So another year and another little trip to keep me occupied...in the meantime I ventured to Barbados, however apart from getting THE most ridiculous tan and going to the sister bar of my favourite in Leeds, I can't think of too much else to say about the place.
This time I decided that it was time that I ventured to the Middle East and explored some rocks (as its been a while!) - the plan being Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. This was treated with shock and horror by most of the people close to me knowing the situations that we hear and see on television all too regularly. However, I've been meaning to go to Petra (scene of Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom) for a long, long time and whilst there felt it necessary to put myself in some real apparent danger zones.
I arrived in Amman, Jordan late at night and my guidebook forewarned me that it was a modern Middle Eastern city - this filled me with dread that it was going to be like Dubai and as plastic a place as is possible. However, in the middle of the night, nowhere looks like it does in the day and i was extremely glad that it was nothing like Dubai and i wasn't immediately hit by neon lights and skyscrapers galore.
A day was spent walking around the old town in Amman, sampling the best homous i've ever tasted and going to the roman ampitheatre and citadel there - it was impressive enough, but i knew that in days to come i would be seeing truly amazing sights (all of which were between 1000 and 5000 years old), so it was all about the Kodak moments there. In the evening I met up with two Canadian girls who were about to go back home to Montreal, so we went to a really cool bar (accessed through a bookshop) with great views over the city and had my first taste of Jordanian wine (Cabernet Sauvignon) and it was actually really, really good much to all of our surprise!
Took the tourist bus down to Petra which involved stopping off at various sites along the way - this included Mount Nebo (where Moses apparently died and there is a cross there to mark it with serpents etc.), as well as Crusader castles and churches. It was all a bit religious for an agnostic person like myself, but interesting enough to see just how barren the landscape was with rock after rock after rock. Upon arriving in Wadi Musa (located just up the road from Petra), it was evident to see that the town only existed due to Petra being there and was full of people trying to extract money out of you as quickly as possible!
Petra was the ultimate reason for the trip and it didn't disappoint in the slightest. The most famous part of this is Treasury, but the site is massive and there is so much to see and do and it really is a special place to visit with such interesting sites. Luckily, at the hostel the night before, a couple of guys had a spare ticket (you buy multiple day tickets) and they gave it to me, so I ended up not having to pay which was doubly good. Whilst there, met up with an American PhD student who i spent the day with. Whilst there and waiting for the sun to lower for some perfect shots, a group of 30 girls on a day trip from Amman came up to us and started with you are so beautiful....clearly blinded by the bright sun, obviously! We then spent a good couple of hours chatting away to them and they begged us time and time again to tell them who we fancied the most, but my diplomatic head was on and I made sure that I didn't prefer any of them (at least not in public).
Walking back to the hostel, we were greeted by various people and it was funny when this young boy of about 6 asked our names and in reply when we asked his he just said 'Jihad'..shocked, i asked again and he proved that this was his name. I walked slightly uneasily back to the hostel after that!!!
From Petra, i took a morning bus to Wadi Rum. Another issue with the bus as it was a 6.30 leaving time, but unlike the good folk in Leeds with their buses, this one decided to leave early and I ran down the stairs chasing the bus down the hill. When I finally got on, the driver blamed me for making him late and then proceeded in ordering everyone on the bus to do exactly what he wanted. We stopped along the way to pick up some lunch (which was basically pitta bread with laughing cow cheese - i'm so sick of that stuff now!) before arriving in Wadi Rum.
Wadi Rum is a national park in the south of Jordan in the desert where the Bedouin people live. The day was spent going around the various sites in the desert in a 4x4 looking at some awesome desert scenes, including climb the red sand dunes and running/falling down them. In our group there was myself, a Dutch guy i met before (who most people thought was a long standing friend), 3 American Jewish guys (who had just been on a free holiday in Israel organised by something called Birthright (where some rich Jewish Americans pay for anyone who wants to go to visit Israel in the hope that they will want to move there)), 3 Japanese (who spoke no English), another dutch couple (who spoke very seldom) and an older German guy who went on and on and on about how great Germany were at football compared to the English - admittedly this is true, but I came extremely close to pointing out that they may be better at football, but they were still crap at wars! Got on really well with everybody (save for the German) and had a nice time (even with the Americans!) - for once there doesn't seem to be many of the backpacking nationalities here; very few Aussies or Brits, but lots of French, German and Americans, which I have found slightly strange - but at least I am brushing up on my French language skills in the process!
Along the day, our 4x4 driver continually raced against the other one and in the finally stretch we slipstreamed before blasting past him (us passengers in the back were being thrown all over the place).....just as we overtook the damn car broke down and in true Lawrence of Arabia style, we had to traverse the desert in the 40 degree heat to the camp for the last couple of miles. We stayed in a Bedouin camp that night and the sunset was spectacular, with the most amazing starry sky i have ever seen in the night-time - all the constellations were there to see....a truly unbelievable experience.
The following day, I had to get back to Amman as with time being quite tight, unfortunately I haven't been able to rest. Once again, the idiot of a bus driver ordered everyone about and then had the cheek to demand i recommend him to the Lonely Planet - needless to say I won't be bothering them with that recommendation, especially as it seems that I was the only person that he wasn't able to con. After taking the local bus (and being the only non-Jordanian) arrived back and met up with a really nice Aussie girl called Kari (who worked for UNESCO) and we went out and got drunk until 3 in the morning. The evening was funny, as I had told her about the cool bar at the bookshop where everyone was sitting around having a great time, as well as people on Macs and the Iraqi refugees playing the glitterati, but she insisted we take a taxi - it was only 500 metres away. The taxi driver then got us so lost, we circled the town three times and spent an hour and a half going around and around before he pulled up at the Marriott hotel and we had to go in and get directions for him - felt a bit sorry for him in the end, but yet another one of those stories to laugh about.
Today has been another particularly strange day - I decided to go to the Dead Sea and caught a public bus over there this morning. After swimming around in the sea for a while (which is a bizarre experience as you simply can not help but float!). i got told to hitch-hike back by the guards as there were no buses. This seemed fair enough and after about 45 minutes finally a car got flagged down - a taxi with a family of three going back to Amman. Had to sit in the back and play silly games with the 12 and 6 year old boys. All was going so well until we got back to Amman and they expected me to pay about 25 pounds for the privilege. A few words were said and suddenly it was down to 2 pounds, a fair compromise I thought.
Preparations are now well under way to move into Syria and then Lebanon, where i'll meet up with Kari again - Jordan has been thoroughly enjoyable and another completely different place to the others I have been to. Petra was simply amazing, Wadi Rum unique and Amman has a charm about it that I haven't found that often in capital cities.....another update will come shortly!! Over and out......