These last few days have been great as they've offered up some fantastic 'first time' experiences and an 'interesting' one too. Put it this way, you remember Lawrence of Arabia? Well now there's 'Sheik Sami of Arabia' and I expect the related imagery to be of some amusement to many back home and perhaps to my global travel friends too.
So originally I planned on providing you two parts to my discovery of Amman and its surrounding area but I've since decided to ease up on that. You see, as marvellous as the ancient ruins of Amman Citadel and also those up north in a place called Umm Qais were, well they aren't how I want my final Jordanian memories to be recorded. That means I've decided on my next destination and so this will be my last post from Jordan and so I promise you another good-un. That said, if you want to see any images of the Roman ruins from Umm Qais or the quite spectacular Jerash, drop me a line. I guess it'd be just wrong to not provide a taster though...
Poignantly, this means then it's now time for Blake and I to part ways after 8 days together and multiple cities later. There's no doubt this impressive Australian man has played a big part in my overall enjoyment and memories of Jordan and I to him too I hope. There will always be a bed available to the man (and to many of you) if the *ahem* delights of the South West of England appeal. If not, I'm sure my arm could be twisted to stay with him which happens to be close to Sydney, Australia....
Despite the ungodly hour we woke this morning for the mini-bus, the journey down to the hot and humid Wadi Rum desert took just a few hours with zero stress. In fact, it was yet another pleasing journey courtesy of the same classic formula: sunshine, scenery, flat terrain with some music playing and day dreaming going on behind the shades.
Back in Israel I stayed in and around the Negev desert for several days but my accommodation was, by no accident, semi-normal. That's not the case here as we would be staying in one of the many Bedouin camps deep in the 'proper desert'. Wiki tells me that the Bedouin people descend from nomads who have historically inhabited the Arabian and Syrian deserts and that their name means "desert dwellers" in Arabic language.
Blake picked us out a camp that was highly rated on TripAdvisor offering clean and hospitable 'hut-style' accommodation. As those two adjectives are kinda essential for someone like me, I was happy to roll with his suggestion. These days though I take reviews with a pinch of salt having observed back in Egypt the undesirable tactics from some business owners. You see, they've evolved from pleading for a good review to basically asking you to write the review whilst on their property using their own computer! I experienced this twice in Egypt and somehow blagged it both times as this is not something I'm ok with.
Here we are in our jeep and shortly after, chilling in the camp:
Although sleeping at a Bedouin camp isn't hugely expensive, costs soon begin to mount when you actually want to do things. This is the desert folks meaning no wifi, shops or just about anything else! Therefore unsurprisingly in addition to accommodation, day tours are about the only thing to be offered. Now as you know, I'm not one for organised tours and so I had to grin and bear it having accepted that my options were extremely limited. Heck, I'm sure even Bear Grylls would want to hire a local guide around here!
Upon arriving, the Bedouin business owner suggested we look at a two day plan (including beds for two nights and food for most of the day). This sounded OK until you consider the cost was £155 JD! (£155 GBP). That's expensive for a holiday maker in expensive Israel, let alone a budget backpacker in the Jordanian desert! Naturally I politely told him where to go and eventually settled with half of the original plan (and cost). However don't for a moment think we were missing out on 24 hours worth of fun as we really wouldn't be - something that was distinctly lacking from the proposed second day itinerary.
That settled, we drove around the desert all day and enjoyed the occasional photographic opportunity. Thank you Blake for your photography today.
I can honestly say that Wadi Rum actually really surprised both of us. We expected just a ton of sand, vast emptiness and only a few mountains, however all the aforementioned were visible in abundance. As for the tour, well it was exactly as I expected it to be (ok but never worth the amount of money). It was bizarre to read reviews from people on TripAdvisor and how some thought it was the best thing since sliced bread but as we know, people of all ages can be easily charmed and our standards fluctuate massively for quality, travel experience, impressiveness and value for money. Admittedly though, when I look back through these and other photos, no question there were plenty of smiles that day - just don't go comparing it to that of 'sliced bread' :--) Also, the memories and enjoyment came mainly from Blake and I and from the people we met, not really from the tour itself - if that makes sense?
I'd say then that for the majority people, one full day and night will be plenty here - especially in mid to late 30 degree ambient heat. Just remember to not expect to see too many significant sites for your money and instead just try to enjoy your surroundings and the experience itself. If you're physically able, consider giving sandboarding a try. We didn't get to do 'sandboarding' as our guide 'forgot' his boards so make sure this doesn't happen to you. We were later reimbursed a whole 5 JD for that but naturally we'd have much rather boarded on some sand dunes! Oh well.
I'm happy to report back that the accommodation was indeed clean, as were the toilet and shower facilities. So despite prior concern, I ended up with a decent night's sleep although fair play to Blakey-boy for properly embracing this experience choosing to sleep outside under the stars. That, however, was a little too close to nature for the Unlikely Traveller who chose his humble desert abode instead.
Speaking of which, here are the tents and a rather large imposing rock that is the view when you open your door!
So did anyone notice I look a little strange in that last photo of me? Specifically my eyes? Well, this brings us to that 'interesting' experience I spoke of in the opening sentence which I first observed in Petra. It would appear that for reasons unknown to me, many younger Bedouin men put on that stuff women use for their eyelashes.
The expression for these three images should be: going, going, gone. What else can I say folks other than: 'When in Rome the desert'...
That last shot is supposedly Lawrence of Arabia's House in Wadi Rum.
As the day passed, we would later retire to 'the hut' but not before watching a spectacular sunrise. In fact, even the amazing moon came out to play too! Back to the camp we ate some decent local food and enjoyed plenty of tea in the evening along with embracing the simple but happy Bedouin lifestyle of singing, dancing and instrument playing.
So Aqaba is billed as the Eilat (Israel) equivalent and despite there being obvious differences, they're also very similar which isn't surprising considering their core existence is something they both share: tourism. In fact, both southerly spots are probably the highest ranking tourist spots for both countries. Therefore these areas known as 'free zones', mean certain commodities don't have to pay the usual excise fees and other taxes and so they're treated like goods outside of Jordan. We discovered this when we went to purchase some beer and had to do a double-take on the cost. You see, in Muslim countries it can be a) hard to find an alcohol and b) when you do, the cost is bumped right up. Take only in Petra for example, naturally Blakey-boy and I had to sample the local and aptly named, Petra beer! And the price for two cans? You ready for this........... 12 JD (£12 GBP). Yep, you've taken that well. Needless to say just the one can then.
And the price of the same beer from the Aqaba centre........... £1.50 each! I'm wondering then if these 'tax factors' play a part, in addition to the appeal of sunshine and Red Sea of course, why a couple of large cruise ships will dock here in Aqaba at least twice a week? Like everywhere on the Red Sea, tragically tourism isn't anywhere like it used to be many years ago. But from a traveller's perspective, it feels great to be wandering these paths not bumping into sun-burnt tourists! It's honestly such a special spot up here folks, did you know that you can pretty much see into distance of four neighbouring countries! Have many spots are there in the world where you can do that!?
Stevo - you might want to look into this voyage as I'd imagine a visit to Petra would without doubt be included in their itinerary.
Unless your budget stretches to some 40+ euros a night for hotel accommodation, you'll find that an affordable spot to stay in Aqaba is 10 kilometres away from the centre and in the direction of Saudi Arabia. In fact, Saudi itself is also just 10 kilometres away in the other direction. I believe the area is named 'South beach'. Despite being away from the centre, the coastline is literally over the road though that is Israel and Egypt on the side of the sea in these pictures.
Our accommodation was in the Darna Village costing us 17 JD each for a twin room with breakfast. I think you'll agree that's a pretty good price for the following surroundings and its proximity to the Red Sea.
Can you guess the main activity that people come here for? It's the same activity in Dahab, Egypt if anyone remember that? Red Sea diving of course and Blake had no problem with that having practically been born in the sea!
The only negative of staying in this area is that although it's a great place to be in the day, it lacks life in the evening and so you'll need to head towards the centre of Aqaba for food, drink and atmosphere. A taxi will cost you 10 JD round trip so crap in as many people as you can. In the centre, food cost is not expensive for the average tourist but when you need to save some pennies, classic cheap dishes of falafel, hummus and shish kebab and pita bread are always accessible and plentiful.
With the average temperature ranging between 36 and 38 degrees, sunbathing was pretty much out of the question in terms of what to do around here. Unsure of what else to do and with Blake's persuasive ways close by, it was finally time to try an experience that I had put off far too many times before largely due to cost reasons. This time I said 'Look, bugger it' knowing that this was already a super-expensive month and so my first scuba diving session finally happened! I wasn't nervous or anything so no preamble here needed other than information wise, it cost £35 GBP for around 1.5 hours with 30 minutes including the briefing. From memory it was cheaper in Egypt but that's ok as I was very satisfied with my session and the young Jordanian chap I had guiding me and the cost also included some underwater photos too which was a welcomed surprise.
Scuba diving conclusion: Yes, of course it was as great as everyone says it is and for sure I'm likely to give this more time in the future. Still, I'd never heard from anyone previously about just how heavy on that gear is though. Crickey.
Oh, but there's summit you might have missed? Look closely at images two and five and take note of those many shapes in the background...
Here you're looking at jellyfish and when I say there were hundreds of them, that's no exaggeration! Thankfully my instructor explained they were harmless and demonstrated accordingly. I'm glad he did as I encountered many of them in my direction under water and was therefore able to brush them aside which was pretty weird in itself. Half of them are indeed jelly like and the other half, firm.
And that's your lot folks. I hope it was a decent, final Jordanian post for you. The next time you hear from me I'll be in another country so for those brave enough to guess away, feel free...
Jordan, you and your people have been a real pleasure. Thank you.