27 November 2016

Wadi Rum, Jordan 2016

Photo of my camel ride in spectacular Wadi Rum, possibly the most beautiful desert in the world:

That's right. No photo. Didn't happen. No visit. No camel!
My wildly anticipated third visit to Wadi Rum was a bust.

In fact, our entire promised schedule was destroyed by Mother Nature in a fit of November pique. Brings you face to face with climate change, this rainfall that "normally" would have occurred two months earlier. For us, the storm began in Sharm el-Sheik (Sinai, Egypt). Witnessing the dramatic thunder, lightning, downpour, wind, and hail was rather overwhelming in such an arid area. Sharm received its "average" annual rainfall in that one day, its streets turning into rivers of mud.

The same deluge had hit south Jordan by the time we reached Aqaba, at the south end of the King's Highway (and the north end of the Red Sea) leading to the high desert. In good faith we set off on the one-hour trip to our destination but at the Wadi Rum Protected Area boundary we were turned back. Although only a few mild rain showers were occurring by then, flash floods from the surrounding mountains had wrecked the tents and preparations of our Bedouin hosts impossible to receive us. Not only that, the road was eroding and officials clearly wanted to avoid facing stranded, woebegone tourists.

At a standstill while our driver contemplated a tricky about-face manoeuvre, we had to suck up the huge disappointment. Our local guide hastily (and inadequately) improvised his planned discourse. Distant views across the desert did not compensate. Nor did a makeshift tour around Aqaba. Even the inhabitants were excitedly gathered at the vista of a newly-born turbulent river, rushing to the sea beside the highway.

What a terrible shame in more ways than one. Tourism in Egypt everywhere suffered a mortal blow after last year's explosion of a Russian airliner departing from Sharm. So many Egyptians depend on the industry to support their families. They are warm, friendly, good-natured people, trying to stay optimistic. Atmanna laka al'afdal (I wish you the best) from me and my fellow travellers.

Wadi Rum nostalgia:


Photos: BDM
© 2016 Brenda Dougall Merriman

15 November 2016

Baida, Jordan 2007

A side trip, ten miles from Petra, through more stunning country to a mini-Nabatean site. Baida is often called "Little Petra" because of its similar geology and evidence of human occupation. From here, one descends to Wadi Araba, part of the Rift Valley. Like Petra itself, it's a canyon ― you would not want to be caught here when rain causes flash floods ― lined with tombs and grottoes in the cliffs. The ancient Nabatean cisterns are still in use, collecting winter rain for local needs. Intriguing staircases once led to dwellings.
Photo without benefit of sunlight somewhat enhanced
 This is land of the Bedouin, the Bdool tribe. It has been suggested, due to their being unrelated to other nearby tribes, that they are descendants of the original Nabatean inhabitants. In the village of Um Sayhoun they were given homes and government resources along with perpetual use of the surroundings in exchange for abandoning their seasonal cave dwellings in Petra. But their traditional tents and goats continue to dot the landscape. Children were excited to greet some unexpected visitors.

A woman was weaving while someone quickly thought to display local jewellery to tempt us.

Probably the most awesome site here is the partially excavated Neolithic village. Dated to 7,000-6500 BC, it has been called the oldest known site where human beings were agriculturally active. "Some of the archaeological finds date to the 9th and 10th millennia BC."[1]

The village was rebuilt over hundreds, thousands, of years. In the oldest section, house foundations were partially dug into the ground and would have had some shelter overhead. An ancient winepress speaks to their cultivation ― Nabatean wine has been found in tombs in Egypt. The climate was more salubrious and the land more fertile 9000 years ago!

Contemplating this manifestation of (Jordan's segment of) the Great Rift Valley was breathtaking ― absorbing the visuals, feeling the textures, hearing the kids' chatter, breathing the air. Moments out of time.

With the assistance of "Petra and Nearby Baida," Ruth's Jordan Jubilee (http://www.jordanjubilee.com/visitjor/petra4.htm : accessed 14 November 2016).

[1] Site plaque: seventh photo.

Photos: BDM, 2007

© 2016 Brenda Dougall Merriman

20 October 2016

Keukenhof Gardens, Netherlands 2015

Open to the public for only a few weeks in the spring, Keukenhof is a globally-renowned attraction for garden and park lovers. But employees work year-round to plan the annual spring showing with millions of flowering bulbs and flower grower exhibitions, all the best of Holland's admired horticulture in a peerless display.

The day we spent there was on the cool side; you need an entire day to explore. A bit of rain at noon sent visitors into the cafes and restaurants for soup, sandwiches, pastries. Each year a new theme is offered; in 2015 it was homage to native son Vincent Van Gogh. Various indoor displays highlighted some of his famous paintings.

    And outdoors ― there he is, his good ear showing. 

     Visitors can emulate ...

The tulips and bulbs are splendiferous in the latest varieties showcased by participating growers.

But that's far from being everything ... it's a good thing a map is provided.

Acres and acres of gloriously designed colour and texture. A dream on every gardener's bucket list.

© 2016 Brenda Dougall Merriman

06 October 2016

Friends Send Me ... camel things (4)

They are still coming. Luckily, most are jpegs because I have definitely, emphatically, no room for more of the kind that take up space!

Elayne likes history and humour:

Apropos of archaeological finds, Kath was on the same wavelength:
Alberta Camel Hunting Site

More ancient history (remember him? the late unlamented Prime Minister Harper):

From one of camel master Doug Baum's legion of fans:

From Coralie, camel trainer extraordinaire:

This is Penny about to mount:

This is Judy mounted on a fake Camel:

This is Fred's daughter (so, a friend once removed) clearly enjoying herself; a desert in India he says:

Without doubt, more to come ...
The first three episodes are scattered all over: see "Friends Send Me" in the label list.  

© 2016 Brenda Dougall Merriman

27 September 2016

Xi'an, China 2014

Xi'an was the terminus hub in China for the old Silk Road. Its overriding fame is for the legions of Terracotta Warriors excavated at the burial site of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. It is believed about 8,000 soldiers exist, most still unexcavated. Previously I had seen a travelling exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto.

Our hotel, Xi'an Grand Soluxe International for two nights, is within the large old walled part of the city; the location pleases us very much. First we visit the city wall, seventy-seven steps up (who's counting?). Beautiful view of the well-kept ancient wall, tree leaves are starting to bud. A small temple is situated near us. We stroll around as evening approaches, noting the careful restoration in some areas.

Our dinner venue is "Xi'an Ancient Capital Theatre" with vast seating for meal serving. Because we are having a Special Dumpling Dinner! What a highlight very ornately created, each kind has a poetic description such as "sailing boat-shaped steamed Jiaozi." The names and pictures are being flashed on a video screen as we eat but we are more absorbed in the scrumptious dumplings and their accompaniments. The plates keep arriving at our table, at least thirteen varieties.

The restaurant is packed. We are entertained with a "Tang Dynasty" performance of traditional music and dancing. Much easier to relax here than at the Peking Opera. Lovely dancers and notably a woman playing the zither, also an amazing guy making weird noises on the strangest horn.

Next morning we linger in a special park commemorating historical figures poets, philosophers – and a Buddhist temple, while waiting for the Shaanxi Museum to open. I love to see the groups of middle-aged/elderly people daily exercising; some do tai chi or martial arts practice or dance. Mao started this compulsory routine during the Cultural Revolution. A few practice writing Chinese characters with a long-handled mop and a bucket of water. On the edge of the park, army cadets are drilling. 2014 is the Year of the Horse.

The Museum is very rewarding, not crowded, plenty of time to see most exhibits. Always high security at museum entrances. Exquisite inlaid furniture. We see how they make clay replicas of the warriors to sell.

Onward to the obligatory jade "factory." Beautiful jewellery and intricate carvings of all sizes, almost like a priceless museum in itself. Our budgets are more suited to the pearl "factory" on a different day. Getting stuck for a while in a cargo elevator between floors makes for some uncomfortable moments! Outside, a warrior replica begs for attention.

At last, in the afternoon! To the Terracotta Warriors! It's a long walk back and forth to the site. Three pits are open to the public with appropriate exhibits, including a three-floor museum. One of the farmers who discovered the site, while digging a well back in 1974, is still living; he sits in the foyer autographing coffee-table books. The government built new housing for the displaced villagers and farmers (however, that didn't happen for some time).


Emperor Qin Shi Huang died in 201 BC. The burial site was built as an enormous sprawling monument with buildings and special landscaping, full of rare treasures so he could rule even after death. Many, many years to create. The uncovering of some 2,000 terracotta warriors is apparently the tip of the iceberg it's estimated there could be as many as 8,000 altogether. Each is an individually designed figure, originally painted in bright colours that rapidly flaked away upon exposure to the atmosphere. The emperor's actual inner tomb and many geographical features have not been excavated for health, safety, and technological reasons. Not only were mysterious booby traps planted against potential looters, but a great deal of deadly liquid mercury is present. Long-range planning for excavation and conservation is essential until more of the complex and its stunning artifacts can be revealed.
Lots of sightseers here, again few non-Asians. We have to keep moving around the pits. Each warrior is individually designed.
 A woman grabs me on our return trek and gobsmacks me by demanding in imperfect English, "How old are you?!" "Not a polite question," I smile, but she's persistent. I show her by extending my fingers. She happily trails us with her friends, excitedly speaking in their own language. Later I learn that age is greatly respected in general and it's a common question, asked admiringly. I still don't know if I was looking really ancient that day or if it was simple curiosity about a foreigner.

An awesome, exhausting day. The return trip into Xi'an is bad; traffic is almost at a standstill, long stops and stalls. Trucks line the shoulders of city expressways because regulations don't allow them on highways until a certain evening hour. We watch one woman get out of a car (as a passenger) and start walking. She had disappeared long before we reach an off-ramp a kilometre away. Unbelievably, we see a driver make a U-TURN in three-four lanes of one-way traffic and start inching back the wrong way. Road warrior!

A large tile wall at Xi'an Ancient Capital Thestre
  © 2016 Brenda Dougall Merriman