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Wandering the World

Stories and tips from around the world.


Trip Planning

I’ve done two of the Impact Marathons projects so far. The first was in Nepal, and the second in Malawi; both of which were firsts. I’d wanted to make the third one Guatemala, but had not yet been able to make it as it tends to be around the time of the Manchester Marathon. When they said they were announcing somewhere new I felt I had to try my best to make it fit into my schedule for 2020 - as long as it was somewhere I’d not been before.

When they announced it would be Jordan I was incredibly excited. I’d wanted to visit Petra for some time, possibly since the first time I saw Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade; this would be my excuse to finally see it. So, the one place in Jordan I was hoping to see the most, was Al Khazneh: The Treasury.

Originally I thought one day visiting Jordan would be a bolt-on to a return trip to Egypt; but this marathon would give me more time, and a very different experience to what I’d planned. This would be a few days in a Bedouin camp around the Wadi Rum desert area: about half-way between both the Israeli, and Saudi Arabian borders. When the entries opened, I was sitting in a coffee shop in Amsterdam with my phone battery running low. This didn’t stop me - I was as quick as I could be to get my entry in as I didn’t want to miss out.

Impact Marathons, founded by Nick Kershaw, is a company that took a look at the UN’s global goals from 2015, and decided they could do something about it with the running community. When I joined them in Nepal we cleaned a large area of litter, and then went up into the mountains to dig trenches to lay pipes that would bring water to a small community all year round. In Malawi it was no less ambitious, with us fitting new litter bins in a few villages, making energy efficient ovens, planting fruit-producing trees, and building a new school. We even put on a sports day for them whilst there, the day before we ran a marathon ourselves.

In Jordan they’d be working with a non-profit organisation called ‘Greening the Camps’. This grassroots organisation works with Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan, such as Jerash Camp (known locally as Gaza Camp) which is near to the Syrian border, where 50% of the people there are living below the poverty line. There are no green spaces there for them to grow their own food, so this organisation is creating sustainable solutions to this problem to allow them to grow their own food in the second most water scarce country on earth. Of course, I’d be running a marathon there too.

What do you do to prepare for a marathon, and at least a week in a desert country? For some of it, I felt the trips to Malawi and to Egypt would be good preparation. I’d had the experience of tourism and running in very warm, dry temperatures at least. I was already planning on a marathon build-up for April, so after that I’d just need to keep it going past the ultra marathon in May as well. Perhaps to prepare for the heat I could try wearing a few extra layers in later training runs as well.

One of my colleagues at the time, who has since sadly died, had experienced that sort of heat when in the army, and had also done the infamous ‘fan dance’ in the Brecon Beacons of Wales. So it was clear he had a good idea of what tough conditions can be like, and recommended running in as much hot weather as I could, and to layer up to make it feel warmer. It was positive that his thoughts on this, however unsolicited, lined up with what I’d thought.

The next two things to spring to mind were visas and vaccinations. I started off with investigating visa requirements as they can be the most tiresome to arrange, but found the UK Government’s advice on this was that visas can be obtained on arrival. They even recommend combining the cost with some of the most popular tourist attractions using the ‘Jordan Pass’. Perfect!

So moving on to vaccinations, the only point of any note is regarding yellow fever certificates. In the first bullet point it says that a certificate is required; but later points about it suggest that it’s only a requirement if you’re coming from a country where it’s a risk. The certificate for this is supposed to be good for life, so regardless, as long as I took mine with me I should be okay.

For the flights this was a little trickier - I couldn’t book these without more information. It was expected these would be known in December or January, but both months came and went without information being available. In fact, not even details for fundraising were available at this time which meant the available time for sponsorship was getting shorter and shorter, and I’m not very good at that side of it anyway. At the end of February 2020 I still didn’t know what was happening so had to withdraw my name from the New York Marathon ballot just in case I wasn’t going to have enough annual leave for that too. All I knew at this point was that I needed to arrive no later than 18:00 on the first day.

With no idea how much longer I’d need to wait for details, I decided I should look at local tour operators for what trips are available. Perhaps I could get some tourism done before the trip started instead. After the Impact week I’d only have a few days, or would need to forsake the annual drive to Reading to camp for running Endure24. I decided the best thing to do was to come up with a list of sights I wanted to see, and then find out what was available.

For someone interested in ancient history, Jordan has a wealth of sights. Amman for example has been around so long that it’s been known by quite a few names across history. 'Ain Ghazal is a neolithic site where some of the oldest statues have been discovered, dating back to 7,250 BCE. It was later known as Rabbath Ammon, the biblical home of the Ammonites. The citadel atop the plateau in Amman is the part of the royal city that the general Joab, under orders from the Israelite King David, conquered in 1010 BCE.

‘Rabbath’, an older spelling of the Hebrew word ‘rabbah’, means in this instance ‘capital’. This brings with it the realisation that Rabat, the capital of Morocco, is literally named ‘capital’. Here, the translation for the original name for this city was the ‘Capital of the sons of Ammon’. Over time this name got shorter, and evolved until it reached its present form of Amman. What this meant to me was that it seemed likely that there’d be a lot of history to see.

So, my new plan was to fly in towards the end of the week and then have a tour that would cover Mount Nebo, Madaba, and other sights before returning me to Amman for the start of the Impact week. Due to flights I’d have a whole day at the start of the trip to explore Amman, which was perfect. It was possible I could potentially extend the trip further to include a day trip to Jerusalem and Bethlehem if I felt them worthwhile. It’d turn the trip from a single country to being a multi-country trip taking in both Israel and West Bank, or rather, the occupied Palestinian territory.

The Best Laid Plans…

Very quickly, everything went wrong. Around Christmas 2019, the news had mentioned an outbreak of a new coronavirus virus in Wuhan that by the end of the year had spread beyond China and was starting to spread elsewhere. Just like we’d seen with SARS, it was likely there’d be a disruption in travel. The assumption was it’d be nothing serious, but it was in fact far worse, and the outbreak lasted much longer. This virus, now named COVID-19, had become a pandemic that was causing a complete shutdown in countries, and by March was affecting events in the UK. Whilst these cancellations were rampant, the postponement of Jordan until 2021 was announced.

In some ways I was lucky though - I’d not yet booked my flights due to login issues; and of the tours that couldn’t be cancelled, they were okay postponing it until 2021 without a loss of money. However, at the start of 2021, the pandemic didn’t seem to be going anywhere. The trip was unfortunately postponed again until 11th October 2021. As we’d not heard anything by August it seemed it was going ahead, and so I booked my flights - much later than I normally would. Only a few days later we received an email to say that they would be delaying the trip to a provisional date in September 2022. It’d be another year before we’d get to experience this.

We were supposed to get confirmation of this by October 2021, but had heard nothing. Since then I’d travelled around Germany, Cyprus, and to Guernsey, but after the last delay I still wanted to be sure it was happening as planned.

It got to May 2022 and I emailed Impact Marathons to confirm September was going ahead, and about eight days later an email went out to everyone to say that in September 2021 they’d found the temperatures too much for the marathon so were delaying it now until November 2022. They’d known about the temperature for eight months, but had taken all this time to tell us. Though they still said they’d confirm the exact itinerary start and finish times ‘shortly’. After a third of the time between then and impact week had already passed, there was still no further information. By the middle of August they did at least confirm the dates were now locked in place.

It was frustrating for someone like me who likes to plan in advance. I can understand the challenges they must be facing, but communication is important, and they were in radio silence on this for many months at a time. However, there was likely a good reason for this - uncertainty of what was possible, and what was not could have meant that although they knew somethings ahead of time, it may not have been communicable without more certainty. I certainly wouldn't hold it against them; they're good people going through challenging times, and who knew what they were facing. In fact, I felt sorry for them. It was very fortunate the non-refundable tour I’d booked was understanding too, and allowed me to move this tour one last time. It made the trip more expensive every time I moved it though. I just had to trust that just as it had been for Nepal and Malawi, things would go to plan here too.

It wasn’t until 25 days before the start of impact week, and 21 before I’d be flying out that we got details of what would be needed for the trip, along with a note saying that it’s now time to book flights. I would expect most people already had! With only three weeks left, they were also recommending checking what travel vaccinations you need four to six weeks before travel. I really hope most people were sensible to check by themselves without the late prompt to do so.

I’d rebooked my flights in August 2022; I’d had to call Expedia as that is the only way to use your flight credits. It’s a shame I’d got £90 worth for FlyBe I could never use, but my British Airways credit would go towards the tickets that were now £201 more expensive than those I’d booked before. Although the flight numbers hadn’t changed, the times of the flight had, and I’d now be getting into Amman before midnight, and would potentially get an extra couple of hours sleep before some tourism. So maybe I was paying several hundred pounds more than originally planned between the various parts of the trip, but at least I’d get more sleep.

Paying for the increased tour cost wasn’t straightforward though, as although my cards worked on every other site whilst booking trips for my Italian adventure, TourRadar wouldn’t accept either card and said to contact my bank. I contacted TourRadar instead, and it magically worked.

As I noticed that TourRadar no longer does the tour I’m on, I was a little concerned that it might not happen when I arrive in the country. I thought they might contact me with information for joining the tour too, but heard nothing. Eventually with just sixteen days to go I contacted them to find out more information, and was told they’d contact me via WhatsApp.

“Hello dear.”

That was a confusing message to receive. I could see their logo, but I wanted them to explain themselves, so I replied back simply with, “?”. They then introduced themselves, and requested the flight details, and then moved on to confirming the additional nights were correct. The message they’d originally sent me with the itinerary had included a November 31st which didn’t exist, and I’d not spotted they’d done this, and it had caused confusion for them. I also found that they finish each message with either ‘dear’ or ‘sir’ as a way of sounding polite. I did wonder though if they’d have contacted me if I hadn’t contacted them first.

What to Pack?

The first question is: suitcase or a big backpack? In my mind, it’d be easier to use a backpack as I had with Morocco, and Malawi as I’d be moving around a lot, and wouldn’t always have the best surfaces for carrying a suitcase over. I just needed to make sure everything I’d need would fit.

I had planned to take several of my old pairs of running shoes with me to donate, but during the pandemic I had unfortunately used most of them myself. I’d still take one old pair with me though to use myself for training and for the marathon - I was very aware that they may get destroyed in the sand.

I would also take running clothes for training in, and different ones for racing in. This race did actually have a mandatory kit list:

  • Emergency blanket,
  • a camelbak or hydration vest capable of carrying at least 1 litre, and
  • a whistle.

My race fuel is usually jelly babies, but I do find in the later miles it’s a real challenge to force myself to continue eating them. A good friend uses Tailwind, and it's worked well for them when doing the Guernsey Ultra 36, so I thought this could be the alternative to try. It would be risky though as I'd not been able to use it on a proper long run, and had hoped to try it when doing the Battersea Park Half Marathon, but hadn't managed to. The golden rule of marathons is to never try anything new on the day, but I was still considering it.

I’d also need a water bottle to use during the day, and I had two choices: one which would keep the water cool throughout the day, or one that would filter out any nasties. The safer option is usually the best choice, so I used my 75cl Water-to-Go bottle that has served me well in Nepal, Morocco, and Malawi previously. I also packed plenty of snacks, because with a marathon it’s just common sense.

Photography would obviously be a big part of this trip, and for my last few trips overseas I’ve taken just the one camera body, and one or two lenses. The question for this is always: would my 150-500mm be useful on this trip? I had to think about the circumstances I would use it for, and not expecting to see much in the way of wildlife, I thought the best decision would be to leave that lens at home and use just one camera body. Having my 50mm lens on me might however be good for nighttime photography should the opportunity arise. It’s a small lens, so I wouldn’t have to worry too much about space or weight.

To reduce the amount of space further I also decided to leave my tripod behind. I’d not used it in Italy, Guernsey, or Cyprus, and I felt the chances of needing it in Jordan were slim. Would I regret that decision later? Hopefully not.

What was a difficult decision though was whether to take my laptop, or my iPad. I wanted one of them with me for keeping a journal, and perhaps sorting through my photographs in the evenings. For previous Impact events it’s been my iPad as it’d hold a charge longer, but it’s not so good for writing on. In the end, I decided this with a solar powered battery pack, and a compact bluetooth keyboard would be the best decision.

With the Jordanian Dinars ordered from Sainsburys as well, it was now just a matter of time.

Tags: jordan planning travel trips

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© David G. Paul