The countdown begins…

Another day, another huge Jordanian breakfast, after which I just had the energy to get up and walk to the car for the long trip back to Amman. I stopped on the way at Jerash, to visit yet more Roman ruins. Jerash is known as the Pompeii of the East and is a huge extended site with ruins that are much better preserved than at Umm Quays. I ended up driving all the way around the perimeter of the site until I finally found the parking area. Even though there had been a minor terrorist incident here a couple of days before (a madman had injured a few people with a knife), security was very relaxed and I strolled in to the usual Jordanian chorus of “Welcome!” without anyone even checking my bag.
The path in led through the impressive Hadrian’s Gate and then on to a colonnaded forum and huge temple of Zeus sitting on a small hill.

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Next up was the first of two amphitheatres, where for some bizarre reason a Jordanian bagpipe band was playing. There were more tourists than at Umm Quays but the large site swallowed them up with ease and when I reached the northern areas I was completely alone and could take some good photographs.

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I found the second theatre and rested in the shade – the site is very exposed to the sun, but luckily it was a slightly cloudy day and not too hot. After that I visited the Temple of Artemis, one of the highlights of Jerash, but after two days I was becoming saturated by old ruins, no matter how impressive.

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I made it back to the car in the full heat of early afternoon and continued my drive. Next stop was the Royal Automobile Museum on the outskirts of Amman. The previous king of Jordan, English-educated King Hussein, was a serious petrolhead and had built up a huge collection of luxury cars, which now form a museum. I don’t think there was a single brand of car that he did not own, but his favourites seemed to be Mercedes and various British luxury brands.

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I was glad that the museum also contained a teddy-bear sized exhibit.

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I’m not a big car enthusiast (cars are not very useful in the jungle where I live) but I still found the museum interesting because it also charted the history of King Hussein’s reign. He first mounted the throne at age 17, after his father was assassinated, and immediately had to handle the Israel/Arab/Palestine conflicts of the 1970s. There were several attempts on his life, including some that occurred whilst he was driving cars exhibited in the museum. King Hussein survived and over the years became one of the most successful rulers in the Middle East, helping his country through the Arab-Israeli conflict, and then huge influxes of Palestine, Iraqi and Syrian refugees as many neighbouring countries descended into chaos. I suppose this justifies the king of a relatively poor country (no oil!) having such extravagant taste in cars.
Now it was time to return my hire car. Driving south out of Amman to the airport, the traffic became denser and more aggressive. I was determined not to scratch my car in the last few km and drove slowly. At the airport the nice people at Avis forgave the thick layer of dust that had built up over the past two weeks, and the heavy duty workout that the wheels had had on the bumpy roads. I took a taxi back into Amman (and for the first time on the Jordanian roads I was scared…) and checked into a modest hotel, but with an unbeatable location next to yet another Roman theatre. I was just in time to catch the end of the sunset from the hotel’s roof terrace.

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At night I headed out on foot for dinner. Amman was busy with lots of small shops and restaurants and a continual flow of traffic; after the quiet of the countryside I liked rediscovering the buzz of a big city. I discovered that Amman is built on very steep hills and the walk up to “Rainbow Street” was hard work. The route rose through some steep dark backstreets and up a long flight of human-sized steps, so I was ready for dinner. I had booked the fanciest restaurant in town, which was packed, but I made a mistake by not ordering the safe chicken/rice combination and got a plate that turned out to be something like a haggis made of lamb intestines. It wasn’t the best meal I’d had in Jordan, but my motto is “nothing ventured, nothing gained” – otherwise I would not be a real vagabond teddy bear. To make up for the meal I headed up to a nearby rooftop bar (a speciality of Amman) and enjoyed a cold beer, before the walk back to the hotel and bedtime.

 

 

The North of Jordan

I slept well and woke up to admire the view from my bedroom window – in front of me were the Golan heights, which separate Israel and Syria, and just to the left of them was the Sea of Galilee.

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It was a good motivation to get ready for breakfast. In a country that specialises in huge breakfasts, this was the biggest and best yet – yoghurt with honey and cumquat from the hosts’ own garden, delicious fried eggs mixed with tomato and chilli, hot freshly made bread and many different types of jam, ranging from fig to pumpkin.

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Realising that even a bear could not possible eat everything, I ate my fill and then set off in the car to Ajloun, about 90minutes south of Umm Qays.

Due to a mistake in navigation I ended up going through Irbid, Jordan’s second biggest city, so the route was not particularly scenic. I was just getting bored driving when the majestic castle of Ajloun appeared on top of a hill before me.

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It was a very impressive site, and more intact than the other castles I had seen in Jordan. It was built by the Ottomans to defend themselves from the crusaders, with the first work started by Saladin in 1184, and with different rulers adding on bits in later centuries. Unlike the crusader castles, Ajloun was never taken. Inside, there was the usual entertainment of clambering up and down stairs and passageways, and great views out over the surrounding countryside and city.

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After the castle, I headed a few km away from the city to a nature reserve and made a short hike. It was probably the first place I’d been in Jordan that wasn’t completely dry, and the trail wound past oak, carob and pistachio trees. I also disturbed a small snake sunbathing on the path; despite my small size, he was more scared than I was and immediately disappeared into the bushes.

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After the reserve, I took a different route back to Umm Qays; this was a better choice than the rather dull direct road, and much of the driving time I enjoyed fine views over deep wadis running down from the mountains into the Jordan river valley.

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I reached Umm Qays at around 2 o’clock, in the hottest part of the day, and went to visit the Roman ruins lying on top of the hill overlooking the village. In Roman and Byzantine times, Umm Qays was a large and thriving city. It was destroyed by an earthquake in the 8th century, after which the Ottomans built their own village on top of parts of it. Some of the ruins have three layers of construction – Ottoman, Byzantine and Roman. I first walked down the long and wide main street, taking in the grand scale of the ruins and the scenery.

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I explored the caves in a Roman mausoleum buried under a Byzantine church, and then visited the well-preserved amphitheatre, where I stopped and drained a whole bottle of mineral water in one go.

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After a bit more exploring I sat down to an early dinner at a well-known restaurant located inside the historic site. The place had an amazing view over the Golan Heights and Sea of Galilee, and my dinner was very good – fresh lemon juice with mint, lamb kebabs and lamb stew (finally a change from chicken!).

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I enjoyed yet another fine Jordanian sunset and the changing colours of the Sea of Galilee. As the last traces of the sunset finally faded, the restaurant closed for the day; I hunted down the place where I had parked my car (not so easy in the dark and on such a big site) and returned to the guesthouse to digest dinner, eat some more delicious cumquats, and write my blog.20191109_165559

 

 

 

Back to real Jordan

As soon as I woke up the next day, I headed back to the Dead Sea beach to try this unique experience for one last time. At this early hour, there was only one other hotel guest there. Remembering from the previous day that trying to move or swim is pointless, I just floated on my back. I lowered my head back into the water, so that my ears were submerged, and closed my eyes. It was a great, relaxing feeling. Occasionally I could sense little waves rippling through the water as more guests arrived, but otherwise all I could feel was the warm sun on my tummy. I floated until the heat of the sun became uncomfortable, and then slowly paddled to shore to get ready for check-out and to have breakfast.
Back on the road in my car I felt a sense of excitement to be seeing the real Jordan again. Although the Dead Sea resort was an exceptional place, and unique in the world, it felt unnatural to have this little piece of extreme luxury and greenery amid the dust and bareness of the rest of the Dead Sea valley.
My first stop today was the site of Jesus’ baptism at Bethany-beyond-Jordan on the river Jordan. The Jordanian/Israeli border runs through the middle of the Jordan river, meaning that the site is in a guarded border zone and can only be visited as part of a guided tour.

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Jesus’ baptism site was an important pilgrim destination for the first Christians, but its location was forgotten during the period when the Ottomans controlled Jordan. The site was only rediscovered during mine-clearing operations in 2003, a few years after the Jordan/Israel peace accord. Archaeologists excavated the ruins of 5 ancient Byzantine churches (very little remains of them now) and by comparing them to descriptions in the Bible and from records left by early pilgrims, proved that this was indeed the place where John the Baptist baptised Jesus.

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Today, the river is sluggish, dull brown and not very wide. Since Biblical times it has changed course meaning that exact site of Jesus’ baptism is now on dry land and in Jordan. There is not much to see but I found the story of rediscovery of the site really interesting and somehow I could still feel the unique history of this special place. Next we visited a new Greek Orthodox church and a stretch of the river Jordan where on both the Jordanian and Israeli banks, modern-day pilgrims were queuing up for their own, 21st century baptism. A little floating rope in mid-river marked the border between the two countries.

 

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From Bethany I took a very scenic road running along the side of a bright green wadi to reach the city of Salt.

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My ears popped as I climbed up from 380m below sea level to the city. Salt used to the capital of Jordan in Ottoman times, but was frozen in time when Amman was chosen as the new Arab capital. There are lots of pretty Ottoman buildings and little winding pedestrian walkways that snake up the steep hills of the old town, past ancient mosques and churches.

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I also met a fellow teddy-traveller for the first ever time in Jordan.

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It was very interesting, but a shame that the city was obviously very poor and many of the buildings were in bad condition. I strolled around for about an hour then visited a typical coffee shop on the main square, where the mineral water claimed to come from Mecca. The coffee was so strong that on regaining my car, I found that all my fur hairs were standing on end!

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From Salt it was 2 hours’ drive to my next stay, a bed and breakfast in the small city of Umm Qays, near the Syrian border in the North. The road might have been very pretty, but it was late in the day and I was driving, so I could not property appreciate it. I had to drive the last 30 minutes in the dark, and very relieved when I finally found the place where I was staying.
The managers of the B+B invited me to their house for dinner. As usual in Jordan, the food was copious and tasty (even though it was yet another version of chicken and rice). Although it was very interesting to eat in a real Jordanian home, the event was a little awkward. The hosts had already eaten and after putting the food down on the low table, watched me eat it on my own. Conversation was very limited, since the hosts’ English was very limited, and my Arabic was non-existent. Figuring that I was intruding and that by Jordanian standards it was quite late (9 o’clock), I had dessert, drank a glass of tea, thanked my hosts and then headed back to the guesthouse to write my blog and get ready for bed.

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From the Red Sea to the Dead Sea

Feeling guilty from the relaxed past two days, I got up early and did a really long swim in the hotel’s big pool. Then I flopped down on to a sun lounger on the beach and relaxed until check out time. My next stop was a spa resort on the Dead Sea, which was about 4 hours’ driving away.
At first the road was extremely dull – flat featureless desert, no water, trees or hills. There were very few cars and almost no habitations. The sky was hazy – probably from dust, adding to a feeling of complete isolation. It was hard to concentrate on such a monotonous road, so every time I saw a service station (only twice!) I stopped and bought myself an iced coffee to stay awake. I thought about the migration of the Jews from Egypt under Moses, who passed through this inhospitable terrain thousands of years ago, and wondered how they survived.
Finally the road reached the Dead Sea, and became more interesting. The sea itself is not pretty – flat and grey – but is lined on the Jordanian side by impressive mountains and occasional splashes of green where a wadi runs out from the mountains into the sea. I stopped to have a look at one of these wadis.

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The Dead Sea is formed by water mostly from the Jordan river. It is the lowest place on planet earth, meaning that the water arriving there has nowhere to go and can only evaporate in the desert sun, leaving salt behind.

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Over thousands of years the water in the Dead Sea has become eight time saltier than sea water. I drove along the side of the sea, passing a few villages and also factories producing minerals from the sea’s salt, and just before sunset arrived at a place called Suweimeh, where several luxury spa resorts have been built. I checked in to my room; although I had a great view of the Dead Sea, there was no spectacular sunset today. Instead the sun simply faded into a thick bank of grey mist, as if it was tired from its exertions baking the desert. I spent the rest of the day exploring the huge resort, which is built on several levels with an artificial river splashing down through various swimming pools.

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After the dryness of the surrounding desert, the trees and flowers of the resort felt a bit surreal. I then enjoyed Happy Hour and lounging in the various hot tubs and saunas in the spa. Like the sun, I too felt strangely tired and didn’t even feel hungry enough for dinner. Instead I collapsed into bed and slept soundly.

The next day I had breakfast quickly and then headed straight down to the hill to the beach, to try swimming in the Dead Sea for myself. The water feels thick and oily as you wade into it, and the salt stings any small cuts or scrapes you might have. Being a bear I was glad that I didn’t need to shave, because they say the water really irritates the small cuts you get from shaving. As I went in a bit further, the buoyancy of the salty water lifted my little legs off the bottom and I found myself floating on the surface.

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It was hard to find a stable position – when I tried to swim on my tummy the sea would roll me around onto my back and push me up out of the water. Finally I realised that the best thing to do was just lie perfectly still on my back and bask in the morning sun.

 

Unlike normal sea water no movement at all from my arms or legs was needed to stay afloat. All around me other, human, guests were venturing into the water. Some were happily reading their guidebooks whilst bobbing around on their back.

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Others were wallowing and rolling like I did when I first dipped in. Yet more human guests had found some black Dead Sea mud and were smearing it over their bodies, claiming that it was somehow “good for you”. I didn’t believe this and didn’t want to get my fur dirty, so I left them to it.

After I had floated around for half an hour, I got a bit bored. I was tired of watching silly mud-covered humans, and now that the sun was higher in the sky, it was very hot. I left the beach and spent the rest of the day trying the resort’s many different swimming pools, popping back to the cool of my room during the hottest part of the day to write my blog, whilst the temperature outside hovered around 35C.

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In the evening I found a nice bar with a view over the Dead Sea, and today I was rewarded with a proper sunset.

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I enjoyed it with a cold beer, trying to ignore a swarm of flies that seemed to have been following me around the resort for the whole afternoon.

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Aqaba and the Red Sea

Next morning and with regret, I said goodbye to Saleem at the campsite and jumped into the 4×4 for a ride to the village. From there it was a short drive in my car to Aqaba, where I checked into a luxurious hotel. Fortunately I could check in early and from my room there was a brilliant view of the Red Sea.

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I spent the rest of the day enjoying the hotel’s big swimming pool and the much warmer water of the sea.

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I put on my swimming mask and managed to see a few fish, some of who came up and looked at me curiously – I don’t suppose they see many teddy bears swimming here.

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In the evening I tried the hotel’s open air jacuzzi.

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I went for dinner in the Royal Yacht Club next door to the hotel, where the portions were enormous and the food very tasty – it was a nice change to finally eat fish, after a diet almost entirely of chicken, rice and humous.
Since Jordan’s coastline is only 26km long – a narrow strip sandwiched between Saudi Arabia and Israel – it makes sense to have the Royal Yacht Club here. King Abdullah is also a keen diver, so there is a Royal Diving Club too. The Red Sea is reputed to be one of the world’s best diving locations, so on the next day I set off to a beach club a few km out of town to go diving. Outside the city of Aqaba, the road rather strangely passed through a big container port before leading to a series of hotels and beach clubs. I hadn’t been diving for over 15 years so I was lucky to find a diving shop willing to do a short refresher course and a couple of dives, and with bear-sized equipment. It turned out that I really need the refresher course, since diving equipment had changed a bit and there were new signals for communicating underwater. The instructor made me a do a few exercises in shallow water – clearing water from my mask, taking my regulator (the thing you breathe from) out of my mouth and finding it again with my eyes shut, and achieving neutral buoyancy in the water. He then deemed me ready to go explore the wreck of a sunken cargo ship which was lying nearby in slightly deeper water. King Abdullah is such a keen diver that he has ordered various objects to be sunk in the sea near the shore; there they form a base for small coral reefs to form, which makes for good diving.
After exploring the ship, we surfaced, had lunch, and I did some snorkelling whilst waiting out the required safety intereval before I could dive again. Our next dive was to visit two more objects the King had had dropped in the sea – a military tank, and a large Hercules transport airplane. There were lots of colourful fish and the instructor even took me to swim inside the wreck of the plane; in the cockpit they had put a skeleton with a pilot’s helmet. I was very happy that the two dives passed without major problems and made sure that I got my dive logbook stamped with a record of the day’s activities, to make it easier to book diving next time.
Sorry no pictures of all this – I don’t have an underwater camera. Instead here are some pictures of sunset back at my nice hotel.

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Exploring Wadi Rum

Today I had booked a full-day excursion with a 4×4 around Wadi Rum. Breakfast was really nice and copious – from my seat I had a striking view of the desert. Then I jumped into the back of a Toyota 4×4 pick-up truck. The driver had arranged benches and cushions along each side, with a little canvas canopy to protect from the sun. The view was much better than it would have been from a standard seat in a car, and I really felt close to the desert.

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The tour included 8 sites of interest in the Wadi Rum reserve. Some of these were associated with Lawrence of Arabia, although I thought the clever Jordanians were simply using his name to turn very ordinary objects into supposed places of interest. Lawrence’s spring turned out to be a pool of green stagnant water reached after a steep scramble over boulders – although the view was nice. “Lawrence’s house” was an undistinguished pile of stones, that might once have been lived in by someone, but probably not Lawrence. To be honest the first few places I visited were disappointing and swarming with small groups of tourists, each arriving with their own 4×4, mostly on half-day trips out of the camps or the visitor centre. Even our driver seemed a bit embarrassed to be showing us some of these places. I still had some fun though at a couple of places where the wind had created a natural rock bridge in the mountain and where (after standing in a queue of brave tourists) you could have your picture taken balancing precariously over the void.

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There was also a very interesting canyon with ancient rock paintings dating back 2000 years.

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The day got better as we went further south in the reserve, towards the border with Saudi Arabia and out of the range of the half-day tourists.

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I had a huge packed lunch in a shady spot under a cliff and was visited by some curious camels.

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As we set off again, the view of the desert plain and surrounding steep red mountains was breath-taking – even being a very well-travelled teddy bear I had never seen anything like it. Now I understand why Wadi Rum is the standard location for shooting films set on the planet Mars (including the recent film The Martian).

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Finally at 4pm the driver stopped, lit a small camp fire and brewed tea, which we drank whilst watching the sun set in the west (over Egypt).

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On the way back, the sky turned orange, then red, then deepening shades of purple with the first evening stars. I arrived back at the camp around twilight and was lucky enough to see a brilliant bright shooting star crossing the middle of the sky.
There was another surprise before dinner – a demonstration of a Jordanian cooking technique, where food is put in a container buried in the ground over hot coals and left to cook for 2 hours. I saw a big platter of food being recovered from the sand and placed directly on our restaurant’s buffet table.

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Like yesterday, the food was delicious and with a very full tummy I settled down to write my blog, enjoy the campfire, and then admire the night sky before bedtime.

Bye-Bye Petra – Hello Wadi Rum

This was my last morning in Petra, and Lonely Planet said I should visit very early and see the sun sliding down the front of the Treasury in the early morning. As I said in my earlier post, the Treasury is actually a tomb, but got its name from a legend that an Egyptian pharaoh had hidden his treasure there. I got up early, had a quick breakfast and was at the entrance to the Siq at 7am. Even though this was my sixth time traversing the Siq, the early morning walk down into Petra was very pleasant without the big groups of tourists or the horses. When I arrived, the Treasury was in shadow, so I went to admire Petra’s huge theatre in full morning sunlight before returning to grab one of the few benches facing the Treasury, and watched as the direct sunlight slowed slipped down its façade, successively highlighting different elements of its decoration – plinths, columns, human figures and finally the entrance itself.

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After 30 minutes the whole front of the Treasury basked in brilliant light and I decided it was time to go.

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I returned to the hotel and packed my bags for my next destination, Wadi Rum, an area of desert at the border with Saudi Arabia made famous in the west as the base of Lawrence of Arabia when he was helping the local Arabs fight their Turkish occupiers during WW I. I arrived early at the Visitors’ Centre at the park entrance and calculated that I had time to do the interesting-looking short hike described in Lonely Planet as easy and not needing a guide.
I headed off in the afternoon sun towards a striking rocky outcrop names the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, in honour of Lawrence’s book.

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There wasn’t a marked trail so I followed the boot prints of other trekkers in the sand. This strategy worked until I got to the rocks, where I had to search hard for the correct route through the boulders. The path led into a gorge – the footprints had disappeared but occasionally little piles of stones left by other walkers suggested that I was going the right way. It was hard work for a little teddy bear scrambling over the big rocks, and the local flies – who had never tasted teddy bear before – were very annoying. After 90 minutes hard trekking in the sun I was doubting Lonely Planet’s advice and also worried I might have gone the wrong way.

 

My efforts were finally rewarded however when I clambered up yet another narrow gorge and a grandiose vista of the desert opened up, with sharp rocky mountains rising vertically from a sandy plain.

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I found myself on top of a dune of brilliant red sand, which was easy to slide down, but then a little further on I had to climb up a different dune, and that was really hard work. Every step forward either my little legs would sink in up to my waist, or the sand would give way and I would slide back two steps.

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Also I still wasn’t sure I was going the right way, but trusted the footprints in the sand that had now reappeared. I finally made it to the top of the dune and was relieved to see that by staying in the sand I could probably navigate around the massive Pillars of Wisdom and back to the Visitor Centre. I was quite relieved when the latter finally came back into view and even more so when I regained the comfort of my car. The walk had taken me about three hours, much longer than I expected.

I drove on into the national park to Wadi Rum village to meet Saleem, the owner of the camp where I was staying. There I parked my car and jumped into his 4×4 pick up truck for the ride to his camp site. There are lots of Bedouin camp sites in Wadi Rum where tourists can stay. Mine – the Wadi Rum Quiet Village – was at the foot of a tall cliff, with a great view into the Wadi Rum plain. I was very pleasantly surprised by my tent – big, comfortable and very clean. I was even more amazed that the camp had wifi and solar electricity.

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I arrived just as the  sun was setting and the staff has stated up a nice camp-fire where people could relax and drink tea. Soon dinner was served with a big choice of salads and the ubiquitous chicken and rice. The restaurant tent was very comfortable and the food excellent.

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After dinner I sat by the fire and enjoyed listening to one of the Bedouin playing the Oud (an instrument like a lute).

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Finally the increasing cold of the night desert drove me to my tent where I slept soundly under their thick blankets

Hiking in Petra

After the physical exertions of the last two days I had a lie-in and wrote my blog in the morning. Today’s plan was to use the “back door” to Petra at Umm Sayoun village, an option described in Lonely Planet and confirmed by hotel reception who booked me a taxi. However on arrival, the staff at the park entrance said that this route was exit only. Fortunately there was a local guide hanging around who offered to take me in through a different back entrance a mile further along the road. Although this all sounded a bit suspicious I accepted his offer, and was pleasantly surprised that this other route was not only open, but also involved a scenic walk.

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Initially the way was flat and went through the desert, next we went along a path that clung to the side of a spectacular canyon. Occasionally along the way there were little Bedouin camps offering tea or selling souvenirs, but I was the only tourist on the path.

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After 90 minutes we made one last steep climb and the top of the Monastery came into view.

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This is arguably Petra’s most impressive building- like the Treasury, it is a former royal tomb cut into the mountain, but is much larger than the other tombs in Petra. It was at the Monastery that I finally met other tourists, who had all made the 3-4 hour trek from Petra’s main entrance.

20191101_132842From the Monastery there was a long walk down to the centre of Petra, where there is a colonnaded street and huge ruined temple.

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From here I found the other end of the path I tried to walk yesterday. It led up, past yet more tombs (the most famous being the Roman Soldier’s Tomb) and then rose steeply to the top of the mountain at the south edge of Petra. Along the way there were several more Bedouin tent/cafes offering tea. They were mostly staffed by young Bedouin men, most of whom had long dark hair, goatee beards and used eye liner – looking much like Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean. I finally arrived at the “High Place of Sacrifice”, a flat area right on top of the mountain, where in ancient times the priests would sacrifice to long-forgotten gods. Here I had tea with one of the Bedouin Johnny Depp look-alikes and enjoyed an amazing view of the royal tombs below as the sun dipped lower on the horizon.

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Before the sun set completely I scrambled down the last part of the path and arrived back at the Treasury for the 2km walk back up the Siq.
Even though things didn’t quite go to plan, I was very pleased of my idea to enter Petra by an unusual route, since it offered some of the best mountain scenery I’d seen in Jordan and saved 2 hours walking to reach the Monastery – something my tired little legs really appreciated. To celebrate, on arriving back in Wadi Musa, I treated myself to a cold alcoholic beer in the Cave Bar (located in a cave 2000 years old), with a fellow walker that I had met along the way.

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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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