Petra: 1st October
I must have got some sleep but it really didn’t feel like that much. I had made my fleece into a pillow and opened up the sleeping bag completely and used it as a quilt. It wasn’t actually that cold, I had a bit of a stiff neck in the morning from a draft going down my neck. The most amazing thing about my being able to sleep was that every time I opened my eyes (even without my glasses) I was greeted with a black carpet of diamonds – wow! I am positive that I saw at least a couple of shooting stars – I probably actually saw more but I couldn’t see them clearly enough!!
Hazim woke us all at 5am – I could have sworn last night that he said that he would wake us all at 6. It was bizarre, there was quite a bit of dew on everything. As we were all rising Ronnie suddenly said – oh look there is a camel behind you! Jan and I turned around and there was one about 2 meters away from us – boy did we jump out of our skins! And we had been so careful not to set up camp on the ‘main road’! Ooh we giggled about that for ages! It was just quite freaky as it was still pitch black. We packed away all of our bits and pieces, hung our sleeping bags up, moved our mattresses had some breakfast and then applied the sun lotion – we were all quite worried about the possibility of getting burnt.
Whilst we were all getting ready and sorted the camels all started arriving and boy weren’t they all just so noisy! The sun started coming up too so we managed to see both a sunrise and a sunset in the desert – pretty impressive! After putting my rucksack in the trunk and finishing my memory card on my camera I went with the others to find out how to get on a camel. It looked pretty uncomfortable to put it mildly and it looked like there was every chance that one of us was going to do a flyer off the camel when trying to get on and I had dibs that it was going to be me!
Thankfully it turned out that none of us actually fell off – it was actually far easier than it looked and certainly more comfortable than it looked! Martin and Deb were in camels that were tied together as were Jan and Jan. I was adamant that I was in the camel that had been making the most noise earlier but it was remarkably quiet once I was on it! It was quite easy to get the movement right or at least comfortable and we were off. We were all quite spread out to begin with. Some of the carers were old, some young and some were on a camel themselves leading the other camel and others were walking and leading.
The sun was slowly riding between some of the rocks and with the amazing russet red colour of the sand it was just the most amazing sight. There was a loose little camel whose mother was the camel that Emily was on. It followed close to us to begin with & I thought that they were trying to shoo it away then I thought that they were going to catch it. We headed towards a large rock – Hazim walked with us pretty much to this point before the jeep picked him up. On the bottom if the rock were some carvings in the rock from the Byzantine times apparently and there were depictions if camels some were clearly carved deeper originally as some were far more visible than others.
It was amazing how tranquil it was. At times no one was talking just taking in the beautiful surroundings and the fact that we were all bobbing around in our camels – one of the most bizarre modes of transport that I think that I have ever been on!
What we all thought would be the longest 3 hour journey that we would have on our trip actually seemed to pass all too quickly. We had one stop where we all got off our camels. The little one was walking with us by this stage. Apparently they are trying to make it more independent because at the moment it is relying too much on its mother. It was taking milk from its mother when we rested and some of the others saddles were adjusted – it’s basically a wooden frame made with blankets over the top. I was adamant that mine could do with some adjusting as I could feel my inner thighs were getting very bruised to put it mildly! I didn’t say anything though as my little man spoke not a word of English – just smiled and nodded at me, great communicating!!
What really astounded all of us was the amount if rubbish that there was around from people clearly not cleaning up after themselves. It was mainly all plastics which of course is not biodegradable. The other thing which totally bemused us was when the Nokia ringtone came blurting out – the one that Dom Joly used to use on Trigger Happy TV – ‘Hello! I’m in the cinema (etc)’ shouted into a massive oversized phone. It was just too surreal to hear a mobile ring in the middle of the desert when we were all at such peace! Also how on earth could they afford a mobile if they are living in tents in the desert – where would they charge them up and who on earth would they need to talk to?! Me on mine – I really felt like I was slipping off but I am sat the ‘correct’ way to ride a camel I’ll have you know!
The desert became more open with less rocks and I realised that our ride must be coming to an end. The van and the jeep came into view and we all took our final few photographs and paid our camels leaders their tip and collected our bags from the jeep and then put them into the bus. We then realised that the train track that we were right by was the one that Lawrence of Arabia built or rather blew up and so we took a few photos of it.
Amazingly a train came along which Jeanne was thrilled with and we were once again taking photos like Japanese tourists. It’s not used for passenger trains just for transporting goods and materials across Jordan. We alighted the bus and headed off towards Madaba.
I was exhausted from little sleep and the camel ride was also pretty shattering, namely because we were up so god damned early. It turns out Hazim woke us at 5am as he doubted that Jan and I would actually be ready if he woke us all at 6am – cheeky so and so!! I managed to catch 40 winks on the bus as we sped along the desert highway.
We stopped at quite a random little shopping place which had loads of tables where we all sat down and had our packed lunch that we had been given by the people who did our food in the camp. I had a coffee and a couple of little bits from the packed lunch but it didn’t want it all as the veg that was in there all had skin on (cucumber and tomatoes) and I seriously did not want a dodgy tummy for my journey home.
After we had eaten we all had a meander around the shop to see if there were any bits and pieces that we could find as mementos and presents to take back home. I couldn’t really find anything suitable and Hazim told us that we would be stopping at another place after our trip to the Dead Sea which is better. I went and sat outside on the pavement by the bus just before we were about to go getting the Wadi Rum sand out of my trainers – I made a right little pile!
So we got back on the bus and headed to Madaba and namely St. George’s Church to see the fabulous Byzantine mosaic map of the Holyland it was laid in the second half of the 16th century. The church itself is a Greek Orthodox Church built recently or at least more recently right over the mosaic itself which was originally in a Byzantine church that stood on the same site. It is so amazing because of both its size and style. Unfortunately what survives today are only fragments of the original which consisted of over 2 million stones and measured 15.6m long by 6m wide.
Hazim pointed put Jerusalem, Dead Sea, the Nile and a number of other places on the map it was absolutely amazing it has to be said. What none of us could really understand was why the St George’s church had been built on top of it when they must have known all about it so why on earth would they want to spoil it. I can’t imagine what on earth it would be like coming to see this mosaic when it is not Ramadan and there are more people around. The noise would be one thing but I can’t imagine being able to stay in there very long.
From Madaba we headed to Mount Nebo – we were on the Kings Highway at this point. This is the single most important biblical site in Jordan. Having led the Israelites for 40 years through the wilderness Moses finally saw from this spot the Promised Land that God had forbidden him to set foot in – he is believed to have died on this mountain. In Jewish and Christian traditions Moses was buried a Muslim (who regarded Moses as a prophet) believe that his body was taken across the river and placed in a tomb which is now lying off the modern Jericho – Jerusalem Highway. The views out were pretty spectacular but also pretty hazy and you could see the Dead Sea and how much it has shrunk over the years and The Holy Land. There are a number of mosaics up here which have been preserved by building the Moses Memorial Church over them so that they could be protected – there was thought to be structures up here before as early as classical times. The Pope visited here in 2000 and there is a structure outside close to where he went up the steps to look out and view over the Holy Land and inside the church there is an alter where he knelt and prayed. It was quite an eerie but yet rather magical place.
We headed back to the bus and continued along the Kings Highway towards the Dead Sea. Hazim suggested that we took all jewellery off as if it is not pure silver then the amount of salt in the Dead Sea may turn it black and you can’t clean it to make it shiny again – so it took me a while to take everything off!! I was really excited about the Dead Sea – I wanted to feel the bizarre sensation of floating. I remember when Asterix and Obelix went to the Dead Sea on one of their adventures and the picture of Obelix floating was him lying on his back and all that you could pretty much see was his nose, stomachs and shoes.
We stopped at a sort of resort which had freshwater pool or two and then access further down to the dead sea. Jan and I shared lockers and left one towel up and took one down with us. We took our cameras too so that Hazim could take the photos for us all – he had an array of cameras to use on the delightful white plastic sun loungers on shore.
So into the water we went – it was incredibly sludgy underfoot to put it mildly. You had to be really careful not to get any of the salt into your eyes because they would sting like you have no idea and as for getting it in your mouth – well as Janet found out it makes you feel really sick. It was such a random feeling – so relaxing though if you move about too much though you start to sort of roll over which you really don’t want to be doing!
We started to put the mud on ourselves but I soon realised that we were not going to be staying that much longer so I didn’t really want to spend my time standing around waiting for the mud to dry and so I washed it off and lay back with my arms behind my head and my legs crossed and just floated. It was bliss, sooo relaxing with my eyes closed. Jan and Jeanne were chatting to a gay Palestinian/Arab that was a special needs teacher and had a hilarious photo taken with him – he was an incredibly good sport!
We had a shower to try and get all of the mud and the salt off my body and out of my hair before getting into the freshwater pool and a rather disastrous trip down the slide which clearly was not designed for adults – particularly with two children around their neck – which was how I slowly went down as neither of them waited for me to have gone down enough before they came down. Thankfully no casualties at the end!
Once back in the changing room we had some hilarious conversations but we all agreed that our lower regions didn’t half sting when we first got there and we were all roasting having got changed back into our clothes and we all tried to wash our swimming costumes out and the amount of dirt coming out from the mud was pretty hideous! I left it to rinse out properly in the hotel room.
We boarded the bus again and headed into Amman. I suddenly noticed the armed guards at certain points along the road around the Dead Sea. I know that they are there for one’s security but it brings you back to earth with a bang as to where in the world we actually are and just how close a war is actually going on. I subtly collected everyone’s tip for Hazim as we whizz we through the usually busy streets of Amman (there was a positive part to Ramadan for us!) on the outskirts we all stopped off at a store – clearly a tourist shop but we were assured by Hazim that it was a goodie one. There were loads of Dead Sea products and Jan and I came to the arrangement in the buy 2 get one free offer (BOGOF!) I managed to get presents for all of the family here and a lovely charm for my charm bracelet of the facade of the Treasury. It was heaving with tourists all clearly there on a last stop for souvenirs.
From here we headed to our resting place for food – our last meal as a group. The sun had just set and so the world and his wife were trying to eat with their families – I am not too sure if Sunday is a day of rest or not I suppose that it must be. The restaurant was booked by Hazim and our driver joined us too. He booked a fabulous last meal together I have to say. The restaurant was all like a Bedouin tent and nearly everyone was smoking the hubble bubble and the tables had amazing leather-covered chairs and the tables were spectacular. In the centre of each one was a sort of sunken gold plate into a wooden table which had some sort of Arabic writing on it – it reminded me of a Sedar plate I think it is called that, it is used as Passover in Judaism. We were given an array of plates which were apparently only the starters everyone was very good at identifying which I should and should not be touching due to the peppers!! There were some totally unknown items that kept appearing on our plates from various waiters. We were all quite brave and tried them all – some were actually delicious. It was over supper that I gave Hazim his tip on behalf of everyone and thanked him etc etc. He looked a little bemused and told everyone how much he had enjoyed guiding us and that we were all definitely the best group that he had in October ( note the date!) before giving me a kiss on the cheek – something that I think he enjoyed far more than I did!!
After the meal we got back in the bus all totally stuffed from our meal – we had chicken and rice in a sauce afterwards and then some Arabic sweets to finish – we literally rolled out! Hazim checked us all in and we were greeted with some cold juice that looked like blackcurrant it wasn’t though – it was foul it had to be said. Someone spotted a bar and we asked Hazim to find out if it was serving alcohol – many of us were drooling at the thought of a nice cold beer. We all screamed in delight when he came back with the information that they were serving. We all said goodbye to Hazim who was heading back to his family home to shower and get new clothes before collecting his next tour which was arriving at the airport – another Petra one but he was only doing the guiding on that one and not all of the organisation as well. He must be exhausted to put it mildly. Once we had all said our goodbyes we arranged to meet back in the bar in half an hour before a drink together before we all made our separate ways tomorrow.
The room was pretty odd, badly designed but it was somewhere to sleep. We watched some tv whilst I repacked and it was the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca – it was fascinating. I had a peek out of the window – the hotel is in a really but up area with a couple of large lit up buildings over to the right of us one of which I assumed was a temple as we could hear the call to prayer. I was the full half hour packing as I was so hot and sticky but I could not be bothered to take a shower – I could do that in the morning. Janet and I chatted whilst we were both packing and I told her how much Alex had given (4 1/2 JD) and Martin & Deb (5 JD between them) for Hazims tip. I couldn’t quite believe it – it clearly stated in the itinerary to remember tipping and surely our guide should be the most important. Janet agreed with me and I apologised for ranting – I felt like such a bitch talking about it but I just had to share it with someone.
We headed down to the bar and Anne & Margie were the only two that did not come down. The music was Arabic and on really loud, the lighting was on really low and the orange carpet was hideous and the bar was really dark wood. It was really bizarre but not surprisingly there were very few people in there – with Ramadan and all! We decided that we would go in and make an impression! We did just that in the fact that we really annoyed another table of Arabs we presume (or rather Jordanians!) as we could all hardly hear ourselves think over the music, and so we asked them if they could turn it down a little. They did – but only for a short while – I did feel quite bad about that as we were in their country and yet asking them to turn their music down.
Alex tried to find an ATM after he got a round of drinks for us but couldn’t pay on his card as their machine was broken. He was given directions and it sounded as if it was just around the corner – I have to say that I would not have liked to have walked around this area of town and some of the others got quite worried about him on his own until I reminded them that he was in the RAF and I am sure that he could actually look after himself!! After a wonder, and the use of a carefully drawn map from the guy on reception, Alex turned empty-handed. He asked the bar for the directions again and I. The end the man from behind the bar ended up in driving him to the cashpoint. When Alex tried to explain where it was in relation to the hotel he gave up as it was too far away!! Basically nowhere near where he was being directed!
Jan suddenly remembered the bottle of wine in her room; we all agreed that it had to taste better than the glass of white wine that Emily had had from the bar. We asked at the bar how much corkage they would charge for us to open the bottle of wine in the bar. They quoted 20JD which we almost spat at – that’s the equivalent to about £20. Jan told him firmly that there was no way that she would be paying that. The batman went to talk to the group of Jordanian men in the corner (they must have been something to do with the management) the ones that we had been quibbling over the music with earlier. After speaking to them he came back to us and told us that there would be no charge and so Jan went and got it and a couple of drinking glasses from her room and the barman lent us a corkscrew – we all cracked up when we saw the name of the wine – same as the one that Emily was drinking earlier in the evening. It tasted a little better than hers – I have a feeling that here mini bottle had actually been open for quite a long time and that was why it was so disgusting. Either way I found it quite hard to drink to put it mildly and I was totally ready to head for bed to put it plainly.
We spent quite a while discussing what the two Eastern European ladies/ possibly Russian. They looked totally out-of-place to say the least. They were talking to about three rather large Eastern European men – again they had to be Russian. We all reckoned that they were ‘working’. This led us on to – somehow, I have no idea how, some of the lines that Jan sold including crotch less panties, an oversized pair of which she had just given to her mother in law who was in her 80’s. We were all in total hysterics – more with Alex’s reactions to our conversations though, he was going more and more scarlet and slipping lower and lower in his chair saying ‘stop – please, just stop!’
We all headed to bed quite late enough – happy – but not ‘merry’ and mainly bloody shattered from our previous days excitement. After moving my case off my bed and packing the clothes that I was wearing that evening and checking over once more the things ready for the morning and climbed into bed. By god the Jordanians like their beds hard – it’s almost like trying to sleep on a wooden door. I finally drifted off to sleep through sheer exhaustion!