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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Jordan Road Trip

The morning I picked up the rental car from a local five-star hotel, I felt a great feeling of freedom. I could drive where I wanted without worrying about paying a taxi driver. Also, I could stay at a place as long or as short a time without feeling like I was on the clock. In the end, the car rental was about as much as a driver would have been and I lost the benefit of local knowledge, but I also gained solitude without having local knowledge crammed down my throat.

I headed to Aqaba, Jordan down on the Red Sea just over the Saudi Arabian border. The roads to Aqaba were well marked and on the way, I saw signs for Wadi Rum, a place I had been told that I should also make a point of visiting. The driving was pretty easy with few cars to compete with. I had to stop at a checkpoint. I can always appreciate a guard with a sense of humor and got a kick out of being told that I was on my way to Syria. The guard just gave me a friendly smile when I gave him a confused look and waved me on my way.

I found a diving place that had been recommended to me and made my way down to the Red Sea to look at some wildlife. Because it must have been low tide, the coral was just below the surface and the water only to my knees. What was meant to be a swim among the coral ended up being a wade. I was able to get some reasonable pictures and after about half an hour decided to move on.

This is the Red Sea which is a very deep blue.

Here are some coral during low tide that I was able to wade among.

I made my way back to Wadi Rum and signed up for a two-hour tour. I had been told that there was nothing like it in the world with the sands and the cliffs and that I shouldn't miss it. My conclusion: Meh. It was definitely scenic. I will concede that I didn't get the full effect because the lighting during sunset is supposed to be beautiful and the solitude of camping overnight is supposed to be the amazing part of it, but having camped in the desert and having seen the beautiful cliffs of Musundam, I felt I got what I wanted out of my two hours. I was supposed to pay about $65 for the tour, but because a French woman who was there came with me, we each had to pay about $50. The problem was that the two hour tour is supposed to include a lot of getting out and exploring. With our tour being in the middle of the hot day, we didn't feel like exploring very much. This meant for an unhappy French woman who was a bit upset when our tour was looking to be only an hour. To be fair, the guide explained this to us and she didn't have the English to understand, so I could see both sides. The upshot was that we got a bit more sightseeing because of her complaining.

This is a scene from Wadi Rum.
Here is a natural bridge that was an extra on my two-hour tour because of a complaining French woman. (Thanks!)

On the way back, I decided to go up a little road that led to the top of a mountain and what I thought was a nice view. It turned out to be some guy's driveway. As I was turning my car around to head back down the windy road, the guy living there came out and invited me for juice and apples from his orchard. The next thin I knew I was sitting with him, his wife, and their very limited English. After a while, their son and nephew came walking up the hill to act as an interpreter. They then gave me some mint tea but with it being the last hour of Ramadan, meant that the whole pot of mint tea was for me. After a bit, I made my exit, impressed by the hospitality of strangers and made my way back to Petra with a belly full of tea and a bag full of apples.

That night I went to Petra by night which was the canyon and the Treasury lit by candlelight. I booked an extra night specifically so I could see it (it is only available Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights from 8:30) so was really looking forward to it. It was kind of neat and I felt worth the $20 that I had to pay for it, if just for the ambiance. Some local guys played some music and read a passage about the ancient city while drinking more mint tea and a dog begging food from me and the people nearby. I don't know if it would be for everyone, but I thought it wasn't too bad. My camera didn't have much to say about it, though.

This is the best that my camera could do with Petra by night. The Treasury is lit by candle light here.

The next day as I was checking out of the hotel, the other guest who was staying there happened to mention that he was on his way to Amman to catch an 8:00 pm flight and with that I offered him a winding ride through the countryside and recruited a navigator. He was very helpful in reading the maps and amiable in stopping at random castles to have a look around. It was nice to have the company of a fellow traveler and to have someone who was willing to wander around looking a scenery. I think he got a little nervous over my driving down the windy roads headed to the Dead Sea, but he never complained. Well only in a Canadian sort of way, but not actually visibly.

When we did get to the Dead Sea, we were able to climb down from a place off the road and do some floating. The water had an oily quality to it that I'm assuming was from all the salt. We were warned not to get any in our eyes or mouth and of course I got some in my mouth. Even though it was only a tiny bit, it kind of burned my lips and had a terrible taste. Sure enough, it is impossible to sink and was even difficult to keep my legs under me. Floating on the water was a unique sensation with which the novelty wore off after about 20 minutes.

This is a random castle that I came upon while wandering in the Jordanian countryside.

This is a portion of Kerak Castle. Highly recommended.

Here I am admiring the beautiful scenery.

Me floating in the Dead Sea with Israel faintly visible in the background.

After the Dead Sea, I took my navigator to the airport to catch his flight, but not before having him find the general area of my hotel on the map of Amman. While navigating the unfamiliar roads and driving at the same time was a challenge, with stopping to look at the map every two minutes or so, I was able to get in the general vicinity of the hotel I had booked in the city center and get directions from there. Even the hotel staff were surprised that I had made a booking there and were curious as to how I had heard of the hotel (booking.com). Checking into the one star-hotel I had reserved online in the city center of an impoverished country then began the third and final stage of my travels in Jordan.

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