Wadi Rum

Fresh from the Red Sea, John and I headed back into the desert for another night.  The visibility had cleared up completely overnight (swirling dust clouds had vanished), and the blue skies and red sand of Wadi Rum awaited us.

Before making our way to the campsite for the night, we were scheduled to take an afternoon Jeep tour.  Our ‘Jeep’ turned out to be a Toyota pick up truck with cushions and a canopy.  (Not exactly what I had expected.)  Riding in the fresh breeze was probably more comfortable than being squished into a car in the heat, though, and we had much better views than if we’d been crammed into the backseat.
Seeing camels roaming wild in the desert made me delightfully happy.  I’ve never seen a group of camels that wasn’t domesticated and wearing saddles, so I liked the thought that these camels were free to roam the beautiful desert sands as they see fit.  Of course, its possible that they aren’t wild at all and are actually part of some breeding camp.   This thought led to a lengthy discussion between John and I about whether or not people breed camels for meat, and if you could even eat camel meat (we later found out in Egypt that they do, and you can.)  I prefer to believe they are living freely in the desert as nature intended. Our driver stopped at many different spots where we could climb up the rocks.  After hiking around at Petra, we didn’t feel the need to climb up this mass of boulders.
The next stop was a huge sand dune, which we did climb up.  The deep red sand was super fine and very soft.John went up the hill like a man…and rolled down it like a child.  He was laughing so hard while rolling downhill that he kept getting sand in his mouth.  The sand also collected in his hair and clothes and plastered to his sunscreened skin.  As a consequence, we found this deep red sand in hotel rooms/beds/bathrooms for the next several days.
The guide told us these are ancient carvings, but they look more like recent graffiti to me.  Camel-themed graffiti, but graffiti nonetheless.The desert is a very peaceful place.The rock bridge – another climbing spot.  John went to the top, but I decided to stay at the bottom.  I’m quite clumsy these days (I fell down the stairs in our hotel in Amman three times), so a steep rock face without steps seemed like a bad idea.These ruts are as close to a road as you get in the middle of the desert.As our tour of the desert concluded, we drove into camp for the night.  Slightly more rustic than our camp near Little Petra, we still had a full bed in our tent and access to (mostly) functioning bathrooms, and the dining tent had a full fireplace and beautiful traditional decor.  For dinner, the guides cooked chicken, potatoes and onions in a pit under the sand where it roasts like an oven.  Delicious.We claimed a nice spot on the dunes to watch sunset over the desert.  I’m not sure how many sunsets I’ve photographed in this past year, but I’m still not really sick of it. The view is always different.
The chilly winds kept us from enjoying too much time by the campfire in Wadi Rum, but we spent a good hour lounging on cushions, staring up at the star filled sky while sipping ‘bedouin whiskey’ (which is just super sweet sage tea) and listening to the bedouin guys play music.  I’ve never seen such a clear night sky with so many stars.

The next morning, the guides drove us back into civilization ‘Jordan style’ – meaning eight people crammed into a car (four in the back seat, two in the passenger seat, and two in the driver seat.)  It was our last day in Jordan, and we spent most of it driving back north.  Perhaps a few stories about driving in Jordan soon…

Snorkeling in the Red Sea

As we drove south through the desert, visibility just got worse.  It was the first day in Jordan in which the sky hadn’t been impossibly blue and clear, but it wasn’t cloud cover that marred our views:  it was dust.  Something in the wind patterns was causing the dust to rise and swirl around, blocking our views of the lovely surroundings we drove through.  As we approached the highway turnoff for Wadi Rum, I decided to call an audible.

Our plan had been to head into the desert of Wadi Rum for the day and another evening of camping.  But with the limited visibility it seemed like we would miss out on most of the benefits of visiting the desert.  So we just kept driving south to Aqaba, Jordan’s city on the Red Sea.  We traded a day in the desert for a day at the beach snorkeling amidst the colorful coral and fish of the Red Sea.

Red in name only, the Red Sea is actually a nearly fluorescent turquoise color.  Set against the harsh desert coastline, it’s rather striking.  Below the surface the water is teeming with life – the area is well known for its large coral reef and diverse fish population.  The water is some of the most saline in the world (not as much as the Dead Sea, of course, but apparently it is much higher than the majority of the world’s oceans.)  When we’d had enough of the rather salty ocean, there was a fresh water pool to dip in.  Not bad for our Plan B for the day.

Despite our usual aversion to beaches, the underwater life was a nice break from desert views and a lovely way to wait out the dust storms.  Our visit to Aqaba served as more evidence that Jordan has it all – ancient ruins, deserts, beaches, amazing food and the friendliest people we’ve met anywhere in the world (more on that later.)  By the next day, visibility had returned to normal and we skipped back out of Aqaba and into the desert once more.

Camping at Little Petra

Little Petra is pretty much exactly what it sounds like – a smaller version of Petra.  Used in ancient times as an overnight stopping point for travelers on their way to the city of Petra, it is now largely overlooked by tourists (despite being free to visit and virtually empty.)A bedouin family lives in a tent just outside of Little Petra, and one of their sons took us on a rudimentary tour of the smaller site.  Always looking to entertain the tourists, this guy helped us climb up and around the ruins and told us stories about the various caves.  At one point he painted my eyes with traditional kohl eyeliner, and then offered John 20 camels for me.  (John politely refused the offer.)  You can see the boy’s brother playing a flute in one of the caves in the image on the right below.

Oleander grows everywhere in both Petra and Little Petra.  While our tour guide graciously offered for us to stay the night in his family’s tent, we declined in favor of the campsite we had already booked for the night.  The camp was just a short drive from Little Petra, tucked behind a formation of rocks in the desert.  I use the term campsite very loosely here.  It did not look like this…Nope, no caves or big dirt sites for us.  This was luxury camping.  More like an outdoor hotel, this campsite had a full working bathroom and kitchen, dining tent, fire pit surrounded by comfy bedouin seating, and several private tents.  Our tent had a full bed and nightstand inside, and was decorated in the fun bright colors that characterize bedouin culture.  At night, the rocks beside the campsite were lit with dozens of little lights, creating a gorgeous (but completely un-photographable) ambiance in the darkness.After a day of exploring Petra and Little Petra, it was lovely to hang out beside a campfire with other travelers chatting and smoking shisha.  Also known as hookah, shisha is wildly popular in Jordan.  Every cafe, coffee shop and restaurant offers it, and you can hardly eat a meal in this country without the smoke of Double Apple Tobacco wafting around you.  While we are far from being smokers, it seemed culturally relevant to try shisha while in Jordan, and sitting under the stars beside a fire on big comfy cushions seemed about as perfect a place as any. We each had about two puffs to try it before deciding that it was (not surprisingly) not our thing.  Camping in the desert, however, felt more like our thing.  Anticipating another night of campfire chats and stargazing, we left the next morning and headed south to the desert of Wadi Rum with the intention to camp for another night. 

Petra

We arrived at Petra at 6am.  The ticked office doesn’t open until 7am, but I had done my research and discovered that if you buy your ticket the night before, you can enter at 6am before anyone else.  As we wandered through the long and winding Siq (the mile long canyon that leads to the main entrance of the ancient city), we were pleased to have the place to ourselves.

At the end of the Siq is the Treasury – the most beautiful building in Petra and the one made famous in the movie Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade.  Relishing the opportunity to photograph this building without the camels and tourists that crowded the space the night before, I pulled out my camera.  The display flashed back at me – my battery was dead.

Not to worry, I thought.  My backup battery was safely stored in my bag.  I quickly replaced the dead battery, feeling like the consummate professional photographer that I am.  That is, until I saw the display flashing back at me once again – this battery was also dead.

My heart sank.  I fiddled with the camera a bit, but there was nothing to be done.  I had the entire ancient city of Petra nearly to myself and no camera batteries.

It was heartbreaking to say the least.  What kept it from being tragic was that we had visited Petra the night before, and I’d been able to take some photos of many of the key areas then.  And, of course, I still got to enjoy Petra in the early morning stillness in the moment.  But that can be little consolation to photographers – we like documentation.

All of these photos were taken the evening before as we wandered around the site before sunset.  While I think I still got some nice photos, there is so much more I wanted/planned to photograph during our morning visit.

The photos above are of the walk to get to the Siq, which is about a half mile in itself.  Then begins the beautiful mile long canyon, with its wind swept walls.  The views of the Treasury from the Siq are a welcome sight after the long walk.From the shot on the right you can see just how deep into the rock this building is carved – and that’s after the wind erosion that has no doubt taken place over the centuries.Local people believed this building to be where the treasure was kept, hence the name.  The modern theory is that it was actually a tomb.Hello!

In all fairness, even at the height of the day there weren’t too many tourists visiting Petra (though there are always camels.)  A combination of off season and the troubles in Syria kept tourism low while we were visiting.  Good for us, bad for Jordan.

The main buildings get all of the attention, but there are dozens of caves like this all along the canyon.  The caves are quite deep, and probably had much more impressive facades centuries ago (before wind and earthquake damage.)  Petra was a large and thriving city in its heyday, to be sure.You can climb up to this site, which locals believed was a courthouse and prison, but historians believe was a tomb.  Are we sure that ancient people put so much effort into building tombs?  I think maybe modern day archeologists are just a little obsessed with labeling things as tombs.  

The ruins just keep going on.  Unfortunately, this was where we stopped on the first day, so I don’t have any photos of the stuff that lies in that valley beyond.Here’s John, enjoying the view of the basin.  I’m still lamenting the number of views I didn’t get to photograph – including views from our wonderful hike to the top of the ruins, the Roman portion of the city including the Temple of Petra, and many facades we didn’t even visit on that first night.  There is so much to see at this site, it took us several hours over two days and we didn’t even see it all.

We’ve seen a lot of ancient ruins this year, but Petra easily slid into the number one slot in the rankings (finally displacing Machu Picchu, which has been at the top for months.)  It’s so much larger than I imagined, and so very unique.  The last big site we’re visiting this year will be the Pyramids of Giza, coming up shortly.  But before we move on to Egypt, there is still much more to see in Jordan.

[...] Petra.  Even though my camera battery died, I still loved photographing this World Wonder. [...]

The Ancient City of Jerash

How is it that Jerash is the most well-preserved Roman city in the world, and it isn’t even a primary tourist attraction?  I suppose that’s what happens when you play little brother to a place like Petra.  Most tourists skip this amazing site, which is easily accessible only 30 miles north of Amman.This ancient city has been inhabited for centuries.  Founded by Greeks in 331 BC, it was then conquered by Romans, invaded by Persians, largely destroyed by an earthquake, conquered by the Byzantines, invaded again by Muslims, and finally destroyed during the Crusades after which it lay buried in sand and hidden from the world until rediscovery and restoration in the 20th century.  Its a long and complicated history.These days, the ancient ruins lay right alongside a major highway and the modern city of Jerash.The main Colonnade Street, which would have had hundreds of columns in its day.  (Note that it isn’t the same street as you see above – there are two roads lined with an impressive amount of columns.)We have been listening to a lot of podcasts lately about the history of Rome, which made these ruins a bit more interesting for us.  I used to be fascinated by ancient Rome, but like many things I learned in high school, I’ve completely forgotten most of what I was taught.  The podcasts are helping bring back some of those history lessons.  Biggest takeaway:  Romans liked going to war and conquering things.  This explains why one of their greatest remaining ruins is in far away Jordan.A guy who wanted us to pay him to guide us around told us this is where the Romans used to make wine.  I’m not sure if that’s true or not.  After overhearing some of the absurdities guides spouted to tourists at Machu Picchu I’ve been hesitant to believe anything anyone says about ancient ruins anymore.The South Theatre……and The Temple of Zeus, built by the Greeks.
John doing his best version of what I have deemed “tourist pose.”  Why does everyone do this everywhere?  It’s not that cool…They used to reenact chariot races at these ruins, but recently stopped because there weren’t enough tourists coming in to support the business.  It’s a shame – from what I’ve heard the chariot races here were pretty fun to watch.  I can’t say I’m surprised they weren’t doing enough business, though, as this place was nearly empty.

It’s no Petra, but Jerash was certainly worth the visit.  Petra photos will be coming soon!