Jordan

Written by on October 6, 2012 in General, Middle East & Gulf States with 1 Comment

I arrived in Amman, got my visa and made the bus-taxi transfer to my hostel without any issues.  My hostel was nothing to write home about, but it was only 7JD/night for a bed on the female dorm, or about $10.  There was only one other Japanese girl in the dorm, so it was more like having a twin room.  Wifi didn’t work (of course), so I headed down to the lobby/common area to connect and see if I could meet any other travelers looking to join up for tours.  I’d read, and confirmed on my week here, that although Jordan’s tourist sites are well-developed, transportation between them is not…except maybe for package tours with large groups. But, if you can team up in groups of 3 or 4, there are many willing taxi drivers to spend the day with you for 70-100JD, or about 20-25JD/pp.  Anyway, when wifi didn’t work, I hiked up to the top of a ridge and found a cute cafe that overlooked Amman.  Not the prettiest city, as you can see, but bigger than I’d thought it’d be.

When I got back to the hostel, Hani, the manager, asked if I wanted to grab a drink.  I’d heard that there aren’t many bars in Jordan as its 93% Muslim, and had actually thought about seeing if I could get through one country without a drink (yeah, right!), but quickly changed my mind and joined him at a friendly place called Amigos, attached to the Granada Hotel.  It was nice to meet someone so American-friendly, especially with everything going on in the region, and also nice when he reassured me that Jordan was a safe place right now.  Hani helped put together my tour for the next day.

I was picked up bright and early and then we swung by the Days Inn to pick up Cameron and Dash, a Canadian father-son duo travelling around the world for the year together who I’d met the day before. It was quite a long and uninteresting 2.5 hour drive to Um Qais, at the far Northern border of Jordan, which looked across to the Golans in Syria and the Sea of Gallillee in Israel.  It was HOT and the ruins were unspectacular. Next! I think the drive to Aljoun to see the castle took over an hour. Also unspectacular. But, I was having some good bonding time with Dash, so it was still fun.

I think I’ve had enough of these types of trips where we cram in a bunch of so-so sights.  Luckily, our driver had saved the Roman city of Jerash for last.  Jerash was really impressive…almost as good as Baalbeck in Lebanon, and Ephesus in Turkey.

You could really imagine what the city must have looked like back in the day.  Jerash rose to prominence during the time of Alexander the Great, in the 3rd century BC, and was one of the cities of the Roman Decapolis, ten Roman city states that bordered the Roman Empire.  Jerash is a huge archaeological site, and apparently only 10% has been excavated.  Near the entrance was a large hippodrome, where I was a little bummed that we had just missed a re-enactment of a chariot race (cheesy as that may sound).  The site also had a large theater with a capacity of over 5,000 people, where some Bedouins were playing some instruments and posing for pictures with some tourists.

There were a couple tour groups that had just arrived, so I walked fast to get out in front of them so they didn’t pollute all my pictures.  I had several tour guides ask if I wanted help, which I declined, but one guy who was maybe 20 kept pointing out interesting spots and facts even though I told him I had no money to pay him.  He stuck with me, though, and ended up being my photographer.  I did not expect him to propose 20 minutes later, and seriously can’t believe guys are still using the line “How many camels?”  Hilarious!  I could only laugh and let him down easy.  He was cute though 🙂

I still rank Baalbeck higher, and then Ephesus in Turkey, but Jerash was a close third in terms of how impressive it was.  Someday I’ll have to go to Palmyra in Syria, although even if there wasn’t a war going on, I’ve had enough ruins in the last 3 weeks to last another decade or so!

I ran into Cameron and Dash near the entrance as well as our driver and headed back to Amman.  Hani (from the hostel) and I headed out for drinks and he introduced me to his American friend Jennifer, who had travelled to Amman years ago and never went home.  I stayed for a few beers, but was pretty wiped out, and also bummed that no one from the hostel had signed up for the Kings Highway tour to Petra that I was hoping to join forces with.  Cameron had invited me to their hotel to swim the next day, so at least I had a back-up plan, and I’d made a plan with Hani and Jennifer to go see Batman the next night, so at least my time was filling up with fun stuff (as Amman as a city wasn’t that interesting to me).

I slept in the next day, which was REALLY nice!  Then I made my way over to the pool at the Days Inn, about a 15 minute taxi ride away and in a completely different, sub-urban area of Amman.  A lazy day by the pool and going to a movie was a nice time-out from being a non-stop tourist.  Some days it’s just nice to relax.

Amman…and sadly everywhere I went in Jordan…was really empty of tourists.  Hani says tourism is down 60%, mainly due to the unrest in Syria.  The next day there was still no one around to head down to Petra with, so I decided to go to the Dead Sea.  Most travelers head to a place called Amman Beach, but I felt like a little splurge and headed to the 5* Movenpick Hotel.  For 30JD, I was able to hang out all day at the beautiful hotel and take advantage of their private beach on the Dead Sea.  Taking a dip in the Dead Sea was strange.  Sitting at 377 meters below sea level, the Dead Sea’s salinization level is 33%, which enables anyone to be extremely buoyant.  You don’t even need to know how to swim as it’s impossible not to float.

To add to the experience, you’re supposed to slather mud all over you, let it dry, and then go back in the water.

Similar to mud baths I’ve had before, once you come out of the water, your skin is silky smooth.  But, the salty water made me well-aware of all cuts and scratches I didn’t even know I had as they stung like hell!  I met a cool Iraqi-American to share a few beers with at the pool and we stayed for the gorgeous sunset before heading back to Amman.

Upon arrival at the hostel, I met Toni and Nerea, a Spanish couple from Valencia who were looking to go to Petra the next day.  Finally!  It actually worked out great that I had to wait a couple days as I was happy to have had a couple of chill days.  We agreed to meet the next morning, bright and early, and were on our way.

There are a couple ways to get to Petra.  The first is via the Desert Highway, which is a multi-lane road that takes about 3 hours.  Or, you can go via the Kings Highway, which is the most picturesque route, connecting several sights along the way to make for a long, but more interesting day.    We stopped off in Madaba to see a famous (but unimpressive, in my opinion) mosaic in St. George’s church; at Mt Nebo, where Moses supposedly saw the Promised Land (and later died), where there was a sign that pointed to all the important places in the region;

at a few good picture spots on the canyon rim to look across Wadi Mujib, aka the “Grand Canyon of Jordan”; at the 12th Century Crusader castles Karak and Shobak; and at the entrance to the Dana Nature Reserve.  If it sounds like a lot for one day, it was.  And none of it was all that exciting, except I really liked Dana, a cute little 15th century stone village on top of a cliff with awesome views overlooking the valley below.

We stopped for tea here and I definitely would have tried to stay the night there had I known and planned a bit better as it looked there was some amazing hiking in the area and we got a really nice vibe from the place.   But, I also REALLY wanted to get to Petra, and was really enjoying hanging out with my new friends.

Toni is an orthopaedic surgeon and Nerea is an anesthesiologist back in Valencia, and they were on a 2 week holiday to Jordan who’d left their 2 and 4 yr olds with their grandparents.  Toni’s English was good, Nerea’s was not, but it was great as I was able to practice my Spanish and she could practice her English, with Toni playing the translator for both of us if either got stuck on how to say something correctly.  They were both my age, and so kind and easy-going…we got along great.  I was so glad to meet them as in my head, I wanted my Petra experience to be special…but I also didn’t want to spend the day by myself.  We arrived in Wadi Masu, the little town where the entrance to Petra is, around sundown and I had found what I considered a bargain 4* hotel with a pool for the same price as a hostel that everyone I’d met who’d been to Jordan had recommended.  Toni and Nerea were intrigued, and ditched their reservation at their hotel after we were able to haggle with the front desk and secured them a double room for the same price as mine (30JD).  We made a plan to meet the following morning bright and early so we could catch the sunrise at Petra and said goodnight as they weren’t interested in joining me for Petra by Night.

Petra was recently named one of the Seven (man made) Wonders of the World.  Apparently there was a vote in 2007, so there are now seven “official” wonders.  The other 6: Great Wall of China, Taj Mahal, Chichen Itza, Macchu Picchu, the Colosseum and Christ the Redeemer.  I’m surprised the pyramids didn’t make the cut.  Not sure what the 7 natural wonders are.  Anyway, I figured since I’ve come all this way to see Petra, I’m going to see it by day, by night, at sunrise, and every way I can see it!  There is a steep 50JD entrance, which comes out to about $80.  So, 12JD for Petra by Night sounded like a bargain!  They basically light the trail down through the “Siq” with candles in paper bags every 10 feet or so, and after the 1.3k walk you arrive at the Treasury, which has a few hundred paper lanters in front of it.  Really cool!  They try to keep everyone quiet and they have blankets laid out for everyone to sit down on.  When everyone is finally seated, a Bedouin guy came out and played some Arabic classical music.  It was kind of cheesy but also pretty awesome.  If only my night settings on my camera worked in such low light…I think I tried about 100 pictures and every possible setting on my camera and this is the best one to come out…but still blurry.

Cool experience, which got me even more psyched for the next day’s early morning start.

Both alarms went off bright and early, and Toni, Nerea and I were in a taxi by 6.  We were the first ones in line for tickets and they opened the gates early for us to go in.  Walking through the Siq, which feels kind of like a canyon but is actually a rock landmass that has been torn apart by tectonic forces in the dawn light was surreal, but that first glance of the Treasury with a couple camels hanging in front of it was simply awesome.

How the Nabataeans constructed this spectacular sandstone city back in the 3rd century BC is beyond me.  But, it is easy to picture caravans coming through, courtesy of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which I really need to download and re-watch.

We made the right move in coming early as we had the whole place to ourselves, except for the dozens of guys trying to sell us donkey or camel rides.  We made our way up to the High Place of Sacrifice, stopping for a ton of pictures along the way.

Time flew by.   I think it was 10 or so before we came down past the Treasury again, and the tour buses had definitely started arriving.  So, we decided to head straight up to the Monastery and come back to see the rest in the afternoon.

You need to go up a windy path up 850 stairs cut straight into the rock.  Nerea is not a hiker, so we all decided it’d be fun to take a donkey.  We haggled hard for 3 donkeys and up we went.  It was really fun and frickin’ hiliarious bouncing up the mountain.

My last donkey ride was at Luxor and the Valley of the Kings 11 years ago, and this one was just as fun if not more so.  I was actually up for the climb, but as the temperature was soaring close to 100 degrees, I think we made the right decision.  It was well worth the climb, and we continued further up to a couple viewpoints overlooking a valley called Wadi Siyagh for more pictures.  The view from pretty much anywhere in Petra is spectacular.

But, the heat was taking its toll on me.  Well, I’m not sure if it was the heat, or the donkey ride, or something I’d eaten, but my stomach started feeling really uneasy.  I think I made it about an hour before finally succumbing to it, and luckily had found a bathroom just in time before I puked up everything I’d eaten and the 3 liters of water I’d drunk already that day!   I felt much better afterwards, and started drinking water again to make sure to stay hydrated.  Unfortunately about an hour later as we were climbing all over the Royal Tombs and without a bathroom in site, the liter of water I’d drunk since came right back up again.  OMG!   I puked at Petra not once, but twice!   Again, I felt better, but decided I’d had enough and luckily Toni and Nerea were done too.  We finally got back to the hotel around 6, feeling like we’d really seen Petra.

I still felt really uneasy, but we walked over to the Cleopetra Hotel where we’d heard they organize tours down to Wadi Rum to see if we could join one for the day after or the day after that.  Sure enough, they had one going the next morning, and luckily for me, they gave me some cure-all herbal tea which worked its magic on my stomach and I was able to join the next day.  I was enjoying travelling with Toni and Nerea, so was glad we could stick together for our night in the desert under the stars with the Bedouins.

There were 7 in the group going from Cleopetra, and we all piled into taxis to transfer to the welcome center before changing into our 4×4 truck which proceeded to make about 7 stops throughout the day at different sites in the deserts of Wadi Rum.  The setting was breathtaking, and reminded me of a mixture of Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park and Monument Valley.  Vast expanse of almost red sand against gorgeous rock formations in varying shades of browns, reds and purples, depending on what time of day it was.  A few of the stops were to point out something from Lawrence of Arabia.  It was really hot, but it didn’t stop us from climbing up sand dunes, rocky slopes or natural rock bridges.

An awesome day!  I think we were all a little bummed when we got to our camp at 330p, which was a little early given there was nothing to do there except hang out drinking tea under a Bedouin tent that felt like it was a zillion degrees.  There was no escape from the heat, so we all sat around chatting (and sweating!) on the cushions on the floor.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not really a fan of sitting on the floor. It’s uncomfortable!  I need a back rest, or I’ll fidget every few minutes trying to get comfortable.  So, it was a long hot night of fidgeting for me.  Lol.  It was fun getting to know everyone in the group, and our Bedouin host, Whalid, was a crack up.  The guy must be a little stir crazy being out there all by himself having to host a group of travellers every night in his “home”.

We went to watch the sunset, which was stunning,

and then headed back to camp for dinner and everyone retired to their “rooms” early as their was only so much tea we could drink in one day (the Bedouins don’t drink alcohol and our camp was dry).  This is what the camp looks like.

I’ve been carrying around my e-reader this whole trip and finally had an early night and time to read when I realized it wasn’t charged.  Doh!  So, after some spectacular desert star-gazing, I was in bed by 1030…a first for the trip.

Early to bed and early to rise for a fantastic sunrise.

I love watching the colors on the mountains change as the sun lights them up.  Breakfast was at 7 and then we were shuttled back to get our big packs and met our taxi driver who took Toni, Nerea and our new Dutch friend Marco to Aqaba, a town all the way in the South of Jordan on the Red Sea.  After all this running around being a tourist, I was ready for some beach time and really excited to go scuba diving.

We checked into the Bedouin Garden Village, as recommended by our friend in Wadi Rum, which was a kooky little hotel across the street from the beach with a pool and a few funky seating areas to add to the chilled out vibe.

The room was basic, but I couldn’t ask for more for 18JD (about $25) for a single with a/c and ensuite bathroom.  I quickly checked in with the attached dive center and signed up for the 2p dive, where we went to “The Tank” and “Seven Sisters”.  The Tank was literally that.  Apparently the King of Jordan is a big scuba diver, so he’s had some interesting objects sunk to create a variety of dive sites, including a tank.  So, we took a couple laps around the tank and then across the sandy bottom to the last half of the dive, which was loaded with bright corals, including the bright yellow cabbage coral, 7 or 8 lion fish, a couple nudibranches, and a giant puffer fish.  Awesome!

Except something happened on the ascent and I was having problems with my ear.  I tried clearing it (by plugging my nose and blowing), but that made it worse.  The pain continued through the afternoon and was almost unbearable until I took about 1200mg of Ibuprofen and an anti-inflammatory.  I couldn’t believe it.  There’s no way I have an ear infection after one frickin dive!?!

I went to the hospital the next day, who confirmed I had an infection, and also low blood pressure, so they gave me an infusion of fluids, antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, and then washed my ear out.  Not how I wanted to be spending my day!!!

160JD later, the doc said to wait just a day and if the pain resides I could dive again.  So, I spent that day and the next relaxing by the pool, catching up on emails, and hanging out with Toni and Nerea, and a few other friends we made at the hotel.  It was easy to be lazy, although I was bummed about diving.  Two days later my ear felt better, so I went out to dive the Cedar Pride wreck, which was really cool.  The ear felt a bit better, but there was still a weird pressure looming between my ear and jaw.  Damn!

Decision time…switch gears and go to Israel and let the ear rest another couple weeks, or head to Dahab and hope it’s going to get better?  Well, it was going to be Yom Kippur the next day and I’d been told that not only is everything closed in Israel, but also that accommodation would be either fully booked, or double or triple the normal price.  I thought it’d be cool to spend the holidays in Israel, but not for such inflated prices.  So, I took the chance my ear would heal with the antibiotics, said goodbye to farewell to everyone and headed to the ferry to head to Egpyt.

 

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  1. TONI says:

    Being at home reading your posts. broguht so many great memories…it fells like many months ago and olnly one week since we came back home…..
    Remember to write everything down about Israel-probably next year small trip if Mr Romney and Mr. Ahmadineyad allow us-
    Thanks for your comments; I felt Jordan again reading you! And keep squeezing your awesome trip

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