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Karen and Compass, Phe and Me - On Roads Without Lines

Graeme Robin ...Travel in Jordan

Graeme Robin travels the world in his trusty old Fiat Tempra, and writes about his journeys. If you enjoy reading this, you should consider buying Graeme’s second book

‘Karen and Compass, Phe and Me - On Roads Without Lines - Book 2 Covering Graeme’s four month journey through:

ESTONIA AND THE BALTIC STATES, POLAND, UKRAINE, HUNGARY, ROMANIA, BULGARIA,TURKEY, GEORGIA, GREECE - over 300 pages, with more than 600 colour photographs!

To buy BOOK 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin


About Me I was born in 1937, married Barbara in 1963, but lost her to a dreadful cancer 43 years later. I felt as if the world had stopped. Life was suddenly not as precious as it had been. I didn’t care that much. But a change sort of evolved. I travelled to Europe. I bought an old car. Then a GPS. Then a compass. That made four of us – Karen (the robot voice on the GPS) and Compass (just that), Phe (for Fiat - a 1993 left-hand drive diesel sedan) and Me. Suddenly it was not “I” but “We”. It was

“Karen and Compass, Phe and Me”. We started to drive around Scandinavia, Iceland, the Arctic Circle and into Russia all the time on minor roads, avoiding the major roads and highways as far as possible – in other words,

“On Roads Without Lines”.

We were just wandering around on winding, single lane roads often unsealed, through small towns and villages, seeing the people at their normal everyday lives and work. Trying to get a feel for each country – trying to put a tag on it. I took a lot of photos and kept a daily journal. So a book evolved. Book 1. Had this suddenly put meaning back into my life? It felt good so instead of selling Phe at the end of the first four months I kept her for another four months of journeying this time behind what used to be called the “Iron Curtain” and another book evolved. Book 2. It felt good so instead of selling Phe at the end of the second four months I kept her for another four months of journeying this time around Spain, Portugal and Morocco and another book evolved. Book 3. It felt good so instead of selling Phe at the end of the third four months I kept her for another four months of journeying this time to Italy, the Middle East and the Balkan Peninsular and another book evolved. Book 4. All have been marvellous experiences of discovery - so good that I would like it to continue for the rest of my life! How long is this old bugger going to last!

To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin


Sunday 3rd October 2010

Jordan

Bye bye Syria and hello Jordan

At twenty to three we are out of Syria – ten minutes short of two hours! What a shmozzle! Yesterday it cost 850 pounds to exit to the Lebanon side of the fence and today it cost 5350 pounds to do the same thing to Jordan. How come? Who knows! And of course I didn’t have 5350 – only 3000. There was some lukewarm good news in that there was an ATM right there next to the banker (who won’t take a Visa card) – but it is jammed tight and really looks as though it hasn’t worked this decade. The banker said that there is a second machine in the duty free store half a kilometre back down the road and as I sweat out the walk back I am thinking about the drive all the way back to Damascus should this one be a dud too. But it wasn’t. Thank you Allah, or Jesus or was it just the National Bank of Syria.

By contrast the entry into Jordan took just one hour. Buy insurance for Phe, get a 30 day single entry visa, passport control and customs – that was thorough, they even had a bloke in a pit looking at Phe’s underbelly as we drove across. What a difference it was. Some of the blokes had a little bit of English, they were all pleasant, they had computers, and it was just an easy simple thing to do. No bullshit like ‘fathers name’ and ‘mothers name’ and ‘address in Jordan’. The only hiccup was that they too had just one ATM at the border but guess what! A message on the screen said “This machine is off-line temporarily” I had converted the remaining Syrian pounds to Jordanian dinars but not enough to cover the insurance, and visas for Phe and Me but luckily the bank was able to change a hundred Australian dollars into 62 dinars and that saw us through. So we are out on the open road in Jordan with a little cash and not much of a map, but enough to suggest a right turn to the city of Irbed in the north western corner may be the way to go for tonight and maybe even tomorrow night if the hotel is okay. I look at the landscape trying to find a difference with Syria and can find none. Why should there be any difference, after all it’s only a few kilometres and a fence! It’s dry, it has some olives, but hold on! There’s some prickly pear – we haven’t seen prickly pear since Italy I don’t think.

And then low and behold a whole heap of camels maybe fifty of them on each side of the road. They were tethered and fenced so they were definitely domesticated and not wild but what a surprise so soon after leaving Syria. Apart from that it looks much the same. Same smog the sun is trying to squeeze through, and it’s in the low thirties. Drivers and driving seems much the same. The litter is the same (would it be too much to hope that it is the wind that is blowing Syrian litter across the border?- I reckon it would be too much to hope!) I couldn’t spot a sign for a hotel at all but a friendly policeman directed us to the Hotel Joude – it claims three stars but that may have been a few years ago – and for 25 dinars per night, we are here for tonight and a rest day tomorrow.

To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin


Jordan - Two nights at Irbid in the North Monday 5th September 2010

A little way out of Irbid the land to the left of the road is fruitful with olive groves,

while the land to the right is barren and almost desert looking.

To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin


Our first day in Jordan, at the Hotel Joude in Irbid, was to be a rest day, with a wander up the street this morning, and a lot of the day bringing this journal up to date, but then this evening around eight I went up the street again for something light to eat. Last night it had been a beaut lamb kebab wrap in flat bread with tomato and onion and a sauce and maybe it may be the same again tonight. I’ll look to see if there is anything better. But no hurry. I wandered into a snooker hall and watched the young blokes belt the balls around the tables for a while – a couple of tables for a couple of games but none of them were lining up for the world title, so a short stay was enough. Then I heard a call - “Hey Australian” - and it was the fellow I had asked about a roadmap last evening. I had been calling at every bookshop I could find but with no joy at all and got the impression that Jordan, being such a small country, had no need of a road map. Then I came across this magazine seller. He had some racks of magazines leaning up against his van parked at the kerb and I thought it was worth the question. But no luck as far as a road map goes but plenty of luck in meeting such a friendly bloke. He had good English and tonight he recognised me as I was walking past. “Hey Australian”. It was another balmy night and we sat together on a concrete wall as he chatted away to me as we watched the world of Irbid pass us by. Occasionally (very occasionally) he had to get up and talk to someone looking at his stock. His name was Radfe, he is unmarried but lives with and provides for his mother who suffers dementia. He has one sister who also cares for their mother but no brother to share the financial burden. He sets up his bookstall at eight every morning and stays there until around midnight. He said that things are very bad here in Jordan with many people unable to find work and people like school teachers being paid just 300 dinars a month and having to pay out something like half of that in rent. He himself has to find 150 dinars every month for the flat his mother and he live in. He asked me about Australia and I told him how most Australians aim to own their own home plus a car and need to borrow money from the bank as a starter. He said “I would never do that – it is not Islamic - I would never borrow money from the bank.” He is a devout Moslem and will on the 3rd November be taking off, with his Mum, to Medina and Mecca in Saudi Arabia for the holy week. They will be going by coach and will be joined by countless thousands of other pilgrims from many Islamic countries around the world, but to keep some control on the number of people making the journey, each country is limited to a percentage of it’s population whether it be Jordan or Turkey or Indonesia. This is the seventh year Radfe and his Mum have applied to go and this year they got lucky. Radfe is very excited especially as the time was getting closer. He explained some of the rituals and things they will be doing and places they will be going to, but it all went through my sieve of a brain except the part about praying five times a day. He has travelled to Norway and Iceland and spent time in America for some years working at his trade as a roofer before coming home to look after Mum. I didn’t ask why he is not working at his trade in Jordan. But such a nice friendly bloke – interesting to listen too and interested in my life as well. After half an hour I said bye bye and headed to the tucker shop for a couple of those beaut little kebab things and then to another joint called ‘Mr Cafe’ where I asked for a tea - with no sugar - but when I tasted it, it was the strangest tasting tea that ever was. I asked the two blokes and when I said chai they realised their mistake – I had asked for ‘tea’ and they thought I meant cappuccino and so that’s what I got. It was nice though and as a result we got chatting. There was a bloke outside making a nuisance of himself and the Mr Cafe bloke with a little English said he was drunk and is drunk every night. That beat me because I understood that alcohol was not available in Jordan. ‘You can drink it at home’ was the reply – but he never let on where I should go to by a beer or three. Marvellous how a couple of hours on the street had so easily brought me into contact with the locals – men that is. There were lots of women and girls out walking but there was no way in the wide, wide world that I was going to get to sit on a concrete wall and have a chat with any of them!

To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin


Jordan and a Brush with the Military for Touching their Patch Tuesday 5th October 2010 We are leaving Irbid this morning for a run down the Jordan valley towards the south – maybe as far as the Dead Sea or perhaps inland to Amman, the country’s Capital. The River Jordan is another name I remember from Sunday School - a few years back - as being the river in which Jesus was baptised, but in more recent times it is probably more famous because of its two banks – the East bank which is Jordanian territory right down to the river’s edge, and the West bank, a large area of land that is at present settled with Israelis and Palestinians. The West Bank has been the site of heaps of violence involving Israel and the PLO. We made it to the Jordan River without any trauma despite the lack of a decent map and started travelling south along the valley. The actual river itself was well out of sight in the distance – not even the briefest glimpse - so I turned down one of the roads that led to a ‘Jordan River Crossing’ that could take us over the river and into Israel – not that I wanted to go into Israel but just to see the River Jordan and take a photo or two. But no go! The policeman at the first gate had little English and absolutely no interest in my ambitions for photos of the Jordan, so it was a U-turn and back to driving south down the East bank. There is a very pronounced and distinct valley between a range of hills to the east (Jordan) and to the west (Israel) with the river tracking a path in between the two. The river flats – I suppose it is an alluvial plain - are quite wide, maybe 10 kms in places, and fully cultivated with arable land combined with large concrete channels carting water here and there. I wanted to get a look – and a photo - of the River Jordan and thought one of the roads that ran to the right may lead down to the river but not necessarily across it, and that may be a better way to go rather than battle with border guards.

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So we left the main road and got onto a road that ran beside a channel for quite a long way but then I realised that the channel could be running parallel to the river. That made sense, because unlike a stream or tributary it won’t necessarily join us to the Jordan. The bloody river is down there somewhere though!

So we left the channel and took a track that looked to be heading in the direction of the Jordan There was an army post sitting up on the hill next to the track, and a barrier, but the barrier was up so I drove straight through.

To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin


At the bottom of the hill was a sentry box and some rocks placed to partly block the road. The sentry must have been having a slack day because I could see him putting on his flack jacket and then looking for his rifle before slinging the strap over a shoulder and fronting me and demanding a passport. A pretty belligerent young kid with no English. He had his rifle and he had my passport and he wouldn’t give me my passport back. He wanted my camera – he must have seen me take a photo as we came down the hill – but I told him to get stuffed. He stood in front of the car and wouldn’t let me go forward so I went back. I tried to tell him I simply wanted to see the River Jordan and take a photo. We got to a bit of a stand off. He still wouldn’t give me the passport, so I started to drive through the rocks on the road. He was yelling to his mates up the hill at the army post but didn’t seem to be getting a response. I was then able to drive past him back up the hill - without my passport - for about twenty metres, just a bluff, and when we rolled back to him he handed it over. At the top of the hill the barrier was now down and blocking the road. I was directed into a compound. Three or four soldiers in uniform in the compound and one in particular who had some English told me he was the leader of this post. He asked me a few questions and then said I would have to wait while his boss - further up the hill – decided what to do. They brought out a couple of plastic chairs for him and I to sit in the shade of a tree with a cup of tea. He was a friendly bloke in his thirties and quite keen to practice his English I think. I asked him what action they saw on this border and he said there is a lot of action with people – Syrians – trying to get across the river or to smuggle things across to Palestine and Israel, but there has been no action in the ‘warfare’ sense for years. I sat there for about 15 minutes when a truck came into the compound and I was told to drive Phe behind this truck to see the ‘boss’. Which I did. How in hell am I going to limit this to 100 words! It was only a little more than one kilometre and I was told to leave Phe outside the gate and I was marched by a couple of big soldiers into an office – not a big office - with ten soldiers ranging from a private who brought the tea and coffee, to a couple with stripes, but the most important one, and the only one with English, was a major. The bloke behind the desk was a lieutenant and he seemed to be driving the investigation if I can call it that. It struck me at the time that these were serious, regular, career soldiers, not 18 year old conscripts as was the case in Turkey. We went through it all. Where did you come from, how did you get here, what day did you arrive, where are you going to and most importantly - “This is a military zone and you are not allowed here” My only defence was that - “Well you should put up a bloody sign!” (But of course I came in on a dirt track). Half an hour, maybe three quarters of an hour later, after a lot of phone calls, handwritten notes that were then taken away, typed up, and signed, I was told that I had to drive to headquarters and this lieutenant bloke will go with me in Phe. All the evidence – my passport, the camera and my two pitiful maps of Jordan - were put in a brown envelope for the lieutenant to carry. So off we go and we are down the road a bit and I said to this guy ‘ how far?” and he said “30kms.” 30 kms! We would be almost back to Irbid for hell’s sake! When we were almost at the headquarters we had to wait on the side of the road for a truck to come to escort us the last half a kilometre. What a performance! Phe’s in a compound again and I am in one room for a few minutes and then up to the big chief ’s office. There were not many uniforms here but this bloke seemed to be pretty important with a big office, a television set, nice desk, and his own private toilet. Later on he tells me that his rank is Lieutenant Colonel – so we must be rattling a few cages here, either that or they are bored to tears and my blundering onto their patch has livened the day up a bit. Then the frustrations as he starts from the beginning all over again. Where did I come from, what day did I arrive in Jordan, what time, what did I do the following day in Irbid, what was my father’s name what was my grandfather’s name, where am I going, am I alone, when am I leaving Jordan, and he pencilled it all out on two foolscap sheets which had to be typed up, corrected and signed off. By about three he had finished with me and at long last I felt sure that I wasn’t going to be blindfolded and shot.

To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin


While we were waiting for the typist, he was quite willing to answer my touristy questions. Jordan has no oil or gas resources. The average family would likely have four or five children. There is no national service for 20 year olds in Jordan now. There used to be but now all of the army personnel are career soldiers. A second lieutenant gets about 300 dinars a month – say US$400 which sounds pretty good compared with the US$150 month the Syrian teachers are paid, and the army blokes get fed and bedded for free as well. He said the pay can double after a few more years and a more senior rank. This Colonel would be in his early forties and has two children of 6 and 8 and a wife who works as a chemical engineer. He lives in Amman – an hour and a half by car – but he does have quarters at the base if needed. He works five days – maybe more. He confirmed what the Major had said that the work they do on the long 700km border is to do with people trying to cross the river illegally. International conflicts between the Israelis, the Palestinians and Jordan are in the past – and he added “We are at peace”. He warned me though, that as we drive south, I should stick to the main road and not wander off it to the right. To the left is okay but not to the right towards the river and the west bank! He said there are land mines and there are military all the way down. After what seemed like an eternity he got the typed report, signed it and we said goodbye. Not quite so fast though, one more thing – another department just down the road - just five minutes. My heart dropped again. Another bloke to escort Phe and Me, another compound, another holding office, another bloke who knew three words of English - “Welcome to Jordan”, and right through all the same questions again. The ‘just five minutes’ was repeated at least ten times. The same handwritten statement the same wait for typing and more offers of tea or water or coffee. These blokes may have been security intelligence or something because I don’t think they were Army, but then I am only guessing. It was four o’clock when I eventually got out of jail and we were back on the track for Amman and a bed for the night. Thanks to the interruptions it was too late to think about the Dead Sea today. Strangely enough it was a good fun day because I wasn’t under threat at any point and refused to take their actions seriously. I think they were bored to tears these guys, and all of a sudden I am a bit of variety in their lives, I have brought them something to do for an hour or so.

But some kids on the way home from school made me wonder about the TRUE Jordan.

To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin


I would love to have taken some photos especially in the first office with the ten officers. I was temped to take one of their berets off the desk and pop it on my own head and take a photo of myself – that would have stirred them up a bit! But I was not game – just lacked the courage. There were lots of photo possibilities. At the first army post there were three or four troop carriers parked and ready to go. At the second, with the ten officers, there was at least one vehicle under a camouflage net with two blokes on duty – one at the wheel and the second manning a mounted machine gun. I guess it is a regular daily shift that has to be done. Realistically though I could have been a real live threat to their nation and it was their job to make certain that the investigation was completed properly and according to regulations. The drive south down the Jordan valley was great. We are up close to the foothills and I look down towards that (invisible) river and there are lines of plastic glasshouses, bananas, land tilled ready for planting and black polythene pipes laid out to take water to the new plants. On the drier country, away from the water are olives and a number of commercial date plantation.

Jordan - A day in Amman and then to the Dead Sea Wednesday 6th October2010 Last night when we arrived in Amman it was dark and I stopped at the third hotel sign we passed without knowing that we were still more than 15 kms short of the city centre – not that it mattered one little bit, so this morning I was able to have a quiet drive into the centre without having to look for that elusive hotel sign all of the time. I reckon we could go to the Dead Sea this afternoon – maybe 80 kms depending on how many times we get lost - so this morning will be a good time to seek some long overdue attention for Phe. That’s at the top of the list. An oil change, a new oil filter, a wash inside and out and a new globe for one of the stop lights. Not a big ask but things that I have put off for some time. We struck it lucky straight away, because the first mechanic we passed who had bottles of engine oil on display, happened to be owned by a really nice bloke who had good enough English for an easy-going conversation. He also had a car-wash next door – so all-up 30 dinars changed hands and Phe was almost sobbing with joy. It didn’t take long so there was plenty of time for a look around this big capital city of Jordan. The mechanic bloke gave me some simple directions on how to get ‘Down Town’ and as soon as we passed the old Roman theatre I knew we were in the ‘centre of the old city.’ As it happened there was a library nearby and I tried the lady for help on getting a road map of Jordan and she kindly directed me to the tourist police just around the corner where I got a half – no, a quarter – useful map of the country but drawn in typical tourist info style – great on graphics, but hopeless on detail. It was all in Arabic though,which meant the locals will be able to read it even if I can’t! That will be important when we are asking for directions.

Graeme Robin travels the world in his trusty old Fiat Tempra, and writes about his journeys. If you enjoy reading this, you should consider buying Graeme’s second book

‘Karen and Compass, Phe and Me - On Roads Without Lines - Book 2 Covering Graeme’s four month journey through:

ESTONIA AND THE BALTIC STATES, POLAND, UKRAINE, HUNGARY, ROMANIA, BULGARIA,TURKEY, GEORGIA, GREECE - over 300 pages, with more than 600 colour photographs!

To buy BOOK 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin


One colour does it all! Many of the apartments are all the same straight up and down boxes and mostly the same or similar colour – beige tending towards cream and roofs of a pale terracotta. All stuck to the hillside and mostly 3 to 5 stories. The mechanic bloke told me that Amman has been destroyed a number of times by earthquakes etc and then as recently as 1970 it was badly damaged when a rocket and bomb battle between the PLO and the Jordanian army was played out on its streets.

That bloke (me) is sitting in the Royal Box - but when will the show begin?

To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin


The Roman Theatre in Amman dates back to the first 2 to 400 years AD. There was a museum attached to the Theatre and just for once all of the descriptions of the objects was repeated in English – we must be into the touristy area of the country. I asked one of the attendants the name for the traditional shoulder to ankle cloak thing that many Arab men wear and he told me it is called a ‘Dishdasha’ (or sometimes a ‘thawb’) and the head covering is a ‘Kufiya’ I took a few photos of the citadel up on the hill. It’s very old too and I must find out more about the site because I think this city has a history of Christianity and the church in the citadel is important – built a couple of hundred years before the mosque I think. It was a good few hours poking around these two sites and then finding the CBD with all of the construction going on. Amman is renowned for its incredibly fast growth in population as a result of the 6 day war in 1967 and then the war in Iraq which forced many, many refugees over the border into Jordan and the city of Amman in particular. It was after three when we left the city but we had a lot of trouble getting onto the right road for the Dead Sea. Compass is good at leading us in a westerly direction except every so often the road runs out into nothing and clearly not a main drag that we were looking for. And to make matters worse there was not one word in English characters on any signpost that I could recognise, so in the finish I made a point of stopping regularly – especially at a fork in the road - to confirm with a passer by that we were still on the road to the Dead Sea. The map in Arabic was good for this because I only had to point to the word on the map and the bloke new exactly where we were heading. In the dry, desolate, hilly country on the way, we came across a couple of kids on donkeys carting water and down the road a few hundred metres were another two donkeys also with water but walking unattended presumably to a tent camp above the road. The stream below the road was all but dry, but I guess they have a waterhole down there somewhere. Spotted a few camels today in the hills – not wild as they were fenced.

The sunset colours were quite spectacular looking from Jordan over the Dead Sea towards the West Bank of Israel. With all of the mucking around trying to escape from Amman, it was sunset when we arrived at the Dead Sea with all of it’s five star resort hotels lined up in a row. The first was completely full up and the ask of 190 dinars a night almost took my breath away. The Holiday Inn down the road was 117 dinars and they had a room for me. Short of driving back to Amman there was no option so it was ‘like it or lump it’ It really was ridiculous when you compare this 117 dinars with each of the last three nights where I paid 25 dinars a night in Irbid and in Amman. Sure they didn’t have three swimming pools and a gymnasium or security similar to Fort Knox but they suited me just fine with a comfortable bed and a shower that worked. They even had a toilet seat and toilet paper – what more could a bloke ask for? To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin


Tomorrow I think we will head for Petra – There are a heap of different ‘Seven Wonders of the World’ and Petra gets a guernsey in one of them.

Jordan - The Dead Sea and The Baptism Site where Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist Thursday 7th October I fronted up to the magnificent Holiday Inn breakfast bright and early before seven and then went for a walk on the ‘beach’ of this very salty, very warm, Dead Sea.

A few people were in having a dip and I could have done the same I suppose – it would have been an experience - but the air was already around 25 degrees and rising and the prospect of dropping into a warm salt bath didn’t seem to mix somehow. The Dead Sea is the lowest spot on earth at 400 odd metres below sea level, not that you would know that - actually you would not know that at all - and is 34% salt, about ten times saltier than sea water. Remarkable! I read that Jordan in cahoots with Israel is researching the possibility of piping water from the Mediterranean to top up the levels in the Dead Sea because it is loosing water at around a startling rate of 1 metre per year. There is really only the one major river, the Jordan, flowing into the Dead Sea, and no streams flow out of it. The Jordan starts out around Damascus, flows through the Sea of Galilee and straight south into the Dead Sea. However Syria, Israel and Jordan all take a bite out of it to feed their farming industry with the result that the flow when it eventually enters the Dead Sea is pitiful. A pipeline from the Mediterranean sounds like a good idea, especially with that 400 metres of fall, the water would just syphon into the valley all by itself once given a kick start. There is a lovely sandy ‘beach’ in front of the Holiday Inn with sand that has been carted in from somewhere to create atmosphere for the guests. The natural ‘beach’ is not nice. However the colours of the water, the mountains over on the Westbank were wonderful both last night at sunset and again this morning after sunrise. Really spectacular. By half past eight I was up the road about 10 kms waiting for the nine o’clock shuttle bus to the ‘Baptism Site’ – and what a wonderful little tour that was. A few years back there was a bloke called John the Baptist who got the job of baptising Jesus in the waters of the Jordan River before it entered the Dead Sea. It was to the site of the baptism that we were taken this morning.

To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin


Back then when it happened, the waters of the Jordan spread for hundreds of metres from bank to bank, but today it took an awful lot of imagination to visualise that scene because the site was as dry as a bone. We caught a glimpse of the River Jordan looking across at a newish church but a little further on we were able to get right close to the river bank.

To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin


To me it was disappointing because I had imagined the Jordan would be a river like the Euthrates – big and alive and thriving – but instead there was this muddy little creek that really did appear to be at a standstill. No wonder the Dead Sea is drying up!

To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin


Near the river though, there were two smallish shelters and each had a groups of Christian pilgrims conducting a service down by the river and no matter what you believe or don’t believe I found it to be moving to see these one hundred or so people earnestly working at their faith. But then the guide took us to Elijah’s hill. Elijah lived somewhere around 400 years BC and on this hill he was spirited up into the heavens with a great roar and smoke and fire. This same sight was to become the home of John the Baptist some 400 years later.

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There is an arch on Elijah’s hill which can frame the city of Jericho on the west bank and behind that on the mountain tops is Jerusalem, and to the left a bit is Bethlehem,. The desert is Judea where Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights and further left again is the Dead Sea. Behind the sea and the desert are the mountains that hosted the Dead Sea Scrolls, and also King Herod’s castle where he went to escape the summer heat. The Sea of Galilee is a few kms to the (right) north. These are not new names to me but names that have been in the back of my mind for more than 60 years when I was made to go to Sunday school. At the time I hated it and used to wag the session every Sunday by riding my bike past the church at ten o’clock until ten thirty and then turn back to be at the church for the eleven o’clock service and my small part of the boy’s choir. I didn’t mind that part at all. My mum was a devout Christian but that didn’t help me one little bit when the Minister asked her why little Robbie hadn’t been at Sunday school for months! The stick came down off the rack and she had me skipping all over the kitchen trying to dodge the whacks. But somehow the names I heard today had stuck fast in my brain for all of those years. This site – The Baptism Site - gets good solid publicity in Jordan and I asked our guide if Jesus was important in Islam because I found it surprising that an Islamic country such as Jordan would ‘sponsor’ a Christian festival such as this. He said that in Islam, Jesus was a prophet just as a number of others were prophets. They did not get many Moslem visitors except in the holidays when they came to visit out of curiosity rather than from their faith. The guide was a nice friendly fellow, so I gave him a good going over when we were having a spell. It started off with him volunteering the fact that his father, who died in 2006, had 34 sons and 2 daughters. “Will you say that again please!” “My father had 34 sons and 2 daughters – but he had six wives”. And they lived in a tent on the plains and tended their 400 odd sheep and goats, 40 something camels and donkeys and even a couple of horses. “How old are you?” 32. “Are you married?” No . “You had better get a move on if you want to keep up with your father!” Laughter. Then a bit later he sort of wanted a chat and said that he was looking out for a wife – but she had to be a ‘shy’ girl because if she was a ‘shy’ girl then she would be quiet, and intelligent, and obedient, will be artistic, and good at handling things. This is not an old man talking, it is a 32 year old university graduate chatting from the heart. He had no idea how foreign this way of thinking was to an old bloke from the other side of the world who joined the Sensitive New Aged Guy brigade when it was invented many many years ago and who has learned that a wife is not a wife, but a mate, a best friend, an extension of ones self, a joining of two into one, with common interests but with separate lives for space and room to breathe.

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The tents that I have seen so many of are homes to the many Bedouins, and Palestinians as well as Jordanians. It’s a way of life that some people prefer. They run their sheep and goats and get water from springs or wells or cart it in. It was early afternoon by the time we left the Baptism site heading south to Petra. It was a very pretty drive as we drove alongside the Dead Sea and then branched off to the left. The driving was okay but navigation was a big problem because we had been going through all of these villages and towns with not one sign in English to help us on our way, well, certainly not one sign that corresponded with a place name on the map. Not one! I reckon I have it right and then up pops a fork with no signs at all – in any language! So it’s up to Compass to make the decision and I check it out with the next bloke walking on the street.

When we left the Dead Sea there had been a climb into the hills to pick up the 400 metres plus a bit, and all of the way it had been rugged country with a few pines here and there, but mostly just bare country, dry, tussocky grass, and rock. Inhospitable. And you would have to wonder who the hell would want to fight over a country like this. Why didn’t I wake up Karen when we were down on the Dead Sea, 400 metres below the level of the sea – she probably would have gone “gurgle, gurgle”. It’s so dry, hot and bleak up in the hills but down in the valleys there are paddocks of green. Then around the next bend a great crop of tomatoes growing in the little soil between the rocks. Then a couple of olive groves. Where is the water coming from? Same old story - where there is a will, there is a way. I have started taking photos of the pretty girls – not that you see much of them with all of their protective armour but they seem to be quite beautiful. On the other hand I find it hard to believe that these beauties will turn into their mothers and grandmothers. Normally I like elderly ladies, those who chat a lot, and smile, and laugh, and are good fun, but the Jordanian women on the whole, seem to be a dour lot, whose face tells the story of a life of hard work and subservience. I had the chance to watch a large group of older women at the hotel in Amman as they sat at tables of three or four talking among themselves – so much different to women in my own country. These people looked to be very sombre, with little joy or merriment evident. I don’t know how to explain my impressions. It’s too difficult. And how does a young man take his beautiful young bride home to a tent on the desert floor and tell her that this is what she has to look forward to for the next fifty years or so. And I bet that is exactly what is happening in so many cases. Sad.

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We drove through the town of Al Tafilah and suddenly the signs to Petra are out so we should be okay from here on in. There is something quite different about villages and small towns in Jordan, and that is that people are living in single detached dwellings of two or maybe three floors but the houses are often set apart from each other, and not clumped close together as would normally be the case – quite a space between then. Looks good. I wouldn’t call it subsistence living because there seems little more than a few olives or fruit trees around the houses, and no chooks or cows. About 50 kms north of Petra the country has changed into what I would call high plains – it’s a lot flatter and the land to the left side of the road has been cultivated for a grain crop probably. The right side has a high fence and is a military zone. Don’t go in there Phe!

Jordan - And the ancient City of Petra - hewn from the Limestone Friday 8th October Petra. Petra. We found the town okay yesterday afternoon and got a nice hotel at 35 dinar and will stay tonight and tomorrow night. But why are we at Petra and what is there here to see? I know nothing about the place, so today is going to be a day of discovery for me, and if I chronicle it as it happened I may be able to make it a day of discovery for you too. The first step has to be to get a map of the town – but this hotel doesn’t have one. The reception guy said turn left and then right and go to the end of the street. He didn’t have very good English so that was about as much as I was going to get. Phe took us the short distance and then a friendly taxi driver pointed out the big sign that said ‘Visitors Centre’ (in English) which I had almost fallen over (and not seen) and then told me where to park Phe. The Visitors Centre came directly after the ticket office where I had to part with 33 dinars as an entry fee. But in English it said that this 33 dinar included amongst other things, an English speaking guide and a free one way horse ride. Not too sure about the horse ride because the last time I rode a horse I fell off at full gallop and that was 45 years ago when I was fit and agile, so any horse I get up on today will need to be built really close to the ground and to have trainer wheels! But armed with my ‘One Day - Over Night’ ticket the bloke at the information desk said I must wait for the guide. It was not a long wait for the guide whose name was? – you guessed it – M’hamid, and he spoke excellent English. There was just one other person in the party, a young German tourist bloke who must have been pretty serious about Petra because he had bought a three-day pass.

M’hamid led us downhill along a dusty roadway of rocks and stones for quite a way and into some pretty spectacular scenery of rugged mountains with massive limestone rocks on either side. To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin


Then came some massive rocks that had been carved with various patterns that M’hamid explained dated back to the centuries Before Christ. The area had been inhabited by the Nabataean Empire from the first century, then became part of the pagan Roman Empire early AD and the Christian Byzantine Empire after that. But in 363AD an earthquake destroyed much of the town and by the seventh century Petra was deserted and was ‘lost’ to all but a few local Bedouin in the area. It was ‘rediscovered’ as recently as 1812 and has progressed as a tourist attraction since then.

So what is different about Petra? It’s ancient - but there have been a lot of ancients. It has big buildings, and we have seen a lot of big buildings, but these buildings at Petra have not been built from the ground up as is almost always the case. These buildings have been carved out of the solid limestone rock-face - and from the top down. Incredible! They have set out with a design and then with scaffolding fixed to the rock face have slowly worked downwards sculpturing the fascia of the building. This was 2000 years ago don’t forget! As they got lower they dug big caves into the hillside to create large rooms behind the fascia with doorways and window openings and all. So the whole thing instead of being ‘built’ has been sculptured – quite unique – quite marvellous. Some of them were public buildings, some were tombs for the dead and some were homes for the living. Petra had a population of 20,000 people at one stage when it was a significant city on the spice route.

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The first major building we came to was the treasury which features on most of the publicity about the city. It truly is magnificent. M’hamid told us that there is a strong reference to the calendar – there are twelve columns, for twelve months, there are 365 little tulips for the 365 days of the year, There are 7 something elses etc etc etc. He also said that up until ten years ago the lower floor had not been unearthed and they thought the building only had the one floor until careful excavation revealed another 10 metres of building. After a bit of prompting, M’hamid told me a bit about himself. He is 39, has a wife and four children ranging from 8 down to 2 and they don’t expect to have any more. He has been working for 16 years as a guide here at Petra and gets paid a contracted amount for each trip he makes and I guess the tourists dob in a few dinas, as I did (but the German didn’t). He works all the year round although it usually starts raining in November and the winter months are cold – even snow occasionally – but very hot in the mid summer. He told me that children in Jordan start school at 5 or 6 years and go through to 17 or 18 years – but I am not quite sure when they can legally stop schooling. He confirmed what the bloke said yesterday about Jesus being just another one of a number of prophets in Islam – so he is important but not pivotal as in Christianity.

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It was a great experience and I am pleased I came. Before we parted company, M’hamid said the Palace and the Cathedral are best seen in the afternoon when the sun swings around to shine on them, so I filled in time until the afternoon and eventually got to have a look at them as the first part of the walk home. I was sitting in the shade having a breather and listening to a tour guide – a Jordanian woman who had excellent English – talking to her group of disciples of ten or twelve Dutch men and women. I was sitting in the middle of them and listening to her commentary. She was a lovely lady, plenty of fun, heaps of smiles.

Graeme Robin travels the world in his trusty old Fiat Tempra, and writes about his journeys. If you enjoy reading this, you should consider buying Graeme’s second book

‘Karen and Compass, Phe and Me - On Roads Without Lines - Book 2 Covering Graeme’s four month journey through:

ESTONIA AND THE BALTIC STATES, POLAND, UKRAINE, HUNGARY, ROMANIA, BULGARIA,TURKEY, GEORGIA, GREECE - over 300 pages, with more than 600 colour photographs!

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She even got the whole group singing at the top of their voices when they were inside the Cathedral just to show the wonderful acoustics of the place. And that sounded great too. Then, when we were all outside again, she said something that really grabbed me. She said to her group “We can walk home on the highway” and she pointed to the track below us where the majority of us tourists were walking along, “or I can take you around the back of that hill on a small trail”. My immediate thought was – On Roads Without Lines! So I asked her if I could join the group, and she looked at my sandals and my wobbly knees and she said “We are going over the mountain tracks.” I said “Not those 1000 steps up to the monastery!” and she said “No, but maybe 30. ” I said that I could handle 30 steps without any fuss, so she said “Okay, please join us.”

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This walk on a back track really brought Petra alive for me because as these couple of photos will show, there are hundreds of small man-made caves, and people were living in these caves up until only a few years ago, when they were shifted out by the Government into a new purposely built village nearby so that the whole site could be turned over to international tourism.

But she told us that one old bloke would not sell to the government and refused to leave. She took us to his place as I suppose she does every time she has a group going through.

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The old Jordanian resident was quite happy to pose with his arm around our guide

You have to wonder about the padlock on the outside door! He has a couple of rooms dug into the rock, has tap water, has electricity and a satellite dish for the TV and a little fireplace outside for his cooking. I asked her where he got his supplies, and she replied “On these mountains he is better than a goat!” Nice old bloke – rolls his own from baccie grown out the back somewhere. And along with every other Jordanian he knows the English words - “Welcome to Jordan!” and “Thank you”

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The Dutch people were very friendly but as soon as we were back on the walking ‘highway’ the guide was going to go one way and the group were left to find their own way back to the hotels in town so I gave my thanks and left them at that point. It really was great and as I said it brought Petra alive for me. But the walk home was exhausting! Uphill all of the way, and after walking all day - in the heat. I was tempted to try one of the many horses but common sense prevailed. To top it all off, my excellent room was up on the fourth floor and the elevator was broken! Bloody hell! But that’s not all folks! I stripped off the dusty, smelly, sweaty clothes and in for a cold shower. I had been so very very careful all day to lift my feet on the stony rough ground, sandy, uneven, cobbled sometimes and what happens? - I go over in the bloody shower. It was a slippery white bath and I had a hell of a job getting out of it all tangled up in the shower curtain I had brought down, water everywhere, What a mess. A few very tender spots but nothing broken so I will live to fight another day!

Jordan - Wadi Rum and Lawrence of Arabia Saturday 9th October We are leaving Petra this morning heading for Wadi Rum, then the city of Aqabah and maybe even Egypt later on in the day – perhaps. Maybe all three maybe just the one. Time will tell. It’s a strange thing about driving through Jordan especially considering all of the trouble we had with the military early on. There have been a number of army road barricades all along the way but never once have we been stopped nor have I seen a vehicle of any kind stopped or papers examined. There are normally a couple of soldiers sitting at a bench in the shade, just watching the cars go past. There was one occasion where there was a soldier behind a mounted machine gun on at troop carrier – and he was reading the newspaper. Quite a farce really. There obviously was no immediate threat to the security of the nation! We made it to Wadi Rum a little before noon and once again I don’t have the foggiest idea of what to expect – except it is on the tourist map and the guide at The Baptism Site said it was a good place to visit. There was a Visitors Centre and it took a while after talking to the bloke and then studying their big map on the wall together with a scale of charges for a 4 x 4 ride, or a camel ride, or even an overnight camp in the desert, to get the gist of what they were offering. But eventually I decided to invest 50 dinars. I will drive Phe through the gates and along the sealed road to Rum Village where we will meet up with a guide who will take me in a 4 x 4 around four sites in the desert. Karen, Compass and Phe will hang around in the car-park for a couple of hours until I get back.

This is Lawrence of Arabia Country.

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Please say hello to my guide at Wadi Rum. His name is Salem. He is a Bedouin and from what I can judge he is just another one of the nice blokes that seem to be always crossing our path in Jordan. He is big and strong but at the same time seems to be a gentle bloke with a ready smile. He had good English which he had learnt through doing what he does. Just another nice Jordanian bloke. He’s 40, married, with 2 boys and 4 girls. He has 6 brothers and 2 sisters and his father had 3 wives. All of his brothers work together in the tourist industry around Wadi Rum and in fact the bloke I made the agreement with at the Visitors Centre was one of the brothers. Salem was born in Rum Village – population of 1000 – and his children all go to school in the village. His father still runs his sheep and goats and camels out in the desert, although he lives in the village. In Jordan there are no Berbers they are Bedouins and many of them live the traditional life with their sheep, and goats, and camels. A camels can live for up to 25 years. They have a calf every year and the camel is sometimes slaughtered after two years and everything is used – the meat, the hide, and whatever – we know where the bones go to. I tried him on the Jesus thing and he didn’t know who Jesus was. This whole area around Wadi Rum has to do with the Brit, Lawrence of Arabia, because this is where he lived back in around 1918 when the British and the Arabs were together fighting the Turks. (was this the final stages of the Ottoman Empire?) I don’t know if the film was created here as well but that is immaterial because it was the fact that Lawrence lived and worked here that is important. A lot of the sites that could be visited had to do with his presence way back then.

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And this also. The first stop was a small spring up in the rocks that he is believed to have used. Then we went to a pretty big sand dune, then a chasm in the mountains and finally to a small bridge that has survived the forces of erosion– so far!

This photo may not have been taken from Phe, but there is no doubt about it being On Roads Without Lines! It was a beaut couple of hours that we spent driving around this desolate desert area, and even the obligatory stopover in a Bedouin tent for a cup of chai (tea) with all the other tourists was great. It goes without saying that they had things to sell to the tourists but with no pressure – just look and buy if you want to, and don’t if you don’t.

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I thought this scene would make a nice photo – and it has!

Back to Rum Village and it was a bye, bye to Salem as we headed south down the main road to the southernmost city in Jordan – the port of Aqabah. We arrived at the outskirts of Aqabah around three o’clock and were sitting at a red light when a car pulled up next to Phe. The driver called out across his wife and I thought he was asking for directions so threw my hands up in the air and said “Only English” but then I heard the words, “Do you want down-town Aqabah?” so I said ‘yes’ and he said “Follow me.” which I did until it was time for him to turn off when he stopped and came back to tell me how to get to the hotel district. How nice was that! The first hotel I picked seemed to be just the goods with a clean, quiet room, a toilet seat and paper, an air-conditioner and only 24 dinar for the night.The receptionist bloke was very helpful in guiding me to the ticket office for tomorrow’s noon ferry to Egypt. So tonight is our last in Jordan. (Well I thought it was, but little did I to know!)

The bastards have got me AGAIN! This time it’s a “Carnet De Passages En Douane” Sunday 10th October The bastards have got me AGAIN! This time it’s a thing called a “Carnet De Passages En Douane” ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! The Red Sea runs all the way up from the East coast of Africa and at the top it splits into two arms. The one to the left leads through Egypt and the Suez canal into the Mediterranean and the one to the right – called the Gulf of Aqabah - goes as far as Aqabah The term ‘Up close and not very comfortable,’ came to mind because this narrow strip of water has Saudi Arabia along the east bank, Egypt along the west bank and Jordan and Israel each with a 30 or 40km frontage to the water at the top of the Gulf. Yesterday it was four fighter jets flying in a ragged formation over the water but tending towards Israeli territory, and today it was a couple of army helicopters over the Gulf. I don’t know whose they were but it certainly would do nothing to keep temperatures down. Maybe it’s a daily – or hourly – event and nobody takes any notice, but I certainly noticed and no way did I give it ten out of ten on the diplomacy scale. To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin


We want to go to Egypt and because I am so scared of getting boxed in by getting an Israeli stamp on my passport, the obvious way to Egypt from Jordan is to avoid Israel altogether at this stage and take the car ferry from Aqabah to the nearest Egyptian port - Neweiba, a distance of around 70kms. There is a fast ferry and a slow ferry with regular crossings. I opted for the 2 hour fast ferry at a slightly more expensive rate. The noon ferry left at just after one o’clock and I reckon I had done everything according to oil. We had fronted up at the terminal before ten o’clock and I asked at the information kiosk where to go and what to do. First upstairs to pay an exit tax for Phe and Me at 10 dinars each. I joked with the bloke because it should have been 5 dinars each for the one week from the 3rd to the 10th but somehow he managed to count both the 3rd and the 10th and made it 8 days – therefore a two weeks exit tax each. Bloody crook! Then it was upstairs for a stamp on the passport and also a public service of responding to a formal survey on foreign tourism being conducted by the Government. There was plenty of time and because it had seemed too easy I went back to the same bloke at the information kiosk and told him I had paid the two exit taxes and got a stamp from upstairs and was there anything else. “No” was the reply, “all finished”. So there was time for a cup of tea before boarding around eleven thirty. It was a big ferry and it was packed with people

It was a bit strange for me to have to find my way around the border post as there were people everywhere and many looked as though they had all of their household belongings with them loaded on trolleys and trundled through custom. But I managed to get some Egyptian Pounds from the ATM, bought one month’s car insurance and got a visa for myself with no problems. Then this phrase ‘Carnet De Passages En Douane’ came up. I was shunted from one window to the next until it became very, very obvious that we had a big problem. It turned out that the ‘Carnet De Passages En Douane’ is a fairly large and thick folder, which apparently accompanies every vehicle while it is in the Middle East. Although the ferry was packed with passengers, it was carrying only three cars and as it happened I saw one of them in the custom yard and asked the driver where he got the folder. “In Jordan” he said. There was bugger all English around, so I was never sure that I had understood the answer and anyway, even if I did, was it the answer to the right question, but they floated another option and that was for me to put up a guarantee that would be refundable at the end of the journey. $US1,000 was the figure floated which I agreed to but with a heap of reservations – not the least being how hard would it be to get the deposit back in three weeks time! Then the figures seemed to escalate like magic to $US6,000 – out of the question – plus a road tax of 4000 Egyptian Pounds. That leaves just two choices. To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin


Either we pack it all in and get back on the return ferry to Jordan and tell ‘em to shove their rotten Nile and triangles and camels and stuff. Or I could leave Phe in their dusty, no-mans-land and catch the next ferry back to Jordan and see if I can raise a ‘Carnet De Passages En Douane’ from wherever in Aqabah. Going back to Aqabah to get a ‘Carnet De Passages En Douane’ would have be a long shot because it was very difficult to weigh up the probabilities with such a big hefty language barrier separating the Egyptian customs officials from my brain. There was an Italian 4 x 4 tour group also in the yard but even though the leader had good English he must have had problems of his own because he did little to reassure me. But me being me, I reckoned I should give it my best shot before giving in, so I will return to Jordan and try to get the document. The next ferry leaves here around two tomorrow afternoon with a return trip leaving Aqabah just after midnight. My Mum used to call it shank’s pony - that’s getting there by walking – not my favourite mode of transport, so when I was outside of the gate and a voice used the only English words he knew “Taxi Sir” things looked a little brighter. The first stop had to be the office that sold the ferry tickets back to Aqabah but it was closed until later that evening. The second stop was for a hotel. The taxi driver, named Zurga, was driving towards the Hilton when I called a halt and drew a picture of five stars on the dusty dashboard and then put a big cross through two of them, so he changed direction and found a four star a little further on. I still don’t know how the currency equates but I reckon the 350 pounds for dinner bed and breakfast will not be as bad as the Holiday Inn at the Dead Sea. Fingers crossed anyway. I don’t like flying blind but today’s events came right out of the blue and hit me like a 4 x 2 between the eyes, so the money needed to fix things up again will just have to be spent regardless. Monday 11th October The one o’clock ‘fast ferry’ didn’t leave until five o’clock on the dot and arrived at Aqabah around seven, but then a sit and wait (for what) for three quarters of an hour before the passengers were let off – so almost eight o’clock, add on an hour time difference and it was too late to enquire about special forms such as the ‘Carnet De Passages En Douane’ at this customs post so into Aqabah we went for a night at the same bed as the night before yesterday. It had been a wasted day but salvaged somewhat by meeting a Swiss couple Heidi and Paul who were travelling from Egypt to Jordan and Syria with a couple of months left of their long awaited holiday. They were doing it the right way after being married for twenty five years and with four grown-up kids they had abandoned the business they have built up to take a three month break to see what they could get to see of the Middle East. I met them by accident. There are two ferries – a fast ferry and a slow ferry - and I had bought a ticket on the fast ferry but somehow when I just followed the crowd out of the departure hall onto the ship, it was onto the slow one not the fast one. It wasn’t until the fast ferry came ripping into the harbour that I realised my mistake so they found my ticket in the stack of hundreds and put me back onto the dock and told me to wait an hour before boarding the other ship. So rather than walk the long walk back to the departure hall, I found a spot to sit in the shade at the dock and watched the (non) action taking place. A heap more interesting than sitting in the departure hall on a hard bench. After half an hour I noticed a couple – tourists for sure – walk to the fast ferry ramp in an attempt to board but they were obviously told to wait a while because at that stage the ferry had not even let it’s passengers off leave alone take new passengers on board. It was Heidi and Paul. Eventually they drifted over to the shady spot where I had lobbed and we got to talking about all manner of things Arabian. They had spent a couple of weeks in Egypt and were now heading to Jordan and Syria, whereas I was doing exactly the opposite so we had plenty of tips to share. Around four o’clock the ferry started to take on passengers and eventually took off at five. Heidi and Paul had someone to meet them at the port in Aqabah and kindly offered me a lift into the city 10 kms away which was great. A pity we had not exchanged email addresses as I would have liked to have kept in touch with this nice couple. They have a bakery and supermarket 20 or 30 kms from that beautiful city of Lucerne. Just an aside, but on both the ferry trips of the last two days, there have been a number of women with small children and some of the little ones cried a lot – strange thing but I have not seen one with a dummy (pacifier) in it’s mouth. I wonder why when it’s almost compulsory in the west.

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They had a bed for me at the same hotel as 2 nights ago, and the kebab shop nearby had a couple of those things made from a square of thin flat bread, with a thick line of spiced-up shaved meat across it, then rolled into a parcel, flattened and heated through on the hot plate. Delicious! To top it off a couple of cold beers for a starter at a picnic table in the gardens dividing the main street. There are a number of liquor shops in some of the major cities of Jordan and they sell all the imported European beers as well as the local Jordanian brewed beer. It was nice too, but I couldn’t help but notice that it was always sold in a black plastic bag to disguise the contents. But the black plastic itself was a dead give-away as all the other plastic bags around are either royal blue or clear. Strange though that there was no liquor at all in Irbed – it’s all the same Jordan and all the same Islam. Double strange! Not looking forward to tomorrow but slept well anyway.

Jordan - Egypt - Jordan - Egypt - Jordan - . . . . . I am getting Giddy! Tuesday 12th October

Ahmed, my friendly hotel receptionist was no help with the ‘Carnet De Passages En Douane’ – had no idea what it was – so the first stop was to return to the travel agent who sold me the ferry tickets to Egypt three days ago. A nice young lady with pretty good English looked after me and after a few discussions with others in the office they decided that the document could be acquired but only from one place - another travel agent in Aqabah. A choice of just one, is not much of a choice at all! As a favour they had one of the young men in the office drive me around there, which was just as well because I would never have found the place in the first place even with a taxi, and secondly the bloke wasn’t there and we had to wait for fifteen minutes or more for him to front up. What’s more he barely had basic English. The upshot of it all was that, “Yes,” he can produce a ‘Carnet De Passages En Douane’ for Phe but only if the car is here in Jordan! He must have the ‘blue paper’ that I get from customs when she enters the country! He cannot produce a ‘Carnet De Passages En Douane’ without that ‘blue paper’! And she is sitting miles away in no-mans-land with her nose right up to the Egyptian border! Then he started talking about a guarantee that I would have to put up. Refundable. The first figure was $US10,000. I laughed! (or cried) Then it was $500, and I said okay, but then it became $6,000. We were getting nowhere fast. And I must say I didn’t like the bloke very much. Four years ago I had paid 1500 euros deposit on a car to a Turkish carpet salesman – and have been whistling Dixie ever since, so I am not likely to put up big sums like that again to some sloppy snoozer in Aqabah! There are no choices left now. I can only turn my back on Egypt – what a bugger! I will have to catch a return ferry to Neweiba and bring Phe back to Jordan. Then it was the mechanics of getting back to the first – and reputable – travel agent, buying a ticket back to Egypt, and a taxi out to the Port for the one o’clock fast ferry. Once there, it only took a few minutes to organise the departure tax and a stamp as I know where to go and what to do now, so with still an hour before departure I went to the Information Kiosk and found the same bloke who last Sunday had not told me about that piece of Egyptian magic called ‘Carnet De Passages En Douane’. He was great. Maybe he remembered me, maybe not, but we went from one section to another all over that place as he got more and more information. The last stop was at the office of a travel agent on the second floor called “Al-Ahli Club of Kuwaitand” but what especially encouraged me was the next line on the sign that read “For Tourism and Automobile Services.” The office was closed at the time but apparently they too can produce a ‘Carnet De Passages En Douane’ for Phe but they do need her to be here in Jordan, and they do need the ‘blue paper’. The same story but at least it was a second choice. More importantly there was no mention of a guarantee so there is still a little light at the end of the tunnel – I just hope it’s not the light of a train coming the other way! Wednesday 13th October Yesterday didn’t finish at all well because I had expected to return to Jordan on the same ferry. With a full two hours for the formalities of getting a ticket and customs etc. I should have waltzed it in. But the bureaucracy got me again because the ticket office had closed by the time I got to it and without a ticket we are not even anywhere near GO! So it had to be another night in this Egyptian town of Neweiba and at another resort because the first one from a couple of nights back was fully booked. What a rotten resort hotel it was too - The Regent. One out of ten on my scorecard! To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin


But today had been just another wasted day and wasted money and wasted time. Bought a ticket on the fast ferry back to Jordan for Phe and Me, sat and waited in the departure lounge with the hundreds of people – 95% men – doing the same for a couple of hours. The only bright spot was the Tourism Police bloke who – with just a little English – had been the barrier to entry on the first day. He was wonderful today in taking me from one office to the next, getting forms written then signed, money paid and receipts written, and eventually getting Phe and Me right at the barrier for when the ferry was ready to load. If we get back I hope he is around as I am sure he will be a great help. With all of this border hopping, I am thankful that the Jordan border is well organised and simple to handle - not like Syria and Turkey. And when we were back in Aqabah, wasn’t it just beaut to hear a shouted “Hello Mr Robin” coming from Ahmed, our friendly receptionist, as I was parking Phe in the skinny little car-park of the Hotel Shwie in Aqabah. It was just as though I was a long lost brother. Thursday 14th October Well that light at the end of the tunnel that I was talking about a couple of days ago really was a bloody train coming the other way! With just one more throw of the dice I was clinging to this hope in the back of my mind that a second travel agency would be able to rouse up a ‘Carnet De Passages En Douane’ on more acceptable terms than the first bloke so I was back at the Aqabah’s ferry terminal around ten o’clock sitting outside that still unmanned and closed travel agency called “Al-Ahli Club of Kuwaitand”. A bloke at a neighbouring ticket office said it would open around eleven. Eleven came and went as did twelve and one o’clock. Eventually at two thirty the bloke fronts up and opens the office. My heart sank with a thud as soon as I saw him and recognised him as the same bloke from yesterday – the $6000 guarantee man! How would I be trying to get a refund of a substantial deposit from this guy – that’s if I could ever find him! Arsehole! I can’t do any more than I have done. It has cost more than $A1100 and wasted five days but it is now time to call it quits and move on. We may be able to see the Pyramids and the Nile some other time. What’s left is Israel. I had always intended to visit Israel for a week or so and have left it until last because of the problem with some of the surrounding countries that will not allow entry if there is an Israeli stamp on a passport - Syria is the case in point. I need to find out if there is a car ferry from Israel out of the Middle East to (say) Cypress or to Turkey and if there isn’t it means backtracking overland through Jordan, Syria, and Turkey. If the road is blocked at the Syrian border then it’s curtains! There will be nowhere Phe will be able to go. We can’t go to Egypt without a ‘Carnet De Passages En Douane’. We can’t go to Lebanon because she runs on diesel. We can’t go to Saudi Arabia without family connections or on official business purposes and we don’t have a visa to get into Iraq. All that leaves a road journey back through Jordan, Syria and Turkey or a sea journey out of Israel somewhere. So it is important to confirm a sea exit! That’s a job for tomorrow. But it must be the Good Oil – not just hearsay probabilities from the internet. There was still plenty left of today, so we drove down to the Jordan/Saudi border. I am not allowed into Saudi Arabia so the only second choice is to have a look at their border.

To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin


The Jordan territory down by the Saudi border is bleak, arid, rocky rubbish but then they have built a resort or three down by the seaside – carted in sand for the beaches and used some water to grow green lawns and colourful gardens. The resorts will thrive because the offshore reef is reputed to be one of the finest coral reefs in the world attracting divers from all over. I say ‘rocky rubbish’ but it is valuable ‘rocky rubbish’ as they are extracting phosphate and potash and also some natural gas for export through the bulk carrier terminals. A lot of it is not at all pretty but I guess it helps to pay the rent.

Aqabah, as a city is pretty good. It has wide streets with plenty of street trees and the buildings are modern. And it is growing like wild fire, with apartments, and hotels, and retail outlets springing up all over the place.

To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin


It won’t be a late night tonight as tomorrow I want an early start so that we can make it to Amman to talk to the Israeli Consulate. (for some reason I don’t seem to be able to raise them on the phone.) I really do want good solid information about getting out of the Middle East before we go anywhere near Israel - and who better to get good info about Israel from than the Israli consulate (and the only one is in Amman.) It’s the best idea I can come up with. This arvo was good as I did the basics like grocery shopping for toothpaste and shaving cream, a haircut, copy photos onto a DVD and mail it home – a load of washing in the hotel’s machine - nitty gritty stuff like that. And a beer and peanuts as a reward. I really didn’t expect this to be our last night in Jordan.

Jordan - It has been great but now we are heading for our first night in Israel Friday 15th October Last night I realised I have missed another birthday! Wombat – Adam to everyone else – was ten three days ago and I hadn’t realised it. Another bugger! But the sim card has some more money on it now so I will give him a ring later this morning when he will be home from school. It was an early start today – gave the breakfast a miss – as its 300 plus kms back to Amman and it would be good to get to the Israeli Embassy before lunch time. I have tossed it around because there is a border crossing here in Aqabah and it would be easy to cross into Israel, take pot luck and hope for the best – but that sort of thinking hasn’t panned out too well lately so I decided we should drive to Amman and get some proper information about visa requirements, ferries out of Israel, and can we travel from Israel into Egypt? The internet has Amman listed as the only official Israeli information place in Jordan. The road is called the Desert Highway. It’s divided with plenty of lines and plenty of heavy transports many carrying crude oil from one of the oilfields to a refinery near Amman, and a few cars. It was interesting really because I couldn’t help but notice the fuel tankers near the turn-off to Wadi Rum because there were hundreds of them congregated around what looked like huge petrol bowsers. There was no sign of storage tanks and it looked as though the tanker just hooked up to the bowser, was filled and then took to the road. I saw the same thing yesterday down by the Saudi border but didn’t take a lot of notice at the time. For the next 200 kms we passed many full tankers going north and heaps of empty ones coming back. I wonder why there is not an oil pipe line? But it was not a boring drive because the scenery was great, with the same light brown coloured rocky, craggy, hills all around and the occasional flatter land often with Bedouin tents and shepherds tending their flocks. Then a sign to a Uranium mine – so once again this ‘rocky rubbish’ is not worthless. Once we got to Amman – and it’s a big place - the challenge was to find the Israeli Embassy. Why hadn’t I thought to get Ahmed at the hotel to write the street address in Arabic for me. It would have been so much easier! Then I could have asked anyone at all but having it only in English will need an English speaker and an English reader as well. When we were here last week I got close to the two huge twin towers in what looked like a pretty posh area, and you can see the towers from almost anywhere in Amman they are so tall, so I headed for them. Wallah! There is a five star hotel - the Crown Plaza – just the place to ask for directions. There was plenty of good English at the Crown Plaza and they took me to one of their ‘drivers’ who gave excellent directions right to the gate of the Embassy – just the two U-turns. That was the good news. The bad news though was that today is Friday and Friday is the Jewish holy day. The Embassy was closed. The Israeli sentry on the gate was absolutely no help with no English and no interest. When his three mates turned up to see what was going on it simply meant I had four sentries with no English and no interest. I could have been pushing too hard because the situation became a little nasty. I was about to leave when a car drove up to the gate, so I ignored the kids with the guns, and asked the driver if he spoke English and to my great relief he did and did not mind spending a few minutes answering my questions. And the answers were all affirmative. “Yes, you will be able to get a visa at the border. Yes, there are plenty of car ferries running out of Haifa for Cypress and also Turkey and Yes, we can cross from Israel into Egypt.” This man looked as though he belonged to the Embassy and spoke with the authority of someone who knew what they were talking about.

To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin


“So how about we are go to Israel Phe!” “I’m game if you are Grae!” According to our unreliable Tourist Police map there are five crossings from Jordan into Israel and four of them mean crossing the River Jordan above the Dead Sea. We were back at the Dead Sea around two o’clock and I realise just how lucky we were when we were here a week ago because today the mist is so thick you could hardly see the water at all – it may as well not be there. The closest crossing is the King Hussein Bridge, but with all the confusing signs and lack of English, I was shunted from pillar to post for ages before finally a bloke told me the King Hussein Bridge was closed. But there are tourist buses and people everywhere so surely I must have lost something in the translation. Some of the recent borders have closed for business at four o’clock but it is only a quarter past two – surely they are not closing that early. Then it dawned on me that this crossing was for arrivals into Jordan from Israel and closed to departures out of Jordan – I needed to do further north to another crossing. So off we went for miles. The next crossing had a sentry at the gate and he wouldn’t let us pass through because its “Friday – border closed!” Does all of Israel close down on every Friday! Surely not. So back to the main road and further north until the last crossing on the map – almost into the Sea of Galilee – and by now it was well after half past three and I reckoned there would be no chance of getting through tonight and then the next problem would be that of finding a bed for the night as I had not seen one hotel all the way up from the Dead Sea. But the gods were on our side and we were through the Jordan departures formalities in less than an hour and were then crossing the frontier and the bridge over the River Jordan and heading into Israel.

At last a photo of the River Jordan taken from the middle of the bridge border crossing between Jordan and Israel not very far south of the Sea of Galilee – and even though it is quite wide it is barely flowing. I guess it is about the same ‘height’ below sea level here as it is on the Dead Sea and if the Dead Sea levels rose the river here would become wider. A few more turns of Phe’s wheels and we will be in Israel!

To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin


My Impressions of Jordan after Seven Nights Geographically, Jordan has a long 800 km north-south border with Israel to the west and neighbours Syria to the north, Saudi to the south and Iraq to the east. Its bread and butter comes from the River Jordan valley, a fertile river valley where waters from the Jordan and it’s tributaries have been diverted into channels and spread over the plains for intensive cropping. The River Jordan creates the border with Israel as it flows through the Sea of Galilee in Syria, almost due south and ends barely a trickle into the Dead Sea. It is this 200 km stretch of river that has given us the recognised names, the ‘East Bank’ and the West Bank’ The east bank of the Jordan River is Jordanian territory, and the West Bank is in Israel and is settled with Israelis and Palestinians. Jordan is almost totally landlocked except that in the very south, in the 1950’s, Jordan did a deal with Saudi Arabia where it swapped a huge chunk of it’s territory out east for a small piece of Saudi’s coastline at Aqabah to create a deep water port opening through the Red Sea onto the Mediterranean. So Aqabah in the south is the only sea port in Jordan. Jordan is a Democratic Monarchy with a King and a parliament. It is very hard for me to judge, but I think people here enjoy a higher standard of living than in Syria for instance although I had a long talk with a bookseller when first entering the country and he said things were very tough for those people with no jobs or poorly paid jobs. There are not a lot of flash cars around and not a lot of prestige homes that I could see. Of all the Moslem Arab states, Jordan has historically been the most friendly towards the West. It still has major differences with Israel but in the Gulf war Jordan allowed the US to use it’s territory for an air base from where strikes on Iraq were launched. It also had a major battle against Yassar Arafat’s PLO in the capital Amman causing major destruction in the city. We crossed the border from Syria and then turned sharp right to have a breather for two nights at Irbed in the north west. From there we went further west to pick up the Jordan valley and followed it south to the Dead Sea – well we were interrupted by an altercation with the Syrian army simply because I had drifted off the main road onto one of their military bases. I wanted to see, and photograph, the Jordan river and had followed a road that soon became a track down to where the river should be, when a sentry box, some rocky barriers, and a solitary sentry - who may have been having a nap - rubbed his eyes, put on his flack jacket and found his rifle before confronting this invader from Oz. From there it got worse. First to the army post just up the hill, then to interrogation – that’s a good word, but a little over the top – at the local army base, ten brass with a major at the top all with me in a small room, and then 25 kms down the road to head quarters and an hour or more with a Lieutenant Colonel. Must have been a slow day and I was the only action around. But like all of the Jordanians I met they were nice friendly happy people. Just before the River Jordan finishes it’s run to the Dead Sea there is a site where Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist a few years back. I found it great, because it brought back names that I had heard at Sunday School more than 60 years ago. I was able to take a photo from Elijah’s Hill – named after the prophet Elijah - where there is an arch and through this arch I could see the city of Jericho over on the West Bank and up on the mountain tops behind was Jerusalem, and to the left Bethlehem. The desert to the left was Judea where Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights and further left again the Dead Sea and the Dead Sea scrolls up in the mountains behind, plus also the remains of Herod’s castle where he used to go to escape the summer heat. The very fascinating thing for me was the fact that this is a Christian site and the pilgrims who were at the site were Christian pilgrims conducting their impromptu church services in shelters down by the river. But this is an Islamic country and Jesus is not important in Islam, simply another one of their many prophets, not pivotal as he is in Christianity. I suppose what I am saying is that Jordan is the fifth Islamic country I have visited after Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, and Syria and not once have I been made to feel different, or out of place, or even uncomfortable because I am not a Moslem. The religious difference just doesn’t seem to be important. Yet in the West, as a people, we fear the Moslems. Is it just the difference between governing bodies and the ordinary people – the difference between Al Quida and the USA Government, for instance, whereas down here on the ground I have found no angst – no angst at all. I didn’t swim in the Dead Sea – maybe I should have. The level is dropping 1 metre per year even though there are no rivers running out of it – a bit hard for rivers to flow downhill out of a sea that is 400 metres below sea level. The River Jordan feeds the Dead Sea but with only a trickle if even that, as the waters of the Jordan are being diverted for agriculture by Jordan, Syria and Israel. The Dead Sea is something like 34% salt and ten times saltier than sea water. I have some very good sunset and sunrise photos with reflections off the blue waters from the pastel colours of the mountains on the West Bank. They look almost unreal.

To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin


Further south there is the town of Petra. There are many different lists of the ‘Seven Wonders of the World’ and Petra gets a guernsey on one of them. The city dates back 2500 years and the ‘buildings’ have not been built from the ground up, but the fascias have been carved out of the limestone rockface and the rooms behind doorways and windows have been dug into the rock – like caves. Incredible! Then further south again is a place in the desert called Wadi Rum where ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ lived and worked around 1918 when the British and the Arabs were fighting the Turks. There is a lot of contrast in this country of Jordan, from flat arid desert, to rocky, harsh mountains, to the rich alluvial plains of the Jordan valley. When we crossed from Syria I jokingly noted in my journal that maybe the litter on the roadside had blown over the border from Syria, but in truth I don’t think there is anywhere as big a litter problem in Jordan as there is in Syria. Don’t get me wrong, there is still heaps of litter but not the degree as in Syria – and Italy for that matter. And the men don’t spit! But they do smoke – it’s almost as if it is compulsory. Once again I have nothing but good things to say about the people of this country. Almost all of the women are in their traditional dress and at the very least have a scarf over their head and neck and in Jordan a lot more of the men wear the ‘thawb’ - the long gown from collar to ankle with long sleeves buttoned at the wrist – and sometimes they also have the ‘kufiya’ – the turban type scarf for their head. Many carry ‘worry beads’. Jordan is a colourful place. And they are fine looking people. The young women are quite beautiful – not that you see much of them with all of their protective armour – and the men are lean and fit, with dark complexion, smiling eyes, and handsome looking. There does not seem to be the custom of gathering at cafes as has been the case in so many countries. They are warm to each other with hand shakes and smiles, and have been warm, outgoing, helpful and friendly towards me. There have been many many occasions when I have been seeking advice – normally “Where is . . . ?” or “Which way is . . .?” - but sometimes just a casual conversation on a park bench or in a cafe where the approach has normally started with the 3 English words each Jordanian kid must learn at school “Welcome to Jordan”. (In Turkey it was “What is your name?”) Very soon after that it is “Where you from?” - and I guess a disappointment that I am not a rich American. And often I got that real warmth from a fellow after asking for help and then parting with a handshake but many times he has put his hand lightly to his heart, briefly, and then a slight gesture to me, which I take as being a silent blessing such as goodbye – go in peace. I hope I am right.

To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin


To purchase Graeme’s Book 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin


Graeme's BOOK 2 'Karen and Compass, Phe and Me - On Roads Without Lines - Book 2' is available to buy both in print and online BOOK 2 covers Graeme’s four month journey through: Estonia and the Baltic States Poland Ukraine Hungary Romania Bulgaria Turkey Georgia Greece To buy BOOK 2, visit: http://www.perendale.com/browse/travel/robin


Jordan - Graeme Robin. Travel  

Born in 1937, married Barbara, but lost her 43 years later. I felt as if the world had stopped. But a change sort of evolved. I travelled to...

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