Ibex, Crusades and Wadis...

Dead Sea Travel Blog

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It is illegal to take your car swimming in the Dead Sea...

Feeling like veterans now, today started perfectly.  We departed the Mariam and retraced yesterday’s path to the Dead Sea through Mt. Nebo, no longer intimidated by the military checkpoint.  In no time we were at the Wadi Mujib Nature Reserve, a rather rustic collection of shacks at the entrance to their marquee hike, the Siq Trail.  We had arrived promptly at 8AM, the time we had been told to be there and hook up with our RSCN guide to do the Ibex Trail.


But before the hike would begin there was the usual plague of issues.  We had reserved our guide for 8JD each, but at the center we were informed there is a three-person minimum (and taxes), so it wound up costing us 30JD instead of 16.  Of course we weren’t terribly surprised, paid up and pressed on.
View of the Dead Sea along the Ibex Trail at Wadi Mujib
  Our guide was Makmoud, a friendly and knowledgeable authority on Wadi Mujib.  We would be trucked to the starting point, but first we dashed down into the gorge to peek at the Siq Trail.  There is no question we would have opted for this trail had we realized how brilliant it is, but we had cameras and didn’t have bathing suits • the inverse of what you need to splash down this pathway to a waterfalls.  Other plusses for the Siq Trail include that it only cost a few JD and you didn’t need a guide.  Next time.


The Ibex Trail begins with a respectable climb, but soon levels out for the balance.  You get some nice views of the Dead Sea and the scenery changes quickly and frequently, but forget about seeing any ibex.  Makmoud informed us that the beasts we came to see take cover when the sun comes up, so the odds of seeing them are virtually nil.

Oh look, an Ibex! ...rats!!!
  This didn’t diminish the scenery a bit though, and Makmoud pointed out some ibex tracks for us.  There were many other tracks as Wadi Mujib hosts a remarkably diverse group of wildlife to complement its natural beauty.


Our hike concluded at a ranger station, where Makmoud phoned for someone to come pick us up and started brewing tea.  We sat in a majilis they had set up in the station and shared a great chat around Jordan’s environmental concerns.  I was most struck by our discussion of the Red Sea-to-Dead Sea venture, which aims to try and prevent the Dead Sea from disappearing by pumping in water from the Red Sea (the Dead Sea is projected to be gone in fifty years since mankind has so vastly reduced the water input from the Jordan River).

Inviting entrance to the Siq Trail at Wadi Mujib
When I interjected that we couldn’t fathom what might happen when the primary source was switched from fresh water (Jordan River) to salt water (Red Sea), Makmoud’s response was simply that the Red Sea is fresh water.  For Makmoud, water in the Red Sea was ‘fresh’ since creatures can live in it (there is nothing but bacteria in the Dead Sea) and it has only a fraction of the salt you find in the Dead Sea.  Another lesson that everything is relative.


Soon we were retrieved by truck and deposited back at the center, where we said our goodbyes.  It was refreshing to be away from the airport and all of the groveling for tips.  I asked if I was allowed to give Makmoud a tip and he graciously responded “only if you would like to”.


Now we pushed forward to Karak to visit what is touted as the world’s best preserved Crusader castle.

Mark and Makmoud at the Reserve Center
  Temperatures declined rapidly as we began climbing out of the world’s low spot and we crossed through several more military checkpoints.  These were actually becoming comforting, knowing there were folks about looking for bad guys.  Folks who always smiled and said “welcome” when we announced our nationality.


The climb was once again twisty with steep drop offs, another dramatically beautiful landscape.  Before long a peak appeared with a large fortification embedded, immediately identified by both of us as Karak Castle.  Soon we entered the delightful town of Karak and parked right in front of the castle.


We jumped out and headed towards the square to score some lunch.

Hiking the Ibex trail
  Downtown Karak is a wonderful criss-cross of streets with a unique blend of markets.  We walked past a tiny shop crammed with tons of cheap, plastic toys you would have expected to find in a 1960’s five & dime, right beside a butcher shop where five slaughtered lambs hung from meat hooks!  Eventually we sat down at a diner and ordered some kebab sandwiches, which were okay, but nothing to write home about.


Then onto the castle, where we plunked down one dinar to enter.  The physical presence of Karak Castle is reminiscent of Edinburgh Castle because it sits up high, nestled in a residential community.  But the comparisons end there.  Whereas Edinburgh is still an active military post and much is off limits, Karak hasn’t seen active duty for centuries.

Further along the Ibex Trail
  Everything is wide open and I actually found it refreshing:  put this castle in America and 85% would have been roped for fear of visitors injuring themselves.


We spent several hours wandering around Karak, utterly fascinated with exploring all the nooks and crannies.  The slightest opening could lead into an expansive underground passage with vaulted archways.  Fortunately Mark & I were both packing our headlamps and we could leave most of the others behind as we plumbed Karak’s depths.  Our chief regret was that we weren’t ten years old again and running about with plastic swords!


Of course another regret was the lack of signage informing you about all these places.

The Ibex trail rocks???
  The few placards we encountered were compelling and the site would benefit from getting a bit more in depth regarding its depths.  Even though a museum is located within the grounds, this too was a bit skimpy on details.  Nonetheless, a great place that is highly recommended.


Assuming Karak would be our last brush with civilization, we entered a market to stock up on food supplies.  I was only looking for some crackers to serve as emergency snacks (I’m diabetic), but it was impossible to pin down anything that wasn’t chock full of sugar.  In fact, when we entered the grocer pressed a small piece of candy on each of us.  Fortunately Mark whispered “just take it” to end my futile attempt to beg off - much easier to accept and slide Mark the treat later.  I abandoned the quest for sugar-free snacks when I saw some roasted peanuts for sale, so a happy ending after all.

Another Dead Sea view along the Ibex Trail


We pushed off from Karak late afternoon and continued south on the King’s Highway to the Dana Nature Reserve (pronounced “donna”, as I learned from Makmoud).  The drive was pleasant, curving through mountain scenery and a few villages.  Though things seemed remote, they were positively metropolitan compared to the village of Dana.


This tiny hamlet which sits on a ledge looking down into Wadi Dana had been deserted by the late 1980’s, but an effort to resuscitate the village with sustainable tourism has been heralded as a vibrant success story.  We were excited to witness the recovery, but real life is a bit sobering.  Most of the ancient Ottoman huts are literally in ruins and those which are inhabited could all use some serious repair.


But we would have to take a closer look tomorrow, for it was getting dark and we had to register at the crown jewel of the revitalization enterprise, the Dana Guest House.  The Guest house sits right next to the village and is a fabulous piece of minimalist architecture.  Our room had a balcony peering down into the depths of Wadi Dana and the setting is a perfect description of peace.  If I had any stress before, it instantly evaporated once I sat on my porch and absorbed the view and quiet.  We enjoyed a buffet dinner with the other guests upstairs and then broke out the cards to begin the Spite & Malice championship for Dana on our balcony.  Mark took the lead three games to one before we turned in and I enjoyed one of the most restful nights of my life.

vances says:
I actually got paid $50 for that picture...I think you moved away before I could share that I am now a professional photographer, lol. Please check out my review of "Signspotting.com" ---> their web site is really fun!
Posted on: Dec 11, 2007
nush675 says:
I like the illegal car swimming sign. Reminds of me of the "watch out for surprises" sign from your Dubai trip.
Posted on: Dec 10, 2007
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It is illegal to take your car swi…
It is illegal to take your car sw…
View of the Dead Sea along the Ibe…
View of the Dead Sea along the Ib…
Oh look, an Ibex!  ...rats!!!
Oh look, an Ibex! ...rats!!!
Inviting entrance to the Siq Trail…
Inviting entrance to the Siq Trai…
Mark and Makmoud at the Reserve Ce…
Mark and Makmoud at the Reserve C…
Hiking the Ibex trail
Hiking the Ibex trail
Further along the Ibex Trail
Further along the Ibex Trail
The Ibex trail rocks???
The Ibex trail rocks???
Another Dead Sea view along the Ib…
Another Dead Sea view along the I…
Dead Sea
photo by: vances