In every way, 2011 was an amazing year. Jamie Talbot and I travelled the world, visited 15 countries, and met countless inspiring people. We spent time with our families and friends in Australia and England, and made new friends everywhere else. Eight months on the road was revitalising yet tiring, but we’ll never forget the opportunity we had to take the such a huge chunk of time off work, pack up our lives and travel, free of worry, debt and responsibility. The trip brought us even closer together, too – so we got married at the end of it! And now, we start 2012 with a new home in San Francisco – overjoyed at what 2011 brought us and excited to see what’s ahead in 2012. Here are my favourite memories from the year on the road.
Our last stop in Jordan. We had three days in Madaba, but almost all of these photos were taken in the last twelve hours. I think I must have been photoed-out after the time in Amman, Petra and Wadi Rum. But Madaba was colourful, warm and welcoming, from start to finish. And clearly it had lots to offer – floating in the Dead Sea, relaxing by the pool at Mariam Hotel, a Middle Eastern music festival, a surprise glimpse of the World Rally Championships, an almost free camel ride and one of our best Jordanian feasts at Haret Jdoudna – all in one place.
Welcome to Mars. Or at least, Mars as the makers of the movie Red Planet would have you believe. Wadi Rum, in the far south of Jordan between Petra and Aqaba, feels like another planet. A desert spanning kilometres, with mammoth mountains every shade of red, orange and yellow towering up into the electric blue sky. Follow in T.E. Lawrence’s footsteps by day and explore by jeep, camel or rock climb, and take shelter from the desert winds when you can. By night, sleep under the stars or cosy up in a local Bedouin tent. Your time in the Valley of the Moon will be out of this world.
Petra is unbelievable. Seriously, it is – I did my research before we left, checked out heaps of photos, and thought I was prepared. But I wasn’t. Every corner of the siq, every valley, every peak, every tomb and every camel – they all had me gasping for breath and wishing I knew better adjectives than amazing, incredible and spectacular. Phenomenal might be a good one, but I still don’t think that covers it.
I’m not sure how much of the area we covered, but we had 13 hours in there to explore, with sunburn and blisters to prove it. When we arrived at lunchtime from Amman, Monkey was chomping at the bit to get out of the hotel room and down into the valley to explore, so we set off. A guide accompanied us, and he was brilliant. Mahmood is a local, and lived in Petra until 1985 when it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Bedoiun people were relocated. He knew everything there was to know about the area, and let us walk at our own pace. Which ended up being slowly, because we were so awestruck by the sights, and busy snapping photos.
The first afternoon took us through the siq and down to the Treasury, before making our way down to the basin. By that time it was too late to climb to the Monastery, but just in time to miss the crowds back at the Treasury on our way home. I’d seen photos of the Treasury, Petra’s most famous tomb, and often wondered how the photographer managed to get photos with no one in them – just the spectacular scenery. And now I know – wait til 5pm and everyone will have left. Amazing!
The next day we aimed for the Monastery, Petra’s second most famous tomb, but got a little sidetracked. We were offered an ‘Indiana Jones’ horse ride and as we’d bargained them down from 75JD to only 40JD, we figured we may as well say yes. Quoted as a 45minute ride to the top, it was almost 2 hours long and took us around and over the siq, to a spot hundreds of metres above the Treasury. Once again we got photos of the Treasury with no one else in it – this time from above, where no one could see us. Back to the horses and we were dropped off near the High Place of Sacrifice, some 700 steps from the valley below. We check that out, then headed down slowly, winding through the valley seeing the side of Petra that others miss when they only visit for one day.
A quick picnic on the mountain top and we set off for the Monastery. By now we’d covered countless kilometres and my feet were sore and blistered, so we bargained to get two donkeys to escort us up the 800 stairs to the Monastery. It is bigger and better preserved than the Treasury, which is surprising, as we were whipped and blasted by wind and sand while up the top. It’s a wonder that it has remained in such pristine condition. We trekked a little higher to the ‘best view in Petra’ and were not disappointed. I’ve seen a few incredible views in my time – including a handful already in the day – but this was spectacular. Blue skies, red and orange rocks, and sprawling valleys below.
By 4pm we’d made our way back from the Monastery, through the basin and back through the siq just in time to get a free horse ride for the last 700metres. Which is lucky, because my legs gave up. We’d saved our last 2JD for the cab back up the hill and collapsed into the hotel just before 5pm. Dehydrated, aching all over but with a few hundred photos waiting to be reviewed. I took over 400 photos over the two days but have culled it down to 170, a handful which I’ll share below, and back on the main page.
Petra was one of the most phenomenally (there, that one works!) spectacular and jaw dropping places I have ever visited. I can’t even imagine how long it would have takes for the tombs and facades to be carved from the coloured sandstone, and over such a huge area as well. Absolutely incredible. If you’re ever in the area, give it more than a day, maybe even three. It’s tiring of course, and it ended up being quite expensive with entrance fees, a guide, and horse/donkey rides. But it is so, so worth it.
The more scenic shots are back on the main page, but here are a handful of photos of Monkey and I from the last two days in Petra.
Jaw-droppingly awesome. Absolutely surreal. Petra is surprising, spectacular and amazing. From the moment we arrived in Wadi Musa, the view of the orange mountains in the distance called to us, and we rushed down the hill to enter Petra for the afternoon. We spent five hours in there with a guide on the first afternoon, but it only took an hour to realise that this is the most amazing thing I’ve seen on the trip so far. Within two hours, I was wondering if it might be the most unbelievable sight I’ve seen, ever. Fortunately we allowed more than just an afternoon for the area, and had the next day to explore. My words will never do it justice, but hopefully this set takes you on a journey of Petra, and you can see what took my breath away.
I’m sitting on a bus right now with 19 men and one Monkey. Before you go getting all excited, no, it’s not a Wild Boys Afloat tour – I’m on my way from Amman to Petra! And it would appear very few women travel or walk around in Amman/Jordan, because I feel like I’m sticking out like a sore thumb here. Albeit an attractive sore thumb… the sort that might get me some hand modelling work
It’s hard to say what my expectations of Jordan were before I arrived here, but whatever they were, I was wrong. I really liked Amman, for the two days that we were there anyway. Maybe it was just the awesome falafel, or the cooler temperatures, or the blue skies. Maybe I was just revelling in the fact that I was getting all the looks again finally, after 8 weeks of Jamie being ‘flavour of the month’ in Asia. Everywhere we turned in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, some man or woman would come up to us and exclaim how handsome Jamie is, how much he looks like David Beckham/Brad Pitt, and how lucky I am to be with him. Very tiring stuff I tell you, and I’ve had to make a point to insult him regularly now to keep his ego in check. But now in the middle east, I am the highlight of the Baskin Robbins ice cream selection. White, blonde, and female. Finally, Monkey is my minion again!
We arrived in Amman at 6am after a 9 hour flight from Bangkok. I’m getting better with each of these long flights – apparently I was asleep before we even took off at midnight from Thailand. Maybe there were a few scotches under my belt… but still, I’m sleeping on flights which is progress! We had a rest for the first half of the day in Amman (Friday) and then went out for food – I hadn’t eaten in 17 hours, which might be a new record for me
First meal was at Hashem’s Restaurant, about 100m from our hotel. It was epic. Falafel, pita, hummus and ‘fool’ which I think is just refried beans. Served with tea and a Coke for me – can’t beat a good can of Coke I tells ya! Those who know me well might wonder now if you’ve ever seen me indulge in falafels before and you’d be right in thinking you haven’t. I might be one of the biggest carnivores in existence – or at least, one of the biggest consumers of chicken in Australia. But I was looking forward to testing my taste-buds with some vegetarian delights here and I was not disappointed. It was simply delectable. And only $7 for both Jamie and I, which is expensive, we were told – but well worth it.
Then we saw some sights. The view from the Citadel was spectacular, with blocks of buildings stretching over hills and valleys as far as I could see. Then the amphitheatre which was pretty amazing, but now I’ve seen 3 in 2 days I think I’ve had my ‘fill’ of amphitheatres. Pun intended. Then we walked around some more, caught the sunset from up on Rainbow street, had dinner and a relatively early night. I was searching for good falafel again but was disappointed. We sat down at the most local looking spot and were told that they only sold pizza. Force fed pizza when I felt like falafel – who’d have thought I’d ever say that.
On Saturday we took a day trip to Ajloun, Umm Quays and Jerash. Umm Quays took us to the north-west edge of Jordan, with a view to Israel, Lebabon and Syria. Pretty surreal, to be standing on a hill looking out to three different countries. I mean, I’ve stood at Tweed Heads and jumped from Queensland into New South Wales, but this might just top that! Then we were down to Aljoun for an old crusader castle, before driving back towards Jerash. The sprawling landscape and ancient pillars of Jerash were amazing, but after 2 hours of roaming through there I had shoes full of blisters and was well knackered. We returned to Amman, had dinner at Hashem’s again and had another early night.
Early start this morning to pack, upload some pics and get on the bus to Petra. It takes about 3 hours, so we’ll have the afternoon to check out some of the first sights in Petra before a full day tomorrow. We’ll probably go with a guide for either today or tomorrow – I know a lot of people find guides at popular tourist sites overpriced but we got a guide for 2 days in Cambodia for Angkor Wat and found it really worthwhile. So hopefully Petra is the same. That will be today and tomorrow (Monday) then on Tuesday we’re off for a day trip and overnighter in Wadi Rum. Famous for Lawrence of Arabia, apparently. Spectacular scenery, jeep tours, camel rides and camping in the desert with local Bedouin people. If I go missing, that’s where I’ll be!
Back to Petra on Wednesday where we pick up a hire car and make our own way back up north for Madaba, Mt Nebo and the Dead Sea. We’ve got three nights in Madaba which is more than enough, but should give us a day to relax before heading into Egypt on Saturday.
Now I’m not sure what inspired me to write such a long post about the middle east, when I maybe only offered a few sentences here and there for all of Asia. I’m creating a favourites list on my new iPod as I type though, so maybe the rocking beats are fuelling creativity and communication again. The joys of good music to block out the loud Jordanian radios playing. Time to go start a Mark Ronson sing-a-long on this man-filled bus, I think! Wish me luck!
Although we were only in Amman for two night, I can’t rave about it enough. From the minute we stepped out of the airport, the Jordanians made us feel welcome. We made the most of the blue skies and warm temperatures and saw the city on foot, seeing the Citadel, Amphitheatre and local markets before finding the perfect falafel, right outside our hotel.