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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Lessons Learned the Hard Way – No. 37

25 11 2008

Never ignore a guinea fowl.

 

The Okaukuejo campsite in Namibia’s Etosha National Park is unique in that the visitors are fenced in and the wildlife runs free. Trenches, walls and high fences surround the campsite on all sides with benches and mini-grandstands lining the perimeter allowing campers to view the floodlit waterholes and arid wilderness beyond.

 

Late one afternoon we had strolled to the benches for a few hours of game-viewing at the neighbouring waterhole. There was no shade and we sheltered beneath the inadequate brims of our hats and jealously guarded our water bottles. A steady parade of zebras and giraffe, elephant and antelope sauntered to the hole for a quick drink before wandering back onto the sun-parched plains. After a short while, the parade petered out and apart from two turtles half-submerged in the murky green water and a few guinea fowl hastily trotting past in the background, there was nothing in sight.

 

Despite the unrelenting heat, we continued our stakeout. The turtles remained motionless while more guinea fowl raced past. Initially in ones and twos, the fat little flightless birds were now racing past in packs like water-balloons rolling down a slope. In little clusters they sped past on short legs, wobbling as they speed-waddled in a mass fowl exodus.

 

We watched the display with bemused smirks. We half expected to see a herd of marauding elephants suddenly materialise from the scrub, or even Wile E Coyote with acme anvil in hand. The feathery stampede provided excellent entertainment for ages…until the reason for their mass migration became apparent.

 

With a mighty gust, the hot wind suddenly roared and carried with it half of Etosha’s sand. The air boiled with the browns and ambers of the stinging grit and we soon found ourselves hunched against the mightiest of mighty dust storms. It was the sort of apocalypse that had besieged Lawrence and from which the Tasmanian Devil had emerged. We turned our backs to the onslaught, but the particles whipped around and blasted our faces. We pulled our mouths and noses deep inside the collars of our t-shirts, pushed our sunglasses closer to our eyes, pulled our hats down as low as possible and attempted our escape.

 

The suffocating dust had turned day to night and we groped our way back across the compound in what we assumed was the direction of our camp, tripping over tent pegs and rock-lined pathways with each step. Although confident we were headed in the right direction, we instead reached the perimeter on the far side and had to double-back. The dust was now choking and the wind stronger than ever. The sand bit at all exposed skin while we attempted to protect our eyes and breathe through the filter of our shirts. Eventually, like wayward desert nomads, we stumbled back to our camp and clambered into the kitchen block, quickly closing the door behind us.

 

The storm banged at the windows and sent a tide of sand slithering across the tiled floor. It continued for perhaps an hour as we remained entranced by the menacing blast that buffeted the windows.  Though my ears remained clogged by the sand, over the roar of the merciless elements I detected another sound…a rising and ebbing song…a taunting melody…a high-pitched warble…as though several hundred porkie little guinea fowl were mocking those of us who had earlier laughed at their migration.

 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan