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Monday, 30 November 2009

Bethany Beyond The Jordan. Wadi Mujib.

The Mujib Chalets were located across the road from the entrance to the Wadi Mujib Nature Reserve.
At 410 meters below sea level, the Mujib Nature Reserve is the lowest nature reserve on Earth. Its rugged and spectacular mountains border the Dead Sea coast and are dissected by several river-filled canyons that offer the best river and adventure hikes in Jordan. The breathtaking scenery and the challenge of negotiating Mujib’s fast-flowing rivers make the Reserve one of Jordan’s most popular natural attractions.
With a few hours to spare we decided to do one of the Self guided trails on offer in the reserve. The Siq Trail advertised as: Round trip / Time: 3-4hrs / Grade difficult / Open 1st April until 31st of October This is an easy hike into the main gorge of the Mujib River (the Siq). It starts at the visitor center near the Mujib Bridge, from where you take the cantilevered walkway over the dam and follow the course of the river between towering sandstone cliffs to the base of a large waterfall. Depending on seasonal rainfall levels, the gorge may contain pools deep enough for swimming. It's an ideal walk to take slowly and enjoy the cool water and shade, especially in the heat of the summer. Despite being relatively easy, it does have hidden risks. The river bed changes after each winter flood and this can create deep pools and strong currents. Always take care along the walk, avoid pools and rapids and respect any rope barriers.
We were advised not to take anything with us, ie cameras as they WOULD get wet. We donned the Life Jackets and set off.I made it to the second water fall, but could not get any further, the force of the water pushed me back. My companions left me and continued to the top of the waterfall.
This walk was exhilarating and well worth doing if you have an hour or two to spare on a visit to Jordan. This link has more about the trails on offer http://www.rscn.org.jo/orgsite/RSCN/HelpingNature/ProtectedAreas/MujibNatureReserve/tabid/94/Default.aspx
We dried our selves off, changed then went and took the above photos of the Siq than set off for to visit the River Jordan.
Not really a mighty river, because of the large quantities of water taken from the sources of the River Jordan ,by the countries of Israel and Jordan. The river today is a small, winding, dirty stream that makes its way to the Dead Sea. The site is called Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan. This is the site where it is most likely that John the Baptist baptised Jesus Christ.
On the other side of the river, you can see this flag.Once back at the Mujib Chalets, we had our supper and relaxed, some one was off to San Fransisco in a few hours!

Castles, Mosaic Maps and The Dead Sea. The Jordan Experience Continues

The road out of the town of Wadi Musa soon joins The Kings Highway, this is a long meandering road that runs through Jordan. We very soon arrived at our first stop, Shobak Castle.
Shobak Castle is another castle in the great chain of Crusader fortresses which stretches across Jordan. This stronghold, known as Mont Realis, was constructed in 1115 CE by Baldwin the First. At its height Shobak was home to about 6000 Christians. It suffered numerous assaults by Saladin, before it finally fell to him in 1189. Shobak Castle was then restored by the Mamluks in the 14th century.
The castle is perched on top of a small hill northeast of the town of Shobak. Inside the fortress there are two churches, the first of which is to the left of the entrance and up the stairs. There are ruins of baths, cisterns and rainwater pipes, in addition to millstones for pressing olives, a few archways and other works which have stood the test of time. The caretaker can point out a shaft from which a set of stairs cut into the rock leads down to a spring below the castle. The shaft has 375 steps and is one of the deepest wells ever cut by Crusader forces. Its such fun in places such as Jordan, with few enforced Health & Safety Rules, you are left to explore on your own, and having scrambled among the ruins of the castle for an hour or so we headed to the Desert Highway to speed towards the town of Madaba, and lunch!
Madaba, a small, friendly town 30Km Southwest of Amman. Is best known for its Byzantine Mosaics, most famously the Mosaic in the Church of St George, that depicts a Mosaic Map of the Holy Land. Now! for me (and a bus load of Male tourists from San Francisco) this was defiantly a case of ‘over hype’, I was really disappointed in the map. In contrasted to my disenchantment with the map, Trolly, who had not heard of it or read any information about it, thought The Map was extraordinary! After I had lit my candle for a friends dearest wish-I do this in Churches all over the world for her, and this time I think it worked!?! Must be The Holy Land effect -We negotiated our way through the many road works of Madaba towards Mount Nebo.
Mount Nebo is reputed to be the site where, after wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, Moses saw the promise land God had forbidden Moses to enter. Moses then died on the mountain. To me the ‘Promise Land’ looked a bit barren, and quite like the rest of the land around it. The view from Mount Nebo was great.You look across the Dead Sea, to the Desert of Judah, and the mountains of Judea.
The Brazen Serpent Monument, created by Italian artist Giovanni Fantoni.
We arrived at out Dead Sea accommodation just prior to sunset. I had pre-booked the Mujib Chalets with the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature / Wild Jordan on the web site. http://www.rscn.org.jo/ the chalets are listed under Wadi Mujib Nature Reserve on the web page and in the Rough Guide. But they are located on the banks of the Dead Sea and make a refreshing alternative to staying at one the big 5* hotel chains located just up the road. They provide B&B and evening meals in the restaurant.
The Beach, if you want the mud treatments, ask the staff at reception they get the mud for you.I would recommend a stay at the Mujib Chalets, the accommodation was clean and comfortable, the staff were really helpful. Especially the chef who couldn't do enough for us, including cooking us this magnificent BBQ.
The Dead Sea -The Lowest Point on Earth-is flanked by mountains to the east and the rolling hills of Jerusalem to the west. There is a quiet hush in the valley- the salt haze dampens down sound and filters out UVB sun rays- giving it an almost other worldly beauty. I have to agree with the Jordanian publicity department who say that-'It is without doubt, one of the world’s most amazing place, the Jordan Rift Valley is a dramatic, beautiful landscape, which at the Dead Sea, is over 400 metres below sea level. The lowest point on the face of the earth, this vast, stretch of water receives a number of incoming rivers, including the River Jordan. Once the waters reach the Dead Sea they are land-locked and have nowhere to go, so they evaporate, leaving behind a dense, rich, cocktail of salts and minerals that supply industry, agriculture and medicine with some of its finest products.
The leading attraction at the Dead Sea is the warm, soothing, super salty water itself – some ten times saltier than sea water, and rich in chloride salts of magnesium, sodium, potassium, bromine and several others. The unusually warm, incredibly buoyant and mineral-rich waters have attracted visitors since ancient times, including King Herod the Great and the beautiful Egyptian Queen, Cleopatra. All of whom have luxuriated in the Dead Sea’s rich, black, stimulating mud and floated effortlessly on their backs while soaking up the water's healthy minerals along with the gently diffused rays of the Jordanian sun.'
We mimicked the Royals of old as we attempted to swim in the Dead Sea, some thing that you can not do, and just enjoyed the strange sensation of bobbing about like corks on top of the brine.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Petra by Night, and better by Day.

Today we were travelling from Ajloun to Petra. The astute reader of this blog will see from the unfolding itinerary that we zigzagged across Jordan in an almost random fashion. The reason for this was the need to pick up and drop off a certain visitor from Dubai.
As the ‘Fly Dubai’ flight did not get in until 14.00 we had the morning free, and visited the amazing city of Jerash again. The traffic to the airport was busy, but the Main Roads around Amman flow very well, and we did not see any accidents despite the rather chaotic driving styles witnessed.
The Desert highway from the Airport to Petra was flat and boring, but it was quick, and we arrived in the town of Wadi Musa just before 17.00.
As it was Thursday we decided to go on the “Petra by Night” tour. This begins at the Petra Visitor's Centre at around 8:30 p.m.(1630 GMT) on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday. According to the Tourist Office ‘To visit Petra during daylight is an awe-inspiring experience, to experience it at night by the light of 1,800 candles is truly an out-of-this-world experience! The tour takes visitors through the Siq to the Khazneh along a candle-lit path leading to the centre of the historic city. Enjoy the haunting music of the Bedouin at the Treasury.’
After a really good meal at this restaurant, We set off to the Visitors Centre where we were joined by well over 200 people for the tour, many of whom seemed to have been bussed into Petra for this experience.
First you walk down the path to the Siq, some one had gone to a lot of trouble lighting all the candles along the route. The idea is that you enjoy the atmosphere, the Rough Guide states ‘you enter the pitch dark valley in silence, all talking and mobile phones are banned’. This is not true, the noise created by the hordes of chattering tourist, all using flash photography make the experience just another load of over hyped tourist rubbish. As we got to the end of the Sig, the magical Treasury was lit with candles, and did look magical. We sat down, on the sandy floor, as there were to many people to sit on the rugs provided and had tea out of the smallest plastic cup I have ever seen. We found we could not sit and listen to the music, as the smell of Camel or Horse Urine on the ground on which we were sitting was over powering. All in all I recommend you save the 12JD. I was really disappointed at how poor the experience was versus how amazing it could be (even if it cost more) . I did not find it moving, romantic or anything else, just a rip off!
Daylight, and today was a full day at Petra, Jordans most famous tourist attraction. It is listed as a UNESCO World Hertage site and has starred in many films. Suitably dressed in comfy clothes, with walking shoes on, sun cream applied and plenty of water we sat off once more to the Visitors centre.
It is a long walk from the ticket gate to Petra’s city centre, over 3KM. There is a long flat gravel path, before you get to the Siq, then the exiting part begins. The walk through the Siq in DAYLIGHT was fantastic. It is as dramatic as you imagine. Photos can not capture its impact, the colours of the rocks and there is so much to see as you walk through this long gorge. Just when you think the gorge can go on any longer, there it is................... The Treasury.
Despite the hordes of people it is breathtaking, stunning and totally awe-inspiring.
We had an extraordinary day in the city of Petra, and I am not going to boar you will the details.
Petra certainly deserves its place on the list of ‘things to do before you die’........just miss the ‘Petra by Night’ tour xx.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Jordan. Jerash & Umm Qais.

Today we needed would need the sustenance provided by the simple breakfast of Labneh (a thick cheese like yoghurt) Fig jam, Cheese, Tomatoes, Olives and Halva served by the Chef at the Ajloun Woodland Reserve. The restaurant in the reserve is on the roof top of the visitors centre, it is large with seating for over 80, with just the two of us sitting in it we felt rather lonely!
Following our simple meal we set of to explore the Roman city of Jerash. We had passed Hadrians Arch the day before, but, it was in such good condition that we had failed to realise it was the entrance to the Old Roman city, thinking that it was some kind of Victorian Folly!
Hadrian's Arch, built in 129 AD to honor the visit of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, is located at a road junction, next to a set of traffic lights. You turn into the large parking area next to the Arch, walk through a fake tourist bazaar, find the hidden ticket office and enter the ancient city.I was totally unprepared for Jerash. I found it very interesting, with its Roman streets, with street lighting, aqueducts, sewerage, shops, water feature and theatre. It was easy to imagine the Romans of long ago enjoying life in this city.
The South Theatre built in 90 AD, has been extensively restored. It can seat over three thousand. As we arrived a Jordanian pipe band dressed in traditional dress, started to play a selection of tunes including ‘Scotland the brave’.
At 11.00 we made our way to the Hippodrome to watch a the Chariot racing show, another unexpected pleasure! The show was a short history of Roman Army techniques...how familiar the battle strategies sound. A gladiator show, that the 3 small boys in fount of us absolutely loved and the chariot racing. I learned more about the Romans in this 60 minutes than I ever did at school ?
Once the chariot show was over, we drove our towards the town of Irbid, then on to Umm Qais.
The Roman town of Umm Qais is a lot smaller than Jerash. The main attraction being the Resthouse with its views over the Jordan Valley, the Sea of Galilee, the Yarmouk Gorge and the Golan Heights. We enjoyed a late lunch at the rest house, before descending into the Yarmouk Gorge and the sleepy village of Himmeh.
The drive along the lush and very picturesque gorge road was slow, and you are not permitted to take photos of the area. The Jordanian Military stop you at very frequent intervals and look at your passports and check your camera to ensure that you are not taking photos of the boarder.