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Monday, 14 March 2011

Jordan Part 1 – Aqaba & Wadi Rum ("The Valley of the Moon")

After a painfully long wait in the ferry terminal at Nuweiba (Egypt), and with nothing to do apart from read a book or stare at your feet for about five hours, we finally boarded the ferry for Aqaba at about mid-afternoon.

The crossing was painless and uneventful, unlike the film I watched on Son’s laptop – Adam Sandler’s “Grown-Ups” - which was painful and uneventful. It only took about two hours or so to cross, but we had to wait for Marjane and Roxy to catch us up once we were on the other side (he’d taken her on the ferry behind us).

To pass the time whilst we waited, we played a game of “tig” which some of you may remember from your playground days.  Much to the locals’ amusement, there were about a dozen of us 20-30-somethings running around outside the terminal like idiots.

Homeless, posing on the ferry from Egypt to Jordan.

The gang catch a breather at the Aqaba terminal after our game of tig.

Eventually, Marjane rocked up honking Roxy’s horn and we all piled in bound for the ‘Bedouin Garden Village’ – our campsite just outside (12km) of central Aqaba. It was dark and cold when we pulled up, so we put our tents up quickly before chowing down on some koshery (inspired by our time in Egypt) cooked up by Yoich and our new recruit, Dan.

That night was possibly the windiest we’d had the whole time I’d been on the Trans. The four sides of my dome tent were literally closing in on each other and touching in the middle above me…I was glad I’d spent time pegging her down.

Over breakfast we shared tales of woe about how little sleep we’d all got before venturing off into town. The wind showed no signs of relenting (in fact, quite the opposite) so a few of us dumped some boulders (donated by the outer wall of the site’s car park) in the corners of our tents before departing.

On the way in, Ish mentioned a place he’d read about that offered good, cheap Turkish baths (‘hamams’) and in spite of it seeming a bit premature (Turkey was two weeks away), Pat, Tanja and I chose to join him for an hour or so of indulgent relaxation…

We got changed (the local guys would usually go in nothing but the small cloth/towel that’s provided, but we all wore our swimmers) and congregated in the steam room. After 20 minutes of profuse perspiration, we were called out by a hairy-knuckled, surly local guy for a cold shower and a scrub down. Another shower followed before waiting outside two small cubicles and being summoned by another equally hairy local guy for a deep muscle massage.

This sort of thing always sounds so seedy, but in fact it was very tourist-friendly for both men and women. Unlike with the sort of massage and bath houses you’d find in South East Asia, the only happy ending we had was the bill – JD12 (17USD) at time of writing, which by comparison to others we’d seen advertised, was pretty cheap.

L to R: Ish, Pat and Tanja doing 'the serious pose' after their massages.
Feeling refreshed, we stepped outside to feel even more so: the wind had picked up significantly since we went indoors. As we traipsed around town looking for some decent shawarmas or kebabs, both sand and seawater was being whipped around in the air. On the seafront, with Israel just across the water, mad local kids were throwing themselves over railings on a pier and into the tempestuous sea.

There wasn’t really much to see in Aqaba, in fact, I think we were well and truly out of season. Even though Aqaba had plenty of dive schools and apparently many more dive sites just offshore, and even though we’d just had a whale of a time diving in Egypt, across the pond the notion just didn’t seem as inviting here. The one thing Aqaba did have going for it was its people: everywhere we went they were just friendly and willing to help out or just banter with you. It was such a relief after our time in Egypt and we soon learnt from day-to-day dealings that it wasn't just the people of Aqaba that were awesome, it was the people of Jordan in general.

Back on the truck, Gab gave us a lesson in Italian reggae (yes, it exists) as we waited for everybody to filter back into the truck.  Once everybody was onboard we made our way back to the campsite with the truck’s tarps flapping furiously in the gale force winds.

We were still on the main road outside the site when we saw one of the tents flapping around on the hillside in the breeze…about half a mile away from where it had been pitched. This didn’t bode well…and when we turned into the car park we saw the full extent of the devastation: snapped poles poked out through flysheets like broken legs through ripped trousers; smaller tents had been blown from their original foxholes and were now cowering behind some of the more seasoned veterans. Most of the tents escaped with minor shell-shock but casualties included: my flysheet (superficial wounds held together with stitches); Pat and Tanja’s tent (sustained multiple fractures and lacerations which proved fatal); and Ish’s tent bag (M.I.A.)

We re-grouped the tents in a sheltered spot between Roxy and another parked truck and pitched the tents in a tight, Spartan-like huddle. No Persian onslaught was going to penetrate this formation.

Ronaldo struggles to keep his tent from blowing away.

Pat & Tanj assess the damage.

Dan is first to get his tent in the shelter between two trucks.

Yoich's lonley walk to find his tent that had been blown the furthest away!

We spent the rest of the day doing not a lot…it was cold and extremely windy and there were flies EVERYWHERE. We passed time making the most of the wi-fi and tooting on the customary sheesha pipe in the relative shelter of a gazebo/Bedouin tent down near the campsite bar.

By mid-morning the next day, we were up and out in town again for cook group supplies and some grub before moving on to ‘Wadi Rum’ (otherwise known as 'The Valley of the Moon'). The scenery on the way was the usual breath-taking expanse of desert and giant rock formations that had become so much a part of our daily routine that you almost started to take it for granted. My choice of book at the time seemed apt to me “South” by Sir Ernest Shackleton...just that day I’d read a comment by him that echoed my sentiments regarding the scenery. He was describing a big open bay in the Antarctic as a "magnificent sight, even to eyes that had dwelt on grandeur long enough and were hungry for the simple, familiar things of everyday life." 

We bush-camped outside Wadi Rum National Park at the foot of an imposing, giant lump of rock that provided all sorts of caves, nooks and crannies for us to climb into as cook group prepared dinner. All was fine, until Yoich decided to go for a ‘walk’ dusk. On his own. As the mist was falling. With no torch. Wearing the same clothes he wore day in, day out (and didn’t keep his skinny seven stone frame from shivering in less bone-chilling whether)...and to a rock formation that sat closer to the horizon than to us.

Ronaldo, Marjane and Gab helping Kimbo at cook group time - where's her partner Pat though?

Son goes for the 'baffled' pose.

"Dis how make proper I-talian coffee...eeets sincredeebull!"

Can't remember who that was way up at the top there...

In the meantime, Homeless, Berbs and I entertained ourselves with a massive old tyre we'd found in the sand. The entertainment value soon wore off annd after Uncle Marjane told Homeless he couldn't set fire to it, our thoughts went back to Yoichi. After an hour or so of him being gone, the first murmurs of worry started but it soon spread like wildfire and everybody’s imaginations were running away with them: we all had visions of being ‘talking heads’ on one of those Discovery Channel documentaries with titles like “When mother nature attacks” or something similarly epically over-the-top. 

After another hour, we all genuinely feared the worst – isn’t there some film out at the moment (or least, due for release) about the rock-climber getting stuck and having to cut his arm off with a pen-knife? Those are the sort of places our imagination was taking us when thinking about what might have happened to Yoich. Eventually (and, if you were on the truck or having been reading the blog, you could have predicted this one), Yoich turns up just in time for some of us had joked would happen. His wee venture was an extremely badly-judged one that was done out of naivety rather than selfishness and disregard for the rest of us. Every other passenger had better sense than to go off, on our own, in the freezing cold dark, without telling anybody our plans, without appropriate clothing and gear and in a place we didn’t know, let alone an unimaginably vast, desolate landscape where the weather could turn at any minute!!

The truth is, he’d got lost on misadventures a number of times before (e.g. his marathon swim off the coast of Ghana - which, again, he didn't tell any of us he was doing!) and each time our concerns and moans had proved unjustified as, every time, he’d eventually show up shuffling his way back to the truck in his two over-sized orange Crocs...and usually wielding some strange, but dirt cheap type of food or drink that had been the sole purpose of his mission. I seriously think Yoich could open up a specialist safari company in Africa; buy up a load of old jeeps with ‘Hunting Safaris’ emblazoned along their side and simply add the word ‘Bargain’ in front.

He got a justifiable ear-bashing from Marjane when he returned (and the rest of us turned down the truck stereo so we could hear what was going on from the other side of the truck).

Rightly or wrongly, Yoich had become a focal-point for venting frustrations amongst a lot of the gang during the course of the trip. He’d done and said a lot of stupid things throughout the entire Trans but he never – to my knowledge – did anything maliciously. I had nightmarish visions of how the truck politics and group dynamics would all pan out in a fly-on-the-wall style documentary like Big Brother: You know? Where the ‘alpha’ members of the group pick on the weak to the point of ostracising them or worse still, til they snap. Nobody stands up for the weak for fear of being the next piece of sharkbait. 

I wouldn’t say that all the grief Yoich got was undue, but it did seem that if ever there was a lull in conversation, Yoichi-bashing became de rigeur...usually when he wasn’t around to defend himself.

The rock/mountain Yoich walked to.

Aside from this mishap, it was another great bush-camp with unforgettable scenery. As if to mock me for comparing part of my 43 week "holiday" to Shackleton's gruelling two and a half year Endurance Expedition, the air became bitterly cold as dusk descended upon us and we half-expected snow to fall overnight...we just weren’t sure whether to be dread it or look forward to it. Those who hadn’t gone to bed seeking early shelter in the comfort of their sleeping bags were left huddled close together around the dying warmth of the fire and reminiscing on adventures of recent months. Gab swore he was going to relive those warmer days by camping under the stars like he had done in Sudan. This proved a short-lived plan as the under-side of the truck’s table (used as shelter from possible snow) was no substitute for the Sudanese night sky and Gab’s Mediterranean blood just couldn’t withstand these temperatures.

We were at Wadi Rum National Park the next day - a location made famous by 'T.E. Lawrence aka Lawrence of Arabia' who used it as a base for some of his operations. We reached the ticket booth (which was overshadowed by the rock formation Lawrence called 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom') and paid 5JD (just over 7USD) per person before enthusiastically (if somewhat over-optimistically) the group decided to reach the places of interest just using our feet and a map. About two hours or more later, and having passed 'Lawrence's Spring' (the spot where Lawrence of Arabia reputedly washed during the Arab Revolt) we turned up at an impressive rock formation with a crack down the middle of it that would make Beth Ditto blush with inadequacy. A quick glance at the map told us it was called 'Khazali Canyon' and was home to some 'petroglyphs' (i.e. rock inscriptions).

Berbs takes in the view, looking back at where we'd just walked from.

We wandered about half-way down Khazali Canyon before reaching a dead end and turning around to ‘mmm’ and ‘aaaah’ at the ancient engravings. Only half an hour or so past before we began the journey back. Before we set off properly, we stopped by for a tea in a nearby Bedouin tent complete with open fire, 8 year-old waiter / souvenir salesman and Arab noblemen (in truth, they were just guides, but they looked noble in all of their traditional Arab get-up).

Berber has a crack habit.

Ronaldo does some rock-climbing to see if we can get any further down the canyon.

Looking back towards the entrance. Kay poses, with Berbs in the background.

The 'petroglyphs' in Khazali canyon.

Unbeknownst to Berbs, Spencerman is scaling the rock wall behind him.

I think this photo is courtesy of Allison Harvey.

These guys just look cool.

That's right, this Bedouin kid is on his mobile. I imagine he's texting "M8 u wdnt belve how far i got on Call of Duty 2 last nite!!!"

By this point, everybody had split into little groups and Berbs, Elisa, Ronald and I all walked back together...another couple of hours later, we were back at the truck and had about an hour to find some lunch (in this case for most of us, a falafel sandwich).

Wadi Rum was undoubtedly a beautiful place, but I'd recommend anybody who goes there to avoid walking it. There's loads of interesting formations to climb, trek or marvel at but we only got to see a little bit and as such, I can't tell you that the juice was worth the squeeze. Next time, I’ll be taking the 4x4 tour of the park.


1 comment:

  1. Your making me sad that I'm home AK!!