Egyptian/Jordanian Odyssey – A Diary (Part 3)

Chillaxing in the Dead Sea © Julian Chan

Chillaxing in the Dead Sea © Julian Chan

Day 11: The day promises to be an exciting one as we head off to the Dead Sea. Given its salinity levels, we make sure any cuts are triple band-aided. On the way we stop for photo shoot overlooking said body of water and just under a rock structure locally referred to as Lot’s wife. We arrive at the Holiday Inn, which is an amazing place, head down past a couple of fab swimming pools and onto the beach. Very soon we have stripped off and floating in the warm, unsinkable waters and having a ball. We then ‘mud up’ with the Dead Sea mud, which has apparently some therapeutic qualities and return to our floating. The sky has an amazing, almost misty quality about it as it merges as one with the sea.

After washing off the mud (which wasn’t easy) it’s on to lunch. Some of us order a cocktail off the menu called the Deep Sea Mud, something the barman has clearly not only never made before but also never even heard of. After much consultation he presents us with some pretty fab cocktails. Lunch is an amazing feast, as the food gets better and better. After gorging ourselves silly we head off to Mt Nebo, where Moses saw the promised land. Then it’s on to our next hotel which is in Petra, a place called the Beit Zaman Hotel, an old Beduin village which has been converted into stone cabins. It is freezing but at least inside my cabin it is warm and comfortable.

Later we try to order sandwiches at the bar but are told to go to the restaurant but the restaurant tells us all they have is a buffet. So heading to the local store some of us scrounge up some bits a pieces for dinner only to discover upon our return that some others have managed to order food from the bar. There’s something peculiarly inept about service in this part of the world. Then there is a rush on mint and lemon drinks at the bar which invariable causes the barman some stress.

A curious note about the demographics of our touring party: On the Go is, I believe, an English company. I was hence expecting a reasonable amount of British folk on tour. Oddly enough there is only one English person here and he lives in Seville! In fact the great majority of us are ANZAC ex-pats living in London, the majority of whom are Kiwis. The new faces who have joined us in Jordan are those who stayed on the felucca for 3 nights – most of whom are in the twenty something bracket whilst our group is on average in the thirty something range. Even with only a ten year gap, the mindsets are vastly different, with the youngsters keen on partying all night.

Petra – First view of Khazneh © Julian Chan

Petra – First view of Khazneh © Julian Chan

Petra – With Christine and Sarah outside the Deir © Julian Chan

Petra – With Christine and Sarah outside the Deir © Julian Chan

Day 12: Our day begins early today as we attempt to beat the crowds into Petra. I am unprepared for the size of the site, which is far larger than expected. We walk along the winding, serpentine Siq, the 1.2km narrow gorge entrance to the ancient city created by water erosion. Eventually through a narrow gap the jewel of Petra reveals itself – the Treasury. Alas our early start is a double edged sword – we have avoided the crowds but the sun is too low to hit the valley floor. We push on. Some of the colours on the rocks are amazing. After a lengthy hike we reach what I assumed was the end. I was wrong. Now we face a lengthy climb up some 800 steps to the monastery. I can see now why most people do this in 2-3 days. Some of us choose the donkey option. I remain delusional about my physical abilities and the climb is long and brutal on my aging knees. Finally I reach the top, which offers some magnificent views of the ancient city. The walk down is significantly easier and I do it in half the time. After lunch we head back to the hotel. Upon arrival I discover my knees have turned to some gelatinous substance. I retire to the pool to ease my pain. Over in the gym two of our number have jumped on the treadmill. Mental.

Later this evening I opt to join the Petra cooking class. It is untaxing but my joints are in agony. Unfortunately we are only given menial tasks as the proper cooks get to do all the actual cooking. It is a fun night though. We round off the night with drinks at the Cave Bar before retiring. I am glad of it.

Petra – Khazneh from above © Julian Chan

Petra – Khazneh from above © Julian Chan

Day 13: Today begins even earlier as we make another assault on Petra, this time over the top. Today we are taken via a secret track known only to local guides. It is not recommended that people try this on their own as it is very easy to get lost. Quite a few have opted out of this morning’s hike, which we’re told is going to be harder, but shorter. My legs have recovered some. In actual fact, I find the going far easier than yesterday. Climbing and jumping over rocks seems more my style than walking up hundreds of steps. The route is more perilous but infinitely more fun. Eventually we are rewarded with a great view of the Treasury from above. As we make our way down to the valley level we are further rewarded as the sun bathes the Treasury in sunshine.

Later we drive to Wadi Musa to pick up food then on to the amazing landscape of Wadi Rum. We are split into several 4x4s as we take on the sprawling desert sands of Lawrence of Arabia. Surprisingly Okla jumps into the driver’s seat of our vehicle which turns out just fine as he turns out to be a maniac behind the wheel, taking us for runs all over the dunes. We stop at various times to run down a sand dune and climb a rock bridge. We stop later to watch the sun set. It is one of the best I’ve seen.

Wadi Rum desert © Julian Chan

Wadi Rum desert © Julian Chan

We reach our camp site by dusk and retire to our individual tents. The tents are neat and looks like a bedroom but oddly uncomfortable. I guess that is true for all forms of camping. We reconvene later under the large tent for dinner and copious drinks. Light headed and freezing, I stop on my way back to my tent for a moment to star gaze, a sight I always find mesmerising.

Day 14: After breakfast we are driven back across the desert, this time in open top jeeps and at a no-nonsense speed. it is freezing. Making our way to the Aqabar port, we say farewell to our Jordanian friends and board the ferry back to Tabar. Back in Egypt we are driven back to Cairo. It is a long, uneventful drive.

Our farewell dinner tonight is just around the corner of our hotel in the city, at a restaurant called El Omda. The atmosphere and food are great, whilst the service is familiarly inept.

Epilogue: A couple of months after my trip the Arab Spring exploded across the Middle East. I hope some semblance of normalcy has returned to Egypt and Jordan. I still rate this as my favourite of all my trips. Whilst I cannot single out the reason for this it may be a combination of the amazing archeological sites, the decadent cruise down the Nile, the great mix of adventure and relaxation and the outstanding cuisine. I cannot recommend visiting this part of the world highly enough.


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