My eyes are in overload, my lungs are strained and my nostrils are comprehensively disgusted.

There’s fresh dung splattered on my pathway in Petra and the acrid stench is impossible to ignore.

Nothing, however, will stop me from climbing up through this ancient stone city of Jordan. I am on a mission to see all I can in one day.

Labouring in the wake of the Bedouins’ beasts of burden is not recommended, but their very hard working donkeys, mules, horses and camels are high in number.

I can’t help but wonder what foul evil they are fed. It cannot be grass. Unsurprisingly, I am later told their diet is not pure vegetation.

The delights, or otherwise, of dung are part of Petra’s charm. It is a 2,200 year old wonder staffed by old school people needing tourist dollars to survive.

For some tourists Petra is all about Hollywood’s “Last Crusade”.

Jordan’s top attraction did feature prominently in the third (and should have been last) Indiana Jones film, but the long gone city is much more than that.

It is a desert wonderland full of palaces, temples and tombs carved and smoothed from multi-coloured, sandy cliffs.
Over its dry expanse, there are secret caves, carved tributes and mounds of collapsed structures. Tackle the well worn staircases and there are vistas of volcanic valleys.

People talk in hushed tones in the 1.2 kilometre long narrow gorge known as The Siq. The walls amplify sound.

Savvy visitors listen for the clacks of Bedouin horse hooves and press against the rock wall just as the sound becomes thunderous.

Just when you think The Siq has no end, it reveals its prize: the tomb known as The Treasury. Also called Al-Khazneh, it is the Indiana Jones star location and Petra’s crown jewel.

Morning light amplifies its beauty. It is a Nabataean King’s place of rest where an Egyptian Pharaoh is whispered to have hidden a treasure.

Petra was built by the Nabataeans in around the third century BC as their capital city and place to do trade.

It was abandoned centuries later after a series of large quakes and left to a dark corner of history until its rediscovery in 1812.

The fortress city is now a UNESCO world heritage site and the number one reason that hundreds of thousand of people visit Jordan. Well, it got me in.

It is the dimensions and intricacy of the monuments that drops the jaw.

Like the giant moai of Easter Island, it is a marvel that they were carved and sculpted all those years ago. Again like the moai, the features are eroding away.

The sand is returning to the desert floor.

The busy, dusty space in front of The Treasury is hawker central.

There are almost as many people trying to part tourists from their Dinars as visitors themselves. Here tourist police monitor trade and have tea in the nearby cafe.

You can tell they have a steady relationship with the postcard, jewellery sellers. I spotted the nondescript man directing the younger hawkers how to approach tourists. He easily blended into the background as he urged them back into the fray.

Desert cats and dogs wandered idly around in the heat and lay sleepily on cafe tables.

Camels festooned with ornamental saddles pose for photos in front of The Treasury while their young masters wait for passengers. There was a soon to be familiar exchange; ” Want a ride miss?” No, “Why not?” I am happy.

No vantage point was complete without a Bedouin jewellery stand. I found this one without a human attendant at a particularly high lookout.

There had been a dozen or so similar stands on the way up to this point. The business of tourism wears you down.

What talk of desert dung would be complete without a dung beetle?

I found this one mid dung roll. These creatures have plenty of material to work with.

My water supply was good and it was not the height of summer, but Petra was still hard going.

I took my time and went off the well beaten tracks. I climbed for views and entered dark tombs.

It was impossible to be truly alone. Petra is Bedouin land and the people sleep up in lofty caves where it is cool at night. Boys roamed around laughing, looking for attention.

There are 800 steep steps to see the Ad-Deir Monastery monument.

This is where the path gets rough for tourists and donkeys. Both strain on the way up. You can see it in the puffed faces of the humans and the grim backsides of the asses.

Animals rights groups have complained about the treatment of the animals. I did not hire one, but I watched as quite a few people did.

The creatures would do the up and down journey many times with people of varying weights. Hesitation was not rewarded.

It is a harsh life living on the whims of tourists.

I saw a whole family in a cave not far from the main track. A western woman had stopped and gone over to cave’s entrance and started waving repeatedly without speaking. I heard the man of the family call out “What? What do you want?”

I sat with a lovely Bedouin man who’s offered me tea and welcomed time out of the sun. As a Bedouin he can not travel far as his people are usually refused visas. He had a few happy jokes and a better then average attempt at the Australian accent.

After five hours on the move, I pushed on to the top of Petra’s world to see The Monastery. While The Treasury featured in an Indiana Jones film, the Monastery was in a Transformers flick.

I barely saw the monument as I came around the last corner. I’d seen the cafe first and headed there like an arrow in search of hydration.

The cafe had a graffiti marked cave with cushions, artefacts and equally weary and dusty wanderers.

People looked sympathetically at each other while contemplating the walk back to Petra’s front gate.

The King of Jordan was there.. well sort of. So I sat under him and had the best mint tea of my life..

This was followed hours later in my hotel by the best bath in my life..

But before I go.. here’s a handy use of a cave as a Petra garage by the local people. You can see there is room for one more car.


Jerusalem is not called the Holy City for nothing.

There is no escaping religion here. It is in the people, politics, buildings, graffiti and soil. The Jews, Muslims and Christians all lay claim to the city and are bound to it.

Every year many thousands of pilgrims defy security concerns to come to Jerusalem. Like the city’s crazy traffic, tour around for just a few moments and suddenly the stories of the Bible leap out right in front of you.

The hawkers do a fine trade in the Old City maze. Want to buy a crown of thorns? How about a glow in the dark crucifix?

Even if you went off into some sort of dark Jerusalem cave to get away from it all, the chances are that a celebrated saint did that before you.

When a rare media tour of Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock came up during my visit I could not say no.

The ancient site in the Old City is the most sacred, holiest place for Jews, the third most important place for Muslims and, currently, a no go zone for tourists.

It is an explosive place of prayer. Jews passionately want to worship there, but they are not allowed to enter.

The Palestinian Second Intifada began here on September 28th 2000 when Ariel Sharon provocatively entered the al-Aqsa Mosque with more than 1000 security guards.

The tour had been organised by a Jewish lobby group using a Muslim guide inside the gates. The idea was that the outside world would get both vantage points on the holy site and its significance.

More than a dozen journalists took part including correspondents from the US, Denmark and Italy.

We were hurried around the site while Muslims prayed and sat in the warm day unhindered by the Israeli security which blankets the rest of the city.

Slow moving or, in my case, slow photographing journos, were chastened by a man barking; “Come journalists! Come on!”

Some of the different views of the Jewish and Muslim guides could not be contained, although the arguments were somewhat subdued and delivered with a smile in front of the international audience.

The contention was expected, but perhaps not inside the mosque. The tour was a rare opportunity to experience what is the oldest Islamic building in the world and the site of great religious and social turmoil.

At various times, the place has been shot at, burnt down, damaged in quakes, rebuilt, burnt again and threatened with larger scale explosives.

The inside of the silver domed al-Aqsa Mosque on the south-east side of the Temple Mount is beautiful.

The stained glass windows scatter glorious light on the worshippers, although the mosque was very quiet while we shuffled through.

Muslims believe that Muhammad was transported from Mecca to al-Aqsa during the Night Journey.

There he led other prophets in prayer, leapt to heaven and spoke to God.

The mosque has survived a lot over the centuries including a 1969 assault by an Australian Christian.

Denis Michael Rohan started a fire, he says, to hasten the second coming of Jesus. He was found to be criminally insane.

The dome’s gold coloured interior only just survived the fire.

It is painted with 14th-century-era decorations including lines from the Koran.

Here’s the dome seen kaleidoscopically (if that is a word) through the central chandelier.

The mosque fits about five thousand worshippers, but it regularly overflows at Friday prayers with thousands more people praying in the courtyard.

There are reminders in this prominent cabinet of the 2000 Sharon visit which sparked the Second Intifada.

They are the shells of the ammunition used when Israeli police stormed the compound. They are under lock and key.

We were then ushered to the bright shining 1321 year old Dome of the Rock.

The shrine is impossible to miss in Jerusalem as it is covered in millions of dollars worth of Saudi Arabian and Jordanian gold.

As you get closer you see the enormous dome sits on a octagonal building covered in 400 year old blue-themed Islamic tiles.

Contentiously, it was built on the site of the Second Jewish Temple which had been destroyed by the Romans. Some Jews want the Dome moved to Mecca make way for a Third Temple.

The dome’s interior is undergoing a revamp due to shooting.

The Muslim guide was not specific on when it happened, but bullets must have hit the beautiful mosaics.

Scaffolding obscured many of the views, but Koranic lines painted in the time of Saladin could be clearly seen.

The dome is built over the Foundation Stone.. a place which has been described as a dangerous piece of real estate.

Muslims believe the rock is the spot where Muhammad rose to Heaven to talk to God, Jews view it as the spiritual junction of Heaven and Earth.. and geographically it is the highest natural point in Old Jerusalem.

All on the tour gathered ’round to hear about the Dome of the Rock.

The guide says a single hair from Muhammad is somewhere in the building.

As we asked questioned and listened, worshippers came in and out. Some were a little disturbed by our presence.

Soon enough it was time to go.

We were shuffled out of the Dome of the Rock with the guides still disputing minor points while questions ricocheted in our heads.

Outside ABC Middle East Correspondent Anne Barker and I soaked up the atmosphere while the last questions were answered and bullet holes were revealed in the side of the ancient building.

Muslim women relaxed in the sun and children played on the wide open concrete space.

We had to choose the right gate to leave the Dome of the Rock.. and then we were back in real world Jerusalem.

Not wanting new readers to be ignorant of the truth: that that is blog is not entirely, but only maybe a little bit, devoted to penguins.. and also not wanting to disappoint.. this is a follow up to the post about the island trip near Ushuaia in Argentinian Tierra del Fuego.

I am feeling the distance from the Earth’s intense south anyway.

I adore mad latitudes and the rough cold. 54/55 degrees suits me just fine and random penguin appearances can only be a good thing.

New readers will not know I went to Antarctica in January for work as an Australian journalist. I covered the 100th anniversary of the landing of Sir Douglas Mawson’s first Australasian Antarctic Expedition.

The main inhabitants of that part of the world are adelie penguins and at that time of the year they are nesting.

Here is a gaggle of adelies that sauntered up to the Australian icebreaker I was on for two weeks, the Aurora Australis.

The ship was “parked” by the crew on a thick field of fast ice so helicopters could be launched to hold a Mawson centenary ceremony.

At it’s edge, the ice was 20 kilometres away from the true Antarctic coastline where the penguins were nesting on rocks.

This made it hard for the penguins to gather food to bring back to the nest.

The adelies were attracted to the ship and the people on board. In turn, we were entranced by them.

There was was 24 hour sunlight when we were there in January and the penguins could be seen out of every ship porthole lying, lolling, sleeping, fighting and generally looking adorable.

It was on the Antarctic mainland where things got disgusting.

That brown orangey colour is krill flavoured penguin poo and both chicks and parents were all revelling in it.

You can see the grey fuzzy chicks. They grow big very fast and shed the fuzz to become black and white swimming and fishing machines.

It is hard not to notice the weird strung out look in the parent’ eyes. Parenting is hard, but imagine it in 24 hour sunlight buffeted by fierce katabatic winds.

On my last day on the fast ice, I was lucky to see this emperor penguin wandering towards the water’s edge on its lonesome.

It has a little bit of fluff on the back of his head. Sort of like a scarf or a some sort of party mullet.

But back to the trip near Ushuaia. Here are a few more photos that did not make the last post.

Those two king penguins were quite aggressive, but the gentoos and magellanic penguins gave as good as they got.

When not fighting between species, the penguins had it all sorted out. These magellanic penguins were sharing the spoils of the day’s fishing.

Nothing like a bit of regurgitation between friends and relatives.

This photo will give you an idea of the high number of penguins on the island. The magellanic penguins have well and truly moved in.

You can see the lighter fledglings in the photo as well as the brown, pesky skua hoping to pick off a penguin lunch.

.. and here is a baby magellanic penguin. A very big baby at that.

This creature is getting ready to launch itself into the biting cold waters at the bottom of South America and go live its life until it is ready to nest itself.

Well.. right after this nap.


They appear to be such innocent, beguiling creatures. So adorable. So darn cute.

Well, from previous experience, I already know they attack. The Adelie penguins that came at me en masse while I took photos around the Aurora Australis will forever be a disturbing highlight of my life. Now I know penguins can lull you into suicidal behaviour.

My friend Sharon and I found ourselves in Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego thwarted by boat scheduling difficulties in a last minute attempt to scoot over to the Chilean Antarctic territory of Isla Navarino.

Our Antarctic cravings would have to be satisfied elsewhere. Plan B would have us spying on penguins hanging out on an island a kilometre or two north of the most southerly part of Chile.

We headed off on a bus and zodiac tour with the only Ushuaia company allowed to let touristy types wander respectfully near the penguins. The other tour companies offer penguin spotting from boats.

As we hurtled out of town in the mini-bus, Sharon was wondering whether the penguins were worth it. The suspension on the bus was clearly shot and the driver was far too comfortable on the road.

I noticed from the back window seat that our vehicle was being overtaken on the double yellow lines, so clearly everyone’s confidence was high.

The tour guide was friendly, well informed and willing to stop the bus if anyone felt sick.. and a few did.

After a fascinating trip to a remote museum to see the work volunteers are doing on the bones of locally washed up sea mammals like whales, seals and dolphins, we were in a zodiac rocketing over waves towards our little penguin friends.

The boat repeatedly smacked hard against the waves.

Our bodies weren’t thrown around, but the jarring motion was intense. Grimacing too hard could cause jaw damage. In one case, a woman’s head was donged against the canopy. This appeared to be an urgent mission to penguin land.

Again, the tour guide was great. She had lots of great information about the local colony along with the usual information of not approaching the penguins and letting them come to you.. if they want to.

This was a magellanic penguin colony that only formed over the past few decades.

It is the most southerly place to find magellanic penguins. Gentoo penguins had arrived fairly recently and the guide seemed most surprised to see two king penguins there that day.

I was surprised too to see the kings. I though that was not something I would see in Tierra del Fuego. It can be good to be wrong.

These magellanic penguins are nesting.

They like this particular island between Argentinia’s Tierra del Fuego and Chile’s Isla  Navarino because it is spongy to walk on and it has easy access to the Altantic Ocean.

The penguin fledglings ambling around at this time of year are quite large and independent, although skua birds appeared still keen to pick them off.

It was about zero degrees Celsius and the wind was whipping things up; perfect sub-Antarctic weather for a walk around a penguin colony.

I admit I could have been dressed better, but I survived.

The things you do for penguins.

The newly arrived kings were outnumbered by the magellanic penguins, but they were clearly spoiling for a fight.

They pecked away at any other sort of penguin that came near. The kings are similar to the Antarctic emperor penguin, but with different patterns and they are not quite as big.

The gentoos were also fighting amongst themselves. These two appeared to be squabbling over who could stand on this geometric block of concrete.

.. and at last, just as we were to be sent back to on our bone jarring journey home, I had time to pull out the penguin toy I have been carrying these past six weeks from Sydney.

I did not have much time for the birds to waddle up and bond with it, but they were clearly interested. Just as they were about nest, or do whatever to the toy, we had to go.

I carefully slid my hand over to the stuffed version, grabbed it and returned to the zodiac exclaiming, “it is not a real one” and they said “I know.”

It took two days, easy access to alcohol and proximity to a large glacier vomiting ice into a Patagonian fjord for some of the Australians to get a little naked.

Chile’s famed Navimag ferry has an oversize deck chessboard that no one appears to take very seriously. The black and white patchwork is used more for photo stunts than games. When one of the highlights of the four day, three night journey happened, a rendezvous with an advancing glacier, two Australians briefly got down to their undies for a chessboard photo with a glacial background.

I was busy taking a photo for a couple at the time otherwise I would regale you with the momentary expression of Australian backpackerdom.

Anyway the temperatures were just above zero so they weren’t that brave.

It must be told that the Navimag ferry, Evangelista, is not a cruise ship, although there was a bingo night that I will get to later.

It is a cargo vessel that doubles as floating backpacker hostel. That is not that a criticism. You are extremely well looked after and it is delightful that you are roughing it a bit. Many of the passengers are going onto doing treks and other wonderful wilderness hardships.

The Evangalista just happens to be going through beautiful Chilean Patagonia allowing passengers to see sights impossible by road and only by the most epic trekking.

The nights were spent up in the bar draining the vessel of pisco, unsuccessfully looking for auroras at night and watching films on Patagonian flora and fauna.

I learnt about guanaco spitting and the mating habits of a few creatures I’d not set eyes on before.

On the second night at about three in morning, I listened faithfully to a guy who’d been arrested as some sort of concerned tourist in Iraq in 2003. At points it was hard to concentrate on his singular tale as people behind him had started badly juggling fruit.

After my Antarctic experience in January on the icebreaker Aurora Australis, it may be surprising that I jumped on a ship again.

Ship life can be fun and offers an unparalleled viewpoint, but it can also be relentless and overwhelming. There is no getting off because you have had enough, seasickness is as anti-fun as it sounds and you are taking potluck with your fellow travellers.

It is also a little squeezy.

We were in CC cabins: a womb-like cave with four bunks and no porthole. There was room for perhaps two people standing, but this was reduced to one person in our case. Our Dutch cabin mates had brought large ports on their trip that could not be folded into the space’s small cabinets.

As we were escorted to our sleeping quarters we heard one of them exclaim “My God!” at the size of it. They ended up spending a lot of time in the cave as it turned out one had sunstroke and the other had a stomach bug.

A misdirected entry into a bunk could end in a lump on the head or a bruise to the thigh.

The crew were fantastic. The Captain, here on the right, remembered me cause I sporadically wore a knitted cap with black horns. Between looking serious on the bridge and navigating us safely through tight waterways he made horn gestures whenever I passed.

Sandra in galley always singled me out sweetly for being a vegetarian and Jean Pierre, (the second officer on the photo’s left), and I talked ships, weather and navigation.

Apparently I became known around the Navimag as the girl with the big lens. Lens envy they call it. I am carrying a big 150-500mm lens that I got for the last Antarctic trip and no one on the Navimag had bigger than that. It might look cool and help take great shots, but it is weighing me down.

If there is a prize for the most uneconomical backpacker ever this bulky object will help me win.

Sights on the way to Puerto Natales included the aforementioned Iceberg Glacier seen here with the aforementioned 500mm zoom.

We also passed this rusty ghost ship that ran around in the mid 20th century with a load of sugar.

The Navimag crew says the remote fishing village of Puerto Eden was supplied with a steady sugar supply for several years after that accident.

The weather favoured us.

The ferry could have just sailed through a gray wall of fog for four days.

Sunshine was not out that often, but the passengers not glued to the bar could see everything; mountain top glaciers, mirror views on the water and leaping sea life.

I can tick off Magellanic penguins, seal lions and very small dolphins. An environmental scientist using the ferry to get to a research spot said the northern fjords are home to blue whales, but we would have passed that during the first night.

The scientists are doing rare surveys of the wildlife in the area and finding scores of new species.

Burgeoning salmon farms were pointed out. All had floating mansions attached and we counted one that had 23 massive nets. The sea floor is dead underneath these multi-million dollar ventures.

This is Puerto Eden, our one jump off point. It is home to a few hundred people who depend on fishing and tourism for their livelihoods.

The Navimag ferry seems to make up the bulk of the tourism and it only passes by twice a week.

It was quite the exercise to get us all off the ferry in lifejackets, onto small fishing vessels piloted by locals and onto land for an hour long wander.

This little guy in the window might be a message for tourists, but everyone appeared happy to see us.

We bought coffee and a giant wheel of fried bread or batter from a local woman and ambled around on a designated wooden path still wearing our bright lifejackets.

We went all out on the last night of the Navimag. My friend Sharon had begun expressing her desire never to leave the ferry and was considering stowing away or signing up.

You quickly become institutionalised on ships. Food is provided at designated times and entertainment is never far from your cabin.

Pisco sours started off several rounds of bingo. Usual thoughts of never winning ended with me taking out the major prize.

This is me doing some sort of bizarre bingo victory dance.

I won a cap, a much-needed warm jacket and a less-needed bottle of Johnny Walker red.

I gleefully shared the spoils after one sip much to the delight those around us.

Navimag was quite a ride. Highly recommended. You can fly in to Patagonian locations like other people, but I think this is the only way to do southern Patagonia.

Sharon and I are wondering how to get back there and do the return ride from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt.

The woman on a first floor balcony is doing the universal index finger along the throat gesture for danger and likely death.

At us.

She’s also pointing down the quaintly coloured and alluring suburban street we were headed towards.

We nod and look that way. A middle-aged man is 20 metres away shaking his head and waving us off.

He has a child with him so perhaps it can’t be that bad, but the woman overhead is insistent. It is path towards some unknown sort of crime.

It’s time to bug out of this alcove on a beautiful, but alien hillside of Valparaiso. We backtrack and trudge further up the incline to soak up the imminent Saturday night sunset over the port city.

After a few steps, a non-descript car with two men pulls up beside us. We are attracting a lot of male attention and I think these guys should be best ignored.

One flashes a bronze badge and ID card I am immediately suspicious of. The laughing man in the passenger seat does not add to my confidence in this scene.

It turns out they are plain-clothes cops who are both concerned and amused by our stupidity.

One Valparaiso hill may be ok for non-locals wandering aimlessly eyeballing graffiti; the next rise is apparently where you can say goodbye to all your goods and chattels. They don’t put that in guidebooks.

Still, we could have been left to a sad and possibly painful fate. Chilean people have proved themselves the most friendly, willing to go out of the way, super kind people I have ever met.

Numerous requests for directions have been met with long distance escorts, even if our new acquaintances don’t really know the way.

Women have stood next to Sharon and I while we have used cheap petrol station coffee dispensers and given repeated, and excited, verbal encouragement.

.. and hiring a car for a long distance, one way car excursion may prove to be three of the most bizarre three hours spent on this trip.

Apparently renting a car, driving in one direction, looking at stuff and dropping off said vehicle at another outlet of the hiring company is not the done thing in Chile.

We were not to know that and driving from Santiago to Puerto Montt more than a thousand kilometres away over four days had firmly become part of our ill-researched plans.

We got it in our heads that cabbing it to the airport where car hire companies are sequestered was the best thing to do. All the rental places would be in one spot to fight over us and driving south from the airport would allow us to avoid Santiago’s mad traffic.

However, hearing our plans unveiled the nurturing side of our cab driver.

Julio, as we came to know him, knew a better ways go, while we insisted on going through with our great idea.

We were taken to a nearby Avis that was closed for untimely renovations.

Julio said “there was a place very close by” and quicker than you can say, “Are we getting taken for a ride? Where the hell are we?” we were back in Santiago about 100 metres from where we began the morning’s journey to the airport.

Various “looks” were being exchanged in the cabs backseat.

Sharon’s Spanish was being tested as Julio instructed her to chill out. The first place we were taken to explained how the rare request to drop off a hire car somewhere else would involved the paying for the car to be returned to the point of origin.

Our plans were sinking like the pisco sours and wine we drank the previous night. We only had a few days, a few off road locations to travel to and half a case of wine to carry.

We were driven to one of the biggest, most expensive car yards in the capital where he proudly introduced us to the English-speaking owner. Julio’s friend knew someone else who could help us and he was on his way. Meantime, Julio expressed his admiration for us, in particular me.

The car arrived with accompanying scratches and without its logo, but this red beast would do the trick. We had to leave a place of residence on the form and Julio said we could use his place. He joked he only had one spare room.

We were soon back on the road with Julio driving just ahead of us. He even got out of his car at an intersection to make sure we new to the way.

We did and we were soon on the great Panamerican Ruta 5 heading south.