Day 28: Yellah!

March 28th, 2015
Petra to Wadi Rum: Yellah! We set off bright and early from Saba’a on our mini road trip with new friends, Wei Wei and Dawson. A short 2 hour drive later we found our way into Wadi Rum with ease. Truly,  if you have a map, a smart phone, and keep your eyes peeled for signs, you do not need a GPS to find your way around Jordan.

We encountered a slight hassle at the gate as Mehedi said we would with people hassling us and saying they would take our money and give it to the visitors centre, etc. Ignoring them and going to get the tickets with success, we proceeded on. I don’t know why I was thinking that we were looking for a Bedouin Directions sign but we carried on through the village, despite the multitude of killer speed bumps and the 4Runner that flashed its  lights at us…after pulling up the directions  and realizing that we should have met Mehedi at the rest house (first building on the right) and the car flashing its  lights was probably him we turned around and sure enough, found him waiting there. We left Wei Wei and followed Mehedi to him house for some tea and to meet the rest of our group, a lovely set of three friends studying at uni in Singapore and our guide Ayed.

A brief synopsis  of our stops (included in the ‘Mehedi Special Jeep Tour’):
1. An old Nabatean temple  just outside the village. If you haven’t seen ruins before or are a big fan of ruins then it’s worth a visit. Otherwise,  skip it.

2. Lawrence’s  Spring. Situated on a hill
 a short drive from the village you can scramble up the rocks to see it. The spring is not too exciting but the view is great and the resident lizards are charming (if you’re partial to amphibians, that is).

3. A short canyon with pools of water at the bottom and some beautiful inscriptions along the sides.

4. Inscriptions and a red sand dune. Dune: hard to climb up, extremely fun to run down.
Inscriptions: used many years ago by the caravanserai to show the way and leave messages.

5. Lawrence’s  House – again not too too much to see here in terms of historical structure, but it’s an easy scramble up the rocks for another stunning view.

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Some of the inscriptions

At this point we broke for lunch, which involved starting with dessert, always a good sign in my books. Ayed and Muhammed (who was going to lead us up to Burdah Arch) set to cooking lunch while the rest of us charged our batteries and chatted in the shade. We enjoyed the simple but filling veggie stew-esque meal they prepared along with the ever-present pita and hummus accompaniment.

With our bellies full, Ayed dropped us off with Muhammed to do the hike/scramble to the arch. This was absolutely beautiful and super fun to climb up, but also challenging at points. The long legs really came in handy at this time!
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We made it to the top and enjoyed the beautiful view immensely, the occasional gust of wind as we crossed the arch itself just adding to the thrill.

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We made it!

While coming up, we had asked if it was the same route down as up because it seemed quite treacherous at times and we were told it was. So, the journey down was interesting to say the least! Firstly, Muhammed would essentially run down these cliff faces with the ease of a goat with suction cups for feet then look back at us and go, ‘Yellah!’ (Arabic for let’s go, a phrase we heard numerous times!). Secondly, he kept trying to trick us with the direction, then giggle, and point in entirely the opposite direction. And our supposed pal Dawson, a climber extraordinaire himself, did his best to lead us off track once or twice. It’s ok, you can still come to Everest Base Camp with us. 😜

Anyhow we did make it back down, and Ayed said we were quite fast in fact! We headed for the small arch next, no big deal after what we’d just done!

Our final stop was to try and view sunset. As we pulled up to the dune we were to watch from, we couldn’t believe our eyes….it was Green Dress from the day before! In the same green dress, prancing about on the dune. Unbelievable! Luckily they didn’t stay too long and we were able to enjoy a little sunset (and make a sand angel, if you were me!). Because it was sandy, our sunset wasn’t the best, but we enjoyed the relaxation!
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Finally, we headed back to camp for some delicious dinner. It was very filling and some of the veggies and some chicken were dinner in the traditional way in the fire in the ground. Yum! A few games of cards later and we were headed to bed to recover from a long day.

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Day 26: Want to ride a Bedouin Ferrari?

Dead Sea to Petra

What a wonderful day we had today! We reluctantly left the DSSH after having a spectacular  breakfast buffet and a final toe dip in the Dead Sea.

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Our drive to Petra was to be via the Dead Sea road past Wadi Mujib, Dana Biosphere Reserve, and Shobak Castle (which is Anglicized  roughly 12 different ways on any given combo of road signs and maps – just adds to the fun of navigation!). The road along the sea is really nice, as far as views that it, and the road winding up through the mountains is equally lovely with exceptional views over towards Israel and south to Aqaba. Let me briefly clarify however that in referring to drives as lovely, I am always, without fail, speaking of the scenery and never the quality of the actual road and how it drives as this, without fail, is always rather crap!

There was a lot of haze and possibly sand in the air so there really wasn’t much visibility over Dana unfortunately. Time was also marching on so we opted to maximize our time at Shubak and Petra.

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Shewbuk was amazing. It’s perched high on a hill overlooking the valley and commands attention even from a distance. It was free to go in for us (not sure that this is always the case) and it’s a short but steep walk from the parking lot up to the entrance. There were two guys dressed up in traditional soldier gear hanging out, one of whom was really keen on dressing us up in the helmet, shield, and sword. We evaded him for most of our visit but couldn’t turn him down in the end. He also pointed us to the tunnel that disappears into the darkened belly of the castle,  a purported 365 steps in all, emerging somewhere down the hillside, but for the sake of pressing on to Petra we chose to forego it.

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All dressed up and nowhere to go
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Leah and our new friend at the top of the tunnel

We arrived to Petra around 2:30 and purchased our 2 day ticket (JD55). Passport is needed for this as they charge up to 90JD for visitors who’ve been in the country less than 1 or 2 days I think it is. Highway robbery,  if you ask me. Anyhow, pretty much as soon as we set out for the entrance from the ticket booth we were consistently harassed: “Would you like to ride my Ferrari?” “Do you need a guide?” “Looking is free – please look at these souvenirs!” “Hey,  take a picture with me!”

In case you were wondering,  a Ferrari is a donkey or mule and they are everywhere around Petra being used to haul weary tourists around the expansive site. As two young, female travelers unaccompanied by males, Leah and I might as well have had targets on our banks and flashing neon lights surrounding us drawing every tout and teenage schoolboy in the place to us like magnets. Combined with the heat, dust, and garbage all over, it’s really a bit of an experience ruiner to be honest and by about 5:15 PM,  with the light leaving us we decided to call it quits for the day with rather a sour taste in our mouths. I mean, when you’re cooking up plots to escape from the 8th huddle of teenage boys conspiring ways to take a photo with you, you know it’s bad.

We had walked from the front entrance to the base of the Monastery trail and seen the sights along that trail including the famous treasury, Roman theatre and the tombs, and I will say, people and garbage aside, the actual site itself is rather stunning.

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On our way out, a beautiful sunset blooming behind us, we noticed two guys coming down from a hill and asked them if it was worth the climb for a sunset pic or two. They said it was so up we scrambled. It was refreshing to get above the madness and the view was worth it.

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Our hotel, Saba’a, was a short 5 minute drive from Petra and we were most happy to arrive to a warm welcome (and tea!) from Gail, the owner, and as it turned out, one of the guys we received directions to the sunset from, Dawson.

After such a long and taxing day, a dinner invitation to a buffet with Dawson, from California, and Stefan, from Germany, was just the ticket. Can’t say that I’d go to that buffet again, but the company was lovely, the conversation enjoyable, and it really helped to offset the scuzzier males of the day – thanks guys! 😉

Day 25: The fanciest backpackers are allowed in Dead Sea Resort despite lack of child.

Day 25: Madaba to Dead Sea

We had a relaxed morning today, enjoying the terrace seating for breakfast at Moab Land Hotel and then making our way to the Dead Sea Panoramic Complex which is run by the RSCN as well. This site has an excellent museum as well as a beautiful look out over the Dead Sea with views over to Israel.

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In the car looking at our check-in information, Leah was like,  “um, do you have a child stashed somewhere that I’m unaware of? Because this reservation is for two adults and a child!” It seemed that I had clicked something incorrectly when making to booking!

When we got to the Dead Sea Spa Hotel where we were staying and made it through the gates, we were quite happy to be able to check in early. The receptionist also had quite a sense of humour: when we told him we didn’t have a child and I’d not noticed that was included in our reservation he said with total deadpan, “well you need to go get a child or you can’t stay”. I, of course, thought he was serious, but Leah saw through his charade and in the end, no child was needed.
Our room was really lovely with a view of the Dead Sea and the West Bank. We found it quite cute that everything in the room was able to be purchased, right down to the kettle, should you find something you really liked.

We quickly donned our suits and headed down to the water. The water was quite warm at the top but chilly further down although because of the buoyancy this was not an issue. It’s actually crazy, you really can’t help but float in the water because it is so saline. Even when you try to stand, it just flips you back over.

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The Dead Sea float

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Can't stand!

We both tried the Dead Sea mud next and it was so neat feeling. We both washed it off within 5 minutes, but Leah’s fair skin was stained by it. Insta fake tan!

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Muddy!

The rest of our day was a delight of relaxing poolside and ordering in room service (excellent food here). Would definitely recommend this hotel to others!

Day 23: Mt Nebo and neverending one way streets

Day 23: Amman to Mt Nebo and the mosaics of Madaba

Today we left Amman for warmer pastures. Ha, I joke because it’s always warm here now! We bade farewell to Malcolm and the gang (until they make a reprise at the end of our trip) and Mr Edward and Mrs Bedouin Johnny Depp set out for the Madaba area.

We barely got lost at all getting out of the city (hip hip hooray!) and headed out towards Mt Nebo. This is another site with biblical significance but also a beautiful view. The church is still closed for restoration but the view is good and there is a beautiful mosaic laid out under a tent to see.

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The view from Mt Nebo

Heading back in to Madaba to catch the beautiful mosaics the city is known for, we ended up going in a few circles to find the visitors centre. Many roads are “one-way” in appearance but are not necessarily clearly sign posted as such and you can truly end up going round and round if you’re not careful and learn from your mistakes. There was one sign for the visitors centre in particular that was quite misleading which added another loop to our journey. In the end we did manage to make it to the visitors centre where we were permitted to park for the time while we poked around the town and also given a handy map.

We started at the Madaba Archeological Park which is just around the corner from the visitors centre. We paid like 1 or 2JD and received a very informative guided tour along with this. This site is definitely worth viewing as the mosaics contained within are lovely. He showed us also how the colour changes when the stones get wet. It’s incredible how intricate, durable, and old these pieces are. Our guide also showed us how mosaics are made in two ways, the old and the new.

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Partly wet mosaic to show the colour difference

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From there we set out to see the Church of the Apostles ans with a little help from some friendly locals we were able to find it. There are more beautiful mosaics here and the entry fee is included with the Madaba Archeological Park fee. No personal tour guide here unfortunately.

Map in hand and gaining a better understanding of the layout of the city we ventured back towards St George Church where the Mosaic Map is housed. We came across the same lady who had directed us earlier and she once again kindly sent us in the right direction. We accidentally stumbled on the church where St John the Baptist was beheaded but a mutual decision was made to skip this.

We located the church quite easily after that and excitingly, our hotel, Moab Land Hotel, was literally right across the street. It’s a Greek Church and it’s just 1JD to enter. The mosaic is absolutely beautiful. Incredible that they could make such a detailed map of the region so many years ago.
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With that done, we had the challenge of navigating the 500m from the visitor centre parking lot to our hotel… it took us probably half an hour with all the one way streets and crowds. Boohoo…

We tried Ayar Restaurant for dinner, just a short 10 minute walk from our hotel. It was very good and quite reasonably priced and I ate probably 2 lbs of parsley. Apparently the ratio of couscous to parsley is a little opposite here compared to Canada!

Day 22: A spot of tea with Bedouin Johnny Depp aka Leah got hitched

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.

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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!