Around the Middle East
in 80 days

February 25th to May 14th, 2004

Part 11:

Jordan - Aqaba, Wadi Rum & Dana

<< Part 10: Jordan    -    Back to Index    -    Part 12: Egypt >>  

April 7th (day 43): Aqaba

Petra to Aqaba

I'd planned to head back to the Dana nature reserve the evening before, with an English guy called Robin, but when we got to the hotel it had started raining and we decided not to go. This morning the weather was bright again though so we decided to go after all. We headed to the hotel of the brother of Nabil (the hotel owner in Dana), since we could get a free ride to Dana from there.

At that hotel they said a car would come in half an hour, but after waiting in the lobby for two hours I lost my patience and decided to head to Aqaba instead. Robin had to work his way north to meet up with his girlfriend in Amman, so we said goodbye. I don't know how long he ended up waiting, but I know another guy (who I met later) had to wait for that car for five hours the day after us, so I'm glad I left.


Aqaba is the city at Jordan's southern tip where it has a small coastline at the Red Sea. It was the crusader's southernmost stronghold, and the movie Lawrence of Arabia shows how Lawrence and his Arab warriors captured it from the Turks during World War 1. Nowadays it's a harbour town with some beach resorts.

It took me four hours to get there. When I did I immediately checked into a hotel, which had a great view on the Gulf of Aqaba, and headed straight to the public beach for some sunbathing. It sucked completely, like all public beaches in the Arab world. It was untended and dirty, and the girls there were fully dressed despite the heat, only taking off their shoes to walk through the water for some refreshment. Sunbathing my milky white body felt most uncomfortable that way :) Private beaches are really the only option in this part of the world.

April 8th (day 44): Wadi Rum

I woke up at 6am to head to Wadi Rum. Despite information to the contrary, there turned out not to be a bus going there, so I had another bus drop me off at the highway junction and from there I took a taxi together with three young Frenchies. We arrived at 8.30.

Wadi Rum is a nature reserve with some of the most beautiful desert scenery anywhere in the world. It is an almost perfectly flat sea of orange sand from which big rocks (jebels) rise up.

Though it is one of Jordan's touristic highlights, there is only one small outpost here. Visitors take a tour by camel or jeep, typically spending one or more nights in Beduin tents. I wanted to spend two full days and one night here, and that's exactly what the Frenchies were going to do, but since I wanted to climb some of the rocks here and they didn't look too sporty I decided not to hook up with them.

Big mistake. Backpackers in Petra had told me that they'd just travelled to Wadi Rum alone and formed a little group with other backpackers they found there to go on a jeep trek. That's exactly what I wanted to do too, but I was unlucky. I waited and waited at the outpost, but not a single backpacker showed up, just some busloads full of old tourists. Renting a jeep by myself would have been very expensive and not much fun, so it looked like I'd just have to wait until the next day or head back to Aqaba.

But then after three hours of waiting, a family of four (mom, dad, son and daughter) showed up in a rented car and started arranging a jeep. To my surprise, they spoke Flemish, so I started talking to them. They were from Brugge and they very kindly let me join them. There's a sort of menu of tours you can choose from and I'd hoped they'd pick the long six-hour tour, but they decided to only take the three-hour tour of the nearby highlights. Still, I was lucky to at least get to do that.

Three hour tour

So we drove around in an open jeep for three hours, stopping in about five places. Most of my pictures were taken while we were driving, and it was an extremely bumpy ride, so I'm glad the pictures still worked out as good as they did.
I was happy that the short tour did bring us to the one place in Wadi Rum I wanted to see the most: the natural rock bridge of Um Fruth. I got even happier when I managed to get the picture I'd planned to make here before I even started this trip: me standing on top of the arch alone. When we arrived at the bridge there was actually a small group around it and some five people on top of it, but when they came off and a new group went up I managed to climb up very quickly and I had a minute alone up there. The mother of the family I was with made these pics, good job!
This page has more pictures of natural arches in Wadi Rum.

And now the two most beautiful pictures of the day...
For the latter picture I made our driver stop, ran back, took the picture, ran to the shepherd to give him some money for the picture and then back to the car. Well worth the sweat!

Next we made a stop at a beautiful pile of orange sand.
And after that it was back to base...

A big tour after all?

Back at the little outpost I said goodbye to the family from Brugge. It was 14:30 now and I was planning to leave Wadi Rum, but then a group of six guys who had just arrived saw my "chairman Arafat cap" and started cheering. They were Arab Israeli's who had come here for a two day/one night trek. That was exactly what I had wanted to do and these seemed to be nice and adventurous guys, so I kind of invited myself to join them, which they accepted without hesitation.

As we all sat down together with their guide it turned out there had been some miscommunication though: they were going to make the trek on camels, not by jeep. This I didn't want to do; sitting on a camel is only fun for that long, and because they're so slow you only get to see 1/10th of what you can see by jeep. So I said goodbye and left Wadi Rum after all.

Back to Dana

So this was my situation. I'd wanted to explore three spectacular nature reserves in southern Jordan: Dana, Petra and Wadi Rum. I'd done Petra to my heart's content, but I'd had to leave Dana without any hiking because of the rain, and I'd only done a quick rush through Wadi Rum without any hiking and climbing. So that was only one out of three really, and I couldn't be satisfied with that.

So I decided on the spot to head back to Dana and hope for more luck. I had no idea of how to get to Dana, and it turned out to be even harder than the saturday before. I certainly wouldn't have made it by myself, but today would be the first of three consecutive days on which I was blessed by the amazing helpfulness of the people of southern Jordan.

First of all I took a taxi from Wadi Rum to the highway junction where I was going to try to stop a bus going to Ma'an. Luckily there was someone else waiting to do just the same thing; a Palestinian working in Jordan. He could see which of the many busses speeding towards us were heading to Ma'an and signal them to stop. They were all overloaded already though and didn't stop, so we waited a looooong time.

Now we were in the desert without any shelter from the burning sun and I knew I'd get a major sunburn - not to mention a stroke - very quickly this way, so I put on my sweater and found the Arabic headdress I'd bought as a souvenir in Aleppo and put it on. This was the first time I tried that so I looked very silly - picture time! :)
After one and a half hour of waiting we finally managed to stop a bus to Ma'an. Without that Palestinian guy I'd probably still be sitting there right now. From Ma'an I had to head to Tafilah, but there was no bus going there, so instead I took a bus to Kerak which dropped me off at the junction with the highway towards Tafilah.

Three Jordanian guys who needed to get to Tafilah too took me along. They were policemen working in the harbour of Aqaba, going home for the weekend (this was a thursday evening). Odi, Meher and Ahmed as they were called were cheerful guys who seemed to be making fun of me all the time but who were also extremely helpful. We walked along the highway exit to the other highway and waited for a car to Tafilah. There was only a car driving by every 15 minutes or so and I was doubting whether we'd ever get to Tafilah, let alone Dana.

But after another hour of waiting, a pick-up that was heading the right way took us along. My three companions jumped in the back and let me have the only seat inside. Here I met another Ahmed, this one an officer with the special security forces of Amman airport who was also heading home for the weekend. In Tafilah he took me to his home where I drank tea with him and his family (and entertained his children with my camera) until he'd arranged a car to drive me to Dana.

Cold night in Dana

I arrived in a pitch-black Dana at 20:30 and found both hotels in the village completely full. In the Dana Tower Hotel, where I'd stayed before, even the couches in the "Beduin tent" on the roof were all taken, but after some pleading with the other guests I could secure a piece of couch long enough to stretch out, and I had a place to spend the night.

It was damn cold there and there were no blankets left, but when I asked the hotel guys they found a thin sheet for me. At first that seemed enough but by midnight it was freezing in there and I spent the whole night shivering under that thin sheet with all my clothes on, not sleeping for one minute. Ironic considering I'd been in the desert and worried about getting a sunstroke earlier that same day.

When I got up next morning I was in a very foul mood as you can imagine, until I found out from the other guests in the tent that the three hotel guys had slept outside in the stormy wind and without any sheets. That is truely incredible and demonstrates just how far Arabic hospitality goes.

April 9th (day 45): Wadi Dana

What I still wanted to do most in Dana was to hike through the Wadi Ghuweir canyon, because I knew from picture that it was by far the most spectacular aspect of the nature reserve. So at breakfast I asked around whether any other guests were planning to go there, but everyone just wanted to walk back and forth through the main valley, called Wadi Dana. Five days earlier I had planned to do the Wadi Ghuweir solo, but the rain and the danger of flash floods stopped me (cfr. part 10). Now I didn't want to take the risk of doing it alone anymore.

Since walking to the end of the valley and back takes too long for one day, most guests were just going to walk half the way, but I could interest a British guy named Charlie, who was there with two friends (a mother and son), to pay for a car and driver together that would drive us all back from the other end of the valley at the end of the day. We arranged the car and agreed to meet up there at 4pm.

The walk began with a steep descent from the village into the valley.
The valley was beautiful, but just walking through the middle soon got boring, so I climbed the flank on the left.
As you can see on the picture there was a path climbing up on the left of the valley, so I decided to follow that instead of going back to the valley floor. This path was a lot more interesting as it went pretty high and then meandered around all the ravines in the rock wall.
After a while I realised I'd lost the path (if it even continued) and now had to find my own way around the ravines. This soon became a bit too spectacular to my liking.
So I started walking a bit higher up. Having to walk around all these ravines made my progress through the valley go a lot slower, and I needed to reach the end by 4pm, so I decided to climb down to the valley floor at the first opportunity, which was a rocky mountain river bed.
The scramble down took 45 minutes and was fun, with plenty of obstacles. At one point I had to jump down from a rock onto uneven ground. I'd already thrown down my backpack, but then as I sat on the rock intending to slide off it as far as I could before jumping, I chickened out :) In the end I climbed back up a bit and found another way down through some thick bushes, phew. I arrived at my backpack 10 minutes later.
Back on the valley floor I continued my walk down the valley. Towards the end the scenery become gradually drier and more beautiful.
I reached the end of the valley at 15:30, well in time. The Beduin school where I was supposed to find the car was completely deserted, so I walked to a nearby Beduin tent, and the family that lived there invited me in for tea. At 16:00 Charlie arrived all exhausted. His companion Claire had hurt her leg and he'd left her behind with her son Keir so he could go find the car and perhaps get it to go pick her up.

There was still no car though. Since I was rested I offered to go find his companions so he could rest and drink tea with the Beduins. I found Claire and Keir soon enough, her leg turned out to be okay and we walked back to the tent together.

It was 17:00 now and there was still no sign of a car coming to pick us up. One of the Beduin guys had a mobile but couldn't get it to work, so Charlie and I decide to walk to the camp site 2km into the valley, where we'd seen buildings and people. We found it deserted now, but nearby a new building was being constructed and there we found some Palestinian workers who kindly offered to try to contact our hotel in Dana village and ask about the car.
Their mobile didn't work, but the guys also had a radio and used that to contact someone in Dana village, who in turn could warn our hotel. Charlie walked back to inform Claire and Keir of this, while I stayed here with the Palestinians. They pulled out some chairs and made me some tea. After a while the guys on the other end of the radio called back to say that our car had had problems but that a new car was now on its way. So I waited there for another hour, and had a great time talking with these guys, they were nice and funny.
The car finally arrived at 18:30, two and a half hours late. It was a pickup, so Charlie, Claire, Keir and me jumped in the back and enjoyed a long ride through the desert to the nearest road. The scenery was beautiful and the setting sun gave it a nice glow.
At the road we changed to a normal car, which drove us all around the nature reserve back to Dana village; a two hour ride. We arrived near bed-time but the hotel guys made us a dinner in no time, so the adventure ended well.

That night I had to sleep in the roof tent again, and it was just as cold as the night before, but since a few guests had left there were now enough blankets for everyone. With the help of a sleeping pill I could sleep until 4:30am, then I shivered until the morning again. Traveling can be tough :/

April 10th (day 46): Wadi Ghuweir

I intended to leave Jordan and head to Egypt this day, so I packed my backpack, had breakfast and then got into a minibus that was going to drop me off in Tafilah where I could find a bus back to Aqaba. I was accompanied by a Canadian called Zack, who was going to make a daytrip along the King's Highway.

On the minibus there was a group of six young Frenchmen. While we were driving out of Dana I got talking to them in French. After a while I asked where they were heading, and to my astonishment they said they were going to hike through Wadi Ghuweir! I'd come to Dana twice hoping to find other people who wanted to do exactly that, and I'd tried to warm up at least a dozen people for it without any luck, so this was really a stroke of good fortune.

The Frenchies were happy enough to take me along when I asked, and I got Zack to join up as well. There was still the problem of me having my big backpack with me, but I paid the driver to drive back to my hotel later on to drop it off. So I was going to do Wadi Ghuweir after all, after I'd already given it up and was on my way out of the country - imagine how glad I was!

We were dropped off near the entrance of the canyon, quite far from Dana. One of the Frenchies had made this hike a few years ago and lead the way.
As the next pictures show, we very literally walked into the canyon, accompanied by a thin trickle of water that would gradually grow stronger.
Now let's see some real canyon...
Occasionally the canyon opened up and we could relax in the sun.
There were a few obstacles that were hard to pass, which made for good fun. At some of them we had to help each other, throwing bags over a pool of water we had to jump into for example. It would have been well possible to do it all alone, but I really wouldn't have liked making some of those jumps without anyone around to get help if I'd break an ankle or something. So in hindsight I was glad the rain stopped me the first time I was in Dana.
Some of the Frenchies were nature lovers, and spotted some animals that I'd have walked right by without noticing.
The canyon gradually became more green as we progressed, and then at one point the green suddenly broke out everywhere.
There was also a little waterfall along the way. We had to climb down next to it, and then it was time for a shower!
The trickle of water had grown into a respectable little stream by now. Most of the others had brought sandals and walked happily through it, but I only had my mountain shoes so I kept hopping over it all the way. Now who's the frog!
By late afternoon we reached the end of the canyon, and the little stream opened up to a wide river bed. A bit too wide this time of year so it was completely dry; an impressive sight.
As the day neared its end we walked through a beautiful landscape.
There was a lot more walking left to do than we expected, but finally we reached the road, half an hour late. This was where we were supposed to be picked up (the Frenchies had arranged a ride home) but there was no car in sight. We rested by the road for about half an hour but no car came. For me this was the second day in a row :)

We debated about what to do. We could walk west to the highway, but that was almost 10km away which meant two more hours of walking through the desert while everyone was already tired and it was starting to get dark. Or we could walk east to the camp at the end of the Wadi Dana valley and hope someone could call the hotel from there. That was just 2km, but if there was noone there we'd have to walk back and then head to the highway after all.

In the end we decided to head for the camp, but some of the Frenchies were exhausted and soon decided to just wait by the road. I was still feeling fine - I'd been walking every day for 45 days now, and I was so happy I'd been able to make this walk! - so I walked ahead.

I found the camp completely deserted, including the construction site where I'd hoped to find my Palestinian friends of the day before. Some way off the road I saw an old Beduin tending his animals though. There was a rusty jeep parked next to him, so I walked over to him. He didn't speak a word of English, but with signs and the bit of Arabic I knew I could make clear that I needed to get to the highway, and he immediately pointed to his jeep, offering to drive me there. When I said there were seven others along the way he didn't mind.

So we jumped in the jeep and started driving back. Along the way we picked up the seven others one by one. It was a cheerful ride to the highway as we were all relieved that we didn't have to walk.

At the highway we gave our rescuer a big tip and found the minibus and driver that was supposed to have picked us up. He was all laughs but we all made clear to him that we didn't think this situation was funny; without that one shepherd we'd have had to walk ten more kilometers through the desert after a full day of walking. Anyway, we all got in the minibus and dozed through most of the two hour ride back to Dana. Some guests had left and the hotel had reserved the double room for me and Zack, so this night I got to sleep on a bed. All is well that ends well!

April 11th (day 47): To Egypt

So one day later than expected, I left Dana to head to Egypt. Nabil drove me to Tafilah, and there I got on a minibus to Ma'an. Its engine died some 20 times along the way. In the beginning it restarted itself, but after a while we had to get out and push it every time. In the end it just died completely. After much staring at the engine, the driver decided to stop another car and get some gasoline at the nearest gas station, and that solved the problem, lol.

We'd lost an hour with all this and I was getting nervous that I'd miss the last boat to Egypt. Four km before we reached Na'am, a tire exploded and now I was sure I would. But this time the driver proved very skillful, replacing the wheel within 5 minutes. In Na'am I quickly found a bus to Aqaba, and in Aqaba I took a taxi to the boat terminal.

I was just in time and after the necessary border formalities I was rushed onto the boat to Egypt like a VIP. But then the boat waited another 45' before leaving - what a strange day :)

Epilogue: about Jordan

I have little to say about Jordan, just that it has gorgeous nature and that the people in the south were incredibly friendly. Three days in a row I was helped out of a bad situation by local people who wanted nothing more than to be helpful to a stranger. I was really touched by it and it still warms my heart to think about it.

I've been talking about the politics of all the countries I visited before, but about Jordan I can only say that it is remarkable that there is no troubling political situation; not that a visitor would notice anyway. And this for a country that is surrounded by Syria, Israel, Palestina, Saudi Arabia and Iraq!

<< Part 10: Jordan    -    Back to Index    -    Part 12: Egypt >>  

Godsmurf Tue 24 Feb 2009 @ 11:55
About equally funny I'd say. And I have no problem with anyone calling my clothes funny. Still, it's hard to beat men who wear women's shoes and put plastic bags over their big black hats when it rains. But there can never be too much funny-ness in the world so bless 'em.

Marvin Tue 17 Feb 2009 @ 15:02
You keep mentioning the "funny" clothes that religious Jews wear throughout your writings of the Israeli portion of your trip. Are they as funny as the strange copies of middle eastern attire that Catholic priests; nuns; and the Pope wear?
You look strange as well wearing funny European clothes.

My suggestion look in a mirror before you comment on others.

Flylice Tue 10 Jul 2007 @ 09:17
Alright, thanks for helping me waste 3 hrs at work...but anyway great travelog! I'm going to Syria & Jordan in august, but only have 3 weeks :(

Silvia Thu 29 Jun 2006 @ 04:13
I just love your website. It's excellent. Didn't read everything, but great pics.

Godsmurf Mon 10 Apr 2006 @ 13:41
I wouldn't recommend it, based on what a German girl who lived in Damascus told me (cfr the last paragraph of part 5), but on the LP forums I often see female solo-travelers who say they had no problems.

Ira Sun 09 Apr 2006 @ 20:58
Nice pics...very interesting.
Is it safe for a single woman to travel to Syria? Do we have to wear head scarf too?

Zoltan Fri 07 Apr 2006 @ 17:15
Hi Godsmurf!

Excellent site;I spent hours to read Your comments and check out the photos.
Good Job!

zeituni Sun 02 Apr 2006 @ 12:29
Hi again!

According to my sister(who until recently lived in East Jerusalem), there are quite a few Christians living in the old quarter and other parts of Jerusalem. However, they might not use the churches most commonly visited by tourists. When I was there there was also a grand celebration taking place at the convent of St Mary Magdalene and the neighbouring Greek Orthodox convent. There were hardly anyone but Palestinians there, admitedly, some of them were from areas like Bethlehem or Beit'Jallah.

I know I'm not bringing firm statistics to back up this, but that was her notion and my impression as well.

Anyway, just a comment!

Still a very great travelogue! And on point on the Israeli border personnel!

Godsmurf Thu 30 Mar 2006 @ 22:05
Thank you! If you have any questions feel free to ask, my mail is linked at the bottom of each page.

Vedica Thu 30 Mar 2006 @ 09:17
i love your travelogue!! is amazingly interesting!
Am planning a trip to middle east myself (around July - yes i know itll be hot) and your site has been an EXCELLENT guide and resource! thanks for sharing!

cathleen Tue 28 Mar 2006 @ 08:36
great writeing and photos you really have a talent at breaking things down e.i. the formation of the isreali state etc. very objective

Godsmurf Sat 25 Mar 2006 @ 23:04
Thanx for the compliments, glad to have readers :)

Well I'm not sure (I said they're *probably* not christians) but firstly I don't think I ever saw a Palestinian in any of Jerusalem's churches, and secondly I sensed humour instead of devotion in the way they were selling christian souvenirs. But I could be wrong of course. Am I?

zeituni Sat 25 Mar 2006 @ 08:25
Fantastic travelogue! Are you writing a book?

One question however; why do you assume the Palestinians in the Christian quarter are not actually Christians?

hasof_TT Sat 25 Mar 2006 @ 00:11
Great trip report. Was going to just scan, but got intrigued and am reading it word for word. Thanks for sharing!


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