Sunday, 6 October 2013

Jordan day 6 ... camel rides and Aqaba

After going to sleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow I awoke about an hour and a half later and could not get back to sleep. In the end I gave up trying and got Thingy out and drafted the write up for the day.

Just after 5 o'clock it started to get light and Trevor, who was awake by this time, and I headed out to find a spot to watch the sunrise.

The air was clear and the sky a lovely pale blue. As we watched, the sky in the east changed to a pale yellow. There were no dramatic colour changes. Finally the sun popped up above our horizon (a v between two valley walls) and the show was over. Some of the rock faces did show up with deep red tones. The light coloured rocks which we had expected to take on different hues remained stubbornly unchaged.

 We trudged through the sand back to the camp for breakfast. Vehicles arrived and people disappeared into the buildings adjacent to our tents. A welcome kettle of tea was produced and the fire in the pit in the middle of the compound was relit. This kept the tea hot along with a smaller kettle of water which was used for coffee.

Food items began to appear on the table. No one was game to go and help themselves as we did not want to offend our hosts by doing something that was inappropriate. I think that the staff ended up getting a bit frustrated with our lack of response to the arrival of the food as one of them eventually went and found Sami who appeared and informed us that we could start eating our breakfast.

Eleven of us from the group had elected to go camel riding this morning. After breakfast we headed out of the camp and found a dozen camels and three handlers awaiting us. The first person to get seated on a camel was Rosemary, a fairly large lady, and the handlers were very careful to ensure that she managed to get seated and then remain in the saddle as her camel stood up.

Trevor tackled the mounting process like a pro. Has he been practicing on Inti?

Trevor on his camel

 When It was my turn it was almost disaster time. The saddle on my camel was slipping and the camel was not at all pleased about life. I don't blame the poor thing. A shifting weight would be no fun at all. The handlers had to get the camel to sit down without me falling off sideways. It probably looked hilarious but was a triffle disconcerting from where I was. Rather that fiddle with the strapping on the problem camel I was allocated the spare camel. This was the baby of the dozen and I mounted and we got up without any further dramas.

A riders view of Baby Camel
Baby camel, I didn't find out its name nor its sex, very remiss of me, wanted to be the leader of our group of camels. That was fine for the first bit of the ride, actually a walk, as our camel handler did not attached Baby to the line but kept hold of its rope. Eventually Baby was deemed to be behaving and the rope was attached to the line. That did not stop Baby attempting to get in the lead whenever there was space between the moving camels to do so.

Me on my camel (2nd from the left)

A number of the riders were disconcerted by the grazing habits of their camels. Trevor and I were not at all surprised when our mounts grabbed mouthfuls of vegetation while on the move. For the rest of the group it was rather unexpected and a bit unsettling when their camel put their head down to grab a mouthful of a low bush as it passed.

The handlers occasionally grabbed a handful of vegetation to give to a camel if it was obvious that it was missing out on grabbing food.

Our camel ride was definitely pedestrian. The camels were lead by handlers who were walking across the sand so the pace was slow. One of the camels, a large female who was six moths pregnant, had a rope tied just above her knees. When asked why we were informed that this camel liked to move rather faster than was safe and the rope restricted the speed at which she could move. That group of riders were rather relieved that their chain of camels couldn't race off into the desert at will.

After a good hour of camel fun we arrived back at our camp. We then had the fun of our camels sitting and us dismounting. Everyone managed OK as the handlers were very careful to ensure that only one of their charges sat at a time and had a second handler assist if they thought that it was needed.

Baby camel after I had dismounted
 Actually, Di, the camel ride was quite a lot of fun. I don't know if it would be if you were on a camel for an entire day. An hour was fine even if the inner thighs felt like they had had a major workout. That was one of the issues I had when I swapped to Baby camel as I ended up with my legs handing rather than wrapped around the front pole of the saddle.

The group clambered into the three 4-wheel drives for the drive to the bus meeting point.  Our group was obviously a bit slow as it took us more than half the trip to realise that Sami, our guide, was actually driving our ute. He was a much more careful driver than the chap we had going out to the camp.

The initial part of the drive involved retracing our steps until we reached the Desert Highway and we turned towards Aqaba which was only about 40km south.

Running through the desert is a narrow guage railway line which these days ferries phosphate from where it is mined to port for shipment. In the days of Lawrence of Arabia the line was used to move troops and, as a consequence, had bits blown up.

A section of the narrow guage railway line running through the Jordanian desert
 I was a little over taking photos of rocky things so did not take any photos of the peaks and rocks we saw on the drive in to Aqaba.

Aqaba appears to be a clean, well organised modern city. There were quite a number of parks in the areas we passed through. The traffic was certainly less frenzied that Amman but then it was a Friday. By the time we reached the city centre the level of traffic had increased but it was nothing like we saw elsewhere in Jordan. On the whole the traffic flow was much more in accord with what we generally experience.

We were staying at Days Inn and were able to get in to our rooms when we arrived at 11 o'clock. Sami had rung ahead of our arrival to make the early access arrangement for which we were all grateful.

After a shower, a change of clothes and grabbing our swimming gear we were off to the Red Sea. Amman is situated on the shore of the Red Sea and is a busy trading port.

The sea looked was blue as we approached. The relatively high temperature was moderated by a cooling breeze. The whole party had opted to take the Red sea boat trip so we were handed over the the captain and his offsider for 4 hours out on the Red Sea. We headed north along the Jordanian bit of coast. We finally stopped over a reef where we were able to go swimming. Most of us took the chance to swim among the fish in the Red Sea. The coral in the reef had been bleached.

Looking towards a settlement on the Israel side across the Red Sea

Fish milling around the boat after bread was thwon into the water

Bare hills along the Jordanian Red sea coast
 Back on the boat we were treated to a very pleasant lunch before moving to a new location. The second stop didn't have nearly as many fish as the first. Of those who went in at the second stop most only stayed in a short time before returning to the boat.

All in all it was a very pleasant way to spend the afternoon.

Some observations.

Four countries have borders on the Red Sea near its southern end: Jordan, of course, and Saudi Arabia on the east side and Israel and Egypt on the western side. We saw the coast of all but Saudi Arabia but did see some of the Saudi land in the distance. No, we did not pay a visit to the other countries and our captain was careful to keep to the Jordanian side of the sea.

There were quite a few people down at the beach. We observed a number of women frolicking in the sea in burkas. It didn't seem to be stopping them enjoying themselves from what we could see.

There are a number of resort complexes along the coast with some very large ones under construction. From the outside they look swanky.

Back at the hotel we used the time to shower again, wash our hair which was full of salt, and catch up on emails and other things that had been neglected.

I had managed to catch a cold and my running nose was an inconvenience. Still, these things happen and a runny nose is much better than other runny things.

At 7 o'clock we went to a nearby restaurant for dinner. Aqaba has a good reputation for their seafood and what we were served did not disappoint. It was also licenced to serve alcohol which was a definite positive for the group. I suspect that some in the group wouldn't have cared what they were served foodwise just as long as they could get an alcoholic drink.

I was a little amused to observe camels being lead and riden along the footpath. I'm not sure what the pedestrians did when they encountered one. Get out of their way, I guess.

After dinner we did a walking tour through the centre of the city. It was buzzing with life. Many of the shops remain open until midnight and I can vouch for the fact that many of the eating places were still open to well after that time even if the regular shops had finally closed for the day.  The traffic was very heavy with people appearing to be cruising around, some looking for a parking spot which were in high demand and short supply.

We visited a spice shop. While we did purchased some Bedouin tea Trevor is not sure whether we will be able to get it into the country on our return. I guess time will tell.

Danielle, one of our party, who was roped in to help in the spice shop
We purchased a head scarf for Trevor as he had become expert at tying them. He will have to domonstrate his newly acquired skill when he gets home. I can just see him walking around Duffy leading Inti and Chimu wearing his head scarf like a true arab.

Our final stop of the night was for a hot drink. In Jordan there are no facilities in hotel rooms to make a hot drink. For we westerners who are used to being able to make a cup of tea or coffee at any time of the day or night without leaving our room this has been the biggest inconvenience we have experienced. Consequently, we were delighted to be having a late night hot drink before retiring for the night. The choices of teas is always wide and I decided on ginger tea while Trevor decided to try a hot chocolate. The rest of the group selected a wide variety of drinks and most came with a small bottle of water which was a real bonus.

 Back at the hotel Trevor retired for the night as I finished off the blog for our previous day.

Seen in Aqaba:

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