I love the world. Love it. Love how big it is. Love how much there is to see. Love how much there is to do and and all the different and interesting people which make travelling such a joy.
We went grocery shopping in Aqaba the other day. Just looking for lunch supplies. The supermarket was much like any Woolworths or Coles though probably a bit more IGAish than anything else (except with a huge bulk spices section). I flashed a smile at an older local gentleman as we went and so he stopped for a bit of a chat.
‘Welcome Jordan’ he said. ‘Thanks’ I replied. Jordanians seemed to welcome us to Jordan wherever we went and it never grew old.
‘Have you met King Garoo?’ he went on to ask with a quizzical look on his face. Who is King Garoo and why would I have met him? I wondered probably with a slightly puzzled look on my face. Then he held his arms in front of his chest with his wrists hanging limply and started bouncing a little. ‘You know King-ga-roo’ he said again with a little laugh. ‘Aaah, Kangaroo’ I laughed. I wasn’t sure if he was messing with me but regardless he seemed to mean it in good humour.
Aqaba, the home of humorous Arabic gentleman, is a short drive down the speed bump laden Kings Highway from Wadi Rum. I’ve never been to a country with such a love of speed bumps. Speed bumps everywhere. Big roads. Little roads. Everywhere. But I digress. Aqaba is Jordan’s south coast. A weekend bolt hole on the cobalt blue, Red Sea. A sparkling stretch of water surrounded by a barren moonscape of hills and mountains.
We checked into the Almarsa Village Hotel about 15 minutes outside of Aqaba itself. There was nothing there except for the hotel with its huge blue pool, a few dive centres and the coarse sandy beach-like area across the road. Across the water was Egypt. It’s still a novelty to be peering from where we are into other countries as we travel. Turns out not all the world is its own continent sized country.
We lazed by the pool for a day and half, reading books, writing blogs and watching with curiosity and mild alarm as 4wds with huge, mounted machine guns drove up and down the road in front of us. We ate at the hotel, because we were too lazy to go anywhere else and because the Fattoush salad was really good. The young waiter there took a shine to Amy. First he mistook her for Italian, then he played songs for her on the sound system (Spice Girls – go figure?) and then told her how soon the boys would be lining up to meet her. I stole a sideways look at Amy. She is growing up, but not that much!
It took a day and half before we could summon the strength to rent snorkels and wander across the road to the beach. You have no idea how tough this travelling caper is! On went the snorkels and out we went into the Red Sea, two by two. It was gorgeous. Like snorkeling off the beach at Ningaloo, coral lines the shores to the North and South. The water was crystal clear, the coral appeared to be in good health and there were loads of fish.
I could have stayed longer, but not on this occasion. It’s curious how even with a year off time drives you on. It drove us up the highway past numerous check points with police toting scary looking rifles. Whatever it is they were looking for, we weren’t it. I did little more than open my mouth, scarcely even said anything, before they smiled, welcomed us to Jordan and waved us on. Perhaps it’s travelling with a family. It changes the way almost everyone relates to you. Or maybe I’m just a whole lot friendlier looking than I was 20 years ago. It could be the grey hairs turning me into a distinguished elderly gentleman, like the one back in the supermarket.
I had to drive carefully heading north, making sure I stayed on the road and didn’t let magnificent views over the Rift Valley distract me and send us all careening off the side of a cliff. We headed to Dana Village, ‘a picturesque cluster of stone cottages huddled together on a cliffside outcrop, Dana Village has rightly become celebrated as one of Jordan’s loveliest hideaways’ (Rough Guides).
We got there, and I didn’t believe we were there. From the lookout above it didn’t look like a place four Aussies of no interest to Jordanian authorities would hang out. But that’s the thing about travelling, nothing is ever what you expect and nothing is ever as it seems. We stayed in a very cute little stone bungalow at the imaginatively named ‘Dana Hotel’. It looked out over a few crumbling buildings and then into the long steep and deep gorge heading down to the plains below.
People come to Dana to hike, but we only managed a 1-hour stroll across from the village to the terraced gardens with tall poplar and olive trees. It felt more like Tuscany than Jordan, except for the haunting calls to prayer that sung out across the valley at intervals we couldn’t quite work out. When we weren’t strolling we were reading, doing school work, playing cards (hearts) or eating flat bread and hummus and sipping on more sweet Bedouin Tea. I love sweet Bedouin Tea. It’s so… Bedouin.
We headed north again from Dana, mostly because east would have sent us into Israel, West into Iraq and we had already explored the south. The Jordanian love affair with speed bumps continued to occupy my attention in equal measure with mental calculations on how to make sure we returned the hire car with zero petrol left in it (as we picked it up) but without stranding ourselves in the process.
The drive was magnificent. If you’re headed to Jordan, don’t go up and down the main highway, its bumpy and uninspiring. Drive the smaller roads they’re smooth and… inspiring. You can’t avoid the speed bumps so don’t try. One valley enroute took 45 minutes to drive from one side to the other. It reminded me of the Flinders Ranges. From a high point at the Al Karak Castle we started a long descent to 400 metres below sea level and the Dead Sea. We covered the science curriculum on the way down with much discussion on air pressure as the sides of our drink bottles collapsed. ‘How come you know everything?’ asked Oliver. ‘It’s a gift’ I replied.
The Dead Sea doesn’t look dead on approach. It looks more like the Whitsundays, except the white sand is salt and there is no vegetation. There is also much to be said for Australia’s approach to maintaining public access to beaches. It’s not entirely clear where to sink yourself into the salty water of the Dead Sea. We settled on the outrageously expensive ‘Amman Beach’ (about $100 for the family). It was only expensive for foreigners though. Apparently India is not the only country to milk tourists for all they’re worth at major attractions. Enough said, otherwise I’ll get started on a rant which will make me grumpy and no one here will enjoy my company for the rest of the day.
After changing we headed straight for the salty waters. No doubt some of you will have been here yourself and so don’t need me to tell you about the bizarre experience of wading into water where you can’t sink. It’s weird. In really fun way. According to all the laws of physics and nature, unless you kick your legs and wiggle your arms when swimming, you should sink. It’s the way the world works and its not to be questioned. But here… no… as you all know, that’s not how it works.
In fact, if you put your legs straight beneath you and your arms in the air, my favourite position for dabbling with the buoyancy effect of a 30% salt load, you bob around with your head shoulders and half your chest comfortably above the surface. Photos were taken, as you would expect, including of me pretending to read a book while floating on my back. The book was really a catalogues for skin care products that I found on the shore. No doubt it appears in the photos of the previous 200 or so visitors to Amman Beach as well.
We rinsed off in the two very large pools which went some way towards justifying the cost of entry to the ‘Amman Beach’ complex. It came as quite a shock when we jumped in and sunk like stones. Fortunately, Amy and Oliver were off having too much fun to ask me why salt increases buoyancy. Something to do with the density of the water no doubt, but I could have been caught off guard and appeared less than omnipotent. Not the look I’m going for.
The Dead Sea is only 40 kilometres from Amman and Emma and I were soon grappling with the reality of navigating in a major foreign metropolis without a GPS. It’s only because of Emma’s genius with electronic devises that we are not still stuck somewhere between the fifth and sixth circle (Amman landmarks) and cursing one way streets.
The Lonely Planet website says, ‘Only the brave or the foolhardy would sit behind the wheel in Amman, where driving is complicated by extremely complex roads twisting around the contours of the city’s many hills, and is further made miserable by dense, unpredictable traffic.’ Good thing I read that after we were comfortably tucked up in our hotel room that night.
We used our one spare day before heading to Greece to check out sights in Amman that were beyond our reach on our first lap through. There is a huge Roman amphitheatre which we admired from a distance owing to the long list of ancient sites coming up for us in the near future. But we got up close and personal with the remains of the Temple of Hercules perched on a hillock at the centre of town.
We used Uber for the first time to get ourselves to the airport the next morning. It was a bargain by comparison to the taxi’s, or at least it would have been had the driver not told us a long sob story about how he made no money taking people to the airport because of all the overheads associated with renting a car to drive etc. We felt bad for him, so gave him a little extra which made it cost about the same as a taxi. Ce la vie.
Our last hours in Jordan were spent in the Royal Jordanian airport lounge snacking on olives and yummy bread. It was Friday the 13th, good thing we are not superstitious. Next stop – Athens!