2005 Time-out Diary
Wandering around Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon

earlier      later      homepage

04-06 November 2005

Friday 4th November 2005    day 116     whereami     Satellite view

whereami is not from my gps, I didn't find the opportunity to get a gps fix in Aqaba, the coordinates were taken from the internet.

Up and ready and on the minibus for the pleasant journey to Nuweiba - through the rocky desert mountains. Arrived in Nuweiba around 11:30

Only 2 of us were going to Jordan and inevitably we sort of teamed up. Alphonso is a Uraguayan working for the UN in Eritrea. He was ok but you could tell he was used to everything being just-so, smartly dressed with an obvious expensive watch and obvious expensive luggage. He had problems coping with egyptian ways where everything takes ages or nothing happens at all, and was fidgety and nervous. He kept asking me for details about travel arrangements, hotels, taxis, etc. in Jordan and I haven't got a clue about anything.

We found the ticket booth right on the start of prayer time - big Friday prayers today - so we had to wait nearly an hour. We were joined by some palestinians on their way to Saudi Arabia and had a bit of a chat (football) and a laugh. Got the ticket + departure tax = 360LE, bleedin' 'ell.

2 hour wait in an uncomfortable and fly-ridden departure lounge (shed) and we set off in a bus to the very nice, and fast ferry. It looks like a giant powerboat - very sleek - and a very comfortable and smooth 1 hour journey to Aqaba. Applied for visas on the boat and collected stamped passports in Aqaba - no charge. I changed most of my LE into Jordanian Dinars - 1.25JD to the £, 1JD = 80p. So, I'm in "The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan".

Outside the port it's all buses and taxis. I waved off Alphonso and a couple of women I'd chatted with on the boat - on their way to Petra. I want to get to Wadi Rum but it's gone 6pm now so I was resigned to staying in Aqaba. Got a 2JD shared taxi into the centre and looked around for a hotel but everywhere's full because of poste-Ramadan holidays - I got the date wrong yesterday, Ramadan finished on 2nd Nov. I tried loads of places but was obviously wasting my time, one place had offered a mattress on the roof - didn't seem like I had much choice.

I had a look at the roofspace and it was everything you might expect, full of rubble and rubbish except for a large cleared area at the front of the building. I leant on the railings thinking it was probably survivable. I was suddenly joined by another bloke who got off a mattress I hadn't noticed and we sat and had a chat. Very soon into the broken conversation he asked "you #%#@ing men or $%#$ing women?", (this is all I need!) women!, "can I give you a massage?", no, he was sitting far too close to me so I got up to go and he leapt up at the same time and went and copiously threw up in the corner. This sure ain't the Ritz but I really don't have much choice. I paid my 4JD(!!!), they locked my big pack in a room, and I went out.

Wandered the Aqaba streets, got a chicken sandwich, chips, shay 2JD. It's not a bad place but quite westernised and affluent. Lots of Mercedes, BMWs and I even saw a Saab! People are reasonably friendly - they're used to seeing tourists, there's a lot of diving here - though some of the "lads" are a bit lairy and love to play street argey-bargey so you're always crashing shoulders with them. I wandered around for ages, in the town, along the front, but it's not really my scene - I'm just delaying getting back on that bloody roof with the homosexual vomitting masseur roofmate!!

Eventually, just after midnight, I took a deep breath and went to the rooftop. As I'd hoped there was more people up there now - about a dozen. They were pretty surprised to see me joining them but I had a chat with several of them and they were obviously ok. I recovered my mattress from one of them, found an empty space, rolled out my sleeping bag, climbed in with my rucksack and slept fairly well. There was a bit of a disturbance about 3am with a few noisey visitors arguing with 2 blokes sleeping near me but they soon went.

      High: getting a much better night than I'd expected
       Low: the prospect of sharing an open-air bedroom alone with a homosexual vomitting masseur

Saturday 5th November 2005    day 117     whereami     Satellite view

Aqaba, Jordan
Got up about 8am, packed up, had a chat with a couple of the blokes, took some photos and left most of them there still asleep. The scenic roofview shots show Aqaba in the foreground and Eilat, Israel on the other side of the water.

fellow roofers, and my bed   Aqaba and Eilat   Aqaba and Eilat

Picked up my big pack and walked to the bus station I stumbled across last night.

The Wadi Rum bus is at 12 but a taxi offered to take me for 12JD. I had a shay and thought about it, he came down to 10JD so I went for it. The internet said 12-15JD so it didn't seem bad and he was a good bloke. Nice 1 hour journey on a very good road through the desert mountains, great scenery. It reminded me of the Oban run where the M6 and M11 cut through the rolling green hills, except here it's barren red rock.

leaving Aqaba   leaving Aqaba

We got to Wadi Rum and I had to buy a 2JD ticket to enter the protected area. Then into the village where I met Mohamed - a bedouin with a village camp, a desert camp, 4x4's and camels. He gave me loads of prices for various tours - quite pricey after Egypt as everything is - 25JD up to 60JD. I took one night in his village camp for 8JD for a quiet day to catch up the diary, get cleaned up and make some plans.

Wadi Rum is an area of desert that has some stunning scenery. There are incredibly high "mountains" with sheer faces and many unusual rock structures carved by the wind - including bridges. TE Lawrence (of Arabia) spent quite a bit of time here - the Seven Pillars of Wisdom is a rock structure here.

Quick sort out and out for a walk about 1pm. I walked back to the village centre where there's a resthouse and a couple of restaurants and walked up a path behind the resthouse. The scenery is spectacular, very high sheer rock formations.

over the resthouse   Wadi Rum   back over the village

I walked up a gulley in total quiet, found myself a comfy rock to sit on and wrote a couple of days diary. I sat in the shade so I could see the PPC screen and it's really quite chilly - sweatshirt on. The sun is definitely hot but the air is quite cool - nice view though.

nice place to write your diary

At one point I kept hearing distant voices but couldn't see anyone, then I spotted some some climbers coming down the huge and sheer rock in front of me - pretty serious climbing! Many of the visitors to this place are climbers - it's perfect for them.

climbers   climbers   climbers

I'd got the diary roughly up to date and was getting quite cold so at 3pm I set off on a trek/climb up through the valley I was in - I was looking for the Lawrence Spring. I clambered up and down and around. The canyon has sand at the bottom but it's mostly covered with big, bigger and huge rocks that have broken away from the mountains - so there's as much climbing and rock-hopping as walking. It was good fun and I soon warmed up again despite the fact that the sun had long disappeared behind the mountains.

Wadi Rum   Wadi Rum   Wadi Rum

The rockfaces are interesting on many scales, close up and medium distance you can see how the wind has carved out the softer sandstone, leaving weird and wonderful shapes. Stepping back or looking up I was continually amazed at the size of these rocks. You almost get a kind of vertigo looking up so high and have to give your eyes a few seconds to settle down before climbing onwards.

Wadi Rum

I kept going until 4:15 when I thought I should really turn back - it gets dark quickly at about 5pm and these rocks are a bit tricky. I marched back at a good pace and was out of the rocks before dark. I found what I think might have been the spring - it was A spring certainly - the water just trickles out from the rocks, which are surrounded by greenery.

Lawrence Spring (?)   Lawrence Spring (?)

Walking down the sandy trail back towards the village I heard the prayers going out from the mosque. It was quite feint as there's no line-of-sight to the mosque and the echo from the enormous cliff faces was actually louder and sounded HUGE - like in an enormous cathedral (or mosque). I stopped and listened to it all - it was amazing - the sound seemed to be coming from the heart of the rocks themselves - it just sounded so BIG. I wished I'd thought to try and catch it in a movie, maybe I'll go back.

the rocks that prayed

Back into the village and headed for Mohamed's. And could I find it? It's very poorly lit here, mostly pitch dark, and I walked up and down the (few) streets brushing against walls when I lost the street and tripping over all the stuff in the road including the many speedhumps. I felt sure he was right on the edge of the village (he wasn't) and knew what it looked like - but a lot of the time I couldn't see anything at all, just blackness. I eventually (6:15!) found it directly beneath a huge radio mast with a big red light on top - maybe I should have spotted that little landmark before I set out!!

I asked a bedouin lad about dinner and he pointed me to a room near mine where I found a bedouin and a spanish family (I assumed) eating chicken and rice from communal bowls. I sat down and joined them. I don't think they spoke english and my spanish is zero. They certainly didn't make any effort to speak to me other than hello, and I couldn't speak to them as the mother and 2 teenage daughters rabbitted intensely without drawing breath for the entire hour I spent with them - I don't know how they do it, I was exhausted just watching them!

I went back to my chilly room about 8pm and finished catching up diary and photos. I think I've only got this room to myself as there's nobody else here - it's just a bare room with 6 mattresses on the floor, but it's ok really, quite cosy now I'm in my bag.

      High: the rockface that prayed - amazing
       Low: getting lost in this tiny village - I just couldn't see anything

Sunday 6th November 2005    day 118     whereami     Satellite view

Wadi Rum, Jordan
Today's diary is entitled "The Seven Pillars of Idiocy"

Slept like a log in my cosy bag and got up at 9am. Or maybe 10, I keep meaning to ask someone to confirm the local time - I have a feeling I might be an hour behind Jordan. There was a very simple breakfast set out in the sun that the noisey spanish had already had a go at - I tucked in and washed it down with a couple of lukewarm shays.

Mohamed showed up and asked me what I wanted to do today. There's nobody around still to share a safari - the spanish are climbers. I said I'd like to do a safari but I'm in no rush, I like it here, I'll go walking again today and see if anybody shows up for tomorrow. Mohamed gave me a map and marked out a recommended route.

I set off about 10:30 via the village where I stopped for a decent shay for 0.5JD - bit pricey. A bloke sitting outside the café seemed delighted to see me - smiling and waving at me, pointing at the sun until we nodded in agreement about how nice it was, then he waved at me again. It was soon clear, when he waved to everyone and the occasional passing car, that I'd met the village idiot. He reminded me of the coke-swiller in Disuq - he seemed very happy with his lot, he was having a great time.

I headed south towards another Lawrence Spring - I think it's the same source but it's more accessible and is the one most tourists are taken to, the one I found yesterday is the one described in his book "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom". I'll be looking out for a copy of that back home. I soon got there, maybe 2km. It wasn't particularly exciting. I carried on south past a big bedouin camp, it was pretty hot in the sun so I wore my shorts on my head (I had trousers on!) to protect myself a bit.

Wadi Rum   Wadi Rum   Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum

I walked another 2km and stopped in some shade for a breather, then carried on past a camp where they called out to me to join them. I couldn't really refuse so I joined them - it was about 1:30. It was a bunch of 7 or 8 jordanian students from Amman enjoying their poste-Ramadan holiday - Eed or Heed I think they call it - with a couple of bedouin guides. They'd camped here for a few days. They gave me some 7-up and I had a chat with the one english-speaker. After 20 minutes I made to leave but they made a right fuss and insisted I stayed for lunch. I wanted to get back to my walk but it seemed like lunch was nearly ready, and it might be interesting, so I gave in.

Lunch was actually 30 minutes away - 2 big bowls of mutton and rice, and lots of smaller bowls of salad, onions etc. Their eating method was to grab a handfull of rice and meat, ball it up in their fist and shovel it in - spilling half onto the blanket. It was messy in the extreme and I stuck to the egyptian way of picking things up between bits of bread. Interestingly the right-hand-only rule was strictly adhered to - they weren't so careful in Egypt. It was very nice and I had a good feast of it.

They were a good bunch but they seemed to be making a right mess of the desert, there was rubbish everywhere, some of it blowing away. Maybe they picked most of it up before they left but I suspect not. I managed to get away soon afterwards - the bedouin guides pointed me in the right direction for Khazali Canyon I was looking for.

Wind Sculpture   Wind Sculpture

Wind Sculpture   Wind Sculpture

I crossed the main canyon to east side where the Khazali Rock/Mountain was and started anticlockwise around it and soon found the canyon. It was quite impressive, a narrow channel going right into the rock. I went in but was disappointed that you couldn't get far in though you could see quite a way. I had a go at climbing in further but thought better of it. Then I changed my mind again and had a serious go and made it with 2 quite tricky climbs - hoping I could get back! It was worth the effort, with a bit more simple climbing I got all the way to the end - about 100m in. The climbs back down were a bit trickier than I was comfortable with but I made it ok.

Khazali Canyon   Khazali Canyon   Khazali Canyon

It was about 4pm when I got out the canyon. I decided to go a bit further, continuing anticlockwise around Khazali - it would mean getting back in the dark but the village is visible all the way down the main canyon and I'd soon get round Khazali back into that main canyon where I'd see it. I continued south alongside Khazali, up and down dunes a lot of the way so it was quite tiring. It kept seeming like I'd go around this next bit and into the canyon but I never did - it went on and on. Each corner looked more promising than the last so I was continually thinking "aah, this is it" and continually being disappointed.

The sun was starting to go down when I finally got to a convincing turn so I could go west - towards the canyon. It went on and on and on - through dusk - and on - until it was actually pitch dark - about 5:30. I wasn't tooo worried as I was pretty sure I was going the right way, but it still went on. Eventually there was a bit where I could head north - the way home - but it wasn't the canyon, just a gulley - it turned out to be a dead-end and I had to stumble back out tripping on the same rocks and desert-bushes I'd tripped over on the way in. I tried a 2nd north route a bit later and found myself on a big rock with big drops from 3 of it's 4 sides - no fun at all in the dark! so I had to turn back again.

By this time I was starting to get a bit worried and was seriously thinking I might be spending the night in the desert. I've got plenty of water and I could probably get a fire going with sticks from some of the dried up bushes - but could I find enough to keep a fire going? It'll be bloody cold.

I got my PPC out and checked the gps - I was 6.5km from the camp. But it's not very good for giving directions unless you're moving at a reasonable speed and in a reasonably straight line - and I'm doing neither, it's as much as I can manage to stay upright with all the tripping and stumbling over unseen obstacles. My fairly useless compass is totally useless in the pitch dark and I can't shine the PPC screen on it without it moving the needle. The moon is very new and is not offering much light at all. Even with gps I could easily wander into long dead-end canyons that seem to be getting me closer to home - many of these Rock Mountains are more than 5km down one straight side with no way through, it would be all too easy to end up on the wrong side of one.

I kept going trying to find a way through and got to 7.2km from the camp before I was successful. I got out the other side into a sort of canyon but there was no sign of the village lights. I headed up the canyon - it seemed to be turning to the west - I certainly wasn't getting any closer to home according to the gps. The glare of the PPC destroyed my night vision too and I'd go stumbling over more rocks and bushes than ever for a while after a glance every 10 minutes.

Then I thought I could make out a glow in a gap between some rocks on a rise - it didn't seem in quite the right direction but . . . I traipsed up but it was nothing. From the top though I again thought I could see a glow, but this time in what I thought was the right direction. I walked towards it but the next rise was further away than it looked and I went a long way down before climbing. The gps was encouraging though, back down to 6km again. I got to the top of the raise at 7pm, 5.2km from home when I saw the lights for real. And Bloody Hell - was I happy to see them! I'd been stumbling around pretty lost in the pitch dark for an hour and a half.

I still had more than 5km to walk though, on soft, uneven sand, dotted with near invisible stones, rocks and a surprising number of bushes to negotiate. But after being worryingly lost that seemed like nothing. It was really hard work though - it's tough enough during the day but because I couldn't see well I was constantly tripping and stumbling. The village looked tantalisingly close but it was a long time before it actually got close. As I walked past the bedouin camp (never closer than 1km from it) I could hear music blaring out from it. It seems like sacrilege destroying the desert quiet. And it got worse, they started playing western music. I walked past listening to Saturday Night Fever by the Bee Gees, I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor and YMCA by The Village People!! I was more than happy to keep on walking despite my very painful feet and ankles!

The last 1km was even more difficult as the glare from the village lights made it even harder to pick out the obstacles but I finally got there. For all the bright lights the village is very dark - they're just house lights and really only emphasise the darkness of the majority unlit areas. They're about as useful in finding your way around as someone shining a torch in your eyes.

I started up a track towards the big red light but hit a dead-end, a brick wall. I turned and walked to look for the next track going the right way but after 200m I was up against a wall again. I wasn't on a track at all - in the pitch dark I'd wandered into someone's back yard, and now in the pitch dark I couldn't find my way out again! I was getting a bit fed-up - my feet were killing me. I found a gap in the wall and went through but it soon obvious I was just in somebody else's backyard. My big red light is so close but I'm stuck in a bloody maze! I eventually found my way onto a road, the right road, and got back to the camp. I got to my room at exactly 9pm.

There's not a soul about so I assume I missed dinner. I ate everything I had - 1/4 of a packet of pulverised biscuits, half a bag of pecan nuts, and about 10 licorice allsorts - a good hearty meal! I feel certain that TE Lawrence himself probably tucked into something similar after a hard day in the desert.

But I'm very happy to be home again, my feet are really sore and cracked, my ankles are painful and I'm hungry and cold. I don't know how far I walked - it must be about 20km, at one point I was 7.2km from home as the crow flies, that's a pretty long way on sand.

I think maybe my constant drive to push myself and test myself (and scare myself) went a bit far today - I only just passed the test.

      High: never have village lights looked more beautiful
       Low: 6pm, pitch dark, lost in the desert, can't move in the direction I think I need to, am I out here for the night?

earlier      later      homepage