Jordan | Posted October 2004

Our visit to Jordan began in Amman, a city for which we had fairly high expectations – we were quite sure it would be a sophisticated and cosmopolitan city, much like we'd found Beirut. Oh, so wrong! It's a concrete conglomeration of buildings, set on a number of hills, rather shabby, and overall, quite disappointing. It's like a pile of stones dropped in the middle of the desert – a city without a mission statement. It wasn't made any better for us by the fact that Bram spent most of his time there in bed with a nasty bout of the flu. Oh well, the kids were really excited to have lots of time to spend on their schoolwork. (Heavy cynicism intended!)
In our jeep at the southern end of the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan. From here we drove to Aqaba where our expedition ended.

We left Amman heading south to Wadi Musa, the town beside the ancient city of Petra. There was a sigh of relief all round in the Ryan family as we pulled into a small community with nary a taxi in sight and a sense of calm and tranquility. Our time here was spent exploring Petra. It is a phenomenal place – the facades hewn into the rock cliffs are beyond description. The Nabataeans – a highly advanced people - built the city in the 3rd century BC; they mastered hydraulic engineering, iron production, copper refining, sculpture and stone carving. The entrance into Petra is in itself an experience: a 1.2-kilometre walk through a narrow defile (the Siq) ends with spectacular views of the Treasury (familiar to Indiana Jones fans – check out the pictures). Special note must be made here of Bram's stamina as he climbed the 800 stairs to the Monastery both days that we visited Petra – yes, that's 1,600 up and 1,600 down over the course of just over 24 hours! (Sharon missed the first day with the flu, and both she and the kids took donkeys up the second day.) General consensus amongst the Ryan family… Petra is a place that everyone should visit at some point in their life.
Since Ben and Sharon are still smiling this photo was obviously taken early in the day… well before the wooden camel saddles started deep surgery on the hind-end.

We left Wadi Musa early Sunday morning and boarded the bus to Wadi Rum. (Wadi, by the way, means ‘oasis' … it's not just a favourite town name!) Wadi Rum was made famous by T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) back in the early 20th century and is an extraordinary desert experience. Our first day there was spent at the Government Rest House, at Wadi Rum Village. Our accommodation was two small canvas tents, and the lounge space was a large Bedouin-style tent with mattresses and pillows. It was a quiet, hot day. But the next morning we were met by four camels and a guide with a four-wheel drive jeep, and we were off into the desert … a three day and two night expedition in one of the driest, hottest places on earth.

As we rode into the desert, leaving the village behind, with only four camels, three litres of water, a tube of sunscreen, a camera and a guide, there was a fleeting moment when Sharon wondered whether the sun had really affected her lucidity when she'd agreed to this particular portion of the trip. The carrot ahead was the fact that the camels were only for the first day of the journey … the next two days' transportation was the four-wheel drive jeep that the other guide had happily driven away in with all the rest of our gear half an hour ago.

Camels have an odd gait, and you probably wouldn't know that their ‘saddles' are really just wooden frames that sit straddling the hump of the camel. Any comfort comes from however many blankets have been layered on top. After the first dismount and remount about 45 minutes into the journey, both Bram and Sharon were quite confident that the blankets on their steeds were more like threadbare sheets. Emma kept happily announcing that she had a really comfy place that she'd found to sit in on her camel, and Ben kept smiling as his placid dromedary ambled along beside. Sharon and Bram gritted their teeth, clenched various muscles on the bottom half of their bodies, and shifted into alternate positions as we followed our trusty guide into the red sands of Wadi Rum.
You have to climb 800 stairs carved into the rock, to reach Ad-Deir (the monastery) at Petra, Jordan. Bram walked them two days in a row!

A few stops and a lunch break behind us, we headed off on our last leg (and for the over-12 crew, last cheeks) of the camel trek, arriving at the site of the remaining walls of Lawrence of Arabia's home for some of the time he'd spent in the desert during the First World War. We dismounted our camels (a three step process simply getting down, and heaven forbid you're not expecting it), stood proudly beside them to get our pictures taken, and with relief tinged with some melancholy, watched our camel guide head off (much more quickly on his own) around the cliff and back into the desert. We climbed into the back of the jeep and sighs were heard all around – even from Emma – as we sat down on the padded benches.

The highlight of our time in the desert was the nights. We'd set up camp, i.e. park the jeep and pull out the mattresses and blankets, and explore our neck of the sands of Wadi Rum. As the sun set in blazing hues over the mountains, we would sit on the dunes, marveling at the wonders of God's handiwork. When darkness fell, we'd lie side-by-side, gazing up at the galaxy of stars, awestruck by the vastness of the sky and then, before you knew it, it was morning! They were truly magical times.