Monday, November 14, 2011

A Jaunt to Jordan

When Jace accidentally let it slip a week before we left that we were going to Jordan at Korban Bayram, I was thrilled. My money had been on Cyprus (the Turkish side, of course), so the fact that we were (a) getting out of Turkey and (b) going to one of my top must-see countries made me extremely happy.

In the week before we left, there was a lot of discussion with Jace's work colleagues who had also bought the flights+hotel special deal as to plans and tours. One guy, Christian, had a Jordanian friend who had offered to take us all to the Dead Sea one day and prepare an "Arab BBQ" for us, which sounded great. He also found a 2-day tour which included Petra, Aqaba and camping with Bedouins at Wadi Rum. Jace and I decided that this wasn't for us, however, as (a) we wanted more time at Petra and (b) camping while 6 months pregnant did not appeal to me at all.

After buying a new bikini and getting a letter from my doctor to say that I was fit to fly as a precaution, I was ready to go!

Besides a bit of turbulence and a massive queue at immigration, the journey to our hotel in Amman was uneventful. After a light dinner, I headed straight for bed while Jace and the others went out to see Amman at night, thanks to Fares, Christian's Jordanian friend.

We had a relaxing start to Saturday and left for the Dead Sea around 1pm. Fares drove one group of 4 while we went with his friend, Achmed, to one of the many beach clubs along the shore. Being a Saturday and late autumn, the club was virtually empty. Fridays, especially in warmer weather, are the busiest days and the beaches are apparently packed with people.


To the Dead Sea

Saturday at the Dead Sea = empty beach

After setting up some tables and chairs, Faris and Achmed fired up the BBQ and showed the boys how to prepare kofta correctly, while I went for a walk along the shore.

Preparing kofta, L-R: Christian, Fares, Andrejs, Steven and Hasan

The boys can't resist swordplay

Cooking up a storm, L-R: Achmed, Christian and Fares

The Dead Sea is one of the saltiest bodies of water on Earth at ~33.7% salinity it is 8.6 times saltier than the ocean. It is the world's deepest hypersaline lake (377m deep) and is also located at the lowest elevation on the world's surface, 423m below sea level. Unlike the ocean's salinity which is 97% sodium chloride, most of the Dead Sea's salinity comes from magnesium chloride, calcium chloride and potassium chloride, giving the intense 'saltiness' of the water a distinctly metallic flavour, should you be dumb enough to taste the water (Jace). It also has the highest concentration of bromide ions of all waters on Earth. These mineral salts in the water supposedly give the Dead Sea excellent therapeutic qualities and have drawn travellers from all over, including Cleopatra and King Herod, to bathe in its waters and its mud. Now it was our turn!

I started by wading into the shallow water, which was a little cool, before reaching a deeper section where Jace and the boys were already floating around. As the slightly oily-feeling water reached farther up my body, I could feel JB (Jelly Bean, our unborn boy) shift higher in my abdomen. I took the plunge and rolled onto my back, whereupon JB's body created a strange ridge in the middle of my belly, running sternum to pelvis, as he escaped the cool water. It looked and felt very strange.

Salt-encrusted rock

The boys float about

I had decided to give myself the full Dead Sea body treatment, so after my swim, I found a patch of sea salt and proceeded to scrub myself all over.

About to scrub Jace's back

Christian, Andrejs and Jace getting scrubbed down

After rinsing off the salt in the sea, Jace, Andrejs and I found a mud hole and started covering ourselves with therapeutic goop.

Magic mud

This is good for the baby, isn't it?

Jace's camo mud look

Once the mud had dried and I rinsed it off with regular water, my skin felt amazingly soft, like a baby's bottom.

After some delicious kofta, sweet tea and watching the sun disappear behind clouds to the west, over what I will refer to as "the disputed territories" (aka Palestine to our Arab friends, Israel to the rest of the world), a sudden rain shower had us packing up very quickly and racing back to the cars.

L-R: Andrejs, Alix, Hasan, Rose and Steven

Achmed takes a well-deserved dip

Aaargh! The Creature from the Dead Sea


That night, Jace and I went to a great café/restaurant called Jafra in downtown Amman. Unfortunately, we didn't have the camera with us so I don't have photos, but the decor was really cool with a mix of modern art and traditional Jordanian pieces. There was an older guy playing the oud while locals, including couples, families, and groups of men and women enjoyed drinks (no alcohol), food and nargile (waterpipes). We ate a delicious dinner at one of the tables and then retired to a lounge for sweet mint tea and lemon-mint nargile (or at least Jace did), and happily enjoyed the atmosphere.

The next morning was an early start with the 6.30am bus to Wadi Musa (Petra), just over 3 hours away. We deposited our gear at our hostel, ate some lunch and were down at Petra before 1pm.

As we walked down the wide pedestrian path towards the Siq, Arabian horses and horse-drawn buggies raced along the next "lane," ferrying tourists between the gates, the Siq and the famous Treasury.

We ran into our travel buddies on the way, who had only been given 2 1/2 hours to explore Petra, and we were quietly pleased that we had chosen to visit as independent travellers. At 50JD (~AU$68.60) for one day, 55JD (~AU$75.50) for two, the entry fee seemed extremely high to only visit for a few hours. Plus there was so much to see!

Fares riding back to the gate

Our main goals for the afternoon were to get a feel for the site and to climb up the 800+ stone steps to the Monastery (Al-Deir), the farthest point from the entrance which we planned to visit while at Petra.

The Obelisk Tomb

Strange rocks shaped like chimps' heads

The entrance to the Siq

One of many niches in the walls of the Siq. This once would have held a religious icon

Some parts of the Siq are narrow...

...while others are wide

First glimpse of the Treasury (Al-Khazneh)

The façade of Al-Khazneh is the most photographed part of Petra and was famously featured in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

One of many tomb façades

Smaller tombs can be found all over Petra

Alix admires a 2-level structure

This amazing natural pigmentation looks like graffiti

The large Theatre is carved into the rock

What remains of the town centre including the Great Temple and the Lower and Upper Temenos

Being 6 months pregnant, the climb to Al-Deir was hard-going. It reminded me somewhat of the Inca Trail, with all the stairs and my shortness of breath (although this time it wasn't thin air causing it). I made sure I stopped frequently to sip water and allow my heart rate to go down. I got props from several people, locals and foreigners alike. It was interesting to hear the different reactions from local men ("You're husband is very harsh, making you carry a big bag." [It was a smallish daypack with my jacket and jumper in it, so didn't weigh much.]), local women ("Very good for the baby. How many months?"), and foreigners ("Wow, that's amazing! Hey look at this, Jack. Good for you, honey!" [Americans, of course.]).

Looking back to the Royal Tombs

Al-Deir itself was well worth the walk. It is bigger than the famous Treasury, and in my mind, more spectacular. The views of the surrounding landscape were also magnificent, though photos don't really do them justice.

Alix, JB and Al-Deir

Enjoying a well-earned cup of mint tea

Going back down was a breeze, though I did have to be careful to "bend ze knees" to prevent jolting and jarring. The light faded rapidly as we walked back through Petra to the gates, and the last section was lit only by moonlight. It had been a tiring but very rewarding first day in this amazing place.

The Royal Tombs at dusk

We rose early-ish on Monday and enjoyed chatting to a lovely English couple over breakfast. They were teachers living in Amman and very kindly offered us a lift down to the gates of Petra, where we arrived just after 9am. The morning was bright and clear and the sky was a brilliant blue, which offset the pink-hued rocks of Petra perfectly. Our main goals today were to climb up to the High Place of Sacrifice (Al-Madbah) and then look at the recently-discovered mosaics as well as some of the larger hillside tombs.

The climb up to Al-Madbah was not as long or arduous as the one to Al-Deir, but I still had to stop and take a break frequently. At the top, we enjoyed a wonderful view over Petra.

Beginning the walk up

Tombs, tombs, tombs

One of the two obelisks at Al-Madbah

Al-Madbah kitteh

View over Petra with the Royal Tombs on the right

Once again, the climb down was quick and as we walked to the mosaics, we passed locals offering camel and donkey rides, ancient coins, and many other trinkets.

Many trinkets for sale...

...including stone eggs

This little girl was selling rocks

Donkey rides? Camels? Anyone?

The mosaics were discovered and preserved as part of a joint Jordanian-American project and were housed under an amazing tent-like structure which protected them from the elements and drained any rainwater far away to prevent erosion.

The "tent" houses two panels of floor mosaics

One panel depicts animals, food and people, including "giraffamels" (camel-shaped giraffes) on the left

The second panel is a tribute to the seasons and gods

Our final stop was the royal tombs. Some were quite eroded, others were partially reconstructed, but you could easily imagine the grandeur they once commanded, and in many ways still do.

With the Royal Tombs behind us

The 3-storey Palace Tomb

More graffiti-like rock patterns below the Palace Tomb

The Urn Tomb with two levels of vaulting beneath it

Inside the Urn Tomb

The Urn Tomb's ceiling

View back over Petra's town centre

All to soon it was time to head back to Amman. We arrived at the hotel around 8pm and headed back downtown for dinner, this time at the wonderful Hashem restaurant, a favourite haunt of locals and their King. (There are photos on the wall of HRH drinking tea there.) Jace had already been to Hashem on Friday night with the others and had raved about the hummus and felafel. He wasn't wrong - they were excellent! So excellent, that we ordered a second serving of felafel. We ate them with flatbread, fuul (beans) and sweet mint tea (of course), and the whole meal only cost us 4JD.

We planned to see Amman by day on Tuesday but our plans were cut short when we were told that our flight had been moved to 1.20pm (instead of 7.50pm) and we were getting picked up at 10am from the hotel. No matter. We had seen Petra and swum in the Dead Sea, which were the main things we wanted to do in Jordan. It had been a wonderful surprise holiday!

We can now add 1 continent (Asia), 1 country (Jordan) and 1 currency (Jordanian Dinar), plus several more thousand km to our travel stats, which is a great way to finish off this amazing 20-month adventure.

1 comment:

  1. Just saw a Tweet of yours then noticed your profile pic (mud handprints and awesome silver bikini!) and wanted to know more about the story. What an amazing journey....and congrats on your bub! Beautiful photos and writeup of your trip.