A Travellerspoint blog


Jerash, Umm Qais and Ajloun Castle

Epic Roman ruins, another view of the Promised Land, and barely making a Castle visit...

sunny 20 °C
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Our final day trip out of Amman was out to see the Roman ruins of Jerash and Umm Qais, and the Islamic Castle Ajloun. This time Hani took us with a chatty teacher from Brisbane and a French professor from Montpelier. We were originally headed first for Umm Qais and then Ajloun, but Hani diverted off course to take us to Jerash because the Hippodrome show (where else can you see real live chariot racing?) was only once a day, at 11am in winter. The trip was only an hour out of Amman, however we got to know Jenny and Emanuel well (especially Jenny!) by the time we arrived at the sprawling Roman ruins.

And what ruins they were! The site had been inhabited as early as the Bronze Age (some 3,000 years BC) but annexed by the Romans in 63BC and built into the huge city it is now. We were pleased to discover we were practically the only visitors to the site (in fact, that continued throughout our travels - off-season travel may be cold, but there's no fighting the crowds for photos!) We wandered through the ruins, marvelling at the huge columns, temples and artifacts - there were even chariot ruts remaining in the original Roman road.

The site was incredibly well preserved. Littering the path were huge, intricately-carved boulders that looked like they were just done yesterday (and would make a great garden table or piece, we secretly thought). It truly felt like the Romans, just like the Egyptians were merely a cleverly-executed hoax, as all their ruins and artifacts were just too good to be true... We spent a good couple of hours climbing stairs to temples, hopping on column capitals for the odd sneaky shot, and pretending we were great orators in the amphitheatre. Surprisingly, brightly-coloured yellow spring flowers were everywhere which added colour to the grey, stony sights.

We decided to have an early lunch in the ruins of the Hippodrome, in anticipation for the show. We had a soundtrack to our snack - the huge speakers in the stadium blared out the score to Gladiator (does Hollywood know this?) as we munched coriander and banana pita breads (not together, that is). The small crowd gathered as the show time neared, and then... trumpets started and a voice, an odd British/Dutch/American(?) hybrid introduced the Roman Army. We were talked through the ins and outs of Roman military strategy, while the dressed up Roman Arabs demonstrated formations and fighting techniques to Latin commands from the General. We had half expected it to be a budget, tacky affair, but it was a great show, if only reminding us a little of the Roman army in Asterix and Obelix. After the army of Caesar (the Caesarians?) showed us their might and strategy, out came some gladiators. More resembling barbarians than Russell Crowe (well, he was a Roman General), they fought it out for us and we got to choose whether the loser lived or died - thumbs up or thumbs horizontal. The last spectacle was a galloping chariot race to the blasting movie soundtrack. After the show we got to take photos with the Romans, and Jac even had a short go on the chariot.

After Jerash we headed to more Roman ruins, this time Umm Qais. Being a little ruined-out, we headed straight for the look-out, which gave us a view of the controversial Golan Heights, one of the sources of the Syrian/Israel conflict, the Sea of Galilee and Israel, Syria and Lebanon. We were a little overschedule, so it was back to the car and try make it in time to Ajloun Castle!

Ajloun Castle was a Islamic army stronghold, sitting on Jebel Auf (Mount Auf). The large fortress was built by a commander and nephew of Salah ad-Din (Saladin) in the late 12th centure and was one of the very few built to protect against Crusader attacks. Unfortunately by time we arrived the ticket office was closed, despite many a En sha' Allah along the way (but we still had five minutes to go!) but a loitering coach driver suggested we just drive up to the castle and see if we could still be let in. We raced up to the top and luckily Jenny and Emanuel sweet-talked the caretaker into letting us in. We raced around the castle, unfortunately not exploring very far and snapped like crazy until it was time to leave and the gate was locked behind us.

The drive back to Downtown Amman was about two hours, during which we chatted about ourselves, and by the end of the trip we'd exchanged emails and Chalky and I had received an offer from Emanuel to house sit his apartment in Montpelier, as he spends six months of the year in Thailand. We said goodbye to our trip companions then had one last errand to do, being our last day in Jordan. A few days ago we'd bought some magazines from Bustami bookstore and were short some small change which the shop worker waved away, but we insisted we'd bring back. We stopped at a local sweet store and bought some sticky Arab sweets to take with us, to apologise for being 3 days late in repaying him (one of the days was Friday, when everything is closed). We ended up spending three times the amount on the thank-you cakes - presented to us by the sweet shop simply on a plate with a fork - and headed to the bookshop, much to the worker's amusement and his elderly superior's confusion. We probably landed the worker in trouble for loaning out change, but at least they had a treat for the evening! We paid one last visit to our smoky 'Eco-tourism' café to say goodbye to Jordan.

Jerash Roman ruins
The Arch of Hadrian

Oval Piazza

The column making Chalky look small... or Chalky making the column look big...







Chariot ruts in the Roman road


The nymphaneum


As if it were carved yesterday...

Temple of Artemis

The old and the new

Jac showing off her non-existent ballet skills

Chalky and the bright 'spring' flowers

A big-arsed lizard

The Theatre

Jac giving her best recital of The Iliad

Chalky was going to do a one-man Manpower show but...

Hmmm that would look great in the back yard

The Hippodrome show!

The head chook




Shall he live or die?

Chariot races




Geddy up!

Faster, faster, yeehaa

Umm Qais
The view of Golan Heights (Israel/Palestine) and Sea of Galilee from Um Qais

Local transport

Ajloun Castle




Chalky tries one on for size


Us and the view

Posted by JacChalky 07:52 Archived in Jordan Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

The Desert Castles

Sandy havens...

sunny 10 °C
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Another day trip we took was out to the east, to see the basalt and limestone Arabic Desert Castles. This time our companions were an Australian woman, whose husband was working in Amman, and an Estonian tour guide, who was researching for her next tour and very unhappy that she was turned away at the Syrian border for merely having caught a connecting flight through Jerusalem, and therefore unable to research the country.

On the way to the castles we drove through the wadi (desert), however it was not as desolate as others we'd seen, and even had tufts of green here and there. En route we saw signs pointing the way to Saudi and Iraq borders - a stark reminder of exactly where we were again.

The first castle we visited was Qasr Kharana, about an hour outside Amman. It was a lone, sandy-coloured squarish structure, which had interesting arches and windows around a central courtyard. There were army officers patroling the interior, carrying bulky guns, some content to lazily greet us, others sternly warning you against entering dangerous parts (which looked pretty safe, maybe it's militant health and safety?).

Built before the 8th century, Qasr Kharana is one of the earliest examples of Islamic architecture. Far from being an actual castle though, it is unclear as to what this Qasr was used for, as it wasn't for military purposes - the castle has wall slits but they are the wrong height and shape for archers. Also it curiously lacked a water source such buildings usually had close by. Our guide book suggested it was a hunting lodge and trade caravan stop. We spent just under an hour climbing stairs and wandering the chilly rooms, imagining hunters and caravan tradespeople smoking and playing early backgammon. After visiting, we joined the locals for sweet tea by the fire.

The next castle was Qasr Amra, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its highly-decorated frescos. Also built in early 8th century, the castle was quite small, being only small part (the baths) of the original castle that existed. The frescos were very well preserved, and enigmatically at odds with the Islamic religion, as they depicted naked women, wine drinking, and even a bear playing a banjo and a dancing monkey (we think some herbs may have been imbibed during creation).

What was unique was the dome above the caldarium or hot bath, which apparently had the zodiac on the ceiling, as well as constellations. Wikipedia later told us that it is apparently the earliest painting of the night sky painted on anything other than a flat surface, and is very accurate, even showing the north pole correctly.

An old Bedouin man pointed out the interesting parts to us in a school-teachery manner (such as chiding Jac when she asked to be shown a particular scene he had not yet reached) and then settled into playing a rababah for us and we were left to admire the frescos listening to his music.

Third on our itinerary was Qasr al-Azraq, a younger 13th century castle which was built by Romans and utilised by the Ottoman Turks (and even T.E. Lawrence during the Arab revolt). Built of black stone (the main door is 3-tons of the stuff!) and also extensively restored, the castle was a sprawling, open square stone fort. Inside we explored what was left of rooms and stories, however there wasn't a lot to see, except for some stone tablets which were found in the nearby oasis, which were carved with decoration and animals.

Fourth and last of the desert castles was Qasr al-Hallabat, which was also originally a Roman stronghold but converted into another hunting lodge by the Arabs. It had been heavily, but unfortunately shabbily restored - we spied blocks of stone with Roman writing that appeared to have been re-laid sideways! There was a guard eying us up as we explored the castle, however he later showed us a hidden part that was still being restored and housed an exposed mosaic floor.

Our final stop was to the nearby Hamman al-Sarah, which was an ancient bathouse, but was in the middle of some heavy reconstruction and there wasn't much to see. Back to Amman and a big thank you to Hani, our patient driver!

Qasr Kharana








Qasr Amra



Bathing scene

The bear playing the banjo to a dancing monkey


An naked dancing woman

A local man playing a rababah



Qasr al-Azraq






Qasr al-Hallabat

Greek-inscribed blocks stacked the wrong way

Mosaic floors



Posted by JacChalky 06:41 Archived in Jordan Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Mount Nebo, Madaba, The Dead Sea and Karak Castle

Moses, mosaics, marine and moats

sunny 15 °C
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The first of three day trips we took out of Amman was to see north and east of the capital. We were joined by a fellow Palace Hotel guest, Doug, a quiet but affable Canadian guy in his 50s, and set off early with our driver.

About an hour’s drive through countryside took us to our first stop, Mount Nebo. This was where Moses was said to have looked over the Promised Land for his people and but told by God that he would never go there, and it‘s where he later died. The mountain itself is not as rugged and bare as expected, and was more of a big hill, than say Mount Sinai. There were carved stone rocks with Latin, English and Arabic which were both memorials to Moses and a declaration that this was a Christian holy place, and a huge, rolling stone that was once a fortified door of a Byzantine Monastery. The main sight was a huge, partially-restored 500-year old mosaic floor that was unearthed in a nearby church and housed on the mountain in a big outdoor tent. The mosaic depicted hunting scenes, with gazelles and peacocks among the many animals. Beautifully well-preserved Greek columns and mosaics were inside a small museum, as well as a map showing the Christian pilgrimage routes in the Middle East to Mount Nebo. Also on the mountain was a lookout, allowing us to see the valley below, with River Jordan on the right, the Dead Sea on our left and ahead across the valley, Israel with Bethlehem and Jerusalem pointed out on the viewing platform.

Not far from Mount Nebo was the mosaic town of Madaba, which had several small ruins, which had mosaic floors being dug out. At one sight, the Burnt Church, one of the workers took us to a muddy patch, bent down and started scooping off the dirt with his hands, and slowly uncovered part a mosaic floor. It is very rare these days to see something ancient being unearthed right in front of you! The main highlight was St George’s Church, where builders found a huge 6th century mosaic map of religious sites in the Middle East, which digging the foundations of the church. It was fascinating seeing parts which were the Nile, Egypt, and also Jericho, Bethlehem and other Christian places. The church itself was also vividly painted and had modern mosaics of biblical scenes adorning the walls.

On the way to Karak Castle, we descended down to the Dead Sea, which took some time getting to, as it’s 408m below sea level. As our Lonely Planet pointed out, the world’s fish were all swimming above us! Unfortunately it was an icy, windy day and access to the beaches were only via resorts, the cheapest of which charged NZ$30 each so we decided not to experience the floaty saltiness. Besides we also realised… we forgot our togs. We stopped at a lay-by to view the salt crystals on the rocks and also Israel across the water. It was odd however, seeing a body of water that had no bushes or plants growing on its shores, nor birdlife flying over the water.

The last stop was Karak Castle, a Crusader castle that, like many of them, had seen many battles for control by the Christians and Muslims. It was everything out of children’s book - narrow arrow slits for defence, turrets to climb and dark, dripping cavernous rooms in the belly of the castle. The Castle was apparently occupied by a sadistic French Crusader King, who enjoyed torturing the prisoners in the nine spooky rooms off a dark hallway deep within the castle, and also would fling prisoners down the sheer drop over the castle walls - but he would put a wooden box around their heads so they wouldn’t lose consciousness when they hit the ground. Also across the valley you could see a hilly village, which once was purportedly Sodom and Gomorrah.

After a long day seeing these Christian sights, we returned back to Downtown Amman and farewelled Doug, who was headed south to Petra.

Chalky and the Rolling Stone

The mosaic at Mt Nebo


Ancient Greek inscription

"For the salvation and offering of Matrona"

Ancient Greek inscription

At the top of Mt Nebo - directions to Bethlehem , Jericho and the Dead Sea

Around Madaba

More mosaics among the ruins


St George's Church - contains the 6th century map of all major biblical sites

Inside St George's


A mosaic of a biblical scene

The mosaic map




The Red Sea!


Frothy and salty

Salt stalactites

The scenery on the way to Karak

Karak Castle


The view over the valley below






A glimpse of what was supposedly Sodom and Gomorrah


The wall from where prisoners were flung




Salah ad-Din

Posted by JacChalky 05:33 Archived in Jordan Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)


Ice, Ice, Baby

sunny 3 °C
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The journey to Jordan’s capital was by another minibus. First thing in the chilly morning we walked to the station to find one, haggled with a driver to establish prices for the journey, then told him (using small Arabic words and lots of sign language) thanks, but we need to go get our packs. As the buses were fairly frequent, we took our time having breakfast, packing and checking out of our hotel. We turned up at the station some 40 minutes later to find the same minibus waiting, full of locals, engine running, and the driver standing outside, looking for us! Whoops - turns out that sometimes metaphors don’t translate. We hopped red-faced into the bus and smiled apologetically as the passengers squeezed in even further to accommodate our packs.

Five minutes later and we were on the mountains, driving through thick snow and ice! Our driver, unfazed, drove through the white out, despite no visible road ahead and we marvelled at the snowy bushes and hills, trying hard not to think about the bus’s tyre condition. Who would have thought there would be snow in the Middle East! Thankfully once we descended onto the Desert Highway the conditions just turned wet and cold.

About two hours later we arrived in Amman, to a parking lot in the middle of nowhere. Jac’s attempts to find out where on the map we were were waved away by the taxi drivers who are eager to take us to Downtown for JD10 (NZ$20). Jac always travels with her Rip-Off Meter on High Alert so got down to some serious negotiations and got the fare down to NZ$8 (however was still probably paying well over the odds). We offered to split the cab ride with a middle-aged English bloke, and emerged that he was far from being the fatherly type, and instead more of the South London Bank Robber type. After exchanging niceties he told us he travelled for 8 months of the year, every year. Amazed, we asked him what he did. He said he lived in Amsterdam and declared he was a ‘good honest criminal’, which was such a relief because we had started to worry he was one of those bad, dishonest ones. He was only in Amman for 12 hours, had been there before and didn’t like the place, and was only going to a hotel to take a shower before he hopped on a plane to India to meet a ‘bird’ from El Salvador. He added that the south of India was not what it used to be - it was one big hedonistic party playground before the authorities tightened up. We ordinarily would have invited him to our hotel to use our bathroom, but we dunno, something made us decide against it…

Our hotel in Downtown, ‘Palace Hotel’, which had a good write up in Lonely Planet, was anything but a palace and a bit of a flea-pit for the relatively astronomical rate of NZ$60 a night. However it was raining and freezing cold, so we decided to go with it for a night and try find somewhere better the next day. That evening we found the strangely-named but women-friendly ‘Eco-tourism Café’, that had nothing eco or tourism about it, but free WiFi, algeela, backgammon boards and hot tea - an appealing combination which saw us return each day after walking the city. It was awfully icy cold and like most of our days in Amman, we wore every layer we brought with us and in the evenings took liberal swigs of Jaegermeister we kept for such emergencies!

Downtown Amman is a sprawling quarter at the bottom of hilly neighbourhoods, with Roman ruins languishing among the hustle and bustle of markets, shops and traffic. The buildings are very clunky, concreted beasts, and although appear better built than say, in Egypt, are the same featureless, bland buildings we’ve seen around North Africa. Less touty than other main cities, you can disappear among the crowds and observe daily life undisturbed.

The Nymphaem and Amphitheatre were a little hard to find, mainly to one of us not knowing left from right when reading the map, and being convinced that the locals were wrong and clearly pointing us in the wrong way. We did get to see a lot of Downtown though, as a consolation. Like most of the towns we’ve visited, the small local shops selling like goods are all clustered together, and we passed kitchen goods street, rotor engine alley and mattress quarter. We found shops selling melamine anything and everything, Saddam Hussein banknotes and even nun-chucks, batons and shotguns! Jac stopped at a small cafe that had several glass bowls of white deserts on offer, as well as pictures of the proprietor in his shop with Jordanian royalty. It turns out the desert was called ashta and was a milk-custard that had fragrant syrup, sultanas and nuts drizzled on top. It was a little muted in taste, but if it’s good enough for royalty… The food in Amman was typically Middle Eastern - rotisserie chicken, khoobz Arabi Arab flatbread, nuts and soft cheese being street food, and in the eateries we tried Bedouin fare like curiously-named ‘Jews Mallow’, a slimy but delicious soupy spinach dish, and moolookhiye, lamb cooked in yoghurt, served on rice and garnished with blanched almond slivers and flatbread.

While in Amman we also walked around the upmarket Abdoun area and its surrounds, and also blissfully enjoyed the odd non-Arabic meal - steak, noodles and Mexican. As soon you climb those hills from Downtown the wealth is immediately evident - Audis, Porches and Mercedes all cruising the streets, fashionable bars, modern shops and European-looking houses. At one restaurant there was a school-aged girl celebrating her birthday with a large table of friends - for the first time we saw girls without the traditional halib headscarf on, mixing with their more conservative friends. As each guest arrived the birthday girl excitedly took them to the window and pointed out - turned out one of the aforementioned luxury cars was her birthday present!

We stayed in Amman for about 8 days, and took day trips out to see the surrounding sights - Mt Nebo, the mosaic town of Madaba, The Dead Sea, Crusader Castles, Jerash Roman ruins, and Arabic Desert Castles. Jac unfortunately succumbed to the freezing cold weather and was bed-ridden for two days. And our Palace Hotel did end up being palatial compared to the other budget-price digs around, and had really good day-tours and had the best soft, fresh flatbread at breakfast we’ve tasted in the Middle East.

Holy moly! The bus to Amman



A bit of Jaeger for warmth


Downtown Amman

King Hussein Mosque

Where you pick up your keffiyeh

A cart of fresh dried dates

Arab spices


Downtown market - vendors all yelling prices for their fruit and vegetables

Monster cabbage

Palestinian herbs?

ABC Bank - they know their 1-2-3s

Fancy a Softi Softi or a Rich & Rich?

Guns don't kill, Ninjas do

A Bedouin and his sons selling herbs and capsicums

Boiled goats head is actually a Middle Eastern treat

Hilly Amman



Abu Darweesh Mosque

The Ashta desert shop that has been frequented by Jordanian royalty

Jac tries the Ashta

Chalky warming himself with a Waitangi Day algeela

The 'Ecotourism' cafe we visited daily... nothing terribly Eco or tourism about it!

Posted by JacChalky 05:32 Archived in Jordan Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Wadi Musa and Petra

Indiana would have been proud...

overcast 15 °C
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Our trip to Wadi Musa from Aqaba was by local mini-bus, where we were joined for the two-hour ride two American Jewish girls who were weekending from Jerusalem, a Korean guy who’d also arrived from volunteering in Jerusalem (however much to his dismay he was assigned dishes for a month) and a bunch of locals. Jac had managed to haggle our fare down 20% but as locals hopped on the bus en-route, it appeared that us tourists were heavily subsidising the local price. C’est la vie. The way mini-buses work in Jordan is that you can flag one down at any stage along the route and jump on, and the bus was soon packed with men carrying several bags of blankets, sports bags and household items that they squeezed in with them.

Once in Wadi Musa, a dusty, hilly town, we avoided the hotel touts and checked into our pre-booked ‘Hotel Anbat II’, however were redirected to the next door (and much more plush) ‘Anbat III’. The town pretty much exists because of the nearby site of Petra, however being off-season, it felt a little empty. We paid a must-visit to ‘Cave Bar’, which was set in 2,000 year old cave tombs. No where else in the world can you drink beer and Dubonet and smoke algeela in the small alcoves that are as old as JC himself!

2,000 year old Cave Bar

We walked down to Petra from Wadi Musa (only a 15-minute walk away) and as soon as we reached the site, we saw smooth, yellow rocks and the hills are littered with holes, signifying 1st century AD Nabatean tombs. Our Lonely Planet informed us that Petra was the capital of the Nabatean people, who were Aramaic-speaking Semites. Some look almost Roman with classical-style ‘triclinium’. While we ambled towards the entrance of the imposing ‘Siq’or gorge, Bedouins on beautiful, sleek Arabian horses galloped past us.

Interestingly, at the Siq entrance we happened upon a Bollywood movie in full production - a beautiful Indian girl in bright peach sari did several takes running into the arms of her beau and being dipped for the camera, while Indian pop blared in the background. A couple of crew talked to us - one, a Jordanian, proudly told us he’s been involved in Hollywood movies for 20 years, including Indiana Jones, and gave us his business card. One to send to Peter Jackson, perhaps?

Only superlatives can describe the Siq. Impressive, imposing, majestic, towering, awesome… (an aside - Jac has just asked Chalky for a word. He thinks and goes: “…Big”.) You’ll have to see the photos to get a small glimpse of how terrifically ginormous the Siq is. We walked along the original Roman road through the 2km Siq in pure awe, gazing at the swirled red, pink, brown and yellow hues of the smooth rocks. We also spied the odd tenacious tree, growing stubbornly through the cracks in the rocks. The Nabateans were pretty clever people, as evidenced by several aquaducts cut into the sides. In places the Siq is wide, some 10m across, and open and sunny, in others it is noticeably cold and dark as the rock almost joins above our heads. As we walked we tried to imagine what it must have felt like for the Swiss explorer who discovered Petra after it lay empty for a millenia - he disguised himself as an Arab pilgrim who wanted to sacrifice an animal - and laid eyes on the magnificent Siq for the first time.

After each twist and turn we wondered if were ever about to emerge from the Siq, until the familiar sight of tourists standing and snapping gave the game away. At the end the narrow opening gave us a glimpse of the famous ‘Al Khazneh’, or Treasury, which almost seemed surreal at first, appearing through the darkened crack of Siq almost glowing in sunny contrast. However once we approached the opening, it suddenly loomed in front of us, a spectacular sight. We looked around us for any sign of Indie but sadly all we saw were Japanese and Spanish tourists jostling for camera position.

We spent the whole day walking around Petra, climbing all the way up to the High Place of Sacrifice and passing some poor beleaguered donkeys being struck by their adolescent owners along the way. The High Place was at the top of a flat mountain and bore the remains of the altar as well as platforms and deep baths. It started to get really windy and cold so we didn’t stay at the top for long. On the way down into the valley we stopped to have sweetened tea with a Bedouin woman. We gave her an orange and some cheese pastries, as she didn’t have many provisions with her. She gracefully accepted then, then shared her pastry among the ‘bis bis’ (cats) that kept her company among the ancient tombs. All the way back to the main path the craggy hills were dotted with old tomb sites. Most you could climb into and wander the darkened caverns, some unfortunately, smelled like someone couldn’t hold onto their pants fast enough.

At each of the main tombs the local Bedouin were selling souvenirs and ‘antique’ Roman coins and Nabatean artifacts. One old vendor we passed enthusiastically began talking to us in broken English and showed us a Nabatean coin that had a couple fornicating on it! Chortling, he pointed at us and then pointed at the coin, as if that would broker the sale. We laughed and replied ‘shukran, shukran’ (thank-you, thank-you, as in ‘no thanks’) and then he proudly told us he had 10 children and all from only one wife! We were suitably impressed and he asked us if we had any. ‘La-la’ we replied, and tried to explain that hopefully in the future, but adding ‘En sha’Allah’ for good measure.

All the climbing and walking worked up an appetite so we stopped to have lunch, which consisted of homemade cucumber, tomato and luncheon sandwiches on the ubiquitous flat bread, all prepared with the Swiss knife and melamine plates we bought in Aqaba. We tucked into our hearty lunch and we ate while perched on a cleft of a cliff, dangling our legs and watching the action below us. Certainly was the most scenic picnic venue we’ve ever had!

The day turned really icy cold and windy, so by about 4pm we decided to call it a day after wandering the tombs and Roman ruins, and taking photos of all the adorable Bedouin kids playing in the cold and selling souvenirs. We could have easily stayed longer, as there were more sights to see and hills to climb in sprawling Petra. Before we left we bought a few pieces of turquoise off a stall owner, who informed us that it would likely snow the next day. We walked back through the amazing Siq, then shivered back to our warm hotel. At the door of Al Anbat II we passing a mini-bus load of little local kids who all crammed themselves out the back window to shout "Hello, hello, hello, hello!" at us - the first of many warm Middle Eastern greetings we received.

As you can imagine, we took a billion photos but have tried to post a succinct summary of what we saw, but to say we've posted quite a few is an understatement!

Walking towards the Siq

Arabian horses galloped past us

Nabatean Obelisk or 'Nefesh' tombs, built in 1C AD

A Bollywood movie set


Entering the Siq










The Siq is 'THIS' big!

A glimpse of The Treasury






Nabatean tombs



The view as we climb towards the Place of High Sacrifice




Made it to the top!


The High Place of Sacrifice

Jac by the Lion Fountain

A striped tomb on the way down


A Bedouin woman who we shared tea with

The Soldiers' tomb

Inside the Soldiers' tomb - fantastically swirled rock




The jolly (and virile, as he informed us!) Bedouin souvenir seller

Chalky infront of the many towering tombs




Our homemade lunch atop a cliff


Jac infront of an impressive tomb

A cute Bedouin kid, who was in love with his yellow elephant

Huddled in his father's jacket against the cold

Roman ruins

"Hello, hello, hello!"

Posted by JacChalky 04:57 Archived in Jordan Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Jordan - Aqaba and Wadi Rum

Bedouin and T.E. Lawrence country...

sunny 20 °C
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We arrived at the Nuweiba port in Egypt at midday, purchased our 'fast' ferry tickets (as opposed to the 'slow' ferry option) for the 2pm Red Sea crossing, which about an hour later, would see us berthed at the Aqaba port in Jordan. Sounded easy enough, right? Fast forward five hours later and we were still in the crowded terminal that is more like a warehouse and smells like wee. No amount of sign language and wristwatch-tapping could ellicit any show of interest from the officials, other than a 'yes, you again' smiles and a finger held up each time to indicate how many more hours we must wait. Only one more, whatev!

One must be patient when catching an 'Egyptian' timed ferry

Our cramped 'transfer' bus from the terminal to the ferry

Our transport across the Red Sea

However one mustn't be too ungrateful when the time comes, and we surged forward with the crowd of mainly men towards the officials at the hull entrance and smiled in hope of being 'allowed' onto the ferry. From there we were bossed around further into a line on the side of the hull while huge forklifts and our luggage were loaded into the hull. Once above however, the 'Princess' ferry was surprisingly nice inside and we were treated to B-grade Arab action movies on the TVs above the seats. Steven Seagal, eat your heart out.

Finally, at about 7pm, we arrived into Aqaba and were pleased to discover that the port is part of a special zone that for some reason gives visas out for free. We tried to catch a cab into town, but were quickly annoyed by the taxi-driver's obscene prices - JD10 (NZ$20) for the six-kilometer ride in! Jac did her best Asian negotiation skills and got two young Aussie backpackers to join us in order to split the fare. Thankfully there were also kind Jordanian locals who approached us and affirmed our beliefs that the taxi drivers were blatantly ripping us off.

The next day we explored the seaside town, and found our daily breakfast venue - a small stand that sold soft white pastries filled with spinach, mashed potato or mince for about NZ25c each. The town is cute, the locals all sit on the beach having mezze picnics, there are makeshift tents on the sand, and little kids swim despite the huge oil tankers anchored not far away. Locals earn a crust by selling cheap goggles and blow up rings along the water. We also wandered past bakeries that had huge, steaming round flat-breads hurtling down metal slides from the ceiling and bagged immediately for sale. The food market was an eye-opener too - hooks and hooks of hanging goat carcasses, with their furry heads still attached and (ahem) appendages hanging on display as if to attest the virility of the creature you would be buying. We tried roasted 'farooj' (chicken) for dinner, which are roasted in a big glass oven outside, twenty of them rotating horizontally on skewers. The food was fresh and the local "Petra" beers had an alcohol content of 10% - shivers!

Boys hard at work making crumpets at a bakery

Piping hot pitas literally falling out of the oven

Butcher's shop

We spent about four days in the small sleepy town, mainly because we wanted to extend our visa past the 14-days we were initally granted, but we happened to arrive at the Arabic weekend (Fri/Sat) so decided to wait for the office to open and also take an overnight trip out to Wadi Rum, some two hours north-east in the desert.

Wadi Rum is one of the many vast deserts in Jordan, which the nomadic Bedouin inhabit. T.E. Lawrence lived with the Bedouin in Wadi Rum and eventually sympathised and joined the Arab cause against the British in 18-eightytwentyfortyseventhreenineish. We hopped on the back of an open 4WD truck with a lovely Danish couple and a hilarious Spaniard who spent the whole day bopping to music on his headphones (he told us it was Michael Jackson). Our Sudanese driver had been described as somewhat of a human desert compass and he deftly sped us through the desert. We struck it unlucky (or lucky?) and got blasted by a sandstorm, which whipped our faces and taught us why the Bedouin swathe their heads and faces in their red-and-white checked scarves.

We climbed soft red sand dunes, ambled along craggy rocks and admired the desert from above. The desert is impressive - magnificient, ginormous rich red and brown mountains sit in the flat sand, with little foliage. The mountains don't look spectacular in the distance until you realise a little moving white dot at the base is actually another 4WD, speeding across the desolate terrain.

We visited one of the Siqs - a narrow gorge cut into one of the 'Jebels' (mountains), reaching from the rock floor all the way up about 100m to the top of the rock. Inside, it was noticeably chilly and contained ancient Nabatean carvings on the rocks, everything from feet, ostritches to even a woman giving birth. We were disappointed to discover we couldn't go in very far (the siq stretches about 150m) due to huge water pools from recent rains. Outside we said hello to two old Bedouin men who were proffering 'Roman coins' among other 'antiques' for sale, and joined another for tea inside his tent. Other sights we saw are 'Lawrence's spring' (sadly now a concreted hole in the ground) and a natural 'bridge' formation amongst the rocks.

Speeding towards Wadi Rum village on the back of our 4WD

Bedouin goats headed towards the village

Sandstorm whips across the plains


Jac covers up against the sandy blast

Sand dune

Chalky working his gluts and quads at full pace

Race you to the top!

Spot the poser

The view from above


Entering the Siq


Ancient Nabatean carvings


Us in the Siq

Us on the 'Big Bridge'

Our 4WD driver

Found on the sand

Warning - grouchy, spitting transport

Unfortunately the rain set in, which cut down the sights we were meant to see, and makes the ride at the back of the truck bitterly cold (and well, wet). We headed to another part of the desert about an hour away, and we parked up and had some warming sweet tea, shared around the chocolate and nuts that we had on us, and had Spanish pop playing in the background thanks to our our friend.

Afterwards it was to the Bedouin camp for some dinner - mutton, chicken in rice, with salad and flat bread. We then bade farewell to our desert trip companions, and settled in by the fire for the night. It appears we are the only people staying at the large camp, that has some 30 tents. We share an algeel (Jordanian Arabic for water pipe) and talk to one of the camp workers, who is Jordanian. His family lives in Israel but for some reason (not disclosed due to either the language barrier or the true unsavoury reason) is barred from visiting even though his wife is there. The camp is surprisingly warm despite the cold, and we quickly fall into a deep sleep under a pile of about five fleecy blankets in our tent.

Our Bedouin dinner

Sitting in the camp

We had the whole place to ourselves

Back in Aqaba the next morning we discovered we'd been kindly 'upgraded' - from a tiny room to a small room (but one that had a balcony), but as it was being cleaned we walked again to the 'Aqaba Special Economic Zone Administration' (Immigration Office). Turned out our visa was actually for a month, so no extension was needed. Hooray. Back near our hotel, we sat like sore thumbs at Al Firdous café. "Cafés" in the Middle East are strictly the preserve of men only, and they sit for hours, smoking and playing cards or backgammon. However lucky for me, Al Firdous was women-friendly and plus I was accompanied by my 'husband', which helped my cause. Actually, further on in our travels in the Middle East we realised that most of the outside world was 'men only', as we saw hardly any women out and about, except shopping at markets. Hardly any of the shops, offices, hotels or restaurants had women working, especially so in the small towns.

We hung out with an algeel, some coffee and 'shai ma'nana' (sweet tea with fresh mint) and watched the local men huddled around small industrial-metal tables, playing cards and greeting every second man that walked by, and also the busy cafe owner, a big guy who controlled the remote to the flat screen TV encased in a specially-made metal casing. Playing on TV was Arabic music videos, many of which featured seductively dancing women in low-cut floaty dresses. While they weren't as flagrant as, say the Pussycat Dolls, they were a stark contradiction to the conservative modesty that is so respected in the Middle East. The influence of the West, perhaps?

We discovered that the final of the African Football Cup was being played at Al Firdous, so we returned an hour before the game to find two flat screens set up, and a projector, the entire small courtyard was crammed with plastic chairs, and filling fast. Egypt, ('Masr') was playing Ghana, and was clearly the favourite. We joined in, yelling at the players and hoping that Egypt would score. Some of the fans roused the crowd with drumming and chanting and the cafe was packed, men even sitting in the tree in the courtyard. The score was an anguishing 0-0 until 3 minutes before full time, when a newly-subbed Gado (apparently the Egyptian team's wonderboy) sunk one in from outside the box. The cheering from the cafe was deafening and glitter bombs were popped, and the whole cafe jumped to their feet and and danced. After the game the streets of Aqaba were filled with the roar of men parading the streets and waving Egyptian flags. We joined the masses in the street then watched the celebration from our hotel balcony (that upgrade really made the difference), awed at the level of passion and elation, and a little glad that there were no rifles being waved in the air also.

Local men wiling away the hours at Al Firdous cafe

The favourite to win, Masr

Tension as it remains nil-all at half time


Elation (and drumming!) as Masr clinches victory


Crowds gather, celebrating in the streets

Cheering hordes, waving Egyptian flags


Posted by JacChalky 09:11 Archived in Jordan Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

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