A to Z of Adventure Travel: J is for Jordan

19 03 2009

petra

 

Every time any list emerges of the greatest films ever made, “Lawrence of Arabia” ranks in the top ten. Not only is it a great and stirring story that’s truly worthy of the description “epic,” but it’s also a sweeping advertisement for wandering the Middle East, and especially Jordan.

 

While Jordan’s main cities have modernised, much of the countryside has remained relatively unchanged since the days of T.E. Lawrence – or at least since David Lean shot part of his masterpiece there. The red cliffs of Wadi Rum are still as red and spectacular as ever, and although more developed than a century ago, Aqaba remains a frontier town on the edge of the beautiful waters of the Red Sea.

 

Amman is a busy city that pulses with culture and tradition…as well as international hotels and great restaurants. Not only can visitors lose themselves in the Old City exploring the old souk and King Hussein Mosque, but they can use the country’s capital as their base to visit the nearby Dead Sea, Jerash and the desert castles.

 

The Dead Sea is so buoyant that even I probably couldn’t drown there – unless I was sporting concrete sandals – but unfortunately it’s shrinking at such a rate that some say it will be gone completely by the mid-point of the century. Until then, visitors can bob in its saline waters or cover themselves with the mud from the lowest point of dry land in the world before watching the spectacular sunsets.

 

Venturing further south through the starkly beautiful desert, there is Petra, the “…rose-red city half as old as time.” Arguably one of the most breathtaking man-made structures in the world, photos of its rock-hewn treasury glimpsed through the narrow gorge of the Siq are amongst the most evocative of any travel photos.  A short distance away from the World Heritage Site is Little Petra, a site sadly missed by the majority of travellers.

 

If deserts are your thing, Jordan is definitely for you. Endless sands, rolling dunes, colourful rock formations and rocky plains cover much of this wild country and are littered with remnants of history from Roman ruins to biblical sites and crusader castles. You can visit legendary spots like “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom” or Mount Nebo from which Moses saw ‘The Promised Land’. And if you yearn for a bit more activity there are plenty of opportunities to head off on a 4-day trek through the wilds, a jeep safari to Wadi Rum or simply spending a night in a Bedouin camp.

 

When the time comes to wash the sand away from between your toes, how better to do so than snorkelling in the warm, clear waters of the Red Sea before wrapping your head in a white cotton scarf and preteneding to be Lawrence himself!

 

 

Post by: Simon Vaughan   

Photo by: Jordan Tourism Board

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Just Deserts

21 04 2008

Sinai

Wadi Rum: The dead centre of the Sinai Desert

When I was little and we headed to the beach on holiday, nothing made me happier than a jam and sand sandwich. I can’t say that I actually liked the sand part of the sandwich as I’ve never been partial to the crunch of grit between my teeth, but sand in my food has always been synonymous with a holiday.

 

The sand, of course, was not part of the original culinary design, but had managed to work its way into the picnic basket, past the paper bag and through the plastic wrap, as sand tends to do. In fact, sand tends to work its way into anything and everything as any beach bunny can attest. So imagine living in a desert…a fancy name for a really big beach that’s devoid of water, ice creams, enormous inflatable bananas and magenta thongs.

 

Most people can understand someone with a passion for mountains, or rugged coastlines or even pretty Bambi-luring forests. But deserts are an acquired taste that can’t be truly appreciated until properly experienced.  

 

The Sinai desert stretches from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean in eastern Egypt. It is a magnificent desolation of mountains, wadis and much biblical significance and home to the nomadic Bedouin people. I was to spend a few days with the Bedouin, sleeping in their oasis camps and trekking the sands they have called home since time immemorial. 

 

Our 4WD turned off the isolated road that had wound its way through the mountains from the coastal town of Dahab. We stood in the blazing sun and were met by our Bedouin guide in his traditional dress. This was no costume for tourists: his loose wraps and flowing gown were the most sensible thing to wear in such a hostile environment. He checked our water bottles, footwear and headwear. We had been advised to wear a white cotton keffiyeh rather than a baseball cap, as the keffiyeh provided protection while allowing the circulation of air. Once satisfied that we were ready, we set off into the drifting sands. 

 

As we plowed through the fine powder, our calves and leg muscles burned from the effort of taking one step backwards for every two forward. We eventually reached more solid ground and picked up our pace. There are few places in the world that seem untouched by humans, but the Sinai is certainly one. For hour after hour, we found no trace of human presence. We passed the carcasses of camels bleached by the sun, and saw the side-winding trail of snakes. We eventually squeezed through an opening in the rocks and descended into a narrow canyon, sheltered from the sun and deliciously cool. The silence caused our ears to buzz.

   

In late afternoon we reached the Bedouin’s oasis camp. A simple awning had been raised over a sea of carpets and small cushions. Small glasses of tea were brought out for us and we sat and learned about Bedu life. After a traditional dinner we climbed into our sleeping bags and snuggled down against the bitter cold of the desert night, all the while trying not to think of scorpions, cobras and other company.

  

The night was eerily silent save the crackle of the dying campfire. The stars shined brightly enough to read a watch and there was the occasional feather-like caress of the wind on our exposed faces. We packed our small packs and after a light breakfast headed back into the canyons and desert. 

 

By the time we reached the end of our trek and emerged once again at the tarmacked road, we had all gained a great appreciation for the beauty of the stark surroundings, and the hardiness and hospitality of the Bedouin people. We arrived back at Dahab just as the lights began to twinkle across the Red Sea in Saudi Arabia.  

We all returned home with not only enough memories to last us forever, but enough sand hidden in every nook and cranny to build a small fortress.  

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008