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Subject: OT: Jeff takes a trip east-leaving Egypt Date: 3/26/2013 12:22 AM
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The following about Aqaba contains a number of additions and modifications added since the last posting (based on my photos jogging my memory) – and then I’ll squeeze another couple of days out of the story (finally have decent WiFi in Athens)

Jeff

71 22 Mar 2013 Aqaba (for Petra), Jordan VX

Aqaba is a Jordanian coastal city situated at the northeastern tip of the Red Sea. It has had a slow start but is Jordan’s attempt to emulate the success that Israel has had in turning Eilat into a tourist destination (despite the almost unbearable heat of the area in the summer). Aqaba is the largest city on the Gulf of Aqaba and Jordan's only coastal city, and its southernmost point. Aqaba is one of the major tourist attractions in Jordan, and famous for its warm water and rich marine life.

Looking west from Aqaba, one can easily see the Israeli city of Eilat – looking almost like an extension of Aqaba itself. Egypt is just on the other side of Eilat and Saudi Arabia is only a few kilometers east of the city.

(The following few sentences are from Wikipedia)

Aqaba has been an inhabited settlement since 4000 BC profiting from its strategic location at the junction of trading routes between Asia, Africa, and Europe. It was a center of the Edomites, and then of the Arab Nabataeans, during the first century B.C. who populated the region extensively. The oldest known text in Arabic alphabet is an inscription found in Jabal Ram 50 km east of Aqaba.

During the 12th century, the (Crusader) Kingdom of Jerusalem controlled the area and built their fortress of Helim, which remains relatively well-preserved today. In addition to building a stronghold within Aqaba, the Crusaders fortified the small island of Ile de Graye (now known as Pharaoh's Island, near the shore of Sinai), now lies in Egyptian territorial waters about 7 kilometers west of Aqaba.

By 1187, both Aqaba and the island had been recaptured, for Muslim rule, by Saladin. The Mamluks took over in 1250 and rebuilt the fort in the 14th century under one of the last Mamluk sultans, Qansah al-Ghouri.

By the beginning of the 16th century, the Mamluk dynasty had fallen into decline and the area came under the influence of the Turkish/Ottoman Empire. During the following period, the city declined in status, for 400 years remaining a simple fishing village of little significance. The port of Aqaba quickly regained its importance after the Ottomans built the Hejaz railway, that connects the port to Damascus and Medina.

Aqaba is well known for its beach resorts and luxury hotels, which service those who come for diving, fun in the sand as well as watersports like windsurfing and Scuba diving. It also offers activities which take advantage of its desert location. Its many coffee shops offer mansaf and knafeh, and baqlawa desserts. Another very popular venue is the Turkish Bath (Hamam) built in 306AD, in which locals and visitors alike come to relax after a hot day. Aqaba and Wadi Rum are the sites of the annual Jordan – Middle East Distant Heat Festival, an annual electronic dance festival. It takes place on 31 July and 1 August. DJs from Jordan, the Middle East and around the world participate in this unique dance festival.

Wadi Rum (Arabic: ???? ???) is a valley cut into the sandstone and granite rock in southern Jordan (the largest wadi in Jordan) 60 km (37 mi) to the east of Aqaba (about a one hour drive). Wadi Rum has been inhabited by many human cultures since prehistoric times, with many cultures–including the Nabateans–leaving their mark in the form of rock paintings, graffiti, and temples. In the West, Wadi Rum may be best known for its connection with British officer T. E. Lawrence, who based his operations here during the Arab Revolt of 1917–18

(Jeff’s stuff:)

In general, the landscape of Wadi Rum is as bleak and barren as the moon. This is the deep desert and the area reflects what we can see in the movie “Lawrence of Arabia”. There are the odd animal, Bedouin and 4x4 which act as a living mote in the otherwise empty sand full of rock outcroppings. One expects a sandworm from Dune to erupt from the desert at any moment.

Wadi Rum is home to the Zalabia Bedouin (whose tribe extends into Saudi Arabia) who, working with climbers and trekkers, have made a success of developing eco-adventure tourism, now their main source of income. The area is now one of Jordan's important tourist destinations. The Zalabia have to learn Arabic in school because their dialect is completely different. I was told that the Bedouin of northern Jordan and southern Israel were “Palestinian” Bedouin and apparently a different ethnic group from the ones around here. Both the Jordanians and the Israelis are encouraging the Bedouin to settle down from their nomadic ways. Housing is supplied, fee education is given to the kids (the literacy rate in both countries is very high) and jobs are given or created (as in the case of the tourist industry). I suspect that, since the Bedouin are traditionally involved with cross-border smuggling (as their camels cross the various borders around here in desert areas which are nearly impossible to patrol by government authorities), this involves both tax revenue and national security. There are goat herds and camels seen throughout the area they inhabit as well as a number of “legacy” tents housing those families which are still nomadic or who have elected to continue to live this way. They are known for their extraordinary hospitality and to refuse an offered cup of tea is considered an insult.

I’ve pre-arranged a trip aboard a 4x4 with a Bedouin driver through Wadi Rum. I found the guide, Attallah Alblwi (Bedouin Life Style Camp), on the internet and have set up a reasonable “a la carte” tour. Attallah sent two taxis to pick us up (at 50 JD – about $75UD – round trip each). The three hour tour cost a total of 50 JD for the seven of us. Most of us chose a box lunch (holding too much food) at an additional 5 JD each (a more varied hot lunch was available at 10 JD). The park entrance fee was 5 JD each and a camel ride was available at an additional 8 JD. So, depending on whether the camel ride was taken, the trip ran about $50-60 a person.

We are fortunate to be here during the cool time of year (it’s about 28 C and late March) as I think that the ride we took in the open back truck would be unpleasantly hot for most during the summer. Likewise, we saw Petra during the summer and survived, but this (or even closer to mid-winter) is a far better time of year to go there. While the truck has seatbelts in the cab (and this was used by the handicapped passenger we took), the back of the truck doesn’t. The ride was 95% safe and 5% got a lot of adrenaline flowing rather quickly. While the handicapped guy was able to see this area from the truck’s cab and one of the ship’s passengers who is handicapped, but uses a Segway for mobility (and shows up in amazing and unexpected places considering her challenges), was seen by our tablemates at least most of the way through the Siq in Petra (I’ll have to ask her if she finally got all the way down), these two sites are unfortunately extremely difficult for those with physical challenges.

Even in the “mild” weather we have, it is extremely important to keep drinking. With the extreme dryness of the area, combined with the usual heat, dehydration is a very real danger (and we were each given an additional 2 liter bottle of water (besides what we already had taken from the ship). It is also important to wear a hat and to have a scarf and sun glasses available to protect yourself from sand when the wind picks up (happened a few times during our ride). The traditional Arab kafia (the red/white checked, somewhat over a square meter cloth thing associated with sitting on Yasser Arafat’s head under a pair of black rings) is the perfect clothing accessory for this purpose. It is also useful as a woman’s headscarf when entering mosques (my wife’s is a more sedate black plaid), as well as serving numerous other tasks and we always travel with them.

Petrol in Jordan is about $1 US per liter (.70 JD), but the Bedouin regularly head across the border to Saudi Arabia where it is about $.25 a liter. While I saw a number of taxis with photos of the late King Hussein, I didn’t see any of the current King Abdullah (Though I remember a large portrait of him at the border last time I crossed. When I asked how he was, I was told that he was “OK” – certainly not the enthusiasm that was present in Oman when I asked about their Sultan.

We boarded Attalah’s rather elderly modified Nissan pickup truck (with a pair of benches and a shade canopy in the back) piloted by his brother Khalid. The apparent dents, dings and so on in the body didn’t concern me as much as the mechanical end, but I figured these guys probably took pretty good care of their rides as their lives depended on them working reliably. Of course, nowadays, they all carry cell phones and the area has enough vehicles running through it that help would be only minutes away. In case of a real disaster, world class medical care is available across the border in Israel.

We headed for the House of Lawrence - a Nabatean structure that Lawrence of Arabia (according to hearsay) used during the Arab Revolution (against the Turks) to store weapons. (There is a wonderful view from here). We then headed across the red sand desert to “Lawrence Spring”. While this used to be a spring pouring out from the side of a hill, it has now been piped to a long water trough which supplies a herd of camels (some of which are hobbled with cloth ties binding their two front legs). The view across the Wadi from here is incredible. Hundreds of feet up a vertical rock face we saw five dots that we were told were a couple of Frenchmen and three Israeli women climbing to the top. Around a kilometer from here is a spot from which much of the movie “Lawrence of Arabia” was filmed by shooting in a number of directions simulating different parts of the desert. Other than the spring, this area of the desert is bone dry and sand storms were kicked up every now and then during the day. We bounced along until we came to the Red Sand Dunes a beautiful area with many differing colors of rock and sand. I kicked off my sandals and, following the guide who carried the boogie board, climbed up the sand dune for the wonderful view at the top and then rode the board to the bottom. While the sand was hot, it wasn’t quite hot enough to burn my feet and the pile of red sand was steep enough that (while the guide ran up like the pile like a mountain goat) I was huffing and puffing by the time I reached the top. Then I rode the board down. The guide asked if I wanted to try again and I figured once was enough :-0.

In the summer this place gets hot enough to melt people (40’s C) – last time we were in this neck of the woods it was August (a few years ago).

The Bedouins' ancestors came from the Arabian Peninsula so their laws, customs and religion blend Islamic and pagan beliefs. Their lifestyle is one of isolation, a harsh climate and the need to keep moving in search of water. Even today, the wealth of a Bedouin is measured in camels (which cost about $800-1200, depending if it can race) and children (Attillah is one of 22 that his father had from his three wives). Jordanians, including the Bedouins, tend to be much lighter skinned than the Arabs of the Gulf (but the Bedouin tend to be darker than the average Jordanian). We drove to a Bedouin encampment where we were taken into a huge tent held up with numerous poles, and where we sat on cushions and drank their Bedouin tea, habak (a strong black tea prepared with cardamom, sage, cinnamon and other spices as well as desert mint and loads of sugar) and ate our lunch. Apparently, the Bedouin love King Abdullah because he has visited them and shown interest in creating jobs for them (while some of the rest of Jordan’s population is somewhat less enthusiastic about the King. But considering that this is the Middle East, it would be surprising for everyone to agree on anything).

After a bit of a rest, we drove to Khazali Canyon. This canyon was once used by the local Bedouin to rest in the shade, especially in the hot summer. The canyon walls resemble the Siq at Petra and are covered with numerous ancient rock inscriptions. These rock inscriptions on the Anfishieh Jebel date from the Thamudic and Nabatean periods and include animals, people, a pair of feet, Nabatean text and some of the oldest Arabic text in existence. Next we head to the Burdah Arch - a natural rock bridge (we saw a couple of young lunatics crossing this) set high up on a mountainside.

On the way back to the Bedouin village (which incidentally is the site of numerous new buildings and homes being constructed) we stopped a man driving a bunch of camels. After a bit of haggling by our guide, we arrived at a price of 8 JD per camel to take a ride across the desert. For those who have not riden on a “ship of the desert”, rather than ride astride the saddle, The proper form is to wrap one’s right leg around the front of the saddle and hook its foot under the calf of your left foot. This will keep you forward in the saddle, preventing saddle sores and letting you easily keep on top of the camel as it goes through its multi-step rise and lowering (at the beginning and end of the ride).

The ship’s Wadi Rum tour was twice the price, done with a large air conditioned bus and never left the road (more comfortable and safer, but not nearly as educational or as much fun).

The following on Petra does not reflect this particular trip and is simply for the guidance of others:

While we have been to Petra before and have therefore elected to spend the day in Wadui Rum instead, Petra is the big deal in this area. Many will recognize the site as appearing in the movie “Indian Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Arc”. Those who have mobility issues should research, in advance, whether they can negotiate the Siq. Tourists are no longer allowed into the interior of most of the buildings. The approximate round trip taxi fare from Aqaba to Petra is 70 JD or about $100 US. The entry fee into the park is about 50 JD or about $80 US. Seeing the park is time consuming and it is unlikely that you will have time to combine this with Wadi Rum in a single day.

Some information about Petra extracted from Wikipedia for those who are interested:

Petra (Greek p?t?a (petra), meaning 'stone'; Arabic: ???????, Al-Batra?) is an Arabian historical and archaeological city in the Jordanian governorate of Ma'an, that is famous for its rock-cut architecture and water conduit system.

Established possibly as early as 312 BC as the capital city of the Nabataeans, it is a symbol of Jordan as well as its most visited tourist attraction. It lies on the slope of Mount Hor in a basin among the mountains which form the eastern flank of Arabah (Wadi Araba), the large valley running from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba. Petra has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985.

The site remained unknown to the Western world until 1812, when it was introduced by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. It was described as "a rose-red city half as old as time" in a Newdigate Prize-winning poem by John William Burgon. UNESCO has described it as "one of the most precious cultural properties of man's cultural heritage" See: UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists. Petra was chosen by the Smithsonian Magazine as one of the "28 Places to See Before You Die."

Pliny the Elder and other writers identify Petra as the capital of the Nabataeans, and the center of their caravan trade. Enclosed by towering rocks and watered by a perennial stream, Petra not only possessed the advantages of a fortress, but controlled the main commercial routes which passed through it to Gaza in the west, to Bosra and Damascus in the north, to Aqaba and Leuce Come on the Red Sea, and across the desert to the Persian Gulf.

Excavations have demonstrated that it was the ability of the Nabataeans to control the water supply that led to the rise of the desert city, creating an artificial oasis. The area is visited by flash floods and archaeological evidence demonstrates the Nabataeans controlled these floods by the use of dams, cisterns and water conduits. These innovations stored water for prolonged periods of drought, and enabled the city to prosper from its sale.

Although in ancient times Petra might have been approached from the south on a track leading across the plain of Petra, around Jabal Haroun ("Aaron's Mountain"), where the Tomb of Aaron, said to be the burial-place of Aaron brother of Moses is located, or possibly from the high plateau to the north, most modern visitors approach the site from the east. The impressive eastern entrance leads steeply down through a dark, narrow gorge (in places only 3–4 m (9.8–13 ft) wide) called the Siq ("the shaft"), a natural geological feature formed from a deep split in the sandstone rocks and serving as a waterway flowing into Wadi Musa. At the end of the narrow gorge stands Petra's most elaborate ruin, Al Khazneh (popularly known as "the Treasury"), hewn into the sandstone cliff.

A little further from the Treasury, at the foot of the mountain called en-Nejr, is a massive theatre, so placed as to bring the greatest number of tombs within view. At the point where the valley opens out into the plain, the site of the city is revealed with striking effect. The amphitheater has been cut into the hillside and into several of the tombs during its construction. Rectangular gaps in the seating are still visible. Almost enclosing it on three sides are rose-colored mountain walls, divided into groups by deep fissures, and lined with knobs cut from the rock in the form of towers.

72 23 Mar 2013 Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt

While my wife has visited Sharm (back in 1971, when it was just a caravansary with a beautiful beach under Israeli rule, but run by Bedouins), I have not. It has become (first under the Israelis, now under the Egyptians) a glitzy beach resort town frequented by an international clientele. That said, presumably because of the current troubles in Egypt, the town is nearly empty of tourists.

Sharm El Sheikh is located on the tip of the Sinai Peninsula, in Janub Sina, Egypt, on the coastal strip of the Red Sea. Its strategic importance led to its transformation from a small fishing village into a major port and naval base for the Egyptian Navy. It was captured by Israel during the Sinai conflict of 1956 and restored to Egypt in 1957. A United Nations peacekeeping force was subsequently stationed there until the 1967 Six Day War when it was recaptured by Israel and officially renamed Mifratz Shlomo, Hebrew for "Gulf of Solomon", but the name Sharm el Sheikh stayed in use. Sharm el Sheikh remained under Israeli control until the Sinai Peninsula was returned to Egypt in 1982. Former President Mubarak’s house near the port flies a huge Egyptian flag.

The stay here was brief as the ship had to tender and we had to be aboard by 12:30 in order to be in place for tomorrow’s Suez Canal convoy. While I would have loved to scuba dive in one of the world’s legendary areas (second in reputation to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef), there simply wasn’t enough time. About the only other things to see of importance in this part of the Sinai are St. Catherine's Monastery and Mt. Sinai. The Monastery lies between St. Catherine's Mount and Mt. Sinai. It is the oldest working Christian monastery in the world and of Orthodox Greek origin. Within the Monastery's walls lies a 6th Century church which displays the relic of Catherine's finger bone. The route to Mount Sinai is dotted with camels and Bedouin camps. The path up its hillside is very rocky.

I spent a bit of time using a steadily deteriorating internet connection in Sharm (and never completed my download – there’s always Athens in a couple of days. We did a bit of shopping, but my wife didn’t get her chance to re-visit the beach she swam at decades ago and was sad that she missed the opportunity. The town has a fairly new shopping area called “The Old Egyptian Marketplace” (as stated on a large overhead sign supported by a pair of ersatz temples worthy of a movie set of Luxor). It was empty of customers, but had a pretty broad range of typical goods. Some shops tried to overcharge, but others were more reasonable. While haggling is always in order, predatory obnoxious behavior by shop keepers always alienates me. There were some necklaces for sale identical to a couple I bought for my wife in Mumbai, but at about 10X the price. There is a huge new mosque being built from brick (presumably this will eventually be covered in more decorative material).

A few other passengers took the chance to ride ATV’s across the desert and ride camels, but I think our ride in Wadi Rum yesterday was the better of the two activities.

Our stay was short and it was a shame that this port was relegated to the dustbin of the trip rather than being a highlight.

We will be leaving Egypt in parallel with the holiday of Passover which celebrates a similar Exodus and we will be heading to the land of the Greeks as a stepping stone to the Romans.

73 24 Mar 2013 Enter Suez Canal at Suez CO

I woke at about 2:45 AM and it looked like we were approaching the Canal. The fleet of ships around us looked like the pictures of the D-Day invasion. It is about 6AM as I write this and I’ve gotten (what passes for me as) a night’s rest. My wife is still asleep and I’m watching the desert pass about 100 meters from my veranda. The temperature is cooler now than it has been in some time. I’d say it’s about 66F or 18C by feel and, while it will likely get warmer as the day progresses, it is a reminder than winter lies in wait for us on the other side of this waterway. My side faces east (starboard side) and the sun is already in the sky. There is a power transmission line running parallel to the Canal which I suppose feeds Sharm el Sheik and other towns along the coast. There is an assortment of man-made objects scattered along the Canal and dotting the bleak desert. Some are easily identifiable as watch towers, military bunkers, rows of telephone poles, (at this moment) an extremely tall power electrical power line tower that has allowed the wires to cross over the Suez Canal (and the ship) from Egypt proper to Sinai and others are less defined knick-knacks indicating that mankind has left something here. There are occasional buoys along the route (I guess to remind ship captains that they are still afloat).

North of the electrical transmission lines crossing the Canal, the landscape is even bleaker with nothing but flat desert until the eye reaches another electrical transmission line running along the horizon just to remind us that we are not alone in a Twilight Zone type of existence. If I lean over the rail of my veranda I can see that there are ships ahead and astern in our convoy (I guess about a kilometer or maybe a mile apart), but from my current viewpoint there is not a living thing (flora or fauna) as far as the eye can see. I can now see a single vehicle running parallel to the far off power lines, but why this lost soul has decided to race

There is now a line of a couple of dozen oil tank trucks lining up to wait for a ferry in order to cross from Sinai to Egypt. I guess if they are filled they are bringing cheap Saudi oil to Egypt, but it’s possible they are empty and have supplied Sinai with refined petrol (unsolved mystery for now).

A military helicopter passes overhead and I notice a mosque off in the distance in the middle of the bleak landscape like an oasis to the faithful who might come this way.

There is about a mile wide zone between the Canal and what I think this may be a legacy of the Arab-Israeli conflict. We did pass one Canal-side town with a name starting in Ein (Arabic for a spring or oasis caused by the spring) and a major cross-canal bridge. Near the mouth of the Canal we passed a monument flanked by two tanks. I presume it is a memorial to one of the conflicts with Israel (but we passed one earlier dedicated to the 1914 conflict, so it may refer to another of the numerous tank battles which took place around Egypt). Most ports use a pilot boat. This is the first place I saw the pilot come in a small skiff where our ship hoisted the entire boat aboard (pilot, driver and all).

73 24 Mar 2013 Daylight transit Suez Canal CO
73 24 Mar 2013 Exit Suez Canal at Port Said CO

We’re back in the Mediterranean Sea band the temperature just dropped – UGG! – it’s winter again!

We have been hoping that Europe and the States have broken into Springtime by now, but I suspect it is about time to pack away the sun cream, mask/snorkel and bathing suits and break out the down jackets again :- (. We fly back in a bit over two weeks (after a couple of days to rest up from our trip in London) and it is rough to keep a sense of impending loss from kicking in. The beginning of this trip was close to three months ago and we’ve settled into a lifestyle of having our clothes washed for us, our room cleaned, our food served, a string quartet in our parlor, bridge games on demand, live entertainment and a different part of the world waiting to be explored each day. We head back to the more “normal” life of everyday living and frustrations (and income tax time). We’ve been drinking the wine our team received for winning cumulative team trivia (against around a dozen other groups) and another in the evening for the cumulative pub trivia.

We won a bottle of wine by winning the morn

74 25 Mar 2013 At Sea (Mediterranean Sea) CO

We took a hand’s-on cooking class with a guest chef today and had to eat our own cooking – somehow we all survived.

We’ve taken a full speed detour to Rhodes to drop off a passenger with a medical emergency (something gastro affecting the kidneys, I think). Apparently his medical insurance doesn’t cover his wife’s costs to accompany him (something to look up on my own policy!). A Greek Coast Guard boat came out from shore to offload him.

The captain seems to have pulled in the stabilizers and is heading at top speed towards Athens. Fortunately most of the passengers have their sea legs by now as the ship is bouncing around a lot and earlier in the cruise things might have gotten messy. Hopefully we will still make it to Piraeus on time.

Many of the guests which boarded in Singapore seem to have become infected with “Ship Plague II”. Rather than the 2-3 week long cough which identified “Ship Plague”, this one seems to produce laryngitis and then pass in a day or two.

Tonight we celebrated a last supper with about 30 friends to commemorate leaving Egypt :- )

Jeff
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