Saturday, 28 April 2012

... Jordan: Wanderlusted

It's a little unnerving when, at 39,000 ft the flight attendants of an Airbus A340-600  are running along the aisle and there are alarms going off left, right and centre. That was fun let me tell you and woke me from my bum-numbed-stiff-necked slumber. Thankfully we are still cruising at 39,000 ft at over 500mph and are just over an hour away from Vancouver. It would appear some idiot thought it was OK to SMOKE on the plane and that is what set off a bunch of alarms. In that persons weak & utterly feeble defense, the toilets that are situated downstairs, yes downstairs, have an area with a bunch of bloody ashtrays. Still, I for one didn't fancy having to make an emergency landing thanks to some complete idiot somewhere between Calgary & Edmonton. And unsurprisingly we weren't asked to go outside and stand on the wings.

The journey from Aqaba to Amman was pretty chilled. It ended up taking about 5hrs and whilst everyone else appeared to fall asleep I admired the desert scenery one last time whilst blasting some choonage through my headphones. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and I embraced the fact I was looking up at an enormous yellow ball in the sky, because I know that cloud & rain awaits me in Vancouver. Jordan's highways are in pretty good shape, although the same can't be said about some of the drivers nor their vehicles. There is also a scary tendency for some people to drive at night without their headlights on because there is an insane belief that they can see better!? With that in mind, I was pretty glad to be driving during daylight. Traffic police are everywhere speed-trapping and apparently give out hefty fines even if you're only as much as 10% over the speed limit. One might say it was a blessing in disguise that someone else was driving. *cough*

Upon arrival into Amman, my radar finally homed in on a Starbucks! They truly are everywhere, except Frankfurt International Airport of course. Alas I didn't get to visit but I was more than happy to forgo a java in order to head out for some Jordanian food for my last dinner in Jordan. Food is a very important aspect of Jordanian culture and it is often treated as a time of celebration. As one of the largest producers of olives in the world, olive oil is used a lot in Jordanian cuisine. Typical flavours include herbs, garlic, spices, onion, tomato sauce and lemon and food ranges from being extremely hot & spicy to mild. The most dominant style of eating in Jordan is a small plate, salad, appetizer, community style eating, aided by dipping, dunking and otherwise scooping with bread. Known as Mezze, it is typically done before larger main dishes although, trust me, this can be a meal in itself.

Tawaheen al-Hawa is a Jordanian restaurant in Amman. I had been told that this was a good authentic place to eat and seeing as the cliental is mostly Jordanian I figured that I was being steered in the right direction. And oh my - the food was top notch and I didn't even touch the meat dishes. Rich creamy hummus, babba ghanoush (eggplant), foul maddamis (fava beans), zetun (olives),  haloumi (cheese), pickled vegetables, tabouleh dipped, dunked & scooped with Jordanian breads khubz & shrak. All washed down with a refreshing lemon-mint drink. Delish! I think I waddled out of the restaurant at the end of the evening.

And then it was a quick 60 minute nap before being whizzed off to the airport to catch my unGodly houred first flight. You have got to love an airport that has you sprinting through it for a last boarding call announcement. Not only was this announcement an hour before we were scheduled to leave but the plane wasn't even there. Not quite sure about the thought process behind that especially when we ended up leaving an hour late. Needless to say by the time I boarded my 2nd flight in Frankfurt after a +6hr layover I was exhausted beyond belief. Naturally I also looked absolutely gorgeous. *cough*  I know socks with sandals are a fashion fail but my excuse was I had a 10+hr flight ahead. And anyway, at least they were funky polka dot ones!

As we begin our descent into Vancouver, a feeling of excitement washes over me. Yeah, it is always good to come home and I'm certain two four-legged kids will be as pleased to have me back as I am to see them.

Another itch successfully scratched.

- Posted Using BlogPress from Nic's iPad

Friday, 27 April 2012

... Jordan: Avast Ye Landlubbers!

Due to the fact that I fly home tomorrow at the ungodly hour of 245am local time, it meant I was restricted to just one dive this morning for altitude reasons. That was more than fine and I was, naturally, extremely willing to take what was on offer. Pick up was at 9am on the dot and Lana with her Russian lilt asked "you ready to be amazed today?"

"There's more? You already did that yesterday!" I grinned like a Cheshire cat. This is one of the big appeals of diving in Jordan, despite a low-key experience with a down tempo pace, the DMs are all obviously so in love with what they do for a job. It is kind of infectious. Together with the same couple from yesterday we geared up and I had a chuckle at wondering how I could forget that NO-ONE looks good in a wetsuit. Then it was time to discuss the dive plan: this morning's dive was going to be to the coral-encrusted remains of Jordan's most famous dive site, the Cedar Pride wreck. Again it would require a drive in the van, albeit short, so I took the opportunity to talk to Lana some more about the public-awareness campaign for preserving the environment. As well as the public, Jordan's only port ( and thus the region's major shipping lane) and the resort were wrecking havoc on an already fragile marine environment. The response was to establish the Aqaba Marine Park 15 years ago which extends for most of the public beach area and the top notch diving spots. Now all that remains is to continue to keep that fine balance between tourism and preservation. Lana believes it is working, slowly but surely. Environmentalists have managed to ban fishing in the area and limit boating. Jetties have been built so people don't have to walk over coral from the shore as well as reduce your risk of walking over a poisonous stonefish. Park rangers have been hired and trained to further enforce strict laws. The nearby Marine Science Station is heavily involved and many of the dive clubs participate in underwater clean ups, research and educating the public. She seemed to think these were baby steps but to me it all sounded like pretty fantastic giant leap in the right direction.

The beach was heaving with people, today being a holiday. Interestingly, many Arabs cannot swim hence the signs at the water edge in Arabic warning them of dangers. Yet they seem to flock to the beach for picnics and to hang out with the family, eating & smoking sheeshas. They look at you as you make your way down the beach with a bemused look on their faces whilst the little kids delight in saying hello and having you say it back. Again there was a pleasant breeze making the crazy hot temperature seem a tad more bearable. However, I tend to freeze my fins off when I dive even in tropical waters and so today I decided to wear a hood after an attack of the shivers yesterday. Think more frogman than ethereal mermaid. I looked bloody gorgeous. *cough*

The Spanish-built San Bruno, renamed the Cedar Pride after its purchase has an interesting story. Whilst hauling a cargo of potassium and phosphates a serious fire broke out resulting in one fatality, although the ship itself refused to sink. Not sure why nor how this was allowed but the owners simply thought "sod this" and quite literally jumped ship leaving it to sit along the shoreline where it rusted for a further 4 years. Thankfully, for aquanauts like me, the World Wildlife Fund took on the initiative to sink it as an artificial reef.  Even the King of Jordan gave his backing and the freighter was towed back out to see and sunk. Today she lies on her port side at a depth of about 75 feet.

Even before we reached the wreck I was in heaven. Zillions of fish and so many beautifully coloured soft & hard coral. Most of the variety of fish here are closely associated with the coral reef. It's not hard to see why people want to protect it. To name but a few:Grouper, wrasse, parrotfish, snapper,goatfish, flounder, clownfish, triggerfish, butterfly fish,sponges, sea cucumbers, sea slugs, nudibranch and tiny jellies that I suspected could quite possibly pack a punch if I got too close. Nothing wrong with admiring from afar.

And then there she was. First you notice the stern bathed in sunlight and then you see corals of every colour imaginable. That's quickly followed by all the marine life. There were plenty of local residents including a very ugly looking frogfish that seemed to look at me as if to say "what are you looking at?" and a lionfish that could very well have been saying "come closer little girl" before introducing me to its poisonous spikes. The still intact main mast and crows nest were not only adorned with coral but a huge shoal of glassfish. It was absolutely beautiful. I hovered and took it all in. Surely it couldn't get any better? But it did, when we went inside the wreck. As we slowly moved through the wreck, keeping an eye out for any sneaky lionfish hanging around, angelfish flitted in front of my mask. They didn't seem to care that I was there. Lana pointed upwards and I saw the mirrored surface of where there was a large pocket of air, likely due to divers & their tanks. It was one of the coolest things ever. We weaved our way through the ship and just as we came out at the main mast a Napoleon fish swam in front of us. I know I had the hugest smile on my face because I had to make sure I gripped my reg just that little bit tighter with my mouth. Wrecks are certainly one of my favourite kind of dive. I did have a small moment of embarrassment however. I eagerly signaled to everyone to let them know I had a huge spotted Moray on view.... As I got closer however I started giggling. It was a pipe cleverly disguised as spotted Moray eel and instead I had my three fellow divers looking into a hole with a "huh?" expression on their faces. Which idiot put that there!?!

As we made our way back through the sea grass to make our safety stop I added another seahorse to my list for a wonderful end to a fantastic series of dives. As we headed for shore in amongst the swimmers that were out there, I waved up at some of the kids in their floatation devices to have them wave back. Then it was time to return to dry land and back to the reality of a 4-5 hour drive back to Amman.

- Posted Using BlogPress from Nic's iPad

Thursday, 26 April 2012

... Jordan: Finding Nemo

I was up at 5am and on the back of a camel by 530. Just another regular day then!

"Earl" (as I named him) had eyelashes that many females would die for, one hump and huge flat feet. Sounds gawwwwwgus huh? He seemed quite placid, that is until another camel bit him on his arse. Then he wasn't quite so placid, and unsurprisingly neither was I. After  what was likely a lot of profanity in camel speak we were able to continue on our way. "You strong lady" said my guide.  I think it had more to do with the fact I held on for dear life! By the end of the trek I certainly felt like I'd had a workout. I am sore in places I never knew existed!

Once we had reached our vantage point it was a quick scramble up a rock face just in time to sit and watch the sunrise.  Dawn is as magical a time to be in the desert as sunset and the early wake up call was more than worth it. Then it was time to hop back onto my camel and make my way to the bus.

Continuing south on the Desert Highway, Aqaba was my next port of call. This currently still-small seaside town is perched on the Gulf of Aqaba (Red Sea) and it is really just a matter of time before the tourism explosion occurs. In fact it is already beginning, as I learned thanks to a conversation with a local. Huge hotel complexes, a university, marina, golf course, malls & lagoons are already taking shape. In fact the Jordanians are willing to move the actual Port and the industrial area further south so they can redevelop the land. The potential has been recognized and the Jordanians are grabbing opportunity by the throat. Right now, however, it still maintains a relaxed atmosphere and is a popular local holiday destination. It has 3 borders in its vicinity, Jordan-Israel, Israel-Egypt and Jordan- Saudi Arabia and you can see both Israel (Eilat) and Egypt from the beach. It's also an obvious place to come to do some fantastic & reasonably priced diving in the Red Sea! You can guess what I was here for.

I arrived just after 9am and it was already 28 degrees. By the time I jumped in a cab to head 8km south around midday it was 34! Thanks heavens I was going into the water, although the sea breeze certainly does make it more bearable. The Red Sea  has a legendary reputation as a world premier marine destination and I was very excited at now having the opportunity to dive here having not had enough time during my visit to Egypt. Unlike neighbouring Egypt, the relatively small number of visitors to Jordan means the reef system is incredibly pristine. The Red Sea is teaming with over 1000 species of marine life including some critters you've to be wary of: lionfish, turkeyfish, blowfish & stonefish.

The diving company, Seastar Watersports, with whom I'd picked to dive are based at Club Murjan located on the south beach. They have 3 magnificent house reefs and offered daily snorkeling trips and guided dives by shore or boat to all the sites in the Aqaba Marine Park. They also provided free daily hotel transfers which was a great added bonus although today due to my arrival into Aqaba I took a quick cab ride there. I was going to be doing two dives today then squeezing one more in in the morning before my return to Amman. My first dive was with DM Thaen to First Bay & Cazar Reef, which were directly opposite the club. When one of my first sightings was of a seahorse I knew I was in aquatic heaven! There was quite the current which gave you quite the workout for the first half of the dive. Black coral, fire coral, ghost pipefish, frogfish, lionfish, glassfish, groupers... To name but a few. It was amazing. Cute & somewhat amusing moment was being bombarded by two clown fish who were incredibly annoyed that I was looking at their eggs. They got right in my face and basically told me to bugger off. Coming back to shore was obviously a breeze, quite literally, the current did most of the work. The viz was pretty good to say it was kind of choppy - apparently the sea is flat for only about 50 days a year. The sea is also really really salty, obviously not Dead Sea standards but a mouthful will send you over your daily intake allowance. This is due to the desert climate, some unique geographical features and the high temperatures. Also no river flows into this sea.

After sufficient surface time lounging in the sun it was time to head back into the water. This time I was heading out with DM Lana, originally from Russia, and an older British couple who had been diving for eons. We geared up, hopped in the van and headed south for a short drive to another dive site. This shallower dive site was the Seven Sisters: a series of pinnacles and then Fairy Ring which just teamed with life. There were shoals of fusiliers and lots of Big Eye Emperor & bright orange anthias everywhere. It was also here that I saw an octopus coiled up within the coral. It was such a beautiful purple colour. The shallower depth meant lots of bottom time to enjoy the wonders.  As we continued south my eyes widened. Here was what we had come to see, a decommissioned American M40 anti-aircraft vehicle "the Tank". My face lit up like a kid on Christmas Day. The Tank was scuttled back in 1999 to create an artificial reef and it is coming along nicely. However, you should only play around it and not on it as the corals are beginning to colonize.

One thing I did notice at this dive though was the amount of trash underwater. We filled a bag and probably could've done even more.  Pop cans, plastics cups, picnic-type stuff that had likely blown in from the shore.  Unfortunately plastics in particular are a serious threat to marine life. Turtles will eat it thinking it's jellyfish. Lana told me that there is a huge effort to educate people to better look after their environment. It wasn't just limited to underwater, I had basically traveled the length of the country kind of wondering why there was so much litter every where. Hopefully the effort will pay off.

After washing all my gear and myself free from salt it was time to be driven back to Aqaba. After a day of amazing diving I have to admit I'm being a tad hypocritical and am about to head out for dinner at Floka, to try some delicious seafood which the town is well-known for. Nemo would want it that way!

- Posted Using BlogPress from Nic's iPad

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

... Jordan: Wadi Rum & Coke

"The crags were capped in nests of domes, less hotly red than the body of the hill; rather grey and shallow. They gave the finishing semblance of Byzantine architecture to this irresistible place: this processional way greater than imagination... Our little caravan grew self-conscious, and fell dead quiet, afraid and ashamed to flaunt its smallness in the presence of the stupendous hills." - T.E Lawrence

Welcome to Wadi Rum, a series of broad valleys that stretch from the north to the south for over 100km to make up a quintessential desert that will take your breath away. The area has been protected since 1988 with a mandate to promote tourism for the benefit of the locals yet whilst protecting the fragile desert environment. No mean feat when you find out that over 600 4WDs bring over 100000 visitors per year. The local Bedouin have been roaming here for centuries and about 5000 remain albeit with a more settled life in villages.

The easiest way to get around the desert is primarily by 4WD. And if that doesn't float your boat then there's camel. I was going to do both. First up, 4 hours in the blistering desert sun on a bench in the back of a vehicle holding on for dear life as we flew over sand dunes. Fantastic. I'm sure Lawrence of Arabia did it like this.... Right? The driver was likely not a day over 13, however they are well trained and drive incredibly well. I reminded myself of this as I got air time flying over a huge sand dune.

The sights are amazing: the seven pillars of wisdom, sand dunes, Alameleh & Anfaishiyya rock inscriptions, rock bridges created by the wind and parking your behind at a sunset vantage point to watch the sun disappear for yet another day.

 Of course all this was made better by tea and music at a Bedouin tent. Oh and not to mention rocking out in the back of the truck to some Arabic music and having a bunch of Aussies "chasing" us in the truck behind with Jordanian head scarfs wrapped around their faces but still wearing their sunnies. It made me wonder for a minute if we were being chased having stolen the Holy Grail. Oh ok, ok.... It was totally awesome to pretend that we were being chased by rebels for having stolen the Grail.

The best way to experience the desert is to sleep in it. This is achievable by staying at a Bedouin camp. These camps are only permitted in certain areas and have to meet certain standards. For your fee you get a tent, blankets and food. At night, you sit amongst the stars and get served dinner cooked in a zerb. This is basically an oven buried in the ground. Naturally the meat options didn't particularly appeal to me but the jacket spuds, also cooked the same way, were delish and there were plenty of Jordanian/Arabic salads & Arabic bread... And coca cola. I was more than full. People that ate the meat said it was very very good. I guess, based on previous trips however, it was not exotic enough and so I stuck to my usual diet. It was quite the experience eating dinner in a Bedouin tent. Their hospitality is second to none and I truly did feel very very welcome there.

My sleeping "tent" was huge yet cozy. The walls, I believe, are made from woven wool although you will find others that incorporate leather. You actually get a real bed... Well its not exactly something you'd find in the Hilton but its certainly not like any tent I have recently stayed in. So after a quick sweep of my "room" I appear to be creature free and it's time to cocoon myself up in my blankets to settle down for the night. The temperature drops quite considerably at night. However I'd be a liar to say my cocoon-like state was for warmth, instead it's more to protect myself from things that potentially go bump in the night... Particularly the 8-legged kind. *Eeek*

Every adventurer has to be scared of an animal, right?

- Posted Using BlogPress from Nic's iPad

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

... Jordan: ...And Don't Call Me Junior!

My alarm went off at 430am. I had had a huge 3hrs of sleep and yet the alarm had been deliberately set. As you can see jetlag is kicking me firmly up the backside and you might wonder if the alarm had been set in a delirious state. Alas no.

At 6am I was walking downhill through Bab-as-Siq with just a small group of people. This in itself was exciting because, somewhat surprisingly, we were the only people there. Finally I was about to witness the wonder of the world that is Petra in all its daylight glory. I was, however, armed with my trusty travel hat, lots of sunscreen & water, 2 cameras and 2 lenses as opposed to a sable fedora and a bullwhip. I also didn't have my dad with me continually calling me Junior.

Petra actually means "stone". Pretty easy to work out why. It was established sometime around 6 BC by the Nabataeans, the ancient people of Jordan. However, it remained unknown to the Western world until the early 1800s when it was introduced by a Swiss explorer, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. A UNESCO heritage site, it was chosen by the BBC as one of the 40 places you have to visit before you die". Quite a sobering thought. Let us hope that is still a ways away for me. Excavations, which are still ongoing, have uncovered sites which will blow you mind and up to press there are over 800 registered which includes 500 tombs.

As you walk down towards the entrance to the Siq, on the left the sandstone Obelisk tomb gives you a taste of what lies ahead. Despite the worry of the potential crowds not far behind, I had to stop and marvel at it. It is believed that the 4 obelisks together with an eroded human figure represent 5 people buried within. The infamous and utterly impressive eastern entrance leads steeply down through a 1.2km dark, narrow gorge. This is the Siq (meaning "shaft"). It is actually a natural geological feature formed from a split (tectonic forces) in the sandstone. At one point it opens to reveal a square tomb and a lone fig tree but it soon closes in again, shutting out most of the light save for a few beautiful rays. You can feel the anticipation building as you eagerly await what is about to take your breath away.

Nothing quite prepares you as the Treasury (Al-Khazneh) comes into view. And even better for me, we we the only people there with no signs of anyone following us. Fantastic. Have to admit I did not want Bob from Maine in my 50 million photos. The craftsmanship, grandeur and sheer scale of this beast are indescribable. Standing at 43m high and about 30m wide, the iron-laden sandstone façade is astonishing. I had a few pictures taken with me in front of it and I look like the size of a sand castle in comparison. Although meant to be a tomb for a Nabataean king, Areta III, the name actually comes from a story that an Egyptian Pharaoh hid his treasure here in the urn which you can see in the middle of the level. Some people apparently believed this to be true for the urn is pockmarked with bullet holes, an unsuccessful attempt to break it open.

 We were to spend 9hrs at Petra, which I initially scoffed at.  I mean how on earth was I going to stay here for 9hrs. By 3pm my belief had changed as I dragged my incredibly tired behind onto the bus. I had trekked around this huge ancient city and still not seen everything. Highlights however include:

*The Theatre, originally built by the Nabataeans but renovated and enlarged by the Romans
*Trekking up to the cliff face that houses the  Royal tombs, which includes the distinctive Urn tomb, the beautiful pink/white/yellow veined rock of the Silk tomb, the huge Palace tomb and the damaged Hellenistic- Nabataean hybrid Corinthian tomb
*A long uphill hike in the heat to view the Monastery (Al-Deir) with a further trek to a view point which overlooks Wadi Araba towards Israel and Palestine
*An even longer and higher uphill hike to the High Place of Sacrifice, a suitable name to be sure and my quads certainly felt it. Here the are two obelisks that are impressive for the fact they were carved out of the rock face and not built upon.

The biggest highlight of the day for me was hiking to a small flattened plateau. The only unfortunate thing about it was the fact that a). There was barely enough room to swing a cat and b). It was right above a vertical cliff. I crawled as close to the edge as my brain would allow on my stomach and looked down.... There was the mighty Treasury in all it's glory with little ant-like people moving about in front of it.  Shaking somewhat I took out my camera and managed to get a few shots. Then my brain said "enough" and I shuffled my way to a safer spot as far away from the edge as possible, even thoughh it was probably only about a metre, until it was time to scramble back down.

By the time I made my weary way back to the entrance gate I had consumed over 3L of water. This was further increased with a 1.5L bottle and some strawberry sorbet before actually leaving the site. One might think that I should avoid all sharp objects for risk of bursting. My kidneys had no need to worry. I sweated it all out. My thimble sized bladder heaved a sigh of relief.

After all that hiking my tired body needed some R n' R. What better way to reward oneself (and especially since I also found out I had aced my neuro exam via email) than with a visit to the hamman? Otherwise known as a Turkish bath, some of the best baths are in Wadi Musa. 20JOD for transport there & back, a steam, exfoliation, hot stones and massage? Hellz yeah!!!! I started with about 20 minutes in the marbled steam room. My poor body eagerly lapped it all up. Next you lie on a heated marble slab with your legs raised against a marble wall. Whilst you relax even further contrast hydrotherapy is applied. And just how good did that feel even when that water felt like ice. I started giggling mostly in shock when cold water was poured all over my head after what was to be the initial exfoliation. The fluffy white towels lure you into a false sense of security however, which you quickly realize as you are taken to a small room with a marble slab. "Remove robe" I was requested by the tiny female. Huh? And then she scrubbed me. Naked. All over. With olive oil soap. I can how say I have witnessed first hand their talent of extreme exfoliation. You have parts of the body removed that I suspect you might not have know you had. Then came the massage. She was smaller than me but quite possibly wrestled for some Communist Olympic team or something. The massage wasn't long but she hit all the right spots... Quite literally. But this is by no means a complaint. It was awesome. Truly awesome. Just what I had needed. I left there after a few cups of tea minus a few layers of skin feeling fan-bloody-tastic, totally chillaxed and may be a tiny bit violated. I highly recommend it if you ever get the opportunity.

After some traditional Jordanian dishes, fish and... chips for dinner followed by an über tasty dairy-free coconut dessert all washed down with a refreshing lemon & mint drink, I think it's time to hit the sack. It's not even 830pm but I can barely keep my eyes open. The life of an adventurer is tiring!

However, I still firmly believe Indiana Jones would be impressed.

- Posted Using BlogPress from Nic's iPad

Monday, 23 April 2012

... Jordan: Diamonds In The Rough

After a moderately good nights sleep, save for a likely travel-related migraine and waking at 345am, I was raring to go. I was saying goodbye to Amman and basically heading south albeit in a kind of zig-zag. A landscape filled with olive groves whizzed by.

Moses is said to have seen the Promised Land and later died reportedly aged 120 at the top of Mt. Nebo. Hence the huge religious significance of this location. He is believed to have been later buried in the area, although the exact location of his tomb is subject to huge discussion. There is a church in his memory, however for my visit it was under significant restoration and is expected to be fished later this year.  Having trekked 19341 ft of Mt. Kilimanjaro, to call this a mountain is a bit confusing. It's more a hill in my mind. Still, the sweeping views of the ancient lands of Gilead, Judah, Jericho & Negev made it well worth a visit plus some rather magnificent mosaics incredibly well preserved.

A 9km drive from Mt. Nebo took me to the market town of Madaba, famous for a collection of Byzantine mosaics. The most famous mosaic is housed on the floor of St. George's Church, a Greek Orthodox church.  The church itself only dates back to the 19th Century, but the builders came across a mosaic dating back to AD 560 that represents the oldest map in Palestine found to date and provided a plethora of historical insights into the region. Despite much of the original having been lost (believed to have been around 2 million pieces) enough remains for you to sense the wonder and grandeur of this piece.

Madaba itself is easily explored on foot and has lots of churches with beautiful mosqics and lively shops to browse. I still firmly believe I could have done without seeing the skinned goat right before lunch. I had a very non-Arabic yet incredibly good cappuccino in a nice little coffee shop whilst the barista taught me the various ways I could wear my newly acquired head scarf.

Known as the "Grand Canyon of Jordan" , Wadi Mujib stretches over 70km across Jordan from the Desert Highway to the Dead Sea. It measures 1km deep and 4km wide yet it took 18km driving along the King's Highway to switchback down one wall, across a dam at the bottom and then back up the other side. At one point on the road down there is a fantastic lookout. Some clever soul decided to set up a tea stall with a kind of traditional tent. It was a good place to stop and eat my not-very-Arabic-lunch bought from Safeway, a banana sandwich before continuing on to Karak.

Karak (also known as Kerak) is home to one of the most famous Crusader castles. The fortified castle that dominates this old city was a site of the battles between the Crusaders and the Islamic armies of Saladin. Saladin's armies took the castle after an epic siege in 1183. Throughout the castle there are plenty of details information boards to explain the story and function of what you're looking at. Have a torch handy for the darker parts - especially if, unlike me, you are not vertically challenged. It pays to be able to see when you might be about to crack your head. It is a fascinating place to explore especially seeing the defences: some walls are 6.5m thick and there are arrow slits galore.

By now it was almost 4pm and a potential 3-hr drive to Wadi Musa awaited. As you travel south the volcanic hillside becomes the arid Wadi Hasa. Apparently there have been attempts to grow tomatoes here yet all I could see were wind-strewn strips of plastic - a common sight sadly so far through much of my Jordanian travels.

Wadi Musa (Valley of Moses) is situated a few km from the main entrance to Petra. It took about 2.5hrs to get there from Karak and I dozed much of the way. My hotel is called Petra Diamond and would probably fit in well in Vegas, the front is done up just like the Treasury at Petra. There was just enough time to grab a quick bite to eat then I was heading out the door yet again.

Even though my trip to see the amazing wonder that is Petra is tomorrow, I decided that I would join about 200 other people and partake in "seeing" Petra by night. Here you can capture the spirit of Petra by candlelight... Oh and of course camera flashing. You are asked to make your way down the Siq "in silence". Yeah, good luck with that one. This is public entertainment Middle Eastern style! If you want silence might I suggest you come by yourself late in the afternoon, may be when it's winter!?! Silence & solitude is definitely not what this tour is about, however this truly was an incredibly exceptional & memorable experience and well worth the 12JOD. Despite the fact I couldn't really see what was around me, I soon got an idea of what is there thanks to the paper bag candle lanterns and the night sky creating ominous shapes and shadows. After a while you give up complaining about how none of your photos are turning out no matter what you do to the ISO & shutter speeds and truly enjoy this for what it is, the sheer ambience of being there. Even if that does include a little ginger tabby cat that liked to scare the bejesus out of everyone along the way.

As I came to the end of the Siq (took about 45min to walk the 1.2km what with farting about with my cameras & lens) and saw the Treasury in all it's candlelit glory I couldn't help but get goosebumps. Here was one of the most sublime spectacles on the planet that had been forever on my bucket list and as I was ushered into the clearing I was directed to take a seat... Right in front of it. I was in awe. We were served sweetened tea whilst we listened to a presentation followed by music.  I didn't care that I couldn't truly make out what was being said, due in part to the fact that the presenter had his back to me but also because I was absolutely wiped, I was caught up in the excitement of just being there.

I can't wait to truly see it in all it's glory tomorrow in daylight! Unfortunately that for me means a 5am wake up call..... My bag is already packed with camera gear.

- Posted using BlogPress from Nic's iPad