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13 February, 2009 1 comment

The old stadium’s frontage is nearly completed. It’s chilly but dry. Highbury hasn’t changed.

A pile of post looks inviting. Washing on, cuppa, sit down and work my way through the envelopes. Later, delivery of girlfriend and a curry. Perfect combination.

Last post of the travelog. Good to be back.

Important conclusion from 3 mths away:

5 February, 2009 Leave a comment

The 6 P’s of massage measurement:

Psychological benefit; Physical benefit; Pain; Pleasure; Pennies (value for money); Peculiarity (novelty value)

massagemeasurement_090203

Diving

5 February, 2009 Leave a comment

I quite liked it. As you can see.

Was lucky enough to be diving with two great dive photographers. So many thanks (and copyright) to Chris and Rod.

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News + Location

3 February, 2009 Leave a comment

I meant to add that it was good to hear some news from people in the uk yesterday morning – news that wasn’t about frosty precipitation – even though i was quite blown away by the array.

Am now sitting in the 10z II internet cafe – in the upstairs smoking bit – and noticing that, for the first time i’ve ever seen, ALL of the terminals face away from each other. difficult to describe, but the end result is that almost no-one can see over the other person’s shoulder. It’s very odd and I’m wondering if it’s intended to give privacy at the point where Jordanian media access becomes truly global and unfettered.

Next few days: diving off Aqaba, then aiming to hop over to Eilat and then get the bus up to Jerusalem. After that back into Jordan to the Dead Sea and possibly some weaving (!) before heading home.

Radical City

3 February, 2009 1 comment

Aqaba is not the most inspiring town. In the league table of inspiring-ness, it will be languishing near the bottom looking forward to an end of season relegation battle with Scunthorpe and Sharm el Sheikh.

It took me 5 minutes to discover the dirty and innaccessible seafront and to tell 3 guys that no, I did not want to go on a glass bottomed boat.

Five more minutes to get to the museum and fort and decide they looked too dull to go into. In that five mins I also turned down three more gbb experiences, and walked into a chinese-looking massage place to find out the price of a massage.

At 10JD (£10) for an hour’s full body massage I thought it was too good to be true. I inquired whether that was shiatsu, swedish…? “Fuw Bawty” said the asiatic lady, “You wah naw?”. There was a smallish asiatic young man at her side looking even less inviting than the peroxided bangkok vision in front of me. I suspected he might be about to say “Pina. Dirty”, but he stayed a silent menacing munchkin. She might as well have said “me love you long time”. I remembered dutch traveller Marinus told me he’d been in exactly such a place on his way through Aqaba and 5 mins into his hour’s fuw bawty on refusing the scope creep of the project, he had to argue vociferously with said munchkin to get his money back. I left without making a booking. In hindsight I should have left with a flourish of disgust… but actually I said, innocently, “I can’t come now. Maybe tomorrow.”. I promise I’m not doing this on purpose – it never happens at home.

But on my way back to the Crystal Hotel I did find some life in the market area. A mixture of tourist tat, spice piles, illegal dvds, artistically butchered meat, fruit, veg and a series of old guys snoozing like they were in the house of lords beside their wheelbarrows of home grown radishes. I’m not sure if there is one, but I think the collective noun for radish sellers in this case should be a “slumber”. Of Radishers? no. Radicals, I think. But someone please come up with something better. feel free to comment below.

The city is divided into two. On one side the slightly run down but lively old-town of the locals and backpackers. On the other, the phallanx of beach-swallowing hotel chains. The first thing you hit as you walk along the front and enter the new world is a McDonalds. Of course it is. With wifi, though, so may have dinner there. None of the old-town hotels offer this service. If you’re lucky they have a compaq with 256mb of ram and a 15″ monitor in the foyer for 2JD/hr. Also, there is no cinema in Aqaba. But there is a video show in the Gateway centre about the culture of the region. I think you’re getting the picture of what a lone traveller is to do. He is to return to his room and read, sleep, write. And watch CNN reporting 20 minutes of every hour on how badly london is coping with a little snow. Is there nothing else going on in the world?!?! Or does their vision only extend out the window and onto Gt Marlborough Street?

My first wreck dive tomorrow. Excited. Am sure it’s better under the water than it is above.

A tot is enough

3 February, 2009 Leave a comment

Wadi Rum is a wonderful protected desert area where the rocks erupt magnificently from the desert. Deserts are wonderful anyway – the stars, the silence, the views, but add in dramatic rock formations to climb and find a perch to watch the sun go down and it’s a treat.

I’m not sure it added much to the experience, but knowing that some of the 70’s glamrock movie masterpiece JC Superstar was filmed here, I took the chance to make the rocks echo with Judas’ opening number. To paraphrase someone, the rocks themselves cried out – though I’m not sure for the right reasons. They’re lucky I didn’t do the Ciaphas bit.

The processes for sorting a trip are clear – find someone to do a trip with and book before you get to the visitor centre or, as the guides and 4WDs are priced on time not number of persons, you will get done. I minimised the fleecing. Up side: I had my own clapped out toyota land cruiser (no ignition key – hotwired) and guide (Tezir), downside: it cost more than I’d hoped.

But with Tezir as my guide scrambling up one of the mountains, Jebel Budhar, and seeing the sights of Wadi Rum, I had a whale of a time. For me it was less about seeing Lawrence’s House (aka Lawrence’s low defensive walls) but more about just being in the desert. But my £75 included chicken curry and being ‘serenaded’ (loosest terms) by Tezir’s frenetic lute playing after dinner before reading by firelight and an early bed with one of the locals. a cat.

Going indy in Petra

1 February, 2009 1 comment

This is the centre of Jordan’s tourist industry. To bastardise, “Petra is a foreign country, they do things differently there”.

Primarily, they charge a lot more and they have many more busloads of tourists. Last night I stepped into the different world for dinner at the 5* Movenpick. It was weird and left me feeling slightly sullied.

The town of Wadi Musa has, by local estimate, tripled in size in recent years. There is construction everywhere. Where the lonely planet says there are a handful of hammams, there are now eight. And despite the general Jordanian civility, you get the sense that if you’re going to get hustled anywhere, it’s here. The atmosphere is in no way threatening… it’s just more like all the other tourist places you’ve been, but in a country of such politeness, it stands out. In the 20 years since Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, this place has really grabbed hold of its’ primary industry.

indiana_jones_pic_petraWhen you’re in the central areas of the Petra site there’s a 2:1 ratio of tourists to stall holders/guides/horses/camels and kids selling you postcards for 1 dinar. If you decline they switch tack to asking for a biscuit.

But as I say, this doesn’t denude the experience.  Not even annoying americans, overly-loud brits or jordanian teens who insist on having their phone playing tinny mp3s can detract.

Petra, like Tikal in Guatemala, has a scale and presence that inspires the imagination. Double the impact of Jerash.

The famous areas, like the Treasury, the theatre, the Siq, the royal tombs and the Monastery are wonderful feats of architecture. The rock formations and colours: delightful.

I met many people who were there for just a few hours – enough to do the main sites – but I was lucky enough to be able to spend 3 days exploring the area.

In particular, yesterday’s 10 mile hike up Jebel Haroun (1350m) was the peak (excuse me).  Aaron (brother of Moses) was buried up there 4,500 years ago, and in the 1300’s Saladdin built a shrine on top of the mountain. The views across Petra, west to the Rift Valley and around the area are stunning.

I got to the top just minutes ahead of Mohammed and Marinus. An unlikely pairing if ever there was one. Marinus is a dutch academic traveller and a pleasure to hike with – we met the day before up at the Monastery. Mohammed is a grizzled ex-commando who, 25 years ago injured himself in a parachute drop and so they shifted him to this job – the guardian of the shrine. He showed us the crypt of the mosque and the sealed entrance to the tomb. Over tea (no, not decaf) at his hut/temporary home we talk families (his 14 kids, 2 wives) and histories – we are the only guests he’s had in a month. He says things haven’t been so good for the Bedouin since they were moved out of living in Petra by the government around the time of Indy. Good for tourism and families involved in that – but Mohammed says the nearby Bedouin town means more bills to pay, more cars, more noise and less sleep.

But tourism is down even in Petra – last night I was the only guest in this hotel (no kid on tricycle thank god) – on the back of global economics, low season and, locals believe, the issues in israel/palestine. The weather is also topsy turvy – it may not be warm, but skies are clear when there should be snow. A strange winter, they say.

Up on the mountain, with incredible views down on Petra and out over the country, it is cold, fresh, bright and clear and peaceful and good.

Over recent days my mind has been shifting back towards London. Free wifi in my room means I’m back on twitter and arsebook which is good but bad. I think about family and friends, about a pint in the Shaston Arms, and I have an itching to get stuck into work… whatever it may be.

But with 10 days left I’m not rushing away from all this. When Mohammed finds I’m unemployed, he offers me a life swap. And I was tempted.

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