Day 29: “Listen! A camel!” “That was me..”

After a pretty splendid nights sleep in the desert (pretty sure I was asleep before my head hit the pillow and my only complaint would be that the pillow was too hard!), we woke up to an overcast day. This felt appropriate for our mood at having to say farewell to Dawson this morning as he had to return to work-related reality as well as our other three friends from yesterday.

Incidentally, he also runs a travel blog which you may care to check out: DawsonOliverTheWorld.com.
Another excellent play on words, sir and making me think I’m going to have to spring to go full on .com instead of the loser .WordPress.com! 😉

The breakfast at camp was really simple and could use some tweaking (some fresh fruit perhaps!) but certainly filled a void. I’m just realizing that the pita is ubiquitous to meals in Jordan as kimchi is to Korea, and for someone who is not generally a bread products fan, this is tough. I’d definitely recommend bringing snacks and possibly speaking with the staff about dietary needs prior to arrival if you truly have an allergy or special food need. It’s easy to eat vegetarian but not vegan or gluten-free here.

The game plan for our second day with Ayed was to climb Umm Ad Dami(1,854m), the highest peak in Jordan, from which you can see Saudi Arabia and if it’s clear, the Red Sea. Clearly, this is not the highest peak I’ve ever climbed but combine it with a very scrambly, quickly ascending non-trail and the after effects of Petra hiking and arch hiking the two days previous and you’ve got two weary white girls hauling their butts at a snail’s pace, thinking death must be near. Meanwhile, a few feet ahead, our chainsmoking guide springs nimbly ahead like it ain’t no thang. 😧
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We came across a herd of camels near the base of the mountain.
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Camels!

We did make it up and it turns out the overcast nature of the day actually ended up working out for us as it wasn’t so hot to hike in. The 360° view from the top and the cute little rodents who live at the top were worth it. The title of today’s post comes from an exchange at the top of this mountain…

Me: (grumbly unintelligible sounds related to the photo I’d just taken)

Ayed: “Did you hear that sound? That’s a camel!”

Me: “Actually….that was me.” (And I don’t think you can hear camels 1,854m plus away)

Leah: (cracking up)

Ayed: “Oh…..you’re a camel! Just a baby camel ok?”

Me: “Ok…”:?

Leah: (still cracking up) “A baby camel…!!!”

It was pretty funny.

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The baby camel and Leah

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Ayed leads the way

Having made it down safely, we drove to our lunch spot where we promptly fell asleep on the picnic mat while poor Ayed prepared lunch. Mad props to Ayed for his desert driving skills btw. Really very well done!

As we were having lunch it started to look as if a storm was rolling in and indeed it did. We were happy about this for three reasons, 1. To brighten up the desert colours 2. To hopefully settle the sand in the air for a better sunset and 3. Because it’s easier to drive in the slightly wet sand (guess whose reason this was!). Also quite pleasing was the fact that the actual rain avoided our little site all together.
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While we slept, Ayed had caught us a scorpion (in a water bottle) in addition to cooking lunch. It was a small yellow one, which are apparently more dangerous than the black ones. Ayed told us they eat sand (which I think was pulling our legs) and are nocturnal usually. He put one of the black beetles that profusely populate the desert in with it but the beetle and the scorpion were so disinterested in one another it was quite funny. They were lying on one another, walking past one another….might as well have been besties!

Lunch and nap time done with, we headed to see some more sights of the desert, including another natural spring/aquafer, an ingenious dam built in to the side of the desert cliffs to catch rainwater, and another cool arch which looks like a crocodiles head if you stand in the center, forming a pupil.
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We headed off to try and catch a sunset and Ayed kindly brewed up a pot of tea to enjoy. It wasn’t looking hopeful but we did end up getting a sunset! The sun kind of slipped behind some cloud but emerged out the bottom quite brilliantly. So we had some fun with it…

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Leah squishes the sun

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Hello Kitty shaped heart

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Another full day done with, we set off back to camp for a (cold!!) shower and supper. We met a lovely Australian couple who helped me convince Leah that we should include Bhutan in our next trip too (thanks!). Another perfect desert day.

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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.

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 24: Kisses from the police

The lost day…. This day was really busy, really beautiful, full of cool experiences, funny things, and a rather expensive booboo. Because of all this and the subsequent busy and exciting days, it has taken me up til now to fully document this day. Hope I haven’t forgotten anything!

Day 24: Madaba – Umm Ar Rasas – Karak – Dead Sea Highway – Madaba

Another beautiful sunny day and we set out from the Moab Land Hotel with a very exciting day plan. We first headed for Umm Ar Rasas,  another UNESCO World Heritage site. We’ve just been knocking the World Heritage sites out of the park this trip.

 

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We were approached by a pair of men just outside the mosaic church and they wanted to know how we had found Umm Ar Rasas, why we came, and what we thought of it. They told us they were from Germany, and were doing restoration and research at the site as well as promoting it to visitors.

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Stunning old mosaics

 

Our plan was to continue on from Umm Ar-Rasas to Karak Castle. We didn’t mean to drive through the Grand Canyon of Jordan, but we did! It is just as beautiful as the one in America, with barely any visitors but the locals. So wonderful.

 

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We stopped at a viewpoint part-way down the hill for photos. A friendly man there. For some reason, at this time in the trip, I just couldn’t get over the feeling that everyone always had an ulterior motive. I was keen to keep exploring, to try and find a cool wadi that might be open to the public and aware that we still had a ways to go to get back to Madaba, so I did something that I had slightly regretted since: I declined to stay for tea. The man asked us if we wanted to come in for a cup of tea, an offer that was extended to us by nearly everyone we met in Jordan (and Turkey for that matter), and we both kind of glanced at one another and said ‘Oh, no thank you, we have to keep going on our way’. Our friend Avery, a very worldly and wise woman later told us that she always accepts offers to enjoy a cup of tea or coffee together, and since she told us that, I wonder what may have happened if we had joined him for a cup of tea. As it was, he took a couple of photos of us overlooking the Grand Canyon, and on we went.

 

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Continuing down the windy road to the bottom of the canyon, we crossed over a bridge. There were a bunch of gun-toting soldiers just across a dam, with a bunch of signs, and a bit ominous looking, and we didn’t know what we should do. I slowed us right down, Leah took out our passports, and we inched our way across the dam. As we slowed and got close to the guys, they all came out of the little shack, and…. proceeded to wave and blow us kisses! We smiled and waved back and carried on with warm fuzzies in our insides. 😀

We were able to successfully navigate to Karak Castle, but didn’t decide to go inside it. We just took a few photos from across the city and kept going on the way. I’ve got to point out Leah’s amazing navigational skills at this point. She did not lead us astray once. However, this is the point in which we had a little oopsies because of my paranoia!

 

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Karak Castle

 

We pulled over after a fork in the road to make sure that we took the right fork. As we started to pull away from the curb, we lurched and bumped into the curb. What I think happened was maybe I didn’t turn the wheels enough away from the curb, and also, the curbs in Jordan are extra high, roughly mid calf. We sprung out of the car to check out what happened and it turns out that part of the bumper had cracked off. There was an immediate crowd of bystanding men and boys, and one young boy bent down, and jumped up, saying ‘it’s ok!’ with the piece of bumper in his hand.  We were not sure what was ‘ok’ about that situation, but we chucked the broken pieces in the car and on we went.

As we drove, we could hear a sound that was not a normal car sound. We pulled over a short ways down the road and immediately a car with three men in it pulled over with us. They all jumped out and came over to help us out, toolbox in hand. I can’t express how pleased we were to receive such a wonderful helping hand and they helped us get going again quickly. Salaam alaikum!

I was a little sad for the rest of the drive, but driving down into the Dead Sea Region, you can’t be sad. The beauty of the ‘sea’ and the warm weather, makes for a wonderful drive back to Madaba. 😀