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Travel: Vacationing in Aqaba -Jordan 12/25/2019

Updated: Nov 27, 2021




Place: Aqaba - Jordan

Date: Dec 24-25th/ 2019



Happy Hanukkah and Best Holiday season to you and Family!


The 4 hours drive from the densely populated urban Tel-Aviv, down  South through, first, the metropolitan satellite communities, then the less dense green cultivated fields, further south through the semi-arid lands around  Beer-Sheva, and through the monotonous yellow arid Negev plains, then further down to the bottom of the spectacular Rimon's Crater,  passing by other enchanting dry river beds and dessert floods formations, all the way "diving" below sea level, to the flat  linear road along the Syrian -African rift valley, which now its margins are freckled with groves of majestic Palm Trees famous for their delicious black pearl Medjoul soft sweet Dates,https://www.hadiklaim.com/date-varieties/medjoul  reaching finally, via Wadi Araba the "Yitzkak Rabin International land Border crossing" to Jordan -our destination.

Operating since 1994, it is currently one of 3 entry/exit points between the two countries that handles tourists. In  2006, Israel renamed the border crossing Yitzhak Rabin Terminal, in honor of the assassinated Prime Minister.

David and I together with our daughter Inbal , her husband Amit and the 2 grands - Leo - who just turned 4 years old on Xmas day, and Alex almost 4 months old, were all heading toward Aqaba by the Red (Reed) Sea, situated across from the Israel's Southernmost town- Eilath.

This short Hanukkah family vacation, during which all Israeli schools are closed, compels desperate parents (and grands) to search for creative solutions as to keep their offspring occupied and distracted.





Jordan, with which Israel has stable peaceful relations since the 1994 Oslo Accord, is both relatively close by, as well as offers more affordable hotel accommodation by the warm Gulf of Aqaba.

Thus it seemed a natural attractive destination, despite the hazardous four hours car drive from Tel-Aviv. Lives of Israelis from the south ironically, are spared and better shielded from enemy’s shelled missiles, then those tragically inflicted by car accidents. Road collisions collect a higher number of casualties, due to traffic density, road rage, and existential stress. Imposed self- suicidal reckless driving incidents resulted in 350 deaths, this year only, a 10% increase from 2018. 

It is a real high life risk driving on Israeli roads, making it a true miracle arriving safely to one’s far destination.

We also managed to arrive a head of the big season's storm which drooped on Mt Hermon bold head, flaky white traditional Xmas snow covering, had caused the temperature to sharply decline, had severely polluted the air and had showered sheets of rain throughout the country, causing main floods and traffic disturbances.



Making a Visa entry payment of 107 Nis per person-  at the border, allowed us the privilege of walking a short distance by foot to the Jordanian a side, where a pre-arranged friendly Travel Representative welcomed and picked us up for a short ride to our hotel. 

Apparently, several rape horrible incidents of tourists entering from Israel by Jordanian random drivers, compelled the Jordanian authorities to demand a pickup of Israeli crossings only by accountable certified Travel Agents. And of course this demand adds a nice income stream to the Jordanian tourist industry coffers.


This Travel company was recommended by friends :

Jordan Horizon Tour  jo.horizons@gmail.com

www.johtt.com   Mobile  : +962-799-326-632 / +962-777-054-835 

Touristdriver.Aqaba@gmail.com



The Aqaba Saraya Al Manara - a luxury collection spa hotel, recently built by the Marriott chain, is designed in an elegant Levant Aqabian style, and is located at the end of the Hotel Row, right by the water.


We got fantastic ocean view rooms and the Hotel's General Manger -

a wonderful Spaniard from Seville -  Pedro Madrigal (a crypto Jewish family decent by name) whom we befriended, had really spoiled us with services, attention, and sugar powered Holiday delights, both Santa Xmas and candled Hanukkah cookies, that attracted Leo's frequent visits to our room for more...



Aqaba


This ancient port city (4000bc) situated against the looming rift mountains , known for its past thriving cooper production, is the only coastal city in Jordan, the southernmost, and is the largest and most populous city on the Gulf of Aqaba.

Aqaba's strategic location at the northeastern tip of the Red Sea between the continents of Asia and Africa, has made its port important

throughout the ages.

It has played a major role in the development of the Jordanian economy, through the vibrant trade and tourism sectors.


The Hotel row area is modern and nicely maintained. The beautiful Kampinski  hotel, which is own by Jordanian King Abdalla, is most architecturally Western designed.

But the rest of the small city is a strange middle eastern mix of a Shuk - Market, bazaars, mosques, sea marinas, beaches and side by side modern building in progress, next to quite third world decrepit structures.



Dinning at any of the hotel's 3 restaurants is a much better bet than

experimenting with the town's unremarkable restaurants.


To be continued...


===============


Place: Petra - Raqmu -The Red Rock Capital

Date: Dec 26th/ 2019



Abed - the Jordanian aging version of the charming Egyptian Actor Omar Shariff, was sent to pick us up, mid-day for the visit at the UNESCO (since 1985) heritage -  Arab Nabataeans, Petra, the ancient red rock-cut architecture capital, which was built over 2,000 years ago, by most talented people, who inhabited northern Arabia and the Southern Levant in antiquity.


This was my second time visit to this one of rare world wonders' site, and yet I was as excited, as I was  the first time in 2009, when I flew from TLV for few hours touring of Petra, and back to TLV, all in one day.


A native Aqabian, belonging to a large Jordanian clan of over 1600 family members, and a father to 7 of which 2 sets are twines, Abed has been working with the esteemed Horizons Tour Company, for the past 27 years, and is a masterful driver.

Since he was great and we had enjoyed spending the day with him, here is

Abed's  Mobile  96279968678


The posts of smiling Hashaemite kings faces of 3 generations :

Abdala the late father king, his son current King Husain, and his son the young Abdala (king in the future), greet the locals and tourists from almost every important intersection in Aqaba and along the road. 


The drive up, north of Aqaba toward Petra, on the Eastern slops of the Jordan Valley's walls, and at the backdrop of the dramatic mountainous landscape, trails via  the international “Kings ‘Hwy”.

This historic  North-South land-road of 2 undivided lanes, connects Egypt with Syria, Anatolia and Mesopotamia, and in the past went through the kingdoms of Edom, Moav and Amon (now Jordanian territory) along which extensive trade networks were laid out, guarded at that distanced time, by watchtowers and fortifications.

https://www.roughguides.com/destinations/middle-east/jordan/kings-highway/



 Passing by a small Eloquera village, with its homes rolling off the rocky mountainous slops, Bedouin's shabby portable structures, which nested next to stretching green fields growing  tomatoes and potatoes, were so remarkably noticed on the background of this semi-arid desolate yellowy scenery, as was the round white cape of Tomb of Aaron  bulging of the top of a high peak, far in the distance off the hwy.

The site is the alleged burial place of Aaron - Moses brother,

Although in Jewish tradition, the location of Aaron’s grave, like that of Moses, is shrouded in mystery, the Islamic tradition places it on Mount Hor - Jabal Hārūn near Petra. The site gets often closed by the Jordanian, after Israeli tourists have been filmed performing "Jewish rituals" at the site.


Wadi Musa City - Main tourist gateway to Petra


This modern Jordanian town with a huge number of hotels, restaurants and many signs in English, has exhibited inflated accommodation rates and noticeable unusual rudeness toward  foreigners in contrast to the customary hospitality in other parts of Jordan.

 

This was the place, where we also met our native Tour Guide

who was specially reserved and recommended highly by Horizons 

Ma moun Ali moammer Ainawafleh. Mobil  962 777579157 Petracode@yahoo.com


With an excellent English proficiency, extensive academic and professional background acquired in Jordanian learning institutes, and also at the US Brown U, in the fields of archeology, astronomy navigation and Semitic languages, as well as a pioneering excavation experiences,

Ma-moun - our multi-talent tour guide showered us for 2 fast-pace touring hours, with an alternative explanation to Petra's Heritage site,


Ma moun's Alternative Claims - Petra Site

He claimed that his explanation has now became the adjusted consensus among establish archaeologists, and soon all the explanatory signs on site and at the museum will be revised.


According to the Guide, Petra wasn't a Burial site , but rather a Center of Astronomy high learning, whereas the steep narrow high walls of Petra's 1,2km Siq- gorge's entrance, provided a ready-made natural "slit" - an enabling tool to study and code a sliver of the sky and its galaxies, as to track the passing celestial bodies and stars with the changing of times .

The star constellation which in the West is projected into  the "Big Bear" was reflected by the Nabataeans in the imagery of  "Camels" and the North Star and the others forming the almanac was named by them.


The Petra site is a 360 Degree natural passage which was used to measure the the weather, winds and star systems to navigate safely in waters, with 32 sun dial, watches and water clocks ( similar to sand clocks ) to determine seasonal periods and calendar times. .

Per our guide, the  Nabataeans, could CROSS the seas to India and not only sail along coastlines as did the Phoenicians. This required navigation and understanding of the winds. They also used water baths perched on  elevated round structures to measure the wetted zone due to the overflow by the winds to determine the trade winds .



The majestic structure at the opening end point of the Siq gorge was not a Treasury but a Library  with 3 rooms which housed manuscript of most important acquired knowledge of that time


The site's stratification on the carved sand walls, near the large Nabatean Hospital structure, he told us represent the 4 local important minerals  of : Lithium, Iron, copper and Sulphur,  which  Ma moun claims generated electromagnetic healing waves, used in healing emotionally challenged, pregnant woman, and infected people . Further more we were told, that they knew how to extract and used anaesthetic components from a locally grown red flowered plant.


This sounds voodoo , although in modern medicine Lithium is used to treat manic depressive individuals, iron is a standard supplement for pregnancy and sulphur (until antibiotics prevailed ) to suppress contamination.


Below are several resources Ma moun sent to back up his claims:

This documentary is filmed by the Australian ABC News TV. It talks about the recent discoveries related to the Arab Nabateans Astronomical Scientefic Trilogy (Almanac) in Petra, Jordan. Discoveries are for the Author and researcher Ma'moun Alnawafleh

https://youtu.be/Zq4qPH-A0bE

https://www.amazon.com/Colors-of-the-Deserts/dp/B07QB4LZ6M

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/259263346_Petraeology_Book

And here are the two documentaries of aljazeera in Arabic.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I5gq-2f6lx4&feature=share

https://youtu.be/_xIEa1TroRQ


The Nabataeans Civilization

Nabataeans were one among several nomadic tribes who roamed the Arabian Desert, moving with their herds to wherever they could find pasture and water. They were literate in Aramaic, exceptionally skilled in drilling wells in the dessert, harvesting rainwater, and in water conservation, which facilitated intensive agriculture, and wine producing. They were also excellent traders, facilitating commerce between China, India, the Far East, Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome. They dealt in such goods as spices, incense, gold, animals, iron, copper, sugar, medicines, ivory, perfumes and fabrics,


For about 700 years, their advanced culture, which stretched over the borderland between Arabia and Syria, from the Euphrates to the Red Sea, and their proficiency in water hydraulic, astronomy, navigation, meteorology, medicine, stone carving, military prowess, and a loosely controlled trading network centered on strings of oases, made them wealthy and allowed them to maintain territorial independence.


Since their nomad emergence in the 6th century BC, the gradual settling down at the end of 1 bc, made the society more complex, lax and, vulnerable to invaders, with Petra the capital  flourishing in the 1st AD and its population peaking at an estimated 30,000 inhabitants, until  conquered by Trajan in 106 AD, annexing it to the Roman Empire.


The fearless kingdom, with its impressive and well organized military,  initially had successfully defended its territory against larger powers,  defeating the Assyrians Persians Greeks, and Romans.

Nabataeans survived in a waterless desert and managed to defeat their enemies by hiding in the desert until the latter surrendered for lack of water. They dug cisterns that were covered and marked by signs known only to themselves,


Initially, the Nabataeans worshiped only one God featured in an image containing a line (nose) between 2 (watching) eyes (like stars) and no mouth.



According to Ma moun, emulating many Roman Gods, to whom the people started assigning all life's responsibilities and fate, contributed to the Nabataeans diminished warlike and nomadic habits, thus becoming sober, acquisitive, orderly people, along with changes of trade routes  eventually led to their demise and capitulating to the Romans becoming a client state.


Roman amphitheater at Petra


Jane Taylor, a writer, describes them as "one of the most gifted peoples of the ancient world".


The literate Nabataeans left no lengthy historical texts. However, thousands of inscriptions have been found in their settlements, including graffiti and on minted coins. Women had high status and could own and inherent property and ran their businesses.Qweens often were depicted on coins.

Furthermore, the characteristic Nabataeans' finely potted painted ceramics, as well as many of their innovations were adopted into the larger Greco-Roman culture.

They were later converted to Christianity during the Byzantine Era.


Although their civilization was ignored and almost lost for 1500 years, the Nabataeans were famous in their day and their creativity and power extended over great areas of the Biblical Middle East. The city of Petra was forgotten throughout the ages and only brought to the attention of Westerners by the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812


The traffic at Petra's Siq gorge consisted of strolling Camels in between Bedouin's driven red blanketed jumpy carriages, galloping horses and running donkeys, all squeezing throughout the entire narrow passage. It had turned the one most touristic loaded site of the Middle East, into a wild wild West..

That life hazardous situation required, high alert and  timely jumping to the edge of the Roman paved road remains, as to escape the trampling animals.


Since the weather was unusually very stormy, grey, cold and windy, brushing us with blown sand particles, we, didn't want to be subjected to another 8 km walk down the gorge and back, thus gave up on the

"Pertra at Night"  - experience which usually is aggressively marketed to tourist by the tour operators.


Thus after a short visit also at  Petra's museum, (since 2014) which I recommend,


we headed back to the Aqaba's hotel at nightfall, to brush/wash off all the sand grains dust covering us from head to toe.


To be Continued...


========

Place: Wadi Rum = The Volley of the Moon

Date: Dec 28th/ 2019



Although the cloud-less sky indicated that the stormy weather had subsided, to a degree that every building across the bay, on the Israeli side in Eilat could be clearly spotted through the crystal clear air, yet, life necessities like work and school schedules, compelled our children to depart back to TLV this early morning.


We, on the other hand, who stayed behind, chose to spend the extra day by paying a visit to the dramatic scenery of  Wadi Rum.


Another Abed (Tel: 962 7 85600888) an independent driver, much younger and very simpatico, though less impressive, then the first one, from the trip to Petra, was sent by Jordan Horizons Tour, to pick us up.

Abed drove us for about only one hour, on the wide 4 lanes

Desert Hwy (Hwy 15) to the Wadi's entrance, where we were transferred to a 4X4 jeep to be driven inside the Wadi itself.


Desert Hwy which starts in Aqaba continues North East towards Ma'an,  and also passes through the desert to the east of the major settlements in Jordan's southern region, is the fastest but least romantic of the 3 routes linking Amman and the south of the country. It then merges into a regional Hwy  going to Amman and then follows the path of a newly constructed bypass Hwy to Zarqa.

https://www.roughguides.com/destinations/middle-east/jordan/aqaba-southern-desert/amman-aqaba-desert-highway/


Wadi Rum = Wādī al-Qamar - Valley of the Moon


It is the largest Wadi in Jordan - a scenic valley cut/eroded to strange shapes into the reddish sandstone and granite rock, in a desert setting, the size of 720km squared, formed by once the sea and the help of winds and flood water, throughout the ages.

Protected by the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Association (ASECA) the Wadi's nature and that of the Bedouin living within the premise, is preserved since 1988, and also by by UNESCO since 2011.


The isolated and largely inhospitable area, is one of Jordan's important tourist destinations, which attracts an increasing number of foreigners. 


Popular activities in the desert environment among the massive rock formations includes: camping under the stars, riding Arabian horses and camels, hiking, tracking, sand-dune wadding, rock-climbing, as well as desert film shooting, or simply driving the day-trippers, like us, through the vast sandy desolate reddish sandy terrain.


All open roof Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) and Jeeps are available for rent with a driver, for a minimum 2 or more hours drive, for an established fix fees, posted at the park's entrance. The real adventurers desert's lovers, can benefit from the newly opened camps, on site, which offer very modest accommodation (and free sand massages..) under the stars, to the overnight- staying visitors.


The Wadi has been inhabited by many human cultures since prehistoric times, including the Nabataeans– who left their mark in the form of rock paintings, graffiti, and temples.


The current only permanent inhabitants are several thousand Bedouin nomads and villagers.

The Zalabia Bedouins, to which also our jeep's driver - Husain Abu Nader, and his family of over 1000 members belong, have been inhabiting the Wadi for ages, and have  succeeded in developing an

eco-adventure tourism, granting themselves a main source of income, by working with climbers and trekkers.


Our Bedouin Driver


British officer T. E. Lawrence, who passed through, several times during the Arab Revolt of 1917–18, is best remembered in connection to this Wadi.


One of the rock formations in Wadi Rum, originally known as Jabal al-Mazmar (The Mountain of (the) Plague), was named in the 1980

"The Seven Pillars of Wisdom," after Lawrence's book penned in the aftermath of the war, though the referred to in the book, have no connection with Wadi Rum.


Shots of Wadi Rum in "Lawrence of Arabia" film from 1962, kick-started Jordan's tourism industry. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmr1iSG3RTA


Laurence's Spring -

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VuJaJi2nHCk




Khaz'ali Canyon



In Wadi Rum's Khaz'ali Canyon the site of petroglyphs etched into the cave walls, humans and antelopes are depicted, dating back to the Thamudic times - an ancient civilization in the Hejaz known from the 8th c BCE . High rocky walls loom above the very narrow gorge passage, through which all visitors squeeze. Though short it was not easy to walk through, since it is steep, lacking any rails or safty means and contain holes in which rain water were harvested.




Up the Sand Dune


David climbed to the top of a popular steep sand dune, along with many other tourists who shared the activity. I had passed, as I don't particularly enjoy wadding in sinking sand, and had enough sand-treatment, at the visit to Petra. 


Sand Dune




The Village of Wadi Rum, which we passed toward the end of our tour consists of several hundred Bedouin inhabitants with their goat-hair tents,  next to more permanent concrete houses -  building in progress,  their 4x4 wheel vehicles, one school for boys and one for girls, as well as a few shops. 


Also the historic structure of the headquarters of the Desert Patrol - which was a paramilitary force of Transjordan. Its main task was to guard Jordanian borders with neighboring Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Syria as well as to provide protection for oil pipe lines of Iraqi Petroleum Company.

Headquarters of the Desert Patrol 



Some other Nabataean rock etchings





The 2 hours jeep drive and back throughout the bumpy sandy terrain, and some limited climbing, were definitely sufficient for this desert special experience, on this gorgeous, but quite cool day.


The backdrop of a magnificent desert reddish Sun-Set was a marvelous natural special effect addition, we enjoyed all the way on our drive back to the hotel.

The red sand pile which David gathered on his Dune's climb and brought back with him in his shoes, to the hotel, could fill up a small sand-box for our darling grand Leo, alas Leo was already in TLV by then.


To be continued..


===========


Place: Ovdat and Back to TLV

Date: Dec 29th/ 2019



I am sharing a note which was sent as a response to the latest logs:


From: Joyce

Date: Sat, Dec 28, 2019


Hi Lili,

Happy New Year! I recently finished the book "Married to a Bedouin" by Marguerite Van Geldermalsen, with which you may be familiar.

She was New Zealand and had visited Petra. While there she met and fell in love with a Bedouin souvenir sales person. When they were first married, they were still able to live in the caves on the sides of the mountain. Later they were relocated to housing in Petra by the government. I really enjoyed reading your history about the area and seeing your pictures. It gave me more background to appreciate the author's decision to accept the Bedouin lifestyle. I'm so happy to be on your travelogue distribution list! You look like you are having amazing experiences!!   Joyce


By By Aqaba



The 5 nights at the Saraya al Manara new hotel were fantastic.

The diversified hotel’s staff was amazing, providing most friendly fast service by also emulating the admirable welcoming policies of Pedro the General Manager.

Following the staff's constant pilgrimage to greet us and inquire about our wishes, to be instantly commended, or consult on which improvements are needed, they made us, at times feel like a human “Western Wall”...

The breakfast food and the one at the Arab elegant restaurant were very good, we remarked. However the desserts' quality at the restaurant,  begged an improvement, we suggested. Thanking for all the gastronomical "advise" given, the staff gifted us with bottles of Jordanian Red Wine and deep yellowish-green Olive Oil, to take back home.


We felt safe, welcomed and were treated well, almost at all times.

We had only the best experiences with the Horizon Tour company staff and with other Jordanians we encountered, excluding one, with restaurant owner in Musa City by Petra , who lived up to the infamous nasty reputation, the place has earned, in treating tourists.


About 1800 Jordanian cross the border, daily for their much better paying jobs in the Israeli city of Eilath. Thus it is better crossing the border back to Israel at mid day, when the morning's traffic usually dwindles, and the one of the late afternoon has not yet begun.


Eilat across the Bay



It took us only 20 minutes at the border, to pass through the Jordanian and Israeli passport control, and reach the Israeli side. Alas, additional

6 driving hours, via the same route, I wrote about, but in the opposite direction, plagued with much more traffic, and with one stop only, at the archaeological site of "Ovdat" National Park,

For some unexplained reason, I have not visited this impressive site until

today, and was glad I finally did.


Ovdat National Park- UNESCO Heritage since 2005




Ovdat - an ancient well preserved, central hill top Nabataean city,  above the Tsin Stream watercourse of the Negev dessert, dominated its surrounding from a 650m height above sea level, situated on the  commercial route, below, which is known as the "Perfume Road".




The ancient route used by Nabataeans for the perfume trade from the Arabian Peninsula. It stretched between the Jordanian Petra crossed the Arabah and Negeb, until the sea port of Gaza. From there mercendise was shipped and exported to the lands of the Roman empire.

The production and trade of perfumes was a tremendous source of wealth and power, which made the city strive.

The site was founded in the 3rd BC. as the 62 station on the commercial rade route, which later grew into an agreeculture settelment .

For other stations on the Perfume route check:

https://wysinfo.com/some-stations-along-the-perfume-and-incense-route/

The site was named after an admired king Ovdat who was berried in the city, and was the only one recognized as "God" after his death.

Prosperous throughout the Byzantine period, the city was deserted following an earthquake in 630 AD and the Muslim takeover of the Negev 6 years later.

Visit highlights included a Roman bathhouse, catacombs, several 4th-century churches, a pottery workshop and a Byzantine wine press.



Byzantine Wine Press



The reconstructed churches from the Byzantine era have attracted pilgrimage of Christian tourists to the site. A French tourist group was conducting  praying services during our exploration of the site.



                                         *********

Wishing you a very Happy Civil New Year and am ending this Log

on the last night of Hanukkah with a "Latkes Delight" my friend Pnina sent . 

Enjoy the Holiday Season


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2GOrdxCm6Q&feature=youtu.be


                                        THE END