Read Julies diary account of her first encounter with a wonder of the world in Petra, Jordan.
At the end of each day when Julie was touring around Egypt and Jordan she collapsed into bed - but not before she wrote her diary. And here it is...
Saturday 10 January 2009
Getting to Egypt involved flying from Paris to Dubai and then on to Cairo, their famous capital.
We stepped out at Cairo into 18 pleasant degrees. We were greeted by an equally pleasant woman who was ground crew. She took us through customs at which point we were greeted by a man who held up a board saying “Esplin party”. Taking his arm I walked right through customs. When we got through I asked him if Ron was alright at which point he turned around to find Ron being bailed up by the customs staff. He went back and brought Ron with us at which point we were greeted by another guide – Ramzes. Ramzes was a talkative young Egyptian who was fun. He loaded us up into the car and we took off to our hotel. We drove along the motorway and into Cairo. The trip seemed to be accompanied by loads of the tooting of many horns. I did start to worry though – Ramzes kept turning around to talk to us, preferring to fix his gaze on us rather than the road! Not a wonder there was a lot of tooting! I was getting really anxious. Ron didn’t seem to be though so I tried to chill out. Then, to my amazement, Ramzes turned to his left and started talking in Arabic. Turned out to be a driver! Hey – no one told me there was a driver in the car as well as a guide!
Ramzes said you needed three things to drive in Cairo – good nerves, good brakes and good luck. Ron noticed all the cars had dings in them and Ramzes said people don’t buy new cars in Cairo as they just get banged up. Ron also asked about the houses that appeared to be not quite finished. Ramzes said that there was a tax on houses when people finished building them so they never quite finished building them to avoid paying the tax.
We arrived into our hotel saying our goodbyes to Ramzes until 5 pm that night when we would go to the sound and light show at the Pyramids.
We took a shower and had a rest before getting ready for the night time experience at the Pyramids. Mustafa picked us up this time and with a driver took us to the Pyramids. The sound and light show was narrated via recording by Omar Sharif. We had been warned that it was cool in Egypt at night but it was a little cooler than I had anticipated. I had a singlet top on plus a cardigan but I was beginning to get a little cold. Ron suggested I place his cloth bag from Otago University on my front – an idea at first I rejected but as the night grew colder I accepted his offer. So I stuffed the cloth bag on my chest and it kept me warm from the Cairo breeze.
The sound and light show sounded nearly as old as the Pyramids themselves but provided a useful commentary on the history of these ancient tombs. Housing the bodies of mummified kings we learned of the elaborate rituals upon death of the pheroes that feared death. The show only lasted 45 minutes so the life of the Otago University shoulder bag came to an end. We returned to our hotel and fell asleep when our heads hit the pillow. In fact I didn’t even notice we were sleeping in single beds until the morning when I went to roll over and found that instead of Ron there was the edge of a bed!
Sunday 11 January, 2009
We started our day with a hotel breakfast. To say this was different would be unfair. Ron ordered us an omelet with cheese and ham. Then came cereal and the usual under cooked toast with hard butter and unidentifiable jam. Next came sliced loaf and a rather unusual but pleasant sweet fried bread. There were cup cakes and chocolate donuts, baguettes. We left feeling full and entertained.
We were picked up at the hotel at 9 am by our tour guide for the day, George who was an educated young man with a degree in tourism. His English was very good and he and the driver started off by taking us through Cairo to the Egyptian Museum. This was home to the child king of Egypt Tuten Khamen’s burial mask and two of the coffins which housed the actual coffin which contained his mummified body. George showed us around the many artifacts of Egypt’s history. The Museum in Egyptian terms was not that old. Built to house 20,000 pieces in 1897 there were now 80,000 pieces. With much to look at we allowed George to choose our route. The explanations were invaluable as we went around each artifact. We then ended up in the darkened room which housed Tuten Kahmens artifacts leaving through an visit through the Museum shop. The lady at the counter said everything was free as it was her birthday to which she laughed and said it wasn’t really.
“Oh – well – when is your birthday then” I enquired.
“1 February” she informed me.
“Wow – that’s the same as mine” I informed her.
At this moment I took this as a great sign I was supposed to be in Egypt.
Our next stop was to a perfumery which involved Ron and I drinking hibiscus tea with a man called Mohammed. We sampled many perfumes ranging from lotus flower to sandal wood. Pressured into buying we bought the smallest bottle possible – lotus flower for $120 NZ. This was one of the first times in Egypt we felt pressured as the sales men are very convincing and ready to make a sale in a flash. You had to be quick on your feet and ready to say no and walk away. We were not yet good at this.
Our next stop was the pyramids. We approached this from many angles. First we got out at the pyramids and walked around them. We were able to walk part way up the great pyramid (120 metres) which was great for me as I was able to touch the stone. I was surprised to learn that the pyramids were made of bricks of stone and did not form a flat surface. They were like 2 tonne Lego bricks forming a massive triangular prism. Made by the people of Egypt for the burial of their king 5000 years ago these pyramids once contained the mummified bodies of Egyptian pheroes the bodies wrapped in linen were covered with a mask so the gods would recognize the king and enjoy the world of the after life.
When we came down from the Pyramid we then took a drive to spot them from a perspective above the pyramids. We then carried on to the Sphinx where we took more photos.
Our day ended with one last stop – another opportunity to glean even more money from us. This time a catoosh shop and a papyrus shop. Cartoosh is the Egyptian hieroglyphics and for just $300 Egyptian pound Ron could have the name of the woman he loved inscribed in cartoosh onto a pendant that she could treasure forever. Ron agreed and the man sent the sterling silver pendant down to the engravers while he sat and chatted to the vendor. Turned out the vendor used to be a professional golfer and had played on the PGA tour in the States. This conversation helped pass the time away until we were ushered down to the lower level which sold genuine papyrus. This is a parchment like paper which is made from the papyrus plant and then painted with mythological Egyptian kings and artifacts. Often when we were shown things or ushered into a stall I would be offered a seat to sit on. The Egyptian salesmen would capture our attention in this way and then start telling their stories. On this occasion I was shown how the papyrus was made and then painted. Ron of course couldn’t resist yet again and we eventually left the clutches of the young man with an Egyptian calendar under our arms.
This was our final shopping stop and we were dropped to the hotel by George and his driver. Ron ran in to change some American money in order to tip George and his driver. I stood beside George while the Egyptian buskers entertained us. Giving George a cuddle goodbye I wished him good luck in his life and he returned the compliment. He was a very impressive young man and we had enjoyed each others company for the day.
Now it was tea time and we hadn’t even eaten lunch. Ron refused to have another hotel restaurant pizza preferring to brave the night streets of Cairo and go to the local restaurant George had recommended earlier.
We set out in the night and ventured our way along the Cairo footpaths. Actually footpaths would be an exaggeration – it was more that they were not part of the road. Only the tar seal road indicated the road and sand indicated the footpaths. Walking along arm in arm we strode out. Cars continually tooted us as if we were in the way. One man stopped to ask if we needed help. Donkeys in carts passed us. At parts we had to walk on the road which allowed for even more tooting. At last we arrived at a restaurant called Le Cairo. We went in, sat down and ordered our meal. The very nice waiter called Maumid helped us with the menu and in true Cairo style talked us into ordering an array of appetizers and a main course each. As the food kept coming and coming our table was swamped. I was overwhelmed and Ron was not far behind me. The hardest part was not being able to wash it all down with a beer as no alcohol was served in Egypt as it was a Muslim country. We paid our modest bill and set back on our reverse trip to the hotel. With as many toots on the way back I was relieved to make it back to the hotel safely.
We asked for a 4 am wake up call as our next day involved an airport start.
Monday 12 January 2009
We arrived at Cairo airport terminal 1. fortunately for us we had guides. This made navigating the airport much easier and we met other Australians in the terminal doing much as we had done. Our flight left Cairo at 7 am and we arrived in Luxor one hour later.
We were welcomed to Luxor by many Egyptian men as we walked through the airport car park and got to our car only to find three people in it going in a similar direction as ourselves. Turned out the people were from Dunedin and lived only a hop skip and a jump away from us. We were dropped off at 9.15 am and were to be picked up again at 10.15 am.
More friendly Egyptians greeted us at the hotel and we settled into our room with the Nile view. On the way up to the room we stopped in at another cartouche shop and this time discovered we could get four cartouche in Luxor for the price of one in Cairo. We ordered these as gifts for our family and agreed to pick them up later.
Along with our guide Amina, a 23 year old woman who had also gone to University to study tourism, we first visited Karnak – the largest temple in the world which was once the main centre of worship in ancient Egypt. Covering 247 acres we walked around the outside of this temple taking two hours to do so. There were many additions to the original temple and statues and cartouche lined the grounds and the outside of the building. The highlight was walking around a statue of a scarab 7 times. The scarab means good luck in Egypt and this act alone would mean we would be brought abundant wealth – a ritual I couldn’t help resist.
We left the Karnak heat and traveled to the Luxor temple. At last something built in AD! This time 1200 AD. There were frescos on the outside walls and many more statues and engravings to admire and learn about. It was at this moment I realized that Egyptology is just one big story with many many characters – so many in fact it was very hard to keep up but the good thing about having a guide was that we heard the same information more than once. This is what we needed to happen in order for us to retain it.
Hungry once more we decided to eat a meal in the hotel. We went up to the buffet and began our meal of mousakka, Egyptian bread and desserts. After arguing over the placement of a piece of bread, Ron and I turned around to face a reunion between the staff and tourists. One of the ladies came over to our table and revealed very quickly her Scottish accent. Ron asked her which part of Scotland she belonged to and she said up north. Ron replied with Buckie (the place he grew up as a boy) to which she was dumbfounded and said “How did you know?” Turned out she too was from Buckie. We sat and chatted and met her friend Josie who was her traveling companion. Iris (from Buckie) had been to Egypt 46 times! This impressed us and her comment was “if you can put up with the “hassling” it’s a marvelous place” We agreed.
Iris told us of a market nearby which sold leather cartouche suitable for boys. I thought this would be an ideal gift for our two sons so when we parted their company Ron and I set off exploring. We found the market stall only to find three other English people in there - Peter, Wendy and Beryl. Nobi was the shop owner and as we enquired about the leather cartouche the bargaining began. He started at 350 Egyptian pound at which Ron thought was too high. Ron had reckoned it had cost us the same amount for 4 in the morning so this price was too high. Then I threw in 200 and Ron said 175 at which point Nobi was still at 250. After a long tussle, witnessed by Beryl, Peter and Wendy, we agreed on 200 Egyptian pound. ($80 NZ). In this time I had received a cup of Egyptian tea from Nobi and life was good. The English observers asked us where we learned to bargain like that to which we replied “after having spent the day in Cairo”! Nobi had his photo taken with me and Wendy and Beryl and then asked me to run away with him, or something like that. Ha! Actually we ate chicken and chips and it was wonderful. The right amount and the right taste for weary tourists.
We passed back through the vendors who all said it was nice to see us again and that Ron was a very lucky man. Nobi called us in again and made us a cup of kakaday tea. Drunken either hot or cold we went for the hot option while he talked to us more. I stupidly asked if he sold rings at which point he ran out the store and returned with rings that he thought might fit my finger. My idea was that Ron would get one also – we would have matching rings with cartouche. Ron had different ideas though so with both great skill and fatigue we departed Nobi’s shop ring less.
We wandered through the bazaar and made our way to a restaurant Beryl had recommended. It was called Amoon and she told us of how it made fish and chips. Vowing and declaring I would never be like one of those English tourists on the movie Shirley Valentine who went abroad only to eat egg and chips – I really wanted to eat egg and chips.
We decided to return to the restaurant later and passed by Nobi on our way back. This time we asked him for Papyrus to which he responded by giving me a seat and running along the stalls only to bring back a pile of papyrus to view. More bargaining continued. This time he started at 38 Egyptian pounds each. He said “how many do you want” to which I threw out “5”. Ron and Nobi pontificated for further minutes before I jumped in with 100 for 5. This was around half the asking price which I was soon learning was about the right amount. After even more pontificating between Nobi and Ron we finally agreed on $25 American which was $50 NZ which was an amount we were happy with. With even more souvenirs to go into our back packs we left Nobi after more hugs and kisses. We had made a friend and he asked us to call in for tea if we were going to be out later. I wonder why!
Wednesday 14 January 2009
The day started with yet another unusual breakfast. This time I ventured into the territory of pancakes. They were the most unusual pancakes I had tasted. These would be easy to resist the next day.
We drove across the Nile to the west bank to the famous Valley of the Kings. In Egypt they believe that as the sun rises in the east then you live in the east and bury people in the west as this is where the sun sets at the end of the day. We went directly to the Valley of the Kings which includes the tombs of the Theban rulers including Tutankhamen. We didn’t actually get to see Tutankhamen as his entrance fee was $20000 Egyptian pound – that’s around $8000 to enter.
The site started with a train ride up to the tombs. I got to sit next to an Egyptian guide who offered Ron 2000 camels for his beautiful wife. After considering this seriously Ron declined the offer preferring to keep his one cow!
When we disembarked the train we saw three tombs starting with Ramses 7, then Ramses 9, one of the last rulers in the 20th dynasty The burial chamber is memorable for it’s book of night of yellow on a dark blue background.
I got to run my hands along the engravings on the walls and feel two of the tombs. The steps were often awkward but I was determined to enjoy this ancient burial site as much as I could.
We ended with Ramses 1 as a steep featureless corridor but finely painted burial chamber.
On the way up the hill we had been hassled by more vendors with more Egyptian junk. By this time Ron was getting annoyed and learning new Arabic words for “already have” and “no thank you”. I now decided I’d like to take a book home to Tim as he loved mythology. Ron was forced back into the world of bargaining, this time with an idea from Amina of what we should pay. He appeared five minutes later with a smile on his face and a book on the valley of the kings.
We then visited the House of Alibaster – a local rock of the region. We were greeted once again by a nice Egyptian man who hustled us onto another chair. He offered us a drink of tea or coke. Not sure whether to accept or not Amina encouraged us to say yes so we sat and chatted. It turned out this 38 year old had five children and operated the family business which had run in the family for years. After the drinking was over, we were handed to another nice Egyptian man who showed us around the store. Ron instantly latched onto a carved scarab but before doing so this nice young man offered 5000 camels for Ron’s beautiful woman. We bargained again and we left with the scarab.
Next stop a Mortuary temple of Hatchepsut the only woman pharaoh to rule ancient Egypt. At the foot of this temple was a tree stump which was 3500 years old. Unbelievable! Hatchepsut ruled Egypt for 25 years through peace time. She dressed as a man wearing a false beard and in statues did not appear to have any breasts as this would not have been acceptable to the people of the time. Once again I ran my hands over the sculptured carvings on the walls but this time to the attention of the security guard who called out “no”. When I turned around with my white cane in hand he came over and said “I’m sorry madam, of course you can touch” and we shook hands.
Our last stop for the day was The famed Colossi of Memnon.
18 metres high these giant statues originally fronted the mortuary temple of Amenophis the third. Ron took more photos and Amina took a photo of Ron and I.
We came back home, our journey accompanied by some Arabic music played by the driver of the car Michael. Ron bopped about in the back as Amina and Micael laughed. Ron asked if they would be kind enough to stop at the Railway Station as Beryl had told us where to purchase beer. They agreed and as Beryl had also indicated what to pay for the beer Ron got it for a good price. By this time we worked out that if you ended up paying half the starting price then you were about on track.
We returned to the hotel beer and souvenirs in hand.
At night we ventured back out to go to our local restaurant again. We passed Nobi who said we had promised we would be there by 4 pm and it was now 7 pm. Ron promised to have a cup of tea with him when we came back from our dinner. WE ordered fish from the restaurant and it was beautifully cooked. Wee sat overlooking the bazaar where Ron reported the goings on of the stall holders and the street carts. He noticed something that we both remarked on typified Egypt. A man in a cart pulled by a donkey was carrying mud bricks. One of the bricks had fallen off his cart onto the road. A passer by picked the brick up off the road and ran up 50 metres to give the driver the brick. This was a generous gesture that we thought would not be emulated in a western country.
Upon our return to the hotel we wanted to go to an internet café. We had had numerous instructions and made our way out the bazaar along a back street in the hope to avoid all the stall holders telling Ron he was a “lucky man”.
Wednesday 14 January 2009
Our start of 8.30 am was delayed as out train arriving from Cairo was late. We spent more time wandering around, filling in time on the internet at the hotel. Fiaz, our guide, picked us up from the hotel and his driver drove us to the train station. Through yet more security we went and boarded our first class carriage on a train bound for Aswan. If first class in Egypt means “roomy” then first class it was. We had room to put our legs out with the seats opposite us, on the other side of the train, vacant. This was important for Ron, who, for the entirety of the train ride, hopped from side to side taking contrasting shots of both the Nile river and the desert. The sound of Arabic ring tones rang around the carriage as Egyptian’s mobile phones joined us for the ride. It’s hard to disassociate Egyptian’s from cell phones as they are everywhere Egyptians are. Their foreign ring tones constantly amused us to the point where we videoed our next guide so that we could show the boys when we returned home.
3 hours later we arrived in Aswan. This time we were greeted by Muhammad Ali – the guide not the boxer. This was too tempting for Ron who said to Muhammad “You are the greatest – not the other Muhammad Ali” to which Muhammad laughed and laughed. Muhammad and his driver dropped us off at the Icis Corneash Hotel at which point we checked in. WE only had a short time to meet our next guide for a felucca ride. The hotel was situated on the banks of the Nile. All we had to do was to walk down some steps and there was the Nile and our felucca sailors waiting to take us to Kitchener Island. Getting on the boat was not easy. The tiny plank to walk on wobbled and I had to duck my head to step on. Tricky! Ron and I settled into the back of the felucca with Ghada our guide sitting next to us. We sailed down the Nile on a beautifully sunny afternoon and learned of the Nubians on the way down the river.
We arrived at Kitchener Island, the botanic gardens of Aswan. Named after the English botanist who came to Egypt in 1898, developing this amazing gardens in the eight years he was there. I’m not sure if Lord Kitchener had envisaged vendors on his sacred island but there they were again, all lined up to rob Ron of his sacred pounds. This time Ghada helped us out. I wanted to buy Russell, my sailing keen brother in law, his very own felucca. The first felucca that came forth would have been big enough for us to sail home in. Knowing Ron was already anxious of our suitcases weight problem we declined by saying “smaller”. A man stepped up and presented us with a smaller version. WE left Ghada to do the bargaining in Arabic. After a couple of minutes of Arabic conversation Ghada turned to me and said “40 Egyptian pound”. This was around $16 NZ which was the amount we were willing to pay. She revealed later that he started the bidding at 250 pound ($100 NZ) so she had saved us much.
The garden was beautiful – just how I imagined Fantasy Island to be. We walked around in the peaceful environment and felt well rested upon returning to our felucca. We did the reverse journey home and arrived back at the hotel.
That night, after a quick pizza at an Italian restaurant 11 steps from our room, we went to the light and sound show at the Temple of Philae. This involved being picked up by Mohummid and his driver and heading off along Aswan’s highway. WE were taken by motor boat to the Island where the temple was situated. This was real James Bond stuff, the motor boat and the exotic location. The show started, once again with Omar Sharif where we learned of Icis, mother of Horus, who represented eternal life. WE were joined throughout the show by a visiting cat which decided to place itself at our feet and follow us around the temple as we were moved three times to three different settings. The sound part of the show was thorough with the pleasant night air making the setting magic. We returned by motor boat and got back to our hotel around 9 pm. We hit the pillow and went to sleep! Once again in single beds – Ron didn’t even get undressed or get under the covers – he was so tired!
Thursday 15 January 2009
Our wake up call was for 5.45 am with Mohammid picking us up at 7.30 am. Our flight to Abu Simbel left at 9 am. A town of 7000, Abu Simbel is home to the temple of Ramses 2 which was moved in the early 60s when they built their dam. The temple was saved by moving it 180 metres. Our new guide Akmed walked with us along the hillside before stopping to explain the temple’s history. There were two temples – one for Eamses 2 and the other, smaller and less significant temple – for his most favourite of his 14 wives – Neffritari. We entered the bigger of the temples first and marveled at the 4000 year old images which were carved into the temple’s inside. My hand ran up the leg of Ramses 2 giving me an indication of the scale of the carvings. It wasn’t till we entered the smaller temple and I touched one of the wheels of the chariots that I realized I was in fact touching something that was 4000 years old. This was ancient communication I was feeling under my fingertips. This story was told using carved pictures. It was an amazing experience and one I shall not forget.
We flew from Abu Simbel to Cairo, resting on the way. Ramses picked us up from the airport where he told us we would be reunited with “crazy Cairo.” This time we were transported to the Flamenco Hotel in the middle of the city. Not before we were treated to a story from our Cairo driver though. Turned out he was a 57 year old weightlifter. Tallat was his name and he had been weightlifting for years. He handed Ron his cell phone which contained a video clip of his most recent successful lift. Ron watched the film clip as we drove along the noisy highway. When we got out of the vehicle Tallat let me feel his biceps. They were huge and felt like the Egyptian stone I had touched earlier that day. Unbelievable for a man of 57 years of age. Amazing!
Arriving in Cairo around tea time our next mission was to get tea. Tired of Egyptian style food and just tired in general the sound of something western appealed. Ramses informed us there was KFC and McDonalds nearby so we set out in search for something familiar in a very unfamiliar setting. Pizza Hut faced us as we came around the corner so we decided this was a good compromise for us both. We walked up a set of stairs and viewed the menu. The restaurant was quiet and so was the waitress. She could hardly be heard and her attempts to understand “thin and crispy” were lost as not long after the fatter crust of the pan pizza was delivered. Ron’s desire for beer was dashed as only pepsi and fanta were on the menu. His pene pasta turned out to be spaghetti but I guess this was Cairo Pizza Hut. I wanted to have dessert but as we had ordered a large pizza alas there was no room for my dessert. We returned to our hotel and rather than putting on music we listened to the noise of Cairo itself – tooting, laughing, shouting – loads of happy activity to go to sleep to.
Friday 16 January 2009
Our last Egyptian breakfast and perhaps the nicest one yet. Lovely fresh rolls and fruit salad with my corn flakes. Ron smuggled out his usual bread rolls and oranges for lunch and settled the bill. We were waiting to be collected in the reception area when Ron spotted a gift shop. With a present list still half complete I suggested we take a look. Yet another Egyptian salesman to greet us upon entry and this time we looked at the cartouche and the pens. Ron chose a key of life pendant for me and we picked a pen with Tutankhamen on it for Dad. The man behind the counter asked us if we knew the meaning of our names. He proceeded to interpret Ron’s name as R for talkative, O for fun and adventurous and N for flexible. This was remarkable as it described Ron exactly. As we relayed the story to Ramses in the car later he filled in the rest of Ron’s name as being a for short, l for strong and d for generous. This completed the circle for Ron’s personality. Incredible. WE took our last jaunt along the Cairo motorway, reaching the airport 45 minutes later.
We were transferred to Sam who kindly guided us through the terminal and into the departure lounge. We sat amongst many people and children when Ron spotted a man putting down his newspaper. It was an Arabic paper and we thought it would make a good souvenir for my father. An added bonus – the crossword had been completed in Arabic.
Impressions of Egypt
1. Egyptians are very friendly with great senses of humour
2. Egyptians know how to sell things and get money out of you
3. Cairo roads are crazy
4. Egyptian meals are huge
5. Egyptology is fascinating
6. Egyptian streets are safe to walk around
. 7. the call to prayer by the mosques five times a day
8. no alcohol in restaurants
9. when they sit you down in a shop this is a sign they want to sell you something
10. tour guides are well educated
Major impression: close your eyes and feel the touch of a helping hand
We boarded the Royal Jordan plane to Amnan and after 1 hour 20 minutes touched down in Jordan. After working our way through the airport with another tour agent we arrived at our car. Our driver this time would be Mazen – a middle aged Jordanian who had been married four times and had 9 children. Mazen drove us to our hotel and discussed our options for the afternoon with us in the hotel reception area. We could go to the city of Jerash or go swimming in the dead sea. I preferred the third option of resting in our room but to neither men this was an option. Ron wanted to go to Jerash so Jerash we went. After 40 minutes in the car we arrived at this ancient Roman city. Most of it was rubble and the footing was very difficult. I managed my way walking on top of stones and rubble to get to fallen down parts of the city. As Ron went to take a photo of the view a man from the top of the site summonsed us up to him. Not thinking anything suspicious we hiked our way up a dozen huge steps to make it to the top. The man shook our hands and welcomed us to Jordan. Would we like him to take our photo? Of course says Ron. After doing that he informs us he is a professional photographer and would we like to sit down. I knew instantly what this meant and sat down reluctantly. Fortunately his cell phone went off, giving us an opportunity to stand up and make good our escape.
Next we found our way to one of the two amphitheatres. Seating 3000 we entered this building and to our surprise were the only ones there. Ron took me onto the stage and then ran to the top of the circular theatre while recording me on the stage. This was one of those magic moments that we enjoyed in solitude.
We toured more of this ancient city before returning to Mazen. As we walked back we could hear the sound of protestors at some kind of Gaza strip
rally. This noise indicated conflict to me and all of a sudden I realized we were in the middle of the middle east. It was cold and windy and I felt anxious. I was ready to head back to the car which is where we headed. As night fell we headed back to our hotel, tired and hungry. Not wanting to go out we opted for a mixed grill in the hotel. We had a bath and fell asleep climbing into bed!
Saturday 17 January 2009
With a wake up call of 6 am we made our way to breakfast around 7 am. I was looking forward to a change from the Egyptian breakfast anticipating Jordan would be better. Wrong! There was no fruit only cereal and toast. Along with a hot bean dish, lentils and cut up vegetables that I couldn’t really stomach at 7 am. So, I opted for the corn flakes without fruit and the toast. The bread was heavy and the jam was fig. The margarine tasted something you would put into your car and the tea to wash it down was an anonymous liquid whose most endearing characteristic was that it was hot! Trying to comfort me Ron dashed off for some pastries. He returned with something else anonymous and I could only stomach a couple of mouthfuls. We left the dining area and then the hotel.
We made our way down the Kings Highway to Petra. This would end up being a 10 and a half hour day in and out the car at all the famous stops. First Mount Nebo where Moses received the tablets containing the ten commandments. This was a beautiful sight with spectacular views of the dead sea, Jerico City, Jordan River and on a good day you could see Jerusalem. I touched one of the stone slabs that 2000 years ago was used as a door to cover a whole. Ron took a photo of me as though I was pushing it with my own strength.
Next stop the Mosaic Handcraft store in Madaba City. Famous for it’s mosaics we were especially interested in this as my friend Kirsty does mosaics while Ron was interested as they employed people with disabilities in their workshops. WE were greeted by a very friendly man by the name of Victor. He welcomed us in and started to show us the process involved in making mosaics. He took my hand and showed me the whole process by allowing me to touch the stones and mesh used in making these magnificent pieces. We then went through to the shop and got offered the inevitable cup of tea. We accepted and wandered around the mosaic pieces on display. We selected two tiles, a camel which Ron fell in love with and some salt for washing your hands and softening your skin at the same time. Ron wanted to walk straight through the jewellery store as he knew this would mean trouble of a financial nature. I told Victor of this at which point he grabbed me and said “you must come with me” After very little deliberation I chose upon a ring with a blue stone which fitted my pinky finger perfectly! We left the shop $132 US lighter and proceeded to make our way down to our next stop - ?St George’s Church. This was home to a mosaic nearly 2000 years of age. Previously much larger the original full mosaic was built in a cathedral which had been destroyed in an earthquake. The new St George’s Church had been built in it’s place over the part of the mosaic which had survived. This mosaic contained a a map of the holy land and the guide taught me more about Christianity than I had learned in my whole time at Sunda School.
We then drove on to Karak Castle. Housed in Karak City this was yet another leftover from the Roman times. As we were hungry we chose to opt for food first and castle second. Mazen informed us of the oriental buffet on offer so we went inside. We were greeted by about four keen Jordanian men who all welcomed us for our meal. Ron guided me to the woman’s toilet at which point he abandoned me. I came out looking for him and was greeted by a Jordanian man who guided me towards our dining table. Ron selected my meal of mutton, potatoes and chicken. After placing my meal down in front of me, I felt something touch my mouth. It was a piece of meat on a fork which at the other end contained an over keen Jordanian man attempting to feed me. I said “la shook run” – no thank you – in my politest voice and he retreated with the same level of politeness. I wasn’t sure about the food I was eating so when it came to the chicken, like a little girl, I said to Ron “Will you eat this for me?” I thought his steely constitution may house the potentially killer chicken better than mine!
After lunch it was time to meet at the gate of Karak Castle by a guide Rai’id – a 39 year old who spoke four languages. Once again the terrain was difficult but I managed my way around the Roman ruins with the over bearing help of Rai’id. He warned us not to break our ankles going into the castle – something I became instantly worried about. We moved into the dining room of the castle which was dark and eerie. We then went into the kitchen and saw the wine press and baker’s oven. We finished our wander without breaking our ankiles which was a bonus.
We finished our tour of Karak with our next drive down to Petra. We arrived in Petra at 6.30 pm and checked into the Petra Palace Hotel. As Ron surveyed the scene at the counter he enquired about the picture hanging above the reception area. “Was this Sean Connery?” he asked the gentle staff. “That is our King Hussein” replied the soft Jordanian!
Sunday 18 January 2009
Breakfast again. Ron stomached again a Jordanian breakfast while I struggled with the morning meal. We were picked up by Mazen in the reception area at 8 am. Mazen had been concerned about the terrain in Petra and had organized with the guide for us to be met at the entrance by the Bedouin village which was at the far end of Petra to avoid walking double the distance. We were dropped off at the village and met Jhassub, a 42 year old Bedouin man who had spent 17 years in Germany as a Psychiatric nurse. Now he had returned to his village and set up four web sites to give Bedouin stays to foreigners. This was all in attempt to dispel the myths about the Bedouin people being unintelligent and untrustworthy.
We walked along much rubble, sand and uneven pathing to explore this ancient Nabataean city which had been built out of rose red rock around 100 BC. Known as “the wall street of ancient Arabia” much of this stunning place had been destroyed by earthquake in 300 BC. 60 % was now underground. The Bedouin tribes had inhabited the city of late but with the increased tourist attraction of the site the Government had built the village at the top for the Bedouins. There were still some Bedouins living in Petra but they were further up the old city and were reported to rescue lost tourists if they ventured too far.
Jhassub knew the area very well. As we walked through the ruins he explained their history and significance. We stopped many times to meet the Bedouin people. Two old Bedouin ladies were selling ancient coins and jewellery. Both the older women presented me with a necklace each. They said it was a gift. I felt moved by their gesture and checked with Jhassub about the gesture. He said to take it so we thanked them and moved on. Next stop was his father who also gave me a necklace. This time made of onyx and flint stone. We walked up the hill and met Ramy, the son of a New Zealand woman who had met and married a Bedouin man and stayed in the tribe as a nurse and mother of three. Marguerite had written a book which Ramy was selling for 30 dina. Ron purchased a copy which Marguerite had signed.
It was time for a rest so Jhassub decided to call in at a Bedouin stop and have a cup of tea. We were used to this by now and sat down on the provided chairs. While the tea was coming we were joined by a few of the local children. Ron was asked if he wanted to buy yet more postcards to which his “no” response included showing them his magic trick of the disappearing coin. By the time Ron had finished he had drawn quite a crowd. Children young and old crowded around to see how he had done his magic. We sat having our cup of tea amongst the people of this land.
We carried on by foot until we reached the jewel in the crown – the Treasury. Made famous by the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark” with Harrison Ford. We entered the building on our own and from out of the dark appeared a man in uniform – the Bedouin Police. Dressed in a khaki green long coat which touched the ground, this handsome man had draped over his shoulder a bandolier – a string of bullets. We introduced ourselves and chatted. This man had three children and stood handsomely guarding the building. He objected little at having his photo taken with me as I didn’t either.
It was now time to leave the stunning city and it had been decided by the guides that Ron and I would take a carriage back. A carriage was a horse and cart operated by a man called Jafa. I hopped onto the cart and Ron joined me. With three of us squashed up against one another we headed off down the famous siq – a narrow opening in the rock that was the entrance we had missed out on to start with. The horse took off and with great determination and strength pulled the three of us along this rocky path. Being jossled about Ron and I laughed our way through the siq. I felt sorry for the horse as it seemed to be working so hard pulling the three of us. I insisted we give the horse one of our apples at the end for at least a small gesture and small token of our appreciation. We disembarked the cart and headed back to our driver Mazen.
The afternoon saw us going to Aqabar – a seaside resort 2 hours drive away from Petra. There we went on an hours cruise on a glass bottom boat where Ron spotted coarl and coloured fish and sea urchins. From the boat Mazen pointed out Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt. Not a wonder this was a hot spot in terms of peace. I couldn’t help but think how peaceful and safe I felt in a part of the world that had such a reputation for conflict. We returned to the shore where we wandered around the local market buying fruit for us and choclate treats to bring back for the boys.
Mazen knew of a fish restaurant which was not only good but reasonable. We found our way there and ordered three fish meals. I realized after that Mazen had ordered a kilo of fish for Ron and I to share. When it arrived it was a huge oval platter which contained bread, fries and half a dozen huge fillets. We of course could not eat it all and against Ron’s war baby approach to food we left some. We walked back to the car through the busy market and returned home by the Kings Highway.
On our way home Mazen reported that it may take longer going back as we would have to drive more slowly on the way back as it was now dark.
“Why’s that” I enquired.
“Because there are camels and dogs that wander onto the roads” he replied.
Camels! Crikey – now I knew we weren’t in NZ!
We were stopped at a customs checkpoint where the police man on duty checked our boot to see we were not smuggling cigarettes or alcohol through from this tax free zone. Mazen stopped along the way to get petrol and then again for a drink from one of the many road side stalls. He returned not long after with a slim line can of Coca Cola – one of which I’d never seen before. We enjoyed our drink as we traveled back to our hotel arriving back around 9 pm
Monday 19 January 2009
We checked out of Petra Palace at 7.30 am and began our journey back to Amnon with a stop at Little Petra. Ron imagined that Little Petra would be a miniature size of Petra but it was just a smaller version but still life size. Mazen and I walked through the siq while Ron roamed through it. It was like a cave with a whole at the end. Mazen told Ron to go up in one part which contained early art works. Ron was stunned to discover these and we left Little Petra in peace.
We journeyed up to Amnan airport but not without a stop at the Dead sea for a swim. Well actually a float. Costing $75 for the two of us to stay afloat we paid the dearest swim in the sea yet and hurried to get changed. The day was warm with little wind. ?We made our way down the sandy steps to the beach where we ventured out. WE had to walk over crystalised salt which to me felt like a rocky shore. The rippling sand under my toes felt gentle and the water was warm. We walked out tentatively to the point where it came up to about our waists. Having read the sign not to put your head under or let the water go near your eyes or mouth, Ron and I both gently lifted our feet off the bottom and lay on our backs as recommended. It was amazing. Just as depicted in all the books and photos – there we were floating. You could also roll over on your front and stay afloat. The fun came when you wanted to stand up. Trying to get back on my feet, I stretched my legs out to touch the bottom. To my amazement I struggled to be able to straighten my legs out and any attempt resulted in them popping back up to the surface of the water. Once this was amusing. Twice funny. Three times hysterical much to the annoyance of the nearby quiet bathers. At one point I managed to cross my arms and legs and to my amazement stay afloat. Ron was just amazed I could cross my legs in the lotus position let alone stay above the surface. We were so amused Ron got out and took photos of me with my arms and legs in the air. It really was a surreal experience and it fast became one of the highlights of the trip.
We then got changed back into our traveling clothes and packed our wet togs and towels into our back packs to bring back to NZ.
We drove to Amnan airport where Mazen dropped us off to catch the first leg of our flight home – Dubai. We bid him a fond farewell as well as to Jordan.
Impression of Jordan
1. Jordanians are gentle
2. Jordanian breakfasts are strange
3. the Bedouins are kind
4. they hassle you less than Egyptians
5. they have a King
6. road side stalls on the highway
7. contains 6 million people who seem to live in harmony
Overwhelming impression of Jordan: peace