Petra, city of wonders.

When we walked into Petra, our guide Ibrahim had only one comment: it’s totally empty. He recounted a story of being there in 2010 and barely being able to move through the Siq – the thin fissure in the rock which marks the entrance to the main city. Apart from camel drivers, donkey touts and another group of French tourists, it felt like we had the place to ourselves.

Which for us was, of course, fantastic.

I think the beauty of Petra is impossible to describe in words. Honestly, even photographs don’t do it justice. At one point in the Siq, our guide told us to stop and close our eyes. He then manoeuvred us 15 paces through the rock, positioned us in a line and made the big reveal. The first glimpse of The Treasury peeking through the rock, the contrast between the natural and the ornate so extreme here.

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The Treasury is the Petra show stopper, and it also stands as a testament to what the mysterious Nabatean civilisation achieved: a blend of Egyptian, Roman, Greek and their own construction, a welcome touch of home for weary travellers and a great display of wealth for wily traders. That the Bedouins managed to keep the city so secret for so long adds to the wonder, of a city lost to time and to history.

Beyond the Treasury (once you can tear your eyes from it), the vastness of the city continues behind. I think this is what I didn’t expect of Petra – just how BIG it is. In all, with a big hike up to the Monastery area (another immense structure), we spent 10 hours exploring the site. By the end of it, as the sun was setting, we were all exhausted and awed. And even that felt like barely scratching the surface.

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Sadly, it’s now the end of the trip. We are currently in the Christian city of Madaba, having had a float on the Dead Sea, visited Mt Nebu, where Moses died, and St George’s Church, which contains one of the earliest examples of a map, in the form of a mosaic on the floor. Stunning.

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Goodbye Egypt, Hello Jordan!

Two days ago, we said goodbye to sunny Dahab, fully relaxed and newly qualified as Advanced divers.

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Yesterday was mostly spent travelling, as we took a circuitous route around the Gulf of Aqaba to avoid a potentially dodgy ferry ride across the Red Sea. That meant we spent a grand total of 15 minutes in Israel, but got us to Jordan without too many delays.

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After a delicious lunch in Aqaba, we had a quick explore of Aqaba castle, a peak at the world’s tallest flagpole and a half hour tour on a glass bottom boat. Lots of young boys were diving precariously into the harbour, dodging speedboats and larger yachts along the way.

From Aqaba it was a short drive to Wadi Rum, the magnificent desert home of the Bedouins. We stayed in a (not so) traditional Bedouin camp (complete with lovely flush toilets and shower facilities!), but the modern luxuries were a welcome sight for the majority of our group who have come down with some kind of Dahab belly. We stayed in goats hair tents and were treated to their traditional music though, which was both unique and magical.

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Up early to watch a misty sunrise, then we were whisked off on a desert safari. This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip for me so far, as the scenery was so dramatic — truly breath taking.

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As if that wasn’t enough, we even got to walk in the path of Crusaders at Shoubak Castle and drink from a spring said to have been created from rock by Moses. We are now in Wadi Musa awaiting a day at Petra… And I for one cannot wait!!

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Dahab: ultimate relaxation

How to describe a place like Dahab? A diver’s paradise, seafood galore, meals on pillows surrounded by fairy lights, shisha smoking until dawn… It’s pretty blissful all round!

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Most of the days so far have been spent diving – both Lofty and I are completing our Advanced Divers course. We’ve seen the magnificent Blue Hole and the Canyon, two of the Red Sea’s best dives, with the help of our excellent instructor Ibrahim of Big Blue dive school.

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At night, it’s been seafood all the way. Dahab is a stunning town, with all the restaurants lining the waterfront and shops the other side. Here, unlike in Aswan or Luxor, there is very little hassle. Last night we celebrated the fourth (and final) birthday of the trip! We had the whole restaurant up and dancing, and the fun spilled out over onto the street. It was one of those perfect capsule evenings: great food, pretty lights, lots of dancing…

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And the best part is we get to do it all again tonight.

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An egyptian birthday… Not too shabby

Some birthdays are really special, and this one might top them all! This year in general has been crazy, and so much has happened it’s hard to sit back and take it all in. But a day like today has really capped off an amazing year and jump started a new one. I can’t wait to see what 26 will bring!

So far?

…woke up at 4am to watch the sun rise over the Valley of the Kings from a hot air balloon. Magic.

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…rode in a horse-drawn carriage to Karnak, and explored the biggest temple in Egypt. Amazing.

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…ended up in the luxurious resort town of Hurghada and ate my birthday dinner at the new harbour overlooking the Red Sea… Even better.

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A blessing from Thoth, god of writing… Sounds like a good idea to me!

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En route to Luxor: feluccas and temples

A day and night on the felucca was heavenly relaxation after a few intense days of temple-hopping – even if it was a bit of bush experience when nature called! The highlight was definitely dinner. We pulled up to shore at night and the felucca captain wrapped a blanket around the boat to keep out the wind and lit loads of candles as they laid out the food. Tres romantique! A bonfire on the shore followed, with lots of singing and drums, before we turned in for a chilly night under sleeping bags and blankets.

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We are in Egypt after all, so never too far from a temple! After waving goodbye to the felucca captain, we continued along the road to Luxor, stopping at Kom Ombo and Edfu temples along the way.

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When we reached Luxor, I was struck by how much more modern it feels – or at least how well it caters to tourists… but the hawkers here have been intense. Really, really intense. At Valley of the Kings, it wasn’t possible to move two steps without being surrounded. The tombs were as much an escape from the touts as anything else!

Ok, not really – the tombs were more amazing than I imagined. Actually, I’m not sure what I imagined, but not the colour and detail that I saw. We visited the tombs of Rameses 3, 4, 6 and 9. Rameses 6 topped them all, but each one had its own unique features. Shame we weren’t allowed to take any pictures! (note: the touts got me, and I bought some postcards instead of photos!)

Next we visited Queen Hachetsup’s (Hot Chicken Soup) temple. Finally, a female pharaoh doing it for the girls! This was high on the list as Lofty’s mum recommended it as a not-to-miss and we weren’t disappointed – well, except for one of the group who twisted his knee badly during a “jump” photo and had to be ambulanced away!

Luxor has a beautiful boardwalk by the Nile – a great place to sit, study (in Lofty’s case) or write (in mine) and watch the sun go down. Egypt has been a great source of inspiration and I’ve written loads since being away. Yay!

We capped off a brilliant day with a tour of Luxor temple at night. Gorgeous!

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