Day 5 Damascus to Jordan
Just saying that in one day we did Damascus and travelled to Jordan sounds a bit crazy but like this blog we were in a dash to Jordan trying to see as much as possible with our small 10 day window. At the start of the day the plan was to head to Bosra in southern Syria for a night and then into Jordan but like everything our plans changed pretty much at the bus station. Anyway the day started with breakfast at our amazing hotel with food from the local bakery near to the hotel and a place I had eye checked the day before serving huge croissants to a queue a mile long. After eating it was out into Damascus by day which is every bit as amazing as by night,a bustling city with a huge history. We went first round the Christian quarter down Straight Street in the footsteps of St Paul to the Church of Ananias, basically following in the footsteps of the bible (feel another trip coming on)
‘Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”
But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.’
After the Christian quarter came the souks of the Muslim area, the stunning Mosque with the sun reflecting of the glistening marble. We wandered back through the markets to visit Amelia and her mum at the British Consulates flat (still not sure of the title of the person we didn’t meet). The house was like our hotel with stunning courtyard with retractable roof and then rooms off the courtyard and two floors with a roof top terrace that had views over the surrounding mountains. The kitchen having a roman font as the sink! After more tea (tea count starts to rapidly increase as we head into Jordan) we depart to get our bags and it is back to the bus station for our bus to Bosra. Upon arriving we find our bus is not for another few hours and in an incredible 2 mins we now have bus tickets to Amman and Jordan! Quick chat with a lovely girl from Lebanon at the ticket office (well Paul did, she couldn’t understand me although she did initially mistake me for being Syrian and not be able to understand me might just have been her recovering from shock).
The bus journey south started with us nearly forgetting to get exit Visa’s at a local shop where the bus stopped, still not sure whether we needed these and didnt even pay the right money but involved a mad dash from the bus. We met a Japanese girl and a mad german bloke, possibly the dullest man in the world who became Paul’s dinner friend at our next hotel. At the border came the standard 5 checkpoint stop, with us running out of money it was looking likely that we’d be stuck between the two borders but for the star lighting the way to a nearby cashpoint and salvation. Over the border we were into Jordan and a new country to explore. Syria was an incredible place and I would love to explore more of it sometime. Only once did it feel like the American press makes it out to be but thats only because they bombed the place that day, idiots. The rest of the time everyone was incredibly helpful and friendly.
Jordan started with Amman and a hotel 100m away from the bus station, it was late and we just wanted somewhere to stay. Following the germans advice rather than the cool Japanese girl we ended up in a hotel that was stupidly expensive and a bit crap compared to the night before. I hit the computer to try and find some hotels in Petra while paul got food. I returned to find Paul in tears after spending dinner with the German guy. He was definitely dull and also aiming at getting Paul killed through very loud conversations on how Islam was dying out and the west had won.
Tomorrow is Petra!
Day 7 Petra
Awoken to the call to prayer, no idea what time it is but it is getting light and we are due to see Petra by dawn. Getting into the shower water starts to flood the bathroom, rising up through the floor grate and spilling over into the main bedroom. One thing to note about the room is it wasn’t very safe. The tv lead which ran past the bathroom was exposed and the leads into the socket from the TV where actually wires just stuck in. The water poured over the exposed wire, so i went down to complain. Downstairs Paul was tucking into breakfast, standard affair of boiled egg and flat bread with jam and butter. Bloke comes upstairs from his kitchen duties to fix the shower. Lifting the bathroom grate he pulls out a load of crap (probably was real crap!) and dumps it on the bathroom floor. Checking that the water goes down, he turns to leave. I kindly point to the pile of crap and he comes back with a cloth to clean it up. This is the same cloth he had been using in the kitchen. Time to leave. After a brief argument over hygiene we are wandering towards our next hotel the Sunshine hotel.
Turns out this is all fairly early as for the second time on the holiday we fail to realise the clocks have changed again! Still time to check in to our new hotel and get there for sunrise. Walking down the gorge once more it is pretty empty. We pass the Treasury and head into the main town and then ready ourselves for a hour hike up one of the mountains to the Monastery and one of the other sights of Petra! We are pretty much the first people there, passing enroute the local Bedouin setting up their stalls for the day. Its amazing to think that their forefathers protected this place from discovery till 1812 when Johann Ludwig Burckhardt
disguised as a pilgrim found the site. Must have been a stunning discovery at the time and even today they reckon that only 5% of the city has been found. Its all pretty amazing as are the views that great us as we hit the summit of our climb. The Monastery wedged into the rock face and then stunning views over the desert up to a mountain where Moses brother is apparently buried. A few Bedouin have tents here and awake to this view daily, Incredible!
Back down the mountain we skirt the main town and head for another climb up to the sacrificial alter and more stunning views. It is more off the beaten track and fewer tourists line the way. As we descend from the alter we bump in an English girl selling at one of the stalls and stop to chat. Rita it turns out is a girl on her travels who has met a girl called Hanan and decided to help her sell stuff. Rita is your typical idyllic, everything is great traveller with no money bartering to survive. I am guessing back home she is the daughter of a rich family out trying to slum it. Its all a bit odd. Anyway we get told of a number of different routes out of the city and with sun setting we decide to head back. Now trying a new route with the sun setting is not the best idea, especially an incredibly narrow gorge prone to flooding (no rain though) but also one that nobody else thought it was a good idea to leave down. With the sun rapidly setting we hit a problem, the gorge forks and it is not clear which way to go. Choosing a route we reach what we think is the tunnel described in the book. This one is incredibly narrow with spiders webs and a pin prick of light in the distance. very indiana jones and not exactly the right route. After a while we turn back and take the other route. Shortly we hit a much bigger tunnel, no webs and a tunnel that visibly ends! Out of the park we end the day with more beers and a booking for Wadi Rum and our desert adventure
Day 8 Wadi Rum
Arriving at the desert was full of expectation and fear that the trip we had booked would turn out crap and just a soulless trip with a whole bunch of other tourists. We met our organiser Ahemd who explained the trip would take in a number of rock bridges, Lawrence of Arabia haunts and desert sands followed by an overnight camp at his camp located in the heart of Wadi Rum. All looking good as we boarded our clapped out Japanese jeep with our non-English speaking guide and Algerian girl, Nacima. We headed out to our first location of Lawrence’s spring and start to get an idea of the scale of desert and isolated expanse of sand with towering mountains providing markers as to where you were. We then headed to a narrow gorge called Jebel Khazali and then to the first rock bridge, a raised sandstone mount with rock bridge linking the two mounts. Bit of scrambling to get there but nothing too challenging. Further into the desert we stop for tea and our guide points out the rock bridge in the mountains of Wadak. Really want to get up there so while the others have tea I head off on the climb alone. Quickly realising that I may never be found again I take a breather and just admire the desert expanse from my lofty perch. I wish I had carried on the climb but might might have been lost for several days with no water! Bit more driving and then dinner in the desert consisting of cans of spam and bread bought earlier in the day. Try to walk out into the desert to the next mountain but you really dont get a sense of distance and it turns into a long walk. Our guide comes and picks us up and we head off to the sandy dunes and another stop. As the day ends we watch the sunset behind a mountain face, a jeep driving accross the expanse firing sand dust into the dusk sky. We arrive at the camp and meet up with a few more people, 2 belgian twins, and a french ski rescuer with his family.
The camp is two tents pitched against the rock face, with a small toilet block and outhouse for cooking in. Power comes in the form of a generator and water from a small tank. Its all very basic but the desert sky and the expanse of stars and the dust clouds of the milky way just take your breath away. As we watch the stars Ahmed comes up to us with a proposition. He had been talking to the belgian girls (well sleeping with one of them! I think) and had found out paul developed websites. He offers us a deal, two nights of food and free lodging in return for updating his web site. Its a done deal with a moments pause.
We awake the next day at dawn as the rest of the camp packs up and leaves. Its just me and Paul and the desert for a few hours. Pretty cool. Ahmed returns and takes us out south into the desert towards the saudi border. A short hike and climb gives us stunning views of a dry river bed snaking through the desert to Saudi Arabia. There is not a sound out there, incredibly strange not to be able to hear anything. After a rest we head back taking it in turns to drive through the desert. We pause seeing a bedouin herding his goats and after determining it to be a man alone and not a female we approach for tea (keeping count on the tea breaks?)! We can’t understand him but turns out that this incredibly simple life has its trauma’s. Not only having to protect the goats from wolves (must remember to keep watch that night!) but he also has issues with his wife, yes even in the desert!
We drive into the small town and stopping briefly at a shop with a row of caged chickens we drive on to Ahmeds cousins house to meet the rest of the family, plus the two camels in the garden! We sit in his cousins house and as his cousin enters we break with tradition and just sit there! We should have stood up but I didn’t realise till Paul pointed out our error later that day. We leave his cousins after more tea, stopping at the shop with the chickens, turns out one is now missing and I am handed a bag of very fresh chicken! Guess that is dinner then! We head back to the camp for the final night for chicken over a barbeque with more tea and rice. Ahmed settles down to his open university course work and we talk about politics and how Obama will be dead within in the year. can’t escape American politics even in the desert. We settle down under the stars to our final night in the desert, all pretty amazing. Tomorrow starts our final journey leg to Egypt and then the flight home!
Day 9,10 to Egypt and Home
Arriving at the port of Aquaba on the Jordanian coast is like arriving in chaos. The ticket hall which seemed to be for a single company had three possible places to get tickets including the boat office itself. After waiting for about 10 minutes we are pointed from the boat office to a third party seller with a mass of people surrounding the desk waving passports. We get to that desk and we can buy tickets but have to pay an additional charge. Back to the main boat office and nobody wants to help. 8 people sit in the office behind their computers doing their best to ignor the situation. After a while of neglect and worry that our ferry is not far off departing (our guide book says 10.30, it is 10 now) I walk round the side and into the ticket office much to the surprise of the people inside. After a discussion in broken english I am pointed to the managers office down the hall. Entering the room is like entering a gangsters den, the room is coated in a haze of smoke with a large desk at the head of the room and then sofas down the side where the henchmen sat. The gangster boss behind the desk says something after me complaining nobody will help. I get waved from the room and we get served and get our tickets, hurrah, turns out the boat is at 1pm. To get the tickets stamped comes a complicate procedure of paying via a bank desk, returning to the main desk, getting an exit visa stamped downstairs and then back upstairs to get our customs stamp. Its like some over engineered bureaucracy designed to give people something to do, probably invented by the British to improve queuing.
With our tickets we sit outside and wait for the bus to take us onto the bus, our seat on the roadside collecting a growing number of foreigners who have been through the same process, 2 Koreans and 3 Alaskans making their way back to Egypt after visiting Petra. (Heather, her mum and friend). While chatting our bus departs without any of us and parks behind a gate. Once on the boat things are fairly relaxed, we get a seat to be joined by the Koreans, we order some food, we help the koreans order food by drawing the menu to them, we eat we take an age to get our change from the food to the point of beating up the waiter, we dock, we wait about 3 years to get off, possibly longer than the journey.
Upon disembarking we go through customs, carts line the queue with peoples whole lives present in them, sofas, televisions, everything. There is no real order or idea on where to go so we just randomly follow a path, exiting the customs area it seems that we missed paying entry tax which I can’t complain about, bit worried they wont let us out but who cares, we have made it to Egypt. We really had no idea of whether we could get the boat and get across so to be here was great. Now to Sharm, no Dahab! We make a snap decision again after reading the Alaskans guide book and Dahab looks nice, they have what sounds a great place to stay so off we go, Koreans and all. The journey is pretty easy, we spend most of it trying to confirm where the Koreans want to go, Dahab or Taba which is much further north in the opposite direction. We get to Dahab and the Koreans direct us to the hotel, seems they knew where they were going but were worried we were going to Taba, they even come and make sure we check into the Penguin hotel ok.
We get the last room and one of the most expensive at £20 a night. For that we get to see the sunrise from our beds with stunning views over the Red Sea. This is perfect and a great place to chill before the journey home. We chill in the bar next to the waters edge supping beers and eating food, chatting with the Alaskans. They are here for a few weeks. I really could do with a holiday after the last 9 days adventure, which has been brilliant but in places tiring! The next morning we are greated to the sun rising over the sea. We chill on the balcony area above the bar catching up on our suntans and generally chilling. We have a taxi to the airport so no worry on the journey home. Pretty perfect end really. Dahab is one of those resorts that has lots to do but is much more chilled and laidback than its bigger brother Sharm.
With the day drawing to a close we hit the taxi and head for the airport. As is customary with the taxis here the driver stops off for food, then goes and gets petrol then has a chat with his mates, then takes us where we want to go. Bloody annoying but as long as we get to the airport. In fact him being slow about it probably means we missed the huge crash at the airport where it looks like two buses collided head on. The aftermath looks bad with a bus embedded in the wall. Considering there is very little traffic this is pretty impressive. Our flight home is long and strangely for an easyjet flight you get movies. A hangup from the days when it was a the BA owned GB airways. Think the staff are a bit pissed to be easyJet now.
Back home at midnight with work tomorrow, whats the next adventure going to be.