Day 20: Hiking in Burbeita & Afra Canyons

Trip Start May 14, 2008
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Trip End Jun 17, 2008


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Where I stayed
Kibbutz Eilat, Eilat

Flag of Jordan  ,
Wednesday, June 4, 2008

It is an early start today with Ali, our hiking guide for Burbeita and Afra Canyons.  As we drive out of the new town of Petra and join the Kings Way Road, we learn that 95% of Jordanians live close to this road.  We quickly learn that Ali is our cultural ambassador as well as our hiking guide!  It promises to be an interesting day!

As we drive north there are gradual changes in the landscape, from dramatic high mountains to gently rolling hills.We see farming areas with orchards of apples and apricots.  We pass goats and sheep.   In the towns we pass through we see kids going to school, with the boys wearing western clothing and girls wearing headdresses. As we see all these changes, I get the idea of taking a photo every 5 minutes of whatever happens to be in my field of view, while the car is moving.  I want to remember this as a technique in our future travels as well.  We learn that education until the age of 18 is compulsory; if a child does not attend; the parents have to pay a fine.  It is because of the education that many Jordanians work in other Arab countries as doctors, engineers and in the military. The southern Bedouins are moving into the tourist industry, farming, truck and taxi driving.   I finally get to ask my question about the color green on mosques and learn that green is a symbol of life and was Mohammed's favorite color.

We stop at an overlook and see the Dana Reserve where there is a lot of wildlife such as ibex and antelope.  Ali points to the Wadi Ruweir where we were originally scheduled to go and said that the water is very low and it would be very hot walking there.  Instead we are going to two canyons that have lots of water.  The first has cold water, the second has hot water.  We have never experienced this and we're looking forward to our hike with anticipation.  

The small road to the canyon off the Kings Way Road is not marked.  Ali parks near a farmers shed and a stream. The only way you can get to this place is with someone who knows it.  As we are to see shortly, Ali knows the canyon intimately and will tell us at different spots where to put our feet and how to traverse or balance with our arms and legs.  We are in good hands.

Before setting off, we pack the backpack with 2 - 1 liter bottles of water, fruits, my purse which wrapped in a Ziploc bag, a towel, and one camera wrapped in four Ziplocs.  All of this is placed in two large garbage size plastic bags within the backpack.  We had been told to be prepared to be very wet and we took that advice in earnest.  Ali is carrying our snacks and lunch.  We learn that Ali had spent sixteen years in the Jordanian army and reached the rank of major.  He was wounded in Bosnia while working on a peace keeping mission.  He is a serious dude.  You can feel confident that he knows what he is doing.

Within minutes we come to our first 20 foot waterfall; I am not exaggerating!  We watch Ali go down it like riding a children's slide and then swim to where you can stand.   I take a deep breath and remember today's intention: calmness, receptivity and vibrancy.  We smile with excitement and with a little bit of nerve, GO FOR IT.  What FUN!    Our next waterfall is a little shorter and we watch Ali DIVE in!  Harvey pauses, deciding whether to dive or slide down, and before I know it, he dove in! He pops out of the water and waits for me as I slide down on my bum.  With my backpack on, I swim over to him and then we both swim to our left around a large boulder avoiding the current that is going to the right into another stream.  Around the corner, we find Ali waiting for us.  We wonder how the company had figured out that these waterfalls are safe to jump.  Ali explains that before he started guiding they avoided these.  However, he first tried them by being let down a rope very slowly.  Once he had scouted the terrain he felt comfortable jumping and sliding down.  He relates some stories about the challenges of guiding tourists who are out of shape.  Apparently they now screen tourists before sending us on this trip.

The challenges come one after another.  A dry waterfall, where we slide down a large boulder.    Water, sometimes waist or chest height, discovering a stretch of boulders that we have to make our way through.   Or the current is so strong that we have to hold on to the canyon walls, straddle a large boulder and slide down with the water flow to the next level. Sometimes we have to climb up a steep boulder and can only get toes into a little crevice, so we give each other helping hands.  And then there are just quiet areas where the water just seems lazy. We see a mouse swimming. Fortunately, we don't see any other animals.  

We take a break and Ali brings out croissants filled with chocolate, mango juice, marshmallow cookies covered in chocolate. Mmmm.

It is at this point that we enter into the second canyon with the hot water.   Ali takes us to an area that is just like a Jacuzzi, with the addition of a small waterfall that pounds on your back. It really is HOT water! But isn't that cool? We wish we could have taken more photos!  We did take out the camera in some areas.  Today, I decide to get a point and shoot, waterproof camera; even if doesn't shoot in a RAW format, it's better to get a photo than no photo. More new gadgets to put in the travel bag!  This hike is a fantastic experience!  It is such a blast - so much FUN!

It is now late afternoon and Ali needs to get us to the Jordan/Israel border crossing before 8 PM when it closes.   The drive back to Eilat is on a parallel road to route 90 that we drove from Ein Gedi to Eilat - just on the other side of the valley.   There are periodic check-points where we are asked for our passports.  We note observations towers watching the border.

At our last checkpoint, the guards are taking a long time with the car ahead of us. One of the senior guards recognizes Ali and told the other guards that he would take care of our car.  He gives Ali a great greeting, kissing on each side of their cheeks. After we are cleared and start to drive away, the senior guard salutes Ali.  They had served together in the military, where Ali had spent sixteen years.  We learned during the day that Ali specializes in guiding in the canyons in this section of Jordan. We consider ourselves really fortunate to have had this experience with him!

We pay our departure tax and have the Jordanian stamp added to our passports. The guards seemed very relaxed and friendly. We walk through no man's land into the entrance gate for Israel and go through security and passport control. We wait for our pick up from Desert Eco Tours, expecting the jeep that had taken us here to the border.  We want to call Desert Eco Tours but our cell phone is with our luggage. We talk to someone and within a few minutes she walks up to us and tells us that she has called Desert Eco Tours for us and that someone is on the way.  A taxi drives up and some other people start getting into it.  The driver calls out my name and we jump up like we have won the lottery!   The driver doesn't know where the hotel is on the grounds of Kibbutz Eilat so he calls his base and he stays with us until we are sure we are the reception desk. Harvey gives him a nice tip and says ...you were really nice and I really appreciate it...are you sure you are Israeli?  They both joke. We're back in Israel and already in such a short time people have been so friendly and helpful!

While checking in at the Kibbutz, the young lady at reception helps us out with ordering a pizza and calling Desert Eco Tours to find out our pick up time in the morning. She is watching NCIS in English with Hebrew subtitles. She answers the phone, jokes about having trouble solving the crimes and how tough her job is.    We eat our pizza while watching NCIS with her.  We then go to our room and Harvey bops out again to ask her where we should expect to be picked up and gets the information. Harvey says "you know everything" and she responds cutely, "that's my job!"  Kibbutz Eilat is a "country" lodging that is a quiet place from the 60's.  It's clean, quiet, simple and friendly.  The landscaped grounds are much like a college campus.  It isn't near anything so it is really only practical for those who have a car.  It was perfect for us on this evening.

We have just ended our 3 day Jordan tour coordinated by Desert Eco Tours.  At the onset, I had expressed concern that we would not have an Israeli guide with us the entire time.  With hindsight, I now have more understanding that that was an emotional security blanket, and that the Jordanian people are welcoming and friendly.  Just as in Israel, there is plenty of security provided by the tourist police so we felt safe. Whereas we are accustomed to having one guide on multi-day guided trips, clearly the Jordanian tour office did an excellent job of coordinating all the pickups and hand-offs.  We were never left stranded as we had been one time in a remote lake in Alaska!  We had to adjust our expectations and we have a new expression now - "all will be revealed".   We might not have had a detailed itinerary with times for each activity, but when we had the need to know, it became clear by either a driver telling us or a quick call by the driver to the tour office.  For someone like me who likes to have things planned out, this was another on-going lesson that I've been working on for years, of letting things flow! The daily process became part of my Kabbalah learning.  We got to meet a variety of Jordanians this way and we experienced guides who were specialists in their areas and gave us a window into their lives.  We began to trust and got more relaxed with this style of travel.   Our only real disappointment was the Bedouin guide in Wadi Rum (other than no balloon ride).  When we got back to Eilat we spoke with Erez at Desert Eco Tours and he asked us to send him an email with our experience.   This demonstrates that Desert Eco Tours does want to listen to guest experiences.  They may have a larger issue of Bedouin guide training that is out of their hands.  If you really want to see Wadi Rum, I would discuss the selection of the guide in advance or perhaps choose another area.    There are other areas that also have very interesting landscape formations.  Ali had told us about a place named El Charazar; I have tried to Google it and can't find information about it.  But this might be an alternative worth exploring in a discussion with Desert Eco Tours.
 
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