Day 22: Desert castles loop to Azraq
Today started bright and early with the arrival of the rental car man looking for “Mr Edward”, much to Muath’s amusement. Luckily, the man didn’t seem too surprised to see a female walk out! After another delicious breakfast courtesy of Eefje & Muath, we set out on our way to Azraq Wetland Reserve via the Eastern Desert Castles loop. So began my toughest test as a driver to date, although with a co-pilot like Leah and the directions of Eefje, it’s hard to go wrong!
Let me talk a minute on driving in Jordan. It is moderately organized chaos at best. It is pure madness in general. Broad, two lane streets become clogged, one lane back alleys in the blink of an eye with cars parked 2 deep on both sides and humans meandering ad nauseum wherever, whenever. Cars pass you on the left into oncoming traffic and on the right too if it suits. People leap out into traffic carrying chairs/food/children, without looking, leisurely strolling across the lanes.
Today was the day I vowed to be a better pedestrian in future. Needless to say, to be an Arab driver is to anticipate the movements of everything in a 50 meter radius and then artfully dodge them while still moving in your direction of travel. An added bonus is the reaction you get from males and children as a couple white chicks driving around. Yes hello friends, your waves, stares, and ‘Welcome to Jordan’s never get old.
Once out of the city, our GPS directions had us heading northeast:
We were confident we would be taking some type of turn prior to reaching these destinations however. The road into the desert is well traveled with many transport trucks along this route. We first visited an old Hamam and am old castle, neither of which were really exciting but definitely interesting to see. It’s quite well sign posted to get to these places.
Continuing along the highway, we were both sobered to see one of the UN refugee camps. It literally gave us both chills to the bone. I cannot imagine what it feels like to be a displaced person and have to leave your home for a tent, randomly set up in a desert. What sense of worth and home do you have when your world is so small and fractured? It made me want to immediately quit my job and relocate to a place where I’m truly needed and may truly make a difference.
Ah, how to continue on after seeing that? Humans are remarkably resilient in this way as on we trucked, arriving without much trouble to our destination of Azraq Wetlands, although these are also really another sad story of human gluttony and interference. The wetlands now are really more like desert with some ponds although the RSCN which is the nature conservation agency in Jordan is working to maintain and restore this area so I think if you’re doing the castle loop, it is certainly worth a visit. There several species of bird and possibly water buffalo? We only saw possible excrement of the latter however.
Our next stop was Azraq Castle, which we very briefly called at. A large bus of other tourists had just pulled up outside so that kind of deterred us from actually going in. Instead we headed back southwest to Castle Amra.
At Amra, we were greeted by the handsome and charming Hakem, a Bedouin raised in the area. He told us we were the first Canadians in the castle for two years but I’m (as always) skeptical. Without payment or question he brought us into the castle and gave some wonderful explanations about the castle and the lovely paintings inside. We had a very enjoyable chat regarding the state of the world in general and Hakem proved to be wise beyond his 29 years.
Castle tour complete, we moved to the tent for some tea and snuggles with kitty friends. The tea was delicious and we definitely recommend visiting Amra!
We headed back for Amman after that. We passed by one more Crusader Castle but opted not to stop there. We overshot our turn off a bit but were able to back track… until we got screwed up by barriers and one way streets that our GPS Gina couldn’t predict. Thank goodness that between the two of us we were able to navigate back to Hawa regardless of how much it seemed like we were destined to keep on going in circles…
That night, we treated ourselves to more than just a falafel sandwich. We had a whole heap of hummus too!