Between a rock and a hard place (actually a bona fide desert!) Or- smell the serenity!

Tuesday 11 September 2018

In the morning I had a bit of ‘Petra belly’ and my knees were weak after yesterday’s journey, so I am inviting fellow traveller – Daniel B – the youngest and fittest of the hardy nine to write about the mornings excursion back to Petra. I will then pick up the narrative for our afternoon trip to the Wadi Rum – our night at a desert camp under the starry starry night.

Thanks Shane!  Day 10 of our trip was certainly action-packed, and we were all feeling a degree of soreness and fatigue after our journey to the magnificent Treasury and Monastery Facades. Day 11 saw us begin our journey just past the Petra visitor centre but shortly before the entrance to the famous Siq. It was at this point that we branched off along the Al-Madras trail.  According to our guide Eid, this was a “secret” trail that would lead us to the heart of Petra.  While certainly not a secret these days, the trail is certainly not as well known as the famous Siq. There were hardly any other tourists aside from a half dozen German backpackers who we met along the way, so we were relatively undisturbed for most of the journey which was a welcome change from the large crowds gathered at some of the better-known attractions.

The Al-Madras trail is approximately 4-5 kilometres long, with moderate to hard levels of climbing up and down the hills of Petra.  Walking along the trail allowed us to observe some of the landscape of Petra which was previously hidden on our journey yesterday.  While mostly barren, we saw some varieties of plant life (Sea Onions being the most predominant plant although I’m yet to research this name given Petra is quite a distance from any ocean front that I’m aware of) along with herds of goats being looked after by local shepherds (mainly young boys of around 10-12 years of age who would scamper over the rocky hills quicker than we could walk on the relatively flat designated trails).

Along the journey we saw a few features in the local landscape.  Guard houses (man-made caves carved into the rock face) were the most common feature.  The design and location of these caverns was clearly on show as they gave magnificent elevated views of the surrounding region. This would have aided the original Nabataean inhabitants to spot any approaching visitors (unwelcome or otherwise) to Petra.  The location of the guardhouses to each other also showed a canny design as communication would have been a possibility to pass on basic signals over medium to long distances (perhaps by sound or light signals?).

After a journey of approximately three hours we began to approach our destination, two ancient ruined Obelisks.  This marked the final ascent up to the High Place of Sacrifice.  After a further 20-minute climb up some relatively steep steps and rock formations, we arrived at the High Place to find a rocky plateau carved into the peak of the hilltop.  It was here that the Nabataean’s would conduct religious ceremonies with a backdrop overlooking much of the city of Petra. 

Some of the sights visible at the top of the mountain side were of the Theatre (an outdoor amphitheatre carved into a mountainside able to accommodate 4000 people) and the Street of Facades, the name given to a row of monumental tombs, similar in nature to the famed Treasury.  While the journey up was certainly arduous and challenging, the elevated views of Petra were magnificent to observe and a great reward for our efforts to reach the top.  After a short break for refreshments, we continued our journey down the mountainside and exited Petra via the Siq, saying a final farewell to the Treasury along the way to continue our journey on to Wadi Rum. 

Back to you Shane…….

The afternoon saw us drive towards the Wadi Rum – and our destination – the Rainbow Camp. Wadi just means ‘Valley.’ This entire area has been turned into a reserve with a few desert camps for visitors. After a quick stop at the Visitors Centre to see the rock formation – the Seven Pillars of Wisdom we soon exchanged our minivan for a number of 4×4’s. Most of us sat up top in the ute tray at the back which had a shade cover. The vehicles looked like they had been built in the last quarter of the last century but managed to do the job. Our camp was about twenty-five k’s in. We stopped at the Lawrence Spring – a resting spot for camels and the place where the only two trees flourish in the entire valley. Another stop to marvel at an actual huge red sand dune and then we arrived at camp.

About 15 canvas two-person canvas tents – very basic – a lovely toilet/shower block and then the covered resting area where we rest upon carpet for Jordanian tea! The highlights include watching the sun go down over the desert – the absolute absence of man-made sound – the hungi style dinner cooled in a pit – and of course – the stars of the night sky which blew us away! One of our nine -Ian – who has a good knowledge of the night sky – pointed out the four planets we could see very easily – Mars, Jupitar, Saturn, and Venus. When the camp lights were switched off it was easy to imagine ancient peoples looking up and being mesmerised by this overwhelming sight.

A truly magnificent way to finish another day – Ahh the serenity!

overlooking Petra

Overlooking Petra

the group with Eid and Farah the driver

Our group with Eid our guide and Farah our driver

7 Pillars of Wisdom

7 Pillars of Wisdom

Lawreance Spring - a camel stopping spot with the only two trees in the Wadi

Lawrence Spring – with the only two trees.

Mt Rum 1755m high

Mt Rum – 1755m

our transport to the desert camp

Our transport across the desert

rainbow camp finally

finally at camp

our accommodation

Our tent for the night

our desert dinnar out of the ground pit

dinner emerges

 

 

 

Petra – more than a Wonder

Monday 10 September 2018

According to the information booklet we were all given upon arrival at the Visitors Centre:

It is not known precisely when Petra was built, but the city began to prosper as the capital of the Nabataean Empire from the 1st century BC, which grew rich through trade in frankincense, myrrh, and spices. Petra was later annexed to the Roman Empire and continued to thrive until a large earthquake in 363 AD destroyed much of the city. The earthquake combined with changes in trade routes, eventually led to the downfall of the city which was ultimately abandoned. By the middle of the 7th century Petra appears to have been largely deserted and it was then lost to all except local Bedouin from the area. It was not until 1812 when a Swiss explorer Johannes Burckhardt ‘rediscovered’ the ‘lost city’.

This city is truly worthy of being ‘a world heritage site’, and we were all eager early today to see it. We had been prewarned about the temperature and the need for lots of water for the day. We had also been warned about this being one of the more ‘punishing’ days on the body – walking, climbing, and staying cool.

Luckily – there was breeze early and the temperature was in the 20s – something we had not seen for the last 10 days! It did warm up later in the afternoon, but we were able to see a lot in relative coolness.

The great monument that is the ‘Treasury’ is the more famous and well-known. It is approached by walking along the ‘Siq’ (which means gorge) – a 1.2k winding and slowly descending path between the cliff face until one enters and beholds this awe-inspiring façade.

We walked on and passed the ‘Theatre’ – a 4000 seat amphitheatre carved into the rock face; passed the ‘Nymphaeum’- semi-circular public fountain; walked on the ‘Colonnaded Street’; went up to see ‘the Church’ – built at the end of the 5th century and destroyed by fire/earthquake later. We saw the ‘Royal Tombs’ carved out of the mountain face.

After lunch – many faced the real test of the day – do we soldier onto the see the ‘Ad Deir – the Monastery.’ The problem was that it was a further walk followed by a climb of 845 rock hewn steps straight up! Many turned back but a few of the hardy nine ventured forth! D was the true hero as he along with the guide went up and back. J and yours truly took what we thought was an easier option – to ride mules to the top! This was scarier than I thought with you perched on an animal – peering over the edge of the rock face – looking death in the eye if you fell off. But we both managed to get to the top and along with D marvel at the ‘Monastery’- one of the largest monuments in Petra (over 48m high!) deeply and beautifully carved into the rock. I decided for my sake and the animal’s that I would descend on foot all those stairs. We all made it safely if all exhausted back to Petra’s opening and slept well this night.

the view from our breakfast table as the sun rose

The view from our Hotel as the sun rose

the start

Approaching Petra – our guide Eid to the left, J in the middle, and D on the right

the start of the Siq

the start of the ‘Siq’

siq 2

the path narrows

first glimpse of treasury

first glimpse of Treasury

treasury

wow

sand formation

theatre 2

monastery

I made it to the top – the Monastery

the donket ride home

The Royal tombs hewn high in the rock; a little boy sadly sitting in the sun selling little bits of rock; and J on donkey riding back

Come fly with me, come fly, come fly and drive!

Sunday 9 September 2018

We started the day early with a lovely communion service held in one of our rooms where we reflected upon Moses leading the people across the Red Sea (as we would be crossing the Red Sea later this day – although in a hopefully less traumatic manner as the Israelites!) We packed, checked out and waited for our last drive with Sherif, who would be taking us to the airport. Sherif has been an excellent guide during our stay in Egypt, and our guides to come have big shoes to fill!

Transport is always time consuming, and while the flight to Jordan itself was only the same length of time as a flight from Melbourne to Sydney – this was an international flight and it took over an hour for our bags to be processed upon landing.

We met our new guide – Eid – a grandfatherly old Bedouin with a deep Bass voice – and started on our way. The trip from the airport to Petra where we would be staying for two nights is only 250k. But driving in Jordan, while far less hectic and chaotic as Cairo, has its own set of difficulties – road works and single lane sections made for slow travelling. Also remember that this road – the Desert High Way – is one of the areas major transport routes and so was packed with semi-trailers with all sorts of produce to feed the people of the region. 250k took us four-and-a-half hours!

The pain of the day’s travel soon vanished as we approached our destination for the next couple of nights – The Old Village Resort, Petra. We drove into this valley with what seemed like Christmas lights twinkling all around – the lights of the houses on the surrounding hills. It was magical as was our hotel! – The rooms large and comfortable – the restaurant where we had a late evening meal fantastic – all bode well for our visit over the next day and a half to the World Heritage listed site – the city of Petra!

white house made from limestone

Simple house on road to Petra – square white and made from limestone

mosque on the roadside

A Mosque by the road

patches of green in a barren landscape

Patches of green in a desert setting – highly irrigated but told by guide that water is beginning to be more precious and valuable – something we know all about back home!

O I do like to be beside the Seaside

Saturday 8 September 2018

One of the options taken by me to shape this tour was to exchange a day at the resort centre on the Red Sea and instead have a day exploring the marvels of the city of Alexandria, nested on the Mediterranean Sea. Adding time for traffic in Cairo and in Alexandria it was a three-and-a-half hour trip each way. We left at 6.30am and arrived back at our lovely hotel by 6.50pm – a full exhausting but exhilarating day!

Alexandria – founded by Alexander the Great in around 331 BC is the second largest city in Egypt – with around 8 million people. The day was picture perfect (if a tad hot in the afternoon – high 30s) We visited the Montazah Palace, built for the Royal family back in 1892, restored in 1932, and now serving as a Presidential address and meeting place for visiting dignitaries.

Next we saw the New library complex which is two buildings connected representing a solar disk and an eye! We looked out across the bay to the place where the old lighthouse stood – one of the 7 wonders of the Ancient world – upon which a 14th century fort now stands. Both the old lighthouse and the old library (destroyed by fire) were created by Ptolemy 2nd – the son of Ptolemy (to whom this city was given after the death of Alexander.)

We weaved our way through the back streets of Alexandria – marvelling at the local businesses at play; the chaotic traffic and the locals who walk wherever and whenever they like despite the volume of cars and trucks around! We visited the sight of Pompeii’s Pillar – a misnomer if ever there was one – the legend has it that after his death Pompeii’s head (or ashes) were placed upon the top of this 28m high granite pillar flanked by two Roman Sphinx’s. The problem is that Pompeii had been dead for over two hundred years by the time the pillar was erected in the 4th century. But the name has stuck! The site first contained a temple complex erected by none other than Ptolemy 2nd (an enlightened intellectual). Upon a breakout of violence between the pagans, using this site as their last refuge, and the pillaging Christians, in the 4th century, the local authority called upon help from the Romans. The legend has it that this violence also was the cause of the fire which destroyed the famed library of Alexandria. In thanks for their support in quelling the riot – this pillar was erected.

Our last stop were the impressive Roman catacombs, discovered by accident in 1900 when a poor donkey fell down a well. We went far below the ground to see family tombs decorated with paintings which are a hybrid between Egyptian and Roman beliefs. It was interesting to reflect that we had over the course now of a week seen Egyptian symbols and Gods morph over 3500 years but be clearly recognised still. These tombs were in my opinion far more impressive than the ones I have seen in Rome. We were not allowed to take photos so again google Alexandria catacombs to get a sense of what I am saying.

After a long drive back to the Hotel through some chaotic and at times scary traffic in Cairo, the hardy Nine had their last meal together in Egypt before heading off to Jordan tomorrow (Sunday 9/9)

Depending on Wi-Fi availability will determine the timing of the next post!

Palace in Alexandria

Montazah Palace built in 1892

beautiful gardens at Palace in Alexandria

The view of the Mediterranean Sea  from the gates of the palace – stunning day and vista!

new library at Alexandria 1

New Library – part of the building – in shape of Solar disk – The God ‘Ra’

new library at Alexandria 2

The other part of the Library – the ‘Eye’

group in front of Med

In the background – over Judy’s left shoulder (2nd from right) is the sight where the Light House of Pharos stood – one of Seven Wonders of the World.

colourful markets

Market day every day

trams

I didn’t bring my Myki

pillar 2

Pompeii’s Pillar

pillar 1

Only shade behind the Pillar!

pillar 3

last glimpse of Pyramid in Cairo

Last glimpse of the Great pyramid – you would not believe how close the suburbs are to this wonder

 

 

The Nobles, the Queens, and the Ordinary folk with another temple thrown in as well!

Friday 7 September 2018

Another early start to beat the heat but we seem to fail – it doesn’t matter what time of the day it is – it’s hot! While sitting having an early breakfast you could see others had other plans which included a balloon ride over the Nile! Anyway – our plan today was to see 4 sites which would finish our tour of Luxor and then fly early evening back to Cairo to be ready for Alexandria on Saturday. We started with the hardest climb and that was the Tomb of the Nobles. These were not Kings and Queens but rather important secondary figures such as the Mayor of Luxor and Chief Gardner of Luxor in the time of Rameses III. It was a hard climb up to the tombs and then for the two we saw – a steep decent into darkness inside these tombs to be dazzled by the beauty of the paintings on the walls depicting ordinary life for the Egyptian Nobles. We were not allowed to take photos inside but google Noble tombs Luxor and you we get a glimpse of what we saw!

Next, we stopped at the Valley of the Queens – another major site on my personal list of places to see – and it did not disappoint. It seems a dry dusty hot rocky desert outpost in the middle of nowhere. But all the action takes place under ground in the tombs themselves. Three were included on the tour and most of us paid the 1000 Egyptian pounds to see the other tomb open this day – that of Queen Nefer-tari – we have met her before on Tuesday down at Abu Simbel where she has her monument next to her husband – Rameses II. This tomb must be seen to be believed. 3000 years old and you would believe it was decorated last week – so vibrant and vivid are the colours. We see pictures of all the Gods we are beginning to recognise on sight – we see this beauty of a Queen in all her splendour in all the aspects of her life.

Our next stop was Deir al-Medina – the ancient stone village from the time of 18th and 19th Dynasties. This village housed the workers who toiled away in the Valley of the Kings and Queens. They were not allowed to leave this place once they came for they knew the secret burial tombs in both Valley’s. We ventured into two of their tombs which, while not as elaborate as those of the Kings or Nobles, were mighty impressive in themselves.

Our last stop was the Habu Temple. It was a funeral temple for Ramesses III. Apart from its size and architectural and artistic importance, the temple is the best source of inscribed reliefs depicting the various battles Ramesses had with the new enemy of the Egyptians – the sea people of the Mediterranean.

Back to our Hotel in Luxor for a well earned swim then pack and head to the airport for our flight to Cairo for another hotel and then the adventure continues Saturday in Alexandria!

balloons over Nile in Luxor

heading to the Nobles

Heading up to the tomb of the Nobles

Sennifer tomb

44 stone steps down for the tomb of the Chief Gardener

valley of Queens

Going into one of the tombs at the Valley of the Queens

Nefetari

Plan of Nefertari tomb

stone village

Stone Village of the ordinary people

group in front of Habu Temple

In front of Habu Temple

colours at Habu

colours bright after 3000 years

penises

If you zoom into the middle of this picture you will see the soldiers of Ramesses III collecting all the ‘private parts’ of their enemies and tossing them in a pile as an offering to the King.

 

Queen Hattie and the Valley of the Greats!

Thursday 6 September 2018

Today I got to realise a childhood dream and visit the Valley of the Kings at Luxor. Ever since I first read about Howard Carter and the discovery of Tutankhamun’s royal tomb I have had a burning passion to sail on the Nile to Luxor and see this fabulous Valley – and today my dream turned into reality! But not only the valley of the Kings but our group visited the impressive temple dedicated to Queen Hatshepsut, the Colossi of Memnon, and after a beautiful lunch on a roof-top balcony overlooking the Nile, we spent a wonderful couple of hours exploring the truly awe-inspiring Temple complex at Karnak!

The temperature in the morning was a pleasant 38 degrees and our guide was right in choosing for us the Queen’s temple first, as there was no shade to be had. Carved out of the rock face over 3500 years ago it is unique in Egypt for its style which is replicated no where else. At the Valley of the Kings we had the chance to visit four royal tombs. These were built in this valley in the high rocky desert to keep robbers and thieves away. Sadly, for all, except Tutankhamun’s, this was to be proved a false hope. Notwithstanding this – these tombs were fascinating for the carvings and paintings on the walls and for the wonder of the sheer engineering task of digging them in the first place!

Words fail to describe the temple complex at Karnak – which should be considered a wonder of the ancient world. It has the world’s largest Hypostyle hall with 164 massive columns which take the breath away! (in architecture, a hypostyle hall has a roof which is supported by columns). Built over 1800 years and covering at its height 65 acres this is the largest temple structure in the world. My camera started to heat up I was taking so many pictures!

Tomorrow promises even more delights as we visit the Valley of the Queens, Habu Temple, the Tombs of the Nobles and Der el Madina.

We are all exhausted but in good health and spirits; bonding well as a group, and slowly, slowly getting used to the heat!

front of Hatshepsut temple

Queen Hatshepsut’s Templegroup at Hatshepsut

Sherif insists on taking a group photo everywhere – not a bad back drop don’t you think!

No photos from the Valley of the Kings tombs – we just had to soak it up and take mental snap shots

Karnak 1Karnak 2

Karnak 4

Karnak 3

There is great colour on a lot of these cravings and you start to imagine how the entire complex would have looked when first built.

First a complete temple and then a day to relax sailing on the Nile (with no deaths to record) – but maybe it should be deaf on the Nile

Wednesday 5 September 2018

An early start today with an exciting buggy ride to the site of the Edfu Temple. We ran the gauntlet of persistent sellers trying to surround each of us and sell us interesting knic-knacks which they and we know were made in China. We came around the corner to see the most beautifully preserved monument. This temple built in Ptolemy 3rd Dynasty (around 250 BC) was completely covered up by sand until the 1860s and thus remains the most perfect specimen of an ancient temple in Egypt. (Albeit a late copy of an earlier design!)

We then continued to enjoy the relaxing cruise on the Nile – catching up with the laundry and keeping the journal up-to-date. Tonight we reach Luxor and tomorrow and Friday are busy days visiting the sights of this wonderful city which used to be called Thebes – the Ancient capital of Egypt. The afternoon was fun with Ian and Conrad having to share a hearing aid and the rest of us not really knowing which one has it on at any given moment. The evening meal on the ship was Egyptian Night and yours truly had a fez for the moment – photo proof will come later!buggy ride

looking good at the wheel

Edfu Temple

Edfu Temple. The French forces used the top windows as shooting nests lying on the sand – unaware of the temple 20 metres below

the group at Edfu

The hardy nine hanging in there in the heat – Conrad on far left and Ian on far right – who has the hearing aid?

children playing on the Nile

the local children enjoying the Nile as we lazily sailed by!

From the Mighty builder to the Mighty Croc God

Tuesday 4 September 2018

We set off early today (3.30am!) for the 3 and a half hour drive down to Abu Simbel to see the fantastic complex of Ramses II. This 20m high by 50m high four figurines of the mighty Ramses had to be moved in the 1970s due to the building of the Aswan Dam. This was an international engineering feat that cost 40million (300 million in today’s money) to complete. The figurines guard the entry to the temple which is also striking and awe-inspiring. It stands next to the temple dedicated to Ramses II favourite wife – Nefer -tare. (Nefer means beautiful)

In the afternoon we sailed upstream to Kom Ombo to see the Sobeck (crocodile) and Horus (Falcon) Temple. It was temple dedicated to the pair of Gods built by Ptolemy 5th and his son Ptolemy 6th and used from 205BC to 146BC. It was interesting to see that the Ptolemy dynasty completely copied in perfect detail the Egyptian style. The Crocodile museum had several mummified crocodiles on display. The belief being that some part of the God Sobeck inhabits the animal and therefore it becomes sacred. An interesting feature was a sound channel where the priests could speak at one end and their disembodied voices would be heard to great effect in another part of the Temple (Bit like Wizard of Oz)

desert drive to Abu Simbel

The drive to Abu Simbel – long stretches of desert – beautiful as the Sun rose

Group at Abu Simbel

The hardy nine in front of the impressive Ramses II statue

Temple of Sobeck 2

Temple of Sobeck and Horus – divided down the middle column – One God on one side and one worshipped on the other.Temple of Sobeck 1

A scene of the purification of the King – Beak face God on the left – (Noth) and falcon face God on right – (Horus) – shown  washing new king – Ptolemy 5th

It’s hot at the Temple of Isis and we are on the Nile at Aswan

Monday 3 September 2018

The best way to describe the train journey was ‘interesting’. We each had a sleeper cabin which could have done with a good clean. The food was okay but nothing to write home about. The scenery along the way south finally showed some green and we had vistas of plantations of all types of fruit and produce. The train journey served its purpose and we had made it to Aswan. We were taken by small ferry to the island of Philae upon which the Temple of Isis had been moved to when the Aswan dam was being built in the 1970s. To think of the work involved in that process was amazing but that paled into nothing compared with the Temple structure itself. Our wonderful guide gave a fascinating talk about the history and theology of the temple. I suppose we would have taken more in if not for the fact that it was midday and the temperature was in the high 40’s with little shade to be seen.

We made our way in the afternoon to our ship for the next three days on the Nile the MS Alyssa. After an interesting night visit to the Aswan Souq (market) we retired for the night knowing that we needed to be on the road by 3.30am the next day for our trip down to Abu Simmel.

Janet on train

J on the sleeper train

Temple of Isis

Temple of Isis – it isn’t hard to imagine that it is 47degrees!

janet at Temple of Isis

J at the Temple of Isis

Temple of Isis 2

Inside Temple – King (with the double crown – both Kingdoms – Upper and Lower – one looks like a champagne bottle and the other crown looks like a ladle) offering a gift to the God Isis – seated figure with circle on head with a pair of horns around the circle.

The Great Pyramids of Giza and Sakkara (with a camel ride throw in)

Sunday 2 September 2018

It was with a lot of excitement that our hardy bunch set out for the Great Pyramids of Giza today. First – the Great Pyramid of Khufu – built in the 4th Dynasty over 4500 years ago – this was the tallest structure on earth until the building of Lincoln Cathedral! It stands 146.5m tall and each side is 230.5m. The angle of incline is 51.5 degrees – giving the perfect dimensions for a stone pyramid structure to support its own weight. The latest estimate is that 1.7 million stones were used. It was originally encased in a smooth limestone outer layer, which would have been a sight to see. Even though this layer was missing it was awe-inspiring to be able to stand on one of the original wonders of the world. Khufu’s son built the second Pyramid and while this is smaller in scale to his father’s tomb – his builders were able to give the impression it was bigger because they built on a higher level. After exploring the Great Pyramid, we were surprised to be informed we all were going to have a camel ride. Going a five-minute drive to the start of the Sahara Desert and with the three Pyramids to our left we all had the ride of our lives – scary to get on and disembark from but fine (if a bit hard on the thighs) once you got going! It was surreal to think where we were. But things only got better. We had the privilege of entering the third Pyramid – that of Khufu’s grandson. A scary thirty metre descent down a steep set of stairs in an ever-smaller tunnel which levelled out into a larger room from which we descended another 10 metres into the funeral camber. It was surprisingly cool and an eerie space. To touch the smooth stone walls which fitted perfectly together and realise this was built without the aid of modern technology was mind-blowing. Yet I personally was glad to ascend and feel the scorching heat of the sun once more. We then had the high-light of seeing the Sphinx which guards the entry way to the second Pyramid. While one could have stayed forever in front of such a wonder – it was too hot – no – it was bloody hot to put it mildly!

After a beautiful Egyptian lunch in an outdoor restaurant (The Blueberry) we drove to Sakkara. It was here that we saw and explored the oldest Pyramid on earth – the Step Pyramid built by Imhotep for his Pharaoh Zoser in the 3rd Dynasty. The Palace you enter to get to the square upon which the Pyramid stands at the end was magnificent with 20 pairs of beautiful carved stone pillars.

We drove back to our hotel – had a lovely shower and change and headed off to the railway station for our overnight train journey to Aswan. But that is for another entry!

Janet on Pyramid

Janet on the Great Pyramid