Tag Archives: Landscapes

Day 14 – Comin’ For To Carry Us Home

Saturday 28 May 2022 – Rather surprisingly, the wedding didn’t prevent us from sleeping reasonably well.  Come the dawn, there was time for a final cup of Twining’s finest Earl Grey as we got up, and another with a brisk breakfast, blessedly (for me) possible as my ulcers were finally beginning to cede control of my mouth back to me.  We also got a reasonably close view of the starlings which are ubiquitous in Jordan and quite melodious.  These two were making the most of the breakfast buffet.

Saeed, prompt as ever, came to collect us to take us out of the Dead Sea area.  He gave us a parting present  of some olive oil soap (first experienced at Feynan – it’s a good soap) and, bless him, some local variant of sage – the same herb that we believe had caused the ulcers that had bedevilled the last few days.  However, his instructions were to serve it as tea, rather than just stuff it in your mouth, which will probably give a better result.

There followed a long, long climb to 600m above mean sea level (or 1km above Dead Sea level), past a ceaseless succession of big, big, heavy lorries, carrying mainly minerals from the Dead Sea area. The route goes through a very green area, fed by natural springs, and there were many cars stopped by the roadside as people took advantage of spring outlets of fresh, potable water, something that doesn’t come out of the taps in Jordan.

And then we were at the airport, saying goodbye to Saeed and thanking him for the truly excellent job he had done of looking after us for a fortnight, before coming back into the care of Edward (he who greeted us a fortnight ago, you’ll remember), which meant something of a canter trying to keep up with him as he took us to a fast-track side entrance and ushered us into the tender care of the Royal Jordanian airline Crown service.

The check-in process had much in common with the Virgin Upper Class check-in at Heathrow Terminal 3 in the Good Old Days when I occasionally managed to score this for business travel: a separate, private entrance;  its own dedicated passport control; and its own dedicated security scan. You’d have thought that the security johnnies would be familiar with ostrich eggs as a concept, given their prominent role among tourist purchases in Jordan, but Jane had a bit of a struggle explaining the one she’d bought; and they insisted on swiping both her egg and my camera for traces of explosive, but at least the chap nodded and said “good” as he handed me back my Nikon.  Nice that he approved.

(Parenthetical and post-factum note, here, penned later in the day with gin in hand. Prior to disappearing through the apparently wonderful, dedicated passport and security facilities, Edward had handed our bags over to two guys with a set of scales, checked us in with the desk and then told us to take those annoying long thin baggage tagging strips back to the two guys.  We (rather trustingly) did this and they assured us that they would handle the tagging and passing on the bags. When we got to Heathrow, being Crown Class got us off the plane nice and quickly, and the passport gates were working, so we were the first two at Belt 7 in the T3 baggage hall, arriving there by about 16.45. Some 10 minutes later, bags started appearing in desultory fashion on the carousel. These included a succession of boxes, which were picked up by various different people. Wonder what was going on?


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As time ticked by, more and more people came to the belt, waited a while, eventually picked up bags and left.  Eventually, there were fewer and fewer people standing by the belt, and still our bags hadn’t come through.  An hour after the first bags had appeared, we’d just about given up hope and Jane had worked out where the “Lost Baggage” desk was – and then our bags finally appeared.  Specially labelled “PRIORITY” – and, as far as we could tell, the last ones off the plane. Harrumph! Cost us an extra tenner for the waiting taxi, as well as an unwanted surge of cortisol.

Anyway, where were we?  We were in the Jordan airport departure lounge…..)

We had to ask someone how to find the RJ Lounge, because the signposting at Queen Alia airport is less lavish than at other airports, but here we are and I need to update the blog, so an 0930 gin (we’re still on holiday, OK?) to fuel the creative flow seems to be acceptable.  Yes, it is.

So, whilst waitin’ for the Dreamliner that is comin’ for to carry us home, we’ve looked over Jordan, and what have we seen?

  • A wonderfully heterogeneous culture, drawing on religious, historical and popular influences from the vast range of the different peoples who have come through, stayed to add to indigenous ways and maybe moved on.  Yes, it’s basically an Arab country with Arab customs, but it’s also very diverse in its attitudes towards other mores. Given that 20% of its GDP is through tourism, this is just as well, really.
  • (Hand in hand with the above, Jane found it a comfortable place to be as an un-veiled (Western) woman, which is not always the case in the Middle East, in our experience.)
  • An astonishing history, contributing hugely to the way the world as we know it today works.
  • A very welcoming people.  It seems that “Welcome” is the first word in English that Jordanians learn, they use it a lot and, by and large, seem to mean it.
  • Quite often, as a tourist, when you hear the word “Welcome” on the lips of someone in Jordan, it is followed, implicitly or explicitly, by a solicitation to talk, have tea, whatever – but basically to buy something. Although there are some very rich people in Jordan, there are also some very poor people; very rarely is an opportunity to earn a dollar or two spurned. There are two clear consequences: one is that contactless or card payments are taken in the most surprising places; the other is that people are grateful for tips.  If you’re thinking of visiting and using services such as guide or driver, it’s a very good idea to arm yourself with a selection of 1, 5 and 10-Dinar notes.
  • A highly opportunistic entrepreneurial attitude, combined with a ramshackle retail experience.  Wherever you go, there are people selling stuff – on the roadside (of a motorway, for heaven’s sake!), up a mountain, in a desert, often out of the back of a a ramshackle, probably Toyota, pickup truck.  Saeed told us that he’d simply built up, over the years, a knowledge of which are the best places to go to buy cheese, or watermelons or mulukhiyah, or whatever.
  • A “long game” approach to property development.  Similar to what we’ve seen in Spain and Portugal, there’s a developmental attitude to domestic and small business properties; this was something I’d meant to refer to earlier, but, well, didn’t: wherever you go, there are businesses apparently trading out of unfinished buildings, with reinforced concrete rods sticking out of the top, and houses, some apparently lived in, in the same state.  The reason is that the family has built enough to go on with for now, and the next generation will come along and add the next storey. Or that they’re still waiting for money to complete the works.
  • A ridiculous driving experience. My strongest advice to anyone considering renting a car whilst being unfamiliar with the “Insh’Allah” roadcraft of the locals, the apparently negligent approach to road surface maintenance and the “this looks as good a place as any” speed bump placement philosophy on the part of The Powers That Be is – don’t. Just don’t.
  • An expensive currency.  The Jordanian Dinar is currently worth more than a Pound Sterling and some of the prices charged might seem high relative to other places you’ve visited (particularly for booze and items that have to be imported). In your financial planning for a holiday visit, try not to compare the prices with, e.g. European norms, which will only cause you angst; be lavish in your estimates of cash needed and relax and enjoy the service.
  • A varied climate. If you hate the heat, avoid the peak summer months and the south of the country. If you hate the cold and wet, avoid the winter.
  • Overall, a great tourist experience – based, that is, on our limited statistical sample of one.   Our particular priority has been seeing as much of a country as makes sense in one trip, and the size of Jordan is perfect for visiting a wide range of places over two weeks. But you can find intense concentrations of specific activities – hiking, diving, camping, sunbathing – if that’s your bag.  We’ve had a fantastic fortnight and would unhesitatingly recommend it as a place to visit.  Would we come back?  There’s a good question. The answer is a probable “yes” – a bit earlier in the year, and with a more focussed plan – fly and flop to the Dead Sea; stay at Feynan – but better equipped, emotionally and packing-wise for the experience – and go hiking or experience more of the local culture; even (sigh!) go canyoning at Mujib or snorkelling in Aqaba. Whatever, as I bring this section of the blog to a close, we’ve had a blast and hope that you’ve enjoyed reading about it. Interested in Canada? Come back in August…..

Day 12 – Bordering on Dead

Thursday 26 May 2022 – I’m playing for the sympathy vote, here.  During the night, my vigorous crop of mouth ulcers ripened into a mouth full of agony which grew worse every time my tongue touched anything. Have you ever tried eating, or drinking, or even talking without your tongue touching anything?  Take it from me: it’s not possible.  Breakfast was simply not an option; even a cup of Twinings finest Earl Grey was a significant challenge. That’s how bad it was.

However, I wasn’t going to let it entirely bring my day to a halt. Jane wanted to visit Bethany, the site of Christ’s baptism by John the Baptist, and, although organised religion and I are barely on nodding terms, it’s clear that it’s a site which has deep symbolism for a vast number of Christians over the globe.  It would have been churlish not to take the opportunity to visit.  So we did, having arranged with Saeed that he could do the driving for us.

The site is quite close to the Hotels Area, and the short drive there enabled us to increase our ever-expanding insight into the pharmacies of Jordan by making a stop off to buy something to address the pain of my ulcers.  We ended up with a gel called Afta Med which promises that it “immediately reduces pain” and seemed somehow just the ticket. I think it helped somewhat.

If you do a simple online search for “Bethany” you might expect that something of the pith and moment of the baptismal site for Jesus Christ, one of the most significant figures in the development of the world as we know it today, might figure high on the list of results.  You’d be wrong.  Among the inordinate number of churches, towns and charitable organisations using the name, there’s Bethany, where Lazarus was raised from the dead (a transition I was hoping might be reversed for me today), but that’s near Jerusalem on the West Bank. It’s described by one website as “a miserably untidy and tumble-down village facing East on the Southeast slope of the Mount of Olives, upon the carriage road to Jericho.” I couldn’t actually find any reference to where we were headed without using more focussed search words, but eventually you discover that it’s a Unesco World Heritage site and has its own website.  Clearly, having major religious significance doesn’t in and of itself convey any SEO skills. So, “Bethany Beyond the Jordan” it is, or “Al-Maghtas” in local currency.

The site is reasonably well-organised from a tourist’s perspective, with a car park by the ticket office and a shuttle bus (air-conditioned, woo hoo!) that takes customers and a guide on a short drive to the site itself. It was a hot, hot day as these dogs could vouchsafe.

Our guide was called Noor

who said that he was part of the team which discovered the site in the ’90s and did a good job of herding us cats from place to place along rather thoughtfully shaded walkways, whilst explaining what we could see.  So, what could we see?

  1. It’s now, unsurprisingly, the site for a concentration of churches of the various Christian faiths – Coptic, Armenian, Russian Orthodox.
  2. In the background are areas described in the Bible such as the wilderness where Christ wandered for 40 days and 40 nights (they didn’t have GPS in those days) and resisted the temptation of the Devil
  3. A Russian Orthodox Monastery
  4. The remains of the Byzantine St. John the Baptist Church/Monastery (destroyed by flooding and earthquakes)
  5.  The church built in 2003 to replace it
  6. A mosaic depicting the visit of Pope John Paul II (which was instrumental in bringing unity among all of the various flavours of Christianity that this really is The Place)
  7. And, of course, the baptismal site itself, described in travellers’ writings in A.D.500 as being marked with steps leading down to what would have been a cruciform baptismal pool with vaulted arches above. Noor explained that although there was no running water visible today, in biblical times the whole area was covered in the waters of the Jordan river.
  8. The River Jordan, the holy river where one could not only dip one’s feet (should one wish) but could also see its significance as a border point.

A religious service of a somewhat happy-clappy nature was under way whilst we visited

and we were able to go into the new (Greek Orthodox) church of St. John the Baptist, which is highly painted and very colourful.

On the floor is a mosaic of The Tree Of Life

directly under the painted ceiling.

On the site, there is also a museum (and, of course, retail opportunity)

which features, among the exhibits, some original mosaic work

and some amazing embroidery

in a nice – cool – space

which suited me well, as it probably did a fur-coated local.

How credible are the claims that this is really the site of Christ’s baptism?  Well, in addition to much archaeological and anecdotal evidence of the religious importance of the site over several centuries, the leaflet that comes with the tickets says, “The authenticity of this site is as pure as the testimonies from the gospels, the pilgrims and travellers that have visited this cherished site.” Whatever, it felt like a worthwhile visit and we were grateful to Noor for giving us the extra context of where things fitted into the biblical story.

After this visit, Saeed took us to the Panorama Complex and Dead Sea Museum that we had been unable to visit yesterday, which is a little south of the Hotels Area, and reached along a steep, twisty road.

Saeed stopped occasionally as we ascended and encouraged us to admire the view, but, frankly, it wasn’t that interesting.

We reached the museum complex and again stopped to look at the view.  It had hardly changed, but at there was something there to tell us what we could see and the compass direction of other places of interest in Jordan (all boxes we had ticked by this stage, fnah fnah).

We could see the works associated with the Ma’in geothermal springs (whose water nowadays gets pumped to Amman, rather than being allowed into the Dead Sea)

and amusingly the road that the complex is on is called Ma’in Street. I hope this naming was done with an appropriate amount of twinkle in an official eye somewhere.

The complex is a handsome building

and is well set up as a home for the museum as well as a restaurant.

The architecture is nicely done and offers the chance of some, well, architectural photography.

It was this architectural content that kept me interested for a while, but I really was beginning to flag in the heat and the oral agony, which is a shame, because the museum has some interesting exhibits that I simply couldn’t be arsed to read – I just wanted to get back to the hotel by this stage.  There was one arresting installation on the floor by the museum’s door, though.

This shows the projected shrinkage of the Dead Sea if nothing is done about anything.  Saeed told us that an initiative to replenish the Dead Sea with waters from the Red Sea had been gradually building for about 50 years, but the pandemic had got in the way and it has effectively been abandoned.

Saeed took us back to the blissful cool of the hotel, where we spent much of the rest of the day relaxing, in my case updating the blog, and building up energy for the evening, for life had sprung a pleasant surprise on us.  Magda and Guy, friends whom I first met when I lived in Sweden 40 years ago, happened to be breezing through on their way to a wedding in Amman on Saturday, and we overlapped at the Kempinski For Just One Night.  Over the years since, they have been responsible for some of my most famous hangovers, so a session with them, given my fragile state, was something to be seriously prepared for.  It turns out that a combination of Afta Med, paracetamol and gin acts as a good anaesthetic and it enabled us to have a great evening catching up, as it had been four years since we saw Magda, and five years since we saw Guy. We all treated ourselves (I think that’s the right word) to a meal in Rehan, the Lebanese restaurant at the hotel, and I even managed a little soup as effectively the first thing I’d eaten all day.  Isn’t it marvellous how good company can overcome mere bodily pain?

That said, my system wasn’t robust enough to allow the meal to degenerate into A Session (ah! memories!  vague and blurry memories!) so despite the fact that there was a bar outside as we left the restaurant, Jane and I decided to head for bed. Anyway, we had to get up especially early and preferably compos mentis the next day, so it seemed the best idea.

As to what it was that we had to get up for?  You’ll have to come back and find out, won’t you?

Day 10 – We go our separate ways

Tuesday 24 May 2022.

Steve’s Story – Off the blog and on the bog

For once, the tendency to be prolix that I acquired from my father will not detain you long, reader, as I took very small part in the day’s planned adventure. Use of fancy words or sophisticated grammatical and stylistic construction does not hide the bald fact that I got the shits.

Fortunately, we had brought some Imodium, which was brought to bear within seconds of my condition becoming obvious and so the night was downscaled from being disastrous to merely horrid. It was clear that a 15km hike would be beyond me. Fortunately, the arrangements for the day involved our bags being transferred to the day’s destination, the Feynan Ecolodge, by car; so it seemed best that I accompany them. Getting from the Guest House room to the car was about the limit of my mobility, and so I climbed into a Mitsubishi 4×4, expertly piloted by a young lad called Ehab and off we went, with me hoping that the Imodium would protect his seat coverings and good nature from abuse. Ali kindly pointed out the toothbrush I hadn’t packed and the reception also kindly handed me a packed lunch – a nice thought but not really the best idea.

The hike is about 15 km and Saeed had told us that Feynan had a reception that was half an hour’s 4×4 drive from the lodge itself, so I was expecting the whole journey to take about an hour, maybe a little longer, and that seemed a reasonable time for my abused digestive system to maintain a semblance of good order. Unfortunately, I had forgotten the Nature of Dana (see what I did there?), and so the journey Ehab and I undertook looked like this:

(Jane’s route was a straightish although at times arduous path between Dana and Feynan; we had to get to Qraiqreh round the outside of the nature reserve and then wind our way to Feynan.)

Jane left at just after 8am and Ehab and I at around 1130. I got to our room about 5 minutes before Jane did; in other words, the whole car journey took about three hours, with the last 40 minutes picking our way delicately around rocks in the faintest of tracks to get from Qraiqreh to Feynan.

(Something slightly odd took place on this final stretch to the lodge. Ehab stopped by a Toyota pickup and greeted its owner, an older, avuncular- looking Arab, telling him, I infer, that I had a stomach upset. To my surprise, this chap spoke to me in pretty good English and insisted that I take a small handful of some dried, pale green herbs. I had to grind it up between the palms of my hands, swallow it and chase it down with water as, he said, it was “very strong”. He promised I’d be better in ten minutes. He was wrong. Twice. In the first instance, I noticed no digestive improvement. For the second, read tomorrow’s entry on these pages.)

Ehab is a cheerful and friendly chap with a smattering of English, but not enough to sustain a conversation with someone who feels like shit. And I know he meant well when he insisted that I drank a can of Mirinda Apple and wanted me to eat some snacky-type junk food or other, which I managed to avoid doing. I can further report that he has a taste in up-tempo modern Arabic pop music, played slightly too loudly. And when we’d been going nearly an hour and I saw the sign “Petra 20km”, I began to fear that he’d been told to drop me off there; but if you look at the map, you can see the route goes towards Wadi Musa, the Petra town. But the length of the journey, combined with my expectations of that and my general poorly feeling meant that I spent most it of either worrying that we were going to the wrong place or hoping that the next major building I saw would be the Feynan reception.

However, we got there, and I collapsed in our room

and took, frankly, very little part in anything noteworthy for the rest of the day. So I’ll let Jane tell her version of events.

Jane’s Story

The best laid plans and all that – as you’ve just read, Steve was hit by the dreaded Travellers’ Tummy overnight – odd, since we have been eating the same foods and it is usually me who suffers from this sort of thing. Delicate female digestion…!
Anyway, we decided that several hours hiking in likely 30+ degrees heat with a squitty tummy was really not a good idea, so we arranged that Steve should rest until they were ready to transfer the bags from Dana to Feynan, and would then travel with them; while I would do the hike anyway.

So it came to pass that shortly after 8am, after a quick breakfast, I set out with Salim my guide.

There is a fairly sharp descent from the Guesthouse for 2 km or so, the track is well defined but small skittery stones on a harder surface – just about my least favourite surface to go downhill on. Still, I made it intact; after the first steeper section the trail the path winds more gently down into the bottom of the valley.

The Guesthouse is just visible high above

And the end of the valley dispiritingly far ahead!

Once at the bottom of the valley the trail is less clear; obviously you have to follow the valley along, but while there are some newer direct paths Salim preferred to follow what he called the old route, zigzagging between patches of shade and points of interest – such as this beautiful mini-Siq full of oleander and caper blossom.

The path wound on, sometimes rougher, sometimes clearer, through towering scenery.

Fantastic beasts appeared

Rock shapes like tortured faces

And some less fantastic apparitions but much more cute (mother and daughter).

We took the occasional rest stop in some shade as the mercury was rising!

About 3 hours in, I thought I must be suffering heatstroke when Salim enquired “would you like to drink tea?” Being British of course the answer “yes please” came without conscious thought – and I settled in the shade of an acacia tree and watched as he retrieved a battered kettle and tea from his backpack, and lit a fire on a “hearth” that was obviously well used by those in the know.

Fortified by tea and some of the packed lunch supplied by the Guesthouse, we trudged on through extraordinary rock formations

until after about 4 ½ hours the valley began to open out

and show evidence of Bedouin habitation

and we reached Feynan Ecolodge after about 5 hours hike. I have to say, I was very glad to reach the end; 15km in 30+ degrees was enough for me! Stalwart Salim, however, was going to take a short rest and then hike back up to Dana, since (as you have heard) getting from Feynan to anywhere is a bit of a poser…

I found Steve putting a brave face on feeling really shitty (see what I did there?) so we made him as comfy as possible, with a damp towel to cool him down (sleeping under a damp towel is magic if you are feeling the heat). The Ecolodge of course, being an Eco Lodge, prides itself on eschewing such ecologically dubious but occasionally useful concepts as aircon. There was a fan. There was a nifty porous clay bottle to simultaneously hold, seep and cool (by evaporation) water.

There was an electric light in the bathroom, and candles in niches elsewhere.

I went to explore the premises, called in at reception to set up our transport for the morning and get some matches, then as darkness fell the staff set candle lanterns on the dining tables

we lit our candles

and found lanterns at our doors.

Steve couldn’t face the thought of food, I wasn’t hungry, so we skipped dinner and eventually slept off and on (the loo in Steve’s case). If you want to know how we fared on the morrow, join us in the next thrilling instalment to find out?