Wednesday, 3 October 2012


Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

It was up with the sparrows as an early start was the order of the day for a land trip into the Kingdom of Jordan.  It was also a sad farewell to Robert as he was flying back to Australia later in the day.
John had organized a five day trip for anyone that was interested. There was eight of us in all - Suzie &  David from “Kookaburra”, Andrew & Shirley from “Amazing”,  John & Derek from “Awatea” and  Doug and Sara who have been crewing on  different yachts during the latter part of the rally.  
It was a 5 hour bus ride from Tel-Aviv to Eilat, Israel’s Southern most City located at the northern tip of the Red Sea, where we were to cross the border into Jordan. The countryside was visually stunning as the bus made it’s way down towards the Dead Sea, and then along the valley floor onto Eilat where the temperature was 45deg!  A short taxi drive to the border crossing, and after completing the departure formalities for Israel, walking across “no man’s land”, and then the arrival formalities for Jordan, all without any problems, our tour group was in the Kingdom of Jordan within an hour after arriving in Eliat.
We picked up the two rental cars that John had booked, and left the city of Aqaba and headed for the ancient city of Petra. The drive was good on excellent highways with some of the most dramatic natural scenery in the Middle East.  Seemingly inhospitable desert and big barren mountains, all under a deep blue sky makes one wonder how people can live in such a harsh environment. We arrived at Petra and checked into the Marriott Hotel – absolute sheer luxury after 4 months on a sailing yacht.

That evening we did a tour of Petra by Night.  To visit Petra during daylight is awe-inspiring; to experience it at night by the light of 1,800 lanterns (actually brown paper bags half filled with sand and a candle in each) is truly out-of-this-world! We walked through the canyons following a candle-lit path to the Treasury (Al-Khazneh) and listened to the haunting music of the Bedouins, while sitting on mats and drinking tea they brought around.  It was truly a stunning and unforgettable way to see one of the “New Wonders of The World”.

Next morning was amazing yet again. It was a day spent exploring this stunning city and nothing really prepares you for this amazing place. It has to be seen to be believed.  It is a vast, unique city, carved into sheer rock face by the Nabataeans, an industrious Arab people who settled here more than 2000 years ago, turning it into an important junction for the silk, spice and other trade routes that linked China, India and Southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome.

Entrance to the city is through the Siq, a narrow gorge, over 1km in length, which is flanked on either side by soaring, 80m high cliffs. Just walking through the Siq is an experience in itself. The colours and formations of the rocks are dazzling. As we reached the end of the Siq we were back at the Treasury, a massive façade 30m wide and 43m high carved out of the sheer, dusky pink rock-face and dwarfing everything around it.  It was carved in the early 1st century as the tomb of an important Nabataean King.  

The Treasury is merely the first of the many wonders that make up Petra. There are hundreds of elaborate rock-cut tombs with intricate carvings - unlike the houses, which were destroyed mostly by earthquakes, the tombs were carved to last throughout the afterlife and 500 have survived, empty but bewitching as you file past their dark openings. 

Here also is a massive Nabataean-built, Roman-style theatre, which could seat 3,000 people. There are obelisks, temples, sacrificial altars and colonnaded streets, and high above, overlooking the valley, is the impressive Ad-Deir Monastery – a flight of 800 rock cut steps takes you there. The thought of all those steps was all too much, so most of the crews took a donkey ride up to the Monastery, the most impressive building of the entire complex. 
Reaching 50 metres into the air, it is also the largest in all of Petra. The poor donkeys had to work so hard carrying their portly cargos! But the views at the top were breath taking! That evening dinner was a traditional feast in a Bedouin Tent with food cooked in the ground, and authentic live music. 

We left Petra after breakfast for the long car ride to Amman via the Kings Way. We stopped off at a number of Crusader Castles, usually built on top of hills with great views over the land. Lunch was at Karak, the magnificent Crusader fortress town. The Kings' Highway winds through the picturesque, shallow Wadi Wala valley, then plunges 600 meters into Jordan's miniature Grand Canyon, the Wadi Mujib which was spectacular.

We arrived at Amman without a decent map and we were using John’s iphone for directions to the hotel, which was fine until it ran out of power! Amman is a large Arab city and driving is somewhat different to what we are used to! Five lanes of traffic on a three lane road, and cars coming at you from all directions – aaahhhh!!! However with our very limited map, lots of valuable input from the passengers and some fortuitous luck, Derek managed to get us safely to the hotel. It was a long drive so after a few well deserved beers, we all had dinner in the hotel.
Next day after breakfast we drove to Jerash, located 48 km north of Amman and nestled in a quiet valley among the mountains of Gilead, and which boasts an unbroken chain of human occupation dating back more than 6,500 years. 

It is the grandeur of Imperial Rome being one of the largest and most well preserved sites of Roman architecture in the World outside Italy To this day, its paved and colonnaded streets, soaring hilltop temples, handsome theaters, spacious public squares and plazas, baths, fountains and city walls pierced by towers and gates, remain in exceptional condition. We had a late lunch at Jerash and returned to Amman and our hotel. That evening we had dinner in an up market part of town at the Wild Jordan Café, overlooking the energetic downtown and offering a unique panoramic view - which as it happens was an ideal location as we were treated to some spectacular fireworks which were in honour of the King of Jordan’s son turning 18 years old.
Next morning we were up early at 5.00am (even before the sparrows) for the long drive to Wadi Rum and then across the border back to Israel and the long bus ride back to the yacht.
We arrived at Wadi Rum at 09.00am and had a good basic breakfast before setting off on a 2 hour tour of this “Land of T.E. Lawrence”.

Our tour guide was an 18 year old Bedouin lad, and our transport was a very old Range Rover running on only 5 cylinders!  Wadi Rum is also known as ‘The Valley of the Moon’, and is the place where Prince Faisal Bin Hussein and T.E. Lawrence based their headquarters during the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans in World War I, their exploits woven into the history of this amazing area.
It was back on the road for the 70km run to Aqaba to drop off the rental cars and cross the border back into Israel, and get to the bus station before 3 pm! Jordan is a truly magnificent country to visit and a definite ‘must see’! Words just don’t do it justice! We arrived back on the yacht at Herzliya at 8.00pm and headed out for fusion food at one of the many restaurants at the shopping complex attached to the marina.  All in all a memorable way to finish our time in this part of the world.

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