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

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07-10 November 2005

Monday 7th November 2005    day 119     whereami     Satellite view

Wadi Rum, Jordan
Woke up at 9am having slept like a log. Struggled to move as my legs ached and the cracks in my heels had half-healed, and there's nothing worse than half-healed-heels! After hobbling to the bathroom and back and sorting things out I started to loosen up a bit.

Mohamed showed up, all excited "we have tourists today!" so I went to his house for breakfast and to see what developed. I'd just finished when Eugene (canadian teaching in Saudi) turned up - he seemed ok. Then a whole bunch turned up, 3 aussie girls, 2 german blokes and a french-canadian couple. They were a good crowd and we soon agreed on a desert tour with a night out for 20JD - a good, sensible price. We sorted out essentials into small packs and all piled into a big jeep.

Wadi Rum   Wadi Rum   Wadi Rum

The first part of the journey covered my walking out route from yesterday, and it seemed like a bloody long way! I think I identified where I was when I was most lost - it wasn't a good place to have been. We'd stopped at Lawrence Spring and drove for 10km or so through some great desert scenery - the huge rock/mountains are just incredible, they amaze me every time I look at them. We then stopped where there was a high archway. A great site and most of us climbed to the top and posed for endless photos taken by the non-climbers with all our cameras. That's me in the middle.

big arch   big arch

Back in the jeep for another 5 or 6 km - it was quite chilly in the open back of the jeep and I wished I'd brought my big glasto-jumper - it's gonna be cold tonight. We stopped at another smaller arch and clambered around for an hour. We moved on again and stopped at some sand dunes and climbed around and messed about in the really fine red sand.

small arch   small arch   red sand dune

Wadi Rum   Wadi Rum   Wadi Rum

We got to our camp at about 5pm and warmed up around a good fire in the main tent, and had plenty of bedouin tea. We all went out and watched the spectacular sunset at 5:30.

our desert camp   our desert camp   our desert camp

sunset   sunset   sunset

About 6pm we were served up a giant plate of chicken and rice with small dishes of salad, yoghurt and loads of bread - a very good communal meal. It was dark and cold and we were soon all huddled back around the fire. One of the bedouins played his sensamia (like a bazouki) and sang - he was really good, and the other bedouins were joining in the singing. We just sat around chatting and laughing, the occasional bit of bedouin music and drank gallons of shay for a few hours.

campfire in the tent   campfire in the tent  

A few fancied a night walk in the desert so we set off towards the lights of another camp but when we got there we were asked to stay quiet as they were all in bed. Mohamed, their guide, took us for a walk about 1km or so where we stopped and got a little fire going. The sky was superb, a few clouds around but mostly super-clear, and we watched for the occasional shooting star.

Then back to the camp for bed. Most of them wanted to sleep outside under the stars despite repeated warnings from the bedouins that it would be cold - so we went for it.

      High: a great day with a really good fun bunch - couldn't have worked out better for me
       Low: should've taken my big jumper, brrrrrrr

Tuesday 8th November 2005    day 120     whereami     Satellite view

Wadi Rum, Jordan
It was cold - and damp when the morning dew arrived. My lightweight sleeping bag wasn't up to the job despite my being fully dressed - 2 t-shirts and a sweatshirt. I probably only got a couple of hours sleep before we got up at 6am for breakfast and to see the sunrise. Most of us missed the sunrise as we were too intent on warming up around the fire.

We quickly packed and got moving in the jeep back to the village as all the crowd except me are going to Aqaba on the 7am bus. I'm waiting for the 8:30 to Petra. I waved off the others and Mohamed took me to the resthouse where the buses stop.

Had a chat with a swiss couple also waiting for the Petra bus. The bus turned up at 9am and we got on and were on our way. They checked our nationalities and the one other passenger, a girl, turned out to be english. We were soon chatting, Juliette is on holiday in Dahab with a friend and is cramming in Israel and Jordan while her friend's busy. I'd been recommended a Petra hotel by Mohamed and Juliette decided to join me. She mentioned that she plays guitar and sings in a band - which seemed very interesting, less so when it turned out to be a Christian Rock Band - she's a born-again Christian. That's a bit unkind though - she's very nice.

It was a great journey, we climbed high into the mountains with ears popping repeatedly, and the views were spectacular. We got to Petra at about 11am and drove down some ferociously steep and twisty roads in the bus to the town. They dropped us off at Petra Gate Hotel. We checked out the rooms and chose dormitory accomodation for 3JD each, and ended up sharing a twin room. Quick few shays with Nasser, the friendly owner, quick showers and we decided to head straight to the main attraction.

We grabbed a snack on the steep 1.5km walk down to the entrance - 26JD for a 2 day ticket. We soon bumped into the swiss couple from the bus but lost them again along the way somewhere. The entrance to the old city is down a 1km long and 100m(?) deep 5-10m wide gorge naturally cut into the sandstone by water many years before the city was even thought about. The scale of it is hard to believe. Donkeys and tourist-laden carts hurtle up and down the canyon at ludicrous speeds.

Petra - old city

Petra - old city   Petra - old city   Petra - old city

The city itself is a collection of tombs, treasuries, theatres etc. that have been carved out of the sandstone cliff-faces. It's extraordinary, great rooms like caves dug into the cliffs and very decorative columns, pillars, carvings on the outside. At a glance it has the look of many other grecian or egyptian temples but the construction is very different. The Nabateans who built it were wealthy as Petra was an important trading post for the whole arab world and was on a busy trading route. The city was run by them from around 2200BC until 106AD when the Romans finally took it and it was eventually left to ruin.

At the end of the canyon is the classic view of Petra, the Al-Khazneh Treasury.

Petra - old city   Petra - old city   Petra - old city

We walked on down past many other carved buildings and then turned up some steps to do the "short" circuit reommended by Nasser. It was a pretty serious climb up hundreds of steps to the top of a mountain, spectacular views of course.

Petra - old city   Petra - old city   Petra - old city

Then back down a twisty and barely existent path (a bit of an off-route shortcut) to complete our circuit and rejoin the main track. We passed many temples and tombs along the way.

Petra - old city   Petra - old city   Petra - old city

Petra - old city   Petra - old city

Back up the main track and up the steep climb to the hotel by about 6pm. Knackered again - Petra is a huge site - we must have walked a good 7 or 8km and a good deal of it was near vertical.

At the hotel we ordered up some shay and agreed that the dinner looked pretty good for 3.5JD and decided to eat in. Chicken and rice for a change but very nice and it was all-you-can-eat from a buffet. I caught up a bit with my diary, Juliette was soon crashed out, and I nipped out to update the website. Bed about 11:30 and it was quite cold again.

Another hectic day but well worth the effort. Juliette's really good company, she's intelligent and likes a laugh - Jesus comes up quite often in conversation but she's not preachy about it, so that's fine.

      High: Petra is amazing, and pleased to have bumped into Juliette
       Low: crawling out of my cold and damp bag into the colder desert at 6am after 2 hours sleep

Wednesday 9th November 2005    day 121     whereami     Satellite view

Petra, Jordan
Got up at 8am and joined the other guests for breakfast. Juliette went back to the room to play her guitar for a while and I sorted out my photos. She's very good and has a great voice though the religious theme is not quite my thing. I had a play on her guitar while she got ready to out - very enjoyable too, a proper guitar!

We messed around with the guitar and didn't get going until nearly 10am. Back down the steep hill, picking up some things for lunch along the way. We worked our way slowly into the centre of the old city seeing the bits we didn't see yesterday - including an ancient church with some great mosaic floors.

The cutting into the sandstone makes terrific patterns where different coloured layers are met.

Petra - old city   Petra - old city   Petra - old city

Petra - old city   Petra - old city   Petra - old city

Petra - old city   Petra - old city   Petra - old city

Petra - old city   Petra - old city   Petra - old city

Got to the centre at about 1pm, had a 1JD! shay and headed up the big climb to the monastery. It was pretty heavy going but ok. The monastery was well worth the struggle and the views all around from the top of the mountain were tremendous. We climbed a flat-topped rock and had our picnic lunch gaping at the views.

Petra - old city   Petra - old city   Petra - old city

picnic view   picnic view

Then a further little climb to some higher viewpoints for a few more photos and made our way back down - Juliette's very fit and we marched down at a fair pace.

Petra - view from the top   Petra - view from the top   Petra - view from the top

We decided to take the long route back to see the few things we hadn't seen. It's a bit off the beaten track and Juliette was a bit wary about it - it was 3:30 so we didn't have much time before dark. We made our way along finding, losing, finding the path along the way. We bumped into some boys going home on their donkeys that wanted to show us the way but we said we were ok. Grabbed a photo of a great patterned wall in a carved wall.

Petra - view from the top   Petra - view from the top

We eventually found what looked like the narrow canyon back to the old city entrance about 4:30 - and it was starting to get dark. It was very narrow and there were big rocks blocking our way in several places that we had to climb over. Some of it was quite tricky and we wondered if we were in the right canyon but it seemed to keep going so I said we should press on. Juliette was getting very worried by this time and darkness was definitely falling, she was muttering prayers for guidance. We kept going and climbing and twisting and turning and squeezing through narrow gaps. In her panic she was jogging along where she could and I was struggling to keep up.
It kept looking like it might come to a dead end but as we'd gone a good 0.5km in I felt sure it must go the whole way through and kept pushing us on. Finally we came to a tunnel that was marked on the map so we knew we were on the right route. There was still several hundred metres to go but it got easier with less climbing needed and we got out the other end. Juliette was mightily relieved and muttered prayers of thanks for being saved from a night in the canyon. I suppose it was more excitement than most people like but I'm glad she wasn't with me in the desert a few nights ago!!

We marched back to the hotel, played guitar for a while waiting for hot water to shower in but there was a problem with the boiler so we gave up and had dinner in the hotel.

Nasser was playing his sensamia and wanted to hear Juliette on her guitar so she got it and sang a few songs for us - Nasser, the phillipino maid, a spanish couple and me. Then a japanese girl turned up and had a go but she was used to nylon strings and couldn't really do it, I did a couple of tunes too. Juliette went out to the internet and I sat, mostly alone, on the floor cushions playing her guitar for an hour.

My rough plan was to head to Amman tomorrow but I've not really checked the map or the other attractions that I should maybe do first. I need a quiet day to rest and catch up the damned diary - it's slipping away from me lately with so much to write and so little time to do it. When Juliette got back from the internet café she told me about the bombs in Amman today. We didn't know any detail but that made it easy for me to decide to take my rest day here tomorrow. I'm not really worried about going to Amman but it's likely to be chaotic there tomorrow and security is sure to be very high and I could lose a lot of time in baggage checks or whatever. I'll get my rest, catch up my diary and spend a few hours on the internet researching Jordan and Syria.

I sent Suzi a text message to let home know I was ok, had my shower and went to bed about 11:30. Juliette kept on about how happy she was to not still be stuck in the canyon - I think it was considerably more adventure than she likes. She's been really good company though, we got along great. I've been lucky again to bump into some good company to see a big site. As much as I like travelling alone the big places like Petra, the pyramids and Luxor etc. are much better in company and I've struck lucky at all of them.

      High: the picnic lunch in a great spot in great company
       Low: it was a bit of a scramble to get out of the canyon before dark

Thursday 10th November 2005    day 122     whereami     Satellite view

Petra, Jordan
Juliette was up and away at 7:15 to catch the bus to Aqaba, on her way back to Dahab. I had no intention of moving for a few more hours, nearly got up at 9am, nearly got up at 10am, got up at 11am - and I could have quite happily slept longer - these past 5 days have wiped me out.
I sorted out some washing but as there was no hot water I gave it to the hotel laundry - bit pricey at 4JD for the 12 items but what the hell.

Got a very late breakfast served up by the phillipino maid who loves to fuss around everyone - except I am everyone today. She's really nice and we had a chat with her last night about what she's doing in Jordan. Her husband died young and left her penniless with a young son. Her son is now with her parents and she moved via an agency to Jordan for work and money. She's really quite sweet and seems to be coping with it all, but it was yet another strong reminder of how fortunate we are in the west, and how much we take for granted.

I sat around in the restaurant area catching up my diary for a few hours. Nasser keeps popping in and out and chatting about the bombs and that it's not usual for Jordan - I think he thinks I'm not going out for fear of trouble as a result of the problems in Amman. A japanese girl arrived from Aqaba and we had a chat before she dashed off to the old city. Nasser came back and talked of his concerns for the tourist industry. He said it has never recovered here from Sep 11th! The only good thing is that this is the end of the tourist season here and maybe it'll be forgotten to some extent by the start of the new season.

There's been a rally this morning in the local market where the jordanians were protesting about the Amman bombs, and I've been hearing streams of cars driving around all beeping continuously on and off all day.

Went out to the internet café, did emails and updated the website. The news on the Amman bombs was terrible but there's every likelihood that it's another isolated incident and I'm not going to let it interfere with my plans.

Checked up on the Jordanian sights and Amman is definitely the most sensible next stop. I'm not worried about my safety there, Jordanians are very friendly and hospitable people, and I won't be staying in the big posh hotels that are the favourite targets for outsider nutters. From there I can visit Jerash and the Dead Sea. I'll also be trying to obtain a syrian visa there. It was bloody cold in the internet café and I left shivering after 2 hours there.

Back to the hotel and had chicken and rice dinner (I've eaten little else for days now!) and watched the end of Indiana Jones on a PC with a korean girl - it was largely filmed in Petra. It was pretty cold in the hotel again so I soon went back to my room and packed up my stuff ready to go tomorrow.

Soon got sorted and there's nothing else to do really so I had an early night to complete my rest. I'm on the 7:30 bus to Amman tomorrow morning.

      High: caught up my sleep, caught up my diary, caught up my plans
       Low: brrrrrloody cold everywhere most of the day

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