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. 😀

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!