Sunday, September 26, 2010

Jordan Journal Day 8

I got up and met up with Wendy and Lucy to take their photos covered with mud and bobbing about in the Sea. This was at 6.30am! Then Alan came down and we waited in the Lobby as gradually everyone gathered. All too soon, we were saying goodbye and waving them off in a great big bus, as Mohammed had been called away to another job, and we couldn't say goodbye to him. The others would give Moe our gifts and say thank you from everyone when they got to the Airport. That just left Maki and ourselves, so we went and had breakfast together. She went to get ready for her flight to Amsterdam, and we got ourselves ready for another bathe. This time after the mud, we used the platform to get into the Sea, which was better. We bobbed about, making it across to the float and rope barrier to hang about for a while, then came out and after a shower for me, we lay out of the loungers to 'dry'. At 11am we went to the bar for a coffee, then upstairs for a quick shower, before seeing Maki off with Khalid who will be collecting us tomorrow.

Now we are alone after our week of being thirteen - a strange feeling as it has been such a busy and fun time. A great crowd of people to spend some time with. We are going to have dinner at the Italian restaurant tonight before our 9am start in the morning.
After a second dip in the Sea, we tidied ourselves up in readiness for another sunset, but a sea har came up and that was that, so we had a quiet half hour when A watched some golf on the TV, and I read my book. Later we descended to the Acacia Bar for a lemonade with mint and a beer before dinner. Khalid will meet us at 8am tomorrow to drive us to the airport and our flight home.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Jordan Journal Day 7

5am, just light and almost time to get up. It had been a quiet moonlit night with a few clouds, but mostly clear and quite cool towards dawn. We all started rising about 5.15, with loos and teeth cleaning, before clearing up our devastation of the camp - i.e. putting back the beds, and leaving all unnecessary stuff ready to be taken to the big camp. Moe invited us all outside (except Keith and Jenny) to settle us on camels in readiness for our safari to watch the sunrise. We clambered onto our mounts, then the camel leader encouraged the camels to rise, which nearly tipped us over their heads. Mick's camel was a huge grumbler and quite contrary, sitting down in the middle of the ride, then standing so Mick couldn't get off when we got to the sunrise spot! Before that, we swayed across the desert with the camels grabbing at the scrubby vegetation as we went by. It was so peaceful with only the odd voices breaking the quiet. We climbed up and down the dunes and as the camels were tied together in pairs, the leaders of the pairs were 'allowed' to hold the leading rein and take charge of their two camels. The Bedouin were only a stick's length away.  By nearly 6.30 we had reached a high spot and our Bedouin leader got us to dismount and sit on the sandy ground, facing a bit of a mountain. Gradually we saw the red sun appear from behind it - sunrise in this part of Wadi Rum. Photos taken, we remounted and our camels strode off in the direction of the large camp, ready for breakfast.
We left the camels and walked through a narrow pass into a valley where we found a couple of camps, one of which was the one we wanted. Here we found a Bedouin breakfast buffet awaiting us. Some herbs mixed with sesame seeds and seasoning was one of the unusuall things on offer. Moe said we should mix it with olive oil to make a sort of paste. This was very tasty on our flat bread. There were eggs and jams, too. Lucy was very keen to get to the Dead Sea hotel, and persuaded Moe that we should leave asap. So Wendy and I teased her with the story that Moe had arranged for us to visit the Museum in Amman on the way - so Lucy was resigned that it could be a while before we got there. We set off with Mohammed in the driver's seat, stopping to take a picture of the Camel road sign and again at the Midway Castle - a souvenir shop with some tourist souvenirs, but also with Dead Sea products on sale cheaper than at the hotel. A and I had coffee and a stroll about only buying a couple of PCs and some mud impregnated cream for A to try. Back in the bus and on to take a photo of the Sea Level sign nearly at the Dead Sea. By now Lucy realized we weren't going to the Museum.

We arrived at the Marriott by 1pm, but our rooms weren't ready - such frustration, but we could grab stuff out of the bags and change in the loos by the pool. As lunch was up to us, some of us went to the sports bar for a snack. This turned out to be more substantial than we anticipated - A's a chicken sandwich with fries and my waffle chips and cheese would have fed a family of four each! And all the while there was boxing on the TV and loud music! Then Moe found us and said the rooms were ready, so we found our way to reception to collect the keys and changed in our rooms before heading down to sample the delights fo the ultra salty sea. First people cover themselves with mud from a pot by the shore, then it's into the luke warm water. It was a weird experience, you just can't get your feet down, but bob about on the surface and woe betide you if you get the salty water near your eyes. We could see the 'oily' salty liquid swirling about as we moved. We propelled ourselves to the rope and floats marking the edge of our pool, using the rope to anchor ourselves so we could 'rest' without floating away. Really strange!
At last we came out and I rinsed off in the fresh water showers, and A left the salty water to dry, doing his skin lots of good. It was so hot, probably nearer 40 degrees than 35. Eventually we retired upstairs and sorted out the bags.We emptied everything out, then shook the bags out on the balcony to get rid of the sand. Time for showers etc. before going to the terrace to watch the sunset. We couldn't find any of the others, but as they are leaving tomorrow, they were all sorting out their stuff. A mint lemonade and a beer were very refreshing as we watched the sun going down and waited.

When everyone had collected, Moe was there ready to take us to the restaurant for our final dinner together - a buffet of mezze and rice and lamb or quail. Some of us tried the Jordanian wine, the reds being typical of a hot country with a raisiny taste, not at all unpleasant. We sat with Wendy and Lucy and chattered away, then Lucy mentioned that she had once had a boyfriend whose parents lived in Oman and this turned out to be people we knew fairly well - what a coincidence! Some went to peruse the desserts and Keith brought Jenny a wonderful selection of small slices of cakes and mousses - we had to have some, too. Chocolate mousse cake and fruit. There was one called Alhambra cake, with purple and yellow stripes. (too much for me!) Over tea and coffee, we all said what a great time we had had, and Lucy read us her poem about our holiday together - email addresses were swopped and promises of sharing photos were made - a Flikr page for the Jingly Janglies, the mythical group of belly dancers we have formed while staying in Petra - lead dancer Terri with Jen, Sian, Lucy, Maki and Wendy as performers - Jason as manager, Alan as costume buyer, Mick as the FD, Liz make-up. And so to bed, with the promise that A and I would see them off at 8am in the morning.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Jordan Journal Day 6

A rare lie-in as we didn't leave until 10 and thank goodness Mr Mohammed was there to drive us down to Wadi Rum. As we agreed, we were not having lunch today, so there were several surreptitious napkins full of breakfast pastries and fruit! We at last saw the end of the DVD 'Kingdom of Heaven', especially for Mick, making the journey flash by. When we got to Wadi Rum Moe checked in with the authorities and then directed Mohammed down a back road. To start with this was a single track with stone wall edges - so we were very glad no-one came the other way. Moe stopped to point out a rock that was used for the front cover of the T E Lawrence book, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. (Although Keith pointed out that it had little to do with Lawrence!) We found our way to the large camp where we would have dinner. We will sleep at a smaller place - just ourselves. All the bags were downloaded into one 'room' at the camp and we had tea in the shade. Moe explained that we would have a special Bedouin barbie, and showed us where they would be cooking it. Metal bins are buried in the ground and a wood fire is lit inside. When the flames die away trays containing meat wrapped in foil are lowered on top - lamb and chicken. Then a lid is put on and the whole is covered with earth and left for 3 hours.

But before all that we went wadi bashing in a couple of 4WD - a revolution car (Toyota pick-up) and a Mitsubishi. Wendy, Maki, Sian, Jason and we two were in the Mitsubishi. We had a splendid sunshade - we were sitting in the open back - but our seats were quite high and we could look out over the front cab. Definitely the wind in our hair as we sped along. The others sat below the cab level in the Toyota, but their sunshade wasn't as posh as ours! Away we went around the vast area of Wadi Rum. In reality we only covered a minute part of it, as there is a great agri-revolution going on in one area providing plenty of fruit and vegs for Jordan and also for export. We passed by lots of huge rock formations, and we could see plenty of scope for climbing. There were camels all over the place and long Bedouin tents. We did stop at the T E Lawrence monument - a large sandstone rock with two faces carved on it and some Arabic inscription, but not much really. Then we were off again to find the rock drawings of camels, that looked like llamas, ostriches and hunters. The next stop was on top of a sand dune and then the excitement of coming down the steep side. We gave our driver a round of applause as his van is actually not going that well and we were glad it got down in one piece - although really it's ascent that is difficult for it.
By now it was time for a cup of tea, and we arrived at a Bedouin tent where a kind man had some tea ready in an 8L kettle, simmering on the charcoal fire. We were invited to sit around and sip tea and he then gave us a waft of incense from a burner, making A and I think of Oman again, then opened some sort of perfumed block that he stroked across the back of our hands. After all this he sat by the fire and played us a tune on his special rababah and sang a song, too. It was just great. Then he got Alan to have a go with not too great results, but there was a bit of a tune.

Back to the vans and off we sped, this time to some natural arches in rocks. The first was quite high up and inaccessible, but the second one we could climb up to and walk across.. They are quite beautiful. Near the top we found some lilac coloured rock - another colour to add to the greens, pinks, blue-blacks, yellows and whites seen so far. We then drove to a place where we could see how the Bedouin collect water. There is an underground cistern where water collects naturally, but the Bedouins have put in several channels to collect water off the surrounding rocks and direct it into the cistern. This lasts them until the next rains.
We were meant to stay out to watch the sunset before dinner, but the day was very hazy and cloud had formed to cover the sun - no desert sunset for us, so Moe suggested we go back to camp have some drinks and put our feet up. This we did and then some had showers before dinner. We watched the unveiling of the barbecue, then grabbed some seats in the open where there was a little breeze and queued up with various other parties to collect our meals. The meat was very tender and there were the usual salads to go with it. There was also some entertainment from a 'lute' player and a drummer. When the Belgium woman got up and started belly dancing, we decided it was time to head for our own place and an early-ish night. When we got there, there were cups of tea all round, some photos of the moon and then, having dragged the beds out into the open area to catch the breeze, we all lay down for a short night's rest.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Jordan Journal Day 5

A repeat of yesterday saw us walking into Petra at 7am. It was quiet again but today the sky was clear blue and the sun already hot. We went straight to the Royal Tombs and spent some time looking around that area, then we walked across and down the hillside - a route that brought us across a bridge over a ravine. We were now by the Byzantine church with the mosaics and we walked to the Lion Triclinium where the 'face' came from. The 'face' is a carved plaque with a surprisingly modern-looking design. We only found a couple of lizards basking on the wall.

We went down to find the museum behind the restaurant and met Keith making his way up to the Mosaics and then he was going to climb up to the Monastery. We found the little museum, with various artefacts on display (including elephant heads on top of a pillar), but no 'face' so Alan asked one of the attendents and we discovered that it has been moved to the Archaelogical Museum in Amman. When we came out again, we stopped for a cup of tea before walking all the way out. The crowds were building and outside the Treasury it was very busy.  We were very hot, but we decided to have a coffee in the Burkhardt Cafe in the atrium of the hotel. Burkhardt was the Swiss explorer who set off in March 1809 for Syria where he perfected his  knowledge of the local Arabic dialect. Then he ventured forth along ancient trade routes, travelling as a Moorish trader, Ibrahin ibn Abdullah. In 1812, he took a detour from the proscribed route, much to the concern of his Bedouin guide, to Wadi Musa and the rest, as they say, is history. At midday we all met to join Moe on the bus to go to Little Petra. Our bus and Mr Mohammed our excellent driver, was held up in Aqaba by the dust storm, so we had another and the driver drove hell for leather over a roller coaster road - a bit sick making!

At Little Petra we walked into the area and found a stone room to sit in the shade and have a sandwich. Then we walked through the area and up some stone steps through a ravine. At the other side  there was a Bedouin stall with the usual crafts for sale and we walked to the viewpoint at the end. Here an old woman was spinning camel hair by hand so I had a go and it was quite difficult. Little Petra is thought to be the last stopping place before travellers entered Petra, itself. Then it was back to the bus and to the hotel where we had a couple of hours to take it easy before dinner at 6.30. We just had mezze with mint lemonade and a little baclava to finish. We walked down to the Petra entrance ready for our candlelit walk to the Treasury. This was magical, with the rocks glowing pink in the candlelight. We were seated on mats on the sand and the whole area was lit by candles in paperbags. When the several hundred people were seated the concert began - a man played a tune on the stringed instrument, the rababah, then another played a piece on the short flute. When this was over, another man introduced the players and their music and told us quite a complicated story; and that was it - time to leave. All the while our companions were experimenting with new found skills with their cameras and they were getting some great results. What fun that they were willing to turn off the flash and auto settings and have a go. We will try more experiments with the moon and stars in Wadi Rum, tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Jordan Journal Day 4

We met Moe at 6.45 and as we were about to start a huge storm blew up whipping sand and rain across the hotel car park. It reminded us of the shamal we experienced in Oman way back in the early '80s, although that wasn't accompanied by any rain. Nevertheless we were  already walking towards The Siq by 7. It was quiet and we had plenty of time for pics. Even when we reached the famous view of the Treasury through the rocks, we had little 'interference' from tourist crowds. That view was all we had expected and it was amazing to have reached Petra at last. Everywhere we looked there are monuments carved from and into the rock. It is a wonderfully warm pink that must glow in the sun  but it was not shining. The sand stone has many different colours and one of the first stops was at a stall that made sand sculptures in bottles. The man showed us how he drew a camel from black sand in the bottle - very clever.

Then it was time for us to begin our climb up to the High Place of Sacrifice, 200m up the Jebel al Madhbah.This is up 300 steps, which we took at a steady rate and soon reached the top with stupendous views. It is thought that the Nabateans inherited this place from the Edomites and could well be the oldest cultic site in Petra. As we climbed we had to keep stopping to let people go by on donkeys - cheats!
We all assembled at the viewpoint and Moe pointed out the urn on top of the Monastery that we will visit this afternoon. It is facing away from this position, as just the urn is visible peaking above the surrounding rocks, but it must be huge. Moe lead us up the rocks to the actual place where sacrifices took place and on the way we spotted an amazing creature - a sort of spotty yellow grasshopper-type animal. Then we started down again by the Wadi Farasa route passing some fantastic rocks as well as seeing some more tombs, and being passed by donkeys picking their way precipitously down the steep steps.On this route we came across the Lion monument or fountain, with the rock wall stained by the waterfall and the remains of the lion - now minus head - carved into the rock. Moe explained that the water gushed out of the Lion's mouth when the 'fountain' was complete.We stopped by an old lady's coffee/tea stand for tea with mint before continuing down eventually coming to an area where they were doing excavation. They clear as much as they can, cataloguing all they find, then backfill as this is in the main pathway. Their 'dig' lasted three weeks. Our route brought us down to the main road through the middle of Petra and we made for the second bridge to the cafe where we stopped for sandwiches and drinks.

After lunch we began the climb up to the Monastery. This is another 800 steps and Moe, who was not joining us, said that it should take about 45 mins to an hour. The 'younger' ones headed off at a pace. Mick the Irish chap has his birthday (42) today and he is a super fit guy. He was challenged by some of the others including his wife to go up fast and they were at the monastery in 25 mins. Alan and I were joined by Wendy and made it in a sedate 40 mins. Another amazing monument and we climbed up the hillside facing it to a viewpoint with a great view of the Monastery as well as over the other side to the plain around the Jordan valley and into Israel. The Monastery, ad Dayr, has the largest façade in Petra being 45m x 50m, with its columns and urn - very impressive.
We then started down slowly, and the others sped off to another viewpoint. They caught us up about 2/3rds of the way down, almost running passed us. They practically raced up another side road, and then came passed us again, but we were pretty much at the bottom by now. Alan and I had decided to go and look at the mosaics in the Byzantine church, and branched off to the left and up the hill. The others had taken the main path through the middle. When they saw us, they turned round and came to catch us up again as they too wanted to see the mosaics. There was thunder rattling around the hills and there were dark clouds looming behind some. The mosaics were lovely and when we came out from seeing them the thunder was getting louder.

We hurried down the hill and the others were well ahead of us - we thought Mick was looking for a beer! So we decided to take a quick look at the amphitheatre, only all of a sudden the storm broke and the wind drove the rain across the site. We sheltered behind a rock, while the people on the other side were able to shelter in some caves. When the wind dropped we began to get very wet, but it eased to a drizzle and we went to look at the amphitheatre and then joined the crowds who were leaving. Many horses and camels were carrying people back to the Treasury in the middle of the crowds. It was busy now - people leaving as well as some just arriving and there were also calêches charging through the middle carrying people in and out - far to fast through the throngs of people.
We got back to the hotel by about 4.30 and took welcome showers. We were meant to meet Moe to go and watch the sunset over Petra, but that wasn't on with the weather, so we all met in the Lobby lounge for a beer before dinner at 7. Moe had found a great place for mezze followed by lamb and rice, then a birthday cake for Mick, and fruit. It was a very jolly gathering. They have all gone up to the Roof Garden for more beers, but we have decided to retire - tired after a busy day!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Jordan Journal Day 3

We were up early for showers before breakfast. These are communal, so we got in before the rush. We sat on the veranda and watched the bulbuls waking up. There were also rock sparrows, rock doves, chukar, cragswifts, swallows and a blue bird that one of the guides thought could be a blue rock thrush - one to look up. Breakfast was a weird mixture for us - olives, cream, salad, salty curd cheese, fig jam, boiled eggs, flat bread and then came the chips! Luckily there was some tasty herb tea (Thyme) as well as Nescafe with powdered milk. We soon met our guide Malek who took us on a tour around the area around the village of Dana including the gardens where they grow many good food plants. We also saw a flock of grackles swooping over. Malek pointed out walnut trees, pomegranate, pistachios with tiny berry-like nuts, figs. All is irrigated with a falaj system using water from a spring high up the rock walls of the canyon. Malek pointed out the basaltic columns topping the high cliff, proof that the sedimentary rock of the early geological periods was later covered by volcanic rock - in the Cambrian (?). The village is now inhabited by a few older couples, but most people have moved to the new village a little up the hill, or to the towns where they can get work. There is a plan to make the village into a sort of theme hotel, with people staying in renovated traditional houses as their room with other buildings being cafes, restaurants, shops. The villagers could borrow money for the necessary change, needing to pay back half when they started making profit. It would be the Swiss lending the money for this.

When we had completed our circuit Malek took us into the Dana Hotel for tea and several men who were staying there came through to our covered terrace and gave us a recital of Jordanian music. The 'top' man was head of Radio in Jordan and was holding a workshop over the hill, but staying in Dana. With him were a singer and a lute player from the Jordanian Army music school. Another two men tagged along with them, too. It was great fun and we had a special welcome from the top guy while we drank sweet tea and listened to the Jordanian songs being played. They even played 'Happy Birthday' for Mick who is 42 tomorrow. But at last everyone had to leave, and we walked back to the Guest house for more tea and a 'plan' talk from Mo. We should get ready to leave and then come back to the terrace for a picnic lunch; more binos on birds in the meantime with all the usual suspects. After lunch we had to drive to Petra. We went via Shawbak Castle - a ruin on a stand alone hill in a very sandy desert area. It is also known as Montreal and was constructed by Baldwin I in 115. It was eventually taken over by the Mamlukes. We stopped first on one side and then on the other, to look across the valley at the castle. At our second stop we had a little search for fossils in the roadside bank - not much to be seen but then A looked up over the rocky wall and saw some Autumn Crocus. Climbing up to their level we found a whole load more. 


 Then we were back in the bus heading for Petra with the rest of the film to see. This didn't quite end before we arrived at Movenpick Hotel much to the watchers frustration as they had seen most of what was shown today, the day before! We checked in and went up to our room - very pleasant. After showers and changing we went down to the lobby for postcards, then coffee and cake; but we found that the cappuccino place didn't serve cake and the cake café didn't serve cappuccino, so we had to buy the cake and carry it on plastic plates with plastic forks in to the other café for coffee. This is a 5 star hotel!! After writing PCs we went right to the top where there is a roof garden where we met up with the others and sat with a beer watching the sunset. The day was rounded off with salads and pizza in the Red Cave Pizza restaurant. Very relaxing - even a donkey strolled by as we sat outside by the road - there were some very 'fumy' moments. We are to have breakfast early again and be ready for the off by 6.45 to try and beat the crowds walking the Siq into the Petra site.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Jordan Journal Day 2

After our move of rooms, we slept OK and got to breakfast at peak time - no bowls, no places to sit, no tea cups. It was bedlam. We did find some seats as a couple were just leaving, so we sat at the dirty table! No-one came to clean it, so we had to ask for cutlery and napkins. What a shambles!
Soon we were on the road, leaving Amman behind and heading south for Mt Nebo (Jabal Siyagha). Mo must have had a long night discussing politics as he almost harangued us with political views for a while on the bus – all in the name of giving us some background in to Jordanian life.
The story of Mt Nebo is that Moses stood here and looked into the Promised Land. He never managed to cross to the west bank, but died and was buried somewhere near by, but no one seems to know where – not even in the Old Testament. There is a brotherhood of Franciscan monks living here and they are building a new church over the site of the Byzantine one, which has a remarkable mosaic floor. We saw one of the floors in a special tent, but the best one is under the construction. It will be preserved and able to be seen when the construction is completed. They depict extravagant beasts, twirling leaves and flowers with twisting borders. At the top of the hill we looked across into the Promised Land and glimpsed the very top end of the Dead Sea. Jerusalem is a mere 26km away, but it was too hazy to see the city. There is a cross with a snake coiled around it here, too.


Then we were back in the bus and off to Madaba. This is a very tolerant place with churches and mosques next to each other, rubbing along peaceably. It has been a centre for mosaic making since the Byzantine era. We visited the church of St. George which also has a mosaic floor. This time it is a depiction of the world at the time the mosaic was made, with the river Jordan flowing across it joining the north of Jordan to the Mediterranean. You can pick out several towns including Madaba and Jerusalem; also the Nile Delta, the Dead Sea and more. We walked back to the bus through the town and saw people making mosaic plaques in some workshop/shops. A couple of the party bought some.

Mo had a good place planned for lunch - a sort of Bedouin tent overlooking the impressive Grand Canyon of Jordan (Wadi al Mujib). With a dam at one end, a lake has formed, trapping the winter run off water before it flows into the Dead Sea, thus saving lots of water for drinking and irrigation for which the country is desperate. A and I shared a sandwich, crisps, cucumber and a tomato. There was a rather revolting chocolate roll for pud and a banana. Then the man brought us tea, which was made with sage, cardamom, cinnamon and a fresh mint leaf. Very refreshing.
But we soon had to be off again to see the Crusader Castle of Karak. Driving through the impressive countryside, we stopped to take pics of the views, and saw some bee-eaters, swifts, swallows and a griffin vulture. I also think I saw a kestrel, but others were sceptical.
Karak Castle is huge, taking up a whole hillside! It commanded the whole access from South to North, so was very strategic. Although it was originally a Crusader place, the Mamlukes who came later, built over the cruder Crusader construction. Apparently, Saladin besieged the fortress twice in 1183 and 1184. King Baldwin IV relieved these sieges by marching from Jerusalem, but in 1189 Karak fell and the Crusaders left. We walked through various rooms, including the kitchens area, then we came out at the top and took in the view. Mo told us that they can get quite a lot of snow this high up, and one year the amount of snow brought down part of the wall which has had to be rebuilt.

 As we now had about three hours to drive, when we got back to the bus Mo put on a DVD that played on a flip down screen by the driver. This was the film Kingdom of Heaven with various film stars playing Crusaders and Saladin and their armies in the story of Karak Castle. But the landscape was more interesting and quite a lot of snoozing went on. Unfortunately for those watching, we arrived before the end of the film.

We arrived at Dana Guesthouse in time for a lovely sunset. Before the sun disappeared we saw some chukar, Alectoris chukar, (partridge type birds), bulbuls, an icterine warbler, Hippolais icterina, lots of swifts (crag swifts), swallows, another kestrel, all with the help of a knowledgeable guide from the Guesthouse. The sun sank away leaving a crimson/purple afterglow, and the moon had risen behind us. Quick showers in the communal bathrooms were taken and then upstairs for a buffet supper ending with sweet tea and cake. I had a go at taking moonlit landscape pics of the vista falling away from the back of the guest house. I also got in a couple of the moon itself.