Wow things sure change once you cross the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba. At least here in Aqaba. Wedged between Israel to the west and Saudi Arabia to the south, Aqaba reminds me more of an up-market beach resort destination than any of the preconceived notions of what an Arabic country bordering Syria an Saudi Arabia might look like.
With a polished McDonalds on the water, a tony yacht club, outdoor shopping malls and resort hotels, Jordan’s answer to Eilat in israel is right here — though much more reserved and compact. And perhaps that’s its allure. I’m told that just up the road in Israel and the northern beaches of the Gulf, Eilat sports nearly 20,000 five star hotel rooms. While in Aqaba there are about 500. But like all alluring destinations this too will change.
For me Aqaba represents an opportunity to brush up on my Arabic, find a map of the Middle East and map out my next routes and destinations. Finding a map turned out to be almost impossible. There are no shortage of bookstores (called libraries here) but save the typical tourist guide books, most offerings are in Arabic. And maps? Who needs them? Tourists are either on highly managed and multi-itinerary driven guided package tours, backpackers on the same itinerary only in lower cost transportation accommodation or are locals who don’t need maps.
The Gulf of Aqaba doesn’t feel like an Arabic town other than the language and the fashion of those non-tourists that work and play here.
Doc is secure at a local budget hotel.
Lawrence of Arabia cruised from the Jordan River to Aqaba to defeat the turks in July 1917. Here in 2008 I enjoy Jordanese wine while the sunsets on the Gulf of Aqaba — Wine of The Holy Land.
Yes. In the Middle East and only a dozen or so kilometers from the Saudi Arabia border.
There are two primary routes heading northeast toward the legendary historic enclave of Petra and Wadi Musa – the King’s Highway through the desert and another along the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea route probably gets you to Petra the quickest, though I’m unsure of the condition of this old road. And the King’s Highway, which feels like a great multilane scenic byway in the West. Because I wanted to spend some time in Wadi Rum, I chose the King’s Highway. I’d then head eastward toward Petra before making my way across the border in to Israel.
Not that I was starved for more desert scenery, but Wadi Rum is spectacular and in a short span of 20-30 miles it will deliver nearly every cliche of an Arabic desert scene and then some. And it’s not cliché — it’s the real thing. Beduins roaming seemingly the harshest conditions none to man on caravans of camels. Towering crimson colored mountains from a sea of ochre or butterscotch colored stand providing a striking contrast and scenes that beg contemplation or meditation.
It was here that I met two Slovenian motorcyclists and their wives — on a two to three week ride from their homeland to Jordan and the Gulf of Aqaba and back. Now if you live in Slovenia you’ve got quite a few options for great motorcycle riding. You could simply head to Spain via Austria, Italy and France crossing the Alps and the Pyrenees along the adventure. Or, you could cruise through Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey, Syrian and into Jordan to the Gulf of Aqaba. Probably equal distances, but one offers a journey deep into the lands where Lawrence of Arabia wandered and ultimately created. For if not for Winston Churchill and T.E. Lawrence, the Middle East might have quite a different makeup than we see today. And therein may be some contributory faults to problems that haunt this region today, though to be fair, these problems are several millennia old.
It’s fitting to think of Lawrence as I head from here to ultimately Ankara and Istanbul in Turkey. For Lawrence and his band of unlikely guerilla arab soldiers did the impossible and defeated the Turks by ultimately capturing the Port of Aqaba on July 6, 1917. It was the legendary trek via foot and camel across this desert and through the spectacular landscapes including the inspirational Seven Pillars of Wisdom, a rock formation named by Lawrence and the title of his autobiographical book describing the amazing Arabic revolt which he led.
The history the oozes from the desert and the locales I’m soon to ride and wander is mind-boggling. For across these lands lies the ancient civilization of Mesopotamia, the paths of Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, the Persians and the Crusaders, Mamluks, Turks and T.E. Lawrence’s Arab forces — and others. It’s that the soil here has been walked on by virtually every walk of life. And that’s why still today it’s the most heated and controversial soil on our planet.
So while not only the riding is spectacular and I’m winding through roads of tar and dirt, watchings camels and Mercedes limousines I truly am passing through the pages of history.
The formations that make up Wadi Rum remind me of Utah and Northern Arizona — only more vast and remote.
Housing under construction on the outskirts of Wadi Rum.
Beduin man is more comfortable on his camel than, say, my motorcycle.
Imagine Lawrence of Arabia and his Arabic forces making their way through these lands to the Gulf of Aqaba.
Some sand and some harder packed dirt made this part of the desert easier than Sudan. Though another route is very deep sand and off limits to motorcyclists.