Saturday, August 19, 2006

Final Post

Just one final word about our guide - Dougan. This guy was perfect. First he was incredibly informative. No question threw him - and there were lots. Second he knew just the right amount of information to impart without boring or overwhelming his guests. Thirdly he was polite and helpful at ALL times. For someone who has been doing the job for 14 years and who has heard every single question and comment a hundred times before, he was truly professional.

Looking forward to getting back and seeing you at the airport. Quite strange travelling abroad without our homies!

Hope Carl's been having a good time with his posse of cousins - I've heard about the chocolate fountain - we have eyes everywhere!

Hope we get through Heathrow quickly. See you both soon - lots of love Donald and Callum.

Top Ten Not so good Things in Jordan

TOP TEN NOT SO GOOD THINGS IN JORDAN

1. Public Beach in Aqaba - litter strewn dump
2. Taxi Drivers in Aqaba - suicidal
3. Royal Diving Centre - poor service, overcharged and short-changed
4. Food - a little predictable and dull
5. Golden Tulip swimming pool - a dirty tank full of scummy water
6. Litter - too much in too many places
7. Exchange rates in hotels - one third less then banks
8. Young women sitting around the pools in veils yearning to jump in
9. Time it takes to get your change in restaurants
10. Prices of drinks (everything else is cheap)

Top Ten Personal Moments in Jordan

TOP TEN PERSONAL MOMENTS

1. Turkish Bath - sauna, scrub, slapping and soak in Jacuzzi
2. Climbing and crossing rock bridge in Wadi Rum - scary
3. Shooting stars while sleeping outside in Wadi Rum - superb
4. Floating in Dead Sea - strange
5. Seeing loads of Bedouin tents on either side of King's Highway
6. Wadi Rum lanscape - stunning
7. Walk through Petra's Sik - stupendous
8. Sky while sleeping out in Wadi Rum - starry
9. Theatre in Jerash - super acoustics
10. Waking to sound of desert fox and seeing moonlit mountains in Wadi Rum

Top Ten Surprises in Jordan

TOP TEN SURPISES IN JORDAN

1. Camel driver with Blackberry in desert
2. Camels Crossing road sign
3. Floating trampoline on Red Sea
4. 50 cent and the local Meuzzin vying for ears at Royal Diving Club
5. Women swimming fully clothed with veils
6. Desert tracks show it's teeming with life
7. No hassle - lovely people - pleasant surprise (unlike Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt)
8. Little visible security (unlike Egypt)
9. Almost every adult male smokes
10. Bedouin tent with satellite dish - powered by truck battery

Top Ten Places in Jordan

TOP TEN PLACES TO VISIT

1. Wadi Rum - sleep in desert under starry sky
2. Petra - rock city
3. Jerash - Jordan's Pompei
4. Kerak - brutal, fascinating fortress
5. Dead Sea - dead weird
6. Madaba - 6th C mosaic map
7. Mt Nebo - Moses saw the promised land and promptly died
8. Red Sea - actually blue
9. King's Highway - scenically stunning
10. Wadi Mujib - Jordan's Grand canyon

One general point. The desert and mountain landscapes expose the raw geology - great plateaus and wadis of limestone, sandstone gorges at Petra and sandstone mountains in the Wadi Rum that emerge straight out of the sand.

Day 8 - Amman

Up at 7 for a walk down town - the local beach, which is a littered hellhole was full of locals enjoying a swim.

Off back to Amman after breakfast with a couple of stops on the way - one for pics with the 'crossing camels' road sign. Lunch was very nice grilled chicken.

Once in Amman we visited the parliament building and the Royal Mosque. There's a Congress, Senate (appointed by the King) and ultimately the King. All of the buildings have to be built or faced with limestone making the city very white! I like this - resembles a very clean and crisp Athens. Then back to hotel for a long swim before dinner in a downtown barbeque restaurant.

Met two BAE instructors in the hotel in Aqaba - they described the food and life in Saudi Arabia as grim. Interestingly, no one I've spoken to has a good word to say about SA. They rarely visit archaeological sites, and when they do, complain that they're nothing better than a pile of stones. The Princes and their relatives (thousands of them) soak up the countries oil wealth leaving everyone else in a state of resigned indifference. The relationship with SA and states like Jordan and Lebanon is odd. Huge amounts of investment come from oil rich SA. They own almost all of the television channels and media companies. TV is eithre staright news or music videos. There's no real middle ground. Teh music videor are full of women singers exposing flesh in compelte opposition to their behaviour in public. It seems to be a sort of 'sexual release' valve.

Final night in Amman at a local restaurant - we had a fantastic mezzes and mixed grill served on a giant plate along with a strange 'mint and lemon' drink. The place was large but incredibly busy with lots of women dressed up with oodles of makeup under their headscarfs.

Internet access is easy here. Most hotels have a free or pay by the hour service (between 1-3 dinars per hour. A typical internet cafe (lots around in even relatively small towns) is 1.5 dinars per hour. This blogging business has been easy and a great way to keep a diary while keeing in touch.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Day 7 - Aqaba Snorkelling

Woke up really early I couldn't get up, but after 10 minutes we went down for breakfast. After we got a taxi to The Royal Diving Club and jumped in to the warm sea. Dad and I saw tons of fish here a few of there names: Scorpion Fish, Needle Fish, Angel Fish, Flat Fish, Grouper, Clown Fish, Parrot Fish (theres a real parrrot in the hotel), Raccoon Butterflyfish, Bannerfish, Anemone Fish and Emperor Fish.

The coral was immense! There were sea urchins that were the size of footballs!!! There was also lots of brain coral. In the middle of the sea there was a floating trampoline, That's right a trampoline (just in case you think you just read the last sentence wrong). Dad and I helped a Jordanian lady up onto the trampoline, she spoke good english, and was great fun. I dropped my flipper that sank to the bottom but luckily an Arab boy dived to get it for me.

Some woman were swimming in their clothes and head scarfs!!! We had lemon chicken for lunch and swam and snorkelled for the rest of the day and took a taxi back to the hotel at around five. Started a new book - Clay - almost finished it in the same evening.

Believe it or not we went for a pizza at Pizza Hut - needed a large coke and pepperoni!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Day 6 - Aqaba

Back to the Desert Highway, past the Hejez Railway (the one Lawrence and his mates blew up) and down past dyke-veined mountains to aqaba. Checked into the Golden Tulip Hotel after stopping for a falafel sandwich. Callum and I took a taxi to a beach down the coast where we went snorkelling on the reef. Loads of fish - just like the Maldives.

Met a Belgian couple who we had seen in the Wadi Rum - small world and had fun swimming chatting and lazing around in the sun. They also had a swimming pool for some non-salty swims. This was in real contrast to the desert!

Clocked this internet cafe on the way in - so here I am after a nice dinner with white wine and red snapper in a local fish restaurant. Sat next to Gogan, our guide. Very nice guy with five kids and very knowedgeable. I like the Exodus ide of only staying in Jordan owned hotels. We're getting a real feel for the people and places.

The people in Jordan are very proud, respectful and courteous. Very different from Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt. No hassle at all. It seems very stable politically with pics of King Abdullah every where. Very little sign of heavy security - they must be undercover if they're around at all.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Day 5 - Wadi Rum

Just back from the Wadi Rum - fantabulous. Great journey to the start of the wadi past loads of bedouin tents and camels. They're made of goat hair which expands in summer to create holes for ventilation and shrinks in winter to keep the heat in. They even have road signs with camel shapes inside a red triangle - warning of crossing camels.

Turkish bath was nice before roughing it in the desert. We set off in 4 wheel drives after dumping out luggage in the village - essentials only. Unbelieveable landscape - truly Lawrence of Arabia but bigger and better. A quick picnic under a sandstone rock the size of a large house while Callum climbed the mountain with Laura and Benedict. They had great fun. Then off into the desert past huge sandstone mountains that rise straight out of the sand. After a while we stopped at a stone bridge - about 50 feet high but only a few feet across. We ALL climbed up and crossed to the other side. No other tour group would do this - the insurance would be too expensive. We're all climbing huge sand dunes, walking off into valleys and generally having a great time. Visited Lawrence's desert HQ and went back exhausted to out tent where we watched a fantastic sunset. There's tracks everywhere of the foxes, mice and other desert creatures that come out at night. Only creatures we saw were a huge beetle and loads of camels.

We then gathered around for a bedouin dinner - a pot of chicken, vegetables and rice all cooked in one pot then turned upside down - delicious. Followed by cocnut cake desert.

By this time it was dark and all we had was a fire and the starry sky - and what a sky! Billions of stars. We were all lying on our backs looking out for shooting stars and saw LOADS. The larger ones went across the entire sky - like meteors. Others were small and you had to be quick to catch them. Our camp was right next to a huge sand dune on one side and a huge mountain on the other. We settled down to some chat and a game of charades then just lay there - we all slept outside as it was very warm - I didn't even use the light blanket I brought. I really can't put into words how wonderful this was.

Heard a fox during the night and as the moon rose the mountain and sand became a ghostly white. Up at dawn to see the sun rise, had a lovely cup of coffee and some date cakes, bread and jam, then off on camels across the desert. Superb fun. Callum looked great in his arab dress - got some great photos. Shake you from side to side but once you cross your leg around the saddle it's much more comfortable.

This was the highlight of the holiday so far - really different, truly breathtaking. Glad I watched Lawrence the film and brought the Seven Pillars of Wisdom - we actually went past the pillars!

Forget 'The Dangerous books for Boys' which we have in our baggage - we're living it!

Tally Ho!!!

From Donald and Callum (in hotel with his new friend Laura).

Day 4 - Petra

Up early and on a horse down to the entrance. The guy in charge of Callum's horse said something in arabic and let go of the horse that sped off in a gallop. We all got to the entrance in one piece and walked through the Sik, a huge narrow gorge - beautiful walk. On either side in the walls were channels and pipes for running water. The, through the vertical split at the end of the Sik appeared the Treasury, a huge greco-roman facade carved from the rose-red rock. We tunred right and headed for the theatre, carved into the rock. Then off down the main street (collonaded) to the Temple - well maybe as the Jordanian academics don't think it's a Temple at all - they think it's an administrative centre. We had a drink then Callum and a few others took a donkey up the 800 steps to the Monastery. I walked! Boy it was hot!

The Monastery was just as impressive as the Treasury then we stood on the Sacrafice point for another spectacular view. It's hard to stop using words like 'spactacular' as much of what we see is truly stunning. Lunch was followed by a climb up steep steps to the East Cliff complex and up a dry slit in the rock to a cistern.

We did this with Laura, Jane and John. Laura's great fun. She and Callum are getting on well, chatting away, exploring the cliff. It took us like an hour to WALK back to the gate! At the gate we bought a big bottle of freezing cold water.

Turkish Bath was IMMENSE! First Dad, Laura, Sara and I went into a Sauna its was boiling! Ater ten minutes I could not see my hand in front of my face, it was so steamy! Then a man called for Dad to go to get an abrasive rub and a hot splashing from a bowl. Then the man came for me! he sat me down on a marble table and did the same. After the rubbing I went to for a massage. As I entered the room there was a big man he looked more like an ape than a man! But surprisingly he was a very good masseur. I walked out of thwe room and into the main waiting room Dad was sitting there, hoplessly trying to do magic tricks to the owners kids (I was a great hit - Dad!). Dad and I waited for Leura and Sara to come out the we all plunged into the jacuzzi! It was boiling! Then the owners kids all came in with us. We played ball with them, but two of them kept throughing the ball into the freezeing cold main pool, I had to go get it.

Then had dinner. After we walked to town to this internet cafe.

You lot having a good time in Scotland? Hope you are, Tally Ho!!!

From Callum

Day 3 - Nebo and Madaba

To Mount Nebo where Moses saw the promised land. Fantastic views to the West Bank and Dead Sea. Inside the basilica were fine mosaics and a live catholic mass (Italians). Moses Tomb was to the right of the altar. The ceasefire in Lebanon started this moring at 8 am - Moses didn't know what he had started.

A mosaic shop supports local handicapped people and we bought a small mosaic - a copy of one we saw on Mount Nebo, where the mosaicist had drawn a camel but it had the spots of a giraffe. Also bought a plate with a Koranic verse (the seller told me to treat it with respect) and a vase with some arabic script. The shopkeeper said it read Jordan but our guide correted her - it reads 'Thanks be to God'.

Madaba next with the astounding mosaic map (6th century) with place names such Jerusalem, Gaza, Jericho, Bethlehem and so on. Used by pilgrims it is a useful historical document. Bought Callum a headscarf and headband. He now looks like T E Lawrence and is wearing it constantly. With his blue eyes it suits him well.

We then hit the King's Highway - spectacular drive thrugh wadis, rive valleys and huge canyons. Boys were swimming in the cool rivers and Bedouin tents lined the highway. Lots of goats and camels en route. Some astonishing views down towards the Dana Natural Park and finally arrived at our hotel in Petra - the Armara Palace. It has a swimming pool and Turkish Bath. Callum and I will try it tomorrow.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Day 2 - Jerash and Dead Sea

Breakfast at the Lara (Palm) Hotel and off north to Jerash past a huge Palestinian refugee camp (100,000) through lush valleys, pine forests and masses of cube houses in Amman and surrounding villages. The architecture is largely free from the excesses of an unplanned environment.

Jerash was well worth it - huge southern gate, stadium for chariot racing, superb theatre with great acoustics, aided by hollow drum shapes in the wall supporting the first tier of seats. We had a great time shouting, clapping and reciting Shakespeare. Then the oval space surrounded by columns, similar to Bellini's in front of St Peter's in Rome. The main street is in a fine state with a huge Temple of Artemis, Nymphaneum and collonaded side streets. Lots of Byzantine reuse and reconstruction but still solidly a Roman City with about 25,000 inhabitants. Reminded me of Dougga in Tunisia or Epheseus in Turkey. Everyone had a great time here with Callum asking some good questions. Callum had some lovely mint tea and I had cardamon flavoured coffee - delicious.

Lunch here in the site restaurant was surprisingly good - buffet with lamb in yoghurt, chicken, meatballs, humous, and lots of other salads and dishes, beer (Philadelphia) was palatable.

Then off to the Dead Sea, well below sea level and impossible, we are told, to get a suntan, due to the haze, where we swam, or rather floated around. Callum got water in his eyes, then cut his foot and had some problems, but came back in once he recovered. Stung on my face as I had shaved that morning and it must leave small abrasions on the skin. Water is strangely slimey but very warm. The salt was precipitating out on the bottom and the buoys in the bay. Mud was similar to that at Napflion. Very hot at around 40 degrees! Water level falling at 1 metre per year as there's only one source (River Jordan) and no outlets. A plan's afoot to dig a canal from the Red Sea (175 Km) but this involves cooperation between Israel, Jordan and others.

Been overcharged a coupe of times, but my eye for costs has come in handy - we're all counting up our bills now.

The landscape is difficult to describe - it's stark, stoney desert one minute then lush the next or forest. Planty of wealth about in Amman and within minutes bedouin tents, goats and camels. The creamy, yellow limestone dominates both the landscape and colour of buildings, old and new.

To next hotel in Madaba for a swim in the pool and dinner. Food a bit disappointing here but had a bottle of red wine (Mount Nabeo) and some fun - yes the con tricks have started. Callum is having a great time with Benedict (6) and Laura (14). Others in the party include a builder, banker, management consultant and lawyer. Off to bed now - please comment on posts.