Saturday, October 3, 2009

Day 20: Jeresh, Jordan

Day 20 - Jeresh, Jordan
Our group has now officially shrunk to 7, with the others catching their flights to go back home or to other destinations. It has been a great 3 weeks with a great crew...but we still had one more day to add to our itinerary! We had all choosen Jeresh - given that it is one of the "must see" sites for Jordan and it wasn't included on our tour.
What I love is when Vince gets excited about doing something that he doesn't even know what it is...I suggested Jeresh before we even left for the trip, and he agreed. He then proceeded to tell everyone that we are going to Jeresh, and that it would be great. The evening before the trip, he asks me what it is....but I digress...
We had hired two drivers for the day to take us to and from the site (the seven of us). It is about a 45 minute drive from Amman, but the time past fast given the sites to see on the road. Like the Roadside Coffee Stop that consists of a guy with a coffee percolator over a hot plate sitting under an overpass, the Syrian border being a few kilometers away, the Palestinian refugee camps.
Once at Jeresh, everyone was in awe. Jeresh is a onld Roman city first built during Alexander the Great time (ie 300 BC), but came to its peak at around the 3rd Century when it had a population of about 20,000 people. Most of the reconstructed sites are from about 100 AD, and they are very typically Roman in style.
The first thing that greets you is the large South Gate. We wandered through the other sites that include temples, theaters. We saw the crazy Jordanian Bagpipe crew that was demonstrating the acoustic qualities of the ancient theaters. It was amazing and great to just get out and wander.

Jeresh Colonade Street
Mini-Gap Group at Jeresh Theater
The day ended with our tickets to the Chariot Races. It was about a 1 hour performance where they walk you through the battle stances of the Legionaires, to the soundtrack of Gladiator (think Russell Crowe), which was a bit cheesy - but they did it with heart and it drew great response from the crowd. Then the Gladiators came out and gave a GREAT performance - the crowd got to do the thumbs up/down to kill the gladiator - all with fake blood and everything. Then the chariots came out and raced around the track - letting the white horses win the race (of course) was great. A bit creepy though was the one Gladiator that kept making his pecs dance and pointing at our group to come down for a photo op after...pretty sure we all avoided him...

Sherrill Killing Vince - Does my insurance cover this???
Legionaire Drills
Tonight is our last dinner as a mini-group, before we (ironically) board the same flight home tomorrow.
It has been a great vacation. Jordan has shown us many things, including all of its beautiful and ancient history, and it is always stunning to try and get a glimpse into another culture.
Again, a few things Jordan will leave us with as impression and memories:

1. I never want to see another buffet meal for as long as I live.
2. Floating in the Dead Sea is unlike any other experience or sensation.
3. Petra lives up to all of its allure...I can't wait to see more movies with it as its star.
4. Why do I have to cover my knees and shoulders when the Arabic music stars wear less clothes than Beyonce?
5. Pita does not qualify as a "bread" to Jordanians...despite repeated requests for "no more bread", pitas seemed to always transcend this...
6. Amman is a modern arabic city...except the men still whistle at the woman.
7. Jeresh is an enticing ancient establishment that will awe you

Friday, October 2, 2009

Day 19: Madaba and Amman, Jordan

Day 19 - Madaba and Amman, Jordan
Today started with a great snoozy sleep, I love sleep.
After we woke up and showered, it was off for breakfast. I am not sure why I comment on breakfast all the time - I think it is because it sucks so bad, that I am almost ready to snap when I see the same fricken' thing over and over.
Anyway, we set off for St. George's Church in Madaba. The church is from about 100 AD, and excavations have revealed beautiful mosaics, for which this area is known for. The most intricate mosaic is the map of the entire area, from Egypt to Syria. Obviously the map is from ancient times, but it was built with over 2.7 million mosaic stones and who knows how long it took to put together.
After Madaba, we got on the bus and headed for our final destination of Amman. In Amman, we visited the Citidel which houses the Temple built for Hercules and a museum that houses the Dead Sea Scrolls. The scrolls were interesting to see, especially since I had previously read a book that discusses the controversies associated with them.
Baby Camels Kissing in Pickup Truck
Hugh Jackman is hot...sorry just watching a movie with him...
The day was pretty uneventful - which was disappointing given that it was our last day. However, we all made a group decision that we were going to end it ourselves in style at a nice restaurant, and gave the thumbs down to the buffet that our tour leader suggested. So, the evening comprised of the group venturing into the streets for a 45 minute walk to a restaurant using only the Lonely Planet map (you know, the ones that show roads but no names...). We found it though! Houston - consisting of Tex Mex cuisine. There is something very odd about celebrating your last evening in the Middle East as a group with Tex Mex...but I did not hear one complaint!
Last Supper with Group at Houston - Tex Mex all the Way!
By the end of the evening, our group of 14 had shrunk to 12. And by the next morning, we knew it was going to shrink even further to 7...everything must come to an end...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Day 18: Dead Sea and Madaba, Jordan

Day 18 - Dead Sea & Madaba, Jordan

After walking for countless hours and kilometers the day before, I wanted to do nothing but sleep away today. However, not the case when you are on vacation.

After waking up and almost becoming manic depressive at the sight of another breakfast that has more bread....I realized that I am stuck in that movie called Ground hog Day - you know the one where Bill Murray does the same day over and over again? My god people - there are other things to eat in life!!!!

We boarded our bus for our main excursion today - the Dead Sea...

On the way, we visited a few castles that still remain in Jordan from the Crusader time, but really, or focus was on the Dead Sea...have I said that word enought yet?

Well we finally got there...and it was GREAT! I think it even exceeded my expectations!
First off, the Dead Sea is about 33% salt, so you are much more bouyant in it than your would be in a pool or ocean. This is good news for Vince, who sinks like a stone in all bodies of water. In fact, I couldn't wait for him to actually float without having to constantly tread water for once. The interesting thing about the Dead Sea is that with the increase in population of Jordan and Israel, the incoming water sources have been dammed. That combined with the lack of rain (Climate change?), has resulted in the Dead Sea dropping by about 1 meter every year. It is anticipated that if nothing is done, within 50 years, the Dead Sea will be just a salt crud on a sand bed. The Jordanian Government has a project coming online that costs $6 billion dollars to build a channel 250 km from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea to start replenishing the water...will see how that works out.

Anyway, we started by lubing our bodies up with "Dead Sea Mud" - essentially, salty mud taken from the depths of the Dead Sea...this stuff was BLACK! We lathered it on, and (after copious photo shoots) when the salt started burning our skin, we ran into the Dead Sea as one big group to wash it off. What a crazy experience! One of the girls on the tour described the feeling of floating in the Dead Sea as similar to an apple bobbing in water - and she is not far off. You are very bouyant, so you don't have to swim at all, you just bob and lie around. In fact, once you get to the point where your feet don't touch down with gravity, it is difficult to even force yourself to touch the ground due to the bouyancy. I can't describe the feeling - it was just surreal. After about 1 hour in the sea, all the little razor knicks, blisters, etc were flared up red and hurting, so we decided to wash off and head for the pools...

The evening ended with a trip to Madaba - home of some of the best mosaic art from about 400 to 600 AD. We visited a Mosaic Factory, and after seeing price tags of $10,000 for intricate and beautiful works of art, I decided my beer budget belongs back on the bus...much to Vince's delight...

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Day 17: Petra, Jordan

Day 17: Petra, Jordan

An early morning wake up call roused the two little bed bugs from under the covers. It was going to be a great day since we were going to visit Petra - voted as one of the new Wonders of the World (via an Internet voting system, mind you). We were problem getting us two up this morning!

We travelled over to the the Petra Visitors Center where we got the tickets and map to the site. Most people have heard (or seen in movies) the most famous monument at Petra called the Treasury (think Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Transformer 2), but we were pleasantly surprised to find out that the area comprising all the ruins is 24 square miles...and we only had 10 hours to do it!!! Like most people, we picked and choosed the best monuments...

We started to walk down the dusty road that leads to the start of Petra. Chased by vendors with horses and chariots offering to take you to the treasury for a healthy sum, our legs were morning fresh and we had adrenalin coursing through our body. We moved as fast as our guide would let us...since there are many interesting sites along the way to look at and appreciate, in order to get an understanding of the tribes that lived in Petra. But I have to tell you, it was like reigning in an 8 year old on Christmas Morning...

Some of the sites at Petra date back to 5000 BC, but most of the "major" monuments (ie Treasury, Monastary) date to the 1st century AD. A local people called the Nabataeans moved to the area in 6th century BC and kept control of the canyon as it was on a trading route for spices and precious incenses. The Nabataeans came to their peak around 0 BC to 60 AD when the area had a population approximated of 30 to 40,000 people. This was also when the development of the area took over, as their engineers built aquaducts and water cisterns, dams, the tombs and the living quarters for the village.

Around 100 AD, the Romans came to town and took Petra by force. Like most ancient cities that were conquered by the Romans, they then started building typical "Roman" structures - churches, amphitheaters, streets for chariots, and this is all evidence in Petra.

After a few other negligible changes in power over the years, Petra was soon forgotten - by foreigners anyway. Petra "went off the map" from 1200 AD to 1812 AD, and was known only to the local Bedouin tribes. These tribes were very secretive about the area, and would not reveal its location to anyone...until an Swiss man rode into town pretending to be a Holyman.
From there, the rest is history. At its peak, Petra has seen visitors totaling about 6000 people per day (thank god when we were there, only about 1500 were in attendance). With only 5% of the area being excavated, archeologists are still very active and are constantly uncovering more and more tombs (with a village of 40,000 people at its peak, there has to be TONNES of tombs!).

So now that you have the history of the site...

We started our walk down the Siq - or canyon. The Siq is naturally occuring "split" between two rocks that used to be one. A large earthquake cracked the fragile sandstone and started the gap. Over the years, flash floods have also caused erosion through the canyon, so in its current state, it is easily walked through by up to 6 people wide. Evidence from the top of the canyon show that in ancient times, it was probably only a meter or so as a gap, creating an excellent "choke point" for taxing caravans or defending the village.

What is amazing about the Siq is the sandstone. The colors that are now exposed from the erosion appear as waves in the sandstone in hues of red, orange and pink. The Siq is about 1.2 km long, but with our excitement, it felt like it only took about 5 minutes to walk through...
At the end of the Siq, we all got what we were waiting for...our first glimpse of the Treasury. The sight was exactly what you see in all the postcards for Jordan and for Petra. With our cameras clicking away (and hoping for absence of tourists!) we got our shots and walked the final 50 meters to stand at the foot of the Treasury.

The Treasury was built as a tomb for one of the Nabataean kings, but was labelled the "Treasury" because of the story that a Pharaoh had hid gold in the urn at its peak (apparently not true). The Treasury is a sight to behold, and we hung around for about 1 hour as we waited for the sunlight to light up the facade - it is only in the sun for 1/2 hour each day.
From the Treasury, we headed over to some of the other sights including the amphitheater, Royal Tombs, and the Village "mock up" where I scared a guy so bad by spearing him with his own spear!

A few interesting things along the way were the little kids (that should have been in school) selling the multi-coloured sandstone rocks at their own vendor stand - similar to a North American kid's first lemonade (or Snoopy slushee!) stand.

Lunch was what I have come to think is standard tourist food - buffet with chicken. By now, both Vince and I are SOOO buffet'ed out - the only good thing is the unlimited hummous (or homos as they spell it here in english!!!! - I love to smear my bread with homos).

After lunch, we started to head out for the Monestary. For 30 minutes, and over 800 steps, we slogged our way up the path. But again, it was all with it. We rounded a corner to find the Monestary in all its glory staring back out at us. A further 10 minutes brought us to a remote tea shop called "The End of the World" that had fantastic views of the valley.

The afternoon ended with one more hike up to a viewpoint ABOVE the Treasury - a different way to look at this fantastic monument - from the top down. What was also great about this hike was that it can be done in silence without any other tourists.

But the day was not done!

We had enough time to go back to our hotel and shower. I was disappointed when I thought I had some great tan lines only to discover after my shower that it was just a fine layer of dirt and sand...

The evening we were very fortunate to have hit one of the days that "Petra by Night" was showing. We joined a group of other tourists after dark and walked the 2 km towards the Treasury AGAIN - but this time in the dark and lit up with thousands of candles. It was meant to be walked in silence, but some tourists are hard-headed and like to ruin it for the others. Nevertheless, we did manage to walk portions of it in silence, and it was extremely powerful. Imagine walking in a canyon, lit up with candles (eery) when all you hear is the footsteps of everyone around you. Great experience. We then sat down in front of the Treasury for some tea and traditional Bedouin music.

It was a great day - and the one that I had been looking forward to the most on the entire trip.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Day 16: Little Petra, Jordan

Day 16: Little Petra

Daytime High - 22 C at 2:00 pm

The morning was very lazy as we woke from our tents with the sun BEATING down on the goat hair walls. Let me tell you - no alarm clock is needed since it turns quickly into a sauna inside the tent. We got up, performed the standard morning rituals of brushing teeth, etc, and then headed for breakfast. Bread, my god, the Atkins Diet is officially calling my name.

We lazed around the lounge seats reading and enjoying the quiet atmosphere before boarding the bus to Little Petra.

Little Petra is so named because it is smaller than the "main" Petra, but still contains the structures carved into the sandstones as does it more famous counterpart. The history lesson told us that the area was used by a small Nabataean tribes around 100 AD (ie. 2000 years old). The area was along a trading route - the structures include temples, dining or living quarters and tombs. All were spectacularly carved right into the sandstone.
Temple at Little Petra
Vince Screwing Around in the Siq (Entryway)

One of the great things was that we were allowed to climb on all the structures (some were quite dangerous!), so we climbed the ancient staircases for great views down the siq (channel) into the area, and on the exit point. Oddly, we climbed this remote staircase only to find an active tea shop and souvenir vendor...amazing how you think you are alone, only to find an entrapeneur...
Sandstone colors on wall - beautiful
Our mugs over the canyon...

Little Petra has wet our appetite for Petra, which we visit tomorrow morning...

With our afternoon free, we settled down to do what we do best - sleep, eat, laundry and internet...ahh the life...

Monday, September 28, 2009

Day 15: Wadi Rum, Jordan

Day 15: Wadi Rum, Jordan

We awoke this morning in Aqaba, Jordan - the only ocean port city that Jordan has. Being on the Red Sea, it is also considered the "Resort" city for Jordan with lots of snorkeling and diving opportunities.

We were looking forward to breakfast to see if it was any different than breakfast in Egypt...well, we were wrong. It consisted of different types of, you guessed it, BREAD. The good news is that there was also cornflakes and yogurt, so we were able to spice up our life with some variety.

After breakie, we ventured into town for a walkabout and to look through the various markets. We also love to go to the local veggie and meat market, and Jordan's didn't disappoint. We found a great spice dealer that suckered me in for some free tea, and we saw some fresh goats hanging in the windows, still with the hair on their head and tails. Shopping was much more low-key than in Egypt - the vendors let you approach a store and "browse" without breathing down your neck to buy something (or anything that you pick up), and the "Where are you from? Canada - Dry" comments were of course absent. Awww, mourning for the good old days...

After our shopping excursion, we were all pretty fired up to start our first Jordan adventure - onward to Wadi Rum!!!

Wadi Rum is the desert landscape in southern Jordan. The area has been made famous by the stories of "Lawrence of Arabia". Here, we were going to be camping overnight with the Bedouin - the same nomadic people that populate the deserts in southern Egypt and northern Sudan. None of us knew what to expect when we were told "camping" but we were up for anything. Essentially, we stayed in a semi-permanent camp with tents made from a goat-hair type canvas. The camp could hold about 200 people - so really, it was a desert hotel...but it was great!
Tent Accomodations - Not Private, So wear Earplugs!!!

We settled in and got ready for our desert 4x4 ride. We went into the desert and cruised through the sand amongst all the rocks and dunes. We stopped at a few picturesque locations along the way where the sun starting effecting our heads and we started doing crazy things with the photos! The highlight was going to Red Sand Dunes and, as a group, running down the fine, fine sand...
This is what happens when you leave Vince in the Sun... Sunny Side Up!
Yeehaw!!! Sherrill got more air!
Vince likes his woman demure and obedient...
Desert ripples at sunset...beautiful colors (my photography sucks)

The evening was relaxing lounging around the fire and listening to some live music by members of the Bedouin tribes. We sat around the fire drinking our wine "From the Holy Land". Like camping back home, once the sun went down, the yawns start coming out, so it was time to head for the tent.

Campfire and Dancing to Bedouin Music at Night

A good thing about the day...all of our guide books talked about shaking out your bed sheets before sleeping to ensure that there are no scorpions or camel spiders...I am happy to say that somehow we managed to avoid any encounters with those creatures!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Day 14: Nuweiba and Aqaba

Day 14: Nuweiba, Egypt and Aqaba, Jordan

Daytime High - Unknown, but 32 degree celsius in Aqaba at 11:00 pm....

Sometimes in life you have to make tough decisions. At these turning points, you always dread if your choice was the right one...

This morning Vince and I came to those exact crossroads. We woke up in our loft cabana (read - WOW) to a beautiful sunny day (I don't think there is any other type of day in Egypt). I stretched like a cat in the bed and then realized that I had to make that tough choice - do I go outside and snorkel on the stunning reef or do I sit basking in the sun and surf and read my book??? I chose a combination - read my book and took a dip in the Red Sea - gee, I hope I don't regret that decision in years to come...

Nakhil Inn - Nuweiba Beach Resort (Red Sea in Background!)

After lazily wandering around in the morning, we had to pack up and head out to our ferry to leave Egypt and head to Jordan for more adventures. Egypt has been an incredible trip and many "preconcieved thoughts" that we had about this country prior to arriving have definately changed - which is typically the reason for travelling: to validate or disprove the assumptions or stereotypes that you have, and therefore, broaden your understanding about the country and get a glimpse at its cultures.

A few things Egypt has given us and that we will take with us in our travels:
1. There is always a lower price, the question is how hard do you want to fight for it and is it truly worth it.
2. The vendors sell it because tourists buy it (ie. prism crystals shaped as snowman in the middle of the desert)
3. Finding a hotel room in Egypt that is perfect (ie. no leaking toilet, sink, doors that lock,etc) is like finding the Holy Grail
4. Cairo is not ridden with Pick Pockets - they will get your money right before you eyes through cabs, tips, etc
5. "Canada - Dry" is probably the most well known brand of soda in Egypt
6. Having the last surviving ancient Wonder of the World and an amazing and extensively long and rich history makes it all worthwhile....

So, we depart for the ferry terminal. Our tour group of 14 were all forewarned of the bathrooms at the ferry terminal, so the girls queued at the hotel to squirt out that last drop of liquid. When we got to the ferry terminal, we maneuvered through customs with ease (thanks to our tour leader greasing the wheels with a little thing called cash) and went into the waiting area. For some odd reason, there were flies a plenty hanging around our area, so Vince passed the three hour wait by becoming the "Fly-Ninja". He engineered his bandana into a killing machine and proceeded to systematically murder all the flies that were unfortunate enough to come near us. There was a family from Iraq sitting behind us (the daughter was practicing her english with me), and Vince became an idol to their young 8 year old son as he saw this menacing action.

The other highlight of this ferry terminal was the bathrooms that we were "forewarned" about - well, thinking that I have travelled and "there can't be a worse bathroom than..." coming to my mind, I decided to venture over to that area to check out the toilets...two other girls joined me as they were just as curious...well, I have to say, they could have made a horror video out of the bathroom. We had only made it two feet into the door when the fresh smell of feces overwhelmed our nasal passageways and then my vision encountered the horror of a 4" in diameter log sitting in the middle of the floor - how do you miss by 4 feet????? We backed out - the excursion was over.

Mass Transport to the Ferry!!!

The ferry ride over to Jordan was pretty uneventful. The passage took approaximately 2 hours, and being tourists, we got to jump the queues (this must piss off the locals, but we all do it regardless). We nestled into some seats we found and ordered some lunch to burn off the last bit of Egyptian currency that we were still packing. The ferry arrived in Aqaba and we met our guide for the Jordan. We have now been shuttled to our hotel where we will have a good nights rest before our desert safari in Wadi Rum.

First impressions of Jordan are excellent. Very professional customs officers (ie. I didn't see anyone asking for a tip), clean streets, and very quiet. Surreal quiet, in fact, coming so soon from Cairo - we don't hear the random horns honking. I guess that is what happens when you go from a country of 80 million to 6 million.