Day 0.5 Wednesday, April 12
A rush out the door after work and at the airport. Well, the travel agency, DNATA booked the hotels and they took a long time to get the paperwork printed out at the airport.
I had waited until the last minute to book the hotels and as it turned out, it was a very fully booked week. So we ended up in the Aqaba Gulf Hotel, which isn’t the worst but not a top of the line hotel. Though Surya said, he likes it as they don’t treat you like you are soo special.
It was a two hour flight, full and cramped seating on Jordanian Airways. There was a meal which was OK and TV in the seatbacks. Very cramped when the person in front reclined, nearly the worst I’ve seen. Marja’s seatback TV didn’t work.
We landed and then had to buy a Jordanian Visa for 10 Jordanian Dinars (JD) each. (1 JD = 1.6 CAD) I thought the travel guidebook, “Roughguides, Jordan”, said that there might be an ATM in the arrival zone of the airport but there isn’t, there are only money changers.
There were moneychangers in the area where you buy the stamp, and fortunately I had some cash to exchange, I don’t know if they would take cash on a credit card. And luckily I had grabbed the US cash I had laying about along with the few Kuwait Dinars in the wallet which gave the 60 JD for the Visas.
Two taxis to the hotel for what they said was the regulated fare of 18.5 JD for each taxi.
Day 1 Thursday, April 13
We got up and had to get a rental car. I phoned around and also in the hotel they offered a vehicle. For the six of us with luggage we needed a bigger vehicle, and the Hyundai H1 was offered. I was given a price for 90 JD from Europcar and Payless offered 70 JD. So I got payless to bring the vehicle to the hotel and by the time they added the government tax it was the same cost as Europcar. Questions to ask when renting about the rate quoted are:
- Does it include full insurance?
- What is the deductible? In this case it was 500 JD and I paid an extra 4 JD for a deductible of 250 JD.
- Is there a charge for an additional driver?
- Will they do airport drops?
- Mileage included, generally unlimited at these prices.
So we go the van and it is a good size. One back seat flipped up fits all the bags in nicely. It drives well, is a standard. Of course it doesn’t fly like the Caprice.
They gave it to me empty, well I least I don’t have to fill it when returning.
We got to a nearby gas station and filled it up. The price is not cheap like Kuwait. And the standard is leaded gas. For unleaded you need to ask or as I believe you get Super which is the unleaded version. When traveling we asked and they don’t exactly know in their limited English.
We set out in the middle of Amman from the Radisson SAS with no decent map, figuring on aiming for any sign. Well we ended up kind of circling around in the city center. Which is quite interesting but with a focus of seeing some sights outside of Amman and getting to Aqaba we didn’t stop. I certainly would not want to navigate there to a specific location.
So finally we stopped at a gas station. They were very helpful. The owner was called to help as he speaks English. Actually he lived 23 years in Tampa Bay, Florida, returned to Jordan two years ago after running gas stations there and has an American wife of 18 years. He said that Americans were always very helpful to him so he would help us. First he started to give directions after saying throw away the map as it is useless as most of the city street signs are in Arabic anyhow. They he said that he was heading out and if we waited a few minutes we could just follow him and he’d guide us to the main highway. So we did, and once on the main highway, there are signs in English to the main spots.
This is the most important biblical site (meaning Old Testament) in Jordan and therefore special to the Jews, Christians and Muslims. Having led the Israelites for 40 years through the wilderness Moses finally saw from this high point the Promised Land that God had forbidden him to set foot in. And after Moses died on Mount Nebo his successor Joshua went on to lead the Israelites into Canaan. In Christian and Jewish tradition Moses was buried on or in Mount Nebo but Muslims who regard Moses as a prophet think he was carried across the river and placed in a tomb now lying off the modern Jericho – Jerusalem highway. There is a church built in 394 AD with mosaics and remains of a monastery. (this is from the Rough Guide to Jordan, the guidebook that we used)
Then we went to the Baptism Site. This was a military zone on the border of Israel which was opened up after the 1994 peace treaty.
It is the site where John the Baptist lived and was active and where he most likely “baptized” Jesus Christ. There are now at least 21 archeological. So you must stop at the visitor center and take a bus with a guide to the site for security but as we were many with kids they got a permission slip and the guide came with us in the van to where we parked and then walked the 1 km or so to the sites. You take a path and come upon the Church of John the Baptist, then along passing by a new 2005 Greek Orthodox Church of St. John then down steps to the River Jordan. Across the river is the Israeli site, called Qasr al-Yahud. As the River Jordan meanders over the years and isn’t the size it used to be the baptism site may not be exact.
Then we drove the rest of the way to Aqaba along the Dead Sea the lowest point on the earth’s surface, 400 m below sea level and onwards through more spectacular scenery desert and mountains into Aqaba.
In general the Jordanians are very friendly. I’m with the family and there are numerous checkpoints along the roads. They are very friendly and have limited English. Sometime I showed my passport and once they asked for Marja’s. One time they just saw the Canada on it and waved us on.
Then after checking in to the hotel we went for dinner at Pizza Hut and Burger King.
Day 2 Friday, April 14
On the boat, I went on an extra boat as their regular one was full and everyone else stayed back and rested in the hotel and explored.
I did two dives. And it is amazingly clear water. 25 meters visibility compared to the often 2 meter visibility in Kuwait. And the coral varieties are great. Both dives were at the “Powerplant”
We had a buffet dinner at the Movenpick. This was also the party night so it was busy and the start of gaining weight on vacation.
Day 3 Saturday, April 15
Now we all went on the boat. I did two dives, Japanese Garden and Gorgonian One, and everyone else had fun diving off the top of the boat and diving over top of the coral. Even Janaki was snorkeling and saw some really neat fish. Since this she has not been able to put down the portable guide to Red Sea sea life. She is learning many of the fish types. And there are about a hundred on the chart.
They serve a great lunch on the boat, cooked on the boat. Everyone eats when all the SCUBA divers have done their two dives. There are usually snorkellers on the boat and people doing try dives. Also it is nice that there is a good supply of fresh water, so just after diving, on the trip back which takes around 40 minutes, I can rinse all the gear in fresh water.
Funny thing for me, once I see all the corals and some fish I want to see more or do more challenging dives. So much coral everywhere you get used to seeing it and want to see more.
Dinner at Movenpick again. Inside, nice and quiet. It seems they are kid friendly as the kids are half price and Janaki is Free! The food is really good with lots of salads, but the service wasn’t so good at the table. I guess because we don’t order drinks.
Day 4 Sunday, April 16
As everyone was sunbaked from yesterday, we thought it would be nice to go on to Petra for a day. Well we did the drive which was quite spectacular in the very rugged scenery passing the odd goat herd to Petra. The drive is about two hours. But the weather was closed in. When we arrived in Petra it was windy and cold and raining! We didn’t bring our warm clothes expecting 30 degrees C or more type weather. Petra is lots of walking so even with rain jackets it would have been too much. So we had a nice coffee and the kids had ice cream in the Moovenpick and then we returned to Aqaba.
Before returning I booked a room (two rooms) for Thursday night so on Thursday we’ll go to Petra and have lots of time. At least enough for the kids to handle.
The Moovenpick in Petra is famous for its hand done architecture.
Now the city is much quieter. It seems like a different place than the weekend. We went to a local place and had a pleasant little meal. In this case we all ate for 20 JD vs. the Moovenpic at 15 JD for adults and half for kids and free for Janaki. (Depending on things, officially here over 12 of age is adult, meaning Surya sometimes is full price)
Savitri can’t wait to go SCUBA diving.
We went to a recommended local restaurant called Al Shami, for dinner. Marja and Savitri came we got take out for the rest. Total cost 25 JD. This is compared to about 55 JD at the Moovenpick buffet with kids half price and Janaki free.
Day 5, Monday, April 17, 2006
I went diving. Did the Cedar Pride and First Bay.
Marja and the kids drove to the Fourth Beach and went first from the pier, but that was not great visibility, mostly due to a little rain runoff from the previous day. So they went about 200 meters down the shore and had lots of fun diving. There are very accessible amazing corals.
The Cedar Pride is the celebrated wreck of Jordan. It was deliberately sunk and conveniently sits such that you can even dive under it. And then also go to the side of it and surface in an air pocket. Though, a couple of breaths in the clammy air was enough. They said it is smelly air too but if you keep your mask on, it covers your nose, so you won’t smell it.
Some pretty interesting life on the boat in the nooks and crannies. The wreck is sideways and there is not too much on the underside. Apparently what happens is that growth starts on a wreck then as the paint flakes off the stuff goes off with it.
Moovenpic dinner. Great food, lousy service. Very slow and non-attentive. My theory is that labour costs are high here. You don’t have the cheap expatriate Asian labour force
Day 6 Tuesday, April 18, 2006
This is the day of the big dive. Dove the Taiyong. Awesome. Did a very long dive with decompression and a maximum depth of 55.8 meters.
From this depth, you can see the surface. That is amazing visibility. And the vista is spectacular, with such visibility. That is what I find so amazing here, you SCUBA dive and you have “scenery”. The waters angle down and have some drops and head downwards at a good rate. In fact it must as the width of the Aqaba Gulf is not too much and the bottom is apparently over 800 meters down.
What is interesting is the wreck sits at 45 degrees resting on its crane. This makes it the most interesting. If it has sunk flat it would not be so interesting.
So this dive was planned to go into decompression. So double tanks on the back and a 40% Nitrox on my left side. Then by the computer doing decompression. There was quite a bit required, it was near 40 minutes but getting higher and doing the decompression on the 40% reduced the time a bit. Later when I’m trained up more, I’ll be able to add an 80% decompression tank also and then it should shorten by 10 minutes the decompression time. It was interesting in that we my Suunto D9 vs. Rod’s Suunto Vytec were pretty well matching on the decompression times until on mine when it said 3 minutes left, Rod’s had gone to 0 time left. I think mine added a mandatory 3 minute stop as I did one spot of a few meters ascent rate too much. Complicated stuff. I’ll go back to the manual again.
Afterwards I went with Marja, Surya and Savitri snorkeling for a bit. In the shallows you see more snorkeling than diving as some fish get scared off from divers due to all the bubbles being exhaled.
Al Shami Dinner second time. Very good. Though the lamb has lots of grease. But isn’t that what makes it taste the best!
Day 7, Wednesday, April 19, 2006
An easy day. Saving energy for Petra. We discussed going to Wadi Rum in the afternoon, but never did it. It wouldn’t be enough time. We may pass by tomorrow.
Aqaba Fort and Museum. The fort was built in 1320.
A bit of fun, bats flying out of the dark rooms at the side. Otherwise I think not too exciting for the family. A hot day outside. So the kids had a swim in the pool afterwards.
Then late in the evening I took some shots of the Aila Fort. It is very old, built in early Islamic times.
Always check the rental car tire pressure and all the lights. In this case I saw that one headlight is burned out. I wondered why people were flashing their lights at me.
And one of the front tires looked low so I went to where they fix tires in the city here and asked the guy to check and fill the front ones. Well both were very low, 18 psi so I asked him to put 30 in.
I looked at the Nasir apartments behind Dive Aqaba. Good price, 3 bedrooms with room for 8 or 9 people for only 70 JD a night, negotiable. One third of what we’re paying in total for two four star hotel rooms! There is a fridge and no stove, one shower, and it is clean with separate split AC units for each bedroom and also in the common area. So next time? Perhaps even to buy an apartment as a long term investment.
There is the new area in Aqaba that is being built. Perhaps some land or an apartment for a long term investment. I’m told foreigners can buy land here.
Tonight is packing and relaxing.
Day 8, Thursday, April 20
Petra, wow, what can you say. So good they filmed the Indiana Jones movies there. There are lots of links on the web so I won’t explain much. Try here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petra to start.
Day 9, Friday, April 21
This was the day of driving back to the airport in Amman from Petra. We got to the airport early but there was some minor stress as the person from the rental car company didn’t arrive to get the van until the last minute. They don’t have an office and I phoned them the night before to confirm the pick up time but they forgot to update the person who was coming to the airport to meet me.
Well, until next time. For me the trip to Jordan has change me. I’m not sure how exactly but doing the hours of driving through such terrain with such history and thinking of the great travels that have occurred there, has given me a different perspective.