Thursday, October 29, 2009

Our Epic Road Trip, Karak, Wadi Mujid, Dead Sea... IN ONE DAY!


2204 (local time)

Today, was a big day! Today, Brian (United States), Rob (Canada), Simon & Rebecca(Aus, Bendigo) got in a car, so we could visit Karak Castle in which the Crusaders used to help them take over Jerusalem, from here we would have a quick lunch and then get moving so we could visit Wadi Mujib and the Dead Sea, I've already been there but the rest of the group hadn’t see the Dead Sea so we found a public beach to visit. When I say public... it was definitely public. Right... from the top!

We got in the car at 8.30am but got out of the back street that our hotel was on at around about 9.00! What took so long was that since Simon and myself parked the car at 7pm that night until 8.30am this morning a bird market, yep a market packed full of birds had opened up and developed around our car and 1 kilometre down the street. Myself and the others in the car wouldn’t have minded on any other day but to get the car out of this market where people are selling birds it was going to take some major crowd movement! So Simo started the car, and edged forward in the first 5 minutes we had moved half the crowds hit about a dozen blokes and nearly turned pigeons into pancakes!

After 20-30 minutes we had made it through the crowds with no fatalities! Although I think we have bruised a 50year old man’s thigh and buttock when we hit him with the bumper of our car!

Right, after the Bird Market I navigated the car to Kerak using my intelligent directions of “ahh mate, I think if ya go straight ere u’ll be right” Not to worry, we found it anyway!

Kerak is a pretty cool crusader castle that helped the crusaders on their battle to taking over Jerusalem from the Arabs. We had a quick bite to eat of dips and Kebabs... We were back in the car before we knew it heading to Wadi Mujib...

Wadi Mujib, this place has got to be my favourite place in all of Jordan. You enter the natural reserve through the entrance and you pay your 8 JD ($14AUD). Wadi Mujib is a nature park that is the lowest nature reserve in the world situated 410 metres below sea level.

Its quite hard to explain what it is like, but it is a valley of fresh quick flowing water that washes into the Dead Sea. Where the river is flows it is through huge canyons it looks amazing... photos will tell the story!

(**NOTE** In last months blog I wrote about the Dead Sea being 80% Salt, this is incorrect, the Dead Sea is 33.7% according to Wiki!)

When we arrived the place stunk of dirty rubbish, and their were Jordanian people everywhere. We had a quick dip in the Dead Sea then we were out dodging the dirty garbage bags and filthy water bottles... oh and I also forgot, trying not to step on all the dirty clothes that the past visitors have left behind!

Right, after trekking up the mountain of rubbish and encountering a massive blowout in my trusty thongs we bathed in the boiling hot water that was flowing out of some drain and made out way 2 kilometres down the road so we could get changed into some proper clothes.

20 minutes later we were back in the car heading “straight” according to my faultless navigational abilities. The plan was to head to the place where Jesus or “THE J Train” as he was referred to by Simon was apparently baptised, so we drove and drove until we came to a sign that said ‘Welcome to Bethany Baptism Site’ we couldn’t see anything because it was 7pm at night and we were in the middle of nowhere, the decision of the car was to turn around and head back home again!

We arrived home at about 7.30pm absolutely knackered!

When we got back, myself and Rob were craving some pasta, so we bought some macaroni, tomato, cucumber, tuna and a bunch of herbs and mixed it all together! It was a good feed for a tiring day. Unfortunately later that night Rob realised that he has lost his wallet, so we spent the rest of the night trying to re-trace steps and ring different restaurants and places to see if anyone had picked it up or found it, but unfortunately to no avail.

What it did make me realise is, that even the most seasoned traveller can make mistakes, so you must always be on your game!

It was a bit of a sleepless night for all of us I think! Never mind, the next day we are heading to Jerash!

No joke, this is how the bird market was!!!

Stupid... huh!

The legendary car!

My navigational tools!

The guys at Karak castle!

I found this a donkeys face, so i used it as out mascot!

Rob looking ultra sexy!

Wadi Mujib in its prime!

Couldnt get too many good shots here... too dark!

The waterfall... HOW GOOD IS MY BEARD!

Rob getting showered down on!

The end of the walk!

Brian repelling down a smaller waterfall!

The sun setting on the dead seas!

Another dead sea photo!

Take care!


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Dead Cities and Apamea... then Jordan all in one day!


2000 (local time)

Wow, the Dead Cities are pretty awesome. I organised a tour through the hostel, which I know is kinda cheating but I was tired of getting told the wrong information to get to places. So the hostel struck up a relatively cheap deal to take me and 2 other girls from Ireland and Germany (I think) to visit Serjilla, Al-Bara and Apamea.

The Dead Cities are a series of ‘ghost towns’ scattered around the area of Aleppo and Hama. These cities date back to the Byzantine era as you can see by some of the distinct markings that are on the doorways of buildings. The great mystery about these cities is why the towns were abandon. Sites such as Serjilla that I went to have a bit of a eerie quality about them. The latest theory states that these villages were emptied by demographic shifts; trade roots changed and the people moved with them.

‘Dead’ Cities probably isn’t the best way to describe the cities at the moment, because people are currently living some of the houses as you can see from the rubbish and the abandon fire sites.

Serjilla is the most complete ‘dead city’ in the area, and we were fortunate to visit this first. Although it has been deserted here for about 15 centuries the buildings are still sharp and you are always half expecting a villager from the Byzantine times to come walking out of one of the buildings.

It was really good fun to go exploring and walking around the ruins!

Anyway, our time was up, so we jumped back into the car and took a quick visit to Al-Bara, although we didn’t stay long at Al-Bara it was still nice to see some of the ruins and houses to be surrounded by olive trees. It is known that Al-Bara was used for its Wine and Olive Oil trading. We stayed here for about 15 minutes, had a quick walk around took some photos and were again on our way to Apamea.

I would have been happy to head home from here and save some money on the tour, but as it were, it was included with the tour. So we drove for about 45-60 minutes where I dosed off for a bit. I was woken to the sounds of doors opening, we were here.

We bought our tickets and started out walking down the straight road that was once owned by a former General of Alexander the Great. Apemea became a important trading post for one of the four key settlements which was Lattakia (the port). Many years went on, then Apamea was seized by the General Pompey for the Romans in 64BC. In 115AD the city was mostly rebuilt after a severe earthquake tore down most of the city. Years went by and the city that once boasted a population of 500,000 was taken over by numerous different empires , until around 1150AD the city was flattened by another severe earthquake.

Now days the city looks very similar to Palmera except without the tourists, its nice to walk down the street and look at all the Roman pillars to either side of us.

After strolling through the 3 kilometre street, we turned left at the road and admired another nice Roman Villa, that would have looked beautiful back in its heyday.

We walked back to the car, and was then driven 2 kilometres down the road to the west, to an ancient Roman theatre. It was nice to sit here and relax for a bit. I did my standard bit of exploring, then it was time to leave so we got back into the car and headed off back to Hama. It was a good day. Everyone fell asleep in the car lucky for us the driver Abdul stayed awake and got us home safely.

We were back at home for no longer than 20-30 minutes before I convinced a young couple from England and a girl who was also from England to come with me down to Hama water wheels also known as the Norias. The Norias are Hama’s most distinctive attractions, they are water wheels that are up to 20metres in diameter, which is equivalent to an four or five story building. These wheels have graced the city form the 5th century. The Norias were constructed to scoop the water for the river and then deposit it into a nearby aqueduct which then distributes the water to the near by farms.

Unfortunately at the time that I visited them, the Norias were inactive due to insufficient water, but during the spring and summer times the water wheels still turn and the sound of them echo’s throughout the city.

The group of us visited the Four Norias of Bechriyyat, took some photos. I jumped the fence to chat to some of the locals that were fixing them and tried my Arabic on them. We ended up getting quite chatty, and they let me climb up one, get a ton of photos and then let the wheel take me down to the ground again. We have a movie of the whole thing, so ill be putting it up on You Tube asap.

After all of this, it was getting late and I was tired so we walked back to the hostel stopping by at the local supermarket so I could cook up a rice and vegies dish!

After dinner I found out that I can get a direct bus from Hama to Amman (Jordan) for 600SP ($13AUD) that leaves at 12 midnight and gets me to Amman at around about 9 in the morning on the 21st. Looking forward to it. I know have everything organised, it was a hassle because I didn’t want to withdraw anymore Syrian so I exchanged some Lebanese Lira instead for a decent rate.

Update: 21st, well I am now in Amman, and I made it all the way through. I didn’t take into account that I may have needed some extra Syrian Pounds so I could pay for the Departure Tax. So I did an asleep border crossing with the help of a angry Syrian man I was luckily able to pay for my departure tax in Jordanian Diner (9JD), I think it was supposed to be 10JD? But never mind! I MADE IT!

The next few days will involve a lot of RELAXING!

Dead Cities

Tomb robbers have raided the tombs!

The buildings are still all complete!

One of the old houses that are still being occupied, look at all the rubbish!

Makes me sad... rubbish graffiti on some amazing ruins!

I think this may have been the town hall, or someones house! Still so complete!

This is at Al-Bara, Notice the byzantine marking on the door frame!

Standing in front of the start of Apemea!

Another roman column shot!

Whilst walking around, a Shepard guided his sheep through the ruins!

A nice group shot with the girls... (do you think i can look any brighter)

The shot out of the lonely planet!


The Four Norias of Huma

How amazing does it look!

Unfortunatly the lake is not deep enough yet... Maybe in a months time!

So i climbed up to the top! The movie is quite amusing! But i cant upload it!

The 4 workers there!

The End!

Till next time!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Krak Des Chevaliers... Greatest Crusader Castle in the World!


2219 (local time)

Today was tour day, the hostel had planned a tour to do the castle of Musyaf, St.George’s Cathedral and Krak Des Chevaliers. I didn’t really care much for the first two, but Krak meant a whole lot to me. So the tour cost me 800(SP) ($20AUD) which is expensive, but there isn’t much I can do except get a bus to Homs and go from there. Never mind what’s been done, been done!

Musyaf castle was pretty average very restored and didn’t really mean much too me. There was nothing really impressive. The castles around this area were known for the well that was underneath the whole castle... and that’s pretty much all I know about the castle, so we will move on!

We then visited St. George’s Cathedral which was cool, from here we could see Krak which was super exciting! In St. George’s Cathedral we visited the old and new churches which was good.

KRAK DES CHEVALIERS!!! Wow this castle was nothing more than amazing. Its what you imagine, when you think “castle”

I could talk or write for hours on this stuff, and about my experience there but it would take FOREVER! So ill keep it brief, I already can hear a sigh of ‘thank goodness’.

In this castle, the little things did it for me, from all the different places the archers could attack oncoming forces, to the dimly lit stables that were musty and still smelt, then all the different rooms. Where they kept all the supplies, the church that got turned into a monastery, the hidden passageways etc etc!

Then the towers! WOW you got a view over the whole city of Homs, there wasn’t much you could look at because it was quite hazy and foggy that day. But on a clear day you can see the mountains of Lebanon.

I’m not too sure if I enjoyed this castle as much as I did with Saladin’s. I think they were both equal. The thing I liked about Saladin’s is that there wasn’t as many tourists and you could do a whole lot more exploring! Whilst Krak was fantastic just due to its size and boldness!

Anyway, tomorrow I'm going to the Dead Cities, to see what that’s all about!

Take care!


St. Georges Cathedral

Inside the new church!

Inside the old church,

The outer wall of Krak!

"secret path way to the outside of the castle" It was roped off... but i had to check it out!

The old pots used for storing and preparing food!

The main tower of Krak!

Krak Des Chevaliers!

Shame about the finger left in the photo, i can crop it out!

Peace dudes!