Triplogue - Jordan

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Dead Sea from Jordanian side

Caution: Tank Crossing

Claire, William and Andy sip tea in Madaba

A fowl sight on the road to Petra

12 November, Aqaba to Amman (f)

We’d never intended on riding in Jordan after entering the coutry. Our thinking was that it would make a convenient starting point for our venture into Egypt. We also thought it more than serendipitous that our friends Claire and William would be stopping over here on their way to India. With the help of our dear friend Olivier we coordinated a rendez-vous in Amman. Arriving in Aqaba we found our way to the Crystal Hotel and negotiated a room with two enormous beds and windows opening out onto the central market. Aside from the size of our nests and the welcome letter from the hotel’s general manager the centrally located Crystal was completely unremarkable. Apparently translated by someone with a sick sense of humor the letter declared proudly that his hotel featured "widey rooms" and "speacial estrained arts".

We left too soon to figure out what these amenities could possibly be, but are sure that someone will appreciate them. Aqaba treated us to a wonderful fish dinner, part of which stray cats vigorously enjoyed until a mean street urchin burned one with his lit cigarette. Our other Aqabese discovery was the best chocolate ice cream ever (in the terms of Michelin guides "worth a detour".)

The next day we made an early start of it. We rented a micro agouti car, named it Akbar and made our way north to Amman to meet Claire and William. Riding along the Red Sea, this time on the Jordanian side of the border we began to appreciate our trip along the other side. Far less inhabited than the Israeli counterpart. Our lunch stop caused quite a commotion. We drove through a little village in search of something to eat. There was no Burger King or McDonald’s so we settled for a little falafel in a stand near the bus station. Our presence somehow made the shop very popular. Everyone in town with a free moment stopped in to buy something and greet us with their best English while mischievous Arab boys tried to roll our car down the hill.

We faced many challenges to make our next destination. Not the least of which was Andy’s desire to stop and have a photo session with each camel we passed. (It sparked an idea in me. We’ll create an on-line calendar featuring the camels of Jordan, Israel and Egypt as a feature on the page.) Our biggest barrier to making it to our bathing place on the Dead Sea were the numerous check points where invariably a surly soldier would demand our passports and ask for a ride for someone who was waiting with him. Each conversation, no matter how curtly we turned down the opportunity to have a passenger, ended with "Welcome to Jordan."

When we finally did make it to the Dead Sea Rest House I learned why so many people carry flasks of fresh water to the beach. The eye-full of Dead Sea water dished out the most painful stinging sensation I could have imagined. Even knowing the risks I can’t stop singing the praises of bobbing about in the water feeling the minerals leach out the impurities from my skin. In an experiment we tried to get the water to dry on us after leaving the water. In the desert, where you air-dry from a shower in five minutes, it was a surprise to find us still wet after nearly half an hour. We finally gave up and rinsed off in the outdoor showers where Andrew shrugged off the amorous advances of a handsome young Jordanian.

Our car Akbar, showing surprising strength for such a small beast, rocketed us out of the Dead Sea valley to Amman, where we reached the airport in ample time to exchange him for a more refined and larger beast well in advance of Claire and William’s flight.

Of that meeting and our subsequent adventures in Amman and on the road to Petra fair William writes:

Flight RJ116 from Paris to Amman’s Queen Alia airport arrived at around 6pm local time. We (William and Claire (see France trip (Chalonnes sur Loire)) were expecting to take a yellow Mercedes service taxi to Downtown Amman to stay at the RUM Continental hotel on Basman street … but that’s not what happened. A pair of well tanned legs, with white socks and dusty black shoes were standing behind the aluminum barrier. It was Andrew. Our 3-day stopover to Jordan had just taken an interesting new direction … we certainly needed directions to find that hotel in Amman, especially as we found out that there are two downtowns - we needed the really deep downtown place. Fred was at the wheel and made some impressive U turns, one of which got us flagged down by some local police.

After a few left turns we found the hotel and decided on an immediate stomach update. The Ammanese are very friendly and we found the Jerusalem restaurant without too many problems … en route we met Sultan (if you’re reading this Sultan then hello and thanks). After Jerusalem’s we embarked on having a sweet - the expression ‘Dessert Storm’ has taken on a whole new meaning - there is a remarkably dangerous array of sugary based products for sale in this region. The evening was topped off with Turkish coffee and backgammon.

Next day (Thursday 13th November 1997) … breakfast consisted of coffee, pita bread, jam and the "La Vache qui rit" triangular shaped cheese … then off and out of Amman. Full marks to Fred for not having sweaty armpit marks on his grey "American Rattlesnake Museum" T-Shirt … the driving can be very creative at times. We finally found the King’s highway - a very twisty, turny mountainous road that cuts through the heart of Jordan. First stop was Madaba to explore the mosaics of the St.George church - 4 Jordanian Dinars (JDs) later and a visit to the archeological museum we carried on southwards … towards Petra. Yet another stop from the local police at Kerak; this time they wanted to hitchhike, in the back of the car.

Room 303 of the Petra Palace hotel looks out at the red neon sign for the ‘Sun Set Hotel’ and the bouldery mountain-like surface of this 2,600 year old site.

14-16 November, Petra (f)

If you’ve seen the third Indiana Jones movie you have had a glance at one of the most astounding sights of Petra, the Treasury. Unfortunately you have missed the sense of anticipation of walking through the narrow slit canyon that leads to it and the awe of its revelation to you through the keyhole which is the opening to the site. Arriving to the site in the morning you’ll see the sun beaming down on it lighting up the wavy red and orange hues of the iron impregnated sandstone. What is harder to imagine than the beauty facade carved from one piece of sandstone is that it is still in tact after over 2600 years.

We spent two full days wandering around the site and I still feel that I could have done it greater justice. The staff at our hotel recommended that it would take in excess of two weeks to see all of the structures. (This was probably true, though they were likely looking to convince us to stay a little longer in order to fill some of their empty rooms. The area is vastly overbuilt with hotels. Many seemed to be staying away with the seemingly imminent threat of war between the US and Sadam Hussein’s forces in Iraq.)

(Many folks may be staying away due to the cost of visiting Petra. A day trip from Israel would be exorbitant. The exit tax from Israel is 56 shekels, entry to Jordan $20-50 (depending on your nationality), transportation to and from by bus (who knows….) and finally the entry for one day is nearly $30. The locals thinking that anyone who visits must be rich if they can afford entry tries to exact as many Jordanian Agoutis as they possibly can out of everyone. Regardless of the expense it is worth it.)

Petra is not for the faint hearted. Though many of the sights are located in the valley and can be accessed by foot, horse, camel or cart, a true appreciation is only found by those who venture into the steep wadis (canyons). From the plateau surrounding the valley, once can survey it from above and see the other buildings on high. Some of these hikes involve climbs up one thousand or more steps or along precariously perched trails. Anyone who meets these risks and exerts the effort to climb is richly rewarded with views beyond their imagination.

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Sunset in Petra

Entering ancient Petra

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Bedouin housing project in Wadi Rum

Mixed messages at the Israel-Jordan border

16 November, Back to Aqaba (f)

Sadly we said goodbye to William and Claire wishing them a bon voyage to India. We had decided to visit a Bedouin town called Wadi Rum in an immense canyon. Our intent was to spend the night there in a tent but we were ferociously disappointed upon finding this locale to be a horrible tourist trap. During our drive through the village we were accosted by no fewer than a dozen touts pitching jeep trips through the valley. A stop at the rest house there revealed that accommodation was not in Bedouin tents as promised but in drab olive green army surplus canvas jobs. We paid our three agoutis for a cup of "Bedouin Coffee" served from a pump thermos and hit the road.

Avis had asked us to return the car empty, and we managed to get it to their lot on fumes. We actually went there twice. Naively Andy thought that bringing it back early we’d get some sort of discount. In effect we were two hours later than we’d picked it up and would be responsible for the entire day regardless. We drove to our favorite restaurant and had another chocolate ice cream. (see above) Getting the bill for something like a rental car in the Middle East is seldom a simple experience. This day was no exception. Everyone in town seemed to be involved in the transaction somehow, including the manager’s two-meter and ten-centimeter tall basketball playing brother. After an eternity we were whisked away to the border to retrieve Siegfried and Roy from the bomb shelter.

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