Tag Archives: jordan

Best of 2007

Camel ride, Wadi Rum, Jordan

This weeks PhotoFriday theme is “Best of 2007.” This is my entry.

This is what I consider to be my best picture of 20071 which, of course, isn’t exactly what the theme suggests. It was taken in Wadi Rum, Jordan.

Please also vote for my entry in last weeks challenge, “Sunrise.” I’m entry number 59.

  1. Currently. It changes on an hour-by-hour basis but I’ll not change this picture now that I’ve posted it. []

Jordan: Wadi Rum

A friend, far more well travelled than I am, told me that her favourite place on Earth is Wadi Rum so to say that expectations were high for this part of the trip would be an understatement. Of course viewing the world through someone else’s eyes can be a curse as well as a blessing.

View over Wadi Rum, Jordan

The day started from Petra in four wheel drives, rumbling along tarmac for a while. We nipped off road a couple of times to take in some views and the tame conditions just off the main road made me question how rough things were going to get.

Inside the jeep/4wd, Wadi Rum, Jordan

I need not have worried. Shortly afterwards we dove off the road and into the desert, the whole car jiggling around and throwing the contents — anything unsecured — around. Did I mention that there were no seat-belts in the back? Hanging on for dear life, this part of the drive turned out to be relatively short.

It didn’t take long before we stopped at the Wadi Rum visitors centre. Tickets were purchased, visits to the bathroom were made and a video was watched, although, for me, in partial darkness as I only belatedly realised that I’d left my glasses in my other bag and had to watch it wearing my sunglasses. Also visible from the visitors centre are the seven pillars, of T. E. Lawrence and Seven Pillars of Wisdom fame.

Back in the 4WDs, the “meat” of the journey started. If the first part made the car shudder, this made it creak and threaten to come apart at the seams. We made a couple of stops en route to soak in the atmosphere and see specific sights, including an natural and gravity defying sandstone arch.

Our lunch stop was abrupt. The driver made a valiant attempt to reach the top of a sand-dune but failed, leaving me to climb to the top myself.

Camel ride, Wadi Rum, Jordan

After lunch we took to a rather more sedate form of transport: camels. Now I’m not the first to note that camels are rather odd creatures. They are not on the cover of Programming Perl for no reason. With long gangly legs, outstretched necks and heavy use of eye-lash volumiser, they’re not going to win any prizes for for aesthetics but for practicality in the desert they’re almost unbeatable.

That’s not to say that it’s easy. When you get on them they lurch forward and back, risking hurting your back and squashing your… delicate areas. And they don’t so much walk as lumber forwards. It’s not elegant, but they keep the same slow, steady pace regardless of the terrain. They get up dunes that the cars would have had difficulty with.

Mine is very sociable, always walking head to haunch with the camel in front. Most of the others are hungry, stopping to munch on as many of the dry-looking bushes as they can get away with before their handler encourages them onward.

Camel Handler, Wadi Rum, Jordan

My camels handler was a real character, dancing and singing the whole way. The language barrier didn’t stop me laughing half of the time, especially when he offered ten camels for my wife. I tried to negotiate him up to at least twenty but my Arabic wasn’t quite up to the task.

We stayed in the desert over night, watching the sun set, camping by some of the rocks, eating dinner under the stars and sleeping under canvas.

From here we headed south to the coastal town of Aqaba and then hopped over on the ferry to Egypt.

Jordan: Petra

Whenever you see Petra in the media you see a picture of the Treasury. I just did a web search and the top three links with pictures all used such an image, often with a camel sat in front.

Let’s not beat around the bush here: Al Khazneh, the “proper” name of the Treasury, is spectacular. It’s a two thousand year old, forty metre high carving straight into the sandstone rock face.

The surprising thing, given that it’s about the only image of the place you’ve seen beforehand, is that there is so much more to Petra than just the Treasury.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First we have to get to the Treasury. Everyone starts in the visitors centre at the top in the modern town. I was amused to find the “Indiana Jones Snack Shop” here. Later on I passed a gift shop named after the Flintstones. I guess Hollywood borrowed from Jordan so why not the other way around?

The journey to the “old” bit starts down the Siq, a mile long path that narrows the further along you go. At some points it’s only a few metres wide, which wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t have to share it with camels and horse and carts hurtling around blind corners. At the wide part at the beginning you find caves in the wall, the original use of which has still not been completely determined.

As the path narrows, the cliffs get higher and more spectacular. At some points they are nearly two hundred metres high. If you are there are the right time of day the colours as the sun plays on the sandstone is amazingly beautiful. The textures and colours really are something special.

Further down the Siq, the guide turns around and points at a rock face behind me. Somewhere, he assures me, you can see the shape of an animal. He gathers the rest of the group and we’re all studying it, trying to find it; there’s a prize at stake. We all realise that we’ve been had when a minute later he points in the opposite direction and, through a gap in the cliff, we get our first glance at the Treasury.

In front of the Treasury is a mass of tourists, vendors, camels and their handlers. Everyone is stopping and taking pictures, tour groups huddle together to discuss what they think of it and the camels give their guttural cry. Even this mass of distractions don’t make the site any less impressive.

It turns out that there is a solution to the noise and heaving masses. For the last few years they have been running a tour called “Petra by Night.” You leave the town and head down the Siq by candle-light. They ask you to just take in the atmosphere and try not to talk. Thankfully most people do as requested.

In front of the Treasury are hundred of candles. We sit on the floor in their dancing glow and take in the atmosphere. There’s a murmur of conversation but mainly people are soaking in the sights, the clear desert air, the stars, that forty metre high carving. Once everyone has arrived they hand out a very welcome sage tea and two men sit in the middle and sing traditional songs. It’s quite a magical experience.

But there’s much more to Petra than just this. To the right is a path to further carvings and in the morning I take it and head up to explore dozens more buildings carved into the sheer rock, including other temples and an amphitheatre.

Another hours walk up the path, involving a little scrambling and a lot of climbing, there is another carving that they call the Monastery although they currently believe it to have been a temple. It’s location makes it only slightly less spectacular than the Treasury and it makes you wonder why some sites capture the public imagination so much to the exclusion of others.

In the afternoon I also make it up to the High Place of Sacrifice. Without a guide for this part I nearly miss the actual point of interest. Given the views from near the top I wouldn’t have felt that I completely missed out but a few more signs up there would have been useful!

When I first read the itinerary I thought that nearly two days in Petra was overkill but now that I’ve been I realise that I could easily have spent more time here. I was fascinated by the idea of Little Petra but never made it there.

Still, the tour must go on and the next stop is going to be Wadi Rum.

Jordan: Kerak

Kerak castle, Jordan

Leaving Jerash around lunchtime, I head south towards Kerak, known variously as Karak and Al Karak, stopping briefly for a float in the Dead Sea and a distant view of Israel.

It’s already dark when I arrive making it difficult to see much of anything. I am assured that the building in front of me is the castle but it just looks like another hotel at this time of evening. I take dinner in a restaurant right next to the (alleged) castle. They are filming for something and there are eerie bright lights shining through the windows — slightly disconcerting when you know it’s dark out.

When I step out I experience what I first assume to be atmospheric mist created by a talented special effects team for the purposes of the video, but as my hair gets damp I slowly realise that it is, in fact, raining. And not just a light drizzle but enough to get quite wet on the short walk back to the hotel. Not exactly what I was expecting in Jordan, even though it is November.

View from Kerak castle, Jordan

The next morning I rise fairly early so I can see the castle without hoards of other tourists. For something that was started in the twelfth century, albeit enhanced subsequently and restored even more recently, it’s in pretty good shape. The walls are extensive and you can get a solid idea of the various rooms and even something about the physique of the inhabitants — judging by how often I had to duck down to pass through a door they weren’t very tall!

View from Kerak castle, Jordan

However the thing I remember most about Kerak is not the castle but the views from it. They valleys were surprisingly green (I guess that explains the rain) and looked pretty with the white houses scattered up and down the side. The rest of Kerak and presumably the bulk of its twenty thousand inhabitants could be found up-hill a short distance away.

View from Kerak castle, Jordan

I don’t spent a huge amount of time in Kerak because the next stop is Petra, one of the main reasons I came to this area. Let’s hope it lives up to the hype.

Jordan: Jerash

Roman ruins, Jerash, Jordan

I remember when I was at school doing history I loved the Romans. They were so advanced and yet had these brutal elements, a combination that I found fascinating. Even now I continue to be amazed by Roman ruins. Nothing we build now seems to last more than a few decades yet this massive, two thousand year old empire still has buildings standing.

So I’m happy that the first major site of my trip through Jordan and Egypt is Jerash. If I’m honest, it’s not a site I’d heard of before I booked this tour. I’m pleased to say that it would have been a mistake to miss it, though.

Roman ruins, Jerash, Jordan

I enter the site through a triumphal arch, which is located right next to the road and the rest of modern Jerash. It makes quite a contrast. The site is large, so eventually the sound of the traffic subsides.

Roman ruins, Jerash, Jordan

Some parts, mainly those near the gates, have been reconstructed. They are, no doubt, authentic but looking fairly new it’s not really the look I was expecting. For similar reasons I didn’t feel inclined to hang around and see the jousting. I was more drawn to the paths lined with columns, piazza’s and mosaics. Not as pristine as the reconstruction but amazing in their own way.

Certainly the most surreal part of the whole time at Jerash is when I reach an amphitheatre, where three men entertain us with drums and… bagpipes. Yes, you read that right.

Bagpipers and drummers, Jerash, Jordan

They play for about ten minutes, marching around the floor, saluting members of the audience and, generally, confusing the hell out of most of us. Bagpipes? Jordan?

Overall it’s an impressive site with much to see. But it’s only a fleeting stop as I next head south towards Kerak.