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From a desert oasis to Petra’s wonder walls | Travel News | Travel

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Riding camels and walking through the narrow rock formations towards Al Khazneh at Petra (Image: nc)

Occupying a 2,000-year-old burial tomb in the grounds of Petra Guest House Hotel, it has been carefully re-fashioned into a cocktail lounge and filled with lanterns casting light on to the sandstone walls. Sipping gin and tonics, the sweet scent of hookah pipes swirls around me as I take in its very significant location. It sits at the entrance to Petra, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.

With caves, tombs and temples carved directly into the blushing pink sandstone cliff faces, this ancient Jordanian city was once a thriving trading centre and the capital of the Nabataean empire.

But following an earthquake in 363, it became “lost” to the western world and inhabited only by nomadic Bedouins who were desperate to keep it a secret.

That was until 1812 when Swiss traveller Johann Burckhardt “rediscovered” it, tricking his way into the fiercely guarded site by pretending to be an Arab from India.

Now a popular tourist hub, up to 5,000 visitors a day stream down the long and narrow gorge known as The Siq to reach The Treasury, Petra’s most famous monument.

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SALT SHAKER… Float in the Dead Sea with its 40 per cent salt density (Image: nc)

Featured in the closing stages of Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, camels rest outside its six-pillared frontage, awaiting their next passengers while Bedouins mingle with the tourists to hawk their trinkets.

I travelled to Aqaba in Jordan on easyJet’s brand new route from Gatwick. The first non-stop link from the UK, the port city boasting beaches, coffee shops and souks, is part of the “Golden Triangle” along with the tourist hotspots of Petra and Wadi Rum.

Following the five-hour flight, I reboot with a meze dinner of silky hummus, tzatziki and baba ganoush at the luxurious Al Manara hotel.

Located on the shores of the Red Sea, named so because of its high concentration of pink coral, snorkelling is a popular pursuit here.

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LIFE ON MARS… The Sun City camp in Wadi Rum looks very space age (Image: nc)

If you don’t fancy getting wet, take a motorboat from Aqaba harbour, then peer over the sides at the smiling turtles and reefs teeming with fish.

The cast of Star Wars stayed at the Al Manara while shooting Episode IX on location in Wadi Rum, a protected desert wilderness in southern Jordan.

Nicknamed The Valley of the Moon, its spectacular lunar landscape of oddly-shaped monolithic rock formations bearing prehistoric carvings proved the ideal backdrop for the sci-fi adventure.

You can experience its other-worldly sensations for yourself on an overnight excursion to the space-age Sun City Camp.

Sleeping out in one of its 20 luxury “Martian Domes”, with very comfortable beds, shower rooms and star-gazing windows, I wake at 5.30am for a jeep ride into the heart of the desert to watch the sunrise.

While still in darkness, Bedouin guides gather scrub desert wood for a fire to make much-needed hot coffee and sweet tea on a chilly desert morning.

Then as the first glimpses of blood orange peep over the furthest ridge of mountains, I sense the primitive wonder the Nabataeans must have experienced more than 2,000 years ago.

On the camel ride back to base camp, I feel like T. E. Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia, who crossed these very same sands during the First World War while masterminding the Arab revolt to overthrow the Ottoman Empire.

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The 2,000-year-old Cave Bar in the grounds of the Petra Guest House Hotel (Image: nc)

From here I drive northwards to Amman to experience the natural phenomenon of the Dead Sea.

With 40 per cent salt density, no life survives in this great expanse of water. Unless that is, you count the tourists who flock here to cover themselves in the mineral-rich mud and float in its tension-relieving saline solution.

Taking the plunge myself, I find it impossible to sink under the surface. The dense weight of salt keeps me afloat as I gaze over to Israel on the opposite shore.

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FORCE IS STRONG.. Star Wars cast stayed at the Al Manara while filming in Wadi Rum (Image: nc)

That night I check in to the five-star Kempinski Hotel Ishtar, which boasts the biggest spa in the Middle East and features Dead Sea-inspired treatments.

After dining at the hotel’s Ashur Pizza & Grill restaurant overlooking the infinity pool, I stroll down to its pristine man-made beach to dip my toes in the vast salt lake one last time. 

At 400 metres below sea level, it claims to be the lowest place on Earth. But after experiencing Jordan’s ancient treasures and natural wonders, I am certainly left on a high.

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Travel & Escape

Opinion: Are we ready for the tourism rebound?

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Canadians are ready for the borders to be re-opened and will be flocking to sun destinations this winter like never before. The number of people who have said that they are ready to “get out of Dodge” and “fly the coop” is an indication that there is a pent-up demand for travel and excursions that has been bolstered by a two-year sabbatical from vacations of any semblance. 

While Canadians are going to be heading south, we can expect some of our citizens as well as those from other nations to be looking to Canada for their adventure holidays. When the requirements for the two-week quarantines are lifted, we will be seeing a quick rebound of tourism as other countries who have already lifted their restrictions have seen. 

But are we ready?

In 2019, tourism contributed $105 billion to the Canadian economy. Tourists from outside of Canada spent over $16 billion dollars.  Those numbers were down considerably in 2020 and it is only natural that many people in the industry suffered as a result of the effects of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions.

While some folks, fearful of the spread of variants, believe that the borders should never be re-opened, the reality is that to save our tourism industry and the economy, we need tourist traffic from outside of Canada as well as interprovincial travel. As Canadian and foreign tourists start their migration towards our tourist and nature attractions, there is some hesitancy about the readiness of the industry to manage the coming tsunami of people.

Hit harder than many sectors, the tourism industry has been affected by the pandemic in ways that other industries haven’t. The closure of attractions, fairs, tour bus companies, sporting events, concerts and community events with any semblance of a large group has forced workers in this industry to look for jobs elsewhere to survive. As a result of this migration of talent there will be many tourism related businesses that will have difficulty scaling up to meet demand.  According to Statistics Canada, 32 per cent of accommodation and food service companies expect that attracting workers is going to be an obstacle for them this year.

Even if you have some warm bodies to fill your positions, having well-trained staff will remain a problem for many tourism and food service companies. Most business leaders in the industry understand the result of having improperly trained staff working in positions serving the public. The consequences of poor customer service can be long lasting and devastating. Unfortunately, as a result of the constant opening up and shutting down scenarios that have been seen in the economy over the past 18 months, most operators have been reluctant to increase the staffing levels that will be necessary to meet demand. The consequences will be that there will be no other option but to have staff that are not fully trained or optimally equipped to take care of the flood of vacationers.

In order to adjust to the coming demand, tourism-related businesses will need to be prepared to hire and train new employees to promote and deliver their services. This should include systematization of training, hiring and onboarding processes to enable companies to get up to speed quickly when the demand starts.  

While tourism deserves to have their days in the sun and profit from increased business, we need to recognize as Canadians that it takes a country to host visitors and we need to encourage and support those people in the industry who have been hit so hard.

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Travel & Escape

COVID-19: Tourism bookings start increasing as B.C. opens up

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Tourism in B.C. is restarting but don’t expect it to be the same as it was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

While B.C. Ferries is welcoming recreational travellers and relaxing its mask requirement at terminals, face coverings will still be mandatory on board whenever you’re not in your vehicle.

Several Indigenous tourism businesses and locations that were closed to visitors are planning to reopen July 1.

Other tourism businesses are welcoming back visitors but won’t be in a position to handle big volumes because of a lack of staff, said Anthony Everett, president and CEO of Tourism Vancouver Island.

“Everyone needs to travel with a great deal of patience,” Everett said from Nanaimo. “Most businesses are running at a fraction of capacity of what they did prior to COVID.”

Many tourism sector workers have left the industry and found work elsewhere, Everett said. Particularly hard hit are restaurants that can’t find kitchen workers and companies doing tourism-related activities such as kayaking.

He said the benefits of tourism won’t be evenly distributed.

Last year, Victoria struggled all summer long and while bookings for accommodation have increased, some of the city’s restaurants are only open for lunch, others only for dinner.

“This is all going to take time to build up,” Everett said.

“Frankly, I think it will take years. This summer, bookings are going up, that’s what we’re been waiting for. It’s not going to be the exact same experience you were used to prior to the pandemic. I hope people remember and recognize that.”

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Travel & Escape

Mountain biking the Sea to Sky Trail

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With the 700-metre granite dome of the Stawamus Chief as a backdrop, my friend, Ken, and I climbed on our bikes in Squamish and began pedalling north. Our destination was Whistler, an uphill trek of some 80km that we hoped to cover in two days.

It would be easier to ride the opposite way—from Whistler to Squamish—because it’s downhill. But it wouldn’t be the Sea to Sky Trail if we rode that way. Besides, how hard could an elevation gain of more than 600 meters be?

I have driven the Sea to Sky Highway to Whistler many times. It’s arguably one of the best drives in Canada, but when I learned about the Sea to Sky Trail, I knew I needed to experience it on a bike. It’s a slower pace, and largely away from the highway, so it would allow us to appreciate the journey—the valleys, river gorges, lakes, and forests—in a way you can’t in a car.

While the Indigenous peoples of the Coast Salish and Interior Salish have used this corridor as a historic travel and trade route, the idea of a multi-purpose Sea to Sky Trail was first imagined in the early 1990s. But given the geographical and funding challenges, it’s only been in the last decade or so that the vision of the 180km trail from Squamish to D’Arcy, north of Pemberton, has been realized.

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