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What you need to know

How Will We Stay Comfortable In The Desert?

We will be travelling in large 4-wheel drive vehicles (off-road tyres) with no more than 4 persons per vehicle. Each driver will be British ex-Forces and they will be responsible not only for the driving, but for all matters relating to health and safety. They will ensure that all travellers are eating and drinking adequately, and will look out for the slightest signs of dehydration, heat exhaustion or illness. A full emergency medical kit is carried. We also carry non-emergency First Aid equipment such as immodium, rehydration salts, plasters, paracetamol, etc. One vehicle is equipped with a satellite telephone and all the vehicles have radio contact with each other. One call from the satellite phone will summon assistance from the local police or military, including if necessary air casualty evacuation. This has been arranged through the kind assistance of the Jordanian authorities. Obviously, we carry GPS so that we can give our exact location in the desert.

Although we aim to make travelling as comfortable as possible, the ground is very rough in places, and it will certainly not be like bowling down the M4. The 4-wheel drive vehicles will be accompanied by the “admin wagon” – a pick-up truck containing food, stoves, kerosene lamps, picnic tables, folding chairs, camp beds (American army issue), etc. We will distribute cool boxes (charged off the batteries) between the vehicles, so that we can have some ice to put in our vodka and tonics for that magic moment of watching the sun go down over the desert. Please do not expect us to be dining by firelight – there is so little vegetation in the desert that it is not etiquette to collect brushwood when the local bedouin need it so much more than we do. We will be cooking off gas cylinders.

Privacy for washing & changing in the desert is not as awkward as it may seem. There is nearly always cover; perhaps a low rocky ridge, a hollow, a line of shrubs. Behind the cover two little blue tents and two little pink ones will be erected – latrine trenches and washing facilities for men and women separately. Washing facilities will be basic  - a bowl of water, a chair and a small mirror. Water conservation is critical – we do not intend to set off into the desert with a bowser. Everyone is given rolls of bags in which all non bio-degradable waste (wet wipes, cotton wool, etc.) should be put; these bags are thrown into the main rubbish bag hanging from the back of the admin wagon, to be disposed of when the first settlement is reached.

Comfort at night depends on everyone being warm enough. Please make sure your sleeping bag is adequate (see What to Pack); likewise your night clothes. We will speak to you about this at length before departure. We do not carry sleeping tents. This is for a number of reasons. First, there are only seven or eight nights a year during our travel season when it is likely to rain. Second, if there is a sandstorm, the best course of action is not to stay in a tent but to get back into the vehicles. Third, there are few pleasures in life greater than lying in a warm sleeping bag staring up at the desert sky and counting the shooting stars. Fourth, the terrain is so difficult that putting up tents is a very time-wasting process (there is a reason why the Bedouin fix their tents for several weeks). We do, however, carry a basic tarpaulin hitched to the vehicles.

There is one hazard that everyone should be aware of, by night as well as by day: FLASH FLOODS.These are of course called “flash” floods because of the suddenness with which they appear. They usually occur in October-November or February-March. The danger lies in the lack of warning that is given. You can be travelling under clear blue skies, unaware that heavy rains have fallen on the high ground twenty or thirty miles away, and that run-off water is rushing towards you through dozens of concealed gullies and wadis. Areas such as the Al Jafr depression, through which we will be travelling, act as drainage for a vast region. It is important to move quickly to the high ground as soon as the first trickle of water appears, as a trickle will very soon become a flood. Routes may have to be varied accordingly. Wadi floors have to be avoided, and if there is a flash flood at night, it will be essential to get up, pack up and move out swiftly on a pre-planned route. This is one of the contingencies for which our excellent ex-Forces drivers are well prepared, and we will cover the procedures for flash floods in the pre-travel briefing.

Some of us have subliminal worries about creepy-crawlies. The desert is host to snakes and scorpions, but these will not bother you if you do not bother them. The main rules (basic common sense, really) are: not to sit down without looking; not to disturb (pick up/slide) a stone without first giving it a good kick with a strong shoe; not to poke around in mysterious holes; not to put on your shoes/boots in the morning without first shaking them upside-down; and above all, not to wander around barefoot or in sandals. You will very probably see 6-inch millipedes during your trip, but these are entirely harmless. Hornets can be a bother, particularly in the Rift Valley or by the Dead Sea, but we have repellent sprays and even if they do bite, it’s no worse than being stung by a large bee.

Logistics Summary

There are no restrictions on British travellers and an Israeli stamp is not an obstacle to obtaining a visa.

Injections: Polio, typhoid, tetanus and hepatitis.

Fitness: A reasonable standard of fitness is required to cope with extremes of heat (up to the 40s centigrade) during the day and cold (close to freezing) during the nights out in the desert. Some of the sites we will visit involve steep scrambles, although we will always offer less painful alternatives. Those with disabilities or special dietary needs must discuss their requirements with Desert Discoveries staff before booking and we will assist accordingly.

Dress: As we are travelling in an Islamic country, we will show respect for the culture by conforming to local sensitivities. This means long sleeves for both sexes with either trousers or long skirts. It is not necessary for women to cover their hair, but we recommend hats and/or scarves to protect against the sun and dust. Shorts, leggings, short skirts and vest-type tops are absolutely unacceptable. Short-sleeved but tidy shirts, and baggy T-shirts, are acceptable at a pinch, but the general rule is that the better covered you are, the more respectfully you will be treated. Long, loose clothing is in any case the most comfortable form of dress for the desert. Also, see our separate sheet - What to pack.

Politics: Desert Discoveries have good contacts with the Jordanian security services and should there be any political issues affecting the potential security of our travellers, you will be informed immediately. At the time of writing, the political situation remains stable. Since September 11th we have generated an update information sheet (see The Political Situation in Jordan). As in many countries, it is tactful to avoid discussing certain political issues and we will cover this subject in more depth during our pre-travel briefing.

Currency: The Jordanian Dinar, usually referred to as the JD, is divisible into 1,000 fils or 100 piastres. Obviously the currency rate will fluctuate, but at the time of writing one JD is roughly worth one pound sterling. All the major credit cards are accepted in international hotels in Amman, Petra and Aqaba. Money changing can be done at the airport, in hotels or in Amman.

Health & Safety: Our ex-Forces drivers are also paramedic trained and we will be carrying full First Aid kits with us into the desert. We are also able to contact the local emergency services by satellite phone from any location to arrange for helicopter casualty evacuation. Normally, the worst risks are from dehydration and scorpion bites. We encourage everyone to keep their fluid levels high, but carry drips just in case. Scorpion bites are most rare, and tend to occur when people pick up a stone without looking, or kick a stone over when wearing open-toed sandals. This is to be avoided!  Some of the bedouin wear sandals, or even bare feet, but they are very practised at looking where they are going – it is not a good idea to copy them. At night, you will be sleeping on raised canvas beds which the scorpions are not able to climb up.

It is not sensible to drink tap water – we will be carrying ample supplies of bottled water. Jordan is however relatively free of health hazards, and most desert travellers come back fitter, if a little slimmer, than when they set out.

Photography/video rules: It is not advisable to photograph a police post or a military installation, especially in the Wadi Arabah region bordering Israel. When photographing people, or in the direction of people, it is courteous to ask first, especially if the subject is female.

Travelling in a mixed group: The logistics of washing and changing, etc., in the desert will be discussed fully in the pre-travel briefing, but we can assure you we will provide privacy when out in the open! We have to note that it is illegal in Jordan to have sexual relations when unmarried; please bear this in mind when considering room share arrangements. Jordan is not Iran – no-one will be stoned to death for sexual crime – but awkwardnesses can arise, so this too is an issue which will be covered during the pre-travel briefing.

Political Situation In Jordan

At the time of writing (Jan 9th 2006) the British Embassy in Amman is closed, due to an unspecified security threat. FCO travel advice has been modified to warn travellers about possible terrorist plans to attack centres frequented by westerners, but stops short of advising people not to travel to Jordan. The Jordanian authorities have said that they have carried out their own threat assessment on the situation and no not believe that it warrants closure of the embassy.

As ever, it is up to the individual traveller to make his or her own intelligent assessment of the situation and to react accordingly. We at Desert Discoveries believe that there are certain obvious courses of action that can be taken to minimise risk. The first is to take care about where to stay. We are not talking about the deep desert – nobody is going to plant a bomb under a juniper bush south of Wadi Rum. Obvious previous, and possible future, targets include the large Western hotels in the capital. Henceforth we intend to revert to our pre-1999 policy of accommodating travellers in small, locally-run hotels. In Amman, this means staying on the fringe of “downtown”, which in this case refers not to a financial district but to the valley-bottom cluster of housing near the Roman sites, and away from the richer suburbs where the embassies and larger hotel chains are based. What we sacrifice in comfort (no mini bars, no power showers, no cable TV) we should gain in security, local goodwill and proximity to the beating heart of the old city. The hotel we use will be clean, comfortable and capable of providing excellent local – but not international – cuisine, and will supply alcohol. In trips where the itinerary carries us south, it will be easy to avoid Amman and to check in, after the flight, into a small, family-run hotel 40 minutes drive south from the airport. In Aqaba, again we will choose one of the smaller hotels where we have excellent contacts.

The Jordanian reaction after the hotel bombing of 11th September 2005 made clear the extreme revulsion felt in this most pro-Western of Arab countries to extremist ideologies. 

The Jordanian authorities have a long and well-respected track record of rooting out any sources of potential violence – since Black September and the expulsion of Palestinian militants in 1970 there has been no political unrest within the Hashemite Kingdom.

Of course the Jordanians, with a Palestinian refugee population estimated at around 60%, are acutely aware of the tragedy being played out in Israel and the West Bank. This awareness has not been translated into violence against foreigners. Jordan has long-establish ties of friendship to the West, particularly to the United Kingdom, with King Abdullah being half-English and educated in the UK and in the USA.

After the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers, the Jordanians held a spontaneous candle-lit vigil on the citadel in the capital, Amman, to mourn the American dead; and the queue to sign the American Embassy’s condolence book stretched around several city blocks, and included sheikhs who came in from the deep desert to pay their respects.

It is Jordan’s misfortune to be bordered by Iraq and the West Bank, and for people who do not know the history of the region to jump to false conclusions as a result. In fact, Jordan remains an oasis of peace in a troubled region, with a courteous and well-educated population who will go to great lengths not merely to safeguard, but also to welcome, their foreign guests.

As with anywhere in the Middle East, it is conceivable that Jordan could become embroiled in political incidents not of its own making. We will continue to monitor the situation.

Please follow this link for more information

What To Pack

We will be spending nights in the desert and in luxury hotels.

Luggage: We need to restrict personal luggage to one backpack and one day bag per person. We ask that people use backpacks rather than suitcases because we shall be securing luggage to roof racks. The day bag should be something that can double as flight hand luggage, but which travellers will need primarily for carrying their water, cameras, notebooks, picnic lunch (Petra day) in during the day.

Sleeping bags: As these can often be regarded as personal items, we do not automatically supply them. We will however lend them to travellers on request given two weeks’ notice. We use Softie 12s or equivalent, and would ask you to bear in mind if bringing your own that the desert temperatures at night can fall to close to freezing.

Medicines: Please bring ample quantities of whatever personal medical supplies you rely on, as we cannot guarantee that local chemists will stock what you need. We do of course carry a full emergency medical kit, but would recommend that travellers carry their own protective sun lotions (bearing in mind that the temperature can go up to the 40sC). Mild stomach upset is not unusual, so although we always carry a good supply of immodium, bashful travellers might wish to bring their own rather than ask us for it!

Clothing: Long and loose – whatever you feel comfortable in, but please, no shorts, short skirts, skimpy tops or leggings (except for night clothes). There will be an opportunity to dress up or relax the rules a bit at the tourist hotels, but even then it is courteous to the Moslem staff to keep reasonably well covered. We would ask that you bring the following items amongst your kit:

Fleece jacket (or equivalent) for wearing over night clothes in the desert
Night clothes – leggings and loose jersey, or thermal long johns and long-sleeved thermal top
Hat – with a brim, for shade, and chin strap, as it can be very windy

Shoes: Comfortable, hard-wearing shoes or boots are essential. It is rocky and hard going at Petra, and wherever we walk, the possibility of disturbing a scorpion means that sandals are not advisable. We suggest that boots/shoes are worn in first, and that a spare pair is carried. Smaller shoes – plimsolls or light trainers – are useful for wearing at night around the camp.

Miscellaneous: The following items should also be packed:

Water bottle/flask, with belt attachment or for carrying in day bag (locally bought mineral water bottles are prone to splitting);
A light waterproof jacket;
Eyedrops, to wash the sand out;
Torch (head torches are convenient), for looking into tombs/caves by day,
but most importantly for moving around the camp by night;
Wet wipes,for “washing” in the desert;
At least 2 spare plastic bags, for storing dirty clothes and shoes as they get used.
We will advise on suppliers if requested.

Recommended Reading

The information below is for those who want to do their own research. We aim, however, to be useful talking sources of information for you as we go, without boring you. Some people are perfectly happy absorbing the landscape quietly, and we are aware of this.

By far the best general guide to Jordan is the Blue Guide, which does cover some of the areas which we will be visiting. However, it has to be emphasised that with the exception of Petra, parts of the Wadi Rum area, Aqaba and Amman itself, we will be visiting sites which are unknown except to specialists, and not covered in the guide books. Lonely Planet and Insight are fine for general tourist information and contain some good photographs, but will not be of much use in the context of Desert Discoveries’ journeys.

G. Lankester Harding’s Antiquities of Jordan is an enchanting guide to the subject by the then leading expert in his field, but it is unfortunately out-of-date and out of print. It is still well worth reading for its section on Petra and its general historical overview, and can be found by telephoning good second-hand bookshops.

Ian J Andrews Birds of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan sounds like a book written for ornithologists, which of course it is, but it also includes two sections which are extremely useful to the general reader (“The Country of Jordan” and “Avifaunal Regions”), as they contain a great deal of information on the regions through which we will be travelling. He is particularly strong on geology and environmental issues, about which he is passionate.

Ian Browning’s Petra is lucid, thorough and a cracking good read; it is excellent not only as a guide to the city itself, but also to the Nabataeans as a whole (and we will be meeting the Nabataeans at other places than Petra).

T.E Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”)’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom needs no comment, and is relevant to our journeys in that many of our routes in the desert (especially Al Jafr to Wadi Yutm) cover the terrain that Lawrence operated in during the build-up to the capture of Aqaba during the Arab Revolt. We will also look at some of the railway buildings destroyed by him and his men. Seven Pillars is also packed with ethnological information on the Bedouin tribes, much of which is still relevant.

The Bible is also an excellent book to carry, whatever one’s religious (or non-religious) standpoint. It is the only Iron Age-Persian period historical narrative we have for the Near East, and as we travel through the ancient kingdoms of Ammon, Moab and Edom, we will come across names and incidents familiar through biblical texts. We will cross the Brook of Arnon (Wadi Mujib) on the way to Petra; we will sleep out in the mountains of Edom, which most scholars believe to be the likely setting for the Book of Job; we will see Herod’s palace complex on the banks of the Dead Sea, a short row across from his base at Masada.

Of all the ancient sources, the most accessible is Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews, which also covers a great deal of the history, much of it violent, of the eastern side of the Jordan/Rift Valley.

Two useful modern reference books which provide a highly readable background to current events are Roland Dallas’s King Hussein: a Life on the Edge and Adnan Abu Odeh’s Jordanians, Palestinians & the Hashemite Kingdom in the Middle East Peace Process. The latter, despite its dry-sounding title, is an absorbing and moving analysis of a controversial and important subject.

There is a vast range of specialist archaeological, historical and scientific publications covering specific sites in, or areas of, Jordan. There is also a dearth of general, non-specialist information on the regions we will be visiting – one of the reasons for going there in the first place! We will happily answer queries/supply further details of published and unpublished papers on any given area of interest if requested. We regard the provision of background information as part of the service we offer, as it always enhances a journey. We also carry an on-board library so that people can look things up as they go and do not have to burden themselves with heavy volumes.


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