Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Fate has some unexpected methods of catapulting one into action. Little did I think back in September 2006 that I would find myself riding across the Wadi Rum Desert in Jordan in a group of 25 (mostly Irish) riders, in aid of the Irish Heart Foundation, 2-12th March 2007.
Back in early September 2006, a friend of mine found herself in the coronary unit of Naas Hospital. Her doctor claimed she was one of the lucky ones who had been given a warning. Many coronary victims do not get a second chance. Her nursing care time for one week was “second to none,” and the equipment available for the heart monitoring was aided by sponsorship from the Irish Heart Foundation, and the groups who take up challenges and raise sponsorship for such equipment.
Following the shock news of my friend’s dilemma, there appeared an Irish Heart Foundation request for challenge applicants for the Jordan trip, advertised in the Irish Farmers Journal. Having good health and heart, I needed no further incentive to contact Jeremy Perrin from Naas, who set up and organised the tour. The target was to raise €5,7000, of which each participant was required to subscribe €600 up front and then to fundraise for the further amount. One also had to be a reasonable rider capable of riding an Arab Horse across the desert, riding 5-6 hours per day with nightly stops camping under the stars and tethering our horses beside our tents at night.
All the participants used different methods of fundraising. My efforts were by bag-packing in Supervalue in Blessington for 2 days before Christmas – may thanks to Dan Kenny and his staff who facilitated me. Apart from very generous donations from friends and relations, I organised a Pub Quiz in Paddy Murphy’s Pub in Ballymore Eustace on 19th January ’07, which very successfully raised €1,700. Many thanks to Grania Glancy, daughter Easa, Ballymore Eustace and John in the Stationery Store – Naas, who put together the questions and supplied the result sheets and of course Pat Lawlor, quiz master.
Having got to grips with the sponsorship, I then had to concentrate on my riding fitness. Friends allowed me to exercise their horses during the months of January and February, while Carrie Eddison in Hollywood, Co. Wicklow enrolled me for a very beneficial yoga class assuring me my fitness was well in hand and that I would have no problems. Nor did I have – apart from pulling a muscle in my back following a camel race in Petra before we began riding – which I won!! Text messages from friends indicated that a sheik required a jockey for a camel racing in Jordan! The camping also exercised my girl-guide skills of backpacking and tent erection, which I hadn’t used for 56 years, as well as the added responsibility of a horse and its care and feeding on the journey.
The day dawned for our departure from Dublin Airport at 5,30am to Paris Airport where we transferred to a 4 and a half hour flight to Amman in Jordan. On arrival at Amman, we first had to change our Euros for the Jordanian Dinars followed by a Visa Fee of 10 Dinars. Jordanian money is not exchangeable outside Jordan nor can be acquired in Banks outside the state. We were met by 3 large mini-buses for transfer to MADABA and our welcoming dinner in the MADABA Inn Hotel.
The following morning we again transferred by our assigned mini-buses to the lost city of Petra and our hotel Petra Palace”. Having checked us through our hotel the group met up with our guide who took us on a walking tour of Petra. Yerman checked us through the entrance at a cost of 10 Jordanian Dinars (€1.00 = 0.94 Dinars). As we began the tour we saw the Brooke Hospital for horses and donkeys on our left. Some of the party accepted a short ride on a horse. These horses were not as fit or in as good a condition as the ones we were assigned on the challenge the next day. The 3 mile walk through Petra terminated for lunch in a smart restaurant and a 1 hour rest before returning to our hotel “Petra Palace”. Most of the group took the option of a camel ride back to base, which is where we had the camel race. Steering the camel and remaining on top without being sea-sick was not as difficult as I had thought which was how I and my camel won the race back to the treasury. The fastest camel in the EAST!! As for the extraordinary buildings, which were all carved out of the rock and sandstone many centuries ago, are beyond explanation or belief. The buildings dwarfed the people and parts of the city, and the streets are still being discovered, excavated and restored.

On March 4th we again set off early from Petra suitably attired in riding gear for the Wadi Rum Village to meet up with the tour team (Bedouins) to start riding to the first camp in the desert. Back packs were duly transferred to pick-ups travelling with us with tents, food, horse-feed and water.
We rode and camped in the Wadi Rum. WADI means valley in Arabic. Each night the Bedouins set up the black tents made of woven goat and camel hair and the team of 6 Bedouins prepared out evening meals of rice and chicken and lamb stews. Baby goat was presented for dinner on evening having been spied by a member of the group being taken away in one of the pick-ups along with the knife required for the execution! “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” and after a day riding in the desert “need must” and one has to eat!! However, the food was healthy and nourishing, then there were no choices and after all we were on challenge ride for charity so we were not expecting five star treatment. Sleeping in a tend or under the stars in a sleeping bag at night was a memorable experience. There were no snakes, creepy crawlies, flies or nasties to worry us, thought it was “Spring” time in Jordan. The days were equivalent to a hot summer in Ireland (if one can remember a hot Irish summer). Average temperatures in March being 20o centigrade (67 farenheight) in Adaba, whereas the climate in Amman further north was averaging 12o centigrade (53o farenheight). Average rainfall in millimeters was around 44mm for March. The nights were cold and could be zero centigrade. November to May are the best times to visit. December to February are pleasant in the daytime but cold at night.
Nightfall in March was around 6 0’ clock so we usually arrived at the campsite around 5pm to give us time to tether and feed horses and set up our tents before dark. Tow carafes of hot water were available for hand showers in the evening. A shower tent was set up for those who required privacy but by the end of the week most of the group abandoned all their inhibitions and a short trip around the back of a rock with a towel, water and toiletries was all that was necessary!
Some of the group slept out on the rocks in their sleeping bags at night following dinner, singing and dancing around the camp fire with the Bedouins. Some members dispensed with their individual tents and slept on their mats in the commercial tent at night.
Watching the rising of the moon above the horizon at about 8.30 at night following the setting of the sun was magic. No need for alarm clocks in the mornings either, as everyone was awakened by the sun a around 6.30am warming up by the time we left camp on horseback at 9am every morning. Lunch time stops in the shade of the rocks, lasted about two hours, riders and horses being fed and watered, and rested, we then set of again to our night time camp sites about 3pm.
Country Information
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan as a constitutional monarchy with a developing economy, while many aspects of the Jordanian life are modern and the government is western orientated, Islanic ideals and beliefs provide the conservative foundation for the country’s customs, laws and practices. Tourist facilities are widely available, although quality may vary depending on price and location. The local work week for Jordanian government offices and most businesses is Saturday through Thursday.
Jordan is one of the most welcoming and hospitable countries in the world. It is a rare place where you can leave your belongings on the side of the road and still find them there when you return, or be invited into a complete strangers home to eat with their families in a complete altrinistic gesture. Due to the problems associated with the Middle East, tourists usually steer from Jordan, but this fear has little basis in fact, and we found it a beautiful country that is relatively trouble free.
Jordan is two hours ahead of GMT and used the metric weights and measures systems, so kilometres and kilograms instead of miles and pounds. There is approximately 1.6 kilometers in a mile and 2.2 pounds in a kilogram.
Our sincere thanks to sponsors and those who contributed in other ways than money. Those who contributed by offering deeds in kind – horses to ride, protective clothing for the challenge and saddle pads from Red Mills, Goresbridge, Co. Kilkenny.
On the 9th March the group took the return route back to Amman, via transfer, to the Golden Tulip Hotel in Adaba and admission and admission to the Red Sea Resort, to have had the opportunity to swim in the Red Sea, though cold, was one of the bonuses of our trip. We can genuinely say “been there, done that”.
March 10th we again loaded up our back packs and riding gear in the mini-buses, who continued to be at our “beck and call” throughout the jouney – and headed towards the Dead Sea where the promise “surprise” was revealed. Jeremy Perrin had negotiated a very good deal with the five star hotel resort – the Movenpeck Hotel – overlooking ethe Dead Sea and the town of Jericho in Israel. To the right of Jericho, we could see the Mount of Olives and Jerusalem in the distance.
I was honoured by having to share tents and accommodation along the way and a twin bed room with balcony overlooking the Movenpeck Resort pools and gardens with Reverend Janet White – Spunner from Birr Co. Offaly. She and I were the oldest of the group but Janet at least kept me informed and on my metal throughout. A most amazingly forcused, and positive thinking lady. I was “blessed” in more ways that one to have her as my companion on the trip.
Having checked into our luxurious accommodation for the night and had a welcome hot bath and freshening up, the group made a “bee line” to the beach and the Dead Sea for our rejuvenating wallow in Dead Sea Mud administered by hand from an earthenware pot and overseen by life guards patrolling the water line. The mud could be described as “sump oil” in my eyes. However, “nothing ventured nothing gained” and “when in Rome do as the Romans do”. Much fun was had by administrating the Dead Sea mud to each other, drying off for fifteen minutes or so, and then gingerly lowering ourselves into the waters of the Dead Sea backwards. The water being so salty it was very difficult to stand up and also to actually swim. Splashing about was not an option either as the salt water in the eyes was blinding. The life guards were on hand in a flash to throw water in the faces of anyone who got salt water in their eyes. Afterwards one sat or lay out on deckchairs to dry off before using fresh water showers attached to the wall to clean off. All mud miraculously washed off leaving skin and bathing costumes squeaky clean. Much fun was had by photographing each other in various posses of Dead Sea activity. The resort issued lovely yellow and white striped towels to each guest on payment of entrance fee to the pools and bars in the grounds of the Movinpick Hotel. Guests could spend the day sitting around the fresh water pool attended by porters who were at hand for all requirements. Light lunches or snacks, cocktails and drinks were available at a cost and delivered to your deckchair while sunbathing and socializing. A day in the life of the rich and privileged was experienced. Ours was only a day dream but an experienced of a life time. In the evening we dined from a room full of lavishly presented buffets – food of every description both Asian and Western. The evening entertainment was of belly dancers, piano recitals and a jazz pianist performing in different parts of the hotel.
All good things must come to an end and the group left the Dead Sea for Maraca and a final meal together in a local restaurant before our transfer to Queen Aba Airport at 4.30am for our flight home.
I must not conclude this report without mentioning our transport organizer and mini-bus driver, Easham who is one of two Christians drivers and organizers in Jordan and proud of it. He kept us informed and retold the bible stories and good humoured jokes as we passed along the way. Our final journey was taken on a shorter route throughout the Holy Land, on our way back to Aquaba and the Airport. Easham had all the statistics and information on the tip of his tongue making the bible stories come alive. The Jordanians life, and especially the Bedouins, had not changed much from the stories told in the bible. The people of Jordan are highly educated 90% of the population of eight million attend a university, of which there are twenty six in Jordan.
The challenge trek in aid of the Irish Heart Foundation was a resounding success and all credit to Jeremy Perrin who is the Irish agent for the Irish Heart Foundation Tours. Contact No: 086-3806941
The twenty five horses used on the trek were mostly Bedouin Arabians with some pure Arabs (WAHO registered), part breeds and some Anglo Arabs, average size 15hh. They originate from Jordan, Syria and Iraq. They were mainly mares and geldings, and a couple of stallions. They live outside in the desert most of the year, so they are tough, strong spirited and responsive. They are also very sensitive and sensible which makes them easy to handle. They are extremely well cared for and are looked after to the highest standards. Some of the horses wore light covers at night while tethered in the camp. The cold winds at night were an extreme contrast to the heat of the midday.
The tack used was all English general purpose saddles, mainly synthetics made by Thornwood UK. There were saddle pads with big pockets on each side suitable for water bottle, camera and other personal belongings. Some experienced riders brought their own light helmets and suede or leather gel pads to reduce the ware and tear of riders.
There was about 5 to 6 hours riding a day starting with the three and a half hours in the morning, a lunch break for two to three hours, and then two to three hours ride in the afternoon. This covered between 25-35kms per day. All horses were led at a walk out of camp at the start of each ride and again on return to the camp. Depending on the riding abilities of the group, the pace of the ride was moderate but changed according to terrain and the time of day. The trails were generally open and flat with the opportunity of some trotting and the odd fast canter. The terrin of the Wadi Ramm was mostly sandy (red sand), vast and open with amazing views of rock formations on either side of the valleys we rode through.

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