Jordan By Irene Butler
Pics by Rick
Hashemite? I had to look this up. The Hashemite trace their ancestry back to the great-grandfather of Prophet Muhammad. In the Kingdom of Jordan the current ruler from this line is His Majesty King Abdulla II, who ascended to the throne in 1999. He has continued to follow his father’s commitment to create a positive moderating role within the Arab region and the world.
There was a chill in the air when we arrived in the capital of Amman, so after one night we took a “Jett Bus” south to Aqaba for the balmy breezes off the Red Sea
This touristy city of 105,000 was just the place to lay back and relax. We chose a bit more expensive accommodation than usual for us budgeters at “My Hotel” and after three days of doing as little as possible we were ready for some action. Our capable hotel manager Hanna arranged our transportation to Petra, the 3rd century BC sandstone city built by the Nabataeans.
Mr. Mohammad, a retired police officer and old friend of Hanna’s was our driver. He dropped us off at the Visitor’s Centre for our four hours at the site. After Rick’s heart stop palpitating at the cost of entry – $70 each! – we were on our way. The price was $20 before Petra was named one of the new Seven Wonders of the World in 2007 (according to a popularity poll organized by the privately run “New 7 Wonders Foundation” in Switzerland). The most enthralling part of this ancient city was the walk through the 1.5km siq (walled canyon) that at the end opens to the breathtakingly glorious red-rose façade of the “Treasury” (Al-Khazneh), the most impressive structure in Petra. Carried on the winds of time we visualized the camel caravans, dust encrusted with sand and weary to the bone, yet the excitement of entering the great Petra where they would find a little luxury – a little wine, good food and entertainment.
The Treasury is a misnomer for this grand edifice, born of the misguided
belief that an Egyptian pharaoh buried treasure in the urn chiselled out of the sandstone at the top. Bullet holes pock the urn; the result of Bedouin’s testing to see if the legend was true. Its real purpose was a tomb for a past ruler of Petra.
It is believed that in its hey-day Petra had a population of 100,000. The Nabataeans are pegged as having been astute businessmen, who as well as providing a welcome respite, they charged taxes and protection for caravans laden with silks, spices and slaves passing along the trade routes from Damascus to Arabia; these caravans originating from as far away as India and China and Africa. Even after Petra was annexed to the Roman Empire in 106AD the Nabataeans managed to flourish for a time. Some fields of study believe the city was gradually abandoned due to trade route shifts. Archaeologists believe that several earthquakes, including a massive one in 555AD forced the abandonment of the city. Although the reasons and time frame are obscure, the city was lost to the world for centuries, until it was rediscovered by accident in 1812 by Burckhardt, a Swiss explorer.
Scrambling up and down to peer inside the caves in the inner city, which are mostly a series of royal tombs, we found many with amazing rainbows of colour in the rock. As in the days of old, activity prevails up and down the stone steps to the tombs. Bedouin people sell hand-make jewellery, tiny clay pots, as well as some unusual items such as camel bones and Roman coins. Between the colonnaded street, the temples, a theatre and other ruins, there is no shortage of drink, snack and souvenir shops. The grandeur of this once thriving city is easy to imagine.
Wadi Rum was the other “can’t miss when in Jordan” excursion we were willing to disrupt our “do as little as possible” mode for. Our tour of this renowned desert and mountain landscape was a chance to practice our travel motto “Be Flexible” or in other words, “go with the flow”. Upon booking and payment we were assured that 1) the jeep that would take us out to the desert would not be people-packed like sliced-bread; 2) we would have an English speaking guide. Upon our arrival at the tour office on our departure day, we met our fine travel companion Marco, an Italian who lived in Switzerland. Great start!
We three started out with a driver named Terace, who took us to the
edge of the desert, where we were transferred to our English speaking guide, Suad, who sported a new Toyota 4×4 Jeep. Things are looking good! Off we went to Lawrence’s Spring named after none other than TE Lawrence (a.k.a. Lawrence of Arabia) who led the Arab’s in their fight for independence from the Ottoman Turks in 1916.
It was next to a Bedouin tent for tea. A wee girl of about 6 years named Sheva welcomed us and led us into her family’s tent where her mom served us a delicious flowery sweet brew. Suad introduced us to a wiry elderly gentleman who we dubbed Grandpa Mohammad, who was indeed a Grandpa to Sheva and her two year old brother Ataya. Suad then disclosed it was Grandpa that would be taking us around in the desert in his pick-up truck, a rickety old relic that over the years had parts and pieces from a variety of vehicle brands. Okay?? Off we bounced on the lightly- padded seats affixed to the sides of the open truck box, with me (being a lighter weight than Rick and Marco) becoming air-born over the bumpy rocky terrain and the ruts in the deep sand.
Our first stop was at Khazali Canyon, a deep narrow fissure in the mountain, the result of a tectonic plate shift eons ago. Mohammad with his limited English instructed us to “go here” as he pointed out the best route to go into the Canyon. The weathered fantastical rock formations looked like melting chocolate-malt ice cream, with huge scoops removed in places.
We moved along to such wonders as “Little Bridge” – a rock hollowed out in the middle forming a crossing which we all climbed to the top of. And the gigantic Um Frouth Rock Bridge, where I wisely volunteered to stand below manning the camera to capture Rick and Marco scaling the treacherous incline. Another stop was at Lawrence’s House, which was a pile of stones that possibly was where TE once hung out between battles.
It was then time to bounce along to “Al Ghuroub” for the sunset. We climbed the rocky embankment with the many like-minded people who had been dropped off by another half-dozen tour vehicles. As the huge red ball slide down behind a distant mountain we sat wrapped in the spectacular golden glow, slowly fading to a pale pink, then blackness in which stars turned on like light bulbs. It was instantly frigid, so we climbed into the backseat of the pick-up, finding coziness in the tattered seats and bare metal doors, and more amazed at Mohammad’s driving skills as there were no functioning dials on the dashboard.
We roller-coastered back to the tent where we started from, and found Suad reclining on cushions, ready to take us to the designated supper spot – or so we “thought”. But, this was not to be. He handed us over to yet another driver who raced over a series of desert trails in the blackness, which finally ended in electric lights in the distance and
coming to a large Bedouin camp. A large family from Holland was also waiting for supper, looking as cold and hungry as we were – but nothing was cooking. None of the camp staff spoke English, but gesturing goes a long way. Blankets were produced, and a bon fire was started. A steel lid was lifted off coals that were buried about 3 feet down in the bottom of a hole. Meat and vegetables on a grill frame made to fit in the hole was lowered onto the coals. The steel lid was replaced, then covered with blankets and sand. Soon a wonderful odour reached us, and about an hour later the whole process was reversed; the men lifted out the grill of sizzling meat. Soup, salads, rice, spaghetti and bread were added to the chunks of beef, chicken and veggies from the pit, and the feast was on! We ate until we were stuffed. Low and behold, our very first driver Terace appeared and we followed him to his vehicle, and snoozed our way home.
Jordan was our most expensive country of the Middle East so far, but we would never even dream of missing Petra or Wadi Rum, and the beach town of Aqaba on the northern tip of the Red Sea was what we needed in tempo and warm breezes. We were ready for the Sinai region of Egypt.
Safe travels to all, wherever you may go, short distances or long,
Irene & Rick