23 Nov 2011

Jordan



A while back, my old friend Sylvia from Perth said she and two other friends were planning a trip to Jordan and Egypt – one week in Jordan and three in Egypt. Well, having never been to the Middle East, this seemed like a great opportunity to experience a bit of this part of the world. So, I’ve not long returned from a really lovely week in Jordan of [mostly] good weather, good company, visits to amazing sites in a country with a fascinating history. Sylvia’s friend in Australia is a travel agent and had arranged the tour – there were only the four of us and the driver. Excellent value – a very strong Australian dollar and cheap Easyjet flights into Amman.

Despite all the troubles in the Middle East that have unfolded in recent times – and are still continuing – Jordan is not affected. It’s a democratic and relatively free country. And although it is bordered by Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Israel – and only a stone’s throw from Egypt across the tip of the Gulf of Aqaba – it is thus far a peaceful and relatively prosperous country.

Sylvia, Deidre and Joan are in Egypt at the moment and unfortunately things are flaring up there right now, and on a rather large scale. I texted them yesterday and they’re on a River Nile cruise – aware of the situation unfolding but not affected. I imagine their tour operator will avoid any areas of unrest. I hope so – I don’t want them to be making headlines……

I arrived into Amman the night before the others and was picked up at the airport by our driver – it’s a first for me having my name held up on a message board!

The others arrived the following morning and our tour of the country started by heading north, first visiting Um Qais – a site with many Roman ruins and which overlooks Jordan Valley, Golan Heights and Lake Tiberius (the Sea of Galilee).


West Theatre of Umm Qais

We'd arrived just before the Festival of the Sacrifice (Eid al-Adha) which was due to take place in a few days – and at the same as the Hajj (annual pilgrimage to Mecca). Camels, sheep and cows are slaughtered -  one third of the meat is distributed to the poor, one third to neighbours and relatives and the remaining third is kept for the family.

We saw countless vehicles full of sheep being moved around, many penned at the side of the road – in the countryside and right in the middle of the towns.  

And sadly, the plastic bags and bottles seen here is rather more the norm than the exception - it's a huge problem and is often a blight on the landscape.

I don’t think these cows were part of the celebrations as this was the day before the slaughter, but they still didn’t manage to avoid their date with destiny.






And then on to the ruins of the Greco-Roman city of Gerasa at Jarash – an amazingly well preserved site. It is such a large spread-out area that we hired the services of a local guide – and what a good thing that was. The history of these places like this never ceases to amaze me. 

The original roads - with marks from chariot wheels on the stones
The very old in the foreground - the not so old town of Jerash on the hills
Roman oval Forum
Sylvia and me - resting weary feet .....
Another rest stop - a solid stone bath, missing one side, made for a convenient bench seat
The south theatre - still used today for open air concerts























We were treated to an entertaining bit of music - in the form of three musicians playing the drums and bagpipes. 

A little bizarrely I thought - there was bit of the Triumphal March from Aida (and a fitting setting it was too....) and then followed straight on by Aulde Lange Syne, and then onto Frere Jacques!


Going back south to Amman, we did a city tour which included a visit to the Blue Mosque.

Before entering the mosque, we were required to don appropriate clothing (supplied/one size fits all)

…. and as we were only four, we could request any diversions that we had time for. And we wanted to go to a city food market. No problems said Thauer.

Now this was the end of the dry season, there hadn’t been rain for a long time, and all the streets were dusty. But the day had been clouding over, earlier a few spots of rain – and it started to bucket down as we neared the undercover markets. 

Well, they weren’t so much as under cover, as slung with a few canvases to keep the sun off. The canvases filled up and dumped torrents on anyone below and ran down the alleyways like rivers … we were ankle deep in mud, and did the quickest tour of a fruit and vegetable market as possible. Only time for a few pics and then cameras away to keep dry.

And there were rows upon rows of lovely fresh fruit and vegetables ..... 


and then there was this amazing pink-died cauliflower and turnip concoction. I'm sure it probably tasted fine - but in my mind, far from appealing!

And for the rest of our stay – no more rain, so no complaints about the weather. 

Ironically, the week before I left Bize, and the week I was away – was one of the wettest periods all year – it didn’t stop raining. The consequence of this is that our lovely river Cesse is finally running properly again. So much so these last few days we were beginning to wonder if there was going to be a repeat of last year’s flooding. The water has been right over the passerel again, but seems to be going down a little now.

And so, then onto the Dead Sea - 400 metres below sea level -where we spent a night in a very swish hotel. We were delighted with the quality of the hotels we were staying in – probably as nice a resort hotel as I’ve ever stayed in.

And what do you do at the Dead Sea? – what every other tourist does. Float and cover yourself in mud, then loll around in one of the many hotel pools. 


I had no intention of doing a photo-shoot, reading a book. 

But another tourist passed by, handed me a sodden newspaper and said that if you’re going to swim in the Dead Sea – you HAVE to have a photo of yourself reading the paper……. 

 
And the mud? Smooth as silk with a consistency like axle grease. But I have to say the skin really felt good afterwards. 

Pots of mud buried in the .... errr ... mud - at the shoreline.
It's a finer mud (no sand or pebbles!) brought from another part of the 'beach'.

But the nicest part was standing under the fresh-water showers getting rid of all the salt and mud and then having a dip in the infinity pool.

Looking cross the Dead Sea to Israel on the other side

Not easy to see - but that's Jeruselum perched on top of the hills
And this one - Jericho.


On the way to Petra, we passed through the Wadi Mujib, a deep valley with breathtaking views.

 


And then a full day at the amazing site of Petra. There was so much more to it than I imagined .... so many temples, tombs, Roman roads and buildings ... and very spread out.


Our guide said to see it all we would need at least a couple of days - but suggested if we wanted to see something else besides the Treasury, we should go to the monastery. 1200 steps (800 constructed, 400 in the rocks that could loosely be called steps) didn't sound so bad at the start.


Joan and I commited to do the whole thing ... and my legs certainly felt it at the end. There was a choice of taking a donkey to the top - the guide said it was better to walk, and really not a good idea to come down on the donkey - much more chance of coming to grief. So we did it on foot. And well worth it.
A 4 km walk through rock canyons like this, to reach The Treasury
... and then this is what you come upon






Many coloured rock formations
The aptly named Elephant Rock

















Heading up to the monastery - looking back down into the valley


A much-needed drink stop nearing the summit. The enterprising person who set up this little shop here knew what he was doing ..... what a welcome relief it was to come upon.


And here at the top - the Monastery. Amazing.


On the way up, we'd been overtaken by a guy leading his tourist-laden donkey, and his rather energetic dog running alongside.


Coming down, we were again overtaken by the same fellow, this time with the dog on the back of the donkey. Not sure if he was exhausted, or being put there to stop him running around so much! But he looked pretty used to the whole idea and I imagine he does it quite a few times every day.




During our many hours of driving, we got to see many of the bedouin camps in the desert. While some have been resettled and now raise crops in one place, there are still a lot who follow the nomadic lifestyle with their animals and live in tents.


And while there doesn't appear to be much to eat for the animals in the endless desert, there is obviously enough as there are certainly plenty of sheep and goats to be seen. Although Thauer told us that some of those who choose to continue living the traditional nomadic life have made concessions in the way of small trucks to transport animal feed and water in times of need.








We then moved on to Wadi Rum and a 4wd excursion through its fantastic desert landscape.





 


Our guide Thauer - in the entrance to D H Lawrence's cave







Our last night was spend in the very south of the country in Aqaba. It's situated right at the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba on the Red Sea, with Israel and Egypt very close just across the water.


Again, we were delighted to be staying in a high end hotel - the last of many surprises! I think the travel company must be in a position to get some good deals - especially now as the tourist industry has been hard hit with all the troubles in recent times.








And then we did treat ourselves out to our one ‘splash out meal’ of the trip, at the top restaurant of the hotel. I thought it strange that the steak was Australian (absolutely delicious, mind you….) - especially as we’d only just seen the local stuff freshly killed.  

The chef was German and he came out and introduced himself. We were treated to a little amuse bouche of truffled courgette soup to start with. It was divine, and he was kind enough to give us his recipe. I made it when I got back to France – sadly not a patch on his.






This was also delicious – an apple / crab stack as a starter. Despite the alarming green colour of the apple jelly, it  was equisite. 













We found the Jordanian food delicious too – meals such as this one, in a restaurant in a small town in the north. Salads, tabouleh, hummus, baba ghanoush, barbecued meat and flat bread straight out of a wood-fired oven. The green drink was delicious – sweetened lemon juice and fresh mint. 
























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