Saturday, February 4, 2012

Pirate Drill

View of our stateroom from the hallway

View of our stateroom from the outside balcony - notice the towel animal on the couch

We had known we would be sailing past Somalia with its pirate activity, but weren't really too worried.  The ship is big enough and moves fast enough, that we didn't think pirates would be a problem. I had not expected that we would have a pirate drill to learn what to do in case of pirates.  And, from dusk to dawn as we sailed through the Gulf of Aden, the outside decks were closed, and everyone with exterior rooms had to keep their curtains drawn so that the special lookouts that were posted around the ship could see better in the dark.

Little Petra

I had never heard of "Little Petra."  On November 12th, we checked out of the Petra Moon Hotel, and headed to Little Petra.   It is believed the camel caravans actually stopped here to unload their goods, rather than going into the downtown heart of the city of Petra itself.

The three of us kids, Rob, John and me, at Little Petra 
All of us (from left): John, Linda, Rob, Dennis, Renee

Then the long downhill drive on a winding mountain road to the Dead Sea area, where we stopped at the archeological site of Lot's Cave.

The walk up to Lot's Cave, John near the top, Dennis in the middle, and Rob near the bottom
View of the Dead Sea from parking lot of Lot's Cave site

Then back to Aqaba, quick sightseeing at the Archeological Museum.

Courtyard of Archeological Museum in Aqaba

 Then to the border crossing into Eilat, Israel, so we could get back on the ship.  Crossing into Israel was relatively easy, once we obtained the money we needed to get out of Jordan, but Israeli immigration at the dock was not very amenable to letting us get back on the ship, wanting to know why had we missed the boat in Aqaba, how long our brother had lived in Jordan, who our brother had talked with and introduced us to, why we had not wanted to take the shore excursion to Eilat, etc., etc.  Finally, though, we were allowed back on board. Whew!

A four-hour hike

On November 11th, we left the hotel on foot about 7:15 am, walked to the Petra site, and then walked for another four hours, arriving at the far end of Petra around 11 am.  The walk to "The Treasury" itself took about 1 1/2 hours and that is really just the beginning.

First glimpse of the Treasury

Can you visualize Indiana Jones walking out the door as he did in the Last Crusade?
Close up of Treasury Building

Gift shop and coffee shop at the foot of the Treasury Building

Camel rides available for tourists

Last stop before lunch was a visit to the church which Rob had helped excavate.  The floor is covered with mosaics, one of which looks like a spotted camel.  The artist, never having seen a giraffe, rendered a camel with spots since the Greek word for giraffe is literally "spotted camel."
Mosaic floor of the church showing spotted camel (giraffe)

Close up of several mosaics

Description at museum about Petra Church project

Mention of Rob's contributions to Petra Church Project
We had lunch at the buffet, and made friends with a kittie who waited patiently beside our table for tidbits which Renee offerred.

Kittie sitting in planter box beside our table, patiently waiting for handouts
Then I "pooped out" and sat and rested on the restaurant patio while the rest of the group took the 2-hour walk to and from the monastery (straight up and down hill).

The four-hour walk in to Petra was all downhill, which meant that the walk out was all up hill.  No way was I going to make it!  Of course, there are Bedouins throughout the site who offer donkey and camel rides; I was not the only person needing a lift out.  I opted for the donkey ride, figuring it looked safer since I would be closer to the ground.  It was still quite frightening as the donkeys walk on the very edge of the road, and I kept visualizing falling off the edge of a very steep drop. I'd have been better off just to close my eyes, I think.
Here I am leaving on the donkey with Mohammed and his two kids
Back at the hotel, we had dinner at a local restaurant and did a bit of souvenir shopping.  I bought a refrigerator magnet of Petra, and some stuffed camels on a string, plus some very nice earrings.

Customer service is not customer service

 On November 10th, our ship docked in Aqaba, Jordan.  We had made arrangements ahead of time to disembark the ship for two nights so we could meet my younger brother, stay overnight in a hotel at Petra, and see some of the sights at which he had done archeological digging.

We were told by the customer service people on the ship that those of us who were disembarking would be the first off the ship once it docked (NOT!).  We waited and waited and waited for over three hours as people kept saying "another 20 minutes." 

Finally, we got our passports returned to us so we could leave the ship, met up at the bus station at Aqaba and saw the site of the first Christian church,
Sign letting us know this is the site of the first Christian Church
The remains of the church

Remains of the Roman wall near the Christian Church site in Aqaba

 We then headed by rental car to Petra, stopping at the Humayma archeological site.

Humayma site

Lone donkey visiting the Humayma site while we were there
Mountains from which water (at a trickle) was drawn for the Humayma fort

John, Dennis and Rob

Humayma complete with litter in the foreground
On the way between Humayma and Petra, we stopped at what Rob called his favorite view.  He was obviously not the one person who liked the view since there was a gas station and gift shop set up in a wide spot of the road.

Linda and John taking pictures, Rob enjoying the view

We arrived at Petra, checked in to the Petra Moon Hotel, had dinner at the hotel, then headed to bed to rest up for our trek through the Petra historical site tomorrow.  

To the Suez Canal

November 7 and 8 were spent at sea.  As we started approaching the Suez Canal, the weather improved.  We had had cold, rainy weather with stiff winds and for two days the open decks on the ship were closed.  We poked around the on-board shops, went to enrichment lectures, played bingo, looked at all the boarding photographs, and generally just relaxed.

In the wee hours of the morning of November 8/9, we entered the Suez Canal. Ships go through the Suez Canal in convoys, two southbound convoys each day and one northbound.

Lots of partying, though I missed all that, heading to bed around 10:30 pm.  By the time I was up and around on November 9th, the ship was in Bitter Lake, as our convoy waited for the northbound convoy to go past before we could proceed. 
Some ships waiting with us in Bitter Lake

Then it was our turn to depart Bitter Lake heading south.  We were second in our convoy.

View from our ship, looking back at the boats following us in our convoy
I was surprised, when looking at the banks of the Suez Canal, how very different the West Side was from the East Side.

Egypt West Side of the Suez Canal,  urbanized and green

Another view of west side of Suez Canal

East Side of Suez Canal, Sinai Penninsula

Another view of the Sinai Penninsula side

An uphill climb

Day 4 was a stop in Messina, Sicily, with a shore excursion to Taormina, pretty much up and down hill the entire trip.  Taormina (the entire town is pretty much a tourist trap) has beautiful views.  We poked around, and I found a shop with some hand crafted needlework, I bought a couple of hankies (I'm collecting a supply to make into a quilt some day) and a dish towel. 

Sign advertising an internet cafe at the top of the stairs

View of Taormina looking uphill from the town square

A balcony railing full of window boxes

Another shot of the mountain top

The port of Taormina

A sign for an art shop up the stairs

An artist setting out his wares on the stairway