Cruise Specialists hosts Steve and Wendy Bodenheimer are continuing to share their journey with us from aboard the 2016 Holland World Cruise. Previously they shared the experience of navigating the Panama Canal, sailing the Pacific in to French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Vietnam,Thailand, Dubai and now continuing in the Middle East with Jordan.
We have just sailed through probably the most dangerous stretch of water of this trip. It is a narrow passage between Yemen and Somalia, where there is only a few miles separating the two countries – 1 1/2 miles on each side of the ship. It’s the narrow passage between the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. We were very close to the coast of Yemen and could see what looked like a military presence on the shore. It doesn’t look like a scary place, but the Captain wasted no time getting through and into the more open water.We had one day in the port city of Aqaba, Jordan – not much time to get a feel for a country, but we tried to make the most of it.
This is the access point for the famous city of Petra, also known as the Rose Red City. It gets this name from the color of the rock from which many of the structures were carved. Petra was the capital of the ancient civilization of the Nabataeans and dates back at least to the 1st century BC. It was partially destroyed and abandoned by the the 7th century, rediscovered in the early 1800’s, and is now a major tourist attraction and archaeological treasure chest.All we can say is WOW!
What a fabulous place. We drove to the Visitors Center, which is about two hours from the port. Then there is a two mile walk down into the site. One can ride horses or horse drawn carts but we chose to walk. You must pass through a narrow gorge called The Siq, which is the result of the natural splitting of the mountain. It’s breathtaking!
The rock formations are amazing. The view is different around every turn.
We were on sensory overload even before we got to the actual city, which is not visible from on ghe way down. It’s only when you come to the end of the gorge that it opens up onto what they say is Petra’s most magnificent façade – the Treasury building. It is intricately decorated with columns, friezes, and figures, all remarkably preserved for something built in the first century. It’s that rose red color that is really startling. And this is just the very beginning. A main road (more a wide gravel and rock path) leads you past the Royal Tombs, the Theater, the Street of Facades, the Great Temple to mention just a few, and about two miles further, the Monastery.
There are long and winding stone staircases that lead to many other smaller and more obscure sites. We climbed one that was about 800 steps to get to the Obelisks and the High Place of Sacrifice. Others climbed the 850 steps to the Monastery or took donkey rides up to the tops of plateaus for amazing views into the valleys.
Only about 20% of the site has been uncovered and it is still a massive place that really requires several days to see, especially if you like to do the climbs.
Wadi Rum, or the Valley of the Moon, is an ancient caravan stop in a dramatic desert landscape. We arrived at about 6:00 PM, just in time to get out into the desert for sunset. We were a caravan of 15 pickup trucks, fitted with bench seats. It was the ultimate convertible ride! We drove through the desert to a sand duned area, where we all got out and climbed through the sand to the highest group of rocks to watch the sun go down. It was a magical setting. The landscape is sand and more sand, dotted with massive and amazing rock formations, the most famous called the Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
The colors here are deep reds contrasting against the pale pink sand. The movie Lawrence of Arabia was filmed here. We drove through the dessert as it began to get dark, and wound up at a bedouin café where we had tea and cookies under the stars and a good sample of local music and dance. The cliff walls behind us were lit with colored lights to add to the ambiance.
We didn’t have much time to observe other parts of the country of Jordan. One thing that did surprise us was how secular it appears, rather than religious. We saw no women in the traditional garb, although many of the young women we saw wore headscarves. There were not nearly the number of mosques we saw in Oman or Dubai. We drove through the downtown of Aqaba on our way back to the ship and it is filled with all modern restaurants, nightclubs, and stores. Except for the Arabic signs, we could have been in any U.S. city.
It’s 6:00 AM and our ship is queuing up with the 39 others that will form today’s northbound daylight convoy through the Suez Canal in Egypt. We are #2 in line, just in back of a small Egyptian naval vessel and in front of the largest container ship in the world, capable of holding 20,000 containers – currently it is loaded with 16,000.
This canal, over 100 miles long, crosses the Isthmus of Suez and links the Red Sea with the Mediterranean Sea. The Isthmus connects the continents of Africa and Asia, so that we could look left to see Africa and right to see Asia.
Unlike the Panama Canal, there are no locks here because there is no difference in the water level between the two seas. So the trip through, taking about 12 hours, is relatively boring, unless you are a big fan of sand. At the beginning we saw settlements and small cities on the left side, with vast fields of sand on the right. Then it became sand, sand, and more sand – mounds, pits, piles, and dunes of every size and shape on both sides to the horizon. There were armed guard posts every few hundred feet posted in small kiosks on the left side for the first few hours and then on both sides the rest of the way. Many soldiers in these single man kiosks waved or tried to talk to us. They must be colossally bored!
The Suez Canal has been around since 1869 and is considerably improved from what it was like just 10 years ago. It was dug by hand. Cities are springing up along the way – one isn’t even named yet. A second channel was opened last year to allow traffic to move in both directions at the same time. Lots of the sand came from the digging that was done to open the second channel.
We’re delighted to have been able to make this transit at a peaceful time. We understand that in prior years their have been some issues, delays, and political unrest that made it a nerve wracking trip. We’re glad to have been here and feel privileged that we were able to transit the Suez Canal. It was an interesting journey – but for pure awe inspiring technology, scenery, and views, the Panama Canal can’t be beat.