Category: Middle East

Long overdue trip to Israel 1.


In my youth I had posters of Bruce Lee on my bedroom wall, owned a Ninja Suit and practised frequently with Nunchaku sticks (which didn’t end well, but that’s another story).

Another hobby of mine was “survivalism”. It had many meanings at the time, but to me it was, what we’d call today, Bushcraft (something which still fascinates me to this day).

A magazine I used to read at the time was called Survival weaponry and techniques. It had all sort of interesting things in there, but one guy wrote about military stuff called Robert C. Waddington.

He wrote a lot about Israel, its military tactics and history. I became fascinated by it.

Problem was, as a travel destination it was “dangerous” and my mum forbid me to go there in case I “got killed”.

Mum had passed a few years earlier, so I decided it was time to go and see this amazing place.

Dan and Glenn were coming, but in the weeks running up to the trip there were tensions in the area with the result that an airport bus was bombed resulting in minor injuries.

The message was clear, this wasn’t a trip to Ibiza. Dan and Glenn (understandably) both pulled out of the trip.

Having waited so long, I’d made my mind up, so I went on my own.

I flew Jet2 from Manchester.

Nearly everyone else on the plane was either an orthodox Jew or a member of the cabin staff.

Lots of people had been frightened off which meant the seat next to me was free so  I could put magazines on it, stretch out and contemplate the wisdom of what I was doing.


The main goal of my trip was to visit Jerusalem (although I’m not religious).

Since the plane landed in the evening in Tel Aviv, I’d decided to have an overnight there and travel to Jerusalem in the morning (I now realise that you can just jump in a taxi direct to Jerusalem from the airport).

I could hear English football being discussed on the radio in my taxi as I was driven to my hotel.

It was right next door to the well fortified and guarded American embassy. When the driver asked for directions, the heavily armed guards told him to keep moving.


I found the beachfront hotel and I checked in.

It was normal sort of hostel fair, I had my own room, with a bed to sleep in, a bed to organise my stuff on and a spare.


I decided to head out and explore. I headed up the promenade to Old Jaffa.

On the way I passed the Irgun museum (which was obviously closed at 10pm at night).

I got to Jaffa. I’d heard the place was really nice and wanted to explore but it was late at night, and I know that the first 24hrs in any country are the highest risk.


Instead, I found a nice bar by the ocean.

Since it had taken me 28 years to get here, I had this photo taken of me enjoying a pint.

I had a 2nd drink, review my guidebook and read a few facts about Isreal.

The British mandate of the area then called Palastine, ended at midnight on the 14th of May 1948.

The following day, a coalition of Arab army’s attacked and the free state of Israel was declared.

It has the highest standard of living the middle east and a population of 8,502,900 of which 74.9% are Jewish.

I wandered back along the seafront and got some rest.


In the morning, I realised that “The Beachfront hostel” was facing the ocean and waterfront and did indeed have sun loungers right outside as I’d seen on their website.

What they’d failed to mention was there’s a busy road between them and the beach and if you’d “sat out” with your Tequila, you’d be 80 metres from any sand 🙂


I wandered along the waterfront. The sun was out now, and It was a beautiful day.


I wanted to explore Jaffa in daylight.


There wasn’t anything specific to see in Jaffa, it was more like you went there, wandered around and soaked up the atmosphere.

I found a nice spot, had some coffee by the ocean and then wandered back in to central Tel Aviv to to see what I could find.


I found the statue to commemorate Yitzhak Rabin.

Its on the spot where he was assassinated in 1995 by a right wing extremist unhappy at the Oslo accords.

From his early days in the Irgun, he had been a soldier at every level for 28 years of his life yet he’d chosen to embrace peace .

He was awarded the Nobel Peace prize along with Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat,

The inscription on the statue says “His legacy will be peace”.


Starting to feel hungry, I head for Macdonalds.

I frequently eat at Macdonalds while travelling, and some people seem surprised.

Thing is, I’m on the move and want to explore and see things. Macdonalds is reasonably cheap, usually quick and you know what your going to get. I use the wifi to check my email and I’m on my way in 15 minutes.


After walking around the busy city centre, I take some time out and head for Hayarkon park.

I find a nice spot of grass and just sit and enjoy the sunshine.

Heading over to the bus station, to go to Jerusalem, I realise this isn’t going to be easy, its chaos in there.

Long overdue trip to Israel 2.


Instead, I get a taxi (and get ripped off, but what the hey, it least I was on my way.

As we get near to Jerusalem, my driver calls my hotel to get exact directions. There’s some confusion and frowning.

He says, that on the Arab side, why are you going there in an accusatory tone.

Then he pauses and asks where I’m from. Then he smiles, realising I’m not Jewish and says “no problem, tourist, Jew like, Arab like”.

We drive down the street near my hotel and a group of youths is congregating on the corner. As I pay him the money (and he overcharges me) he tells me to keep the money out of site.

They are dishonest he explains, with no hint of irony.


The Mount Olives hotel is, well, on Mount Olive.

As I look down the hill to the old town Jerusalem,  I start to realise just how small the place is.


The people are friendly, but they have a guarded manner to them. Most of the Arabs I meet while there are like this, and I get used to it after a time.

Inside, its clean and tidy, but like something from the 50’s.


But the amazing thing about it, is its practically on top of the church of ascension.

This is the place where many believe Jesus ascended to heaven 40 days after his resurection.

I can see it 30 feet from my bedroom window !.


Wandering down the hill near the Garden of Gethsemane.


Outer wall of old Jerusalem.


I’ve included this aerial photo of Jerusalem to give some background.

2400 years old, its been attacked 52 times and besieged 23. Oh and 3 of the worlds main religions are centred around here.

The whole thing is 0.9 square kilometres.


There are 8 gates into Jerusalem.

I enter through the Lion gate, same one used by Israeli paratroopers (55th brigade) when they retook the city during the 6 day war.


The Via Dolorosa starts here just near the Lion gate.

Meaning the way of sorrows, it follows the route that Jesus took on his way to crucifixion.

I’m not religious at all, but try to be open minded.

In this case, there is no basis of any of this in historical fact.

Worse, there is evidence that the route has changed on occaison because a new business opened and they wanted to attract greater footfall.


Down through the winding streets and corridors.


There are 4 distinct quarters in the old town.

Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Armenian.

There was a Moroccan quarter, but it was destroyed to create a plaza near the Western wall after the 6 day war.


The “modernised” Cardo street with shops on either side.

It was here I saw a soldier and a police officer teamed up.

I found out that they typicaly work in pairs, the police officer will have a truncheon and the solder a rifle.

That surprised me as there are places all over the world where police officers are armed, but not here.


Entrance to Jerusalem market in the Christian quarter.


They sell every kind of souvenir and piece of religious tat, but they also sell freshly baked bread as you can see from the picture above.


The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a major Christian pilgrimage destination since the 4th century.

As a place of worship, its shared between Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Roman Catholics and to a lesser degree Egyptian Copts, Syriacs and Ethiopians.

To avoid arguments, one Muslim family hold the keys to the building, open it in the morning and close it in the evening.


It’s considered to contain the 2 holies sights in Christendom.

Calvary where Christ was crucified and Jesus empty tomb where he was buried and resurrected.

Originally a sort of rock mound and cave, the picture above shows how its been built into a church.


In fighting between the various Christian denominations lead to the Status Quo established in 1853 by the Sultans firman (decree).

No cleric of the six ecumenical Christian orders may move, rearrange, or alter any property without the consent of the other five orders

The reality is it’s caused mayhem with the upkeep and repair of the building.

Epitomised by the “Immovable ladder” left over briefly from a painting task, 1853 remains in the exact same spot to this day !.

Worse still, there have been instances where a Monk might move a chair 6 inches and a fist fight breaks out (you can read about it on Wikipedia and actually watch the fighting on youtube !)


Above a picture of the Western wall, with the Dome on the rock in the background.

The rock that the dome sits on is considered significant to all 3 religions as the site where Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son. The difference is which son.

Christian’s and Jew’s believe the son concerned was Isaac, Muslims believe another son, Ishmael. Which explains where the West Wing episode Isaac & Ishmael gets its name.

The Dome on the rock is located at the visual centre of the platform known as Temple mount. In the Muslim faith, the place of the night journey of the Prophet Muhammad.

The Western wall, is literally the western wall of the 2nd Temple and the holiest site in the Jewish religion.

When I was younger I’d heard it referred to as the wailing wall, although this is now considered derogatory.

I had to walk through a metal detector to see the wall, but the people around were good humoured.

I’ve heard that transgender people have been refused entry when theyve been turned away from both the male entrance and the female one.


In 1948 the Arab Israeli war saw Jerusalem split, with Israeli holding west Jerusalem and Jordan holding the old town. The Jordanians closed access to the western wall and Jews were unable to pray there.

In 1967 and the 6 day war, Israeli paratroopers sustained massive casualties as they retook Jerusalem.

The iconic photo above shows Three Israeli commando’s as they arrived at the wall.

Its said that many of them wept openly at the sight of the wall (they had access to the wall for the first time in 20 years, but potentially full control of temple mount, which had been forbidden to them for over 2000 years).

On reaching the wall, their commander, Moshe Dayan said “We have returned to all that is holy in our land. We have returned never to be parted from it again”.

But surprisingly to me, immediately afterwards, Israel would control Jerusalem but within that, signed over control of Muslim & Christian religious sites to the relevant parties.

In another statement he said “To our Arab neighbours we extend, especially at this hour, the hand of peace. To members of the other religions, Christians and Muslims, I hereby promise faithfully that their full freedom and all their religious rights will be preserved. We did not come to Jerusalem to conquer the Holy Places of others”.


I’d seen all the things I wanted to at this point, so I was just wandering around exploring.

It was here that I was accosted by an Arab, who asked me where I was from.

I said I was from the UK. He said angrily, your people have strong minds but week stomach’s. You stand by and do nothing when there’s so much you could do to help.

I wanted to say, the same democracy that gives Hezbolla control of the West bank, give me one vote in a country of 60 million.

I wanted to say, one million British people took to the streets to protest the war with Iraq and we went anyway.

But realising where I was and how quickly things can escalate, I just replied that I’m sorry you feel that way and was quickly on my way.


Along the top of the wall, you I could see Western Jerusalem and an area called Yemin Moshe.


I leave through the Jaffa gate and try to unwind.

I’m reminded of a funny story I’d heard.

After retiring, Moshe Dayan took up the hobby of collecting antiques. He toured around Isreal building up his collection, made up of simple things that always cost less than 100 dollars and always paid by check.

He was fairly wealthy, and probably didn’t check his bank balance often. When he did, he found there was more money in his account than expected.

Moshe Dayan was revered by his people and his military work required reading in most officer academy’s around the world.

It was worth more to the antique dealers to have a cheque signed by Moshe Dayan hanging in a frame on the wall of the shop, than the actual money it was worth.


I found Western Jerusalem modern and spotlessly clean (and a bit dull to be honest).


The internationally famous King David hotel, built in 1929 with 237 rooms and 4 restaurants and bars.

The British government had offices there which were bombed in 1947 by Irgun (Zionist paramilitary organisation) and 91 people died.

Today it is used mostly by visiting dignitaries (I certainly couldn’t afford to stay there !).


After a whole day in a walled city, I yearned for open spaces.

I found this 17 acre park called the Bloomfield garden.

It contains the Herod’s family tomb (which looks like a cave,  but actually isn’t).


I walked back to my hotel to relax.

I’d decided early on, that I wouldn’t be going out on the town during the evening and I’d stay close to home (not just for safety reasons, but I was there on my own, without my friends, so there wasn’t really anyone to talk to).

And that’s when it hit me.I’d seen and done everything I wanted to.

I’d completely miscalculated how long I’d need to spend here, and now I had 2 whole days with nothing to do.

Deciding to read and catch up on some tv I’d loaded onto my laptop.

A bit concerned about homeland (a tv series with a “search for terorists” theme), so I watched it with headphones on.

I worried staff outside might overhear someone in the show saying “is the bomb ready” and in a place like this, they’d innocently contact the security services and a whole host of problems would begin with a flash-bang being thrown into my room !.


They served simple food in the hotel and had a fridge with Carlsburg.

Overall, a pretty relaxing 2 days/evenings.

Finally time to fly home, I say goodbye to the hotel staff, give them a tip and they get me a taxi to the airport (which is half the price I paid to get out here !).


Flying out from terminal 3 David Ben Gurion airport, the most secure airport terminal in the world (they use metal detectors and x-ray machines, but they’re famous for careful hand searching of every bag).

My security interview on leaving is extensive. I can see from your passport that you’ve visited Morocco. Do you have friends there ?.

You spent time in Malaysia, what was your reason for visiting ?

I answered all the questions politely and honestly, just like I would in any airport including 1 in Britain.

Not long afterwards, I’m flying home.

In summary. I felt safe the whole time I was there, but to be honest, I felt uncomfortable most of the time too.

Tour of Egypt and Jordan – Petra

pub We arrive at Wadi Moussa, the nearest town to Petra.

The trip had been exciting to this point, but this was different. Years before, my friend Yvonne, had returned from a trip around the world (in those days, I wasn’t at all inspired by travel, but I was excited for her).

I had met her in a cafe in Glasgow, and she had shown me some of the pictures from her trip. One photo, was of the Treasury in Petra.

It had left a mark on me, for nearly 20 years and the following day, I would finally get to see it.

The hotel we stayed in, had the ubiquitous “Irish” bar, but although anything but authentic, it was actually quite a nice pub.

In the picture are Ben, Nicola and Sue, who I got on with really well.

The tourist shops near the entrance, draw heavily on the fact that the treasury was used in the film Raiders of the Lost Ark.

It was voted as one of the new seven wonders, and 800 of its monuments are listed is Unesco world heritage sites.

Petra gets its title “The Red Rose City” from a poem by John William Burgon.

The last 2 lines are “Match me such a marvel save in eastern clime, A Red Rose City half as old as time“.

Problem is, when he wrote the poem, he hadn’t actually been to Petra, 16 years later, having seen it, he wrote to his sister commenting “There is nothing rosy about Petra, by any means”.

 siq1 Horses are used to drive carriages into the city (I cant imagine why anyone wouldn’t want to walk into it, and savour the experience, but up to them.)

There is an animal sanctuary nearby, where these horses are looked after once retired.

The long-hidden site was revealed to the Western world by the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812.

The City is 2000 years old, built by the Nabateans, it has also been occupied by The ancient Romans and the Bedouin.

The eastern entrance leads steeply down through a dark and narrow gorge (in places only 3–4 meters wide) called the Siq (the shaft), a natural geological feature formed from a deep split in the sandstone rocks and serving as a waterway flowing into Wadi Moussa.

Along the sides of the Siq, are these channels, which at one time provided running water, and also a “safety valve” during flash flooding. It used to be covered, but long ago ancient floods washed away the cover stones.

Excavations have shown it was the ability of the Nabataean’s to control the water supply that led to the rise of the desert city, in effect creating an artificial oasis.

Archaeological evidence demonstrates the Nabataeans controlled these floods by the use of dams, cisterns and water conduits. Thus, stored water could be employed even during prolonged periods of drought.

 highwall  In this picture, you can see just how high, the walls of the Siq go (the bottom of the picture starts at about 50 meters).
At the end of the narrow gorge stands Petra’s most elaborate ruin, Al Khazneh (“the Treasury”) hewn directly out of the sandstone cliff.

For the fascinating details of how it was restored, click here.

The Treasury’s original purpose remains elusive – except that it was not a Treasury.

Some scholars believe it was a royal tomb, with the king’s burial place in the small chamber at the back; others, a temple, pointing to its temple-like façade and the lack of burial holes – for them the rear chamber was the sanctuary, complete with ritual ablution basin.

Little has changed the Treasury since the Hon. Charles Irby and Mr. James Mangles, commanders in the British Royal Navy, described their first sight of it in 1818. “We do not know with what to compare this scene”, they added; “perhaps there is nothing in the world that resembles it”.

 caves1 The Obelisk Tomb and Bab al Siq, Petra.

It takes its name from the four Indian Obelisks along the top.

The locals, didn’t waste any resource.

Here, a carved out room, was used to “house” a donkey, temporarily not needed to pull carts down through the Siq.

In times gone by, a Bedouin family would have lived here.

 euros This child was wandering around, giving out Euro coins.

We worked out, that he actually wanted them changed into some kind of usable currency.

We exchanged them for Dollars, in return for allowing us to Photograph him.

Some of the souvenirs, were a bit sublime (one shop was selling used, dead batteries).

I was intoxicated by the moment, and ended up spending more than £100 on presents and souvenirs (I was so happy to be there, I didn’t even bother negotiating).

One thing I quite liked (couldn’t work out how to get it home) was this miniature Bedouin tent.

 theatre The amphitheatre has actually been cut into the hillside and into several of the tombs during its construction.

Rectangular gaps in the seating are still visible.

Almost enclosing it on three sides are rose coloured mountain walls, divided into groups by deep fissures, and lined with knobs cut from the rock in the form of towers.

Theatre, which was constructed in the early 1st century AD by Nabataeans and enlarged and improved by the Romans shortly after their annexation of the Kingdom in 106 AD. This they did by ruthlessly gouging away a street of houses or tombs in order to extend the rear of the auditorium, which could then accommodate 3000 people.

Elsewhere in the City, was this Byzantine Church.

The floor had been re-constructed to show how it would have originally looked.

 rami For some reason, I look like I am missing one of my teeth in this picture. I am not.

While travelling in Jordan, I had been reading “Married to a Bedouin”, the story of Marguerite van Geldermalsen, who visited the city while travelling (There was no internet or stuff like that, seeing the world in 1978 wouldn’t have been easy), married and fell in love with a souvenir seller, and lived with him in a 2000 year old cave.

As I wandered around Petra I could here a distinct New Zealand accent, coming from one of the locals.

I was delighted to meet Marguerite’s son Raami, who still carried on his fathers business (Mohamed, sadly died in 2003).

There is a photo in the book, of a young Raami, in a red high chair, his father constructed.

The first thing I said to him was “you’ve met the Queen” ((I knew from the book that Queen of Elisabeth II and Queen Noor visited Petra in 1984). I knew it was really him, as he replied yes, but I was asleep.

We had a friendly chat, and he talked about his parents (it was a rare occasion, where I shut my mouth and let someone else speak !).

I gave the space pen I had carried around the world to him, and asked him to give it to his mother. I told him that she was an inspiration to me.

Although there are no longer any permanent residents in Petra (which explain the restaurant and modern toilet facilities in this picture), you can still see the cave where Marguerite lived with her family.

Its in the middle of the picture, slightly to the left.

 caves2 Urn Tomb.

You can see how the caves were carved, one above the other, in places 4 stories high.

The Urn Tomb was probably constructed around 70 AD. It is preceded by a deep courtyard with colonnades on two sides. High up in the facade there are 3 niches which lead on to small burial chambers. Their inaccessibility would have made them relatively safe from tomb robbers.

Inside there is a massive single chamber which may originally have served as a triclinium for funerary banquets, but which was adapted in 446 AD to serve as a Byzantine church, the vaults of which can still be seen below the tombs.

 Front of the palace tomb.  room2
 room1 Inside the palace tomb, was this enormous room.

How long must it have taken to chisel all of this sandstone out, and how, with primitive technology and tools, did they get the walls so straight.

2000 years of high winds have eroded Petra’s sandstone, to create this effect.

This is a classic Petra “hole in the wall” shot, featuring my friend Gill.

 basin We go to the Basin restaurant for lunch.

Long before the residents were moved from Petra, the Basin, was the only Hotel in the area, and was featured extensively in Married to a Bedouin.

The Petra museum was right near here. Okay it was interesting, but I couldn’t help wondering what the point was, when you are actually in Petra. Perhaps a Petra museum in Manchester would be more appropriate :).

We head up to the Monastery.

Sue poses next to the striking rock, with a view back down to Petra behind.

 tea This Bedul girl was selling souvenirs, and was preparing some Tea for herself on an open fire.

As I have said before, it always inspires me, when I see people using Bushcraft, which to me is a hobby, and to them, just a normal part of daily life.

The Bedul are a small tribe of Bedouin who used to live in the caves in Petra until 1985.

They farmed in the area and had their goats graze there before being expelled and re-housed in the village of Oum Seyhoun on the edge of the archaeological park.

Now most of them make a living from tourism, renting horses or selling trinkets.

 As we walked up the hill, we pass through this naturally occurring “doorway”.  arch
 monastery The Monastery.

Petra’s largest monument, dates from the first century BC and was dedicated to Obodas I.

The monument is known locally as Ad-Deir, and like the Treasury, probably wasn’t a Monastery.

To get an idea of its size, the doorway, is 8 meters high.

 An enterprising entrepreneur, has converted the cave opposite into a cafe (the Monastery is 200 meters above Petra, and nearly an hours walk from the Basin restaurant).  cafe
 top  To the North of the Monastery, is this plato, with astounding views of Petra and the mountains around.
Having spent the day in Petra, we are given free time.

I spend the next 2 hours, walking slowly back to the hotel.

The danger in situations like this, is that the expectation of seeing something might be greater than the reality (I’m thinking of Kathmandu and Prague) but this wasn’t the case.

Was it worth the 20 year wait ?. Most definitely.

 beer Petra was not surprisingly, the last destination on the Pyramids to Petra tour.

By now my reputation had got around the group, and as a farewell, I was invited to pose in front of this cabinet with several different beer cans in it (the significance was not lost on me).

When I arrived back in London, Ralph and Aud gave me a lift, all the way back to Liverpool, which saved me about 8 hours of the day, and I would just like to say thanks.

Tour of Egypt and Jordan – The Dana National Park

flag We arrive in Aqaba.Our superb guide, collects us from the ferry port, nods at all the right people, and within minutes we are in a coach on the way to our first destination, the Dana National park

The flag of the Arab league, said to be the largest flag in the world.

As we travel in the coach, along the famous Kings Highway. Moses was refused permission to travel on this road by the King of EdomOur guide Aladdin makes good use of the time, to teach us about local customs, currency and a little of the language.

I sometimes hear people complaining about tips for the guide. In reality, they are less than £20, and an experienced guy like this could save you several hundred pound through his advise and local knowledge.

In a way, I feel lucky to have had bad experiences in Beijing on my own, as I now know, just how valuable, people like this really are.

 krrocks There was some amazing geology at work, on the mountains and hills along the side of the kings highway.This line through the middle of the rock, occurred naturally, and ran for several miles.
We arrive at the Dana National Park.The now ubiquitous excellent food, but what could beat a roaring fire and homely accommodation.  fireplace
 balcony1 In the morning, I wake and go through my gear (I always like to stay on top of routine stuff like this, so that things don’t go missing/I know if anything is broken etc.I don’t remember a more beautiful venue for this routine job, than the balcony overlooking the Nature Park bellow.
 All the balcony’s were in a row, and as I look to my left and right, I see that most of the group are up early enjoying the view.  balcony2
 shuttle After breakfast, we all jump in a truck and head down to the national park, in the valley bellow.Private vehicles are banned within the Park (the whole area is environmentally conscious, the recycling bins outside the visitors centre are the only ones in Southern Jordan).
 Our truck is halted for a few minutes, as a large group of farmed camels needed to cross the road (well, their herders did, the camels didn’t seem to have any preference).  camels
 guide1 Our nature guide (a reformed poacher) showed us around the park.The scenery and weather were brilliant.

At one point, he described how, when stalking a particular animal (I forget which) once you saw it, you should move back behind the tree, and approach it from the other angle.

He also told us, that when cooking a Badger (protected in the UK, by law) that it takes 9 hours.

The interesting thing about the park, was most of the wildlife, were fairly small, it wasn’t a big game park, and you could explore in almost complete safety.We are shown this beetle. After being handled for just a second, it appears to die, and doesn’t move at all.

We leave it, and return a few moments later, the beetle has gone, it was playing dead the whole time.

 merock  Another one of the superb rock formations in this magnificent country.
 This magic tree, was alive on one side, and dead on the other. At certain times, it would change, and the “dead” side would come back to life.  landdtree
 guide2  Our guide spots another insect, but advises caution.
It turns out to be a scorpion (this picture is heavily zoomed, I never got less than 4 feet from it).The scorpion stings our guides shoe, and we are shown the sizeable but harmless mark it leaves there.  scorpion
 kingrock This picture is featured on the adventure company web site and their new brochure (I’m famous).Its said that King Hussein of Jordan spent time on this very rock, looking into the valley, in deep contemplation.
 The park rangers on the other side of the valley, had camped up and were making coffee.  wardens
 camp As we reach the valley floor, we see the campsite at Rummana, where its possible to stay the night.I wish I could have spent 2 nights there, as I would have loved one night, sleeping out.

Tour of Egypt and Jordan – The Wadi Rum.

 7sisters  The seven pillars of wisdom at the entrance to the Wadi Rum.
The visitor centre at the entrance to Wadi Rum (Wadi Rum is 60km form Aqaba).

I bought some souvenirs here, with the help of the excellent Philipa.

 jeep2 We drive deep into the desert.

Our local guides and drivers, are the direct descendents of the people who fought with Laurence of Arabia.

The popularity of the area, has spread wealth to some extent, and mobile phones and expensive 4×4’s are not uncommon.

That said, although 90% of the Bedouin own houses in the towns, they still prefer to sleep in the desert.

There is no doubting, that this Jeep is authentic.

I had expected that we would be roughing it in the desert, but I should have know the Adventure Company better.

The tented accommodation, out in the desert, was pretty elaborate.

As you can see, this tent has a comfortable bed with clean sheets.

I slept soundly all night in here.

 fire1 We get the fire lit early.

An open fire in the middle of the desert plato, is a difficult scene to capture or describe.

 One of the great monoliths, out in the desert.  evening
 cards We sit out in our Bedouin tent, our guide Aladdin, teaches us to play cards (I had purchased some cards at Dahab with different kinds of fish on them, so I donated them to the enterprise).

Obviously most people visiting Wadi Rum want to spend the night in a “Bedouin tent”.

I think nearly everybody realises that these tents are not the authentic homes of the Bedouin, but are erected for the tourists.

It is nevertheless a special experience to sleep out in the desert.

 Later in the evening, a few of us congregate around the (now much smaller) fire.  fire2
 jeep1  We go deeper into the desert our “Indi” Jeep.
The colour of the rock is amazing.

I spend a little time relaxing and enjoying the ambience.

It was fairly cool in the morning, hence, I am wearing my Fleece.

 lsprings  Up to the right, near this green bush, is the famous Laurence spring, Named after T E Laurence, aka Laurence of Arabia.
We wander around some truly amazing rock formations, the like of which I have never seen, anywhere else in the world.

Sadly I didn’t get to see any rock bridges, they were couple of hours away by drive, and ours was the short tour.

 canyon  Our next stop, Khazali Canyon.
 This 100m long Canyon, is very thin, but with the light beaming in from above, is pretty exciting to explore.  merocks2
 cavepicture  One of the Nabatean rock paintings, drawn inside the Canyon.
As I leave the canyon, I see a Bedouin, selling souvenirs at the entrance.

A party of school children, were on a trip to the Wadi Rum, and they had left their quilts and sleeping gear with him, while they explored the Canyon.

He sold the souvenirs, from a sort of living room sideboard and one thing that occurred to me, was how he got it there ?.

 dune Wadi Um Ishrin.

There are truly enormous Sand Dunes around here.

Everybody decided to have a race up one of them.

Having done a desert survival course, I know it takes 3 footsteps to cover 1 normal step, when climbing sand uphill so I stay at the bottom and take photo’s.

After only an afternoon/evening and a day, we left the Wadi Rum.

There is so much more I would have liked to do there, but I am determined to go back.

As we leave, we see these Camels, living wild in the desert.


Tour of Egypt and Jordan – The Red Sea.

seafront Next stop on the Pyramids to Petra trip, was the coastal resort of Dahab.

It was very popular with scuba divers, and a superb place to relax.

You can see from this picture, just how beautiful it was.

After checking into our room, we wonder up and down the sea front ( a thriving town), buy a couple of souvenirs and check the place out.

There was even a curry house !.

 beers We find a Sea front restaurant, and get a couple of drinks.

An interesting anomaly, was wherever we went in Dahab, and asked for an alcoholic drink, there was a delay of about 10 minutes.

Turns out that an alcohol license is so expensive, that only one shop in the whole town has one, and all the other shops just send someone out to buy the beer as needed.

I am not much of a pool/beach sort of person, but the relaxing atmosphere was so addictive that I got the “bug” but one some shorts (Rohan obviously) and jumped in the pool.

In the background, you can see the balcony’s of our once again excellent hotel.

 gob The hotel were trying to recruit a member of staff.

I think the spelling mistake, indicates just how much this person was needed.

Joking aside, it left me with all sorts of questions about quality of life mix. Would I be as happy with no Cisco/Sandbox trusts in my life, just typing emails and answering the phone by the Ocean.

I decided that I like the mix of adventure, and the normal life that I have. If I lean to far, in either direction, will I topple over (did I really say that, get me a bucket !).

In the evening, our guide took us to another superb restaurant.

We sat on rugs, at low tables. During the whole trip, I couldn’t fault the food at all, the guide always seemed to be delighted, when I asked if they sold beer, and found consistently that he had taken us to a no alcohol restaurant.

I started to wonder if he was doing it deliberately, but decided that a couple of hours away from the Ale, wasn’t doing me any harm.

 walk The following day, a camel ride into the desert, and some snorkeling had been arranged.

I had already ridden a Camel on three continents, and have a deep hatred of snorkeling. I decided to stay behind, and have a day on my own.

I had a superb lie in (on adventure trips, you are nearly always on the go, and it was nice just to get up when I wanted, just for one day).

wondered up and down the coast, rented a mountain bike for a bit and then spent an hour in a cyber cafe and had a couple of beers.

 That day, the room service staff, whilst cleaning/tidying the room (they were were excellent, the rooms were spotless) decided to surprise us, with some improvised sculptures.  sinister
 sue On the second evening, we visit a fish restaurant.

The staff at the restaurant were so eager to please, that they took Sue to the front of the restaurant and gave her the pick of their stock.

Our last night in Dahab.

Everyone was well fed and watered, and the sound of the ocean lapping against the shore, only a few feet from our restaurant, is one of the memories of that trip that will stay with me.

 ferry1 Slightly less of a fond memory, was the ferry over to Aqaba.

With seemingly endless bureaucracy, we queue ‘d in line, got up, sat down got up again before we finally get to board the ferry.

 Never mind, I had some brilliant company 🙂  ferry2
 tunnel  We drive through the tunnel, underneath the Suez Canal.
 I took this picture to try and capture the sheer expanse of the desert, on both sides of the road. expanse
 ship One of the things I had read about, and was really looking forward to seeing.

Viewed from the road, ships appear to sail across the desert (this was illustrated in a famous scene in Laurence of Arabia).

It was a long way away, and in the process of shooting, I managed to get this tractor in the picture as well. Slightly annoying.

We stop off next to the ocean and have the option of swimming.

Ever the adventurer spot a cave, and make straight for it.

 cave The cave was very cool and dark.

With my head torch, I spent half an hour exploring it (some sections of it could only be reached by climbing through a hole 2 feet in diameter).

Me sporting the “C&A man” pose I perfected in Orchha.

 Looking out of the cave, towards the ocean.  hole
 desert  As we continue on our journey, we stop to visit this old cemetery.
I investigate this empty stone building.

It really was a superb construction, and very cool inside.

 hotel Our splendid hotel at St Catherine’s.

There didn’t seem to be any other guests staying.

In the afternoon, we relaxed around the pool.

 Philipa’s mum had given her a bag of mini eggs, so that we could celebrate Easter Sunday.  eggs
 dinner  We went out for the evening, and had some excellent food (it cost practically nothing) and then popped back to a nearby hotel, to enjoy the bar.
Mount Sinai in the daytime, the place where God gave the 10 commandments to Moses.

I took this Photograph in the daytime, but the plan was to set off really early in the morning, and watch the sunrise.

 rest As we set off in the early morning, we briefly stop and have a drink (there were several places along the way selling drinks, blankets, sleeping bags etc).

The walk wasn’t actually as hard as I thought it would be, but I was still exhausted.

 There is no actual peak to mount Sinai, but this is me, standing at the top.  metop
 highrock On a rock quite far out, one particular piece jutted up.

The adrenaline Junkie Philipa decides to climb it.

Problem was, she didn’t tell me that her camera used film, so I blasted off dozens of shots, not realizing I was using up all the film.

Aud had bought Ralph a water colour set for Christmas and he spent some time painting the view from the peak.

Although I have never been interested in art, I felt a little sad at that moment, as I realized I would never be able to capture that mountain view myself, with anything other than a camera.

 down As we walked back down, some of the rock formations, really were stunning.

I couldn’t help thinking that it would have been better (and quieter) to have walked up in the daylight.

You can see how the light hits these rocks.

I am really pleased with this picture, it superbly framed by the rock walls on either side.

 clinic  My friend Yuko, on the descent from Sinai, standing next to the “emergency” clinic (actually, I presume its some kind of emergency meet up point, as apart from the stone, there isn’t anything else there !).
The outer wall of St Catherine’s Monastery, the oldest inhabited Monastery in the world.

Its said to be the site of the burning bush, and tragically, was closed on the Easter Sunday, when we were there.


Tour of Egypt and Jordan with the Adventure Company – Cairo.

mepyr I had only been back from India/Nepal 10 days, when I set off, once again,with the Adventure Company on a Pyramids to Petra Trip.With both the Pyramids and the Ancient City of Petra on the blue list, it made perfect sense, with loads of great stuff to do in between.The classic “Three Pyramids” shot in Giza.
I arrived at midnight. Things weren’t great, the airline had left my back behind, and I would have to manage for 24 hours, with just my day sack and the clothes I stood in (not ideal, considering I was wearing a fleece jumper).The good news, was I met up with a really nice couple called Audrey and Ralph. The tour didn’t start properly until following day, so we decided to wander around and see the City.This Beatles shop reminded me of home. beatles
 kebab A saw this “God of Kebabs” as we walked around.Ralph and I gave this guy a bit of money, for allowing us to photograph him.
The following day, the tour begins, with a visit to the Egyptian Museum.It was quite superb, and really captured the ambiance of the old museum in Raiders of the Lost Ark.Unfortunately, camera’s were banned, so I don’t have any pictures. My favourite artifact was King Tuts gold mask.

I also saw the substitute Rosetta Stone (made of plastic) donated by the British Museum (I have since visited London and seen the original).

After this, we travelled to Giza, to see the Pyramids. I think this picture captures its sheer size.

 rapyr I found the only way I could capture the majesty, was from one of the corners (this is a picture of Aud and Ralph).I had been told, that when you visit the Pyramids, you would be constantly bothered by people trying to sell various things.Our guide, had arranged some “outriders” to intercept them, and we were able to enjoy the experience without interruption.

I had also heard that when you drive from Cairo to the Pyramids, you travel in an armed convoy, this didn’t happen either, just an air conditioned mini-bus.

I walked around the base of this Pyramid, it was a special moment.

 One of the smaller Pyramids, dedicated to the Pharos wives.  wfpyr
 cam I considered getting a shot of me on a Camel, in front of one of the pyramids, but decided against.I have ridden Camels on 3 continents, and although functional, I find it very comfortable.
Our guide was able to advise on all the best shots.This classic of the Sphinx, in front of one of the pyramid of Khafre.It was said at the time, that the beard of the Sphinx is stored in the British Museum (I couldn’t find it).  pyrsph
 walkway1 Inside a structure near the Sphinx.Couldn’t find out anywhere what it was actually called, main thing I remember is a little boy trying to overcharge me for a can of coke.I took the opportunity, to teach him some of the Newton Heath dialect from my homeland, which I had learned in my youth !.

This had the desired effect, and he returned my money.

The actual Sphinx itself, taken from a nearby rampart.It was much smaller than I had expected it to be (which was interesting, as the Pyramids were much larger than I had expected them to be !).  sphinx
 nile In the evening, our guide takes us to one of the large riverboats, docked on the side of the Nile.The food was excellent, and the atmosphere of sitting next to the Nile really made the experience.Many people had told me that Cairo was an awful City, dirty and full of Nasty people.

I didn’t find that at all, and I have visited far worse cities described as Jewels of there location (Prague is one that springs to mind).

As we left the restaurant, these fine ladies were preparing and baking bread.They were happy to be photographed, and when I handed them a small amount of money (I had after all, stopped them from working, so I thought it was right to give them something) they seemed delighted with the transaction.  bread
 doors This is the picture of two of the telephone cubicles in our hotel.This picture serves no useful purpose, except that in the film Moonraker, James Bond is having a meeting with somebody.The person is summoned to a telephone call, and then killed in a cubicle like that.

When I saw them I immediately thought of that scene, and that’s why they are photographed here.

As we returned from our evening out, I was disappointed to find that the bar was closed.Most of the other people on the trip, fancied a nightcap, but what were we to do. When I spoke to the hotel Manager, he indicated that I might want to talk to the hotel porter.The porter simply told me that I would need a room of my own to host a “party” (which I had). He asked how many cans I wanted, told me the price for the cans, his fee, and the cost of a taxi. The deal was struck, and the cans were delivered to my room.

One of the girls on the trip had a set of speakers for her mobile phone, and we all had a pretty cool 2 hour party.

These are some of the leftover cans, the morning after.


Visitging the city of dreams – Dubai.

 medes I had heard many exciting things about Dubai.

Since our flight home passed there, we decided on a 2 day visit.

We were collected from the airport at 5:30am.

It was nearing the end of our 3 week trip, so we were exhausted.

After a few hours rest, we headed into the city to explore.

As we drive down the main highway into the city, the sun is in the sky and music is belting out of the stereo.

The Winter temperature of between 14 and 28 was very agreeable considering how cold it would be back home.

 creek1 The famous Dubai creek, which separates both sides of the city.

Its here that the dhows, travel from across the Arabian sea, moor up, next to the creek, and trade goods.

The goods are then sold at the market next to the Creek (in times gone by, they were spices, but now, they are more likely to be colour televisions).

We charter a dhow, and travel across the creek.

As I take my seat I’m overtaken by the moment.

Arabian Sailors have travelled vast oceans in boats like these, long before the birth of Christ.

 dhow1 We pass some of the larger trading ships on the Creek.

Dubai’s historic roots, make its present day status all the more interesting.

The country is only the size of Essex.

It had, No school until the 1950’s, No electricity until the 1960’s, and its first hotel was built in the 1970’s.

The education system has certainly caught up.

Our hosts son went to school in Dubai, and had learned English there. He spoke English, the way a concert pianist plays the Piano, it was a delight to hear.

Once we reach the other side of the Creek, we disembark, and wander around the old town, visiting some of remaining few traditional Souk’s (Markets).

Here we wander around the spice Souk.

Everybody says Dubai is expensive (pints of lager in an ordinary pub are £5-£10) but a trip back across the Creek, on a public dhow, cost only 30p.

Today, 1.2% of Dubai residents are dollar millionaires and among its many accolades the most elaborate hotel in the world, the tallest building and a ski-slope in the desert !

 roadhotels We head off exploring again, and pass the Burj Al Arab, the only 7 star hotel in the world.

Located on a man made Island and at 300m high, the tallest hotel in the world.

It features entire floor size suites, each with its own reception and full compliment of servants.

Taking security to extremes, they actually have a tactical force (like a swat team) which you can hire.

They also sell the famous Coffee from CSI, made in Japan, it sells for £90 per lb.

Further on, we pass the Knowledge Village, and Internet City, entire building complexes housing some of the largest technology companies in the world.

We have lunch in the Mariner.

Tens of thousands of new properties are being built in the area, as it is estimated that 10 million Europeans will live in Dubai by 2010.

This doesn’t surprise me, its spotlessly clean, and secure – a lone woman can walk around safely, at nearly any time of the day or night.

 palm A bit hard see from this picture, but this is the palm Island resort, taken from the Mariner.

It’s man made, and from the sky looks like a palm tree. The idea, is that the Palm Tree shape, provides a much larger waterfront area, than a normal “round” island.

To illustrate the lengths the designers are going to, planes are actually being sunk around here, so people who enjoy diving as a hobby have something to explore.

The next idea is the world island project, which involves hundreds of man made islands, in the shape of each country.

Once you own the island, you can build whatever you want on it.

While we were there, the famous ski slope in the desert project , had been completed.

It’s located above The Mall of the Emirates shopping centre, so the cooling equipment for the snow, also air conditioned the building bellow.

Like so many other places in the world, someone had put lamp post’s everywhere around the building

 sslope3 Once inside, it was spectacular to see.

It has 5 different slopes for different levels of skiing proficiency and snow boarding.

The longest run, is 400m, with a 60m fall.

Dubai’s next project is a restaurant, completely underwater, that can only be reached by submarine !.

We visit the site of the Burj Dubai tower (since I was there, It’s been completed and renamed the Burj Khalifi tower).

When completed in 2008, it will be the tallest building in the world at 800 meters (just 5 meters shy of half a mile)

Nearly 300 meters taller than the present tallest floored building in the world, the Taipei Tower in Taiwan.

But in Dubai, how long will it be the tallest in the world ?

Its design is a bit like several towers, fastened together, in order to make it wind tolerant.

 des1 On our first evening, we go out on Safari across the Arabian Desert.

Our driver was impeccably mannered and very professional.

We were joined by an Australian couple and their son.

We go Dune bashing in our 4 x 4 Toyota land cruiser.

Our driver was expertly trained, and could stop the vehicle, on a dune with a heavy gradient , then just as it started to slide, engage the transmission and move off at breathtaking speed.

Embarrassingly, I was the only person in our Vehicle to be “separated from his lunch”, when we parked up to watch the sunset.

 des2 The sunset was a bit of a disappointment, as there was little sun to see !.

I thought the desert looked beautiful anyway.

We visit a traditional Bedouin camp.

Camel traders try to (politely) part us from our money.

The bargaining skills of Arabs, are well known, but we decline the offer of a camel ride.

 mariana We sit down to enjoy our evening barbecue in the desert, on Majalis (low cushions).

Later, we are entertained by Mariana, a belly dancer, with significant skill.

We were asked to join her, but my dancing isn’t good enough for wedding celebrations in the UK, and certainly no match for a professional dancer.

Our last evening in Dubai, and have dinner at Trader Vicks.

Its located in the Madinat Jumeirah hotel, which is modelled on an Arabian town, complete with market.

This hotel, has a man made lake, and many of the suites on their own small island, which can be reached only by boat.