Sunday, November 21, 2010

Jordan in Seven Days

As usual lately, I haven't found much spare time for writing. The trip has required daily planning or research that exhausts most of my mental energy and that, combined with our busy and sometimes physically exhausting sightseeing schedule, is more than enough "work" on any given day! I still keep a daily log to try to record any particularly memorable occurrences and take the time to caption most of my photos (which, by the way, can be viewed by clicking on this post's title).

Trying to sum up our time in Jordan is a bit challenging for me. The country has a young ruler, an environmental program encapsulated by the RSCN, and a modern capital city (Amman). The highways are in decent condition and you can get a cell phone signal in the middle of the desert. There are enough sights from north to south to warrant a week or two of exploration, depending on how much time you want to spend lazing at a resort on the Dead or Red Seas, exploring the ruins of Petra or riding camels with the Bedouins. However, as with any country in the Middle East, traveling is not always as easy as you might hope but the challenges are certainly not insurmountable. And, as with any foray into unfamiliar territory, it helps to do some research in advance so you know better what to expect and how to handle certain situations. Still, you cannot anticipate the traffic jam caused by a town luncheon, highway signs entirely covered with political posters thus making it impossible to determine the speed limit or which way to turn, etc. Thus the most important advice I can give fellow travelers is to abide by the Girl Scout Motto and always "Be Prepared" for anything!

Daily Log
Border crossing: took 5 min bus ride from Israel Bet She’an terminal; no ATM at Jordan entry gate so had to convert cash from my stash of USD to pay for visa; once across border, no way to get anywhere other than by taxi and then you have to go to nearest town and take small crowded minibuses
Luckily I befriended a guy with a US passport who spoke Arabic and thus negotiated a much lower rate for our shared taxi to Amman
Got caught in traffic jam about 30min south of border due to newly elected official hosting lunch for the whole town
While we were in the Jordan Valley, as far as you could see greenhouses/agriculture, lots of sheep, some goats & cows
Based on recommendation from I booked our rental car with Reliable; Mohammed came to pick us up from Abdoun Circle
Getting out of Amman was interesting; luckily I am now quite comfortable driving pretty much anywhere and don’t hesitate to honk my horn and maneuver in & out of traffic just like the locals, while dodging other vehicles, people, animals, etc.
Arrived at Dead Sea after dark so just had dinner at the hotel’s casual restaurant before using wifi for a while then going to bed
Got up early - 7am to have time to float in the Dead Sea before breakfast; water feels oily, leaves stain on clothes; one drop tastes so salty it makes you gag
Toured Bethany beyond the Jordan; watched documentary on flight from Amman to Cairo which explained the search for the baptism site
Drove to Mount Nebo where Moses is supposed to have first viewed the Holy Land just before his death; windy mountain road, almost hit by out of control car coming down the mountain around a curve too fast and he lost traction on the sand
Drive to Madaba - not far from Mt Nebo but city was chaos; people in the streets everywhere apparently it’s a holiday week; couldn’t find parking anywhere near church with Byzantine mosaics so just went to visitor center to get directions to Kings Highway/Petra
Wadi Mujib was vast and beautiful at sunset
Got turned around in Kerak; no clear signage once you get into town
Drive took much longer than expected: most directional signs were covered by campaign posters; trash (primarily plastic bags) strewn along highway everywhere
Arrived in Petra after dark, around 7pm
Ate dinner at Moda Restaurant: mansaf
Slept in today but awoken early this morning by call to prayer from nearby mosque; this one seemed to last for hours as I drifted in & out of sleep; it is Eid Al Adha, a Muslim holiday
Ate simple breakfast of cooked-to-order eggs & pita bread with jam in hotel’s “restaurant”
Drove to Petra visitor’s center; parking not well-marked or organized
Paid 55JOD pp for 2 day entry ticket (1 day was 50JOD); entry prices are increasing drastically but with no obvious impact on tourist facilities or site preservation
Took about 45min to walk from visitor’s center to Treasury
Walked around Petra as far as royal tombs then hiked up to High Place of Sacrifice; actually rained off & on all afternoon
Ate dinner at local shawarma place
Got up at 8am and had breakfast
At Petra entrance by 10am; much fewer tourists so easier to take pictures; hiked all the way up to Al Deir “monastery”
Main complaint about Petra is visitor’s brochure and overall site could have better directional signs; also constantly had to watch where we stepped because of donkey manure
Drank a celebratory “we conquered Petra!” beer in Petra Palace Hotel’s bar, one of the few places in town that sells alcohol
Ate dinner at Moda Restaurant: kabsah
Info about Wadi Rum taken from a tour company: “…a beautiful desert oasis. For centuries the local Bedouin people pitched their tents here to water their flocks and so Rum has long been a central gathering point. Wadi Rum was the setting for the film "Lawrence of Arabia" which depicted the campaign of the enigmatic British officer T.E. Lawrence when he accompanied the Arab cavalry as it attacked and captured Aqaba from the Turks during the Great Arab Revolt of 1917-18 ACE.”
Obeid met us at visitors center and drove us to the camp
3hr 4WD tour of Lawrence of Arabia sites
Dinner was cooked in a sand pit - roasted chicken & potatoes, rice, cucumber salad, cucumber & tomato salad, pita bread, orange soda or Pepsi
Surprise birthday pound cake for Greg, eaten around the campfire + a free beer from Obeid’s brother
Would have seen more stars in the desert but the moon is getting full and was very bright - didn’t even need a flashlight to walk around at night!
Left camp immediately after breakfast so were in Aqaba by 9am; luckily hotel let us check in early
Walked down to seashore but it was windy so decided just to wade in the Red Sea, not swim or snorkel
There were many Arab women & girls swimming or wading in full burqas or in more modern clothing still covering entire body
Drove back into town (our hotel is on South Coast, 10km from Saudi border) which was extremely busy as it was Friday and thus their weekend; 6pk cans of Amstel was only 7JOD at Aqaba supermarket when we had to pay 5JOD per beer previously at hotels
Relaxed by the pool all afternoon
Ate fresh grilled whole fish for dinner
Started taking malaria medication (doxycycline)
Decided to take malaria medication as soon as I woke up (so no food in stomach); was nauseous and throwing up within 30min!
Ate breakfast then started driving north on Desert Highway towards QAIA
Highway signs covered with campaign posters but not as bad as on King’s Highway
Lane markers are suggestions only so have to use lights and/or horn to indicate you’re going to overtake someone so maybe they’ll move over into their lane
No rest stops and few gas stations along Desert Highway from Aqaba to Amman (over 300km)
many of the road signs were ENTIRELY covered by campaign posters; this one was an exception

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