Sunday, 27 June 2010

And so home again

Unfortunately on the way back we were not upgraded but the flight was not full and arrived 50 minutes early. Getting home from the airport was very easy and only took two hours, slightly quicker than driving.

Very few tourists go to Syria – one site we went to kept a tally sheet of visitor nationality – 3% were British and even less were American. Being a tourist in Syria is like being a tourist was some 30 years ago in many parts of the world. There is little tourism industry and you do not feel taken advantage of (well not too much). Jordan has a much more developed tourist industry and in many areas, one is clearly the source of income for everyone in the area. Syria is full of archaeological remains with a fairly flat semi arid landscape, Jordan is mountainous in many areas and very dramatic. The thing we shall remember most about Jordan is “Moses stood here, camped there, walked in that direction, Abraham came this way……” To be where some of the events in the Bible actually took place is quite an experience.

One might think (taking into account our historical and current roles) that there would be some animosity towards tourists from Britain. However we felt very safe in both of these two countries, we were made most welcome by everyone we met and the number of people who thanked us for visiting their country were too many to count.

We have also learnt that there is a tremendous amount of religious tolerance in these two Islamic countries, this was totally contrary to what we had expected. We also noted that both countries are feeling refugee strain from the conflicts in the Middle East

It was an exhausting holiday being very hot most days but it was well worth it. Our two guides (Adnan in Syria and Yousef in Jordan) were fonts of knowledge and very patient.

Diving in the Southern Red Sea next!

Saturday, 26 June 2010

The Dead Sea Scrolls and other final things

On our penultimate day we endure a five hour drive northwards to Amman (aka Philadelphia) with the promise of seeing yet another castle (the Citadel in Amman)  – but this time one containing some remnants of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Amman Citadel Plan 

The Citadel (Jebel al-Qala’a) is built on the highest hill and has been rebuilt many times. Amman is not the most beautiful of cities and shows all


the signs you would expect of a city which has been rebuilt many times due to earthquake damage. The view however from the top is interesting and you get a very good view of the Roman Theatre (more on this later).

Amphitheatre Amman 

The National Archaeological Museum (within the Citadel) is home to some very interesting exhibits, it is just a pity that they are so badly displayed.

 Earliest Statues 1 

On the left (above) is a Plaster and Bitumen statue dating from the Neolithic Period 6500BC and on the right the oldest statues in the world, dating from the Early Neolithic Period 8000 to 6000 BC

Earliest Statues 2 

They are housed in a glass cabinet with the minimum of explanation.

Dead Sea Scrolls 2 Scrolls Pot

There are a few remnants of the Dead Sea Scrolls plus one of the urns they were discovered in. Some 900 scrolls or partial scrolls were discovered and are important because they contain the oldest surviving copies of some Biblical texts and some other documents from the period. Click here to learn more about them. Actually seeing these famous historical documents was quite a moment.

Elsewhere in the museum are a number of fine artefacts completely unlabeled. We assume that this below might be related to the Head of John the Baptist.

Amman Statue 

Below is a wonderfully carved islamic stone shield of somesort, about 1.5m diameter.

Islamic Shield 

And there are a number of pottery figurines dating from the Roman period – this one showing a women giving birth.


For some strange reason, as you walk around inside, guides are not allowed to talk to their groups about what is in the museum.

Behind the museum is the Umayyad Palace dating from 720AD.

Palace Road 

For us one of the best bits was the remains of an old colonnaded street complete with drainage system.

Palace Road Image 

How is might have originally looked is shown in the picture above.

At the bottom of the hill upon which the citadel stands is the Roman Theatre. This is an impressive structure and seats about 1/2 of an O2 in London (i.e. around 7000).

Amman Theatre 

Down at the bottom of the seating is the “Royal Box” where the

Posh Seats

Governor sat. From this position he had a close view of the stage and also of the area in front of it which was used for executions and gladiatorial fights.

As usual, we are very interested in the markets and shops. Before we are allowed to explore however, we are allocated two “Tourist Policemen” to protect us. When we asked why because we thought Amman was a safe place, we were told that it was safe was because tourists were allocated a Tourist Policeman! The real reason seems to be that over the past few years there have been some attacks on groups of tourists (the most recent being in 2007) in an attempt to not only a protest about the West but also to destabilise the tourist industry.


How useful our two policeman would have been in the event of an attack is a debatable point! The adage that you know you are old when policeman look young certainly applied.

Lorry for Sam 

Sam – we thought you might like this picture of a lorry we saw in the market. It had been stopped by the police for parking badly.

Dustcart for Sam

Sam - there was also a dustcart picking up all of the rubbish.

Dresses 1 

The markets contain the usual displays of strange clothes

Dresses 2 

One wonders if people actually do wear clothes like this.

Dresses 3 

Fashion 1 

We never saw anyone so badly dressed.

Souk 1 

As elsewhere in the Middle East, you can have your own perfume made up in small shops

Sugar Cane

and also buy sugar cane juice which it is claimed has certain interesting properties.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Aqaba – not the most beautiful of places

Aqaba is the southernmost town of Jordan (its only port) and is close to the borders of Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. This closeness means that it is a Freeport in its own customs area and is very popular with local tourists who head there to buy electrical goods, gold and silver and other items at special prices. It is said to be the hottest town in the country during summer – we certainly believe that to be true. It was in the region of 40C when we were there and was said to have been hotter the previous week.

Visually, it has nothing to boast about being packed full of new concrete buildings and large number of construction sites. Never-the-less, tucked away at the back of the town are the remains of an old

Souk Akaba 1

Souk and many small shops run by very friendly people, who manage to hold long conversations with you even though you may only have half a dozen words in common. I held a detailed conversation with an Egyptian about the strengths and weaknesses of the English football team and their chances against Germany the following Sunday. I suspect he knew a lot more about the English team than I did. I think the conclusion we both reached was that if Allah was minded to allow it, then England might beat Germany or Germany might beat England.

Souk Akaba 2

Fashion is not a strong point in the Souk – we now know where all of the old models which used to grace English clothes shops have gone to.

Shop 1 in Aqaba 

Vegetables are fresh and plentiful and nuts are a particular speciality of the town.

Diving is popular here and the Royal Diving Club offered the chance for a

Aqaba Sive_0003

dive on a local reef called The Aquarium. Dive 85 of my career offered limited coral and fish but a couple of nice nudibranchs and a sea snake.

There is not much more to say about Aqaba, it is not a place we would recommend for a holiday unless you like concrete hot towns.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Wadi Rum and a night in the desert

You may be wondering how much it costs to buy a camel.

Camels pass by 

Working camels are surprisingly more common in the desert than we had imagined. When you are in rural areas, it is quite common to see camels grazing contentedly by the side of the road and a number of Bedouin passing by on camels heading out for their camp in the desert.


Camels are not the most quiet of transport – they seem to make a continuous groaning sound the whole time, almost as if they are protesting about life. A camel pregnancy lasts around 13 months and after 5 years, a young camel is ready to work.

Sam - camels spend a lot of time chewing the cud, do you know of any other animals which do that?

The answer to your question is that you should be prepared to pay 2500 JD (about £2500) for an reasonably good camel and they have a working life on average for around 27 years and live about 40 years. Of course when it is dead you can eat it!

Out into the Desert

The road out of Petra climbs high and gives a view of the town of Wadi Musa and also the entrance to the Siq. It also shows how harsh the landscape is and also yet another archaeological site on the top of a mountain -

Petra Middle

One of the most popular sites for tourists in Jordan (after Petra) is Wadi Rum. This markets itself as a chance for the tourist to visit the desert, see a Bedouin tent, drink tea, see the night sky and then get back to your hotel before bed. It also offers an opportunity for the more hardy to sleep out overnight and sample other activities – we are in the latter group.

A coach is not the ideal method of travel across the desert so we transfer to 4WD and head out into the desert.


As we arrive, a sandstorm blows up and the whole desert is covered with clouds of dust.

Dust in Desert

The Desert Camp is basic to say the least. Blanket and goat hide tents, a fire pit, enough water for a rudimentary wash and to flush the toilet but none for showers etc. A small kitchen and a few semi-wild cats.

Camp View 

With the prevalence of sand storms, the best way to cope with them is to adopt local headdress because it is very effective at keeping out the

Sheik Harvey 

dust and protecting you from the harsh sun and 40C+ temperatures.

Sheikess Pat 

The desert is wilder, bleaker, harsher and more beautiful than we had imagined.

Desert view  Empty Desert 

Nomadic tribes have left their marks on the rocks (just as groups have done throughout the wolrd.

Wall Art 

Here we have camels, ostriches, hunting etc. These are said to be about 3000 years old.



One silly thing which most visitors do is to climb up the rock face to

Bridge Shadow 

stand on this rock bridge at Um Fruth. The shadow shows how high it is.

Standing on the Bridge

From the top, the vastness of the desert is obvious.


The amount of sand is unsurprisingly enormous and climbing and the

Sand Dune

running down the dunes is a normal activity for those who can cope with the heat.   

Sleeping out under the stars takes a little preparation.  There are

Prepairing for Bed

scorpions, snakes and other less pleasant wildlife to take into account plus the strong cool wind which blows up at night. Any trip to the toilet either involves a torch light walk to the toilet or choosing a nearby bush.

Pat in Bed 

A large rock provides an appropriate windbreak and

Paul in Bed 

a combination of exhaustion, the quiet and the uniqueness of the location means that we get a surprisingly good sleep. The stars are best at about 3 am when the nearly full moon has gone down.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Little Petra and Nabatean Paintings from 1st Century

A short distance from Petra is Little Petra – when caravans made their way across the desert towards Petra, they were not allowed into Petra itself but had to camp a few kilometres away at Little Petra.

Entrance Siq

A caravan could consist of up to 1000 camels and therefore remained outside. The leaders of the caravan went into Little Petra through a Siq (the gap in the wall in the centre of the above photograph). Once inside, they would come across the house of the leader of Little Petra,

House of Caravan Leader

other general houses (the remains of the wooden door post holes are visible inside)


a water cistern

Water Cistern   

the kitchen (note the original blackened ceilings)


and a fine view over the rather rough countryside behind Little Petra.

Rocks behind

For me, the most exciting item was the Dining Hall (reached by climbing some rather worn stairs) – this was because the

Stairs to Dining Hall

painting covering the ceiling was the only surviving example of Nabatean painting dated at the 1st Century AD. The paintings consist of grape vines, flowers, various birds and cherubic figures. Although protected from treasure hunters by an iron grill, they are open to the atmosphere and therefore slowly decaying.

Painted Biclinium 1

Do click on one of the pictures and admire the intricate design.

Painted Biclinium 2