A Travellerspoint blog

Petra

The English guy, Dutch guy, and a Swedish guy also staying at my hostel were all on the Petra bus with me. The English guy parted ways and stayed in a different hostel in Petra, but the rest of us all went to the same hostel, same dorm room again which was nice. We also all ended up doing the Wadi Rum overnight tour together through the hostel so I felt like I had my own little friend group for a few days.

Petra doesn’t get much rain, but the day we arrived there was an on and off torrential downpour and a tremendous thunderstorm. We decided against visiting Petra that day and hid out in the hostel. The hostel has a nightly homemade buffet that I had signed up for the first night. There were about twenty dishes, most being vegetarian. I can't imagine the amount of work that goes into making those on the daily.

After dinner we had planned to go to the Petra by Night show, but the weather had other plans. It was cancelled due to continuing torrential downpour. Sadly the Petra by Night show only runs a few times a week and that was the only night I would be there while it was happening. The famous treasury area is lit up by candles and I could have gotten some more photo opportunities.

There was a few shuttle from the hostel to Petra, but the first shuttle in the morning wasn’t until after seven. Since we had already missed a day because of the rain and crowds tend to be thinner earlier in the morning, the Dutch guy and I decided to just walk to Petra so we could get there right when it opened at 6am.

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We first walked the main path to the end, passing the treasury and other notable buildings. The rest of the day we hiked various trails including the hike up to the monastery the hike to the holy sacrifice and the path up to the famous view of the treasury.

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I am not as in shape as the Dutch guy, but I managed the trails, albeit always trailing behind him. Most of the trails were steep with a lot of up hill walking or walking up seemingly never-ending stairs. I had an extra battery in my backpack but I realized upon entering Petra that morning that my camera battery was almost dead and the other one I brought was also dead. When will I ever learn my lesson to always double check the night before how charged my camera is and making sure my extra battery isn’t a dead one?! As a result I tried to take photos sparingly, but might have gotten a little carried away taking photos of the many donkeys, goats and cats throughout Petra. I actually didn’t know about the best view of the treasury until well after my camera died and my phone was about to die, so for some of the best views of the day I didn’t have very many photos of.

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The trails themselves, though challenging at times were peaceful and scenic. It was amazing the number of cats we came across pretty high up on trails. There were also Nubians selling souvenirs on all the trails. Many of them have to walk hours every day from their villages and then up a steep trail to sell their wares.

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Even though by that point of the day I was exhausted and going up yet another set of steep stairs was no the most enjoyable, on the trail up to the treasury view we encountered a whole herd of goats. There were even some babies.

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The worst part of the day was that we hadn’t correctly calculated how far the main entrance was from where we were. We had about half an hour to get to the front to catch the 5pm shuttle, but it took us a lot longer then anticipated. I was walking as fast as I could, but at that point in the day my legs were so sore that it was painful. We just barely made the shuttle thanks to the Dutch guy running ahead and asking him to wait a minute. In total we walked for eleven hours with much of the time hiking the crazy trails. I think if I was by myself I would have been lazy and not done so many of the more challenging ones, but I was grateful to have met the Dutch guy so I would do more of the trails and experience the gorgeous views from the top. It was nice having the company too.

Back at the hostel I hobbled back to my room and called it an early night. It took about four days for the soreness in my legs to go away. I don’t recall my legs ever being that sore, even after the start of the T25 workout back home.

The next day the bus picked the three of us up to go to Wadi Rum.

Posted by KatetheCatLady 11:22 Archived in Jordan Tagged petra Comments (0)

Amman

I arrived in Jordan mid-day and had previously arranged a car from the hostel to pick me up. The twenty or so minute drive set me back about $30, and I soon came to realize Jordan is not very backpacker friendly.

I was feeling pretty lazy, so I spent the day sitting around the hostel and doing some research on my plan for the next few days. I had chosen the hostel I did because it had good reviews for the hostel organizing day trips. What I found though was that all the day trips were only for a private driver and did not include entry fees. The price was a flat rate no matter how many people, so it was advantageous to find a few friends to go with. After looking online, I couldn’t find any group day tours. Every tour seemed to be a private tour with a driver and many were a minimum of two people. Jordan is a small country and the main sites are fairly close, but getting there is expensive unless you rent a car. By far this is the best option as gas is cheap and renting a car grants the freedom to see many more sites for much cheaper then hiring a driver for day trips.

It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be, but I eventually was able to find a guy in my dorm room who wanted to go to the Dead Sea, so we booked a car to split to take us the next day.

That night I went to get some takeaway with two people from the hostel staying longer term to learn Arabic. The small outdoor stand had been there many years and was known for their vegetarian fare. There was no menu, so I panicked and got a few falafel balls and baba ghanoush. The people from the hostel told me that I needed to go to one counter for the baba ghanoush and go across to another stand for the falafel. I was also introduced to the confusing world of small change in Jordan. The food was less then one Jordan JD. I almost handed over a 50JD, but luckily the owner was honest and said no put that away. The small change goes up to 1000, and I learned that whatever they said that sounded like a lot of usually under 1JD so I would hand them 1JD and take whatever change I gave them. I never did fully grasp the money.

The next day the English guy from my dorm and I set out with the driver on the hour drive to the Dead Sea. Originally we had planned to visit Wadi Majab as well. I had read that it was a beautiful area that some even called the Grand Canyon of Jordan and Petra but with water. The photos looked gorgeous, and I was looking forward to taking photos.

The plan was to go to the free beach at the Dead Sea and then Wadi Majab. I stupidly didn’t bring my credit card or ATM card and little cash as I thought I wouldn’t need it. In the end we decided to spring for the cheapest public beach with the slightly steep price of 15JD or about $21 U.S. dollars because the driver said the free beach was dirty and unsafe. Because it was a tourist beach I was also able to wear my swimsuit, but would have had to coverup at the free beach. Much to my surprise the beach was pretty much deserted when we arrived. Though the beach itself was a little rocky and nothing special, we quickly put our things down and got into the Dead Sea.

What a strange feeling it was to be floating above the water without having to swim and not sinking. In place of sand, the bottom had very hard salt crystallizations and extra care was needed to not cut open a foot. We stayed in for quite awhile enjoying the novelty of it. Eventually a big tourist group came in with books as props to take photos with. After we had asked to borrow the book to pose with as well, we got out.

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We were going to put some world famous dead sea mud on ourselves as it is known for being good for the skin, but we balked at the price tag of 3JD on top of the 15 we had already paid. Instead we swam around the non-salt water pool awhile after we had showered the salt water off, and headed back to the car.

For some reason I assumed Wadi Majab was free or at least include in the price of the “tour”, but the entry fee was 22JD. As I didn’t have my ATM card and had used all my cash to get into the Dead Sea, we had to skip Wadi Mujab and head back to the hostel. Like in Egypt, people always seem to have a hustle in Jordan. Originally it was going to be 30JD to go to the Dead Se and Wadi Mujab. The price was 20JD to only go to the Dead Sea. We had paid in advance thinking we were going to do both, but back at the hostel the British guy asked for our 10JD back. Apparently the driver had told the hostel owner that he did take us to Wadi Mujab so he could pocket the extra 10JD, but we were able to get our 10JD back in the end. I wish I would have found a way to go afterwards, because numerous people I met later in Jordan said their favorite thing was Wadi Majb. Instead I hung around the hostel the rest of the day.

I was interested in going to see the Desert Castles the next day, but didn’t want to shoulder the cost only, as it was going to be about $50. I ended up meeting a Dutch guy in my dorm room who wanted to join me. He had met a driver the day before who offered to take us for much cheaper then the driver through the hostel.

The next day we set out for the desert castles. The driver turned out to be an affable old grandfatherly type. On the way to the castles we passed the sign for the turnoff to the road that goes to Syria (a few hour drive away). One of the driver’s sons has the unpleasant sounding job of patrolling the Syrian border every day. The driver said that before war broke out, people from Amman would travel to Syria once or sometimes even several times a week to stock up on groceries because food was so much cheaper there.

We stopped at a shop so the driver could pick up some cigarettes. A lot of the gas stations and mini marts on the side of the highway in Jordan look like they have been out of business for years, but in fact are still open for business. The one we stopped at looked like time had not been kind to it. While the others went into the shop I stayed by the car out back and found a friendly cat that occupied my time.

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As we drover further we passed a sign for the turn off to Iraq, about a two hour drive, and Saudi Arabia, only a half hour from one of the castles. Jordan has been flooded with refugees over the years since it borders so many war torn regions.

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The first castle, Qasr Al-Kharanah, appeared seemingly out of no where. It was a small castle, but had two stories, so we were able to wander through some of the open air rooms and walk around the courtyard before meeting the driver in the Bedouin tent selling traditional tea and souvenirs. One of the men had the most stop in your tracks and stare gorgeous green eyes and long thick eyelashes. As I spent more time in Jordan I noticed that many of the men have this unique eye color. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such a striking eye color before.

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Next up was Qasr Amra castle. This castle is known for the frescos inside that have survived since the early 8th century. The castle itself is no longer standing, but the royal retreat remains.There is an intact well and an outdoor bath. Inside the small building there is a main room and two smaller rooms, all covered in frescos, including the domes. Much of the color can still be seen. From the outside of the building I never would have expected to see all the beautiful art work. Outside the castle a Bedouin tent was set up with men selling souvenirs and several cats. Sensing a theme here? Jordan gets an A grade for cat lady countries to visit.

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The last castle of the day was one that Lawrence of Arabia co-opted for himself in the 1920’s. It was the only one made of black basalt.

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On the day that I got to the hostel I asked if I could get the bus to Petra on Wednesday. The owner said yeah that’s fine some other people from the hostel are going as well. I was under the false impression that he had called and reserved me a ticket. After I got back from the desert castles I asked again, and he had not booked it and the bus was sold out for that day by then. I had to book an extra night at the hostel and lose a day at Petra.

The next day the English guy and I navigated our way to the bus office to pick up our tickets for the next morning since we had heard that sometimes they give away reservations. In Amman nothing is ever as easy as having an nice leisurely walk to the bus station though. Amman is San Fransisco level hilly so it’s a work out walking pretty much anywhere. Then there are the cars. There are barely any stoplight and no crosswalks in the city and unlike in Southeast Asia, pretty much everyone has a car, not a motorbike. Crossing busy roads with their non-stop flow of traffic was a slightly harrowing and stressful experience, but we made it, and saw numerous stray cats on the way.

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Next up Petra by Rain.

Posted by KatetheCatLady 17:34 Archived in Jordan Comments (0)

Back in Cairo

Cairo where old and new collide. The recently built road, Ring Road, appropriately named as it makes a ring around the outskirts of the city, is effectively a highway yet besides cars there are horse and donkey drawn carts carrying everything from piles of bulb vegetables to bricks.

On our last day together we went to a market and got some last minute souvenirs. It was stray cat central down there!

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Street cats in Cairo

Street cats in Cairo

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All too soon it was time to say goodbye to the group. I was sad to see them go. I really enjoyed my time with everyone and we all got along well.

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On my last day I got room service for the first time in my life and the food was divine.

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Random Egypt Facts
It costs 2 Egyptian pounds to use pretty much any bathroom
85% of population live in apartments
Most buildings have unfinished roof because taxes are cheaper if the building is unfinished
90% Muslim population

Big Mo gave us a cheat sheet for Arabic words. I managed to remember a few throughout the trip:
Salam Alaykoom - Greeting for all occasions roughly translating to peace upon you. There are greetings for male and female morning afternoon and evening so it was easier for us to learn the universal one
Shokran-thank you
Anagana - I learned this one because one of the girls was always hungry and it became a running joke her name was Anagana
Halas-enough
Yalla- let’s go. Our goal was always to be on time so we didn’t make Big Mo mad and say Yalla Yalla!

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Visiting an essential oils shop

Visiting an essential oils shop

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Posted by KatetheCatLady 18:30 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

The Red Sea

Most of the group had a different tour which included Jordan, but not the Red Sea portion of Egypt. The Red Sea group ended up just being the two California girls and I. We got to the all inclusive resort around 8:30pm completely exhausted after a long drive. After a dinner buffet with an astounding number of choices we managed to drag ourselves out for one drink before calling it an early night. I had never been to an all inclusive place before. This one was pretty fancy and including all food, beverages including alcohol, and entertainment.

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I had never stayed at a place where they actually make swans every day

I had never stayed at a place where they actually make swans every day

My room came with a sitting area too. So fancy.

My room came with a sitting area too. So fancy.

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We went out on a glass bottomed boat and then snorkeling in the Red Sea the next day. The water was a striking turquoise color and we saw so many cool tropical fish while snorkeling.
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Breakfast


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The girls told the boat photographer I was a photographer also so they felt like I should be in a photo with him.

The girls told the boat photographer I was a photographer also so they felt like I should be in a photo with him.

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Doing my best Titanic impression. I'm the queen of the world!

Doing my best Titanic impression. I'm the queen of the world!

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New boat captain :P

New boat captain :P

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The photographer takes photos outside the boat of people in the window. It looks like he is getting eaten by fish.

The photographer takes photos outside the boat of people in the window. It looks like he is getting eaten by fish.

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With the photographer who tried to cheat my friend later by not delivering the photos she paid for. It all got sorted later, but was kind of sketchy.

With the photographer who tried to cheat my friend later by not delivering the photos she paid for. It all got sorted later, but was kind of sketchy.

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Us with the other Mohammad at the tour company. Big Mo stayed with the rest of the group so we had Mohammad to help us out for the Red Sea portion.

Us with the other Mohammad at the tour company. Big Mo stayed with the rest of the group so we had Mohammad to help us out for the Red Sea portion.

The rest of the afternoon was spent checking out the pools (there were multiple pools!) and checking out the beach. I had a slight misadventure of going out onto my balcony and not realizing the screen door locked behind me automatically. After debating what to do awhile I was able to climb onto the Cali girls balcony next door and luckily they were there to let me in through their room so I could find a maid to let me in my room.

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At the beach

At the beach

That night after dinner we saw some belly dancing and a whirling dervishes show organized by the hotel. Afterwards we went to the dance club at the resort (free drinks included there too) and celebrated the birthday of one of the girls. I just wish we had another day or two at the Red Sea.

Dance clbu

Dance clbu

Posted by KatetheCatLady 09:55 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Valley of the Kings, Hatshepsut's Temple and Karnak Temple

Day six was another early morning as I decided to do the hot air balloon flight. It turned out to be a little underwhelming, though we did see a few temples and the valley of the kings from above and sunrise over the Nile was a beautiful site.

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We made a brief stop at the Colossi of Memnon statue before heading off to Valley of the Kings.

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Valley of the Kings tombs had a strict no photography rule. Decades ago cameras were allowed, but people were not following the no flash photography rule, so it was decided that all photography including cell phones would be banned. Some of the guards tried to get us to take photos and to get a bribe, but I wasn’t interested. Though I didn’t go into some of these, here’s some photos of some of the tombs that a Czech photographer was able to get special permission to take: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/africa/egypt/articles/inside-the-valley-of-the-kings/

After a short video of archival footage of Howard Carter at the King Tut site, we boarded a little tram and rode up to the first of the tombs. The Valley of the Kings honestly looks like rock piles and could be mistaken for a quarry or construction site. In the Late Period of Ancient Egypt, the idea of the pyramids was abandoned and were more concerned with how to hide the tombs from raiding grave robbers. The plan of hiding the tombs in out of the way areas would have been perfect except for the fact that once the tombs were finished and sealed so no on could enter, they hired someone to guard the tomb. Often these were the people who decided to rob the tombs or give out the location to others to rob them.

There are over sixty tombs, though we only saw four while we were there, I can’t remember the names now besides King Tut. One really stood out for all the artwork and most of the colors still surviving on the walls. Most of the mummies have been moved to the Egyptian Museum and Luxor Museum, but King Tut’s mummy is still in his tomb. It was kind of creepy to see, but I couldn’t look away. The wooden elaborate sarcophagus was also on display in the tomb. It’s hard to picture that tomb was filled to the brim with treasures before Howard Carter discovered it. Grave robbers took some, but didn’t give the best of it.

Next was the temple Queen Hatshepsut (pronounced HatChipSue) had built. It’s the only three story temple. Queen Hatshepsut has an interesting story . Normally full royal blood was required for the throne. Her father was a king, but her mother was a concubine. To get around this little hiccup she married her half brother and immediately kicked him out of the palace that same night. She enjoyed a 20 year reign of prosperity and was the only Ancient Egyptian Queen to not have a man. Cleopatra didn’t have a man either, but technically she was Ancient Greek but ruled in Egypt. Edit: after researching it the story we were told wasn't accurate, though she was still pretty impressive. Basically the backstory was incorrect, but she did take over as pharaoh and was considered a very successful ruler. Read more about her story here: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-queen-who-would-be-king-130328511/

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There must have been some class assignment for Egyptian school children that day to practice their english on foreigners because I was mobbed at the temple by about 60 kids. They all asked what my name was, where I was from, and wanted to get a selfie with me. It was like the paparazzi had descended. Then I went to another part of the temple and one of the guards started following me around pointing out things and I kept saying I’m fine I don’t need a guide but he followed me anyway when I was just trying to take photos. Of course he asked for a tip but I didn’t give him one. This is pretty common at the attractions. Another common practice of the guards is for them to hold up two thumbs and try and get you to take a photo of them and then ask for a tip. At Kom Ombo I was trying to take photos and finally ended up leaving because one of the guards was so persistent about trying to get me to take a photo of him for money.

The final stop of the trip before heading to the Red Sea for relaxation was Karnak Temple. Most of the trip hadn’t been that hot at all, but we got to Karnak Temple in the middle of the day and it was so hot that we rushed through a little.

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There were several obelisks including some put up by Hatshepsut. One of them was the tallest in Egypt at the time. Some were destroyed and one was taken down by Constantine and put up in Rome. There was also a salute of Hatshepsut with the false beard and headdress to make her look like a male pharaoh. Sometime in her reign she started ordering that she be portrayed this way in art.

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The sacred lake on the site was used by priests ceremonies to clean the pharaoh before they could ascend the throne.

There was a scarab statue at the temple and it was believed if you walked counter clockwise around it five times your wishes would come true. Contrary to what movies like The Mummy portray, scarab beetles were and still are considered good luck and good fortune in Egypt.

Also of note at the temple was a massive hall of columns and the remains of a window.

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Posted by KatetheCatLady 20:42 Archived in Egypt Comments (2)

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