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Wednesday, December 21

Jordan

Mary: The ferry arrived in Aqaba after dark, so we headed for Bedouin Garden ($12pppn camping, bargained down to $9pppn), just south of the port. It is a nice place, with chill out areas, pools and lots of facilities / activities, and would be even nicer if it was warm enough to swim! We heard stories from some people we met there about overlanders having things stolen or their cars vandalised in Aqaba, but it felt pretty safe to us (and the rest of Jordan feels totally safe). We caught up on internet, chilled around the fire, did a full service on the car and gave most of the inside of the car a bit of a scrub too. We met a Dutch motorbiker and overlanding couple, the lovely Wim and Annelies (http://igecko.webklik.nl), and spent some time exchanging tips over breakfast. Wim & Annelies are heading south, and had just passed through Syria with no problems at all. We had been a bit worried about Syria so having such a recent positive report was great.

Brett: We headed to Wadi Rum ($28 for the car per day + $7pp one-off entry fee), which has crazy rock formations separated by red desert sands. Our favourite site in the park was Burdah Rock Bridge and the scramble to get up the mountain to it (some tricky sections and 2 hours). We had just watched the movie “127 Hours” the night before (summary for the Oldies: a guy falls into a canyon where he gets trapped and has to cut off his arm to escape) on Wim & Annelies’ recommendation – the landscape is so similar to the canyons in the film that it is really spooky. Getting up to the rock bridge, there are direction markers and cairns, but it’s still not that easy to follow – but the tracks are in OSM which really helps. We camped in the desert and it was literally freezing – there were ice crystals on the tent when we woke up and frost on the ground, so we did some warm-up exercises to the only music we had easily accessible – the 6 or so funky ringtone songs on Louise’s old phone (including classics like La Bamba). We didn’t actually stay at the official campsites as they looked quite grotty, so we just found our own quiet spots. The huge red dunes are brilliant and it was great just wandering around the park and enjoying the peace and quiet, but compared to Sudan the desert feels quite small and crowded. On our last night we decided to brave the cold and have a braai – the last for a while probably. We had only a few coals left and rubbish firelighters, but we managed to get it going with some white spirits and kept it alight just long enough to do us a lovely steak.

From Wadi Rum we headed to Wadi Musa, home of the amazing ancient city of Petra ($70pp 1 day, $7pp for extra days) via the Desert Highway – a really scenic route with some very steep passes. Petra is huge, and takes some time to get around. The main sites can be seen by walking from the Ticket Office at one end, to the Monastery at the other, but it is quite a tiring 6.5km each way. The walk starts off passing through the Siq (canyon) with the multi-coloured rocks which opens up onto the famous view of the Treasury, which is the classic picture that most people think of when they think of Petra. After that, the path leads through the ancient city to a section of Roman ruins and finally leads up to a steep path up to the Monastery (which looks strangely similar to the Treasury). The whole thing is absolutely amazing, with each little bend in the canyon leading you to another incredible sight. It is possible to see it all in a single long day, but it would probably feel quite rushed.  We took two days, which felt like enough to see the main stuff, but even still we were knackered at the end from all the walking – I think if we had done 3 days our legs would have fallen off! On the first night we freecamped at a waypoint given to us by the Turkeys outside town near Three Valleys, but it was full of Bedouin campers and although we weren’t disturbed we heard plenty of cars driving past quite close in the night – the spot had a pretty weird feel and we left at sunrise. The second night we checked in to Valley Stars Inn ($33 incl breakfast) which we found on Booking.com. Accommodation near Petra is really expensive and this was the cheapest option with parking so we weren’t expecting much, but it was actually one of the nicer hotels we have been to, and it was great to wash off some of the dust from the Jordanian desert. 

Civil engineers in Jordan really know how to make steep roads – the mountain pass towards the Dead Sea drops 2000m and we had to stop to let the brakes cool. It is strange to see the GPS saying you are at 0m above sea level, and still looking down a long way down into a valley which goes to 400m below sea level. We found a few good places to stop and swim at the southern end of the Dead Sea but wanted to get further along and see if we could do better – unfortunately after a short way the road rose a little and there were quite steep cliffs down to the edge of the water. We eventually got to Amman Beach, which looked great, but the only decent beaches are owned by resorts which charge about $15pppd for entry. We probably would have gone for it if we could have spent the whole day lounging on the beach, but we only got there quite late in the afternoon so it seemed like a waste. We eventually found a spot that we could drive part of the way down and set up the shower at the car (the salt stings if you leave it on you) and walked down to a tiny strip of beach. It was windy and a bit cold so we climbed in carefully and just started to laugh at how much we floated – it was really amazing and the water was actually quite warm. I got a splash of the salty water on my lips, which tasted awful and started to sting – luckily we didn’t get any in our eyes as that would be seriously painful – we also didn’t have any open cuts. Within minutes of getting out the salt had dried in big white flakes on our skin and we both looked like we had white beards where the water had gone up to our necks. There were a few waypoints where people have freecamped but they were right next to the highway so would be quite noisy.

We headed to Amman which is really modern and feels quite European, stopping at one of the big fancy petrol stations for McDonalds dinner & free wifi, before checking in to the Sunrise Hostel ($7pp dorm) – fine for a night but a bit grotty. We left early in the morning for the Syrian border.

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