Road Trip

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

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Flag of Jordan  ,
Tuesday, November 22, 2005

As Sara was also heading north, it didn't take much to persuade her to join us. The rain continued as we left and until we made it to lower altitude we couldn't see 10 feet in front of us. We drove towards the Dead Sea Highway and through Wadi Hasa, another spectacular Jordanian valley. It seems as though the land here is either flat or there's these incredible deep gouges in the earth. It certainly makes the driving more interesting!

We travelled along the Dead Sea Highway for several kilometres, then headed back inland towards Karak, famous for its crusader castle, but when we arrived there it was compete and utter chaos! Cars were double-parked everywhere and it had rained heavily so water was pouring down the street. The town is on a hill and the castle is perched on top, but do you think we could find our way up? Between blocked off, one-way streets and no available parking spots we finally gave up, grabbed a falafel sandwich at a little corner shop and got the heck out of Dodge. Besides, we'd already seen the "king" of castles in Syria (i.e., Crac de Chevalier).

So we continued on up the King's Highway through the Wadi Mujib ("Jordan's Grand Canyon") to Madaba (just south of Amman) - a much more pleasant place to stay than the capital (and easier to drive in). We decided to base ourselves here for the next couple of days until we depart for Morocco. Our hotel was very comfortable; our guidebook rated it as having the most comfortable beds in the country - and it did as far as we were concerned after spending two nights in the desert and one night in "rustic" accommodation at Dana. Plump but cushy pillows, clean white sheets - you really appreciate that kind of thing when you've been travelling for an extended period. (We also didn't get a lot of sleep in the desert because it was so cold, even though we had mattresses and plenty of blankets.) It was also the first hotel we stayed in that had a swimming pool, but the weather was a might cool for that!

Using Madaba as our base, we continued to explore the Dead Sea via Mt Nebo where Moses was said to look out over the holyland. All along the Dead Sea Highway are police checkpoints; sentries are posted about every kilometre. We must have had to show our passports and answer questions as to where we were going, etc. about six times. At each of the checkpoints was a large armoured tank on which was mounted a machine gun manned by a soldier. It definitely gave you the feeling they took homeland security very seriously!

The Dead Sea itself is anything but dead; it's just that with 30% salinity nothing can live in it. It is below sea level and is the lowest point on earth. Because of its name, I had always pictured something ugly and brown, but, in fact, it is quite striking with its aquamarine water and salt-encrusted shores. From across the water you can see Israel (no doubt as heavily guarded on that side as Jordan is here). We stopped at one point to hike down to the beach where Sara went swimming (just to say she'd been swimming in the Dead Sea); she was amazed at the buoyancy of the water (and had nowhere to rinse off so she was probably itchy all the way back to town). Martin says he's never tasted anything so salty. Even several metres out the bottom was lined with a slippery coating of salt.

Our first night in Madaba we selected a restaurant to go to and discovered that there was some sort of private function going on. The manager of the establishment didn't blink an eye at the extra business and seated us right in the middle of the group where we helped ourselves to the buffet. I felt a little like we were crashing the party, but no one seemed to mind.

We have noticed the black goat hair tents of the Bedouin all over Jordan. There are more Bedouins here than in any other country in the Middle East. Very few are actually nomadic anymore; most remain in the same camps year-round or have moved to towns like Wadi Rum and Petra to take advantage of the tourist trade.

The architecture in Syria and Jordan is not very inspiring; I expect that function and cost are the most important factors. Most houses are one storey, flat-roofed, concrete boxes with little colour. Paint is probably a luxury few people can afford.

Although driving our own vehicle was convenient and permitted us to get to places that aren't accessible by bus, it was a challenge. There are few signs (and those there are aren't necessarily in English) and there are lots of one-way streets that aren't marked. You also don't know the rules of the road in another country, so roundabouts and right of way can get a little dicey at times, though, all in all, Martin did a fine job. Our condensed guidebook of the Middle East (and thus, Jordan) did not provide many town/city maps. Luckily, Sara had the Jordan book which did - though we still got lost more than once! (I think Martin was ready to fire the navigator, i.e., me!)

We got a parking ticket while parked on the street in Madaba, though we never did find what for - even the hotel manager couldn't figure it out. (That's another hazard of driving a vehicle - the parking - or lack thereof!) We were advised not to pay it ourselves since we were driving a vehicle that wasn't a legal rental so we decided to give it (and some money) to Mohammed so he could look after it.

We did enjoy our travels in Jordan. It certainly boasts some spectacular scenery and sights like Petra and Wadi Rum shouldn't be missed!
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