Listed as one of the ‘new’ seven wonders of the World, I had been looking forward to experiencing Jordan for quite some time now and when the UAE announced the long weekend just days before, I was all over taking advantage to get away.
We arrived into Amman airport and drove straight to our hotel in downtown Amman, about 45 minutes. Pulling up to the hotel entrance, I quickly learned the security was taken fairly seriously. Stopping in front of five large pillars, the security came out with a large pole similar to a metal detector and circled our vehicle scanning the under body. Once clear, they confirmed our reservation at the hotel and we proceeded to the hotel entrance. By the time we had checked in, it was 4:30am and we were ready to hit the sack like a pile of bricks.
The morning came early, but we woke up with the sense of being on vacation and ready to explore a new country. A quick walk through the Jebal Amman on a particular street called ‘rainbow’ entertained us with locals walking about heading into the mosque for the call to prayer. The shops were beginning to open around 2pm and tourists alike began to fill up the souk and neighboring shops. There wasn’t much to explore in the capital city amongst the concrete buildings, some half complete, some a little worse for wear highlighting this wasn’t a wealthy part of town, but certainly offered a glimpse into the daily lives of the Jordanian city folk. It was time to get on the road for our 3 hour stretch to the town of Petra but not before my travel companion wanted to get a haircut and chat it up with some of the locals. We both agreed he wouldn’t shampoo his hair after we noticed one of the hairdressers washing his feet in the same sink you would your hair.
Passing the desert rolling hills, rugged landscape, I was reminded of a rougher Italian hillside combined with the middle eastern ambiance and knew there must be wine close by.. but hallas I had to drive. Occasionally, we would pass check points to which one guard stepped into the middle of the highway to yield our vehicle over. Quickly, the memory of my time in Beirut getting pulled aside for attempting a picture of a local church heightened my nerves however, with a short glance at the two passengers inside as we drove by at 5km/hour, we were waived off to continue our journey. Driving up the steep hillside, twisting and turning until we reached our resting point, the Marriott Petra, we were able to take in the sunset over the mountainous landscape off into the far west and enjoyed breathing clean fresh air again.
Originally, when I was looking at accommodation, I was looking at experiencing a Bedouin camp-style accommodation which was slightly rejected by my travel mate and thankfully I showed no resistance as let’s face it… I like comfy beds, air conditioning, hotel service and access to a minibar. As a compromise, we dined on a Cliffside in a traditional Jordanian tent where our meal was prepared underground for 1 and a half hours. Chicken, Lamb, potato and rice filled the air with a savory and welcoming aroma to satisfy our appetite and of course complimented my new palate for Jordanian Chardonnay-local wine! I knew it. Meeting up with a couple of travelers from Australia, we conversed on local customs, global politics and explored each others careers back home to the sounds of a local guitarist serenading us with Arabic songs which were unusually quite pleasant to my ear and made for a lovely evening with nothing in the background but the sounds of tourists listening to the football in the distance.
As the night fall deeper, the stars appeared brighter and after a bit of the days reflection upon me, it was time for some shut-eye for a very busy day exploring the ‘new’ seventh wonder of the World. At a very leisurely pace, we grabbed our breakfast and ventured to the gate of Petra. 50 Dinars got us in and we opted to explore the excitement on our own with an area map, two cold large bottles of water which quickly turned hot, our cameras and heaps of sunscreen. Often, tourists are offered to take the trek on a donkey or horse or carriage. Funny enough, you go just as slow, if not slower as the guide walks alongside the donkey. We figured, we could get some exercise in and walk the trek ourselves.
The walk was lengthy In the boiling desert until the rock formations greeted us with towering heights of rock formations affected by centuries of erosion leaving colourful patterns and also created a little bit of shade amongst the stunning scenery. The echoes of trotting horses, locals yelling in Arabic like they were scrambling to organize tourists and each other in the day-to-day operations still made you feel like you were one of few tourists visiting the sites today. We neared the ‘Treasury’, through the creeks of the towering rocks with an awe-inspiring expression. Truly remarkable that two thousand years ago, this structure was created, carved from the rock side and massively impressive to date. I need to re-watch Indiana Jones to remember the scenery where it was filmed here in Petra. Impressive enough to take a seat and marvel in the structure, eye the tourists taking photos and locals trying to make a buck on selling camel and donkey rides, artisan gifts and bottles of water to stay cool in the little bits of shade. Apparently, this is where most tourists stop. Some continue on through the trails and fewer make the journey up the 900 steps to the Monestary making the experience one-of-a-kind with the lack of crowds.
We continued on through the trail and as the heat began to creep up we found ourselves enjoying a mint-lemon juice inside a shop – one of many along the trails – with a sign outside that said ‘Today only, water is 1 dinar’. Well, good thing we were only going to be here for one day and didn’t have to worry about the cost tomorrow. Before I could ask, our host delivered the cold sour beverages with a side of sugar and informed us he used bottled water to make the drink… I never got sick, so that’s a good sign. Cooled by only a couple large fans wasn’t enough to take any longer of a break, so we continued on to what would be the hardest part of the journey… 900 steps up to the Monastery that inspired and fine-tuned the Treasury we had just seen. Reminding me of visiting Cambodia, bombarded with the children holding out all kinds of arts and crafts and other tourist trinkets, pleading ‘You buy from me, you buy from me… okay, later, later you come back and buy from me… my name is _________”, entertained our entire journey up the steps, sweating buckets of water leaving us too breathless to respond. Okay, really, it wasn’t that bad. But damn, it was hot.
The great thing about making the trek up to the Monastery is that most tourists feel content having seen the Treasury and don’t feel inclined to make the hike up the steps to the ‘Top of the World’ as the Bedouins call it. However, we did, and much to tips we received, maybe 20 people mingled around the sites ‘On Top of the World’ to the 360 degree view of mountainous peaks, Bedouin tents overlooking some of the most stunning scenery in the region and of course… ahhhhh… the Monastery. Taking pictures was unlike any other tourist attraction I have ever experienced in the sense you could actually photograph with no one in sight of the structure. Climbing up further to view the Monastery from even higher, we were greeted with locals chilling in a tent serving tea and playing music to help ring in the sense of achievement and an awe-inspiring view. It was time to make our trek back as we had an even longer journey onto the Dead Sea once we endured the intensifying heat and humidity hiking back out of Petra.
Now, I think that many people in the World know of Petra and the Dead Sea, which would make me think that hundreds of thousands of people explore the area year after year, but let me tell you – the road from Petra to the Dead Sea left us thinking we were heading the wrong way, every ten minutes. A single lane road, up and down with sharp turns tested your stability of the speed limit and control of the wheel. Greeted by children waving ‘hello’ as we passed from village to village – that or more bratty children who would whip rocks at your vehicle as you passed by, all made for a unique welcome. Passing more and more villages, the altitude kept increasing and suddenly we felt on top of the World again driving cliff side with some of the most beautiful landscapes on a road trip I have ever seen.
The sun was beginning to set and I could tell my travel companion and his lack in faith in my sense of direction was beginning to worry him with each drop of the sun into the Israeli mountains. Our two and a half hour journey brought us from the highest of Jordan’s mountain peaks to 423 meters below sea level coasting along the world-famous Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth. Its printed…so it has to be true.
Our final evening in the Dead Sea certainly brought a sense of relaxation as this area seemed to have a little bit more experience in the ‘resort’ style accommodation. As we checked in, our goal was to hit the pool straight away however it had closed at 8pm so we had to get creative and use the spa facilities for that little bit of much-needed unwinding before feasting on dinner. Life’s rough, I know. I had more Jordanian wine… the Vognier this time and quite enjoyed it.
Our final morning, we loathed our bodies up in mud (as one does), and sent ourselves floating into the dead sea. Getting used to the fact you don’t need to tread water to stay afloat took a little time, but the sense of relaxing came quite quickly, rolling around in the water and finding it hard not to float. Impossible really. After much fun with the mud painting, we later learned that leaving the mud on for extended periods of time could cause irritation which conflicted with what the books told us in that it has been known to have healing powers.
Some entertained cameras by reading books lying in the water, while I turned on my entrepreneurial hat and thought I should open a bar on the dead sea and send drinks on trays out to floating guests. Instead I opted to order a gawjus drink from bar tender at our sea-side loungers under an umbrella to block my already-sun-burning skin after getting the most intense pain in my eye from the salt water, so bad I couldn’t even peak to direct myself to the fresh water shower to clean them out… I must have looked like the walking dead…ha! From the dead sea… funny. And just in case anyone is still wondering (travel companion)… nothing lives in the …dead sea. Needless to say, ordering fresh fish from the menu at last night’s dinner, didn’t seem so appealing.
A beautiful finish to a three-day snap shot of Jordan and we were on our way back to the Amman Airport, which to our surprise gave us an insight into some very unusual airport experience. Clearly, Amman is building a nice new airport and the planners want you to see the development so have conveniently designed a roadway that leads onto the current tarmac around airplanes and under parts of the new airport, sided with metal walls and barbed wire fencing with the occasional guards atop raised platform. From the check point at the entrance to the airport area to the place we dropped off our car rental took one hour. We inched our way towards the terminal, sensitive to not hit or let anyone hit our vehicle which was nerve-wrecking given I could have reached over through the window and grabbed the bottle of water in the centre console of the car next to me. But something else seemed even more peculiar. The traffic was intense and creeping slowly, weaving in and out of the unmarked lanes, locals were hanging outside the windows of their vehicles sitting on the door window base hollering in a friendly and ‘cool’ manner to anyone that would respond. Soon the Jordanian flags came out and a super cool driver opened his truck door and demonstrated to the rest of us how talented he was driving his truck with half of his body on the inside and the other half hanging out.
Passing by a check point tower, this behavior was encouraged by the two guards in military attire puffing on a cigarette. We neared the terminal and the sounds of drums, horns, chanting, dancing and singing greeted us. Thankfully we weren’t late as this would have made for a very unpleasant experience. Locating the rental car company was one thing, weaving through the entrance to the terminal was another. We asked, ‘what is going on here’… to which a very proud local man responded, ‘it’s a graduation, the graduates are coming in from Chicago’. Asking back, loud enough to be heard over the noise and chants being bumped left right and centre from the masses, ‘How many have graduated?’… to which he replied, ‘Seven!’. Seven graduates caused a crowded airport, a mini festival in the arrivals and departures roundabout and delayed traffic inviting anyone and everyone into the airport area to cheer on the entertainment. Imagine if someone famous came in, you may as well hire that donkey, you may get to your destination faster.