Thursday, October 05, 2006

Middle East Travelogue #7
Dear Friends & Family, 10/3/06
Hello from Cairo where we finally have a bit of
time because we are finished with our first tour. Our
next tour, of Egypt, starts on the 8th. So we are
resting, exploring the city, and catching up on
On Sunday, Sept. 24 we took the bus to Amman,
Jordan. It became obvious immediately how much cleaner Jordan
was than Syria. Also the houses looked better with
most of them either being nice limestone blocks, or painted
cement houses, unlike Syria where most were either
cement block or unpainted cement, all with flat roofs.
Syria also had so much litter lying around. In
Damascus we looked over a low wall near the Citadel
and saw a lot of garbage in the canal there and pawing
all through it was the biggest rat we have ever seen.
It was about the size of a small dog! There is also a
lot of pollution in the air, which eventually makes
the limestone blocks look dingy. But anyway, Jordan
was much cleaner, the roads were better, the traffic
less chaotic, and their cars much newer and nicer.
There was also much more English on their signs,
probably because the current king’s mother was
English, he was partially raised there, and the past
king (his father) was married to an American (4th
Amman is a city which is built on many hills. Our
first day there, we walked to the downtown in search
of a restaurant for lunch. Our tour leader had yet to
arrive and couldn't give us any guidance about this.
We never did find a place to eat because all the
restaurants and food stalls were closed because
everyone fasts during Ramadan. That evening, we met
our new tour leader, Nadine, an Australian woman of
about 27. She has done lots of tours in Jordan and
Egypt so she would be able to help us a lot with these
countries even though she is not from them. We also
met Jim and Le, a couple from New Zealand who are
living and working in London, and who would be with us
for the rest of this tour. It was nice to now have a
group of 8! The next day, we had a walking tour of
Amman that included the citadel, on a hill overlooking
the city. It was from ancient times but the ruins
were mostly Roman. In the museum there were remnants
of the Dead Sea Scrolls which had been found in 1952
near the River Jordan. They just looked like some
fragments to us. We also saw the Roman amphitheater
which is right downtown and was where that tour group
was shot just a few weeks ago. No wonder tourism is
down in this country…
That afternoon we drove out to three "desert
castles". These were all built at different times and
were very different in structure, but all interesting.
One of them was a kind of hunting lodge and there
were frescoes on all the walls and ceilings with
paintings of the hunting of animals, and a lot of nude
or partially nude women. More than just hunting was
probably going on there! Our group went out to dinner
to a nice restaurant which was a simulated tent, and
here they served a lot of mezzes, like they did in
Syria, and a huge platter of lamb, sausages, and
chicken, plus some veggies. But the food was much
better in Syria.
The next day we took a van to the Dead Sea, where
we had a day pass at a fancy hotel called the Dead Sea
Spa Hotel. Of course, it was impressive to see the
Dead Sea, which is 400 meters below sea level and the
lowest spot on earth, and realize that the hills and
deserts we were seeing across it were in Israel.
Because the salt content is about 30%, it is
impossible not to float in this water, and actually
you float really high so it is possible to float
standing up or sitting. Many people covered
themselves with mud and let it dry, then went in and
washed it off and said it made their skin really
smooth. The salt made any little nick or abrasion
really sting. We didn't last very long in it, even
though it was a nice temperature. Mostly we hung out
at the 4 very nice pools and had a wonderful buffet
lunch so we got to taste a lot of different foods.
Next stop was Petra, and on our drive to Wadi
Musa, where it is located, we saw lots of Bedouin
tents where people live out on the desert. They
mostly raise sheep and goats, and often they have
camels. The terrain is very dry and it is hard for us
to believe that there has been so much conflict for so
long in this part of the world over land that has very
little water and thus not much vegetation. It is very
barren - like Nevada. Petra is located in a narrow
desert gorge of mostly red rock which occasionally has
incredibly colorful layers because of a variety of
minerals in the rock. Here the Nabateans cut huge
monuments into the rock and because of the dryness and
the terrain, they have survived for thousands of
years. We had a good guide who walked us through the
very narrow entryway, called the Siq, and then
explained all about the many carved edifices and the
way the people lived there so many years ago. After
he left us, we hiked up several hundred steps to the
top of a mountain where another big monument had been
carved. It was very hot during the afternoon, and we
took our time. The nice thing was that there were not
a lot of tourists here. Usually there are thousands,
but we were the first to enter and were alone in the
ruins for quite a while. We got good pictures because
there were not hordes of people in them. Elaine and I
had a nice picnic lunch in the shade of a cliff on the
way down the mountain with great views. By the end
of the day, we had walked over 12 miles!
That evening we drove to a desert camp in Wadi
Rum. This camp was such a delightful place, with
comfortable seating areas under the stars, right next
to several large stone hills, and with tents set up
with cots for us to sleep in. They had cooked the
succulent dinner in an underground pit. It was lamb,
chicken, potatoes, and veggies served with several
types of salad, pita bread (of course), and fruit for
dessert. Then the Bedouin guys who worked there played
a guitar like instrument and a drum and sang to us.
It was very enjoyable. The next morning, we had a
camel ride in the desert around some of the brown
granite hills in the area. Too soon we had to leave
to drive to Aqaba, where we would catch the hydrofoil
the next day for Egypt. It was very hot there, and
not a lot to see so we chilled out in the air con in
the hotel during the afternoon. A nice fish dinner
together with our group and then a beer at an English
pub helped us say goodbye to Sophie and Jayo who were
not going on with us to Egypt.
More about our transfer to the Sinai and the
events there, in the next travelogue.
Love, Mary & Elaine

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