Sunday, February 5, 2012

Jordan - Days 8-11

We were hoping to see camel racing in Wadi Rum before departing, but the Emirati prince who was presiding changed his schedule, so the races would be in the afternoon.  Bummer.

We drove the short two hours to Aqaba, arriving so early that the hotel wasn't quite ready for us.  When we finally got into our rooms, we quickly changed and headed out again for an afternoon of snorkeling and boating.

Aqaba is a fun seaside town. located on the very tip of the Red Sea and adjacent to Eilat, Israel.  Which is adjacent to the Egyptian border.  On Aqaba's other side is the Saudi border.  Aqaba was the site of an important victory against the Ottomans by the T.E. Lawrence- and Sharif Hussein-led Arab forces in 1917, cementing itself in history as an important symbol for Arab statehood.  A giant Arab Revolution flag flies high above the port today to commemorate this. 

We boarded a very nice boat and staked our claims on the best views.  We motored out of the port and were treated to grand views of all four countries in a short amount of time.  The day was sunny and gorgeous and warm but not hot.  The snorkeling was highly disappointing (poor equipment, heavy current, inoperable boat ladder, bleached coral), but the afternoon was not a total wash because the scenery was so compelling.  I vow never to travel without my own mask and snorkel again.  I imagine there are some snorkel/dive sites farther from shore that are better preserved; the conditions of the day were just not conducive to staying in the water for long.  Returning to port we elected to walk back to our hotel, which gave us a nice taste of the city.

After long showers and a change of clothes, most of the group met up for dinner at a nice seafood restaurant across from the hotel.  The prices were reasonable, the food decent, and we talked them into letting us use the otherwise-empty lounge area for our meal, which meant we had an open-air setting with great views of the streets below.  At least a couple weddings were taking place, so we got to watch the wedding caravans as well as watch several firework displays.  It was wonderful.  We walked around a small market and several nearby shops, but nothing caught my fancy.  I headed back to the hotel for a good night's sleep. 

The next morning we packed up and headed north, this time via the Desert Highway.  True to name, it boasts several hundred kilometer stretches of scenic desert.  We arrived to Amman in the early evening and checked back into our starting point hotel.  We went downtown for a final group meal at a trendy spot (Books@Cafe), which was bittersweet since most of us would scatter the next day.  In fact, a few people left later that night.  The rest of us stayed up in the lobby for last-minute conversations and then lots of hugs and promises to write and visit.  Sad moments indeed.

The next morning I trekked back to the Intercontinental for one last night of luxury.  I indulged in another massage and then readied myself to meet up with more friends.  My good friend from orientation and Arabic and her husband are posted to Amman and are loving their time there.  She picked me up and took me to Wild Jordan Cafe for soup and smoothies and lots of catching up - what a wonderful time!  Then she took me to two of her favorite places - the Soap Palace and Silsal pottery.  I fell in love with both.  And bought entirely too much beautiful pottery that somehow needed to fit into my luggage.

We had a wonderful and delicious dinner at her home with her husband and cat and then went to a colleague's housewarming.  What a perfect end to an awesome vacation!  I headed to the airport the next day and flew back to Jeddah, my Jordanian odyssey having run its marvelous course. 

Jordanian jets putting on a great show!

Aqaba Port

From the boat

Looking at Eilat, Israel

I think we're getting close to the Israel/Egypt border here...

Pretty water!

Jordanian coast

Jordan coast with beachgoers

The captain insisted I take his picture


C takes control of the helm...

The captain came back; C indicated he was steering us to Israel

Aqaba, complete with GIANT Arab Revolution flag

Sunset in Aqaba
These photos do not do justice to the beauty of these vases

The cat helps a little, but still not great photo of gorgeous vase