A mega early start to Dave's porridge, and the day was set in motion with a drive to the ancient (once lost) city of Petra. Entrance was a steep 50JOD but the stunning sights occupied us for about five to six hours.
After entering through the gorge we walked along the cobbled pathway that lead to the treasury. Being 7am, other tourists were scarce and we got some good photos. We then began the inordinately long trek and climb in the increasing heat to the monestary, admiring the homes, tombs and other structures carved directly into the towering, naturally patterned red coloured rock faces.
From the monestary we followed a trail to 'the end of the earth' where we sat to take in a huge and humbling view whilst our friends back home were still sleeping soundly. We got sidetracked on our return journey by the promise of a spring in which we couls swim. We ventured well off the beaten track and eventually found a trickle. We followed this a little way and enjoyed the cool clear water (probably the same as we'd been drinking all day from bottles). Some clambering and relaxing later we made our way back. Midday heat was intensifying and the return to the town took its toll (on little old me at least). We crashed in a pub for an hour or so to recouperate before catching a taxi back to the hotel.
JUMPED IN THE POOL.
Dave invented killer frisbee which involved standing around the edges of the pool and exchanging frisbee tosses, with the aim of catching them no matter what. So lots of stylish (occasionally unnecessary) leaping into the water.
We chilled out and redied ourselves for a buffet dinner at the hotel. I spent the rest of the evening on the tenth floor roof of the hotel spying fireworks.
We awoke on a mountainside at around 7. So far nighttime has proved to be uncomfortably hot, at least within a tent. Breakfast was french toast by Heather and Kath. We packed up and set off,driving for ages to find a secluded spot by the Dead Sea. We avoided the usual areas as the were populated by local tourists. We changed into swimwear and scrambled down to experience the 30% salt water and apparently rejuvinating mud.
The buoying sensation of the dense water was the perfect, effortless suspension. The water was not as painful as I'd been lead to believe it might be and I managed to avoid getting any in my eyes or mouth. Salt deposits around the edge were pretty stunning and I would have happily stayed in the warm water for longer than the time we had.
Next stop was a town called Karak; apparently not the least nightmareish place out there, particularly for navigating with a truck the size of ours. We had a lengthy lunch (falafel pitta for me) and went to look for supplies for the evening meal. Food was massively overpriced (we were probably lied to). We visited an ancienr Crusader castle which turned out to be enormous and very underrated. Entry was 1JOD which did not include the services of an unavoidable local guide.
We were off again, destined for our final stop of the day the Al-Alanbat hotel. We were sweaty and tired and so delighted when the first thing we saw upon dismounting the coach was a shadey pool.
Everyone elso took a dip, whilst Helen, Al and I made no nonesense chilli with beans, vegetables and soya mince. Twas tasty.
Finally I had chance to JUMP IN THE POOL. It was dark by this time and the pool was freezing to start with but the swim was heavenly. Although normal water is somewhat disappointing after the Dead Sea experience.
We hit the sack early in our makeshift dorm in what may be a hotel outhouse. Insects and strange noises abound through the night. Always good for the night before a 6am start..
We spent a relaxing morning at the hotel before driving to Amman's City Mall where we saw the Oasis truck for the first time. It's pretty damn awesome.
City Mall is a large shopping complex and one of the most Westernised places I've seen so far, for the most part with no dress code observed by either locals or tourists. If you're in Amman and missing home, a taxi will take you there from the centre for 3JOD. After enjoying their version of Subway, we hit the massive Carrefour on the bottom level to buy supplies for the evening meal.
An hour drive from here took us to Madaba where we briefly visited a church filled with intricate mosaics, the most promient being a map of the holy land. We explored the small town and the guys hunted for beer (with success).
Further driving through winding steep mountain roads eventually took us to our campsite for the evening, on the side of Mt Nebo. We pitched our tents and admired the incredible view over the Dead Sea and Israel. We watched the sunset from this perspective too and Israel became an unearthly spectacle of glittering lights. We saw plenty of shooting stars, and cooking duties were gained and lost in wagers about the solar system (resolved by flaky 3G access and texts home).
Eventually we slept, woken periodically by the haunting call to prayer, all the more beautiful for not being artificially amplified. A great introduction forme into the world of bush camping.
We got to the Farah Hotel at around 11pm last night (after a great flight with unexpected free food) and met Al, one of our Oasis trip companions, en route.
The hotel (farahhotel.com.jo) is great; clean, cheap, and friendly. Breakfast (because anyone who read my India blog will know describing food when I'm travelling is a priority) was flat bread, hard boiled eggs and soft cheese. This set us up for a day of exploring the city (with Al and Chris who we met at breakfast).
We started by climbing to the Amman Citadel and wandering around the grounds and museum. A spectacular view of the city and a cooling breeze from being high up, along with helpful and enthusiastic tourist police made for a fantastic morning. We learnt about the history of the area dating back to the stone age in the citadel museum.
On our way out we were talked into letting a tour guide called Basam drive us to a restaurant for a fantastic local lunch, a visit to the black and white mosque which overlooks the city and the blue mosque. They let H and I in once we were covered in black robes, nd we spent a few minutes wandering through this beautiful, tranquil place. Young lads approached us to chat and welcome us warmly. Well, the guys were welcomed. H and I were largly ignored, so we kept quiet. One of the boys sang verses of the Qu'ran for us, and I have never seen a more pure delight in anyone's eyes. The other told us that he was visiting his family in Jordan; he studies medicine in Turkey in term time.
Despite feeling a bit opressed, this was nonetheless incredible.
During the drive, Basam impartedlots of local knoledge. Like that there are more Palestinians residing in Jordan than Jordinians, particularly in Amman. Jordan is also the health capital of the Middle East with govenment funded hospitals, world renowned doctors and people travelling from miles around for care.
Promising us better quality materials and better prices than the tourist areas, Basam took us to a bazaar frequented by visitors from other Arabian nations. The place was stunning and devoid of other shoppers so we had the assistant's full attention. We were welcomed with rich bitter sweet Jordinian coffee, and dressed up in traditional Bedouin garb, apparently more for his amusement than anything else. Don't worry, we have photos.
We made some small purchases,and Basam returned us to the hotel; we each gave him 10JOD for what had been a wonderfully informative afternoon which we certainly could not have managed alone.
That evening we met Dave and Nev, ur Oasis tour leader and driver, ad Helen, Catheine, and Lizzie our fellow travellers.
We spent a relaxing evening in a restaurant/cofee shop then saw the brightly lit cityscape from the citadel at midnight.
Today we drive and camp on Mt Nebo overlooking Israel. No wifi for a while!
To summerise, Amman is a stunning and welcoming city with a varied history and tolerant friendly people. I will definitely be back.