Friday, August 19, 2005

Into the desert - castles and bedouins

Ali - Young bedouin

A better day today as we left Amman early in the morning for a tour around the so-called desert castles, more like desert retreats for Byzantine and Ummayyad rulers, all varied and all in the hot black basalt desert out towards the East of Amman towards Saudi Arabia and Iraq. It turned out that our driver was none other than Ibrahim, who we had come across in a desert castle in Syria three weeks ago and we were joined by Alex, a student of Islamic Architecture in British Columbia in Canada. We had high hopes for Ibrahim, but he proved to be a bit irritating and we will not be travelling with him again, I think, but Alex turned out ot be an interesting and friendly chap and we hope to make a trip with him again tomorrow.

We stopped at five castles/retreats in all, all different in their own ways, but all a little ruined, as well as the S. Wildlife Reserve near Arzaq. Highlight was Qasr Amra, a bathing house with beautiful paintings/frescoes on the walls. Odd in many ways because it was built by the Islamic Ummayyads from Damascus, but had paintings of people (including naked women), animals (some playing musical instruments and the signs of the zodiac, where Islam supposedly forbids the depiction of such things (except presumably in newspapers and magazines, judging from what we can make out from the newsagents here). Anyway.... they were very beautiful and quite well preserved and quite unlike any other art we have seen (although I did detect echos of the Etruscans in their portrayal of music, song, dance and nature).

Outside all calamities were going on as Ibrahim's car had run out of oil all of a sudden and he was worrying that his whole engine might have broken down, so we were invited into a nearby bedouin tent, where we were treated with sweet tea and stories of sex with foreigners! Apparently, the cardomon in the tea we were drinking was supposed to slow down a bedouin's sexual appetite (presumably for the days he is wandering the fields with his sheep and goats). Camel milk, on the other hand, was said to be a great stimulant (the bedouin viagra). Ali's big brother Hakim said he could do it it 4 to 5 times a night with some camel's milk inside him. He liked European tourists, especially Spanish and Italian and also liked Syrian women. They would come along and be so taken in by his charm that they would just decide on the spot to spend the night in his tent. Meanwhile, Ibrahim told us (quietly) that Ali himself could possibly manage 7 times, given that he was still so young (last year at school) - and then fantasised about all the (nasty) American women he had turned down after them pleading with him for...(likely story). Unfortunately, Ali had told us he had left the camels back in his village near Amman, so there was not much point in staying to find out..... It was a fascinating insight to bedouin life and the tea tasted good too!

All too quickly the engine was fixed and we were off to our last castle before coming back to a very BIG fruit juice back here in Amman. The last castle became 'Fred's' castle as he was given the keys and let us in and showed us around.

Low point of the was Azraq, which was not so long ago a magical oasis, with lakes, fountains, forests of date palms, water buffaloes and migrating birds, all water fed from the aquilifer's below the rock. Now to provide water to the massively expanded population in Amman, the water has almost run out and the area is an ecological disater. Buffaloes dead, palms dying, desert expanding and birds gone... ironically the Sea of Gallilee apparently.

We hear also that some idiots have been firing missiles at US and Israeli targets from Aqaba today, killing of course one Jordanian (why not?). We plan to make it down to Aqaba later in our stay here but will keep our eyes on the situation (of course).

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