14 July 2012

Aqaba
Shobak
Hitching
Cliff Hotel

We had to get out of Aqaba.  Yesterday we tried, but being a friday, there were no buss’s running.  We used the time productively though.  Lazing around in air conditioning.  Looking up what we had not done in Jordan etc.  Unfortunately, no internet, so couldn’t do the blog.  This would have been perfect otherwise.  Today we had to do something.  Anything.

Spot the old city of Shobak

Up early, as the only major sight we have not seen is the Crusader Castle at Shobak.  There are only two busses going there.  One at 11, and the other at 12.  Catching the 11am bus was a breeze.  The walk from the hotel was not too far, and even with the bags was a breeze.  A breeze would have been welcome though.  Aqaba is still hot and sticky.  It is weird being in the desert with high humidity.  No clouds in the sky, and feeling like Asia in the Monsoon, until you look behind the city and see the nude hills jutting up out of the ground.

The bus trip was uneventful.  Passing through the mountains.  These are bare and jagged.  The rocks splitting the ground and falling apart.  There is rubble everywhere.  The rocks have hardly weathered, and look sharp against the skyline.  All points.  Huge piles of scree collecting around the base, and you can see where it has been bulldozed from the road after one of the numerous rockfalls.  Mostly sandstone, but huge lines of black/green rock running through it.  Curves where the rising pressure has contorted the landscape, and you can almost hear it groan.  These hills eventually give way to desert, and we wind our way to Ma’an.  We were not sure if we would have to come back here to stay, or if we could head on to Tafila.  It sounds like there is no accommodation in Shobak at all.  We were not too happy about this possibility, as Ma’an is drab, dirty and not that interesting.  It is a transport hub, and the only reason for its existence is that there would be nothing here otherwise.  The bus did a loop or two of the main street, dropping people off, and picking up others.  Then hit the side streets, past the university (It does seem that every decent sized town in Jordan has its own university!) and back out to nothing.  Plastic bags blowing in the wind.  Black rock desert, and a limestone quarry.

Making it back into the hills, we are dropped off in the middle of nowhere.  No town, just a crossroad.  We had thought we could check out town.  See if there is a hotel.  Get lunch and find out about buses.  Nope.  The only street signs were pointing to Petra and Shobak Castle.  We had said to the driver we wanted to go to the castle, so he probably dropped us off at the closest spot.  Nice of him, but where are we?  How far it it?  Can we buy some water nearby?  WTF?

At least the driver had called a taxi for us, and it was happily sitting there waiting for us.  The meter did not work (Like most of the Jordanian taxis we have been in) and he wanted 3JD to go to the castle.  As we had no idea where it was we accepted.  5 minutes later we were looking out and up at the castle.  It really was not that far.  Although we would not have been able to walk it.

Arches at Showbak Castle

The Castle is an imposing sight on top of a small outcrop of rock.  The road winds down to the bottom of the valley, then back up the other side to the castle itself.  There was a visitors center at the bottom, and the taxi cruised past it.  We thought it may be like Ajlun again, and we would have to walk to the bottom.  This was, luckily, not the case.  At the entrance there is one small souvenir shop, and we were allowed to leave our bags there while we explored the castle.  Signing into the place with the local caretaker we were surprised to find out that it is still free.  This is a nice change.

Walking through the castle, there are signs of the multiple levels that it would have originally been, however only ruins remain.  There was almost nobody present, and we basically had the place to ourselves.  Even the visitor book only registers a half dozen people a day.  So the place was quiet and peaceful.  However it was hot and sunny as well.

The church has been nicely restored

We started our walk around the outside edge of the castle, and went to the church.  Apparently there are two churches in the place, and this one still looks churchy.  There is a couple of alcoves, and a large vaulted ceiling.  In the corner there was a small set of steps that had partially collapsed.  Andrew grabbed the torch and decided to go down.  This led to a small passageway.  With a steep decent, covered with the dust and rubble of ages, and treacherous footing, he wormed his way through to the bowels of the catacombs.  It is not really that bad as there is only one way to go, but with the small amount of light put off by the torch it was hard to see anything.  On coming back up, we consulted the trusty guide book, and it said there were christian engravings, and Muslim carvings, as well as a small throne.  Andrew thought he had not gone far enough.  This time he armed himself with the torch and the ipod (for extra light).

The Crypt under the church. Not that spooky

This combination was a lot better, as the ipod put out a lot of light in a wider arc, and the torch could pinpoint things.  As long as it was within a meter!  Going back down you could now clearly see old catapult balls, a grindstone, and a lot of plastic bottles.  At least it only smelt musty.  There were no signs of any of the things mentioned in the guidebook, so we think it was written to make it sound more interesting, without expecting people to go down.  When Andrew reached the point that he turned around before, the tunnel came to a sudden halt.  It was only another meter or so until the end.  This showed the power of the torch down here.  He would have been better off with a flaming branch or something.  Still it was a bit of fun.  Back in the extremely bright daylight, we went around the old battlements.  Some of these are being repaired, and others are left as decaying piles of rubble.  On top of the site, nearly everything was a jumble of rocks.  There were a few archways still intact, and other rooms that they were fixing up.  In the middle is the second church.  This is now roofless, but a very large two story structure.  The original vaulted roof would have been massive, and where it now ends you can see the start of the curve.  It is impressive architecture.  Even today.

More wandering around took us to the old marketplace.  Here there are rooms leading off to each side of the road, and it would have been a bit of a crush in full swing.  Now there was only one more thing to find.  Apparently there is a secret passageway leading to the bottom of the hill as an escape tunnel if needed.  There were a few places that had stairs leading underground, but these had all lead to single rooms, most probably for storage.  There was no visible way to the rooms under the top level like there was in Karak. By now we had already walked around the area twice without noticing it, and on the third circuit we went a different way.  There it was as clear as a dark hole in the sunshine!

Andrew trying to go through the escape tunnel without breaking his neck!

Again Andrew took the torch and Ipod to descend into the depths.  This was very steep, and again there was so much dust and dirt that even though there were steps, the buildup on them made it very dangerous, especially with the lack of light.  These steps had the unfortunate tendency to be uneven, undefined and completely unseeable.  Sometimes they were smooth (at a steep angle), sometimes not even there.  As he wound deeper into the hill it got worse.  There were sections where the tunnel had collapsed blocking most of the way through.  Eventually there was a split in the tunnel.  On the right was a passageway leading back up.  Although there was too much damage to go up that way.  At least without a better torch.  There was fresh air being blown down from it though, so it should have been possible.  At the junction, there was also a doorway made of stone.  This is the first place since the top that was constructed, rather than carved.  Another very steep slide turned into an almost circular staircase to the bottom.  From here there is a small metal ladder leading back to the surface.  Not wanting to walk back up the hill on the outside, Andrew climbed back through the cool dark depths of the hill.  This was a lot easier than going down though, and exhausted, collapsed on the top step where Anna was patiently waiting.

Having finished Shobak, we now needed to find accommodation, or at least a bus to Tafila.  As it was only 4pm we thought we would have plenty of time.  There is a camp nearby, and we asked the people here how much it is.  Prices in this country are made up on the spot, and this one was 20JD each.  That was not happening.  Especially with our luck at camps so far.  they also said it was the only place to stay around here.  Not wanting to fork that much out, we took a car to Shobak town.  On the way the driver pointed out his hotel.  He was one of the people that had said there was no other accommodation in town….
He dropped us at the road, and we decided to try and hitch, or catch a bus if one went past.  There was one bus, but it was an Army one, and said they would get in trouble if they picked us up.  Back to waiting in the shade.  A taxi turned up, and we tried to ignore it, as we had bad experiences with this in Irbid.  However the Taiwanese girl in the taxi was having non of that, and we were piled into the taxi.  This trip turned out to be a lot of fun.  Wan (Lin Wanchun) was fantastic.  She was here on business, and only had weekends to explore Jordan.  We were lucky enough to catch her on the way back to Amman.  With a bit of confusion we were offered to go all the way with her.  We had originally said just to Tafila, as we knew there were cheap hotels there for the night.  But who would pass up a trip all the way to Amman?

the conversation ranged from what each of us had seen in Jordan, where we had traveled to (Wan is Very well traveled) and what we thought of different places.  The taxi driver was also a bit of fun.  If somewhat crazy (like all Jordinian taxi drivers that you spend any amount of time with).

Wadi Mujib dam at sunset

Wan wanted to see Mujib Gorge.  So we detoured that way.  It was a good decision.  While we had seen it on the way to Dana, it had been midday.  Now in the afternoon, it is a lot more impressive.  The Grand Canyon is appropriately named, and with the shadows creeping up, there was added colour and texture.  It was a lovely shade of pink today.  The ridges in the side were prominent, and stopping at the lake at th bottom was a highlight. The shadows had covered the end of the lake, but the opposite hill was still in full daylight, and going yellow.  The hills further behind were purple and a hazy blue at the back.  Talking to the police at the bottom, we found that you could walk to the dead sea in about two hours from here, or you could go up river to a lovely little place that the guard came from in an hour or so.  We did not have that luxury though.  Especially when he told us there were still hyenas out there.  Not so worried about the snakes and such, but a hyena?  Good to see from a distance we are sure.  Just not up close and personal.

Back into the taxi and off.  Wan was every taxi drivers dream.  Not just good looking, she gave our taxi driver massages every time his back got sore.  As it got dark the music came on.  Unfortunately for us, we were in the back.  Along with the speakers.  Not many people realise that if you turn up the volume, not only are the people in the back deafened, they cannot hear what you are saying.  Just trying to keep our heads from exploding was an effort.  Let alone when the taxi driver wanted us to jive along with the music.  He switched the radio to an English station, and for the first time in Jordan we heard English music.  This was not much help, as we don’t know any of the top songs anymore anyway.  Still it made a change from Arabic, or Romanian as the case may be.

On making it back to Amman, Wan wanted the taxi to drop us off first. The taxi driver did not want to do this, and it sent tingles down our spine.  However when we got to Wan’s hotel, she wanted to fix up the entire bill.  This was good for us, as the driver could not put the squeeze on us.  Still, hitching ended up costing us 25JD….  It could have been a lot worse.  It also seemed that Wan’s pre agreed price changed at the end as well.  Again, Hitching is NOT FREE in Jordan!  But we were lucky, and the company more than made up for the cost.  So Thank you again for making an interesting trip Wan!

The driver was pretty good as well, and dropped us off downtown at the trusty Cliff Hotel for no extra charge.

All in all it was a very good day for us, and we arrived back in Amman a day before we expected to.

AA

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