We had offered to take the American family (travelling by local transport) to Little Petra, but they decided they needed more time to get to Wadi Rum, so we went without them. Little Petra is just a few kms up the road from Petra, and is similar: Nabatean, has the long, winding Siq, and several lovely old stone-carved buildings. It’s free to enter and you are able to wander around more freely than at Petra. Also, there were far fewer visitors!
Next we drove off to find the remains of a Crusader castle, Shobak, a bit in the middle of nowhere, and not well marked, so we drove to a police station and they helpfully pointed us on our way. The castle was perfectly perched on a hill, small but wonderfully preserved, obviously with a great command of the surrounding land. We learned that the Crusader castles were all within a day’s ride of each other, but that seems fairly optimistic since it took us quite a while driving to the ones we saw.
Shobak Castle by Gerry
To find out more about these castles, check out Crusader Castles by T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) who wrote his thesis on crusader castles, which was why he was co-opted into the Middle East Intelligence Service during WW!.
We then drove cross-country to the most famous – and biggest – of the castles – Kerak, which (obviously!) sits atop a huge hill with the booming modern town laid-out at its feet. It’s a great drive through the narrow streets as you wind up (and then down). We were ushered into a small parking space at the top, with the agreement of “coffee/tea afterwards”. As well as buying tickets we went for an audio guide which proved very informative. We walked up and down and explored the lower rooms which including extensive cooking rooms and eating halls. Although the castle was built by the Franks it succumbed to a siege by Saladin and was expanded by the Muslims. You can tell the difference due to different coloured and sized stones.
Kerak Castle by Gerry
We might have spent the night here, but we had time enough to make it down to the Dead Sea and that sounded like fun. The drive down from the top of the Rift Valley was spectacular: sharp winding road overlooking a deep wadi. The drop is from around 1000 meters to -400 meters! We didn’t realize that it was the Independence Day long weekend, so the hotels (there’s a strip of extremely fancy hotels) were full. We tried the Marriott first and they were full but they phoned around and came up with a room at the next-door Movenpick. The prices were extremely high, but as an incentive we were offered a “beach room” at a 30 JD discount of high 200s (multiple by 1.4), so we went with the room offered at a mere 180 JD or so! We checked in and went off to explore. We all wanted at least a mud “bath” and thought we’d have to go to the very fancy spa, but we walked down to the Dead Sea and saw people rubbing mud (clay really) on their bodies. You do this (there are large ceramic urns provided in which to mix the mud and water), leave it on your body till it dries, then swim it off in the sea, and shower well afterwards. There was no time for this, since the life guard calls an end to sea swimming at 6:30. We, however, begged a further 10 minutes so we could have a quick dip. Actually, the high buoyancy isn’t the surprising thing, but the absolutely awful taste of the salt water. It’s truly gagging, and painful as hell if you get any in your (contact lens or otherwise) eyes. There’s a mild current that concerns the life guards and other swimmers, but the only inconvenience are the rocks underfoot that make getting out a little awkward (you’d think the fancy hotel would put down indoor-outdoor carpet!). A shower and then a swim in one of the pools and we were ready for dinner.
The hotel has several restaurants, but the only one with local food was the buffet, which would have been fine if the hotel hadn’t been so full and boy, the locals are pushy – demanding this and that and pushing in line for their food!!! Actually the service in this Movenpick was nowhere like that at Petra, which is a shame because the hotel itself is quite lovely: beautiful winding paths through flowerbeds, with several swimming pools, some private (we discovered the one that would have come with the “beach rooms”), waterfalls and huge koi. We planned our campaign for the following morning and went to bed.
Gerry will be sharing her travels through Egypt and Jordan in a multimedia presentation as part of our 2011 Travel Day on October 29th. Check out this great day of programs on our homepage or through our program guide.