We had decided at the last moment to visit Jordan as it was just a 100nm detour with our friends Gigi and Patricia. We arranged to meet at the Royal Jordan Yacht Club at the top of the Gulf of Aqaba which is a small body of water that has Saudi Arabia on one side and the Sinai desert on the other which is Egyptian. As sails go, it was quite fun as we had a following sea which pushed us up at 7-8 knots and we arrived 10 miles shy of the yacht club to a rather unusual request. The radio call went something like this…..
“This is the Israeli military. You are in our target zone and you will change course immediately 180° or we will take action!…”
We looked at each other and realised they were sending us straight back to where we had come so we politely mentioned that we were in Egyptian waters and that 180° was going backwards!
“This is the Israeli military. We repeat – you are in our target firing range and if you do not change course immediately we will take action”
That got us moving, so we took a 90° change and headed towards Saudi Waters. We were still very shocked at being threatened at being blown up and couldn’t understand how Israel could insist we move out of Egyptian waters.
Interestingly they did the same thing to a passenger cruiseliner who were not happy and even though they did move over, they made it plain that they were unimpressed with the threat.
We found out later that the Eqyptian coast in this region is part of Israeli territory so we were actually in Israeli waters but a polite request would have been a nicer welcome!!
After this little drama we were approached by the Jordanian navy who were delightful. They told us we had to wait until they contacted the club as we could not enter without the customs/immigration authorities being present as we docked. We waited a few hours and were finally given the all clear to proceed at midday. The Royal Yacht Club in Jordan is small and there were only two spaces left. We squashed Indian Summer in, had our paperwork processed and Donazita came in a few hours later. We were all free to wander around by mid afternoon. So professionally organised and all without the agents the rest of the Red Sea seem to insist on.
Aqaba is a lovely coastal town. Jordan have a small coastline and sit between Israel and Saudi Arabia. In fact from the pool at the club you looked straight into Eilat in Israel – literally only a couple of miles away. Considering their location, Jordan have a peaceful, modern, clean country and are very welcoming. Wherever we went we were asked if we needed any help or they would just say ‘Welcome to Jordan’. It was Ramadan during our visit so everything was shut during the day with no food or drinks sold between daylight hours except from the little minimarkets. The first stop we made was to Carrefour, the big French supermarket. Wow, we were so excited to see all sorts of good foods. We had not seen a good supermarket since India over a year ago, so we went crazy. this is one of the downsides of cruising, you tend not to go to the bigger cities so you have to rely on local shops and suppliers. Here we were in the middle of modern bustling City, within walking distance of everything and finding everything available. Heaven!
The four of us decided to hire a car for a week so see all the major sites. Jordan is small country which makes sightseeing quite easy, especially in the 42° heat. We had prepurchased our tourist visas and bought a ‘Jordan Pass’ which doubled up as a visa and included entry fees to most of the tourist spots. Armed with our Jordan Passes on our phones, we set off to see our first site, Wadi Rum.
Wadi Rum is a geological masterpiece. It is an area of huge sandstone and granite rock formations, canyons and natural arches surrounded by deep rust coloured desert. It is huge and we hired a jeep and driver to take us to the main places. It is dry, dusty and extremely hot so it was an exhausting day. Lawrence of Arabia was filmed here and Lawrence himself passed through Wadi Rum several times. Other films such as Dune and The Martian were also filmed here. In fact most films that need shots of Mars or the Moon use Wadi Rum as the backdrop.
We had some tea in a small open air tea house and chatted to some Bedouins – the original inhabitants of the region. The tea was really sweet and strong which perked us up as we were all feeling drained. Climbing sand dunes and rock faces in the heat of the day – not too smart!
The next day we spent lounging around the pool, shopping and catching up on boat chores before taking the car to Amman the capital for a few days. It was lovely to have such good empty roads, in fact the trucks have their own dedicated dual carriageway running alongside the main highway from Aqaba to Amman which keeps the ordinary traffic moving fast. Amman is a clean, funky modern city with a huge amphitheatre right in the middle and ancient ruins up on the hillside looking down on it.
As it was Ramadan, the City during the day was very quiet and then exploded into a bustling noisy crowded place after sundown.
On the highest point of Amman sits the Citadel. It is one of the oldest fortresses in the world and it is very good condition. The first signs of human habitation here date back to the middle Bronze Age and has been lived in by Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans. From here you can see out across Amman and out into the desert and many people spend hours just sitting here relaxing.
Petra was our next stop. Petra is an ancient city which is still be excavated. It has been given the honour of being named one of the New 7 wonders of the world and is now a World Heritage site. It is bigger than Manhattan and takes up to three days to explore. It is also the most expensive site I have ever been to, costing us $145 for the day each! Luckily the entry fee of $110 each was covered by our Jordan Pass, but we still had to fork out $70 for a taxi from the entry gate to the Mausoleum which was at the far end, so that we could then walk the 6 kilometres back to the entry gate. Some people walked both ways but in the 42 degree heat we opted for the taxi. Even with the taxi to the point where you start to climb up to see the mausoleum it is still a very steep climb but well worth the view. We met a young American archeologist who was involved with a team excavating more sites and she climbed up there every day and worked all day shovelling sand away – I felt exhausted just looking at her!
We spent all day walking back through the streets of Petra, visiting many sites on the way. Some people hired camels to take them along the dusty streets which in hindsight was a good idea because for days afterwards I suffered from pulled muscles and aching legs!
We really enjoyed Petra but one day was enough for us – we were exhausted but many history buffs go back for more the next day – we just wanted a beer but couldn’t even find that because of Ramadan so we opted for an alcoholic free one instead.
The last day we were in Amman we visited Jerash – the best preserved Roman city outside of Italy. It wasn’t hard to imagine all the street sellers in their little shops as I wandered down the main street – it seemed to just stand still in time. There were very few tourists and we were not hassled at all by the locals so we stayed here for a few hours soaking up yet more archaeology.
We visited their small museum which displayed artefacts which they had dug up. Some of them were very interesting.
– tiny little pottery jars were found in the burial chamber. These were tear jars, and loved ones would catch their tears in these jars and bury them with their loved ones.
– skeletons of babies found under the floors of houses so that the baby would remain within the family not on their own in a graveyard.
We spent a while here before moving on to visit the the Dead Sea – the lowest place on earth. We drove around looking for public access and eventually found a place we could scramble down the rocks to swim. The Dead Sea is so salty that your body literally ‘pop’s up out the water. The stench of sulphur was not very nice and the salt stung our eyes but it was a fun experience. We bobbed around for about half an hour before setting off again.
On the way back to Aqaba we stopped to see Kerak castle. I had seen many castles before when I lived in the UK so I wasn’t that excited but this castle was incredible. It was really well preserved and consisted of long corridors that had lots of small ante rooms either side. These small rooms had small archways going out onto a ledge that looked down onto the courtyards. We thought we were the only people there and because it was so hot outside we decided we could get away with having our picnic lunch in one of these small chambers. Mid way through our lunch a group of tourists appeared, all stared at us, took photos(!) and left shaking their heads!
There are quite a few castles in Jordan and I’m glad we saw Kerak. The small town surrounding it caters mainly to the tourist crowd and it was reflected in the sky high prices for drinks and meals
As we arrived back in Aqaba at dusk, we were waiting at some traffic lights and these young boys came running up to the car and threw in bottles of water and small packets of dates. We realised it was sundown and they were breaking their fast and when we said we were not muslims, they just smiled and said we were welcome to the gifts anyway. We all thought it was a lovely gesture. Back in Aqaba we had a few drinks on board Indian Summer and went to bed exhausted. I don’t think I had done as much climbing and hiking in my life- Jordan’s attractions are for the fit! We spent the next few days sorting out the boat for the journey to Suez and enjoyed the cooler sea breezes. The swimming pool had been cordoned off so we had to sneak in after dark for our swim and we patronized our favourite takeaway restaurant every night.
Eventually the winds were right for us to travel south towards Egypt. We went to check out early on the evening to leave at sparrows fart the next day but as soon as we were handed back our passports, they untied our lines and started pushing us off the dock. Problem was that Gigi was still onboard so we frantically managed to get him back onto his boat as we were backing out. No time for hugs just a a bit of yelling and promises to catch up in Egypt. We have never had to leave the second our passports are stamped – we usually like to leave early in the morning rather than in the evening after a few drinks but that is the Jordanian way. It meant a long night ahead as we had had no rest during the day so we just settled town and enjoyed sailing down the Gulf of Aqaba. Next stop – Egypt.