I have been looking forward to this element of our holiday ever since it was booked and was principally the reason for cruising back from Mauritius rather than flying. It is supposed to be one of the seven wonders of the world, well………… we shall see.
Another early wake-up meant a port day, and looking out of our window we could see the mountains passing by, very stark and glowing yellow in the early morning sun. My mobile pinged, it was a text welcoming me to Saudi Arabia and informing me of the roaming charges negotiated with O2?
As breakfast was being consumed my mobile again pinged, this time it was Jordan welcoming me and inviting me to roam. Not long after it was to ping again and Israel decided to get in on the act. Looking at a map of the area it will come as no surprise that these three countries are very close.
As we travelled through the Gulf of Aqaba (Gulf of Israel if you are Jewish), both banks are so close that it gives credence to the story of Moses parting the seas. He wouldn’t have had to make too much of an effort here, the shores were within a reasonable sling-shot from either side of the ship. Watch out Goliath, David is on board.
Stickered up we left the ship and boarded bus number 4. This turned out to be another English/French coalition with separate guides for each group. We were to leave late as two passengers hadn’t turned up. After half an hour the guides instructed the driver to leave them behind, then as on cue they arrived to a bit of slow hand clapping from some of the passengers. I was above all that and decided to leave their corpses in a wadi for the crows to pick over when we next stopped. They were crew!!!
Aqaba is surrounded by dry, towering mountains streaked through with vivid colours; browns, yellows, reds , greens and orange. Very pretty, though the lack of vegetation demonstrated the lack of rainfall (less that 10mm per year) and it leaves you in no doubt that life up there in the heights would be very hard one.
The journey to Petra took 2 hours, climbing ever upwards on good roads with little traffic. We saw spectacular mountain scenery, precipitous gorges and huge vistas descending down to the great valley that links the Red Sea with the Dead Sea. Only two days before this road was closed due to nil visibility from wind blown sand in the atmosphere. We were lucky to have such clear air and see so much. If Petra turns out to be rubbish, I think the journey to it would just about make the cost worth it. We shall see.
We stopped for a toilet break and a look around the tourist shop, I bought a T-shirt!!! The guide had mentioned about a window in the loos. Well, WOW! Now that’s novel! There is indeed a panoramic window in the men’s toilet. And what a view!!!! He wasn’t taking the pi***, the chasm drops down at least a 1000m below you and at the bottom there are several gorges, the bottoms of which you can’t see. And the colours……… the subtle shades writhe and twist with the contorted rocks formations. I have never whipped out my camera in the toilet so fast before. Er, I have never whipped out my camera at all in the toilet before! Or, spent so long with my mouth open in awe, in such circumstances. Hmmm.
Twenty minutes later we arrived in Petra. Our guide is very knowledgeable on the place. He was born there, in one of the caves. He spent all of his childhood there, he is a Bedouin. The last few inhabitants were moved out of the city 16 years ago into a purpose built town on one of the surrounding hills. I could explain the history of Petra and how great a city it was once, then fell into decline, to be forgotten and only used occasionally by the Bedouin on their travels before being discovered by a swiss explorer. But, look it up or go and see it yourself, you won’t be wasting your time.
As one of many groups, we meandered through the gorge, the only way into the the city. The gorge itself was meant for the camera, let alone the heavily eroded tombs, sculptures and water courses that dot its course. Its towering height with glimpses of sky, shadow and rock is mesmeric and of course the twisted bands of colour distract the eye wherever you look. If you go, watch out for the horses, the camels and the carriages. The latter being driven by mad Arabs keen to make a dollar or twenty on the way down, thirty on the way up. It is a miracle that tourists aren’t squished beneath hoof or wheel. Or, perhaps they are, we saw several men with brushes sweeping the horse/camel dung into buckets at various points on our route. Do they dispose of the bodies this way too?
When the gorge reveals the frontage of the Treasury……. well, you know it is one of the seven wonders of the world. The theatre of it is just perfect. To experience it is comparable to standing in front of the Taj Mahal, being in the coffin chamber in the Great Pyramid or dangling your toes over the Grand Canyon. Awesome.
It gets better. Only a fraction of the city has been investigated(16 sq miles in all), they dug out the gorge to a depth of 40m of sand, to reveal what we see and walk on today. The Treasury itself isn’t fully dug out and it is still spectacular. We completed our walk just past the amphitheatre and in front of the Royal Tombs, but this is less than halfway along the designated tourist route which ends at the Monastery and is far larger and more impressive that the Treasury. There are many side canyons and these have yet to be explored but you can see they will also eventually reveal wonderful things. This is planned to be started in 4 years time.
Time would not allow us to continue on, this is just a fleeting visit. Think of Ephesus or Knossus and it is much, much better, perhaps I think even better than Herculaneum, when fully discovered. Time will tell, but not by us, we had a date with a splendid buffet meal at the Movenpick before boarding our bus back to the ship.
Driving by coach through darkening desert mountains, the sun sinking low and moon rising over fading horizons is not the way to travel through this country. This should be done on camel, in Bedouin garb and brandishing a scimitar.
But air-con is nice. So back to reality, and the NeoRomantica.
After boarding, we collected our passports from the Bursar as we will need them tomorrow when we disembark in Israel and face Israeli security. Fierce they tell me.
Our evening meal was soon followed by sleep. An even earlier start tomorrow.