Check out Part 1 here
Timing is everything and the skies began to drop rain as we started to leave Burqu for the afternoon. I imagine that rain is perhaps a rare but welcome occurrence out here in the deserts. I don’t know how often they actually do see rain, but for my limited time in Jordan I’ve seen far more than I anticipated I would see. I do however know that it is a very seasonal thing. See in Arabic the word for winter is shita which is what the Jordanians seem to also use for rain. It makes you realize that there is only a limited period where rain actually falls and when I describe summer rains to my Arabic teachers they constantly assume I’m making a mistake by discussing summer. It does not seem to comprehend here that other places get rain during the summer months.
We took off running a bit to try to get to our car quickly and made our way back in the general direction of the road. We did find on our way back what we imagined would have been a pathway out here. I saw a lot of folks out and about driving around the desert, and even a few animals as well. There were little piles of white sand piled up that seemed to mark a road of sorts out into the desert. It certainly was not necessary in terms of driving, but it was nicer perhaps than the way we did drive (however less exciting!). We opted to head back towards Azraq at this point since mostly there was not much to do out here elsewise and also to see if we could catch any last minute things before our dinner plans.
The road back to Azraq was fairly uneventful. There really is only one way out here, so the scenery was nothing new of course. I’m starting to like the desert out here in some ways. It is amazingly remote even though we are not as far from where we started as you would imagine based on the scenery.
Into Qasr Azraq
It was a bit before sunset when we arrived at Qasr Azraq on the edge of the town of Azraq. Qasr Azraq is a imposing looking fortress that served well in history for a variety of reasons but possibly most famously as a residence for T.E. Lawrence for planning the Arab revolt. Did you know that the Arab revolt got it’s start in the sleepy little desert town of Azraq? Honestly it was something I really didn’t know myself, but really quite an interesting piece of history. In Jordan the area of Wadi Rum gets more of the tourists and the limelight for the whole “Lawrence of Arabia” thing, and honestly in general it’s all a bit overblown anyway. He wasn’t really a famous figure in many ways here until tourists started going out and searching for things about him and the local populations realized they could profit a bit for his notoriety.
The castle was emptying out at this point of the day. It was still open but a large group was (thankfully) getting set to leave the place and perhaps the ticket seller also decided to wander off for a while too. We walked inside.
The inside of the Qasr is a huge yard with a building in the center and the rest of the Qasr ringing the center yard. Honestly the place was a bit of a playground for adults in many ways. One of the strange things with Jordan is that there is really nothing stopping you from just wandering in whatever direction you desire. In many ways that is great in that it lets you explore everything, in other ways it is bad as you don’t necessarily know the structural integrity of anything you decided to climb into or over.
-M- who is a climbing instructor is in non-Jordanian life was particularly having a field day as he climbed over things and up towers. He was far more adventurous than I was, or at least far more skilled than I am at such tasks.
I can’t say that watching him climb didn’t inspire some of that in myself too, although I definitely was cautious to see where others had gone first as I didn’t necessarily trust the paving the way along the questionable ledges and walkways.
We did run into some locals who were on a bit of a field trip here. We chatted for a bit and talked about our travels and our visit here to Jordan. As seems to be the custom, we were always “welcomed” to Jordan no matter how long we seemed to have been here already. It is both a welcome greet and a bit of a joke among folks here as it happens so commonly in meetings with locals in this lovely country.
Plus as an added bonus we ended up getting a pretty interesting group shot inside the Qasr as well. One of my favorite photographs from the trip besides a random “Iraqi Border” sign that we had seen early in the day.
The not hospital, hospital
But mostly we just wandered around enjoying our time and running a bit of a muck perhaps. Part of the benefit of having an entire fortress all to yourself so far from home and even far from your adopted home as well. But eventually you need to stop kicking up dust running around a fortress and round up the folks and head to dinner. It was pretty dark by the time we arrived at the restaurant in time for our reservations. Getting there was a bit of fun too.
This was what –X- had been hoping to visit for a while and he planned a bit of our time around going there. It was an old British field hospital that had been converted to a hotel and restaurant by the Royal Conservation Center. He seemed to trust “Jenny” the author of his translated tourist book and since he was the only one privy to it’s contents perhaps it said something amazing about this place that overcame his generally “love/hate” relationship he was developing for the author.
Finding the place took a bit of work as we tried to ask locals for directions.
“Hi we are looking for a hospital that is now a hotel. It is a old hospital.” – we tried to explain.
We followed a car through the local roads.
“Oh no, this is the actual hospital. No, no, it was a hospital, but now a restaurant and hotel.”
We mostly just got confused stares and more pointing at the obvious hospital sign sitting in front of us. Yes, I suppose I can see the confusion here too. Perhaps locals don’t really head off to the restaurant anyway. I can’t imagine it really caters to them much.
Someone with a bit more sense than the rest of us phoned the place to get some actual directions.
The building itself was really interesting. It was full of pictures and books and other information about the hospital, the history of Jordan, and other such interesting characters and places in the country. There were a few tourism books that just kept inspiring me for new places I had yet to visit.
There was even and old British Land Rover Jeep parked outside standing in wait for a possible need again as a hospital or war transportation. I hadn’t even seen a jeep like this before so the little historical items of this place were very welcome.
Overall the hotel looked really quite nice. If I had more money and time I would definitely had loved to have had the chance to lodge here for an evening. But with a group of poor students it was not really in our immediate budget. But in terms of places to stay, probably the best of the available in Azraq.
The hotel itself was currently run by Chechens who had immigrated to Jordan to escape the issues in their homeland. I was surprised to learn there was a large Chechen community here in Azraq of all places, it seemed to be very remote. It made me wonder exactly what they did in such a place like this. The dinner itself was supposed to be Chechen cuisine which would have been a nice change of pace from the normal food found throughout Jordan.
We funneled into the dining room and were joined by guests of the hotel. I think we were the only folks here who were not guests in the hotel. The hotel itself is beautiful, really. They did a fantastic job repurposing the hospital and area for a hotel and in this area, it is by far the best and priciest option available. The dinner was a buffet spread and it allowed us to have as much as we wanted. There were lots of vegetables, some meat and different salads and dishes to try.
I made it a point in typical fashion of trying everything. But food was good, nothing spectacular, but good. And honestly as much as I tried I could only eat so much and I don’t know if I got my money’s worth. It was certainly a decent change of pace from other food we had recently, but in hindsight I don’t know if I would have done it again a second time (but I’m really glad I visited the hospital while in town). Perhaps on another trip where I was employed while in Jordan I could see myself splurging a bit more on this meal or a stay in this hotel.
-X- was definitely feeling a bit let down by his favorite author as well. I had since given up on tour books at this point. Having lived now in Jordan for several months I felt more qualified to write my own. I’m always torn on guide books to be honest. I like them in some regards to inform me what is available in a country, but often there suggestions of what is good is not always what I find to be great afterwards and things they tell me to avoid I sometimes love. I think as a reference though they are still useful in terms of how to get to places perhaps.
So where did we stay if not here?
Hmm well Azraq is not by any stretch a large town. There are 3 hotels, this Azraq Lodge that is really quite nice, Azraq Hotel, and the lovely and budget Zubi. We picked Zubi or maybe it picked us.
Zubi was an interesting place as being the only budget place in Azraq, possibly in the entire eastern desert. And Zubi from now on will occupy a special place in my heart and a special memory between my friends. It wasn’t bad; it was actually fairly decent. For 50 JD we got two rooms that were connected and shared bathrooms. Each room contained 4 beds so we could have even picked up two drifters to share the rooms with us if we so chose. It was clean, and the beds were umm…present. The optional detachable toilet seat was also a nice touch, especially when we eventually found it located conveniently in the sink.
The proprietors were very very nice, and it did exactly the job we had expected it to do, it gave us a clean, safe place to crash for a few hours before heading out the next day for more exploring. I was perfectly happy with the place, I don’t know if all my group was, but honestly we were in the Eastern Desert to explore not to hang around a hotel longer than necessary, so maybe a little less comfort was ok.
In terms of nightlife in Azraq, there wasn’t a whole lot to be honest. We found a open café where we enjoyed the evening while my friends smoked shisha and we drank tea and just chatted about our day and our plans. Fairly typical middle east night perhaps, and a nice way to just whittle away the evening hours. But mostly we tried not to wear ourselves out too much, there was still much to see, castles, a abandoned city, and a wetlands that I had been wondering where it was hiding. But that is for the next installment.
Getting around: A car is definitely a must have. I wrote about car rentals here. There are tour options of the eastern desert but they take you to only a few places around Azraq, to get out to Burqu you need your own vehicle and a 4WD or at least a vehicle with high clearance. If you have a smart phone, the Qasr does show up on Google maps which tremendously aids in navigation. There is a path, but it wasn’t easy to locate or get directions to.
Dinner: The dinner at Azraq Lodge does require reservations (if there is not others going to dinner I think). You can call them ahead and book your stay. Call from a Jordanian # 03835017 or from outside Jordan +962 3835017. They also have rooms too if you want to stay overnight there.
Hotels: Zubi was a fine enough hotel for those on a budget. If you can splurge, Azraq Lodge is really nice (if you get lost, call the hotel for directions, not everyone in town seems to know at least how we explained it). I was not able to book the hotel over the phone as no one answered the phone, but it does exist and they accept walk-ins if you are around. I don’t think a lot of people spend the night in Azraq, but maybe it books up during busy times….not sure.