Sue and Martin above Zermatt - 2018

Sue and Martin above Zermatt - 2018
Showing posts with label Jordan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jordan. Show all posts

Thursday, 28 August 2008


One of the pleasures of returning to civilisation is catching up with Podcast Bob's output on the Outdoors Station.

But it was Andy Howell who had the pleasure of interviewing Tony Howard and Di Taylor, who have contributed regular articles about their adventures in Jordan in Adventure Travel magazine.

As the podcast explains, Tony and Di have been climbing and trekking in the mountains of North Africa and the Middle East for well over 30 years. In 1984 they discovered the climbing and trekking area of Wadi Rum, and wrote the guidebooks to that area. They return to Jordan every year and their discoveries reveal an unexpected land of forested hills, dales carpeted in flowers, huge canyons sometimes with fast-flowing rivers, caves, perfect limestone cliffs in wooded valleys and high mountains with lunar landscapes. This is the country of world famous sites of antiquity such as Petra, Pella, Ajlun and Kerak.

We had the pleasure of visiting the area for a week in November 2007. Here's a link to the blog label for that trip (finishing with this entry - you'll need to go to the bottom of the page to view the entries chronologically).

A really interesting destination. We would like to go again - our trip was really just a 'taster'.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Jordan Slideshow - 'Happy Holidays'

I have uploaded about 120 snaps to a Photobox album, with invitations to those on the Jordan trip, insofar as I have their details, and a handful of others who I know may be interested. If you have not received an invitation, and you would like to view these photos, please let me know and I'll add you to the list.
....Happy Holidays

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Saturday 24 November 2007 - Run From The Sun

We said goodbye to Julie, who flies back to Canada tomorrow, before embarking on an uneventful journey to Heathrow on Royal Jordanian Airways’ newly refurbished Airbus A321. More goodbyes, a long wait in the cold for a bus to return six of us to Purple Parking, then an easy drive home.
And now to write up the trip. Perhaps a bit more quickly than usual due to the discipline required to keep the blog up to date, but I still expect to take a couple of weeks to catch up. So this is the last Postcard from Jordan, taken near Petra, courtesy of Sue and Phil, featuring L to R: Vicky, Sue, Phil, Martin, Sue (front), Julia and Martin.

For anyone interested, the cost of this trip for the two of us was:
Explore fees 1,780
Local Payment 125
Parking 52
Fuel from Manchester 40
Camel Ride 40
Turkish Bath 28
Meals and Drinks 80
Tips 55
Sundries and presents 40
TOTAL £2,240

This compares with £400 for my recent week in Madeira.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Friday 23 November 2007 - A Roman Outpost, and a Floating Experience

For a change, I didn’t sleep well, perhaps due to the noise outside and the scratchy sheets, and some stomach pain that a Cipro tablet sorted out.
We were up at 7 am for the hotel breakfast – not much for me. Sue is a bit chirpier today, so that’s good.
Mahmoud had us setting off as usual at 8 am, in a different ‘Rum Tourism’ bus today with a friendly driver (not to say that the one who went to sleep wasn’t friendly!). A 1½ hour drive from Madaba saw us at Jerash (or is it Jarash?), a few miles north of Amman. This is apparently the largest Roman site outside Italy. The brochure advertises ‘Take a Walk Through History’, and what a walk that was. Entering through the massive arch built for Hadrian to commemorate his visit to this edge of his Empire in 129 AD, we strolled past the Hippodrome. Men dressed as Romans were readying themselves for a chariot racing re-enactment around this 245 x 52 metre arena that could seat some 15,000 spectators. Only after this are the City Walls reached at the South Gate. Soon a 90 x 80 metre oval plaza leads to the colonnaded street (shown above) that runs NNE for some 800 metres. This was the main shopping street, with broad pavements, shops, and an underground sewage system.
Half way along this street on the left are stairs leading up to a Byzantine church, now known as the Cathedral, above which lies the Church of Saint Theodore, built around 496 AD. Here there are huge pillars that rock when pushed! We tried it – scary! Higher up are the remains of more churches, and another once magnificent mosaic floor comprising seasonal images and flora and fauna.
A path took us above the site, with good views over modern Jerash, to the South Theatre.
The 3000 seat auditorium has been soundly reconstructed and is still in use. The remarkable acoustics allow a speaker at the centre of the orchestra floor to be heard by the whole auditorium without raising his voice. We enjoyed magnificent views over the whole site from the top row of seats, whilst being deafened by the incongruous sound of some badly tuned local bagpipes attempting ‘Scotland the Brave’ and other tourist favourites.
We could have lingered here all day (once the bagpipes stopped), but “Yallah” – ‘Come on’ urged Mahmoud, coaxing us back into the bus. Not even Phil and Sue’s bid for freedom lasted long, as they were finally tracked down and brought to heel (those who know Phil will realise how difficult that can be, especially when distracted by the large lizards that were sunbathing nearby!).
Then we went to the Dead Sea for a swim (no photos I’m afraid – the camera was left in the bus). It was a tad salty. 30% salt actually. Normal seawater is about 4% salt. Trying to swim breaststroke was a little awkward as your legs wouldn’t stay in the water. I got salt in my eyes trying this – not very pleasant. Much to the amusement of those on the shore, Sue organised some synchronised swimming which ended with both arms and both legs raised high in the air – a position that was not really very stable! You could relax here with a newspaper, as if sitting in a salty liquid deckchair.
The sea was quite warm, though Sue W didn’t find it so; she stood forlornly half in-half out until finally giving up.
On returning to the shower room it was difficult to remove all the salt – some of our eyes and other bits will be stinging for days! We adjourned ‘poolside’, where loud disco music and gyrating locals rather spoilt the ambience for everyone else. We had to move away just to be able to speak with each other. It is about 400 metres below normal ‘sea level’ here, probably the lowest that most of us have ever been. The city of Jericho can be seen not far away.
The holiday was now drawing to its conclusion, and we finally got the ‘shopping experience’ some may have been yearning for. And so, on the way back to Amman, we pulled up alongside many more tourist coaches to an emporium of mainly tacky goods. (Perhaps I’m biased; I’m just not interested in combining shopping with travelling.) The bath salts from the Dead Sea did attract custom from some – on the grounds they would be ‘original’ presents, but on return home Sue noticed that these were cheaper in Boots!
After taking advantage of the full-size bath sported by our room in the Toledo Hotel, we assembled for anaesthetic in the hotel bar in an effort to dull our senses in anticipation of the white-knuckle taxi ride across Amman to the Windmill Restaurant (actually Tawaheen Al-Hawa Restaurant – but it had a windmill outside). More beer? Wine? No chance, this was Mahmoud’s choice of restaurant, another fixed price (D15 this time) meal that actually makes sorting out the bill much easier. There were some locals as well as quite a number of tourist groups at this place, and I have to say, the food was excellent. Numerous salads to start, and some kebab style bits of meat, including delicious small sausages. Then a mixed grill comprising various different meats, all washed down with a delicious minted lemon drink.
A collection had been made and Phil presented Mahmoud with his guide’s tip, as is traditional on this sort of tour – around £150 – not bad for his week’s efforts. We had already provided $450 between us for the other helpers’ tips, so I think we put an acceptable sum into the Jordanian economy in tips alone.
Soon we were heading back across Amman in another fleet of the battered yellow white-knuckle death traps known locally as taxis, flying past millionaires’ houses with ostentatious gold door furniture, towards the Toledo, pausing only to ask the way before further flaying of the suspension on the ubiquitous and very necessary speed bumps.
The antidote…more beer, whilst we said final goodbyes to Mahmoud, who is heading back to Petra either tonight or on a very early bus tomorrow.

Thursday 22 November 2007 - Castles and Mosaics

On Tuesday we met Marguerite van Geldermalsen, a New Zealander of Dutch parentage, who married a Bedouin following an unlikely holiday romance in 1978. She brought up her children in the family cave in Petra. Only a handful of people still live in the caves, and Marguerite has recently written about her experiences. Now widowed, she has moved with the times, and even has her own web site! Her book promises to be a good read.
It was another cool morning, but everyone must have had more than enough sleep as we were up from this last night’s camping before 7 am. Luckily for Sue, it was to be a sightseeing day, with loos never far away. A bus picked us up from camp for the 3 hour journey along the ‘beautifully scenic’ King’s Highway to Karak. Unfortunately low cloud obscured the views, so we resorted to the faster ‘Desert Highway’. On the way the driver of the old Toyota bus fell asleep. Luckily he was ‘under observation’, and a yell went up from a number of people who had been watching his sagging eyelids through the rear view mirror. And so we made it to Karak, where a Crusader castle built in the C12th, as its Wikipedia entry explains…”extends over the southern part of the plateau. It is a notable example of Crusader architecture, a mixture of European, Byzantine, and Arab designs. Its walls are strengthened with rectangular projecting towers, long stone vaulted galleries are lighted only by narrow slits, and it contains a deep moat from the west which completely isolates the site.”
The castle is famous for withstanding sieges, but was finally captured by Saladin in 1189. Its fortifications were largely destroyed much later, around 1840, but recently there has been much restoration work, and a new museum opened in 2004.
Mahmoud, the archaeologist, guided us around the castle in cool, wet weather. It was an excellent structure, with 3 storeys and wide tunnels; a shame that we didn’t have time for a full exploration.

After adjourning to the pleasantly heated museum, it was soon time to re-board the bus and fight our way around the narrow, double parked, hilly streets of Karak. This is a fertile area, with lots of grocery shops, and, as can be seen from the coach window, a selection of goats – still with heads and long ears, with their organs hanging next to them!

It was about two hours to Madaba, on the way to which we crossed Wadi Jubim, a 600 metre deep valley with a new reservoir at the bottom. We stopped at a viewpoint where the usual 1 Dinar stalls were abundant, this time selling bits of local rock, and it was strange to see a river (to the left of this picture) in the arid landscape. [The sellers of baubles were never obtrusive and were easy to deter – reluctantly, as these people were so friendly.]

Madaba is famous for its mosaics, and we headed straight for the mosaic map found in the Greek Orthodox Church of St George, built in 1884 over the remains of a Byzantine Church. The map focuses on Jerusalem with its colonnaded main street, and has 157 captions written in Greek. It dates to around 560 AD and originally measured some 16 x 6 metres and comprised over 2 million bits of rock. The Dead Sea is shown, as well as fish escaping its salty waters by swimming up the river Jordan. We strolled back to the bus down damp streets, occasionally pausing for those enticed by shops, which this trip has (thankfully) rarely encountered.
Next, a short drive to Mount Nebo, where Moses reputedly died. There is a memorial church housing more exceptional mosaics, and the view past the Brazen Serpent monument over the Rift Valley to Jerusalem and Jericho, with the River Jordan and the Dead Sea, was lovely in the sunset light. Mahmoud admitted he had never seen it so clear – the rain had literally washed away the haze.
Our final stop of the day was at a mosaic workshop, where we were shown how the pieces of rock are glued face down onto pieces of cloth on which patterns have been drawn. The borders are created first, then the inside of the figures and finally the ‘filling’ and edges. Then the fabric is turned upside down and set in a bed of grout, after which the fabric is removed and the glue washed off to reveal the pristine shiny rock surfaces below.
The workshop visit was designed to lure us into the adjoining shop, and whilst some of the garden furniture with mosaic tables was very nice, it was extremely expensive (up to £6,000), so nobody committed themselves.
We then adjourned to the Mariam Hotel, where the bath was pleasant but very short, and the D7 set meal brought a few complaints from those who wanted to go a la carte. It was Mahmoud’s first night with us for a while, as he had spent the last two nights with his family in Petra, and he didn’t show any interest in Sandra, Sally and Katie’s requests. In the end Sally got her pasta and chips! And Sally and Katie prevailed upon some Aussies to order them burgers. Nothing was particularly appetising, and the veg was cold. Sue (fasting) didn’t miss much.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Wednesday 21 November 2007 - The Petra Experience

Back to the 7 am reveille, breakfast of pitta bread, jam, cheese, eggs, halva, spices with olive oil, mixed veg, and very sweet tea or coffee, then away by 8 am along a surprisingly entertaining path which at times resembled the Lower Cycle Track (aka Sentiero Osvaldo Orsi) in the Brenta Dolomites above Molveno.
Views stretched out west towards Wadi Araba and the Dead Sea, with the Mediterranean beyond that. But it was cloudy, so we couldn’t actually really see as far as Israel. Goats adorned the hillsides with their Bedouin minders. Some of our party found the path a bit hard, but the rock was firm and Mahmoud helped where necessary. On one of the ledges some enterprising folk, no doubt primed by Mahmoud, had set up a mobile ‘café’ where tea was supplied for 1 Dinar (70 pence).
After about three hours we emerged at Ad-Deir, the Monastery (pictured above), another massive edifice carved into the rock. We clambered inside to explore the 8 metre cube (not much to see there) before heading into the hustle and bustle of modern day Petra – a tourist trap par excellence. It’s supposedly 900 steps down to the main street, but we didn’t count; we were too busy dodging donkeys hauling overweight tourists up the hill, or rushing down to collect more.
Once down, we were allowed a few hours of ‘free time’. Some of us gravitated for lunch on the steps of the only freestanding building in Petra to have survived over 2000 years of earthquakes and floods, the massive Qasr al-Bint temple. Then we visited the recently restored church, where papyrus scrolls from ancient times have been found. It is covered by a tent structure supported by six columns, to protect an ancient mosaic. On Sue’s previous visit 10 years ago this church had hardly been discovered.
By the time we reached the Royal Tombs, which form the eastern boundary of the site, it was a very hot afternoon. We admired the wonderful, if seriously eroded, facades, before embarking on the first of many dashes to the loo for Sue during the course of the next two days.
We saw doves, rose finches, mourning wheatears, winter wrens, etc.
The time flew past, and after a visit to see artefacts in the new museum we reconvened at 2.30 for the stroll back up to camp by a different route to the top, then via an ancient wine press and a reservoir that we had passed on the way down. We were accompanied by the 10 year old son of Mahmoud’s brother-in-law. Allah stuck it out all the way to camp, where his persistence bore fruit and he did a good trade in postcards. Even this 10 year old was happy to accept payment in £, $ or €, as well as Dinars, as was our general experience in Jordan.
Very little beer was consumed tonight due to a bout of loose bowels, but after chicken and rice with the usual accompaniments we did manage to consume all the sweets on offer, and over half of us managed to sustain our battle against the smoke until well after 8 pm, a big improvement on last night!
You could spend many days exploring Petra, so our visit was definitely in the ‘taster’ category - nevertheless very worthwhile; it’s a fascinating place.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Tuesday 20 November 2007 - A Camel Ride

Knowing it was a 5 am start (so much for the ‘routine’ I explained yesterday!), we were awake at 4.45! Only as we were getting dressed did it get light. After we’d quickly breakfasted and packed our bags, the camels arrived at camp. 13 out of the 15 of us then had a couple of hours of fun riding around the mountain we were camped next to, about 5 km back to the road. David and Barbara walked beside us but were pretty knackered by the end as the camels’ stride pattern was longer than theirs! The camels came in various sizes and a couple were white. Some of my preconceptions were found to be wrong. None of them spat at us and their breath was no worse than most other animals I’ve come across. They were in fact rather furry and cute! The padded saddles were comfy and had wooden posts to hang onto and hang your rucksack on; the posts were particularly needed when the camel got up or sat down. The morning was cloudy, with a cool wind.
We joined another private bus after reaching the road. This took us to Petra in about 2 hours. A stop to buy fresh (unwashed) dates may in retrospect have been a mistake, but they were recommended by Mahmoud and were indeed delicious.
Next, a Turkish Bath, opened specially for our group, to most effectively remove the accumulation of dirt from Wadi Rum! Phil, Martin and I went in one way, and seven of the women went the other way. We had one masseur and they had three, but first we steamed, initially quite pleasantly, but as the room hotted up we could hardly see beyond the ends of our arms. It was a relief to gain the respite of a cool marble bench before exfoliation with a rough mitt of the type used to clean the average bath. The masseurs proudly showed us all the grime and dead skin they were removing. I’d never before experienced this, but it was really quite pleasant, as was the subsequent soaping, massage front and back, and massaging hair wash.
After a final showering down it was time to be wrapped in towels and re-hydrate with sweet tea in an ante room.
And so to Petra, a dusty place. Mahmoud got us tickets, as always, using the $120 “local currency” we had each given him at the start of the trip. Then just beyond the entrance we enjoyed a picnic lunch before proceeding down the Siq – the narrow gorge that leads to the ancient city built into the rock some 2200 years ago by the Nabataeans. I won’t bore you with the full history here, but as usual Wikipedia has an informative summary.
We continued down the Siq, with the remains of ancient water conduits on either side, and under an impressive collapsed arch. There were carvings of camels being led up and down the Siq, in the rocks of the gorge. Finally, after 1200 metres, we arrived at the stunning highlight of Petra, the Treasury – a 1st Century BC tomb some 43 metres high, carved into the rock.

In its heyday on a main trade route, the city ‘housed’ some 30,000 people, but later changes in trade routes, and devastating earthquakes, led to its gradual decline. The site was unknown to Europeans after the Middle Ages before being discovered by a Swiss traveller in 1812. Beyond the Treasury are a 4000 seat amphitheatre and a recently excavated colonnaded street. Over hundreds of years nearly all the city’s free standing buildings have been destroyed, and flash floods have resulted in the whole area being covered in deep rubble. Archaeologist Mahmoud believes 90% of the remains of the city remain uncovered.
After this brief introduction to Petra we enjoyed a two hour walk, in the company of pigeons and crows, up a side valley to our new camp. The route passed through a narrow defile with the remains of a high wall. This would have been a pedestrian entrance to the city, camel trains entering and exiting via the Siq.
It was good to relax in our spot sheltered from the cool wind after our long and packed day.
We have a long Bedouin tent as a bedroom, and a second tent split half into the kitchen and half into our dining area. The dining area has mats around the edge with mattresses on top, and a fire in the middle – where a huge juniper log burns smokily in a metal drum buried in the sand. This makes our eyes water somewhat, even after creating a ‘window’ using giant needles. Dinner was soup, then rice and very tender lamb, veg, etc, and the usual ‘Greek-style’ sweets with nuts and honey, to conclude.
Sue headed for bed at 7.15 due to the smoke, whilst four of us stuck it out until 8 pm. For some, blankets were welcome tonight.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Monday 19 November 2007 - Blistering Sand at Wadi Rum

The routine for the rest of the week:
Get up at 7 am, breakfast, leave at 8 am, day’s activities, evening meal at 6.30 – 7 pm.
This is TE Lawrence country. The Seven Pillars of Wisdom are nearby but sadly are not on our itinerary. I know very little about Lawrence (no more than is in the above link), but I do associate this area with Tony Howard and Di Taylor, whose many articles in Adventure Travel and other magazines I have enjoyed reading over the years. Interestingly, under their ‘n.o.m.a.d.s.’ (New Opportunities for Mountaineering Adventure and Desert Sports) banner, Tony and Di have produced the flier that Mahmoud handed to us last night. Here’s the map of the area. We are camped just north east of the Alameh Inscriptions at point 7.
We left for our desert walk at 8.15, having been told by Mahmood to wear boots. For me, this was not good, but I’ll report on that ‘gear’ issue next week.
The ancient inscriptions were admired, then we headed across the wide expanse of sand to a narrow canyon to the east of a high summit, Um Ishrin (we are at about 1000 metres, the summits are around 1700 metres). Then back across the wider canyon, past the camp at the northern tip of Anfashieh, before lunch in the shade to the east of that mountain. It was basically a plod through squidgy sand, guided by Mahmoud who strolled ahead like the Pied Piper of Hamlyn. He is bored after a season of doing the same trip. We have been allowed to wear ‘t-shirts and t-trousers’ today (one has to be careful about such things in these parts) and given 30C+ temperatures that’s a good thing.
There are lots of sea onion plants, small lizards, blackbirds (Tristram’s Grackle), Desert Larks, Rose Finches, the black and white Mourning Wheatear, African Rock Martins, Kestrels and Buzzards. I’ve since discovered that Mahmoud didn’t really know about the birds, many of which he referred to as ‘Flycatchers’. Whilst that may be what they do, it is inaccurate nomenclature. I’m really impressed by this account by Duncan Dine, who spotted 147 species of birds on his trip to Jordan in October 2005!
We also came across a selection of beetles, including the curiously long-legged Blaps Beetle. There are apparently several types of scorpion, long-legged gerbils, etc, rarely seen during the day. For those of us who later required nocturnal wanderings, the noises from the desert indicated much activity out there in the moonlight.
From the lunch spot it was a two hour plod north, back past the Inscriptions to reach camp at about 3 pm, giving us our first proper relaxation time of the trip, before dinner under the overhang – pitta bread, tomatoes, cucumber, vegetables, houmous, meat and rice – the fare that became usual for the trip. All this is eaten with a spoon, there being no other cutlery. Sue and I bragged about our ‘folding sporks’, recently acquired for forthcoming backpacking trips.
We walked for about 5 hours today, covering around 10 km.
Sunset wasn’t quite as good as last night’s; the moon was up, and Sue and I enjoyed another deep sleep despite the desert noises (a fox was seen in camp).
This is not a remote place. We are on the edge of the Wadi Rum area, and jeep tracks criss-cross the desert where we have been walking. There are locals out with camels (and accompanying tourists) and more tourists pass nearby in the back of open jeeps on their brief tours before they return to the Fleshpots of Rum Village, for belly dancing and boozing.
We also get beer, at £2 a can.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Sunday 18 November 2007 - The Desert Highway to Wadi Rum

Here’s a map of where we are going on this trip:

We rose to a clear blue sky at 8am and breakfasted with the group in the hotel restaurant, where we met Julie. She is the 15th member of the group and has been working as an anaesthetist in Amman hospitals for a charity for a couple of weeks before coming on this tour. I never cease to be amazed by the generosity of people who donate their valuable free time to charitable activities such as this. Julie is one of two non-British members of the group and hails from Halifax, Nova Scotia.
The rest of the group comprises a mix of Brits, and a Belgian called Barbara, who seems as English as most of us and is married to David.
So we are:
Callum Hord Martin and Sue the Dishy Pharmacist.
Accountant Phil and Sue who works for the YHA.
Building project manager Martin and planner Vicky (or Victoria, as the Explore rep calls her!)
Traveller Julia (the last of the 7 of us who knew each other were going – the 8th (‘Notchy’ Andrew) having had to drop out due to a family bereavement.
Lucinda, who works in the famous RHS Glasshouses at Wisley, and who just happens to know Julia from a previous trip.
Banking accountant David and Barbara from a language recruitment agency.
Terry – a retired nurse, Sally – another accountant, Katie – who renovates houses, and Sandra who is heavily into Law Enforcement but has aspirations to run a ‘beyond youth’ hostel.
And finally, Julie the Canadian doctor.
[If any of the above read this and wish me to edit it, just let me know.]
It’s a happy band of travellers that board our private bus for the 4 hour journey all the way down to Wadi Rum, the furthest south we venture on this trip. Our guide for the week, Mahmoud, has now joined us. He is from an indigenous Bedouin family from Petra, and was born in a cave there. With 9 brothers and 5 sisters, he has just ‘moved house’ and last night had a party in Petra for 150 people. So he’s pretty shattered. He has an archaeology degree and promises to be very informative. His commentary on Jordan, its life and times and towns, starts as we motor through Amman in heavy traffic, passing the Blue Mosque, Parliament Buildings, and the site of a huge new shopping complex. Many new buildings are going up or have been completed. The population of this safe haven in the Middle East is rapidly increasing due to huge numbers of incoming Palestinian and Iraqi refugees, and this brings obvious challenges that the government is keen to address effectively (says Mahmoud).
Amman has been called ‘Casa Blanca’ because of the white buildings of local limestone.
Once out of the city, the land either side of the road is desert. We are on the ‘Desert Highway’ that runs nearly 500 km down to Aqaba by the Red Sea. Alongside us is a section of the 1300 km narrow gauge Hejaz railway line from Damascus in Syria to Medina in Saudi Arabia. This was built between 1900 and 1908 and was intended to lead a further 400 km to Mecca. It was damaged by TE Lawrence’s guerrilla forces during WW1 (The Arab Revolt) and never re-opened beyond the Jordan-Saudi border after the subsequent break-up of the Ottoman Empire. Attempts to re-open the line in the 1960s were foiled by the Six Day War in 1967. Today certain sections of the line are open, including the section beside us from phosphate mines near Ma'an to the Gulf of Aqaba, known now as the "Aqaba Railway."
A phosphate mine bellows white smoke into the blue sky.
After a while we stop for mint tea and try to learn more names of the rest of the group. Canaries squawk in cages.
Then we continue along the highway, which shimmers far into the distance. Trucks plough up and down between Amman and Aqaba. Numerous speed bumps keep our pace down through settlements. We enjoy ice creams at another 10 minute break, then head off on the last leg, descending from around 1700 metres back down to around 1000 metres, with fine views of the mountains of Wadi Rum ahead.
Now the desert areas are sand, not scrub. Entrance tickets for Wadi Rum, a carefully controlled area, are collected from the Visitor Centre, but we don’t leave the bus.
There are two languages in use here – it’s a bit like being in Wales! – Arabic and English. Many, if not most, signs are in both scripts, and virtually all the Jordanians we met (albeit not a very representative cross section) could communicate in English, and seemed happy to do so – they were friendly and welcoming.
10 minutes later we left the bus, transferred our bags to a 4WD and changed into boots for a stroll to nearby rocks in the desert, for lunch. On the way we crossed this branch line, built in the 1980s to serve local mining requirements.
We enjoyed pitta bread with tuna, tomatos, veg, cheese, etc in the shade before heading on to camp, which was an hour’s walk away.
After all the travelling it was great to stretch out, though at a gentle pace due to the heat (32C in the sun, 23C in the shade). The camp is a Bedouin tent, set up exclusively for Explore trips, in which the whole group is to sleep. Meals will be taken on these mattresses under an overhanging rock.
There’s far more space than in an Alpine hut.
A somewhat incongruous brick built toilet with a sink lingers nearby.
After a serving of tea (sugared during production, so we’ll have to get used to that and the lack of milk) some of us climb a huge sand dune next to the camp, then clamber onto abutting rocks for magnificent views over the desert and the rest of the group below.
Sunset at 4.40 was followed by a lovely red sky, by when we had run gleefully down the dune – like scree running but softer and safer and sandier. Then it was back to camp for welcome beers and a relaxing evening eating (meats and rice cooked in an oven dug into the sand, with various salads), chatting and playing daft games around a roaring fire.

Saturday 17 November 2007 (part 2) - Fifteen Hours ‘On the Road’

The Dishy Pharmacist and I usually avoid organised ‘tours’, preferring the unpredictable excitement of organising our own. But when Phil and Sue told us they had booked onto Explore’s ‘Spice Trails of Petra’ tour we were enticed by the itinerary (this link may soon expire) and booked onto it ourselves, together with a few other friends.
For us the journey started in Manchester at 8.30 and was long but largely uneventful:
- “You’ll get sandburn” said the man from Purple Parking.
- Sue and Phil running around the check-in at Heathrow (surprisingly otherwise deserted) having checked in but failed to acquire boarding passes.
- The Heathrow Shopping Experience. Actually a few of us got reading material for the trip – in Phil and Martin’s cases, the same book.
- The 5 hour journey with a rather grumpy Royal Jordanian crew suddenly lengthens by 2 hours as we put our watches forward.
- The Explore rep in Amman smoothly sorts out visas as 14 out of 15 clients gather after the flight (the 15th will join us tomorrow).
- A 45 minute bus ride past fast food joints such as ‘Biggly Wiggly’, as well as more familiar names leads to the Toledo Hotel, where we arrive at 1.15 am and take to our beds.
The photo is a view from room 505.