We spent the morning in Aqaba. Famous for its part in the Arab revolt of 1917, when El Oren (Lawrence of Arabia) helped king Abdullah to defeat the Turkish garrison there and pave the way for the eventual entry into Damascus, it is a pleasant enough place with a nice waterfront overlooking the gulf. We walked to the old fort in front of which is a huge square with one of the tallest flagpoles I’ve ever seen. Normally the flag symbolising the Arab revolt is flown from the top of it but on this day it wasn’t.
Near the fort is a small museum showing archaeological finds such as pots and other artefacts which show that Aqaba dates well back to at least Neolithic Times. The fort itself was in course of restoration but, apart from a giant front gate and some interesting inscriptions, there was nothing remarkable about it except, of course, its historical significance in those seminal events of 1917. Incidentally, I was told that the Aqaba sequence in David Lean’s film wasn’t filmed here but in Spain since the director didn’t think the place looked authentic enough!
However, at least then Aqaba was a somewhat sleepy fishing village. Today it is fast expanding with many new hotels among which was the one we stayed in – a classy Hilton built in 2011.
We returned in time to join an expedition heading for Wadi Rum- that extraordinary desert landscape so beloved of Lawrence.
Wandering in our 4 by 4 truck we circumnavigated mountains that seemed to have been constructed by alien civilizations in the form of giant temples, eerie palaces, mysterious canyons and gorges eroded into shapes that defied imagination.
I felt I’d been transported into a different planet. Mars perhaps? There were so many shades of reds and yellows and blacks. And these colours were changing irrevocably as the sun lowered during the afternoon as did the temperature…
On a lonely outcrop we witnessed a glorious sunset and then headed towards a Bedouin camp where we were feted and fed to the sound of an excellent lute player who turned out to be blind.
The camp was clearly used to receiving more guests and I felt it was a bit sad that our little group of eight were the only ones there. The Arab spring and the ongoing civil wars around Jordan were having their effects.
I thought about our scramble up one of the gorges and the quite tiring effort of climbing up sand dunes (although the slide down afterwards was exhilarating). Sandra also did part of the route on a dromedary through the phantasmagorical landscape of weird mountains and gorges.
There was certainly plenty to dream about during our well-earned sleep that evening in our Aqaba Hilton soft beds!