We take another overnight in Aqaba before setting off for Petra. The site is at over 800m above sea level, and the route there climbs over 1600m, which is well over the altitude it's sensible to reach straight after diving.

The Jag makes short work of the mountains, and I guide the party around as much of Petra as possible in the relatively short time available. No climbing up to the Monastery, but we see most of the rest of the site.

We're off again almost immediately, heading north before looking for a route over the mountains toward the Dead Sea. The pass, once we find it, is spectacular as it leads down to reveal views of the Dead Sea. We follow the road until we stumble across a scattering of cars parked by the armco.

The sea is accessible enough from here, and more importantly there's a freshwater stream running into it so you can wash the salt off. Not all of us jump in.

The evening sees us getting lost in Madaba. It's conveniently placed for my flight out tomorrow, and less terrible than Amman. It takes a little rough navigation through the back streets of the city, but we eventually find our way to the Madaba Inn Hotel, which is switched off for the winter.

The following day we get up early to see the sights, before I get dropped off at the building site which used to be Amman's airport. The place is heaving, but they have a system where you slip someone a twenty and he propels you past the queues. The Royal Jordanian flight is pretty comfortable.

Meanwhile, the rest of the party continues north. After a stop in Jerash, they reach the Syrian border intending to see Damascus and Palmyra. It doesn't quite go to plan.

One of the party leaves Jordan successfully, but is denied entry to Syria. He has to make his own way back across no-man's land into Jordan and then find public transport to the airport.

The driver, on the other hand, is stuck at the border for 30 hours until they do their next cargo run. After that, he's whisked straight to Tartous with police escort. He gets himself and the car on the ferry. At the allotted time, it leaves port, goes round in circles a bit and then comes back again. The next stop for the ferry is Alexandria, and it's not all that stable at the moment so the boat's staying here until it thinks of something better to do.

It hasn't managed to do that after a few days so he bails and leaves the car on the boat while he flies to Venice, and from there to Finland. In all, it's a couple of weeks before his car reaches Italy so he can collect it.

Posted Wed Jan 26 00:00:00 2011 Tags: Jordan

Two days of diving in Aqaba. And it's pretty good. There isn't much boat diving here at the tip of the Gulf of Aqaba, it's all from the shore. But the diving is excellent. It's rich with large creatures such as rays, eels, and octopus, which our divemaster duly molests.

There's even a mobile anti-aircraft gun under here.

The second day, we're on the wreck of a Lebanese cargo ship with an airspace in the hold. There are turtles.

Also, we do the "Saudi Border Wall" site, the only wall dive on the Aqaba shore. It's a sensitive site because, as the name suggests, it's close to the border. It's a good dive, the wall is deep and features huge cabbage corals.

When we get back up, we're greeted by a chap in camo uniform, bellowing at the sea in Arabic. It's fairly concerning, until we work out that he's got his own set of divers. They turn out to be firemen, practising using breathing equipment or putting out fires underwater or something.

Posted Tue Jan 25 00:00:00 2011 Tags: Jordan

My last day in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan starts poorly when the hotel gives me a wake-up call intended for another member of the party who's leaving at 5am. I crash again after letting the hotel know the error of its ways, surfacing at a more reasonable time for breakfast.

The rest of the morning is spent catching up with this blog, for your information and edification, Dear Reader. The taxi surprisingly turns up on time.

I can report that Amman joins the list of airports which don't consider water to be an explosive. Alas, I fail to notice my change of gate and end up last on the plane, albeit in my online-booked seat in pole position.

On the plane, I recieve a bizarre whinge from a fellow punter several rows back when I have to move his bag in the overhead locker to fit mine in. Later, with the aisles packed with disembarking passengers, the gentleman kindly passes my detritus down the plane.

Royal Jordanian gets further points from me for having leather seats in chav class.

Time from stepping out of Jeddah airport to seeing first bloodstained corpse: 15 minutes.

Posted Sun Apr 11 00:00:00 2010 Tags: Jordan

Our bolt-on day, "organised" amid much screwup by the tour company. Our intended destination, the Azraq Wetlands, dried out and burnt down. The tour company took our money for the day, knowing this was the case.

So instead we're doing a tour entitled Jordanian Desert Castles. Which is quite impressive in its own right.

The sites range from ancient towns to caravanserai, most of which are associated with Lawrence in some way. It's back to Amman in the evening, for a flight home the following day.

Posted Sat Apr 10 00:00:00 2010 Tags: Jordan

Today is for seeing Madaba, a strongly Christian town not far from Amman best known for its richness in churches and particularly mosaics, There are many beautiful things I appreciate about Jordan but mosaics aren't among them, so I'm not upset when the tour ends at lunchtime.

The afternoon is given over to our own exploring, which nets us a rather good baklava emporium.

In the evening, eating, drinking and dancing happens. I blame the booze.

Posted Fri Apr 9 00:00:00 2010 Tags: Jordan

I wake up in my tent with a freezing draught on the back of my neck, making me feel like I've been whacked on the back of the head with a shovel.

After breakfast in the Genuine Bedouin Tent, we're transported in open-air 4wds back to civilisation. The coach takes us to Umm ar-Rasas, an archeological site founded by the Romans, and best known for its early churches with mosaic floors.

Next stop is Mount Nebo, traditionally the burial place of Moses. There are excellent views out across the Holy Lands when it's not as hazy as it is today.

Finally we're whisked off to a mosaic workshop with attached opportunity to buy. And after that, our bed for the night in Madaba, after a communal meal.

Posted Thu Apr 8 00:00:00 2010 Tags: Jordan

The tradeoff for yesterday's comfortably late start is today's unecessarily early 7am start, and the hearty breakfast merely adds to the anticipation of impending doom. We're taking the Super Secrit Back Route into Petra, leaving the path and climbing up over the mountains surrounding the Siq. We're rewarded with views out across the ancient city before finally reaching the High Place of Sacrifice about two hours later, where we sacrifice a couple of members of the party for Crimes Against Timekeeping.

The climb down from here into the street of facades is steep and I wouldn't like to be taking the climb up from here. From the bottom, it's straight back up the Siq, which someone appears to have lengthened during the night, to the hotel, and packing for the next destination.

We reach the next destination by 3, the desertscape of Wadi Rum. A swift presentation in the recently constructed visitors' centre lies between us and a four wheel drive safari across the desert. My driver appears to be disappointingly sane compared with some - there's some intense rivalry between a couple from different Bedouin tribes, resulting in some spirited races across the sand.

The stops are:

A couple of rocks with early, pre-Islamic writing scratched into them.

Sand Dune of Doom - a hard slog up a sand dune to the top of a Jebel, giving unique views out across the desert in the earie afternoon sunlight. The 2-steps-forward-1-step-back trek to the top is an absolute killer and leaves me gasping for breath. Thankfully I recover with time to scramble around the uneven top of this rockpile and take in the panorama of the Wadi from this vantage point. The light is thin and earie and really accents the otherworldly feel of this sandy desert punctuated by monoliths.

Next stop is a cleft in a cliff face, with carved Umayyid script. The adventurous clamber a few tens of metres to the end of the passage.

Then there's a high up sandstone arch thing. Getting there means a steep tricky climb with no steps. Happily, I'm discovering that my sandals have some fairly unnatural stiction. I try to create a new route up onto the arch and end up scratching the crap out of the polarising filter on the end of my camera. Which is what it's there for. Once up there, the order of the day appears to be to photograph ourselves in shadow.

I make an attempt to find an alternative way down. Sadly my initially promising route appears to end in Certain Death, so I retrace and gratuitously show off my ability to walk down the cliff standing up. We finally reach our camp for the night after persuading our driver to have a brief play in the sand.

As the group shimmies up the nearest chunk of rock to watch the sunset, I get bored and decide to try to get a photo of the group from the front. Turns out to be a challenging goal - there are no easy routes onto the rock, so I take a fairly terrifying one, climbing up the steep slope with little in the way of handholds, and my camera dangling across my back.

Happily I make it to the top, and emerge to document the group waiting for the sunrise. It's only later I discover the photo bomb. I'm in no hurry to take the climb of death back, so I pick an only slightly less deadly route down on the theory that a crack in the rock means more handholds. It doesn't, but I reach the ground at the speed I intended anyway.

After perching on the rock for an ultimately disappointing sunset, we trudge back for a Genuine Bedouine meal in a Genuine Bedouin Tent in the dark. The evening's entertainment is music and shisha.

Bedtime is cold.

Posted Wed Apr 7 00:00:00 2010 Tags: Jordan

Today is for exploring Petra properly. We have a more reasonable start time of 9am. After a pause to allow the more infirm members to get a donkey cart down, we trek down the Siq with our guide pausing to explain the features. Camels and donkeys carts rattle past, with the ride over the Roman paved areas looking extremely uncomfortable. Finally, the spectacular Treasury comes into view. This time the whole area in front is rammed with tourists.

After a break for photography, it's off down the outer Siq to the more open tomby area beyond. Exploration continues through the tombs and along the Roman Highway to the restaurant at the end. As expensive as you might expect from the situation, but at least good food.

Next comes the slog up to the Monastery. While some choose to take a donkey up to the top, I take about 40 minutes to do the climb, with regular passing donkeys trying to push me off the mountain.

It's hot and exhausting work, and once I get up there, I find that the next job is another climb to one of the lookouts above the monastery, offering views over the surrounding valleys. I find three of these climbs to be enough, and give the Monastery a closer look as a prelude to starting the climb back down.

At the bottom, the next stage of the trudge back begins, with a stop at the Great Temple. Suitably impressive, but I'm crackered and mostly just want to get home. The next stage of the march back is roman road back the the Treasury, and that passes without incident. I take the opportunity to get some photos of the place with a reduced tourist load, and then do the final phase, the march back up the Siq, which at least goes quickly, and then finally pour myself into the hotel bar.

Posted Tue Apr 6 00:00:00 2010 Tags: Jordan

Crazy long day, starting at 7:30. The first stop is the Citadel of Amman. This features an Archeological Museum of Jordan housing some of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Leaving the Citadel, we take a whistle-stop tour of some of the districts of Amman, and by 11, we're on the way south - and downwards - to the Dead Sea.

Totally by coincedence, I leave a mostly empty water bottle in the bus, last opened in Amman. As we descend roughly 1000m from Amman to the Dead Sea, it's noticeably crushed by the change in pressure.

My first discovery is that it's impossible to swim in the Dead Sea. You float too high for your legs to get any purchase on the water. My second discovery is that my new underwater camera does appear to be watertight. Which is nice. And finally, what passes for sand here is burning hot.

After lunch, we saddle up for the drive back up into the mountains to the crusader castle of Shobak. It's out in the middle of nowhere, and pretty much deserted apart from us. There's a passageway down to a spring which we're not encouraged to carefully explore. My AF assist lamp proves to be an excellent torch.

And if that weren't enough, we're at Petra by 7, and at 9:30 we head down into the Siq for "Petra By Night". The route down goes on and on as it's swallowed by the towering rock walls. It's dimly lit by brown paper bags with candles inside.

We eventually pick out the treasury, lit from below by a carpet of paper-bag lights. The event itself is disappointing, offering a brace of Bedouin musicians before we start the trudge back up to the surface.

Posted Mon Apr 5 00:00:00 2010 Tags: Jordan

We meet up with rest of the group (except for the ones who didn't get the memo) at early o' clock. We are 15, with more joining us over the next few days.

Once the late-comers arrive, we head north, back the way we came in yesterday. There's a detour on the way out of Amman past a Palestinian refugee camp, which is largely indistinguishable from another suburb of Amman.

The first stop is the "best preserved Roman city in the world". Jerash was an important Roman city and some impressive ruins remain. Entry from the coach park is through the optimistically-priced gift area.

The well-preserved theatre has incongruous bagpipe music going on, courtesy of the Jordanian army. In the stadium, also performed by the army, there's a Roman army show, complete with military formations, gladiators and chariots.

The final stop is Umm Qais, another Roman city right in the north west corner of Jordan. It's not as well preserved as Jerash, but it does feature views over Israel, Syria and the Golan Heights, and we take advantage of them from a concrete Jordanian bunker.

Our visit ends with a glass of traditional lemon leaf tea. It's the best thing ever.

Posted Sun Apr 4 00:00:00 2010 Tags: Jordan