Dear Cruise Diary
Day 24 – Aqaba, Jordan, and tour to Petra and Wadi Rum
May 14, 2013
The Mariner of the Seas was not scheduled to dock in Aqaba, Jordan, until 9 am, so it was a treat to sleep past 7 am. I also was better accustomed to preparing for a day ashore – money belt under my pants with credit card, copy of my passport, extra money, driver’s license, etc. I normally would have carried my passport itself, but in this case the ship staff had collected them the night before in order to get Jordanian stamps and we would not receive them until the following day or so. Because I was on a private tour, there was no guarantee the ship would wait for us were we delayed, so I also took a week’s worth of medicine. My policy was to prepare for the worst and it wouldn’t happen, and of course, it didn’t.
We boarded two buses and began the approximately two-hour drive to Petra, through Aqaba and into the mountains. In the port, we could see Israel to the west and Saudi Arabia to the south – Aqaba is Jordan’s only seaport. It is a resort town as well as a busy port, and we found it to be modern and clean – about the opposite of the parts of Egypt we had visited. We quickly climbed into the desert mountains, although we could easily see the Rift Valley to the west. There were small villages of semi-nomadic people, and as we went further the black rectangular tents of the Bedouins. They had the occasional camel, but more common was a pickup truck.
Many tour buses pulled over to an overlook to see the nearby mountaintop where Moses’ brother, Aaron, was buried, but we took pictures through the bus windows and continued to Petra. The visitor center and start of the 2-kilometer walk to the Petra Treasury was on the edge of town, and there were large crowds of tours everywhere. I waited in the long line to the women’s WC (no line for the men, of course) and then joined my tour on the gently downward sloping walk. Once we entered the Siq, or small gorge, we had shade from the high cliffs. Occasional horse-drawn carriages would quickly clop by us as we hurried to one side or the other of the cobblestone trail. The walls were spotted with 2,000-year-old carvings from the Nabatean people, who lived along the trade routes. Of course, I knew that for every step down the path, there were be a step up on my return.
The Siq narrowed and then suddenly we caught a glimpse of the Treasury, the most famous of the sites at Petra. We also saw the throngs of people surrounding it (funny how the tourism pictures don’t show that!). Everyone scattered to take pictures, and before long it was time to return up the long path to the buses. Most of the ship excursions spent longer in the area, seeing more sites, but unlike the official ship tours, we had combined the Petra trip with the Wadi Rum desert trip.
We had the option to ride horses halfway back up to the visitor’s center, but as I knew I would be hiking in the Black Hills of South Dakota in a month, I declined the ride.
After leaving Petra we stopped at the Marriott Hotel just outside of town for another great buffet lunch of Middle Eastern fare. Then we went back along the road to the turnoff to Wadi Rum. Wadi means valley and rum means heights; this is also called the Valley of Moon because it is a magnificent desert landscape. Sandstone mountains tower over small Bedouin villages. This is the area where Lawrence of Arabia helped in the Arab revolution against the Ottomans, and we passed the same railroad tracks that they blew up in the movie. We also saw the Seven Pillars mountain so named by Lawrence.
After boarding 4×4 Jeeps and pickups, we headed onto the desert sand to visit one of the Bedouin villages at the Spring of Lawrence. Then we moved on to a sand dune and small mountain that some people climbed while the rest of us headed for a nearby site to watch the sun set. It was a remarkable experience in the quiet desert.
After the long day, we headed back to the ship docked at Aqaba and arrived in time for an 8:30 pm dinner in the dining room. I sat with Dick and Sue, with whom I had dinner on my first night, and John and Christy (the couple who met on a previous cruise). Christy had broken her arm while ice-skating on the ship’s rink a couple of weeks earlier. I didn’t even bother to download my pictures, but went straight to bed – looking forward to six sea days after five very busy days in Egypt and Jordan.
Tomorrow: Days 25-30 – At Sea in the Red Sea, Gulf of Adin and Persian Gulf