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Journal 2007-11-01

We arrived today in Bedouin Garden Village south of Aqaba, and I am looking out from the balcony to the beach, accross the road that leads from Aqaba to the Saudi border. The sea is blue and flecked by white tips of foam and the mountains on the other side are visible through the haze. It's fairly quiet here and the beach opposite is almost empty. A Jordanian flag flaps crazily in the sind that comes from the north. We left this morning from Petra taking a taxi - about an hour and twenty minutes. The road from Petra to the Amman highway passes through the villages of Taibeh and Rajef (sp.?) and has fine views over the Arava. The Amman-Aqaba highway is a wide road in good condition - the driver said that the whole journey between Aqaba and Amman takes about 3.5 hours.

The driver was a friendly guy that we met on the journey from Wadi Ram to Petra. He claims that his father used to live in the caves of Petra, but a Bedouin we met while in Petra said that his family name made this unlikely.

In Petra we had a great time, scrambling through the wadis and among the monuments, walking from early morning till sundown. Despite the crowds of people we found many moments of tranquility. As soon as you get off the main tourist beats, you are completely alone, and if you get going early in the morning you also can avoid the crowds. On the first day we got up at 6.00, headed through the Siq and then, from the outer siq took the steps leading up to Jebel Atuf, the high place of sacrifice. From there there is a magnificent view over the whole area of Petra. But this proved to be the first of many other such magnificent views, since all of the hills surrounding the valley provide such views. From Jebel Atuf we took the way down through wadi Farasa, seeing the Garden Tomb, the Tomb of the Roman Soldier and other sites. Then we walked through to the other side of the valley that passes the obelisk, and reaching the crusader castle, which we climbed almost to the top, though this took a little bit of courage in some places. We went around the back of the castle, following the way that begins a little above Wadi Assaigh and then joins the wadi that leads to the museum area. There are several pretty tombs along the way, with the beautiful, almost psychadelic colours that characterize the stone in the area - reds, ochre, yellow, grey, blue, white and black all represented in swirls and daubs, as if they were painted by a hippy artist. We visited the tiny museum, itself in a cave, but spent very little time in the area. Instead we followed our steps back through the wadi, but this time keeping to the wadi floor. After rejoining wadi assaigh we ate luch and read about the possibility to see painted houses, a little further on. This proved illusory as we didnt find them. Instead we walked along the right side of the wadi, following a path that grew progressively steeper, along and up the side of the wadi. Eventually, after realizing that we had missed the painted houses and feeling unsettled by the dizzying height that we had attained, I told Dorit it was enough for me, though I am sure she would have had no difficulty with continuing. Later (the next day) we realized that it would have been possible, perhaps, to continue on that path and reach al Deir (the monastery), although Bedouins at the restaurant said that it was only possible to do this with a local guide.

Returning we looked again for the painted house, but failed to find it. We followed the floor of Wadi Assaigh back to the main valley of Petra and then ascended back through the Siq, enjoying the late afternoon colours along the way. Going back to the room we showered, rested and ate at the Red Cave restaurant, before joining the Petra By Night program, which leaves three times a week from the Visitor Centre. Several hundred visitors joined it too. The instructions were that we should descend along the Siq in silence, following a single file. Dorit was amused that the instructions sounded very similar to the ones given in Plum Village for the silent walks there. In fact many people - especially the Italians - had some difficulty with the rules, but when we put a little distance between ourselves and the noisier ones, we enjoyed it. Along the way, and then inside the courtyard fronting the 'Treasury' some 1,500 candles are lit, placed in plastic bags and spaced at something like 2 or 3 meter intervals. In the courtyard before the Treasury, the visitors sit in a circle and some music is played. First there was the one-stringed Bedouin instrument, the Rabab (?) accompanied by singing, then a flute. The music wasn't particularly inspiring - it sounded a little ridiculous at first. The flute was a bit better. Then there were some words by the guide, which were also mildly inane. Dorit said they could improve the program and make it look more professional, such as by having a proper musical performance. But in general, tourism has not been developed very professionally as yet.

On the second day in Petra we tried to see things that we hadn't yet caught on the first day. The main site was the monastery, with its 800 step climb. But before that we went to see the important tombs on the right as one leaves the outer siq.

The way up to the monastery was not too stenuous after the previous walks we had made, and the view of the edifice rewarded us, as did the views from the summit out across the Wadi Arabah. We chose a place behind the main tourist area to stop to eat our sandwich and vegetable lunch. Dorit spent some time breaking coloured stones so that she would have some more manageable ones to bring home as souvenirs. After walking down, following the same path as that of our ascent, we took a side trip into the Wadi Turkmeniya, in order to look for the tomb of teh same name. But in this we failed. Probably we did not continue along the road for far enough. Instead we scrambled around another tomb, then walked back into the main valley of Petra. We looked at the enormous temple complex (more than 7,000 square metres). The complex has been only recently unearthed and partially restored. To save time and additional muscle fatigue we took a horse and trap back. In the evening we went into the ugly upper town for a cash machine, then went down to eat a light dinner in the ornate oriental style bar of the Movenpick. Their salads and pizza were good, and not too expensive.

Wadi Ram

Wadi Ram is an awesomely spectacular area of desert sands and rock. The rocks seem to placed among the sands like those that sit in a japanese garden, though of course on a much larger scale. The sands are of many colours, from shades of red, to ochre, purple and black. These wash up against the rocks in enormous dunes. The rocks themselves are sometimes gently rounded, and sometimes jagged. Often they have been molded into weird shapes, such as bolders that sit on legs, or natural bridges. The desert is not completely barren but contains bushes and plants, some even with small flowers. The only animals we saw were lizards, crows, small birds and beetles, although in the sands there were also the footprints of foxes and rodents, who perhaps come out in the night. For most of the time, the temperatures were not too hot, as a cool wind blew across the wadis. The wadis are not deep, and often there is only a general indication of the axis of the wadi, since they are often interspersed with rocks. Sometimes one feels closely surrounded by rocks on all sides, and other times the landscape opens up. Usually our guide would drive somewhere in a jeep then send us off on a long walk across from one lonely looking rock to another, on the other side. The walking is sometimes difficult because the feet sink in the sand. In other places the sand is firm and the waking is easier.

We arrived on the Friday at Ram village and, after negotiating our stay with Mohammad Sabah, who seems to rule the roost, began on a two hour camel trip across to one of the sunset camps, which he set up. The camel ride was at first frightening but after a while you get used to it. The first surprise is that it is not all that easy to balance. This is scary until you realize that the camel is actually quite steady in its walk, and doesn't do anything to upset your balance, although it seems tentative. Also the height of the mount is a little upsetting at first, but, as mentioned, you get used to it. My thoughts were that at least, in most places, the sand is soft, if I were to fall. The camel ride was spectacular because it was just before and after sunset, so the colours were particularly impressive. The time of the sun's rise and setting are the best for seeing the desert. The bedouin camp was fairly authentic, except, of course, for the toilet and shower facilities, which were so primitive and dirty that most people tried to avoid using them. The meals were pretty good. After the meal there was music. On the first evening this was good because the player knew how to play his one-stringed instrument. On the second day it was less good because the man - our earlier camel driver - clearly did not know how to play. After dinner there isn't much to do except go to sleep. But usually, after a day in the desert, one is so tired that sleep comes easily.

The sleeping accommodations are very large bedouin tents. One grabs a mattress and some bedding. There are no sheets, and unfortunatey no one had mentioned that it is advisable to bring these. I used my dhoti. Dorit used her shawl.

The days were spent mostly in walking - just Dorit and I. We talked to our guide and driver, Anad, while he was taking us in the jeep. His English was very poor, so most of the communication was in broken Arabic. Dorit's is a lot better than mine, so she attained some reputation there as an Arabic speaker. We understood the main things, and learned a little about the life of our 19 year old guide, who had grown up there at Wadi Ram. We even met his grandmother when, on the end of the second day of our visit, he stopped in to see his grandmother at her tent. She was repairing a cushion with needle and thread as she spoke to us, sitting crosslegged in the open area of her camp where guests are received. We sat and drank tea with her and another women.

Earlier in the day, we happened also to meet with a Jordanian family from Amman. We spoke to a young university student called Alla, and met other members of the family too, including the father, who works at the American Embassy. Again, almost all of the conversation was conducted in Arabic. We took pictures of the family in order to send to them, as their camera had broken.

There is always a question here of whether to present oneself as from Israel or not. Dorit usually has said that she is from Israel, whereas I have said that I am from England. The bedouin don't seem to be much upset with the fact that we are from Israel, although there is the feeling still that we are from an enemy country. Mostly they don't mention the politics.