Today we decided to take advantage of the rental car and check out some of the less touristed (and free) sites in the area. Our first stop was Siq al-Berid (a.k.a. Little Petra) – a short 350 m long valley with some beautiful facades and cave dwellings.
Upon arrival, a Bedouin guide at the entrance mentioned that the police might not permit us to enter, as in the night last night someone had snuck in and dug a large hole looking for gold. He offered to take us in another way. Since we were not interested in a guided walk, we decided to take our chances. There were four or five men with a pickup and tools, but no-one who looked like a police officer. We walked past them and around the hole with no-one stopping us and entered the Siq. It was like stepping through into a different world – a narrow valley with caves and carved facades everywhere, and not another soul. We were absolutely alone – and remained that way for almost two hours.
We explored the various nooks and crannies, surprisingly many for a valley so short. Scott climbed every staircase he could, while Becky remained on solid ground. At the end of the valley, there was a staircase up and out. We climbed it and entered a valley behind the Siq. There were footprints and pathways, but again, not a person in site. We walked for 15 minutes and then found a quiet place to sit and meditate for a while. While we were sitting, we could hear a Muezzin sing the call to prayer and some Arabic singing off in the distance. It was completely peaceful.
On returning to our car, we saw a couple of other tourists and a person selling tea – the only people we saw until we got back to the car. We were very glad for the peace and quiet, since we expect Petra to be quite crowded with tourists.
After seeing Little Petra, we headed up to Al Shawbek. Our guidebook mentioned that it was a small agricultural town with better produce and better prices than Wadi Moussa, but Scott mostly wanted to see castle, built by the Crusaders starting in 1115. We stopped to look at produce and get some groceries – which we found to be just as expensive as Wadi Moussa (where we pay a huge tourist price for basic groceries). The produce was quite mediocre, not nearly as good as in Aleppo, or even Aqaba. Oh well.
The castle at Al Shawbek is spectacular. It covers an entire hill, with stunning views of the stark landscape. This time of year, all the land is brown – making it difficult to imagine what it would look like during the growing season. It was the first castle built by the Crusaders in Transjordan and was rebuilt by the Mamlukes and Ottomans at various times. The castle is an interesting mix of ruins and reconstruction. We really enjoyed the feel of the castle and imagined what it was like living there – with the various alleyways and rooms. We found a staircase that apparently leads to an escape route at the base of the hill, but had left our headlamps behind, so we could not get beyond a couple of flights before it was complete darkness. Becky ranks this castle as one of the best on our journey – and the added bonus was that there was no fee to see it!
Scott continues to be fascinated by the Tourist Police. They are always very friendly and welcoming, and we see them almost everywhere we go. Today at Al Shawbek castle we were greeted by Ali and his sidekick, who wanted to ensure we were having a good time in Jordan, and that we had a good visit to the castle. We’ve seen a separate group of police for tourists in other places, but never as prevalent as here in Jordan.
After Al Shawbek, we drove up to the small town of Dana at the top of the Dana Nature Reserve. The town is perched on the cliffs looking down into a valley that leads to the desert floor of the Rift Valley along the Israel/Jordan border. The views in the morning must be just spectacular. Again, at this time of year everything is stark – brown and dark green with very few signs of life. The Dana Guesthouse is a beautiful place to stay, with interesting architecture and balconies in each room with views of the sunrise and sunset. Surprisingly, there were no guests – we had been told the nine rooms are full almost year-round. Unfortunately, at 60JD per night it is well out of our price range. It is one of the most advanced places in Jordan for ecological awareness, and even has recycling! The hiking within the reserve is supposed to be fantastic, but would likely be better in spring when everything is greener.