Amman and the Dead Sea

In the run-down centre in Amman near the main mosque an old man with a large teapot bows to a customer assuring a constant stream of tea.

As many other cities in the region, Amman can count its history back to the Neolithic period. It is known for spanning over seven hills, though today that number has increased to 19 hills as the city has rapidly expanded since the mid-20th century.

It became a capital in 1921 when Abdullah I made it the centre of the Emirate of Transjordan, and turned into a large city with the influx of Palestinian refugees in 1948.

My friend lives in a newer area of Amman close to a fancy shopping mall and a Starbucks. Half the houses on the street are still being build and you can feel the constant expansion of Amman as you look around.

It seems as if small enclaves are build in the dry and hilly area. So much empty space lies between the different areas. On the side of the buildings and down the hill on which they lie, garbage lies in the sun giving off an awful odour. The idea of collecting garbage seems non-existent out here.

Amman is not a particularly charming city and except from a Roman Theatre and a citadel which includes a Temple of Hercules and a Byzantine Church, the city doesn’t offer much in terms of tourist attractions, but it is real. That is, it is authentic. So much hustle and bustle in the dirty streets.

In the run-down centre near the main mosque an old man with a large teapot bows to a customer assuring a constant stream of tea. Near the Roman Theatre women are buying spices and vegetables. It all seems so oriental in the way life proceeds here. And then you walk up Rainbow Street, which could just as easily have been a street in the artistic areas of Toronto. Amman might not be pretty, but it has hidden depths that are worth the visit.

At the Roman Ruins I am approach by two young guys who ask me to assist them in a radio play for a local radio station. In the play, I have to ask one of them to borrow his mobile with which I have to call the radio station. For the life of me I can’t remember the name of the radio station, but perhaps some unlucky person will have to hear my shrilling voice in between the exotic rhythms of Middle Eastern music.

Luxury at the Dead Sea

But our days with my friend in Amman did not start out with a trip to the centre. It was Friday and everyone was off work, leaving behind the stifle of Amman for the magnificence of the Dead Sea.

My friend and her husband had convinced us to spent our money on a day of luxury at the Mövenpick Resort which lies out to the Dead Sea.

This is where well-off people and foreign diplomats spend their time off when the weather becomes to unbearable. It is also where noisy American soldiers try to charm young beautiful Jordanian girls when they are on leave. To me it was the perfect end to an amazing journey through Israel, Palestine and Jordan.

The best part however was our drive to the Dead Sea. From my visit to Baku I have former experience with the strangeness of Middle Eastern driving. Jordan was no different.

My friend and her husband drive on diplomatic plates, which has its perks. However, on this day the police requested for us to pull over as we drove down the highway towards the sea. Why they did so would be anyone’s guess as we were not speeding.

Another car had been pulled over and the owner was – to say it mildly – furious. He was yelling and cursing at the police for a good five minutes before he – red-faced – decided to park his car in the middle of the highway thus blocking two of the three lanes.

At that point the police officer checking our papers made the gesture that we should just leave, before he joined his colleagues in attempting to end the situation with the pissed-off car owner.

We just managed to speed around on the final existing lane before a bottle neck was created, and as I looked out the back window it was no surprise to see that the owner was still angrily yelling at the police while they were in all sorts of confusion about how to proceed.

As we finally reached the sea I couldn’t help feeling sorry for all the people caught in the bottle neck at the highway behind us, feeling the heat in their cars as they waited to get to the salty waters of the Dead Sea. But that thought was quickly forgotten as we spent the day dipping ourselves in the Dead Sea and enjoying the Mövenpick pool.

Amman is the final stop on our tour around Israel, Palestine and Jordan. It has been an amazing trip, full of exciting experiences and except for 400 pictures lost in Tel Aviv, we will bring back lots of amazing memories. Memories of people, of places, of knowledge about cultures and civilizations past, and of new discoveries about dead seas as well as living coral reefs.

Until next time

Zofka

Carpet Hunting in the City of Mosaics

It was as if we were watching a movie standing so close to these people, who appeared so devout to their Lord the Saviour in the way they were waving their arms, crying and embracing the experience as of being lowered into the disgusting and probably rather poisonous water.

Madaba lies approximately one hour from Amman and is most famous for its mosaics. You might have heard of the 6th century Madaba Map which is a large mosaic in the Byzantine Church of Saint George displaying the Holy Land.

But this is not the reason why I have convinced my boyfriend to stop in Madaba for a few days. On the contrary, I am more into softer fabrics and after discovering that Madaba is also a carpet city I have become deadset on finding myself a magic carpet.

I have grown up in a house with oriental rugs and I love the earthy tones of such carpets. In my stepfathers summerhouse there used to be a particular massive kelim carpet which was all eroded from decades of use. I love it. To me it is what binds everything else together.

So discovering that Madaba is famous for its kelim carpets, I just had to go!

After a few days in Madaba I finally ended up buying a carpet. I ended up not with a Madaba carpet but one from Iran, and I am absolutely certain that the tea-drinking brothers at Carpet City deceived me gruesomely. However, I am absolutely ecstatic and can’t wait to bring it home. My poor boyfriend in return has had the good fortune to have to carry it;-)

But before I start gushing out about my new carpet, maybe we should return to Madaba and the mosaics.

Madaba and the mosaics

Madaba is an ancient city which is mentioned a few times in the bible and which can boast of a Christian community that traces back to somewhere around the 5th century. In the proximity of Madaba lies a long list of biblical places such as Mount Nebo, where Moses died and was buried, and Bethany at the Jordan River, where John the Baptist got his nickname.

The city is full of ancient mosaics which date between the 1st and 7th century AD. I particularly enjoyed the many beautiful mosaics of The Archaeological Park.

Furthermore, approximately one third of the population is Christian under the Greek Orthodox Christianity making this a very different city to explore than Aqaba and Wadi Musa. All the tourist info we have read about Madaba has told us about the friendly and tolerant people of Madaba. I have only ever met friendly people in Jordan so far, but I agree with the brochures that Madaba has a certain relaxed atmosphere which makes it a pleasant place to stay for a few days.

The guy who picked us up in Wadi Musa and brought us here through Kerak and Wadi Mujib has also been our designated driver for visiting some of the surrounding sites. Thus, we have walked in the footsteps of Moses climbing (though with car) Mount Nebo and wadded in the muddy waters of Bethany as Jesus once did and as several congregations on the Israeli site seem to do every day.

The muddy waters of the Jordan River

Bethany was by all means an extremely weird experience. Neither of us are religious and therefore ones or twice I had to ask myself why we were walking through a desert to a dried up dirty river in 42°C and no coverage.

The Jordan River creates the natural border between Israel and Jordan and it is only a few meters wide at Bethany. Thus, several soldiers on each side stand ready in case of something happening.

On the Israeli side it seems they have build a large complex for visitors, and while we were on the bare and untouched Jordanian side we saw massive progressions of Orthodox and Catholic Christians as well as extravagant and over-emotional baptisms on the Israeli side.

It was as if we were watching a movie standing so close to these people, who appeared so devout to their Lord the Saviour in the way they were waving their arms, crying and embracing the experience as of being lowered into the disgusting and probably rather poisonous water.

But the weirdest part must have been the walk to and from. As mentioned the Israeli have built some sort of complex, but on the Jordanian site there is nothing but dry heat and desert. If you have ever watched Babel (2006) then you might remember the nanny and children’s crazy way through the borderland between Mexico and the US. Well this was just like it, except we didn’t end up getting deported.

Back in Madaba

I ended up feeling rather dizzy from our trip due to the heavy sun. Fortunately, our hotel had just what we needed to get over biblical tour and we ended up enjoying the pool while the owners wife made us burgers.

They call them Chicken Hamburgers here which I found exceedingly funny, since there is absolutely no ham in them. I know the name comes from Hamburg, but in Denmark we would always name it a chicken burger to clarify the lack of ham.

Maybe we are the silly ones but it seriously made me laugh when I had to order chicken hamburgers in a region where ham is pretty much forbidden. I really should get out of the sun.

We will be heading to Amman next where we are to stay with my friend and her husband. I am looking forward to getting to the end of our journey, not because it hasn’t been absolutely amazing, but because I need to return home and digest all the things we have experienced and seen.

See you in Amman,

Zofka

Driving on the Kings Highway and Eating Mansaf in Kerak

Kerak is huge and it is amazing to think that almost 900 years ago second sons of French and English noblemen ran around in the armour of the Knights Templar. To think that Saladin himself has held the castle under siege.

After two days in Wadi Musa we are on the road again. We are heading to Madaba which is only an hours ride south of Amman and close to quite a list of biblical places.

The drive there will take us most of the day, and on the way we will get the chance of a few hours to explore the Temple Knights castle of Kerak.

I can’t wait to explore Kerak and I must admit that in anticipation of our trip I have re-read Jan Guillou’s amazing trilogy about Arn Magnusson, Knight Templar.

Jordan is dry and with little vegetation as we drive up the Kings Highway. All the houses which we pass seem unfinished with metal sticks on the roof as if the Jordanians are all planning to attach another floor to their home – hoping to build higher and larger.

On the side of the highway families are picnicking as if they couldn’t find a more calm and beautiful area than the roadside. Garbage is scattered across the sides of the road either as leftovers from the picnics or from people hurdling it out as they drive by.

In an odd way it seems as if they do not appreciate their country and their surroundings. They are not looking for a beautiful spot in nature to enjoy the family lunch, rather they settle with the dusty road where others pass by in fast succession. They do not see the ugliness of the garbage and constrict themselves to use trash cans – if there are any – or collect it.

But I know they are proud and I know they care for their country. I just think their priorities are different and their information on environmental hazards and pollution limited. And while I hope they will continue to picnic at the side of the road for years to come, I also hope that they will change their practices when it comes to garbage.

Kerak

Al-Karak is central in Jordan and has had an important historical significance in the region. It is placed on the old caravan route between Damascus and Egypt and the pilgrimage route from Damascus to Mecca.

While the crusaders were only in Kerak for 46 years their imprint on the city is still daunting today. The castle is majestically raised above the rest of the landscape as if on a cliff. It has a dramatic effect on even the most hardened people driving through the city. All I can compare it to is the feeling of driving through the Alps in Austria, constantly craning ones neck gazing upwards.

Our driver takes us to his friends restaurant not far from the castle. While he stays enjoying the time with good food and friendly conversation, we walk up another street to the entrance of the castle, only to realize that we have no money.

Thus, we spend the first 20 minutes figuring out how to get cash for the entrance fee. It feels pretty ridiculous since we only need 1 JD each, but having to pay for our lunch later we run crazily through desolate streets near the entrance looking for anything resembling an ATM.

Despite our lack of monetary planning, we finally get inside the castle. It is huge and it is amazing to think that almost 900 years ago second sons of French and English noblemen ran around in the armour of the Knights Templar. To think that Saladin himself has held the castle under siege. I can’t imagine anyone penetrating the massive walls of the castle as they drop far below us.

After what seems like a long hide-and-seek game where my boyfriend and I constantly find ourselves lost in the grounds of the massive structure, we head back to the restaurant where lunch awaits us. After having been feed up with falafel and hummus, we decide to repeat the success from Wadi Musa and order Mansaf.

Mansaf is the national dish in Jordan. It is made of lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yoghurt called Jameed and served with rice or bulgur.

On the road again

After lunch we drive north again on the old Kings Highway. Our driver is a kind man and he stops several times on the road for us to enjoy the view of the hilly landscape. The road circles up and down the mountainsides as a snake. It seems like it will never end. We stop at Wadi Mujib for pictures and a breath of cooler air.

Finally, after what seems an eternity we drive back into civilization and the landscape becomes dotted with human life.

We have arrived in Madaba, city of Mosaics.

Zofka

A Long Day in Petra

Standing above the Amphitheatre we got a view of what truly makes Petra so extraordinary as the descending sun lid up the Royal Tombs and the Street of Facades, creating an astonishing effect.

Petra is hands-down the biggest tourist attraction in Jordan. As one of the new seven wonders of the world it has been segmented as a must-see place for any tourist with respect for him- or herself.

Most come in large buses from neighbouring Israel and Egypt. Lonely Planets edition for Israel and the Palestinian Territories even has a chapter on Petra.

They arrive for a two hour visit during which they have the time to walk the winding road of the Siq until it opens up to the iconic view of the Treasury.

They might have time for walking to some of the graves and the Amphitheatre, but as much as they will be in awe of the grandness of the place, they haven’t even scratched the surface of why Petra is a new yet old wonder of the world.

Wadi Musa

After advise from my friend in Amman, my boyfriend and I decided to have two complete days in Wadi Musa. Wadi Musa is the valley where Petra lies and has given name to the town that has sprung up around the entrance to Petra since its discovery in 1812.

Wadi Musa is built on the tourist industry connected to Petra and stretches from the entrance to the sights and up the steep hill beyond. High heels is a no-go due to the elevation of the streets and walking home can feel like climbing Mount Everest.

The not so luxurious hotel

Unfortunately, due to Google Maps lack of correct topographical and geographical information we had already booked a hotel almost as far from the entrance and as far up the mountain side as possible.

It was a new hotel with all the obvious issues which lack of routine brings with it, and while we had hoped to spend two days at a hotel much fancier than what we were used to, we ended up no better off than what we have experienced so far.

The swimming pool which was in constant shadows and therefore icy in the desert heat was filled with dead flies on the surface, while the restaurant was disorganised and the chain of command in the reception unsure.

However, we didn’t come to Wadi Musa for the hotel

Sightseeing in Wadi Musa

As the restaurant at the hotel seemed a rather risky business, we decided to head down to the centre of Wadi Musa for dinner. After a ten minutes’ walk straight down we ended up at a crossroad which seemed to be a small centre of Wadi Musa and where the main attraction was a restaurant offering the standard Jordanian variety of food.

At the entrance sat a large man at a grill handing out shiish kebab. The place seemed to be a favourite for locals, who stood in the doorway chatting away. Half of them were customers – the other half were staff. I counted ten people working in the small restaurant, many of whom were cleaning where it was already clean or standing in line ready to help the customers.

It seems to me so very far from the pressure of Danish society where everyone is under constant pressure to increase production and decrease the costs, all the time thinking in profit and efficiency. In Jordan you do not fire someone to increase your profit – you hire someone as soon as the profit allows it. I have been told that the philosophy behind it is that everyone should have a possibility to provide for their families.

While it most certainly has consequences in regards to the Jordanian economy and the modernisation of Jordan, I liked it. Every system has its pro’s and con’s and as an outsider who do not care to analyse the cost-benefit effect of a society while on vacation I simply took joy in the solidarity which the Jordanians have.

I ended up spending a good deal of time enjoying the atmosphere while attempting to forget that I had to climb up the steep hill to return to the hotel.

Petra

The following day we walked the long and winding road down to the entrance of Petra. The entrance itself is nowhere near the Siq. A long and travelled road led from the entrance to where the Siq began. While most people run through or take a horse or wagon, the road in itself is rather interesting and pleasant, offering a sample of magnificent graves, leading your thoughts to the White City of Gondor.

The Siq itself is extraordinary and Mother Nature has certainly outdone herself in creating this natural entrance to the Nabataean city of Petra. For 30 minutes you walk down the narrow walk which the Siq creates, marvelling at the natural formations of the rock and the many shades of red and orange which make up the colourful display.

At the very end of the Siq it opens up onto the Treasury. The view is an iconic and well-known image, not unlike the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids of Giza or the Great Wall of China. It is one of those places where you stop up and remind yourself to not stop breathing.

It is however also a very narrow corridor filled with tourists. Thus, photo opportunities are rare to come by, if you like me are allergic to large amounts of other tourists.

So not getting it…

Overall Petra is a hot and crowded place and though beautiful, we were simply not feeling it. Part of it was our own fault. We had not thought of lunch and the options in Petra were nasty at best.

Moreover, too many locals vied for our attention wanting to offer all sorts of items and services, from selling jewellery to braiding your hair. It was all just too much, and the heat was merciless.

After walking past the Amphitheatre and beyond, we reached the end of the Colonnaded Street which leads to the Temple. While local donkey owners attempted to get us to join them for the Temple we had been fed up with the constant demand for attention from locals and were in no way interested in making the trip.

However, neither were we interested in walking the long way back through the Colonnaded Street and onwards.

Fortunately, my boyfriend often decides to go explore the less travelled road and after having split a banana and stocked up on overpriced water, we took a turn to the right on our way back, which we would not come to regret.

So getting it…

We began by walking on a wide open space reaching the side of the mountain which was dotted with man-made caves, some of them in use. In one cave we saw an old car, while doors closed off to other caves. We seemed to have entered the inhabited parts of Petra.

The road ahead of us was flat and open, and it didn’t take me long to question what we were doing. But as the road narrowed in a gorge into the mountain we began to encounter monuments and signs which were described in our dusty Lonely Planet guide, and as we reached the Roman Soldier’s Tomb and the Garden Triclinium we knew that we were on the path towards the High Place of Sacrifice.

From the open landscape ending suddenly in the gorge we were at a loss about how to continue, and it took us a while to discover a steep and well hidden staircase cut into the mountainside.

The stairway to the High Place of Sacrifice

For the next 45 minutes or an hour we climbed. If I had had my music collection at hands, I would have put on Led Zeppelin’s Stairways to Heaven, because that was the path we followed – constantly climbing higher, never able to see the top. Sometimes the path was wide and open, and at others it was only a stair of a few feet wide.

While red faced and exhausted from the climb, we had both forgotten our previous ill feelings about Petra and our lack of a proper meal. We were completely lost in our awe of the desolate place and the magnificent view.

We ended up finally reaching the majestic obelisk of the High Place of Sacrifice, where we stopped to enjoy the view and the very feeling of being on the top of the world.

Afterwards there was only one way and that was down. Through endless amounts of stairs we almost ran down the steep side of the mountain as the sun slowly descended into the west. We were so much in a hurry to reach the ground before the sun did that at points we almost glided off the side of the mountain as the stairs took a sharp invisible turn.

When we were almost at the bottom standing above the Amphitheatre we got a view of what truly makes Petra so extraordinary as the descending sun lid up the Royal Tombs and the Street of Facades, creating an astonishing effect.

Riding into the night

As we reached the Treasury and the beginning of the Siq almost all the tourists had disappeared and there was no one near the entrance of the Siq, giving us ample opportunity to take pictures of the iconic entrance to the Treasury Square.

After moving quickly through the long and now dark Siq, we were persuaded by locals to ride back to the entrance area and Wadi Musa on horseback. If you have read my blogs from Georgia you will know that I am not very good on horseback.

This time however my only job was to sit tight as the local guide walked the horse slowly back to the entrance. My boyfriend had gotten on a horse with another local who had two horses and before I could blink they were galloping into the darkness. Thankfully I was able to catch most of the crazy ride on video, and I’m already dreaming up ways in which to make it useful.

After leaving behind Petra, we had a large and long awaited meal at a restaurant close to the entrance, tasting Mansaf for the first time. For some unknown reason we decided after hours walking in the sun and climbing all the way to the High Place of Sacrifice that it would be easy-peasy to walk up to our hotel. When we finally made it home, I was so dead tired that I crashed immediately.

Petra by Night

The following day we decided to do nothing, but read and write and enjoy the confusion at our hotel. We booked spots on Petra by Night and ordered a taxi to drive us back and forth since I am in no way walking through Wadi Musa again.

The event was by all means strange. 200 people walked through the Siq in almost complete darkness and ended up in front of the Treasury where we drank tea and listened to a rather weird show of local musical traditions.

The space in front of the Treasury was lit with hundreds of little candles and a fat red cat wondered through them unconcerned with the hundreds of people attempting to take pictures in the dark.

I have enjoyed Petra though my legs will be happy to leave. Tomorrow we will be driving to Madaba with a stop in Kerak. I am more than pleased at the prospect of sitting in a car for most of the day.

See you,

Zofka

No Rum in Wadi Rum – but Lots and Lots of Sand and Rock

At first it felt as if we had been placed in the middle of nowhere with a bottle of water and only the instructions to walk straight.

Sometimes you come across a place which takes your breath away. For me, a dry and hot desert somewhere in the Middle East, which shares its name with an alcoholic beverage, happens to be one of those places.

I cannot imagine anyone would leave Wadi Rum without feeling overwhelmed with the magnificence of the place. For some reason that has also made it extremely difficult to write this blog entry, because writing inspirationally about a place of sand, rock and dry heat is rather difficult.

Our visit to Wadi Rum

After a day of snorkelling in the Red Sea, we went to the absolute opposite extreme with a Bedouin guided tour to the desert area of Wadi Rum. We had originally planned for a few nights stay in a Bedouin camp and a painful trek on camel, but a few days before our departure the Danish newspapers had begun writing terrifying stories about the new version of SARS.

The Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus also known as MERS has caused several deaths in Saudi Arabia over the past few years and has recently been linked to camels.

As we were packing for our trip, the Saudi Government issued an international warning in the beginning of May, while people in several countries had been infected – including Jordan.

It is fair to say that I got a tiny bit stressed out at the thought of our entire vacation being overshadowed by such news. It is no surprise that, it is pretty difficult to avoid camels in Jordan, particularly in Wadi Rum and Petra.

We had quickly realised that while Jordan had not had any direct outbreaks of the disease, it would be wise to drop the planned camel trek. Moreover, we decided not to spend our nights in the desert camp and instead only make it a daytrip on our way to Petra.

Some might call us way over pre-cautious while others would think we should have avoided Wadi Rum altogether. To me it was most of all a calculation in regards to stress. I didn’t want any unnecessary concerns to disrupt my vacation, so rather not sleep in the desert camp than worry excessively during the following 14 days, which would be the incubation period for MERS.

But I didn’t want to forego Wadi Rum altogether. It has been the one place on our journey that I knew I had to see. Desert camps we can always visit in other countries, but Wadi Rum is unique.

Therefore, we ended up with a one-day Jeep tour through the wonders of Wadi Rum. It might have been as a compensation for not having more days in the desert or perhaps for losing the 400 pictures in Tel Aviv, but at the end of the day we had taken more pictures than in all of Israel together.

The Desert of T. E. Lawrence

Internationally Wadi Rum is mostly known for being the place where T. E. Lawrence led an Arab revolt during WW1 – an episode in history which has been immortilised by the 1962 classic movie Lawrence in Arabia. Unfortunately, the movie was not filmed in Wadi Rum, but in Morocco.

Yet, as Jordan is quickly becoming the only tourist option in the Middle East, Wadi Rum has received ample attention by tourists going to Aqaba and Petra.

We had booked our trip with Ali Attayak, the owner of Bedouinroads, who had also arranged for a taxi to take us from Aqaba to Rum Village. The driver who was a friend of Ali bought us water and chips for the journey and as we arrived at the Visitor’s Centre on the outskirts of Rum Village he got us through without paying the optional fee of 5JD each by saying that we were guests of Ali. According to our driver, Ali is a highly respected member of the local community.

Rum Village is a strange place, which to me looks like a refugee camp. A temporary place that has grown to be permanent. I would imagine that the feel I got from the village stems from the fact that the people living there are mainly bedouins from Wadi Rum – people for whom home is in the desert. However, the village is beautifully placed as an entrance to Wadi Rum.

We began the tour with stops at Lawrence’s Spring and Lawrence’s House – which we beforehand had read was not actually Lawrence’s house, but a caravan station.

At Lawrence’s Spring, we climbed to the top of the rocky hill where a jotted tree stood as living proof of the spring underneath. It was a pretty rough climb, but the view was astonishing and well worth the effort. For the rest of our drive, we would over and over again be exposed to amazing vistas and natural wonders, and looking back I am so very happy that we decided to go.

One might think that as a desert Wadi Rum is pretty much a lot of sameness throughout the horizon, but while it is made up of rock and sand it varies from place to place. The sand and rock itself changes colours. The red sand dunes are proof of this.

Large dunes of ochre red sand represent a stark contrast to the yellow sand which dominates Wadi Rum. The rock formations are made up of thousands of variations of yellow to red to black colours and nature has created intricate patterns in the rocks.

Humans have added to this with cave paintings which are to be found in several different areas, while the black desert camp tents hide in alcoves protected from the desert wind.

Barragh Canyon

The reason we had chosen a tour with Bedouinroads was the added detour to Barragh Canyon, which is off the beaten path of mainstream one-day tours. The detour also became the high point of our trip.

After a quiet lunch near the canyon, our driver left us at the entrance, where a one kilometre long walk awaited us.

At first it felt as if we had been placed in the middle of nowhere with a bottle of water and only the instructions to walk straight, but with time the rock formations began to close in on us and at times we had to climb over fallen rocks and debris in order to move forward.

En route, trees grew out of the red cliffs in what would seem impossible conditions. At a particularly beautiful place far enough along for us to trust that we were on the right path, a particularly beautiful vista opened up. Here we spent a couple of minutes just taking in the surroundings and feeling extremely happy and fortunate.

Another ten minutes walk let us to a defined path down to where our driver was waiting for us to drive us to yet another marvellous view of Wadi Rum.

However, those quiet and peaceful minutes in Barragh Canyon, just the two of us, remained the highpoint of our tour.

And that was without even a single drop of rum.

Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

Zofka

The Red Sea – First Time Snorkelling and I’m Hooked!

At first we laughed at the guy who tried to sell the swimming ducks, but then we noticed how many families had one.

While I hate the idea of myself in a bikini and have an odd fear of drowning, I have had a long time dream to experience the wonders of the sea. Aqaba and the Red Sea seemed the obvious possibility to try out my dream.

Firstly, Jordan is a Muslim country and Aqaba is a rather conservative city where tiny bikinis are only the norm in the southern resorts. Thus, I could show off my very conservative bathing outfit.

Secondly, the Red sea is not muddy green and cold as the Baltic, but rather crystal blue and clear – not to mention warm, making me feel a little safer from the fear that Jörmungand or the Loch Ness Monster were to grab me from below.

With the intent on exploring the Red Sea we had pre-booked a tour on Layla One, where we could try out snorkelling around the coral reefs.

Going to Jordan

The day before we had taken the Egged bus 444 from Jerusalem to Eilat. From there we took a taxi to the border and spent a half hour eating our Israeli food and drinking our water before walking the distance across no man’s land. In Jordan we were met with open arms and lots of humour from the border guards. It was surprisingly easy to cross.

I had read a lot about the Taxi Mafia which had monopoly of driving you from the border and how you had to take a taxi for which they charged more than double the regulated price. While the first part held true, since other tourists crossing were denied to walk the distance to Aqaba on their own, the price charged was the regulated 11JD. The taxi ride proved quite adventurous.

The driver was young and liked to drive fast and furiously. Moreover, the back storage couldn’t close and every time – which was often – that we hit a bump it smacked open.

I was, to say the least, a bit afraid that our bag-packs would fall out. Every time a bump hit, I would turn around to check that they were not lying on the road behind us. That would make our young driver laugh merrily. My boyfriend was more concerned with the lack of seatbelts, which seems to be an invention which has not yet reached Jordan. But we arrived – luggage and people intact.

Snorkelling in the Red Sea

We showed up at DiveAqaba at 9 AM in the morning worried we would be late. We could have slept another 2 hours, if we had had the gift of foresight.

Together with four girls we spent ages waiting for a group of Israelis who were having problems at the border. When they finally arrived, they proved to be rowdy middle-aged men, who liked to sing loud Hebrew songs.

Though the leader of the group seemed on good terms with the natives and while the diving crew were pretty laid back, I found it a bit tactless for a bunch of Israelis to so blatantly show off in a country where many are caught in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No matter what one might think of the conflict, their behaviour seemed provoking. Partly also because they were loud and rowdy.

It really didn’t help when they undressed on the boat – one of them showing off speedos and a rather large beer stomach. With that pretty sight, we sat sail for Cedar Pride Wreck – a Lebanese general cargo vessel which was sunk for the benefit of creating the basis of a marine habitat and diving spot in Aqaba in 1982.

Snorkelling

Spit in the goggles, you have to spit in the goggles‘ – what? Yakk. Apparently in order to clean the salt off the goggles, you have to absolve it in your spit. Fascinating.

The first ten minutes were scary and I had major problems with getting used to breathing through my mouth. Moreover, my spit hadn’t done much good and I couldn’t see a thing under water.

However, after getting another pair of goggles and forcing myself to stop breathing through my nose, it was absolutely amazing. Far below us lay the cargo ship and divers from our boat could be seen there. I had imagined it would be scary to be at 20 meters depth, but the wetsuit and swim feet made it almost impossible to sink below the surface.

Our second stop was at First Bay North where the coral reef was only a short meter below the surface. Much more confident in snorkelling and breathing through the mouth, we had an amazing hour enjoying the rich and wondrous life beneath the surface, where colourful fish swam between large corals.

It is by all means one of the most amazing experiences I have had travelling, and I can’t believe I haven’t snorkelled before. We will definitely jump into snorkelling gear every time we get a chance in the future.

The day ended with a large and fulfilling lunch and yet another Hebrew song on the way back.

Aqaba

Not unlike cities I have visited in Morocco or Azerbaijan, Aqaba is a dirty and smelly city. But at the same time, as Fez and Ganja, Aqaba is alive and a fascinating place to enjoy.

The streets are full of people shopping, haggling, smoking, picnicking … etc. – something I had missed in the Old City of Jerusalem. Everyday life en masse.

In the evening, the public beach became filled with families from near and afar, enjoying the sunset and a cop of Lipton tea with mint leaves.

You couldn’t move for people. Kids playing. Couples talking. People selling tea, coffee, large swim toys in the form of ducks.

At first we laughed at the guy who tried to sell the swimming ducks, but then we noticed how many families had one. It pretty much seem the standard, and there are no other kind of swim toys than the duck. It must make for excellent business.

It would be hard for anyone to outdo the Jordanian in regards to hospitality. From crossing the border we have only met open and enthusiastic people, who generally wish to welcome us. If the rest of our trip will be anything like our reception in Aqaba, I think we will come to love Jordan very much.

Zofka