The Finest of Jordanian Hospitality

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December 2nd 2011
Published: January 21st 2016
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Jordan Nov 28 - Dec 2, 2011, part one

Flew from Sharjah, UAE to Amman, Jordan and headed south to Petra.....Flight, Bus, bus, bus, hitch, hitch, hitch, hitch, hitch, hitch, hitch, bus to airport

I landed at the Amman airport mid morning under clear skies, sunshine and 8 degrees C (46 degrees F).

On the airport bus to the city I struck up a conversation with a businessman from South Africa who just so happened to be heading, as I, to the 7th Circle and staying in the center of town. This seemed the best and most central place for me to go to wile away the morning and afternoon before heading to my CouchSurfer’s house in the evening.

One we were dropped off we had to flag down a taxi (sharing the fare, thankfully). I had been told the price of what the taxi should be by the man at the Info Desk at the airport and after a few attempts to get a cab by overcharging drivers, a Palestinian taxi driver stopped and agreed on my offer. This man was funny, excitable, spoke in rapid English, was very helpful and kind and I decided right then and there I would use his services that night to get me across town to my CSers house. He was overjoyed about this news. Jamel kept telling us, “ don’t worry, don’t worry,” even though neither of us were worrying about anything at all. The South African guy had a reservation at a hostel and I thankfully was able to store my bag there for the day, before heading out to explore the city.

The Farah Hotel was welcoming, clean and tidy, cozy and once again, I went with my gut instinct: I told them there would be a good chance I would stay there the next week, the night before I flew out of the country, and thank you so much for being able to store my bags for the day. The nice man behind the reception desk told me tourism is down in Jordan this year because of all the fighting, unrest and conflict in Egypt, Syria and ongoing issues in Israel. What a pity.

I found a small local eatery on a side street and popped in for lunch. I was instructed to sit upstairs, for my “safety and comfort,” however this didn’t stop all the local men from watching me as I walked by to get to the back staircase. I was alone up there with only a fan to keep me company, which was a good thing as it was rather stifling in the attic. My filling meal cost about a buck.

After my lunch, while sauntering over to the amphitheater, a random guy stopped to chat with me on the sidewalk. “You Germany?” he asked me. I told him yes, I was from Germany. “Ooooooohhhh, I love to Germany,” he enthusiastically replied, beaming from ear to ear. We chatted a few minutes in the warm sunshine and he soon asked me, “Your husband?” “Sleeping…back at the guesthouse,” I lied. He didn’t seem to mind but seemed proud to be speaking with a foreigner, married or not.

He soon said, “You no stay hotel. Stay with me. I live Arid, not far, not far. You stay with me.” He was surprised I didn’t have a phone and set to writing down his number on a piece of paper, anyway. I of course didn’t commit to staying with him but thanked him nonetheless and took his number. “I love all Germany people,” he repeated, just before we parted ways. I couldn’t help but smile.

The Palestinian driver showed up right on time at the prearranged meeting place. “Good, good, 7:45. Jamel remember: 7:45. I no write down, I just look clock and remember you, Suzi. Ah, 7:45, yes, Suzi, Farah Hotel. 7:45. Don’t worry. Don’t worry. I good memory, no? Yes, I remember you, Suzi, you are good girl.” He was talkative and excited, once again, a trait he must process everyday of his life. Amman is lucky to have a man like this living there.

On the way to my CouchSurfer’s house that evening, the driver pointed out all the big landmarks in case I had to make my way down these roads again (and indeed the following morning I remembered the way, because of him). He really was a good man with a good heart and I was ever so grateful I had used him for a ride a second time that day.

I was to meet my hosts for the next couple of nights at a conveniently located hotel, around the corner from their apartment. Jamel wouldn’t drive off until I was safely in the doors of the hotel and was assured I was being taken care of. The manager at the desk introduced me to the guy standing watch at the door. He is ex-special forces, I was told, and, to prove himself, he proudly opened his wallet to show me a photo of himself in full military garb. A wide, proud smile crossed his face. He then promptly called the husband of my CouchSurfer, who immediately came over and met me just inside the hotel doors, as the guys at the hotel wouldn’t let me out in the dark on my own. They were really taking care of me.

At the house my hosts and I talked for hours; they fed me, I gave them some goodies I had purchased along the way and also did all the washing up.

While my hosts were working, I left the next morning for an all-day wander around Amman, arriving first at one end of Rainbow Street, a popular street with hip coffee shops, restaurants, boutique clothing stores and loads of colorful buildings.

I couldn’t afford to buy lunch at any of the restaurants on Rainbow Street (the “Western area of town,” I had been told), so I walked to the far end and down a steep staircase onto the main drag and continued on for a good long while until I came across a small and very local
My Couchsurfer's Cave HomeMy Couchsurfer's Cave HomeMy Couchsurfer's Cave Home

Yup, this was his home, and mine too for three nights
eatery. I had a tasty pita sandwich filled with fool, hummus and falafel and was completely doted on by the young son of the owner. I quite possibly was one of the only foreigners ever to have stepped into this small local place, or so it seemed.

Amman is a remarkably clean city and not so hustle bustle as I would have thought, as is typical in many capital cities around the world. The majority of the houses and buildings are sand colored and blend in nicely with the jebels (hills) dotted around town. Everyone I encountered greeted me with genuine smiles, almost always followed by a simple but meaningful phrase: "Welcome to Jordan!" There was no pushiness, no intense staring, no negative anything, just true hospitality and kindness. I encountered plenty of helpful locals directing me to the correct buses, and coming to my aid as to when to alight from them as well.

Leaving Amman a few days later, I headed south to a small village outside Petra, Jordan’s most infamous and visited historical sight, home of impressive buildings cut right out of the rock face. The region was probably established around 300 BC. I was to CouchSurf again, and only upon arriving to the village near Petra, did I find out I would be staying not in the village itself, but a cave…yes, a cave, about 8 kilometers away down a quiet, non-trafficked back road leading well into the rocky landscape. Although it was rapidly getting dark by the time we drove to the cave, the silhouettes of the rocky terrain looked amazing and rather surreal and I couldn’t wait to see in the morning light my “neighborhood” for the next few days. We pulled the 4-wheel drives (there were a number of us heading to the cave so we needed more than one vehicle) onto an uneven path and followed that a good distance (maybe 10 minutes of slow going) until we got to the cave compound.

A fire was already going, so after a few introductions, and fewer than five minutes to warm up by the crackling flames I set about chopping onions and garlic for dinner while the other gals chopped peppers and –ug- tomatoes. I pulled out enough onions, peppers and garlic for me (as I am a non-tomato lover) and when the pasta was completed, our host took over, adding all the ingredients together along with some secret herbs and spices coming up with a most delicious concoction for our evening meal. There were eight of us Couch Surfers eating dinner at the same time plus a couple Bedouin boys and our host and since we had food for the masses there was plenty to go around. Two more CouchSurfers showed up later that evening and it was with them that I went the following day to Petra. We were told the cave we would be sleeping in dates from 400 BC, just slightly younger than the rock face buildings at Petra.

Although I seriously contemplated buying an entrance ticket for Petra (it cost a whopping 55 Jordanian Dinars for a two-day pass, about $70, over double from last year’s rates!) in the end I decided I was right there and shouldn’t leave the region without seeing what all the hoopla was about. I couldn’t have been happier with my decision to enter the UNESCO site, despite the ludicrous entrance fee.

Three of us spent the following day together, photographing, marveling, and enjoying the amazing and grand buildings, all cut into the faces of the cliff. The 2 KM walk from the entrance gate through the Siq (the steep-walled canyon passage through the narrow crack in the rock mountain) to the Treasury was easy, flat and paved but it took a while because we kept stopping to take photos and marvel at the history laid out before us. All of a sudden….there she was, in all her glory. We peered at the Treasury through the narrow gap in the very-vertical cliff at the end of the Siq, completely in awe of the sight directly in front of us. As many times as we had seen this building in photos, magazines, on line and in guidebooks, it took our collective breaths away to see it in person. We were lucky there weren’t many people there so we managed to get some unobstructed views and photos of the impressive rock-carved building. It sure was a magnificent sight.

After spending some time marveling at the Treasury we continued walking farther along the path. We stopped before the amphitheater, around the bend before the Urn Tomb and the other Royal Tombs. We headed up some rock steps to the “High Place,” a good long walk as it turned out, and, upon reaching it, again marveled at the view of Petra’s vastness, this time spread out down below. We lunched on the cliff top overlooking Petra’s two neighboring towns and relished in the warm sunshine. It was t-shirt weather although we were prepared with a sweater each and jackets just in case the weather turned unexpectedly.

After lunch we tried to find the area where we could look down onto the Treasury from above but to no avail. We had been told one could take a guide up there but we were determined to save the money and find it ourselves. However, unfortunately, we didn’t succeed. We decided instead to walk down the backside towards the Garden Tomb and Lion Fountain, looping back around to a region we will spend more time exploring tomorrow (The Street of Facades and Colonnade Street). Eventually we would come out on the opposite side of the amphitheater about 3:30pm or so. At this hour there was too much shadow for good photos down at the tombs but the backside had proven fairly decent with the strong, effective, late afternoon sunlight.

Upon leaving Petra in near darkness, and some of the last people to leave the site for the day, we couldn’t help but notice the local boys racing their donkeys and horses out of Petra and back to their stables, hooting and hollering and generally probably enjoying themselves more at that time of day than any other. The brother of our host picked us up and we were soon safely delivered back for another night of cave dwelling. I was glad to have bought a 2-day pass, as there would be so much more to explore at Petra the next day.

In the evening when we got back everyone seemed nervous, trying quickly to get the gas lamps lit and bring light to the cave. The wind outside had picked up considerably forcing us all stay inside much of the early part of the evening. Our host’s mother had made a massive chicken rice dish for all of us and we ate it community style right from the platter. It was superb and wonderfully seasoned – the remainder of us barely made a dent in the massive meal. The temperature got down to 2 degrees C (35 F) that night but I stayed cozy under all my woolen blankets.

The following
View Over PetraView Over PetraView Over Petra

Looking out through an opening on the walk up to the Urn Tomb
day my traveling partners and I walked a different way down to Petra, this time taking a back road from the edge of the village of Umm Saayun, saving a good two or more hours by not having to walk through the Siq, past the Treasury and the amphitheater again. This back road led us quite close to the path that would take us up to the Monastery. We started our excursion essentially on the opposite side of Petra from yesterday: day one we took the conventional way in, day two…let the adventure begin.

It was already getting warm at 10:30am and before our uphill trudge we shed our sweaters and socks before starting up the endless 800 or 900 steps to the Monastery. Many people tried to get us to ride their donkeys up the path, exclaiming it was “very far, madam,” but of course we opted to walk. Up through the rocks we climbed and climbed, past vendors selling jewelry and trinkets, forlorn, dirty-faced kids trying relentlessly to sell a postcard or two. “One dinar, come on, only one dinar, cheap for you.” Cheap? I wouldn’t even pay that for a postcard in a dime store. That’s
In Front Of The Monastery In Front Of The Monastery In Front Of The Monastery

Only two (barely visible) people inside the opening
way overpriced and they know it (over one US dollar per postcard). They were pushy and desperate. Who even knows if the “authentic-looking” coins and things were real or not? Some vendors even tried to sell pieces of the colorful rocks chiseled off the cliff faces. Even with numerous photo stops, we still made it to the Monastery in less than 40 minutes, despite being told it would take at least one hour.

The sight of the Monastery was definitely breathtaking and we were really lucky to be there with only a handful of people mingling about. We were lucky as it wasn’t crowded at all. While in the vicinity of the Monastery, we walked up to three different viewpoints overlooking more stunning mountain and rocky formations and could even look over to Israel.

We spent the day exploring all we were able, including the amphitheater built right into the rock, the unexcavated sites on either side of Colonnade Street (the main street that runs through the center of the city) and darting in and out of the numerous chambers in the Royal Tombs.

Petra itself was absolutely amazing but certainly a budget-buster for a budget traveler.
The Royal TombsThe Royal TombsThe Royal Tombs

Heading to Urn Tomb just right of center
It is, however, a once in a lifetime "thing to do.” The country is hurting in terms of tourism because of all the instability in the neighboring countries yet I never once felt at unease anywhere in the Middle East. Quite opposite, in fact, as I was treated with respect and hospitality at every turn.

Additional photos below
Photos: 19, Displayed: 19


My Two-Day Ticket To PetraMy Two-Day Ticket To Petra
My Two-Day Ticket To Petra

It was indeed expensive, but I must say, worth it
Outside The ShadowOutside The Shadow
Outside The Shadow

A Bedouin, waiting

5th February 2016

Siq Pic
The photo of you in the Siq picture is awesome. What a beautiful place nature creates. Oh, by the way, you're not missing a thing in the U.S.A. Keep traveling onward. Oh, how I would just love to travel in that area and see all the ancient ruins. It looks spectacular. Backbreaking jobs then. Should try doing hookahs.....
19th March 2016

Thanks, Margaret!
Thanks for the kind words, Margaret. Yes, Petra was incredibly beautiful and am glad I went. I did try a hookah and hated it ( :-) ) -- tried one in Turkey, not Jordan.
5th February 2016

Siq Pic
The photo of you in the Siq picture is awesome. What a beautiful place nature creates. Oh, by the way, you're not missing a thing in the U.S.A. Keep traveling onward. Oh, how I would just love to travel in that area and see all the ancient ruins. It looks spectacular. Backbreaking jobs then. Should try doing hookahs.....
22nd February 2016

Journey to Petra
Great tales of Jordan. What a difference to walk along Colgan Creek. Our family visited Petra in 1965 on our way from Baghdad to Beirut. My grandfather had a wooden leg so they let my mom drive him in in our VW bus. Dad and us 4 boys rode donkeys. I don’t remember any tourists around. A few “guides” with rifles. So good to hear that people are people in Jordan. If only the rest of the U.S. could realize this.

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