Day 35: Desert Safari

Today we had signed up for a desert safari, courtesy of Groupon.

I definitely cannot say that I would do this again but here’s a breakdown of the activities and the pros and cons. Our tour cost 169AED and I wouldn’t pay a cent more.

Included:
-pick up in town and transfer to desert camp (drive takes about 1.5hrs)
-dune bashing (about 20 minutes long)
-dinner
-small henna tattoo  (bigger or different design is extra)
-unlimited beverages
-horse and camel ride
-falcon “show”
-traditional dress-up
-ATVs
-short film about UAE

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Pros:
-unlimited drinks
-dune bashing
-very kind and helpful staff

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Cons:
-horses (and camels?) unkempt and not well cared for. One horse literally shied from my touch and both could’ve used extra weight. I don’t know what constitutes a healthy camel but I sure felt guilty as can be getting on that thing.
-dinner: not very fresh, less than tasty
-ATVs not worth the extra money for the simple loop laid out and short time allowed. I guess if you’re not from a country where every other person has one you could go on in a beautiful wilderness setting maybe it’s fun?
-dune bashing too short!
-overall cost vs worthwhile activities
-STYROFOAM PLATES AND CUPS!!!!!

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I think this kind of thing could be quite cool in a smaller group arrangement with higher standards but this just came off as the Wal-Mart of tours: tacky, en masse, cutting corners for profit. Overall, save your money and put it towards a more socially and environmentally conscious activity.

Also, please note,  you will never see the photo of us in “traditional dress”. It is hugely unflattering and I could feel my feminist side getting ready to rage as I muted my very existence in the drab, black garments.

Also,  I know I still have two posts to finish for Jordan. Because I was feeling sick,  I couldn’t type on the bus and plane like I usually can and my other excuse is our crappy internet and power connection for a few days in Jordan. I will get to it!

Days 31, 32, 33, and 34: Sandstorms and poshness

March 31st: Amman to Abu Dhabi

An uneventful travel day. All our bags safely made it to Abu Dhabi, the Bahrain airport has amazing coffee shop selection, teenage boys continue to be a pain in the ass (who gave them cell phones and cologne anyway?!), Gulf Air also has amazing leg room, and Leah’s friend Sarah is just a spectacular human being. The end.

April 1st: Abu Dhabi

Took it rather easy today. We went to Cafe Arabia for lunch, which was delicious. Hello mutabal (my new fave, a mix of baba ghanoush and hummus kind of), fattoush, and saj! We took in the new souq where we had a very SATC moment in shopping for beaded flats and then popped over to the adjacent mall for some window shopping. For dinner we headed to The Yacht Club, where there is free champagne for ladies on certain nights of the week and had some delicious eats as well.

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April 2nd: We were meant to go to Al Ain today but we woke up to a massive sandstorm which effectively rendered us into jammies wearing couch potatoes for the day. This was just as well seeing as I was still fighting some strange GI thing I’d picked up in the desert and the thought of being in the car for an extended time was a little nauseating.

April 3rd: Our big exciting plan for today was to attend one of the staples of Abu Dhabi expat life: the posh brunch. This one was held at 18 Degrees, which is located on the 18th floor of the “bendy building” (apparently more descriptive than the actual name of the building).

We got all dolled up and dined in style with bubbly. The food and service were terrific and the desserts were all Easter themed. Divine!

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So fancy

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Yes, all those plates were mine. Yes, I felt like vomiting after.

Posh brunch a great success, we briefly stopped in to see Sarah’s boyfriend Humaid at another pub (The Captains Arms, which I’m told has the best fish and chips in Abu Dhabi) before heading home to bed. My tummy was still quite angry with me, and especially more so after all the posh food and bubbly so still hoping this lets up soon!

Day 30: We’re home!

Wadi Rum – Aqaba – Amman

Today we made our way back from Wadi Rum to Amman. It was a bit sad to leave the quiet and beauty of the desert,  but we were both ready to rinse the sand from our hair and move on. We really enjoyed our desert time and overall would certainly recommend Mehedi and his Bedouin Directions camp for a laid back, unique desert experience.

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Leaving the desert

Aqaba is just about a 30 or 40 minute drive from the desert so we decided to go and see if it would be worth a snorkel. Getting there requires passing through a customs stop (?!) in both directions which was really just an annoyance and the town itself is nothing special. The sea looks quite nice, but as we walked up to the litter – strewn beach/water and were leered at for the 57,964th time, we decided snorkeling here was not going to be worth our while, got some ice cream and peaced.

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Aqaba seaside

The drive back to Amman was uneventful,  or as uneventful as driving amongst the wild Jordanian drivers can be. We took the King’s Highway, which,  for the record, is a hot mess of uneven paving and endless beige desert interspersed with towns. We both remembered someone having told us that the Kings Highway was scenic but I can assure you that’s not the case!

Having successfully completed our final navigation into Amman and dropped off the rental car,  we rolled home to Hawa Guest House. It truly did feel like coming home, as we let ourselves in, grabbed a drink and a slice of the “cake of the day” (delicious!!), and received some welcome home snuggles from the kitties. How nice to end our journey with this. We were able to have a reunion with Avery, Muath, and Eefje, meet new friends Kelly and Marijke, and find out how Patty had made out trying to move on in her travels. Overall it just had such a whole feeling at the end.

We ate at Jafra that night. Cannot say I enjoyed the environment because I find it really hard to be around that much smoke at any time, let alone indoors (thank you Canadian smoking regulations!!!) but the food was good.

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.

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.