From Wadi Dana to Petra

I slept really well and woke up to breakfast and the spectacular view of wadi. I then set off on the short drive to Petra, making a couple of stops on the way.

The first was the crusader castle of Shobak. In any other country this would be considered a really impressive castle, but compared to Karak, it was smaller and less well preserved. I still enjoyed exploring the ruins and admiring the view of the desert.

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Next stop was Little Petra, a small isolated place just outside Petra itself. Like Petra there are houses and tombs carved into rock, with a narrow path through a cleft in the mountain to get to them. Unlike Petra, there was almost no-one there. I enjoyed clambering up and down steps leading to ruined ancient cave-houses and exploring the rocks and desert just beyond the main buildings.

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Finally, I arrived in Wadi Musa, the modern city built next to Petra, and checked into my hotel, which had a very nice roof terrace with a view. In the early afternoon I set off for Petra itself, full of anticipation. The entrance to the ancient city is amazing – a 2km long narrow path, called the Siq, weaving through a natural cleft in the mountain. The walls are very high and often close completely over the path, blocking out the sky.

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At the end a clearing opens and directly opposite is the Treasury, a magnificent building carved into the rock and one of the most photographed ruins on earth. It was originally a tomb of one of the Nabataean kings.

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The Nabataean starting building Petra around the 1st century BC and the city flourished for several hundred years, including under Roman occupation, until it was abandoned. It was only rediscovered by westerners in 1812. The entrance to Petra is an exceptional experience, but the atmosphere was slightly spoiled by the crowds and the steady flow of horses and donkeys transferring lazier tourists, and the Treasury area stank of horse, donkey and camel.

Fortunately, I discovered that Petra is not just the Siq and the Treasury but an entire city spread out over a huge area, all of it protected by steep mountains. I wandered around the part closest to the Siq and admired the impressive royal tombs, which glowed a spectacular red in the late afternoon sun.

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Then I tried to take one of the mountain trails around to “Petra city centre”, where there were more ruins, but I had just climbed the first long set of steps in the cliff when I met a local woman who made me go down again because night was falling and the site was closing soon. Back at the Treasury I was pleased to find that the donkeys, horses and camels had now gone, as had most of the tourists. So I had a drink in a café and enjoyed this special place in the calm of the early evening. The walk back along the Siq was much more pleasant without all the bustle and smell of the afternoon.

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That same evening I had booked a ticket for a night-time visit to Petra, so I dropped into a restaurant near the entrance and had a big plate of lamb and rice whilst I waited for the tour to start. Despite this night-time visit being very popular, with a big crowd of tourists, it was even better than Petra during the day – the path was lit by hundreds of candles creating a special atmosphere. Being a small teddy bear, nobody noticed when I sneaked ahead whilst the guide was giving a long set of instructions to the group and so managed to have the Siq almost to myself on the way in. At the end of the Siq, the group sat down in front of the Treasury and listened to Jordanian music in the dark.

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Then suddenly the Treasury was lit up and everyone scrambled for their cameras! After admiring another aspect of this famous sight, I walked back along the Siq to my car a happy, but very tired teddy bear.

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Hiking in Dana Wadi

I woke around 7am and had a full breakfast of eggs and Jordanian bread. The view from the camp was spectacular – directly down a deep canyon or Wadi, whose valley then stretched away for miles and miles in the distance towards the border with Israel.

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My mission today was to hike down to the bottom of this valley and back again. I stopped to buy an entry permit in the little village of Dana on the way and to buy some more water, which turned out to be a good decision.

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The path down was very steep, and several times my paws slipped on the loose stones. Then at the bottom of the valley the path was flatter and I could admire the imposing site of steep red and brown cliffs towering over me on both sides. I walked for 10km, to a point where the cliffs were getting smaller, and decided to head back.

Retracing my steps I met some friendly shepherds with their flocks of sheep and goats, and a slightly worrying pack of dogs – but fortunately they were more interested in fighting each other, and let me past.

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Of course, the path up out of the canyon seemed even steeper going up than sliding down. The sun beat down and my fur was soaked with sweat. The very last bit leading up the village was the worst because there was no cover from the overhead sun. As I walked through the village gates I gave a shout of triumph that echoed several times off the canyon walls. I was greeted by a friendly shopkeeper who sold me three bottles of cold beer (alcohol free and brewed in….Saudia Arabia!).

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After recovering my forces I strolled back to the camp for a much-needed shower, and wrote my blog whilst the sun set beyond the canyon. The canyon walls slowly turned from brown to red to light grey and then got darker and darker as the brilliant red sky faded and the new moon rose.

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After dinner I collapsed exhausted into bed in my tent, wondering what the next day would bring.

From Mt Nebo to Dana Reserve

My second day in Jordan was a nice mixture of religious discovery, historical site and spectacular sightseeing.

I first started by heading north of Madaba to Mount Nebo. Mount Nebo is where Moses is said to have seen the promised land before he died. And the view is quite impressive.

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Today it is a religious and pilgrimage centre with a Franciscan church surrounded by Olive trees. The church house yet more mosaics……… Although I thought I was saturated by them at Madaba I found one really exceptional called the Mosaic of the Diakonikon which dates back to 530 AD which represents hunting scenes and trees of life.

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I then took the road again in the direction of the South for my second stop: Karak. Located on ancient caravan routes between Egypt and Syria, Karak is also mentioned in the Bible. Here the crusaders built a huge castle that resisted several sieges before being taken by Saladin in 1183.

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The place is now a huge warren of underground passageways and stunning view of the surrounding countryside; I spent a happy hour trying to find all the highlights mentioned in the guidebook in this maze, and not quite succeeding.

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From Karak I continued South through some spectacular desert mountain scenery. As the sun set the sky turned a deep blood red, so intense that I thought I could cut a piece with my knife.

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This strange red light lit up a deep valley to the right of the round, which was where my destination, Wadi Dana, awaited. I finally arrived just as a night fell and had to leave my car to be driven over bumpy track to my tent in the Dana Eco camp. They served the ubiquitous chicken and rice for dinner and then I bedded down to a chilly night in my thermal ski underwear (its cold in the desert mountains at night).

 

 

Madaba – City of Mosaics

Hi! I am back on the road and this time I have landed in Jordan. Of course my first stop was Amman international airport, a very modern one. No picture because I was too stressed looking for my contact to pick up my booked rental car  at 10:30pm. When he didn’t show up I ended up finding  the last car available at the airport (a huge Toyota Camry, my little hands can hardly reach the wheel) before heading to Madaba for my first night. It was very dark and there were no road signs, but being a very clever teddy bear, I had spent the waiting time at the airport buying a Jordanian sim car and got to my destination with the help of Google maps. Madaba is located 30 kilometres south of Amman on the King’s highway and the Mosaic City Hotel will be my home for the next two days.

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Madaba is well known for its mosaics and its reputation goes back to the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman  times. Mentioned several times in the bible, the city is not short of churches. The walk proposed by the well popular LP guide book took me from Saint George’s orthodox church which prides itself on possessing an ancient mosaic map of Palestine (560 AD) to the church of the 12 Apostles, visiting local shops on my way. But the highlight  in my humble opinion is the Virgin Mary Church. The mosaics there are amazing and still in very good condition even though some dated back from the 1st century AD.

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The central mosaic with its geometric forms shows where the Byzantine Church of the Virgin Mary once stood. All that stands today are a columns and this mosaic which lies on the top of earlier Roman construction.  Just next to the church, were the ruins of a Roman private house with one of the most magnificent mosaics I saw today depicting representation of the four seasons at each corner, a Greek tragedy of Phaedra and Hippolytus, the figure of Adonis and a topless Aphrodite (amazing how this one managed to survive), while the top left represents three women respectively symbolising Rome, Gregoria (Istanbul) and Madaba. In Byzantine it was often the case that important cities would be represented as women.

 

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Outside along the church, stands the remain of the Roman road which connected with the city to Jerusalem.

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My little walk took me to church of the Beheading of John the Baptist (cheerful name!). It is a relatively recent church which offers a view over the city.  I was a very brave teddy bear, but despite my little legs I managed to climb up to the top. The challenge was to navigate the steep steps and the narrow staircase which had bell-cords running through it. Once on the top the height was scary for someone little like me.

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At the end of the day, I felt that I deserved to try Jordanian wine and a mandi (traditional Jordan meal). It was ok but maybe not worth the extra effort to bring any back home. Jordan is an Islamic country but pretty tolerant to the other monotheist religions. The locals are very nice and friendly and welcome foreign people (and teddy bears).  I think that I have landed in a nice peaceful part of the world which is pretty amazing if we remember that Jordan share borders with Iraq, Syria, Israel, Palestine and Lebanon………..

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