Desert castles and the Syrian border

I made notes for the first day of car travel on a balcony facing Hadrian’s gate while the sun was slowly disappearing below the horizon. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Wednesday began with a departure at seven in the morning and a drive through a traffic-filled Amman in a car that was going to be our dumping ground for the next week.

Admit it, you weren’t expecting such a pretty and clean car (well, it was returned in a more sandy colour …)

Desert castles

First up were desert castles in Eastern Jordan, which were surprisingly easy to find considering they are in the middle of nowhere. The castles were pretty, falling apart, well-preserved, but also full of holes as if the responsible guardians were trying to say “if the tourist is stupid enough to fall in, they deserve it.” In Jordan, I didn’t discover a particular surplus of fences – they more or less let you climb wherever you wish and rely on your brain and survival instincts.

Qasr Al-Kharanah castle, which is more or less in the middle of nowhere and looks incredibly cool.

The second castle we visited had four “guardians” whom we interrupted during a meal. Not only did our arrival not bother them, they even offered us food and so we ate a couple of delicious bites with them.

Qasr Amra castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The third castle lay in the middle of a town where we first saw a motorcycle of any sort. Jordanian roads, especially those in Amman, aren’t exactly the most suitable for motorcycling exploits.

Azraq castle was the biggest of the three as well as had the most holes to fall into.

The path then led us past the Shaumari wildlife reserve, which became my first hint that Jordan is greener than it seems at first. Unfortunately young children visited the reserve right before us and scared a lot of animals, but even they weren’t able to ruin the complete feeling of peacefulness that reigned there. We entered the bird observatory and … just remained there, sitting.

After a desert landscape, it was wonderful to see some nature.

The reserve used to have a lot more water, but unfortunately there is a lack of it now.

The bird observatory was peaceful and wonderful for relaxation.

Northern Jordan and getting close to Syria

Already on the journey from Amman, we were amused by the fact that we could see road signs for Iraq.

Do you want to drive to Iraq?

But the more we drove to the North, the more signs there were also for Syria, which got me thinking. When you get lost in Slovenia, you end up in Austria. When you get lost in the Netherlands, you end up in Germany. But when you get lost in Jordan … you end up in Syria or Iraq. There are strict border controls, of course, and you can’t just switch countries without Schengen, but still. It was weird to be so close to countries that the media write so much about and in which so many bad things keep happening.

Or would you rather go to Syria?

The road to Ajloun, where we were headed, was winding and led us through hills and valleys, which made me expect vineyards that (obviously) weren’t there. The castle itself had many tourists, mostly Arab ones, who act exactly the same as Europeans. They’re loud, buy souvenirs, and take a selfie or two on every corner.

Part of the Ajloun castle (pay attention to a lack of any fences).

Before we continued our journey to Jerash, we wished to grab a bite to eat. Lonely Planet recommended two restaurants that could supposedly be found “right next to the biggest roundabout”, which sounds great in theory, but when we asked a local he was baffled as he told us that Ajloun actually has no roundabouts. Thanks, Lonely Planet. But we still found something to eat before we continued to the ruins of Jerash. In late afternoon, we settled into our hotel with a view of Hadrian’s Gate, and walked to the gate through a tourist market where pure (but organized) chaos reigned.

Hadrian’s Gate in Jerash are powerful and incite respect (especially towards those who built it).

Ruins of Jerash and Dana Village

I always liked Roman remains, which was excellent for this journey because Jordan has plenty of them. Despite this, one memory starts to shade into the next, and so my memory from Jerash mostly contains a lot of black fat millipedes that were crawling around by the dozen, perfect weather, small lizards, and a background that made me expect Astérix and Obélix to jump on us any moment (or maybe the Smurfs).

The weather also contributed to the glorious feeling of ruins.

Now you can probably guess why I’m expecting Astérix and Obélix …

Old stairs look cool but in time (after you’ve climbed many of them) they start annoying you.

Among others, young (cute) goats were using the grass as their pasture.

Because Jordan more or less ends in the North (shocking, I know), we had to head back and pass by Amman to continue our journey. We picked up one of my brother’s friends, then we together headed South towards the Dana nature reserve. I discovered that the further away you are from Amman, the more shepherds with sheep and goats there are by the road.

Not only sheep and goats, you also meet camels.

Sunset above Dana.

That night we slept in an old-time tourist village close to the Dana nature reserve, built from stone and giving you the feeling of having moved about two hundred years in the past. The village doors are even locked during the night! And how do you know that’s it’s tourist-y and modern? Besides having the word “tourist” in its name, this is also shown in wifi access and a mobile signal. There’s nothing better than a combination of the old and the new, especially when it’s combined with an excellent buffet bar.

Dana tourist village.

The view we had at breakfast.

Getting lost on our way to the nature reserve

In the morning we had to drive to the entrance of the Dana reserve and they told us that the path is really simple, which of course meant we got lost. We asked for directions four times, although two of those times we stopped the same family, driving crammed in an old decrepit car. We probably made them laugh a fair bit.

All-terrain vehicle that drove us to the start of our walking path.

To my great surprise, the walking path wasn’t straight, so I was completely out of breath while walking …

View from one of nature reserve’s tops. (Not heard: Teja’s very loud breathing.)

Desert time

Our next stop was the one I looked most forward to: the Wadi Rum desert. Of course you’re not allowed to go to the desert by car all by yourself. You book a night’s stay in a Bedouin camp and they are the ones who come get you with an open jeep and take you to their camp (see video below for the feeling of a sandy and windy drive). You sleep in one of their tents and spend a pleasant evening with them (and other tourists).

The desert completely fascinated me in about a minute and I think it’s one of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen in my life. Of course Wadi Rum is even more special, which is also shown in the fact that it’s often chosen as a filming location (both Rogue One and The Martian were filmed in this desert).

Bedouin camp where we spent the night.

We were ready for a cold night in the desert, but the clouds were gathering and we experienced something a lot rarer: rain.

Continue (A rainy night in the desert)