a big discount for the business. A little bit of unexpected luxury after a week in camps or on hotel roofs).

We saw more colourful fish than you can shake a snorkel tube at and an octopus, and a huuuuuuge stingray, some unflappable puffer fish and played sheepdog with a shoal of thousands and thousands of small silvery fish - at one point being both surrounded by them all in a doughnut shape. We swam above some divers who were diving down to a wreck we were bobbing above and played with their bubbles which were lit up like millions of underwater diamonds by the sunlight which will always be a special memory for me.

I think the 3D freedom of the divers gave Dave the envy because he signed up for a introductory dive the next day and was taken down to swim round a sunken military tank of all things. I think he's got the bug now. I'd already done a padi course during an early adventure (hi Katie!) so I know how he feels, it's like a ticket to a different world.

Because it's still the Middle East, and Jordan is even more conservative than some countries, the beaches are full of families with half the living room brought along with them and women in the water fully clothed. A sight I will treasure will be four women in full burqas and veils, a few hairy men topless in shorts, all playing keepy uppy with a football up to their waists in the water. (burqas/veils arent the norm here by any means by the way which is why it was such a sight).

Also because it's the middle east everyone stays out on the streets, including the very young children, till past midnight. So after having one of the nicest meals we've had while we've been in this part of the world - a spiced rice and fish dish with a tahini sauce that i'll try and find the recipe for when i get back (one for you Auntie Alison) - we walked past the public beach and sat with our feet in the water listening to some young drummers behind, talking to some people curious to see the pictures we were taking and watching families with their shisha and barbeques having nighttime picnics. I was watching a girl who must have been about nine or ten, grinning, splashing and dancing freely to the drums in the water - shoulders a shimmying - to be told off (I think at least) by the older female family members. I couldnt really tell if she was upset after that because she was be told to reign it in or because they had to leave, as they did soon after, but she was so pleading and mournful, crouched low in the water, after that as if she wanted to melt into it or hold onto the seabed somehow. My heart went out to her. I hope she's a bit of a rebel as she grows up, she had such a spirit about her.

Had a lovely chat one night with a german guy we've seen in nearly every city we've visited but never had a chance to talk to. He said it's been the same for him and had spent time with the same four german PhD students we met in Wadi Rum everywhere as well and was pleased to hear about their engagment which hadnt happened when he saw them last. We talked technology pretty much all night because we all had the same sort of jobs and interests. It was a lovely change actually from talking about travelling. He's a TED fan, so for all you who know we had some good chat. Wish we'd crossed paths sooner. Hope his girlfriend has recovered from tummy toubles.

So at last we both have some sunburn :) We've been pretty covered up since we left because we've been out and about, and for decency's sake, or because the sun is just too strong to expose much to it. I have brown arms and face but that's it really. But now I also have red legs and so does Dave :)

Today we're back in Amman. After our last shisha, non-alcoholic beer and taste of arabic music (played by a man who reminded me of a portly Neil Diamond) last night we're turning our thoughts to phase 2: Africa. We fly to Lilongwe in Malawi this afternoon. Things might get a bit more patchy communication wise but the world is getting ever smaller so you never know. Will try and let you know we've arrived not-too-frazzled after our 16 hour, three plane journey at least.

Thinking of everyone at home all the time. Miss you. Speak to you from the next continent.

PS. It's not too late to buy Lake of Stars tickets you know...

Posted by rachndave 03:09 Archived in Jordan Tagged beaches lodging sae observations Comments (2)

Indiana Jones and the Lazy Horse

Dave - Petra

Petra is an amazing place, a huge city of tombs, temples, a thearte, cave dwellings, sacred high places - all in a vast surreal landscape of sandstone outcrops and narrow siqs (gorges) and wadis (dry riverbed valleys). Despite the 3,000 old grannies per day that get wheeled down the main path in carriages, you only have to walk a short distance off the main path to be completely alone in silence, save for the odd Bedouin urchin trying to sell you a few rocks they picked up off the floor, and a few donkeys / donkey poos.

Over 3 days we explored the High Place of Sacrifice, climbed on to the roof of the Monastery at sunset (a full hours scramble from the main ruins), scrambled through narrow hidden siqs, and of course did the half hour walk through the famous main siq that opens up to reveal the treasury (gasp for breath)...although we often did that walk in the pitch dark after spending too long in the ruins / getting there late after sleeping in / getting there late after being on the internet getting glasto tickets - thanks again glasto crew!!)

The sandstone is eroded into strange shapes, often fluted and resembling melting wax, its like Gaudi and Dali got together and knocked it up after a couple of bottles of absinthe. Amazing colours, swirls and patterns in red pink and orange, with faultlines of yellow and black.

And they let you ride a horse to the main Siq entrance! Indiana Jones dreams turn into reality, as I sing the tune in my head and prepare to gallop down the path, this will be awesome...except the horse didn't like me and insisted on walking. And I would have felt bad whipping it with the length of electric cable the horse handler had given me.

On the final evening we did Petra By Night, a walk through the Siq to the treasury again in the dark again, with the stars shining in the narrow sliver of sky you can see, but this time the way is lit by candle-lamps. Once we reached the treasury compound there were hundreds of lamps all over the floor, and all 3 hundred of us sat on mats, drank tea, and listened to musicians playing bedouin lute and flute. Twas a magical romantic atmosphere, I was almost tempted to ask for Rachel's hand in marriage once more. A very touristy event but being part of the crowd only adds to the experience. The best bit though was a little kitten that kept brushing up against people's backs and making them jump while everyone was trying to be silent.

Posted by rachndave 02:52 Archived in Jordan Comments (0)

Massif desert landscapes


The other big event of our Jordan adventure was a two day tour of Wadi Rum. This is the place where lots of Lawrence of Arabia was filmed and nearly every bedouin landmark has been renamed "Lawrence's something-or-other". Even some things that had nothing to do with him. Watch out for the Lawrence Theme Park in 2020 ;)

The area covers miles and miles in every direction and so the best way to see the main beauty spots it is in a 4-by-4 and there are dozens zipping about the place but it's so big you don't really notice them and there are only one or two vehicles at each site which was a relief. Depending on the sand that makes up the massifs (biiiig mountain sized rocks) you get different coloured ground sand in different spots, from red, through orange, to white. So we spent the day being driven through a vast sepia style landscape punctuated by these towering massifs all day to stop off and climb up a dune, or visit a spring, or climb over a rock bridge. We stopped off in a remote place to watch a picture perfect sunset and then were driven back to a camp in the desert to catch up with the 10 or so people who were sharing our site.

The next day we had arranged to be taken hiking so we were driven to the saudi border to walk the Kasche mountain ridge. We were trailed by four german hikers/climbers with dodgy bellies so we joined forces at lunch. Two of these young PhD students had just got engaged not two days ago at Petra by Night...we were there :) I'm glad now we decided not to hang back to the very end as advised and therefore ruin their moment :)

We left them at lunch time and were driven out to walk some dunes (cue some arty photos of wavy wind blown sands and distant massifs) and bother some roaming camels. On the way back we had some minor drama pulling a german retiree out of the sand after he'd tried to ride his huge motorbike out into the desert to camp for the night.

And I did finally get to ride on a camel at the 11th hour. I just love them. They're surprisingly affectionate and they have smiley faces and squooshy feet. When you're on top of one though you can appreciate how much of a walking desert machine they are. We felt just like the three kings on the front of a christmas card as the stars were coming out over the silhouette of the mountains behind.

I don't think the photos we took would really do the scale justice though so I think I should look for a coffee table book of Jordan when I get back.

After Dana, Petra and Wadi Rum we're feeling a bit dry round the eyes so to speak and so are looking forward to spending a few days by the Red Sea in Aqaba next.

Posted by rachndave 02:35 Archived in Jordan Tagged desert Comments (0)

The big Dana to Petra trek


Dana village is an interesting place. Jordan's "national trust" the RSCN has transformed it from a semi abandoned old farming village into a sustainable tourism destination by building a nature reserve centre and ploughing the profits back into the community and training it's inhabitants in traditional crafts and new eco production methods.

There's not much there though: three large families, 4 hotels and 48 cats. And from the dusk chorus we heard echoing round the valley every night I'd guess two dozen dogs and an orchestra of braying donkeys. It's a remote place at the very top of a long winding valley connecting the viallage with another RSCN reserve - Feynan - and all you can really hear is birdsong (during the day that is...see above)

The valleys that make up the reserve are also part of the great Rift Valley which stretches from Africa to Turkey and it was decending into this great valley which took up our first day's trekking to finish of in the wide valley floor passing only the Feynan eco lodge and a few bedouin tents on the way (stopping for tea of course). We arrived in camp, meeting our support driver and other guide Ali for more tea before making a 2 hour further round trip to walk up a stream, to become a river with increasingly large boulder stepping stones to cross on the way. We could have gone further but it was getting darjer and tea was calling back in camp. A sweet reward after 24kms of walking.

That night we slept out under the stars beside the fire on the mattresses they had brought along and even saw some shooting stars :)

Day two was very much off the beaten track and took us through vast canyons of sandstone formations carved by the wind to look like hills of giant skulls. Ali our second guide brought his beloved donkey along (nicknamed "Pause" by Dave and me because every time he stopped he didnt move a muscle as if someone had pressed pause) who struggled on a few bits: he fell down a salty crevice and had to be dug out, and at one point slid off a 2 meter drop but seeemed to be totally nonplussed and merely took it as a chance for a little sit down while we scrambled down to convince him back up. That night we arrived tired and ready for more tea but our support guys were nowhere to be seen - they had gotten their wires crossed about the meeting place. No matter - we gathered some firewood with the headtorch, made some tea at the top of a rock, gazed at the stars and waited for them to eventually turn up and start cooking a delicious bedouin speciality. We were almost a little disappointed to be recued but I'm glad we didnt have to fight for the only blanket Ali had brought with him - all our stuff was in the back of the van.

Day three, after a side trip for a refreshing shower in a waterfall, was mostly hard going desert and steep, sandy, rock strewn, yellowy hillsides with no shade and little variation and, although he didnt like to admit it, our original guide Abdul didnt really seem to know where we were at a few points :-s We finally had to stop walking up hill after hill after hill trying to get some phone signal because it was getting dark so again dave and I collected the firewood from the few scattered trees while Abdul enlisted the help of the passing Ministry of Agriculture workers who were patrolling the reserve for poachers and unauthorised campers to locate the support truck. At least we knew we could always stop with the bedouin who were only over on the next hillside. Eventually everyone was reunited and we had a delicious soup made with yoghurt all poured over bread made in the ashes of the fire.

The final day was more like the impressive skull 'n bones scenery from day 2 and took us down into an open valley leading to "Little Petra" where we had a chance to explore the tombs, stairs and meeting places carved into the sandstone. We finished the next three hours walking the ridge of sandstone cliffs to the edge of Petra itself, bantering with bedouin children along the way, and finished off the last mile or so of asphalt on the back of the support truck to a hotel and hot shower. No sleeping under the stars tonight, not for a few days at least...until Wadi Rum.

Posted by rachndave 01:59 Archived in Jordan Tagged hiking eco-tourism Comments (1)

Gearing up for the trek

Jordan really is a place for adventurers and scenery chasers and our trip is built around two big guided trips: a four day hike from Dana nature reserve to Petra, and a two day tour of Wadi Rum including a days hiking and maybe horse riding maybe some climbing.

We didn't see anything of the capital city Amman because we spent two days on computers, phones and reading the books trying to sort out the treks. Not all the time though, we spent one day while we were waiting for replies touring the desert with a group and seeing some of the random buildings out there in the middle of nowhere. One of which was Azraq fort - famous for being next to the only oasis in the whole of Jordan and written about by Laurance of Arabia: "We hurried up the stony ridge in high excitement, talking of the wars and songs and passions of the shepherd kings, with names like music who had loved this place. then the blue fort on it's rock above the rustling plams, with the fresh meadows and shining springs of water, broke on our sight" and "In the evening when we had shut-to the gate, all guests would assemble...and coffee and stories would go round until the last meal, and after it, until sleep came. On stormy nights we brought in brushwood and lit a great fire in the middle of the floor. About it would be drawn the carpets, and in it's light we would tell over our own battles, or hear the visitors' traditions. The leaping flames chased our smoke-ruffled shadows strangely about the rough stone wall behind us"

I think that's beautiful, will have to buy the book. Makes me think of the nights spent in backpackers hostels - we are all still swapping stories of battles, but with taxi drivers instead of crusaders.

Unfortunately the oasis has been all but drained to supply Amman with water and there is a road between the fort and the oasis that inspired it. Jordan is only just catcing up when it comes to the environment. Enter the RSCN (the Royal Society for te conservation of nature) think the national trust meets greenpeace with a royal charter. The own lots of big reserves and charge a premium to visit but they put all that back into protecting the environment and the societies that live in them.

One of the reserves is called Wadi Mujib and we decided to take one of the RSCN guided tours of the area which involved a small hike and then 4 hours or sosplashing down the river in the bottom of the canyon.

Transport here is stupidly expensive if you dont catch the bus and there seems to be one bus from each city a day that leaves at 6am so we used a tour as a taxi and took a hotel tour to the dead sea via some tourist sites like Jesus's baptism site (you can see Israel from there and we had a secirity guard with us) and where Moses died on mount Nebo, and stopped in the dead sea (2 adventure points for us for logistics smarts). The reserve's accommodation has it's own beach on the dead sea so we pickled ourselves for many hours playing silly buggers in the water. It really is lots of fun. And yes, we did take a magazine in with us for the classic shot. I'll not forget seeing Dave sculling out for ages with his camera on his chest so he could take a shot of the shore.

The next day's hike/canyoning was unbelievably beautiful, with swirly red/coffee coloured vertical canyons and bluey green clear water in the bottom it was like it was manufactured by Disney. We didnt take the camera because at times we were swimming through the water but you can see some examples here: http://www.jordanjubilee.com/images2/canyoning/wadimujib/xnahalarnonwithwall.jpg http://www.legend-tours.com/images/Wadi%20Al%20Mujib-T.jpg http://lh6.ggpht.com/_cyToFD-95Fo/SBU1yV2DpmI/AAAAAAAAAHM/Fj0i4OOQ9Qw/Wadi+Mujib+-+En+Route.JPG

And it was amazing fun tramping through water, sliding down rock slides and diving into pools, despite the very scary abseil down a 20m waterfall that had me wailing like a baby (i'm scared of heigts and it was reeeeeally high! 2 more self awarded adventure points for me).

From there we made our way to one of the other reserves, Dana, to chill out in the tiny village before the start of our first proper trek a few days later.

Posted by rachndave 12:55 Archived in Jordan Comments (0)

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