Wednesday, July 16, 2008

tanned, toned and tired from Jordan part 2

a continuation of our little adventure in the land between Israel & Iraq. brace yourself for a very lengthy post and picture heavy post, my friend.

day 2
the following morning, we woke up real early to have breakfast at the hotel before proceeding to ‘The Palace Hotel’ where we booked our King’s Highway Tour. the King’s Highway Tour usually leaves at 8:00 am, with the following itinerary:

1.) Madaba
2.) Mt. Nebo
3.) Wadi Mujib
4.) Karak Castle
5.) Wadi Al-Hasa
6.) Shobak Castle
7.) Petra

yes, the tour was our means to get to Petra, which is about 300 kms. from Amman, roughly 3 hours by car. for the price of 92 JD (USD 130), we believe it’s already a good deal, considering the hours we’ve spent on the road. but before i tell you more about our tour, let me share with you first how we fought our way to get to ‘The Palace Hotel.’

when we booked our trip the day before, we were advised to turn up at the hotel by 7:45 am so we can settle ourselves first, and be able to leave at 8:00 am sharp. we knew that ‘The Palace Hotel’ was near our hotel, but we didn’t have any darn idea how to get there. we flagged a cab, hoping the driver would know his way around. turns out the cab driver wasn’t familiar with the roads, so he kept stopping & asking people on the road for directions, which irked me big time because we were on time constraint. anyway, we just tried to help him by following the map that we were carrying, and found the police station that was near the hotel. however, we kept going round and round the block, watching out for a signage of the hotel, or any building that resembles a hotel at least. it says in the map that it’s four streets after the police station, which served as our landmark. after passing through the same police station 3 times, i casually looked towards the direction of Ryan (he was seated on the right hand side of the car) and saw the hotel’s signage. lo and behold! the hotel (more of an inn, actually) was located in an alleyway – not in a street! a far cry from ‘The Palace Hotel’ where Serena van der Woodsen lives! geez!!

we hesitantly stepped inside the dingy looking building, which reminded us instantly of Sta. Cruz, Manila, and took a lift to get to the 2nd floor where the reception of the inn, er, hotel was located. i wasn’t too comfortable taking the lift because it was as small as that of a dumbwaiter, and it doesn’t have an automatic door - you had to open its door by yourself, and it’s just like any push and pull door! oh well, there goes a first for us then!

in fairness to 'The Palace Hotel', the car they’ve arranged for us was relatively new. it wasn’t a Camry or anything fancy like the ones here in Dubai, but we’re still happy because it wasn’t crappy looking, and the air-conditioning was good. not only were we happy about the car, but we were also happy with its driver. Jamil is an extremely sweet Palestinian guy, probably in his late 50’s, and he treated us so kindly. after we had left the hotel, he suggested an additional pit stop to our itinerary – a visit to the Dead Sea for 2 hours, where we can also have our lunch before proceeding to the other sites. for an additional 15 JD (USD 21), we decided to go for it since it meant that we wouldn’t need to squeeze a trip to the Dead Sea on our last day in Jordan.

our first stop (after us making a brief halt at our hotel to grab my swimwear & extra towel) was at Madaba. before we got to its famous 19th century Greek Orthodox Church, where the significant Byzantine-era mosaics of maps of biblical places from Lebanon to Egypt can be found, Jamil stopped for a moment to get us some freshly picked green grapes, which the locals turn into wine. they were very sweet and tasty – just perfect to munch on while on a road trip!

snacking on sweet, healthy grapes

the mosaic signage of the church

ancient mosaic map #1

ancient mosaic map #2

inside the church

while in Madaba, we visited a shop that sells lovely mosaic pieces made of natural colored rocks. we bought one as a souvenir, with the tree of Madaba design on it. it took the maker weeks to finish it as cutting the stones was quite difficult. we ourselves tried it, and it was solid hard!

mosaic art pieces

our next stop was Mt. Nebo, situated on the edge of the East Bank plateau. history says that this was where Moses saw the Promised Land. from the lookout, you’ll have a spectacular view of the valleys to the Dead Sea, Jericho, and the Jordan Valley. if you’re lucky, you may even see the spires of Jerusalem when it’s not hazy.

pit stop with the view of Jericho

next to the Memorial of Moses

tomb cover

by the pathway to Mt. Nebo

memorial of Pope John Paul II's visit

after touring around Mt. Nebo, we hopped back to the car to get to the Dead Sea. we took the private road built for Pope John Paul II when he visited Mt. Nebo in the year 2000. we passed by a lovely scenery of open valleys, plus a couple of check points here in there for security purposes. upon reaching the Dead Sea Highway, we immediately felt the change in temperature – it was sweltering hot!

we headed straight to the Amman Beach Resort, where i excitedly purchased lots of salt scrub packs, mud, salt & peeling soaps, mud packs, and bottles of facial wash. why not when they were having a buy one-take one promotion? i’ve seen the prices in Amman, so i was sure we were not duped. as soon as we’re done, i quickly changed to my swimming outfit, and made a mad dash to the sea to get a feel of what it’s like to bob like a cork. as soon as i settled in the water, i literally floated with no effort at all! thanks to Dead Sea’s high salinity, buoyancy was not a problem. of course, a Dead Sea experience will not be complete without putting on Dead Sea mud filled with minerals good for the skin, so for 5 JD, i had me covered in mud all over. imagine a high noon spa by the beach…i was toasted!

floating effortlessly

authentic mudpack (pardon the fats!)

Ryan’s never fond of the waters, especially when it’s hot, so he just amused himself by taking pictures of me. after baking myself for about half an hour, i showered and changed so we could have lunch. it was an Arabic buffet, as expected, but food was surprisingly good, i must admit. we strolled around the place a little bit more, and by 1:00 pm, we took a last glimpse of the view of the other side, which is Israel, and hit the road again.

at the Amman Beach Resort

our next stop was the Wadi Mujib Nature Reserve. we didn’t spend much time exploring the place as we were feeling too heavy from our lunch, apart from the fact that it was too hot to do more walking. we contented ourselves by walking in the bridge to take some snaps of the trail. the place is more suitable for adventurous souls who've got time in their hands. in as much as we wanted to take on the trail, we couldn’t as the hike would take up about half a day all in all. it was a bit disappointing, but we had an itinerary to follow so we just allowed that adventure to slip off our hands.

an enticing Wadi Mujib

we went on with our tour, and made a short stop at one side of the road where there is an edge to see the view of the sea with the dried up salts forming in the rocks. just above the ridge next to the road was a rock formation believed to be the wife of Lot. in the bible, she was the woman who defied God’s instructions, thus, was turned into a pillar of salt when she looked back at Sodom while it was being destructed.

the pillar claimed to be Lot's wife

more salt formation

as we traversed through the winding road to get us to Karak, we passed by the signage that indicated the actual sea level of the earth. we were going up, so it only meant that the Dead Sea, and the rest of the areas we’ve been to are below sea level. interesting! (fact: Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth)

the sea level gauge

we’ve crossed a valley that seemed never-ending, and seen Bedouins camping, too. we were told by Jamil that the lives of the traditional Bedouins are very hard, and i couldn’t agree more. once we stopped to take pictures of their make shift homes, and kids started running towards the car. they found it quite peculiar that we were using a device that they’ve never seen nor touched before. and since it hasn’t rained in Jordan for the last 5 years, the wadis surrounding the area were dry, making things doubly hard for the Bedouins. a very sad sight we saw was that of a young girl, probably around the age of 8-10 fetching water from the dam a few miles away from her home. she had just secured 4 big plastic containers filled with gallons of water each onto a back of a donkey, which we presumed she carried all by herself as no one else was there with her :(

after a few more minutes of going through the valley, where we’ve seen lovely sights of grape vineyards and lanes and lanes of olive trees, we’ve finally reached Karak. we went inside the Karak Castle, a crusader castle with an Ottoman Gate reached by a short bridge over a dry moat. we headed straight to a tunnel, which we’ve later learnt was an underground marketplace. despite the pathway lights they’ve put in the tunnel, it still scared me to bits walking there by ourselves. we also took time to see the stables and museum of the castle. it’s not very big, but it requires a bit of a walk, both uphill and down hill.

Karak Castle from a distance

view from the top

by the steps of the Crusader Castle

at the tunnel

the haciendero & his estate...LOL!

by the ruins

we went on with our tour, where we passed through Moab Valley and Wadi Al-Hasa, a deep canyon in the West Central Jordan, which looked like Arizona to me. we stopped on the side of the road for about 10 minutes just to feel the afternoon breeze, and have a bite of the flavorsome bread Jamil had gotten us in Karak.

with a view of the valley of Moab

Wadi Al-Hasa

Ryan with our tour guide, Jamil

Shobak Castle, another crusader castle, was the last in our list to see before heading to Petra. prior to driving up the castle, Jamil introduced us to a Bedouin family that lives in one of the caves along the narrow road. they invited us for tea inside their unique home, but we politely had to beg off as it was slowly getting dark already. before finally ascending atop the hill to see the castle, Jamil asked us to hop off the car to see the end of the 365-step escape tunnel he was telling us about.

view from the Shobak Castle

Islamic inscriptions praising Prophet Mohammad

as soon as we arrived at the castle, we quickly toured the place, with the help of a tour guide stationed there. we saw the ruins of the school, the market place, plus some scattered canon balls left and right, and of course, the amazing view of the Shobak area from the hilltop. but the highlight of our visit there was seeing the underground escape tunnel that winds down into the guts of the earth. no, we didn’t dare try to go through the 365 steps as it was very, very scary. you’d actually need a strong flashlight with lots of batteries, and nerves of steel to do that. i think we managed to go down to as far as the 20th step. further than that was impossible because it was pitch black. Ryan tried using the camera flash to see what was beyond where we stood, and what we saw was nothing more than steps in an uninviting tunnel.

we continued with our journey to Petra, which was just a few kilometers away from Shobak. when we entered the town, we decided to stop for a while to see the sunset, before winding down further to the town proper. we checked in at an inn recommended by Jamil, whose owner, Ibrahim, was a young entrepreneur, probably in his early 20’s. he eagerly suggested that we go for the Petra By Night Tour since it only happens 3 times a week – every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday nights, and we were quite lucky. we had about 20 minutes to spare before Ibrahim takes us to Petra Visitor’s Centre, so we gulped our welcome drinks (i had coffee, and hubby a cup of tea), took our stuff to our room, quickly washed our hands and faces, and then set off again for yet another adventure.

the Petra By Night Tour was an out of this world experience! we walked through the 1.7 km path lit by nothing but 1,500 ++ candles that led to the world famous Treasury of Petra. it was a solemn walk as the Bedouins who were guiding us discouraged us to speak loudly so we could appreciate the beauty of the evening – the breathtaking Al Siq’s rocks, the clear night sky with thousands of stars, and the haunting music of the Bedouins.

Ryan and i had no idea what was in store for us. upon seeing a glimpse of the Treasury just before exiting Al Siq, we felt astounded - it was so beautiful! when we got inside the Khazneh, we sat down on mats provided by the Bedouins, and we were served delicious, hot tea. we stared at the wonder that was before us, with surroundings lit by hundreds and hundreds of luminaries. what made the evening all the more special were the musical performances prepared by the Bedouins. one of them sang while playing a rababah, and another played the flute while going around the crowd. we stayed there for about 30 minutes, until it was time for us to head back to town.

we didn't have a proper lens to capture the beauty of the Petra by Night, so i borrowed a photo from 'Travel in Style' website so i could show you how magnificent it was that evening. the 2nd picture, though, was taken by Ryan.

The Treasury by night

candles that seem like fireflies in the evening

we were fetched by Ibrahim at the Visitor’s Centre entrance. at the car, we met Charles and Vivian, a Chinese-American couple who was touring the Middle East. since all of us haven’t had dinner yet, we ordered pizza for take out at the local pizza joint that Ibrahim recommended, and ate at the inn’s dining area. we exchanged coordinates with the couple since they were scheduled to visit Dubai the following week. we promised to tour them around on their last day, especially in the DIFC, since Charles is so keen on seeing our centre.

Ryan and i were so tired when we got to our room. by then, the dread for the next day’s activities had started to creep in. we hit the sack at half past midnight, ironically with ‘The Mummy’ being shown on cable TV.

the final two days account to follow. promise, it won’t be as extensive as this one! :)


Aggie said...

Gracie, super duper naamaze ako sa mudpack!!! mukhang super nice ung travel nyo...

Meron akong Half Year Round Up sa AWK :) Hope u can join!

The third installment of the Aggie Wants To Know Series is up! It's intimidating at first but Im sure you'll enjoy reading it once you are done! You can do your own thing too - I just want to know how the the first six months of 2008 went for you :) I hope you join!

Gracie said...

thanks, aggie! yup, the trip was really fun, kahit nakakapagod!

i'll join you on the latest AWK...excited na ko! :)

cheche said...

WOW! un lang masasabi. well, aside from, inggit ako! hahaha

GLEN said...


Beautiful pics you both have clicked. It took me back to the biblical days. I also want to go to Jordon one day.

Your resolution to reduce your fats is a good idea :)...hope you achieve it soon.

you also write well. Good Blog. Will follow it.

Glen (Dubai)

Gracie said...

hi che! naku, for a photography enthusiast like you, this is the place to go. ang daming photo opps!! :)

Gracie said...

thanks Glen for stopping by & for the compliment! :)