A jeep really is the best way to experience Lawrence of Arabia’s old stamping ground. We hooned around in a tan-coloured old bucket with a tarpaulin top. Our seventeen tonne overlanding truck met us in Aqaba and handles unmade roads with ease but the Wadi is protected from heavy vehicles as the ecosystem is very fragile. We camped out under the stars again; this time it was sandy and windy rather than bone shatteringly cold. I freaked out in the middle of the night because one of the tarpaulins blew across the camp and landed on top of me. I half expected that some Bedouin with a hatchet was out to steal my backpack!
The colours in the Wadi were unbelievably varied and change constantly depending on the light. As evening fell we had a vivid orange and red desert under a slate blue sky. We were also able to pick out Orion and some of the other northern constellations.
After Wadi Rum, we drove on to Petra and spent two nights in the nearby village of Wadi Musa (Valley of Moses). The Rose City is the most famous of Jordan’s sites and most people would be familiar with the towering facade of the Treasury as it featured in the closing sequence of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It was justifiably a tourist mecha, but we got up at 5am and got there well ahead of all the cruise boat hordes. It actually poured with rain for about an hour when we first arrived but as we were already drenched we decided to climb the eight hundred steps to the monastery, arriving at the summit as the sky cleared. The place was deserted. We sat with a bag of Doritoes ($6 AUD and worth every penny) and admired the view for about forty minutes before a choir of American Mormons turned up and started singing into the vaulted ceilings of the monastery. The ruins of Petra took about seven hours to explore, with houses and temples alike cut from the colourful rock faces.
The following day we stretched our sore legs and had a swim in the Dead Sea. It is too salty to do much more than flop around on the surface like a dying fish. We camped the night on Mt Nebo, overlooking the Israeli border and the distant lights of Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
I have captured some brief sketches of Jordanian people and some of the landscapes of Wadi Rum. Some of the deserts I have seen in Jordan are probably unmatched anywhere in the world for their beauty. I am incredibly impressed with Jordan and glad to be away from the Egyptian touts.
After an epic series of checkpoints and passport assessments, we have now reached the Syrian capital of Damascus, the oldest constantly occupied city in the world. We are camping in a compound on the outskirts of the city. Today is a Friday, the Day of Prayer, so we have stayed in our district rather than venturing into the centre of the city. The recent revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have inspired continued unrest across most of the Middle East and Syria has been particularly affected, with demonstrations planned for this evening. We expect to visit the main city sites tomorrow and then head out to another bush camp away from any possible disturbances. The Syrians we have met so far have been incredibly friendly, though they do stare a lot as the country sees few Western tourists. Those of us who were in the cook group today had a great time shopping for groceries near the campsite. The locals have been quick to assure us that we are safe in this area and we have encountered no problems. Those of us who were female managed to get most of our purchases for free and were able to sample lots of sweets from the local bakery.
It seemed like half the town did drive-bys on motorbikes to gawk at us (many of the young guys unabashedly did seven or eight laps of the block with their mates dinking on the back). The constant attention we receive is hilarious given we are covered from head to toe, but at least here it is relatively good natured and not malicious or aggressive like in Egypt. We also see more women out and about, which is a relief after weeks of being the only females on the street. Though veiled or wearing heavy robes, many older women stopped to say hello or welcome us to the country, and the kids ride alongside us on push bikes practicing their English, which is a nice change from having toothless men shouting “I love your body/bum/legs/eyes/dress/socks” or drawling “Oh-mai-god” from the dark recesses of their market stalls.
We had been told that the Syrians were amongst the friendliest people in the Middle East and this has proved to be true already. We have a couple of days in Damascus before heading north to the Crusder castle of Crac De Chevaliers and the city of Aleppo. I will post again once we cross the Turkish border, hopefully with some more interesting sketches.
|Inside our tent (Damascus)|