Sunday, September 29, 2013

Day 70 Sa la la lalalala lalalalah, Hey Jude

When we left Sydney in 2011 we didn’t even know that a place called Salalah even existed  until they added it to our cruise... now we are visiting for a second time.

As we were there for a full day we contacted Marks Tours again to take us on a tour that would also cover the country side taking us a bit further afield.

All the places that we wanted to visit meant that time was once again tight for us.  It is like you can cut the country in half... the East is lush and green and the west dry and arid looking ...

We were driven out to the west first where it is so dry.  The only vegetation that you can see seems to be the Frankincense trees.  They seem to thrive in these arid conditions.  To extract the frankincense from these trees, they are scrapped with a sharp knife then left for the sap to ooze and dry.  The farmer then comes back a few days later to pick off the frankincense , you can see this in the close up picture I have of the branch.


Salalah 2

From there we drove back around to the beach where tents lined the foreshore... Salalah’s version of a Caravan Park where holiday makers come to be by the seaside. It even comes complete with its own fair next door.

We walked around the sculptured cliffs that reminded so much of the Remarkable rocks that you find on Kangaroo Island.  The Al Mughsayl Blowhole looks just like a grate on the ground and you can walk right up to it... but watch out when you hear the rumble, you know she about to explode.  Apparently the plumes of water can reach a height of 30m or more.  As we were there early we had the blow hole to ourselves and she put on a show  as the tide was high.


Salalah 3

We now started to make our way back across the other side of Salalah where the mountains are lush and green. Such a contrast to what we had just seen.  At home we would see herds of cattle roaming the country side, here we saw herds of camels grazing.. so different to my poor camel that spent it’s day sitting out front of Macdonalds in Aqaba.

As we drove up and up the Qara Mountains the views were becoming more and more spectacular.  Our little bus struggled to get us up some of those steep  inclines , but eventually it got us to what felt like the summit and Nabi Ayoub’s (Job’s) Tomb. 

The tomb is just a small building and inside you will find the grave covered with ornate rugs.  Now either Job was a big man or he was buried with his camel cause it was the biggest grave site I had ever seen.  Inside there were many worshipers praying and I have to say there was a real spiritual feeling as you walked around.  Whilst we were there there was a call to prayer in the mosque next door and our driver and guide asked if it is was ok if they spent 20 min in prayer.. Not ones to come between man and his religion we told them it was not a problem.  Our driver left the motor running so that when we had made our way back to bus we could sit in air-conditioned comfort. 

Still so much to do and so little time to do it in... So once the prayers had finished we followed the mass exodus out of the car park and headed back down the mountains.

We then called into the Ain Gariz springs.  This was a lovely cool area where you could see the water running out of the mountains filling up a waterhole that was overflowing . The clear blue water looked so inviting but all we could do was photograph the boys that looked like they were having a great time.


Salalah 4

It was really time to stop for lunch and our Guide took us to a restaurant back in town with a very Indian influence.  Here we met up again with Ali the coordinator of Marks Tours in Salalah (we met him last time and also visited his farm on that visit). There were 2 groups of 20 cruise critic members doing their tours today and once we both arrived the curries started to come out. 

Now time was really truly against us and we felt we had to forgo the rest of the tour and just visit the downtown old souk.... Normally at this time on a Friday (their holy day) everything would be closed, but there was ship in port so there was a dollar or 2 to be made, and a few stalls remained open. 

Another good day in Salalah and I know that some people opted to stay on the ship as the port lecturer painted a very grim picture if you wanted to travel independently.   My suggestion would be if you don’t do a ships tour, book a tour with a reputable company like Marks Tours or be prepared to barter a price with a taxi driver  at the port gates for a few hours.... 


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Day 65 Jordan, Switzerland of the middle east.

With all the mix up with the Suez Canal and missing Sharm El Sheik, Princess thought we would be better off sailing half way down the red sea then turning around backtracking and moving back up the gulf of Aqaba.  Guess they thought we were better off being a moving target rather than a stationery one..  If we had our way we would have sailed up the Gulf in the morning as the vistas on both sides of the ship are quite spectacular, stopped in Aqaba in the afternoon and overnighted in port.  After spending the day in Aqaba the people are lovely and I am sure the restaurants and nightlife come to life.  Aqaba is a bit of a tourist mecca where it can be the safest gateway to many attractions such as, Petra, wadi rum, Jerusalem, Dead Sea, great snorkelling and Hiking. Ashraf described Jordan as the Switzerland of the middle east, a peaceful country amongst crazy neighbours.

It seems that the king of Abu Dhabi sees it potential and has purchased a vast amount of land (mountains) along the coast and within 5 years will see a new cruise ship terminal, Hotels and apartments.  Work has already started and when we drove down to the Saudi Border you could see the bill boards that surround the area go for ever.. I am sure Aqaba will more than double in size.

Anyway as we had been to Petra before we decided to do a full day tour with Via Jordan, another one of those companies that I would highly recommend. Ashraf was our guide for the day... A born Bedouin he gave up a day of taking a tour to his beloved Petra and instead took us around Aqaba.

Ashraf did a great job and always made it known that whatever we wanted he would try to fulfil.  His father was a tour guide before him so it has been in his blood all his life.  This was evident as it felt every time we turned a corner he knew and shook hands with someone.

We hopped in the van and were taken straight over to the Aqaba Fort area. Dotted throughout are these community gardens, handed down from generation to generation by the original inhabitants of Aqaba.  Here farmers grow vegetables and take them up to the markets sell.  Jordan has very little rainfall so irrigation is accomplished by digging down deep enough to reach one of the natural springs.

After taking our photo’s of the fort, passing these gardens we walked down to the water where the fishing boats come and go.  A small boat had just come in so Ashraf was straight down there and chatted to the gentlemen and soon they were showing us their haul.  Fish from the red sea seem to sparkle in colour and from what we have been told taste really good too.


Aqaba 2

From here we walked around to the Great Arab revolt Plaza where one of the biggest flag poles stand (we were told second to the one that stands in Abu Dhabi) .  Between the plaza and fort we visited Shareif Hussein House, once the kings residence but now the Aqaba Museum where we saw mainly artefacts found around the city.  Next to that was the Aqaba Heritage Museum where we could see displays on how the Bedouins lived.

We were then taken to an excavation site were they believed they have unearthed the remains of possibly the worlds oldest purpose built church. Seeing we were in ruins mode we then moved onto the Ayla ruins , one of the ancient Islamic Cities... it is believed to have served as the port for trade at the time.

It was now time to head downtown and get a real taste of what it is like to be a Jordanian living in Aqaba.... always our favourite part of these trips. Leaving the van behind we headed into town for what Ashraf promised included a few surprises.


Aqaba 3

It was time for a subsistence and WC stop.  Ashraf sat us down and said “ I have a surprise for you “ and out came servings of a Jordanian favourite Kanafa.... YUM!  Goats cheese on the bottom a kind of crumbed pastry/pasta on top sprinkled with Pistachios drizzled with honey and oil, served warm... Bring more that was delicious. I wonder if we can get that down at Auburn or Granville.

We then did a little walking tour of the local souk and shops.... This is when Ashraf won me over (well probably the second time after the Kanafa ) one of the men on the tour had a whinge about us girls looking in the shops when Ashraf quickly put him in his place and said “Let them look, they are enjoying themselves, you should be good and patient with your wives, treat them like queens...... happy wife, happy life!!”  Yay Team Ashraf!!

Ding Ding Ding.... now it is time for surprise No 2..... We are taken into a back alley and told to sit in these plastic chairs... all around us are men sitting around smoking water pipes, playing cards and drinking coffee or tea.  Our first thought is OMG he is going to bring us a water pipe to smoke. But no out come these tall red drinks.  Served cold and very refreshing not at all like the sickly sweet appearance they have...  They are made by soaking red hibiscus flowers in water then straining and serving ice cold.  It kind of reminded me of an unsweetened raspberry cordial.  So refreshing as now the day was starting to heat up....

Next stop .... his favourite nut and spice shop... in we go, free samples of smoked nuts and the wonderful aroma of ground coffee and cardamom had us reaching into for our wallets and walking out with one thing or another.

We are now heading into the fresh food section of the market.  Oh look a bakery!!  In we go here we were hit with the wonderful smell of fresh bread ... well fresh pita bread... piles of them ... more interesting was this shute that came down from the ceiling where a stream of freshly baked pitas came tumbling out... of course we all had a try..... man... we still haven’t had lunch yet... onward we go...

Now we are in the butcher section... eek... out the front they have fridges with hanging carcasses on display.... sheep and goats.... how do we know this.... because they have left the heads and tails on just so you know how fresh they are !!!

My one regret was not buying a mango in the fruit section as Ashraf says they have the best.


Aqaba 4

We are now heading down towards the water front again to walk to our restaurant for lunch, stopping at the largest mosque in town for a bit of a wash. 

Walking along the street we see what Ashraf calls the American embassy “MacDonald’s”, and what do you always find parked out the front of any good Jordanian Macca’s but a camel.  “Would anyone like to ride a camel the rest of the way to the restaurant....”  we all say no... but a lone voice from the back says “yes ... Joanne would”.... “What!!” .... yes garry always on the hunt for a good video opportunity quickly has me climbing up this huge beast.  We felt sorry for this camel sitting down on the hot concrete but he didn’t seemed concerned at all... as soon as we gathered around him up went his head into the perfect posing position, even following commands from his owner to go to sleep and wake up.... Giving his owner affectionate licks and kisses just like my pussycat does to me... So we go.... down the footpath, crossing the streets hoping that the cars will give way...

When the camel stood up and getting down is the  scarry scary part, but I would have to say it was the best $10 I spend that day!! What fun!!  ( side note.... the waiter that toasts my bagels each morning said to me this morning “ how was your camel ride “..... yes he saw me ... they said they waived but I didn’t see them... oh so did the guy from the jewellery shop ).

Time for lunch!!  The restaurant we are told is the best restaurant in Aqaba “Floka”, now we really don’t have anything to compare with .... but at this stage I would have to agree.  No ordering was required just sitting back and enjoying. We started with an Arabic Mazza.... Salad, the creamiest homus I have ever had, another eggplant dip, a chilli vegetable sauce and bread ..... so hard to stop eating even though you know main course is still to come.... Main Course Fish... a type of red sea grouper.... Lightly pan fried and absolutely delicious .... washed down with a glass of amstel beer made locally in Jordan. As Ashraf says... no matter how full you are there is always room for a little dessert. Baklava and the traditional Turkish style coffee infused with cardamom....

We waddled out of the restaurant and into the van for a relaxing round trip to the Saudi border and back along the coast... Most of us saw it... others saw it through the back of their eyelids...

Another great day to tick off the list... Where else can you stand up on deck at sailaway and see three different countries... Egypt, Israel and Jordan........then sail down the gulf and wave  goodbye to Saudi Arabia.