Jani's Excursion to

Day 4: Wadi Rum, Aqaba

Yet another luvverly awakening at 5 AM, courtesy of the mosque and God's greatness.  I felt better, but not by much, so my breakfast consisted primarily of aspirin.

We left Tayybeh early in the morning and headed off the King's Highway to the larger and much more heavily trafficked Desert Highway, connecting Amman, Aqaba and Iraq.  Sanction-runners were trucking supplies towards Iraq and oil on the way back, pedal to the metal even on the hairpin curves of the steep descent from the mountain plateau of Amman and Ma'an to the sea-level valley heading for Aqaba.  The Lonely Planet guide describes in a cheery tone how every now and then an oil truck's brakes fail and the behemoth goes careening down, mowing all in its path until it falls off the cliff and explodes in a fireball.  We were, however, spared this spectacular sight.

Our first destination of the day was Wadi Rum.  "Wadi" means valley, but Wadi Rum isn't a valley in the usual sense: it's more like a flat desert plain which just happens to have massive (1500-meter) mountains thrusting up on both sides.  The pathetic little village of Rum nestles at the entrance to the valley, containing little more than a few souvenir shops and the "Directorate Educatioanal Military Culture King Talal Elementary School Rum", which was surrounded by as much barbed wire as an Israeli correctional institute.  Maybe it was one.

The preferred way to explore the area is to follow in the footsteps of Lawrence of Arabia and hire some camels, or be a degenerate Westerner and hire a 4WD jeep from the Bedouin, ideally spending a night in the desert.  Being short on time, we just walked around a bit, but a total lack of signposting prevented us from finding the official attractions.  (Needless to say, plenty of locals were on hand to guide us for a fee.  I suspect a conspiracy.)  But the mountains were impressive enough on their own, and even the desert was more in line with the usual vision of rolling Saharan sand dunes, as opposed to the endless fields of rock that it usually is.  Vegetation was next to nonexistent and the basic desert survival equipment demonstrated by my brother in the picture above was necessary.

We continued on our way to Aqaba.  The city has two sides to it: the very busy industrial port area, best showcased upon entry from the north by the truck parking lot several square kilometers in size, and the touristy beach area, which was surprisingly Western in appearance.   Uncramped, quiet, clean, green, signs mostly in English...  not the attributes of  a typical Jordanian city!  Although it was supposed to be high season, the city was very quiet indeed.  Presumably this was partly due to Ramadan, but there were next to no Western tourists either.  Then again, this was true for most of Jordan, with the notable exception of Petra.  Evidently Saddam's latest temper tantrum had scared off most people.
Aqaba is a little short on the attraction side.  It wasn't quite warm enough for the beach, the aquaria and diving facilities are better on the Israeli side, and even the souqs looked more like the beachside stalls in places like California.  The sole historical attraction is an old Mamluk fort, located in near the beach.  It wasn't much, but entrance was free, the maze of corridors on the 2nd floor was funky, and you could have gotten a good view of the city if there had been any good views to be seen, which there weren't.

With Aqaba thus out of the way it was time to play another exciting game of Passport Shuffle on the border crossing.  The first day's entry procedures were repeated in reverse, with a few extra hoops to jump through (even the diplomatic passport holders had to pay 4 JD exit tax, much to the indignation of my father).  Oddly enough, entry into Israel proved the easiest part, since it took the border officials less than half an hour to decide that we are probably not terrorists.

Once in Eilat, we headed for our hotel, the intriguingly named Club In Eilat, and celebrated the end of the Jordanian journey with a dip in the swimming pool and a festive meal at McDonalds.

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