the Kings Highway to Karak
The hot water at Lulus was conspicuous by its absence
in the morning so we birdbathed in cold showers. As we sat
in solitary splendour in "our" kitchen, we pondered
the vagaries of backpacking life, where we had no hot water
but the kitchen benchtops were made from real marble.
transport, an aged diesel minivan and driver Awad
turned up at 9.40am and we set off on the Kings Highway
for Karak and Petra. Awad brought
along some homemade cookies which he kindly shared with
us and, in turn, I offered him some fruit we had bought
On the outskirts of Madaba, we passed many olive groves
in their infancy, the grey-green leaves offering a little
colour in the landscape. At this time of year, the sky
is pitiless grey, as is the soil and the colour seems
to have leached out of everything. It's hard to get used
to, after the bright blue of the Australian sky.
the way, Awad pointed out Mukawir (Machaerus)
where Salome danced for Herod and demanded
the head of John the Baptist as a reward. We would
like to have made a side trip to see this but were unsure
of the extra time and distance involved. We were becoming
somewhat nervous of the state of repair of our chariot.
like all Jordanians, was a pleasant man but certainly
not the tour operator he had claimed. It transpired that
he and his vehicle had never actually been to Petra
along the Kings Highway. He had travelled to Petra
along the Desert Highway but this alternative route
involved steep inclines and descents and high altitudes.
I don't think he took this into account when he said his
van could do the trip. The weather was bleak and cold
and there was no heater in the van. No seals on the doors
either and the wind whistled through the gaps.
were going quite well until we reached Wadi Mujib,
the "Grand Canyon of Jordan". This was
the place where the last tour operator had met his fate.
One kilometre deep and over 4 km from one edge to the
other, we were hoping our brakes were in better condition
than the engine.
We spiralled slowly down the gorge, at the bottom of which
the Wadi Mujib Dam is currently being constructed.
we wound our way slowly (very slowly) up the other side.
The van laboured mightily and finally reached the top
but I think lasting damage had been done. From then on,
we rarely made it out of second gear.
continued ever more slowly to Karak Castle, a
Crusader built castle some 900m above sea level. This
is just one of a long line of Crusader castles stretching
from Turkey to Aqaba. It is the one made infamous by
Reynald of Chatillon, the Elephant of Christ,
who used to toss captives off the walls to meet their
end on the rocks below.
through this gap, (see left) I could see how terrified
they must have been.
There was nothing to stop you from walking straight through
the gap and ending up hundreds of feet below.
high above the village, we made rather a rushed trip through
the Castle because gale force winds were forcing us off
was becoming more and more agitated. We needed to leave
- and leave now, he insisted. The snow was coming fast!
Indeed, the air was icy and so we continued on, trying
to beat the snow. Several false starts found us up and
down the hills around Karak before we finally found
ourselves on the correct road to Petra.
was becoming worse and the next river gorge, Wadi
Hasa, was a problem. The snow was almost upon us
and Awad drove like a maniac down the hill. I
was sure the brakes were going to fail at any second
and we would plunge over the cliff edge to our deaths.
But fate was on our side and we reached the valley without
It took hours to climb the other side: believe me when
I tell you we were overtaken by a tractor! This minivan
was definitely on its last legs. Foul plumes of diesel
followed us up the mountain as the van coughed and spluttered
its way around the hairpin bends towards the summit.
of the steep climbs was over. Thinking
very little else could happen, we relaxed - until the snow
hit us at Tefila and we discovered we also had no windscreen
wipers. At this stage, Awad asked us if we really wanted
to see Shobak, the second Crusader Castle.
screamed Guy "My b..... legs are freezing!
Let's get to Petra before this heap of ...... disintegrates
Awad continued in sulky silence and we finally reached
Wadi Musa (the village which surrounds Petra)
at 5.30pm, some eight hours after leaving Madaba. Not
bad for a three hour drive!
into the Mussa Springs Hotel at the top of the hill
- JD10 with bathroom. Concerned that Awad might
try to drive home that night, we paid for his accommodation
for the night and treated him to a meal. For this, I think
he forgave Guy for being mean about his car.
almost dark but we drove down to the entrance to Petra
and had a short walk before returning to the hotel for supper.
Anthony and Bernadette from Melbourne
and had a pleasant chat to them. A little older than ourselves,
they had just spent 5 weeks backpacking through Turkey, Bulgaria,
Syria and Jordan. They were leaving for Amman the following
day to return to Australia.