Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Karak and Dana, Jordan

Dead Sea mountains

Our next step ended up being both of us jumping in a cab to the Dana Nature Preserve with a short stop in Karak to see a crusader castle. If we were biking, Karak would have been in our next stop. However, since we were cabbing it, it would be cheaper to just stop for a little while in Karak and move on instead of taking 2 separate rides. This would also give us a little wiggle room later in our schedule. We considered taking the cab all the way to Petra, but we were sick of being in the car by Dana. I chose not to ride because the ride would take up most of the day and Betty would have been traveling solo. She was fine with that, but I believe the reason to travel with someone else is to spend time with them. I would have felt guilty going solo.

Another one of those colorfully painted trucks that I saw all over Syria.

Mountains on way to Karak.

In the past, I have always enjoyed castles the most from the outside. The insides have all been stripped or have been turned into museums. I think just looking at the outside lets my imagination run. When visiting Karak, I had really just wanted to see the castle from the outside. However, the town is built around three sides of it and while we were in the car we didn't realize we were on the open side of the castle until we were under it. Maybe because I never got a good view or maybe because I went inside, it just didn't capture the imagination the way so many castles in Europe or Crac des Chevaliers did in Syria. Worth a drive by? Yeah. Worth a visit? Maybe. It is the biggest castle in the country and they did have some good falafel right outside the entrance, but you can get that anywhere.

Karak valley

View from Karak castle.

The best part of the cab ride might have been teaching the driver about his own country. There are three north-south traverse roads in Jordan, the Desert, King's, and Dead Sea Highways. We got picked up on the Dead Sea highway and he drove us up to Karak where the King's highway passed through. Dana is also on the King's Highway. However, instead of taking King's, our driver tried to go an hour back down the mountains to the Dead Sea Highway, traverse there, and then go back up the mountains. We stopped him and had him go the other way, but he was confused. We didn't understand why until he stopped to ask for directions. Betty said she could see him checking out the new terrain while we were heading to Dana.

King's Highway

A nomadic village along King's Highway.

This lake and black hill are some of the rare natural features that broke up the brown mountains monopoly on the scenery.

We rolled into Dana after dark and settled in for a quiet night. We probably could have spent the entire night marveling at our hostel. The layout made no sense. It seemed like they had one building and they chose to reclaim another that was falling apart to expand to and then another and then another. Where needed, they just built in a new wall. It was crazy. Even inside the buildings, there were steps going in a few different directions. The decor in the communal areas was Bedouin, but the individual rooms all had their own curious themes. I think the room we chose had dolphin stuff in. I should have taken more pictures. Our host was a curiosity too. He spoke English well, but he insisted on finishing every conversation with multiple 'Welcome to Jordans.'

Parking for your transport here, car or donkey.

The Bedouin decor in the Dana Tower Hostel.

More Bedouin decor. This is a different room. Honest (photo by B. Cremmins).

The Dana Tower Hostel and its future buildings to expand to.

In the morning, Betty and I both woke up with wicked headaches. We wondered if it was something in the room, but never figured it out. Our intent was to go on a hike in the Dana Nature Preserve before heading down to Petra. However, after going to the visitor's center, we learned the only hike was a 5 hour downhill into the valley that ended at an ecolodge. It took 7 hours to get back out. The lodge sounded fantastic, but we didn't feel we had time to stay another night or the desire to hike down and pay someone to drive us back out. We decided to just soak in the amazing view from the valley rim and then head onward.

Dana Nature Preserve.

The valley that leads down to the ecolodge.

Luckily, when we were getting ready to leave someone else also was trying to get a cab to Petra. We loaded up my bike and headed out. According to the locals, there were no major hills. According to my map, we crossed one wadi which meant there would be. I really struggled with whether to ride and meet Betty or to take the cab with her. In the end, I thought getting to Petra earlier so both could spent 2 days exploring Petra would be better than getting there late and possibly only having a day to explore.

Shobak Castle

The drive to Petra was more of the beautiful Jordanian highlands. It turned out that the locals were right for a change about how big the hills were. We passed the Shobak crusader castle, stopped in a small town or two, appreciated more of the highlands, and finally arrived at the gem of Petra, Jordan.

It was election in Jordan and these rally tents were everywhere.

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