A Travellerspoint blog

Island Paradise

We go in search of some peace and solitude in the Agean.

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How would you describe your perfect island retreat? Rugged and isolated? Beautiful and idyllic? Lively and exciting? This is the question we really had to ask ourselves as we crossed the border from Turkey into Greece. Greece’s islands are no secret, in fact Greek island hopping is almost a required part of any European experience. But, with 227 inhabited islands to choose from some hard decisions need to be made. Having just left behind the world’s 8th largest city, we decided what we needed was some peace and quiet. Now our challenge was to find it! Moving into the summer holiday season we knew that the Greek staples of Santorini and Mykanos wouldn’t exactly fit the bill. Our only hope was to pick something from left of field, and so we settled on Samothraki. What a choice that turned out to be.

Samothraki isn’t exactly tourist free, in fact tourism is one of its major industries. But, unlike some of her more popular southern neighbours, Samothraki caters mainly for Greek tourists giving you the feeling that you’re really off the beaten track. This is felt even further when you realise there is only one ferry to the island each day, leaving from the rather obscure port town of Alexandropolis. Not letting this deter us, and with our minds resolutely made up on our destination, we made our way to Alexandropolis and got ready for our ferry early the next day. We awoke in the morning and boarded the old ferry boat, daubed in the Greek national colours, on course for the unknown. The first impression you have of the Samothraki as the island appears upon the horizon is its greenery. While most of Greek’s islands are dry and sparsely vegetated, the slopes of Samothraki’s Mt. Fengari are covered in dense woodlands ready to be explored. As the boat slowly pulled into the port, we anxiously searched along the busy foreshore for our ride. We had booked a room in Orpheus Hotel, and our fantastic host Christos had ensured that one of the two (yes two) taxis operating on the island would be there to pick us up when we arrived. We weaved our way through the crowd and finally spotted our driver. With nothing more than a language barrier in our way, we made our way to our accommodation and settled in for a week’s worth of good old fashioned relaxing.

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One of Samothraki’s biggest attractions is her beautiful waterfalls and rivers, and it didn’t take us long to venture from our homely accommodation to find ourselves some gushing water. With Christos’ directions we set off into the hills to see what all the fuss was about. Walking along small roads and passed little farms we eventually heard the sound of running water. Cutting off into the forest we followed the small trickle of a stream until we emerged at a beautiful waterfall pool. Crystal clear water flowed down the rocky wall into the deep, cool pool shaded by the over-reaching branches of a mighty oak tree. Although we were the only people around, we soon found that these waterways were teeming with life. Metallic blue dragon flies skimmed across the water, and large lazy butterflies flitted through the dappled light. Frogs sat by the side of the pond watching for their next meal, and we saw snakes and lizards quickly move into the underbrush after being disturbed from their sunbathing. It felt like a scene from a fairy-tale or a magical tale, everywhere seemed to be filled with life. We found out later that the island is full of creatures big and small, even supposedly some type of wild cat (although we never managed to sight that one!). With our first waterfall experience such a roaring success, we spent our next few days exploring more rivers, clambering up over rocks and wading through pools in search of the next magnificent waterfall, including the mighty Fonias falls. Every night we would return to some wonderful Greek hospitality and fantastic local food. We couldn’t have been more content if we tried.

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While we probably could have spent our whole week exploring waterfalls, there is more to this island than just a few rivers. Samothraki also holds attractions of a more cultural nature. We finally plied ourselves away from the cool, freshwater pools and set out for the ruined temple the ‘Sanctuary of the Great Gods’. Unfortunately the public transport on Samothraki isn’t exactly efficient, or existent for that matter, and we got some good practice travelling by ‘auto-stop’ (the Greek term for hitch-hiking) before we finally arrived at the site. The temple was once used for worship of an ancient cult, until it was eventually absorbed into the traditional pantheon of the Greek gods. It is said that the parents of Alexander the Great met at this temple whilst being initiated into the secretive cult, and it is easy to be impressed by the site. Built in a valley with Mt. Fengari towering in the background the site exudes some kind of mythical presence. Although the site isn’t large, the lack of people made the experience particularly special. In a piece of interesting coincidence, the most famous archaeological find from Samothraki’s temple site is the ‘Winged Victory of Samothrace’, which we had inadvertently seen in the Louvre all those months back in Paris. The world is a small place, or at least Europe is.

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Our final place to visit before we left was the islands capital of Xora (pronounced Kora), situated up along the slopes of the island. With a bit of luck, and a bit more auto-stopping, we made our way to the little picturesque, white-washed, terracotta tiled town. Digging into our Greek salad and looking out to sea we were able to contemplate our island visit. Samothraki is not like any other Greek island. It might not have golden sandy beaches (in fact there’s only one sand beach on the whole island!), there are no glamorous hotels or pumping night clubs. But what it lacks for in those areas it makes up for in character and a simple magical sense of adventure. We couldn’t have picked a better place to start our Greek odyssey.

Some observations from Samothraki:

1. Bring a car (or a moped). It can be hard to plan your day around the odd friendly driver.

2. Never tried goat? It’s a Samothraki delicacy and you need to have it.

3. Sometimes there’s more to an island than beaches.

Next stop…Mainland Greece

Posted by remoteman 24.02.2013 04:12 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

The Golden Horn

We are blown away by the sights (and tastes) of Istanbul

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Is Turkey part of Europe or the Middle East? This question has plagued the Anatolian nation ever since the days of the Ottoman Empire. To make a decision for yourself there is only one place you can go, where the country truly does straddle two continents, Istanbul. Although it is no longer the capital, Istanbul is still the gem in Turkey's crown. Beautiful, eclectic, mysterious and wonderful. Covering both sides of the Bosphorous, greater Istanbul is the largest Islamic city in the world, with over 24 million people swarming her streets.

Trapped between Europe and Asia, Istanbul is definitely a unique city. The skyline of the city is like no other. Gazing out towards the Bosphorous the lines of buildings reach as far as the eye can see, and rising from among these endless buildings are the unmistakable shapes of the Ottoman mosques. Large and squat with magnificent domes and soaring minaret towers, the gigantic buildings look more like futuristic space stations than ancient religious centres. Yet, as you come closer, the years of wear and tear on these fabulous structures becomes apparent. If the exterior of the mosques doesn't satisfy you, more awaits inside. Entering one of Istanbul's almost 3,000 mosques is like stepping into a new world. The grand domes, so impressive from the outside, rise above you covered in fantastic Arabic calligraphy and mosaics. The bright sunlight of the world outside is replaced by the glowing red of hundreds of lights, hanging above you in ornate chandeliers, and the hum of traffic is exchanged for the soft sound of footsteps on the colourful carpet. Although we visited a number of mosques around the city, the two most impressive were the Blue Mosque and New Mosque (Yeni Cami). These beautiful buildings truly reflect the power and grandeur that was the Ottoman empire.

Yeni Cami prayer time

Yeni Cami prayer time

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Though Istanbul has long been associated with Muslim culture, its history reaches far back beyond Islam to its time as a Roman city. Byzantium (as it was once called), was founded in the 600's BC by a Greek general, and almost 900 years later was made the capital of the Roman Empire by the Emperor Constantine and renamed Constantinople. As the first Christian emperor of Rome, Constantine's city was once covered in churches. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Constantinople remained a powerhouse of Christianity, as the head of the Byzantine Empire until the city fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. In fact, it has only been the past 500 years, less than a quarter of its lifetime, in which Istanbul (the city was renamed in 1920's) has been a Muslim city. This long history as a Christian capital has left a legacy still palpable today, and nowhere is this more evident than in the Aya Sophia. Once the great church of the city, the Aya Sophia has since spent time as a fortress, a mosque and currently as a museum. Excellent restoration work has helped uncover remnants of the early Byzantine mosaics, many of which had been covered up when the building was converted into a mosque. As you stand on the upper levels of the immense building you can see long golden waves of Arabic script exquisitely painted on the walls next to 1,500 year old mosaics of Jesus and Mary, all within the towering interior of the religious fortress. The history of the Aya Sophia is reflective of the history of Istanbul as a whole, buffeted by the winds of history from Christian Europe and Islamic Asia to create a melting pot of religion and culture.

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To really get an idea of the conflicting identity of Istanbul a visit to Topkapi palace is almost a necessity. We hopped on a clean and timely tram (very European) into the Sultanhamet district. The Palace sits overlooking the opening of the Bosphorous strait, in idyllic gardens full of towering pine trees. Topkapi was the residence of the Ottoman sultans for 400 years, growing into an extensive complex including a treasury, barracks and luxurious family quarters. As you first enter the complex the similarities to the French kings' Palace of Versailles are everywhere. From the neatly manicured gardens, to the finely carved wooden awnings and grand bedrooms, the feeling of being in a European royal residence is unmistakable. Yet, as you wander through the mosques, past the private harem and ornately mosaiced terraces, you feel again the cultural conflict between Europe and Asia which so fittingly represents Istanbul. It is unsurprising that this conflict should culminate in the Palace of the sultans, who's empire once spanned from Vienna all the way to Morocco, with Istanbul at its head.

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So, is Turkey part of Europe or Asia? Although historically, religious differences once placed the Ottoman Empire outside of Europe, in today's modern world it is more difficult to so easily separate Turkey from the nations to her west. For us, arriving from the Middle East, the distinction seemed obvious. Istanbul is orderly and clean, much more like a European capital than a Middle Eastern city like Ciairo. Unfortunately, we were unable to visit more of Turkey than her cultural capital, but the distinction still seemed fairly clear. Of course, different people always seem to come to different conclusions. If you really want to find out for yourself you need to explore the beauty of Istanbul. Leaving the city after a week, we felt that Istanbul more than deserves to be found beside Paris or London in a list of great cities.

Some observations from Istanbul:

1. No matter where you go, you can always hear seagulls.

2. The food is an attraction in itself. Try everything and anything.

3. If you think the Grand Bazaar is too much for you, you probably shouldn't go any deeper into the Middle East.

Next stop...Greece

Posted by remoteman 23.09.2012 19:08 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Miracle Country

A pass a few more holy sites and a couple of miracles on our way to Tel Aviv

Maybe I'll go for a walk...

Maybe I'll go for a walk...

As much as you read and see about Israel in the news, spending time in Jerusalem you would be forgiven for thinking that the area is peaceful and stable. We decided to get our finger closer to the pulse, and head north into the Golan Heights. As late as the 70's the area was still an active war-zone, copping the brunt of Israeli and Lebanese/Syrian hostilities. Since the annexation of the Golan by Israel in 80's, the area has been mostly peaceful and is now dotted with many national parks and farms, making it a great area to explore. Just as long you can avoid the minefields!

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The biggest problem when travelling in the Golan is the non-existent public transport. With this in mind, we decided to hire a car (a fairly cheap exercise in Israel) and headed north from Jerusalem. When you sign your car rental agreement, it states quiet clearly that the car must not be driven into the Palestinian Territories. However, the quickest route between Jerusalem and the Golan Heights runs directly through the West Bank. We were prepared for a long detour, until we learned an interesting fact. It turns our that Israel controls a highway which runs directly through the West Bank connecting the Holy City with the north of the country. Not something that shows up on your basic map of the region. In a similar scenario to that at the border crossing, although we weren't allowed to drive our car into the West Bank, we could drive through it along this designated highway, bordered on either side by high barbed wire fences. A couple of hours, and a check-point later, we arrived on the banks of the Sea of Galilee, sight of Jesus' miraculous water walk. As we found out over the next few days, this area is cluttered with more Biblical sights than you can poke a stick at. We ended our first day of travel in what would be our base for the next few days, the mega-hotel town of Tiberias. Not the most beautiful location, but it fitted our needs.

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Unlike many of the Arab nations in the Middle East region, Israelis are lovers of hiking and outdoor pursuits. This is reflected in their national park network, which is extensive and well maintained. We spent the next three days driving between one park and another, soaking up the spectacular views and beautiful hikes. Although the main roads and national parks are clean and new, the scars of war are never far away. Driving along many of the roads can be unnerving as fences rise up on either side with large signs; 'Danger: Minefield'. At one point, whilst pulled into a rest stop, we noticed the broken wreckage of a tank sitting beside the road. Not your everyday highway debris. Despite all this, the areas which are safe to enter seem to have remained pristine. The parks offer some great hiking and wildlife spotting, all within a short drive of our base in Tiberias. On one of our final days in the north, we drove up to the remains of the gigantic 'Nimrod Fortress', a 13th century castle which towers over the surrounding mountains with views out towards the Lebanese and Syrian border. Although the walls are now crumbling, the ruins are still complete with towers and secret passages, making exploring exciting. But, almost as quickly as our time in the north began, we had to leave the Golan. We headed west, stopping off at the long shut Lebanese border crossing, before driving south along the western coast, in sight of the Med once again.

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The west coast of Israel holds some of the more interesting cities in the region. Our first stop was at the ancient city of Acre, one of the oldest continuously inhabited sights in the region. The city reached its highest point as the major port for the crusader armies. It's easy to forget that the chaos and bloodshed of the 20th century is only one of many wars which have engulfed the region. The combatants may have changed, but the basic goal remains the same; Jerusalem. Much of the old castles of the Knights Templar and Hospitaller, fanatical defenders of the Holy Land, are still in tact, surrounded now by shops, stalls and apartments. Heading further south we reached Haifa. Although Haifa possesses less illustrious history than some of the other cities in Israel, it still holds one of the most interesting sights in the country; The Baha'i Gardens. For those of you who, like me, haven't heard of the Baha'i, they are a religious group formed in the mid 19th century by a Persian noble. With a growing number of followers, the Baha'i don't build churches or mosques, but instead construct beautiful gardens. Those at Haifa are simply amazing, rising up the side Mount Carmel dotted with temples and religious buildings. Although the Bahai are still a small, relatively unknown religion, its hard not to think about the growth of the worlds major religions in their first hundred years. 100 years after the death of Jesus Christianity was still an obscure, subversive religious group. In 500 years who knows how powerful the Baha'i might be? But that is a thought for another day. We departed Haifa and dropped off our trusty car in Tel Aviv, our last stop in Israel. Tel Aviv seemed an appropriate foil to the beginning of our journey in Jerusalem. The pious, conservative nature of Jerusalem couldn't be further from the decadence and hedonism of Tel Aviv. You would be hard pressed to find any overt signs of religion in the bronzed bodies pacing along Tel Aviv's beach front. The city, Israel's business capital, represents the modern, secular side of Israel. A whole new side to what is a fascinating country.

Visiting Israel, even for a short time, is bound to challenge your views on the tiny, controversial nation and the region as a whole. After all there are very few places where you can see an armed teenage soldier perusing a shopping mall with their parents, watch children playing around a bomb shelter, or drive a hire car through a minefield. Whether you support Israel or not, the fact is that the cities and streets of the country aren't just dots on a map but are people's homes, where they were born and have spent their lives. Governments will postulate, discuss and argue over the best means to bring peace to the Middle East, but we should never forget that what is most important is the well being of the civilians. Those on both sides.

Some observations from the Golan and the Western coast:

1. Try not to drive off road, you might get a bit more than you bargained for.

2. The soldiers at the check-points may just be out of school, but they still know how to shoot.

3. Lines on a map don't quiet convey where Israel ends and the Palestinian Territories begin.

Next stop...Istanbul

Posted by remoteman 16.08.2012 01:25 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

The belly of the beast

Eclectic and controversial Jerusalem

The golden dome

The golden dome

The Holy City of Jerusalem conjures up different images for different people. To Christians it is the site of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. To the Jews, the city holds the remains of the Second Temple of Solomon, the great temple of their religion. To the Muslim world, Jerusalem is home to the temple mount; the point where Mohammed ascended to heaven, the third most important sight in Islam. If you don't fall into any of these categories, Jerusalem simply represents an intriguing old city which has unequivocally shaped the course of history. No matter where your beliefs lie, it's hard not to be fascinated by Jerusalem.

The Western Wall

The Western Wall

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To get to Jerusalem from Jordan is no simple matter however. Although the border has been opened since the 90's, the excursion across the border isn't one taken lightly. Leaving from Amman, you must travel to the King Hussein Bridge border crossing where you pay your Jordanian exit tax and fill out your departure card. When everything is in order, you are herded on to a bus to transport you through no-man's land, an area of rather Spartan wilderness, with the barren landscape interrupted only momentarily by the Jordan river. Upon reaching the other side, you realise the fun has only just begun. Heavily armed Israeli soldiers hustle you inside, where you are subjected to luggage X-rays, baggage checks and inane questioning. After an hour or so of this ordeal you reach the final hurdle, the immigration desk where you are given your Israeli stamp. Undoubtedly you will be asked one question at this point: “Are you planning to travel in the Palestinian territories?”. Of course the answer must always be no, otherwise they may turn you around and send you back to Jordan (a real possibility!). The bizarre thing is once you are finally waved through and exit the border station you are standing in the West Bank. You get in a shared taxi with a Palestinians number plate, full of Palestinians and with a Palestinian driver, and proceed to drive through the Palestinian territories towards Jerusalem. It feels almost as if the Israeli government is simply pretending the West Bank isn't there! As we approached Jerusalem, we could see the Israeli settlements encircling the city, built on Palestinian land. No matter how hard some people might try to ignore it, this area of the world is never far from controversy.

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Jerusalem itself is a city of division. The new city of Jerusalem is divided into the Jewish west and the Arab east, remnants of the cities historic division during the early years of the State of Israel. The Old City is divided again, this time into Quarters. We started our visit as most people do, entering through the western Jaffa Gate into the Christian Quarter, a fairly orderly area full of tourist stalls selling religious knick-knacks. With no desire to buy a flashing Jesus, we continued west as the streets slope down deeper and deeper into the city. Eventually we entered the Arab Quarter, a cornucopia of noise and chaos, with stands selling everything from sweets to political T-shirts. Strangely, after spending the past few months in Arab countries, the shout of stall vendors and the scream of children was more familiar to us than the neat and orderly streets of the Christian area. We wandered through the lanes and alleyways until, in the distance, we caught our first glimpse of the Dome of the Rock, the fantastically decorated golden mosque perched atop the temple mount. As we got closer though we realised that, like everything else in this city, the temple mount is itself divided. Sitting beneath the mount, almost as though it were supporting the beautiful mosque above it, sits the Western Wall of the Temple of Solomon. Opened 24 hours a day, the Wall never has a shortage of visitors coming to pray. Observing the proximity of the two holy sights, you can almost see the years of occupation, destruction and construction which have formed this city over thousands of years. All this in a few hundred meters of earth. The security zone around the Western Wall presents a bit of an impediment to any further exploration, and we were forced southwards away from the hustle and bustle of the Arab area. Suddenly, almost without warning, we encounter a sharp and distinct division in the city. Entering the Jewish Quarter we felt like we'd entered a quiet suburb rather than an ancient city. Unlike the Arab and Christian Quarters, the Jewish area is mostly residential, with little doorways leading into neat and orderly apartment foyers. Unfortunately, much of the old Jewish Quarter was destroyed during the Israeli 'War of Independence' or 'Arab War' (N.B. Everything to do with Israel has a different name depending on who you're talking to), giving the current Jewish Quarter a much newer feel. The final Quarter of the city, the Armenian Quarter, which we meandered through to return to the Jaffa Gate, gives you an idea of how the Jewish Quarter may have once looked. Small and quaint, the Armenian Quarter has few stunning buildings or ancient monuments, just a feeling of calm and quiet. Not two words which you might associate with Jerusalem.

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Jesus!

Understanding the significance of Jerusalem can be difficult from the perspective of an irreligious person. How one stone or wall can hold so much significance to so many people is amazing. Yet, to truly experience Jerusalem you need to immerse yourself in its religious importance. Our journey of religious piety began in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the church built around Golgotha, the believed sight of Jesus' crucifixion. As you enter, you see before you the 'The Stone of Anointing', where Jesus' body was washed after he was removed from the cross. Here people kneel and kiss the stone, often lying prostrate across its age worn surface. From here however, things get a bit more complex. The 'church' is really more a collection of many different chapels, all falling under a different Christian denomination, from Armenian to Evangelical. In many cases, these different groups have a different interpretation of where the most holy sites in the church lie. As you explore through the thick incense and tiny chapels, you encounter various religious tour groups singing hymns, kissing stone walls and saying prayers. It feels completely different to any other church. Leaving behind the church, we next visited the Western Wall. Unlike many of the Christian pilgrims, the Jews embrace their faith with much more flair and less solemnity (at least those we encountered). As we walked beside the wall we encountered a number of Bar Mitzvah, with dancing, singing and shouting, in stark contrast to the almost sorrowful experience of the Christian churches. Finally, as we passed the Western Wall, we began our climb up to the temple mount. As you enter the gardens of the temple mount, you are struck by the calm almost relaxed atmosphere of the site. Groups of men and women sit in large circles chatting and snacking. Religious pilgrims take cheery holiday snaps on the stairs up towards the mosque. The mosque itself is easily the most beautiful building in the city, standing proudly a top the hill with its shining gold dome and intricately tiled walls. Sitting alone in a massive paved courtyard the mosque seems to reach up and touch the sky.

Yad Vashem

Yad Vashem

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Although it would be easy to spend a whole trip to Jerusalem solely in the Old City, New Jerusalem offers a glimpse into the modern history of the city which sits at the heart of the world's most controversial country. One of the most interesting and moving sights to visit is the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. A visit there may not be 'fun', but it's one that you won't soon forget. Built tastefully, so as to best remember and respect those who died, Yad Vashem seamlessly combines the dual purposes of being a museum and a memorial. But, despite the beautiful lay-out, as you explore the museum you can't help but feel the underlying message in many of the displays; that the Jewish people are isolated in a sea of hatred. Only in unity can they hope to combat all those around them. Many groups of army cadets are toured through the museum, shown displays on the horrors of the Holocaust. In a way, Yad Vashem serves a third purpose, as a propaganda tool. It feels unsavoury to associate the two, and yet the State of Israel is intrinsically tied to the horrors of the Second World War. An association which is unlikely to be forgotten any time soon.

Although people may exhibit their faith differently, there is no denying the importance that religion plays in daily life in Jerusalem. Apart from the 800,000 residents, Jerusalem receives millions of religious pilgrims every year. Despite the tension that exist between and within the major monotheistic religions, in Jerusalem these tensions feel almost secondary to people's profession of faith. Yet the strains of history cannot always be so easily forgotten. Jerusalem is the epicentre for a clash of religious fervour and political stubbornness which looks no closer to being solved today than it did 50 years ago. But would you expect anything less from the capital of Israel?

Some observations from Jerusalem:

1. As much as they profess their differences, all holy sights require conservative dress. No matter the religion.

2. Look out for the 'next prophets' with Jerusalem syndrome.

3. Try and spot the CCTV cameras in the Old City, they're everywhere!

Next stop...Golan Heights

Posted by remoteman 05.08.2012 14:06 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

Water water everywhere...

The bizarre world of the Dead Sea

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The Middle East holds some cities with amazing history. Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, the list is extensive. However, Amman (Jordan's capital) isn't among them. In fact, Amman's history as a capital city only began in 1921, with few fantastic tales and majestic buildings. Yet Amman has something that so many other cities in the region seem to lack. Order. Jordan has enjoyed relative political and economic stability within the region, and the streets of Amman appear to have a few more rules than the total chaos we experienced in Cairo. We used Amman as our base to explore the northern expanses of the country, enjoying some delicious falafel and hummus in our time off.

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Of the many attractions in northern Jordan the Dead Sea and Wadi Mujib national park had most peeked our interest. Fortunately for us the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (Jordan's conservation organisation) happened to be running organised trips to both sites just when we reached Amman. We couldn't have been more lucky. Being one of the only substantial bodies of water in the whole country, the Dead Sea is a favourite beach destination for locals. On most days, the public beaches quickly fill with Jordanian families. Unlike these public beaches, we were in for a completely different, and more intimate, experience. Our organised trip included a night in the private RSCN chalets sitting only meters from the Dead Sea, and we were able to approach the shore with nobody else in sight. As we prepared ourselves for our salty swim, the sun began to set over the hills of Israel across the water. To say the Dead Sea is bizarre is an understatement. Rather than sand, the shores of the sea are covered in salt encrusted rocks. As you enter the water the extreme salinity gives you the feeling of entering an oily bath, and then finally you try to swim. The buoyancy of water means regular swimming is completely impossible, all you can really hope for is to float. And so we floated, calm and relaxed on the water watching the sun setting across the sea, illuminating the eerily still water with amazing shades of orange.

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We awoke the next morning calm and relaxed, though stinging a bit from our salty dip the night before. The new day brought with it a completely new experience. The Dead Sea basin was once fed by many rivers, but many are now dammed or diverted to feed the thirsty populations of the region. One river still allowed to (mostly) run its full course is that of Wadi Mujib. To explore the Wadi Mujib canyon requires a sturdy pair of footwear and a willingness to get wet. We climbed to the start of the canyon, every direction we looked was dry and sandy, it seemed unbelievable that we were hiking to a river. Suddenly, though, we heard the sound of running water. Emerging from the desert we came across the entrance point to the Wadi. Our next few hours were spent clambering, crawling, slipping, sliding and sometimes floating our way through canyon. On both sides the sheer walls of the canyon soared into the air, curved and waving from years of erosion. It was hard to believe that beyond those walls lay desert. After a time we met the sheer drop of a waterfall. We strapped in, and abseiled one by one through the water and regrouped underneath the roaring torrent of water. After 5 hours of adventure, we finally emerged from the canyon. We could once again spot the Dead Sea in the distance, yet between us and it we spied the large pipes which divert the waters of the Wadi to quench the thirst of the dry land. We had followed Wadi Mujib so far, but the river would never reach its final destination. So important is water in the Jordan Valley the Dead Sea is shrinking by the day, as water is syphoned from her tributaries. Water scarcity simply provides another flashpoint to fight over in the already troubled region.

Jordan had given us so many fantastic experiences, from the arid beauty of Wadi Rum, the magnificence of Petra and the watery amazement of the Dead Sea and Wadi Mujib. For such a small country, we had no shortage of things to do. Yet, although Jordan provides a stable pillar in a region of war and turmoil, the issue of Israel was never far from conversation. After all, Jordan's population is made up of almost 2 million Palestinian refugees. Following our return from Wadi Mujib, we left Jordan and headed for the flip side of the coin, to explore the Israeli side of the equation.

Some observations from Northern Jordan:

1. Avoid cuts and bruises before the Dead Sea or prepare for some pain.

2. Take the time to explore the RSCN parks.

3. Remember; water is precious.

Next stop....Jerusalem

Posted by remoteman 02.08.2012 13:10 Archived in Jordan Comments (1)

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