Welcome to my tales of cookery school, food and travel

The first 30+ posts of this blog describe my experiences as I complete a nine month cooking course - the City and Guilds Diploma in Food Preparation and Culinary Art. I did this after I moved out of full time employment and it was purely selfish - I love food, cooking, eating and drinking. Subsequent posts are about, food, travel and adventures.

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Tuesday, 17 September 2013

A Week in Jordan: Part 2 - natural attractions

Well I've been through the desert on a camel with no name, it felt good to be out of the rain - apologies to America (the band, not the nation).  Actually, I passed on the camel ride as it is on my list of things not necessary to do twice.  

We are in Wadi Rum, an elevated desert valley in western Jordan. This is Lawrence of Arabia
Peter O'Toole as Lawrence
 country and I have my eyes peeled for Peter O'Toole riding up on a white stallion.  It doesn't happen. 

We abandon our small bus and load up "jeeps" - actually clapped out Toyota utes with bench seats on the deck. A form of transport that would have a health and safety inspector whipping out a clipboard and fine notice in one second flat.  Fortunately there are no safety inspectors about. 

But we do have the Zalabia Bedouin, our hosts for an overnight stay in the desert. 
the safety inspector's nightmare

The desert here is different from other desert I've seen, for example in Dubai where it is sand-hill after sand-hill with no relief or defining characteristics - other than sand.

In the Jordanian desert there are rocky outcrops, canyons, bits of scrub and the odd Bedouin tent - and sand.  As the light changes it tints  the rocks in a range of pinkish and golden hues and the evening becomes quite still and beautiful. 

We have the choice of sleeping in sturdy tents spun from camel and goat hair (m mmmm), or dragging our mattresses out onto the sand and sleeping under the stars.  No contest.  The tents are stiflingly hot, and the night sky away from city lights is stunning. 

The Milky Way is clearly delineated and the sky a flood of stars.  Contrary to popular belief, the desert is not cold at night - at least this one isn't.  But before bed, we trudge up the dunes and settle in to watch the desert sun set, then enjoy dinner under the evening sky (see previous blog post).

Away from the desert we enjoy two very different swimming sessions on our the trip: the Dead Sea and the Red Sea. 

going below sea level without getting wet
We pass below sea level to get to the Dead Sea, which when you first see it, looks like any other ocean - then you get in and bob like a cork. Weird.  I remember (and this is one of those things I probably didn't need to do twice but did it anyway - unlike the camel) swimming in the Dead Sea 24 years ago, on the Israeli side that time.  The searing memory is how much the salt stings if you have a graze or cut in your skin.  Or if you don't shower quickly on emerging from the salt bath.  Some of the others enthusiastically smear mud all over themselves - you pay hundreds for Dead Sea product  treatments at beauty spas - and immediately look ten years younger.  Or not.

salt crystals on the rocks at the Dead sea
The Red Sea, and more specifically the Gulf of Aqaba, is quite a different prospect, and not just because we can see four different countries at once - Jordan, Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.  It is one of the most saline oceans in the world, but also the world's most northern tropical sea, so we go snorkelling.  The coral is quite healthy and there is quite a variety of fish life, though in my limited experience the Pacific is better.  What is exciting is a wreck in seven metres of water - easily visible from the surface, lying on its side.

Aqaba is very different from other towns or cities in Jordan. the presence of water makes a difference - it is the only point where Jordan has a coast.  There must be desalination plants operating full time as the city has lovely gardens and roadside plantings which is a stark opposite to the uniform sandstone colour of other places. 

So that's Jordan - I'm glad I went, and so are the Jordanians.  Yes, really. Tourism has dropped off considerably since the Syria conflict started and so they are grateful that people keep coming.  Except of course, they are not so grateful for the 2 million Syrian refugees wanting to get across the border.  So, it's wait and see time.

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