Drive from Feynan Ecolodge to Shobak Castle
Leaving Feynan Ecolodge via the main road, which did not look at all like a main road in all its dusty, pot-holed glory, we came upon a herd of goats using it as their path. As our sand ‘camo-ed’ ute and another vehicle approached from the opposite direction the goats just kept chugging along, until we were all at a standstill and started sounding our horns. The animals reluctantly moved to one side, then immediately flocked back to their rightful place in the middle of the road once the cars had passed.
Once reunited with our own hire car kept in the locked compound overnight, we headed south east towards Petra, with a slight detour planned. The road from the Dana Biosphere Reserve to Shobak Castle was a switchback fest. The change in the rock formations from one part of Jordan to the next was fascinating; near Shobak it was all pock-marked, golden, bald head formations, compared to the pinks and reds, limestone and occasional basalt of Feynan.
The road was single lane each way and in fairly good condition, seemingly new, and we were commenting on how reasonable it was when we reached a point where clearly they had run out of money, and it reverted to a single lane where passing traffic (which was rare) was a cautious moment.
Navigating these winding roads, we were not the only ones having to concentrate. Along side the car we witnessed a pigeon flying into strong wind, not making any progress at all. It then dropped one, and flew off, going with the wind rather than against it.
Shobak Castle stood on a rocky mound in the desert, a crusader castle from the 12th century. Its isolation enhanced the whole experience, providing a more atmospheric visit than the popular Kerak Castle. While there are reconstructions and additions from the Mamluk period, there are also numerous Crusader features, such as the crusader cross, carved into the east wall of one of the churches.
Petra Bed & Breakfast
Back in civilisation courtesy of our B&B – electricity at night AND wifi! Happy days! The owner of Petra Bed & Breakfast, Patricia, is a fantastic host, so competent and helpful. The location had us high up on the side of a ridge and the wind was bellowing around us at 24kph. It was cold outside – about 4°C, with an apparent temperature of 0, but we were snuggled in nicely against the weather.
We ventured out to have dinner at Al-Wadi Restaurant. It was ranked #1 on TA, but not the best of our experience in Jordan (but probably the best of Wadi Musa/Petra!). We had homus, tabouleh and moussaka, all delicious, but paid Petra tourist prices. Service was top shelf, though – charming and witty.
A restful night’s sleep was ended by the alarm. Originally we had planned to rise an hour earlier to get ahead of the crowds, but as it was only 3°C, we didn’t think there would be too many eager people out that early. We were proved right, and were glad of the extra hour’s sleep (thanks to the advice of our host).
Our original plans had us arriving at the gate at 6am, but we got there about 7:15am. We ended up being in the site nearly 7 hours and walked 18km. Not a bad effort, although the feet were a tad sore at the end of the day.
When we set out, it was so bloody cold (and this was without the gale blowing from last night); 5°C with an apparent of 2 is cold for us! Had the full kit on – puffy jackets, four other layers underneath, scarf and gloves. People here wear long fluffy jackets or coats to stay warm. Glad we layered for the excursion, although all that came off were the puffy jackets, scarves and gloves! The four other layers remained throughout the course of the day.
We loved that we were ahead of the pack on our explorations. Only one or two other early birds were with us, so we really did have that sense of having the place to ourselves. Walking up the beginning of the Monastery track, I met a dog (clearly belonged to one of the Bedouins, not a stray). He was smart and independent, was cautious as I approached, but had a sniff of my hand, knew that I was a dog lover, and allowed much scratching of ears, massaging of back and chest. Ran into him a couple more times going up the hill, and even though he was following his master, he still came over for some affection when I made some smooching sounds to him.
Upon reaching the top of this small part of the world, we climbed a big rock and sat, resting and looking. We cracked open a banana each, grateful for the healthy bodies that enabled us to make this once in a life-time hike, and marvelled at the age and beauty of the carved monastery before us. Waiting for the sun to creep around and warm the façade of the monastery, the scale of what stood before us was overwhelming and sublime. It looked so close, but as we watched more and more people approach the carved rock and pose for their photo op, they became tiny and inconsequential against this edifice.
As we began our descent, there was one chick in some fancy high-heeled, tan, suede ankle boots that looked the biz in a fake, trekking, model-shoot sort of way. Have no idea how her old feet survived (she was my age, at least!). Rounded a small bend and some older, friendly Italian woman was puffing, and I said, not much further just around that corner – you can do it, it’s so worth it. She threw her head back and laughed and thanked me, so happy that it was nearly over. Bet she paid for the donkey ride back down.
On our descent from the Monastery, there were three donkeys standing together waiting for rides. A young boy came and started to take 2 away down the hill, and the third started braying and crying out. Didn’t want to be left alone. Too sad.
When we arrived back to the flat area near the colonnaded street, a trip to the toilet was in order. The woman in charge of cleaning the loos remembered me from my visit earlier in the day – I think I may be one of the few who were tipping her. She was happy for her second half dinar from me as I left.
Near the end of our long journey, in the last 800m between the Treasury and the gate, there was a cleaner sitting on the low stone wall, softly singing to himself. I smiled at him and said Salam, he waved, smiled and greeted me in return. After all the push, push, hard sell of the stall, donkey and carriage touts, it was so nice in such a tourist place not to be hustled! These workers’ sole job is to clean up after the donkeys, horses, and camels (and any rude humans who leave their rubbish lying about). Thankless job, really. And he was such a content, cheerful individual.
The touts easily outnumbered the tourists. Poor buggers. They have a sense of humour, at least. There was a sign about the horse carriages only being for those who were unable to make the journey themselves, and if anyone saw ‘others’ using these, then we were to note the number of the carriage and report them. Sorry, but who is going to do that? I know that those rules were about protecting the environment and the history, but these were poor people trying to make a living – it’s a fine line. That’s one of the reasons we chose not to take a donkey ride – while I know the donkey handlers need to earn a wage, we also know that the donkeys going up and down that ancient path each day does much damage to the site.
Leaving Petra, we went to Red Cave for a late lunch – totally thrilled that we could have some actual vegetable vegetarian options! Tabouleh, a wonderful red dip made from chilli, capsicum & bulgar wheat, haloumi salad and triangle vegetable parcels. Delicious. A tad more expensive than the one from the previous night, but that was probably due to the close proximity to the gate to Petra.
Our B&B was a welcoming beacon on the ridge above the town, provding hot showers and warm, comfortable bed. Just what we needed after one of the most memorable and arduous days of our adventures.
Our Jordan adventure continues with a visit to Wadi Rum…
Accommodation: Petra Bed & Breakfast