4 February 2011
Total Distance: 18085
Distance covered today:150km
Start: Fox Camp, St Katherine, Egypt
Finish: Ferry, Nuweiba, Egypt
This morning we drove to the beautiful St Katherine Monastery on the foothills of Sinai some 5km from our camp. It was really quiet there as we arrived shortly after 8am and it opens its doors to tourists only at 11am. This gave us the chance to meander around the grounds and climbing a few of the surrounding granite boulders for an 'aerial' shot of the monastery without the hordes. It was built about 14 centuries ago and it is built as mentioned around the famous Burning Bush. From the quiet look-out spot we could also see in the valley below a massive natural clearing which is said to be the spot where the Israelites camped while waiting for Moses who brought the Ten Commandments down. It is quite easy to imagine them camping out in this huge flat plain. At 11am we headed into the monastery although we only could access the church. And what a church it is! It has a huge vaulted ceiling with at least 30 colourful oriental lanterns hanging down from long chains to just about 2 meters above the ground. The air is filled with echoes of age-old traditions and silent whispers of thousands of worshippers coming here over hundreds of years. We were a total of no more than 20 tourists and it is only a trickle of the 2000 per day that came through the doors just over a week ago when Egypt was still peaceful.
Afterwards we headed once again through the Sinai Desert with its magnificent coloured mountains that change its colours more often than a chameleon. At a crossing we were told by soldiers that we are not allowed to take a left to go towards Cairo and this was a very clear sign that although it is not dangerous in the country, it is getting increasingly difficult to travel in the country. Therefore we decided to head straight to the port which connected Egypt with Jordan called Nuweiba and not to waste more time by first staying at Dahab. We met some Australians at the harbour who sat there since morning as the ferry was supposed to leave at 9am. And we arrived at 13h00 and it was still not gone which was blamed on bad weather. We were told maybe in 2 hours. 18h30 they said the ferry can set sail. Alas, our frustration was just starting at that point. We had to offload the WHOLE vehicle and carry basically every box, container and bag from the vehicle to the x-ray machine quite a distance away. That done, we had to drive into the port area and pack everything back again. I was not amused. Then we had to fall into another queue in person to get our passports stamped. Another hour went by. But the end was not in sight. I had to see some 7 different groups of people to get the vehicle's paperwork in order - sent from one office to the next, from pillar to post and with a lack of the language it was getting really frustrating. Midnight we drove the Landie onto the ferry and we said good-bye to Egypt and happy not to see the bureaucracy again for some time.
5 February 2011
Total Distance: 18335
Distance covered today:250km
Start: Ferry, Nuweiba, Egypt
Finish: Moon Valley Hotel, Petra, Jordan
We were grateful to get a cabin in order to get some sleep but soon after 5am we were woken as we arrived in Aqaba, Jordan. The contrast between work ethic was chalk and cheese. We were off the boat, through customs and immigration in less than 1 hour. We headed into town which is built on the foothills of sandy coloured mountains dropping down into the Red Sea. At this point Egypt, Jordan and Israel come together and it is a melting pot of different mentalities. The town is lacking the filth we saw everywhere in Egypt and the people even friendlier. Again got a free coffee from an official at Customs.
We headed to the famous Wadi Rum desert only about 40minutes away from Aqaba. I cannot think there is anything on earth to compare this to. The flat plains are covered in sand which changes colour from a crimson red to a pale white. From these plains granite mountains rise 90 degrees into the heavens above, like monstrous towers and fortresses. They are mountain climbers ultimate dream and abseiling must the best in the world with straight cliffs over 200m in height. Sometimes these mountains are split from top bottom by forces of nature and the rock is pock-marked by ions of erosion while the tops are covered in a near white colour as if they have been dusted with icing sugar. Sometimes it seems as if a giant took a chisel and knocked off a piece and leaving a smooth flat surface behind. One can drive between these mountains on the sandy plains and around every inselberg, one is met by another incredible vista of yet another plain covered with these fortress-like mountains. Sometimes the sand blew a dune against the wall of an inselberg and one can have a bit of fun by seeing how far towards the crest one can drive. The higher one goes the better the views down into the valley. It would have been even more impressive if the sun was out but right at the end, just before leaving this 720 square km park, the sun lit up the mountains into bright red colours. As we entered the park, we were told about an area where we can spot the local Oryx. As we got there we realised that some females are kept in a camp because they had young and the authorities protect the young from wolves. These oryx are a lot smaller than ours and nearly white in colour. A friendly ranger saw us taking a keen interest in these magnificent animals and invited us in and we got very close to them.
In these mountains Bedouin people still live in their tents with their camels and their goats and have no obvious desire to relinquish this traditional conservative life-style close to nature. The one concession they made was to buy themselves a Land Cruiser. Here Cruiser is King and we still have to come across another brand driven by the Bedouin.
We headed in the afternoon to our destination called Petra. Won't tell you now about it, but if you have seen the original Raiders of the Lost Ark, you might remember this beautiful city carved into the mountain face.
And not only has we left Africa, but also the moderate weather. Suddenly it is freezing cold and it can't be much more than 10 degrees. So, winter clothes out and good-bye to the summer clothes.
Jordan has not a single sign of unrest. We don't see tanks, no roadblocks and only a few policemen around. It is 100% safe and once again the people are very welcoming and friendly.