Our Own Wheels

Trip Start Sep 12, 2005
Trip End Dec 12, 2005

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Flag of Jordan  ,
Sunday, November 20, 2005

Oops . . . we almost missed the mini-bus from Wadi Rum to Petra as it arrived 10 minutes early and took off just as we were saying goodbye to Wynard and Marloes. One of the men at the restaurant called the bus driver for us, however, and they turned around and came back!

This is such rocky land - the sand and rock stretch in all directions as far as the eye can see. I remember that my father and uncle spent many hours on the farm "picking stones" to clear the fields. This place would drive a Saskatchewan farmer mad!

On the bus we met a couple from Whiterock, BC who had been travelling through Egypt and were heading to Petra, then on to Syria. They had recently retired so were seeing as much of the world as they could and had just completed an Imaginative Traveller tour of Egypt. (Obviously it's a very popular company - I hope it bodes well in our favour!)

The "bus boy" on the mini-bus (another Mohammed) offered to rent us a vehicle to drive up the King's highway as it is difficult to find efficient public transport to travel that way. (Syria has much better public transport than Jordan.) After much consultation with his "agent" (his brother) and deliberation between Martin and I we took him up on it. We waited for the vehicle (a 1990s 4WD Toyota truck) in Petra while they got it ready and then we were off. (We couldn't believe they didn't ask for our passports or any ID at all! And there was no contract. When I asked about insurance, the bus boy asked, "Why? You like to drive fast?" It was a rather strange setup, but we were undeterred by it all. In hindsight we probably should have been a little more wary about it all.)

So we headed off to Dana, about an hour or so north of Petra. We couldn't believe our eyes when we drove into the townsite - all the buildings were made of stone and were very primitive in design, like a medieval village. And it actually is. The place was largely built in the 15th century and little has changed since that time besides the indoor plumbing and a few other amenities. (We were told the existing structures are built over a castle.) Fewer than 50 people live here and most that do assist with the hotels which are run as cooperatives.

We had selected the Tower Hotel to stay in - what a weird and wonderful place that was! (Our guidebook described it as "rustic" which doesn't really capture its appearance - or ambiance.) It was a conglomeration of rooms and staircases; the bedrooms have been given names such as the "Ali Baba Room", "Crazy Camel Room", "Flying Carpet Room"; "Harem Room" and so on. The walls are covered in bric-a-brac contributed by tourists or the hotel staff: pieces of fabric, clothing, photos, thank you notes from guests (written directly on the walls, of course), souvenirs from all over the world, pages from magazines - just about anything you could think of! This is also a very popular place because of the people who run it: Nabil and his nephew, Hamzi. Many of the scribblings by tourists extol the qualities of the hosts and we, too, experienced just why travellers enjoy it here so much. They both make you feel so welcome - and they ensure their guests have a lot of fun, too. The evening we stayed there, Nabil had organized a band consisting of two drummers and an oud (Arabic guitar) player to entertain us. We danced for hours around the little woodstove in the common room, even as the smoke made our eyes tear and noses drip! No one could sit down for long before Nabil would have them up again trying some Arabic dance. It made us all forget about the cold beds in the rooms above. (And the buffet supper was excellent, too.) No wonder people stay here for more than just a few days! It should be on every backpackers' list.

The hiking is good, too, though probably rates second to the hospitality. We did two short hikes, one the first afternoon up the side of a hill to get a view of the village (hamlet?) and a longer walk the next morning down a steep road into the valley. Less enjoyable is the climb back up and we were relieved at reaching the top again, not only so our lungs could recover (or at least, so my lungs can recover - ol' "iron lungs" Martin, had no problem), but because it had started to rain.

Joining us on our morning jaunt was Sara from Gothenburg, Sweden, a scientist researching children's diseases (specifically lung diseases common in premature babies). She had recently split up with her travelling companion (also Swedish) and was not relishing the attention she was getting from the Jordanian men, so quickly attached herself to us.

At the Tower Hotel during one of our dance breaks we met Nabil's brother, Ali, a teacher at a nearby school. He has a Canadian woman friend in Drumheller AB whom he met while she was travelling in Jordan. He lamented that it is so hard for men and women here to be friends, or, in his case, for a Jordanian man to have a Canadian woman as a friend. He relayed a story about trying to drive his friend to the airport in Beirut, Lebanon and being given a very difficult time crossing into Syria. No one at the border crossing believed that the two of them could simply be friends. He says that social changes are happening here, but for him those changes cannot happen soon enough.

We both feel that Jordanians are more modern (or is it more Western?) in their thinking than Syrians. We've also found that there is not the overriding tension here that always seemed to work its way into the conversations that we had with their neighbours to the north. King Hussein was recognized for his diplomacy in dealing with other nations and it appears, from all that we have seen/heard, that his son is following in his footsteps. Here, all is quiet on the Middle Eastern front. (I hope I have not inadvertently made any "political" statements here!)
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