Jordan: Ancient Civilizations, a Shrinking Sea and Noisy Neighbors

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March 2nd 2016
Published: March 2nd 2016
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The TreasuryThe TreasuryThe Treasury

Huge in size as you note the people standing in front of it.

From the minute we stepped off the plane and entered the airport in Amman, the vibe was good. We had a feeling that we were going to like Jordan. Amman is a big, clean, modern, progressive city, renowned in this part of the world for its universities and medical care. After the less than clean environs of Egypt, this was a most welcome change. Thanks to great planning by Brendan, we moved very quickly through immigration and sailed through customs. The two year-old airport had a Starbucks…..detour!!

About thirty minutes later, we arrived at our hotel, which is named the “Toledo Hotel.” Ironic in that is the name of Dave’s hometown and not the most common city name around. We spent our first and last nights here, ensconced near the downtown area of the capital. If you make it to Amman you will want to have dinner at “The Ghaith” which is walking distance of the Toledo Hotel. Great Arabian food at unbelievable low prices- dang cheap. It’s a corner neighborhood restaurant where the locals eat.

We enjoyed wandering a few of the streets of Amman- just taking a look. We decided not to go to the
The Chef and MJThe Chef and MJThe Chef and MJ

Smiling with a knife in his hands.....
local sights.

But there were other sights to see in the few days we had in Jordan, so early the next morning we were back in our familiar form of transport, a touring van, headed three plus hours south towards one of the most storied and amazing sights in this part of the world….Petra.


When we told friends we were going to Petra some were familiar with it and sometimes their eyes just glazed over….this location became more famous in 1989 with the filming of “Indian Jones and the Last Crusade.” For some this brought a glint of a memory and they would nod appropriately.

At one point we thought about going to Jordan before Egypt but in the end the flights were best doing it later. We are grateful because we would have hit Petra during a rainy period and it was closed, as any amount of rain will cause the valley to accept quickly running water on the only trail in towards the site. We don’t think this happens often but it would have been horrible to come all this way and not be able to see it. Even
The MonasteryThe MonasteryThe Monastery

Another huge edifice carved out by an ancient civilization
if the sandstone steps are just a bit moist, the footing would most likely be quite treacherous. We obviously lucked out again with the weather. We’ve been on the road almost one month and their has been a grand total of one day where it actually rained, and that was several weeks ago.

We were taken aback by the size and stunning beauty of Petra—a Nabataen city more than 2,000 years old. It has so much more to offer than “The Treasury” (or Al Khazneh), which is the famous photo that everyone sees of this UNESCO site. The sand in Jordan has a more reddish hue to it than the other desert areas we’ve experienced so far and is sometimes referred to as the Rose City. It adds a depth and richness to the colors and shadows, which repeatedly change throughout the day.

For many years this was a secret location that only locals and Bedouins knew about until in 1812, it was discovered by a Swiss explorer attempting to find the source of the Niger River, which he never found. This is certainly one of the fundamental locations a world traveler would want to explore. When you go prepare for lots of walking and climbing over uneven surfaces. Good hiking shoes are a must.

One thing that makes Petra so remarkable is that it was not built—it was carved, yes carved into the side of a sandstone and limestone mountainside. It is a marvel to be admired and cherished. The work is quite intricate and quite admirable as you consider they did not use scaffolding to do all this marvelous work, but actually started carving from up above and worked their way down. They started at the top so they would not damage their completed work as they moved down. Brilliant and quite dangerous we would think, given that these carvings are so incredibly tall. Just look at the pictures and see how the people are dwarfed in size standing in front of the structure.

Walking from the front gate then through the area referred to as The Siq to the Treasury is about 2 km as you wind through towering canyons of sandstone walls and monoliths. As you stand surrounded by canyons of rock the images appear to have movement. The light shines on one wall and shadows another. The streaks and striations of rock and minerals dance with movement and shape. It is rather miraculous. The path was created from earthquakes millennia ago.

Walking and more walking ensues……. and then you must decide where you want to climb. You can go see the Royal Tombs, Ad Deir the Monastery, or climb to a high place for sacrifice and more. You can see a great deal in a day but two days would allow you to see most of it. The view from high atop it all above the Monastery are quite stunning and well worth some sore muscles for the effort.

With all the wonders we have described about Petra we’d like to share with you the dark and annoying side of Petra. In recent years it has become a bit of a circus. We generally tolerate hawkers very, very well but here for some reason we did not. We wanted to enjoy this amazing location that we had traveled far to see in the peace and quiet that would befit such a site. That did not and will not happen for anyone on the path up the mountain.

They try to sell you camel rides, donkey rides, burro rides, and rides in a horse drawn carriages. They have several locations where you can purchase food and drink. There are people hawking trinkets all the way up and of course all the way down the trail, which clearly diminishes the experience. They are only trying to make a living, but the government is clearly powerless to change the continual harassment. Most will ask you once and when you say no generally they will go away, a few asked twice—but when you say no to a camel ride 400 times is grows tiresome and quite annoying.

We were told the hike to the Monastery was 950 steps from the point past the Treasury, but remain unconvinced they counted correctly. Having already hiked some and knowing that we would have to make the return hike (we’re not the youngest people in hiking boots), we decided to take the donkeys to the top. After reaching the top and seeing the destruction to the site that the donkeys are causing we had a bit of regret. We walked down not that it made much difference at that point.

As you go up the 950 steps whether on a donkey or walking it is not an easy trip because of the vertical incline. The donkey ride was not as fun as it looked. Here we are on our donkey charging up the steps and the hawkers are shouting to us as we go by to purchase their scarves, jewels and trinkets.

Really? Seriously? What are they thinking? We were on a moving animal. Were they really under the impression that we would stop and gaze at the Chinese-made trinkets they had for sale? And of course, you got the same treatment again on our way down as we treaded carefully, preferring not miss a step and take the big tumble.

We reflected back to our time at Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat, where all the vendors are kept in a more central location outside the sanctity of the site. It is sad that Jordan allows this to go on. We mentioned it to a couple of locals but they chuckled and said it would not change. From our perspective it is sad and negatively impacts the appreciation of what they have to offer the world. The traffic of the donkeys and crowds will take an irreversible toll at some point.
The intrepid explorersThe intrepid explorersThe intrepid explorers

Sure...we're smiling now, but there's a long hike ahead.

All of this chaos aside it is a truly magnificent site. Please visit.

Petra’s Kitchen

This is a must do when in Petra !!!!!!—and $40 well spent….even if you don’t consider yourself a cook or chef. The experience and the foods are simply amazing. Please don’t miss this.

In three hours you will meet the owner and chefs of Petra’s Kitchen. They will introduce you to the menu as they provide a quick overview of all the foods the group will prepare. We were split up into two groups and placed at our prep tables. On this night we had 10 or 12 in the class. It was fun chatting and getting to know the others who signed up for a Jordanian cooking class. For foodies like us (and of course, BV Chef) it was a fun night of cooking and eating. Included in the class were a couple from London, 6 from France, and the rest of us from America. Three of the American girls were in their twenties had husbands working at the embassy in Amman and they were curious what brought us to Jordan as from their perspectives Americans don’t travel to Jordan. That may have been proven wrong on this day as we met about 20 Americans once we got to the top of the Monastery. We finally found some Americans not afraid to travel!

Our menu consisted of:

Soup – Shourbat Adas

Cold Mezza - Baba Ganuj, Tahina Salad, Fattoush

Hot Mezza – Galayat Bandura, Araies Lahmah

Main Course – Musakhan

What an evening. What an experience!

Fortunately for us, in addition to allowing us to help chop, slice, dice, sauté, simmer and bake the foods they gave us the recipes to take with us. As soon as we get home we will be practicing. If you want to be our guinea pigs please come over! We love to cook! We find that food is love and you can experience a culture through food. Food gives you an opportunity to share and generally brings out conversation.

As it turns out our group was full of amazing cooks and dinner was sublime. The lentil soup was amazing. Some of the best we’ve ever had. We were a bit surprised because it didn’t have much in it but the right amount of cumin made it extraordinary.

All of the foods were very good, some were great, if forced to pick we’d say the Baba Banuj was our least favorite but we don’t want to pick. The Tahina Salad was surprisingly excellent as we thought they added too much tahini sauce but clearly that was not the case. Without a doubt, we had the best Fattoush we’ve ever eaten….we hate to say it but even better than our beloved Beirut Restaurant in Toledo. Ugh!....hate to admit that but it is true. The galayat bandura and the araies lahmah together make an amazing Jordanian pizza and it is…….indescribable. One is ground lamb in a toasted baked pita with an amazing combination of spices including sumac that makes the taste buds dance…then you blob a spoon of the galayat bandura on it…basically a tomato based topping that is incredible.

Seriously, if you have any sense you will come over to be our guinea pigs!

Wadi Rum

Early to rise again the next morning as there was more to see and do in our short time here. We drove south about one
Carved out stepsCarved out stepsCarved out steps

No hand rails!
hour to Wadi Rum, an expansive area in between the mountains of south Jordan. To really explore the Wadi in its full splendor would take days, if not weeks due to its immense size and beauty.

We had a few hours to off-road with our guide Mohammed and his trusty 4x4 Land Cruiser. It was time well spent as he guided us to stunning vistas and helped us experience the amazing geologic formations that surrounded us. He made our time memorable and even stopped to make us tea in the dessert by utilizing some scrub that was dried as firewood for his well-used tea kettle. “Bedouin Whiskey” he called it. It was a taste treat among the rocks and canyons.

Swamhi and the Dead Sea

Although a good name for a music group, we’re actually referring to a town on the actual Dead Sea and we may have spelled it wrong in the process. The Dead Sea shares a border with Israel. The sea is an astounding 400 m (over 1300 ft.) below sea level and sinking. It is a tourist getaway for both the Jordanians and foreigners. Jordan, like many of its
Pathway to stunning stone carvingsPathway to stunning stone carvingsPathway to stunning stone carvings

On the way to the Treasury
neighbors is suffering from a lack of tourism and the area is relatively quiet, considering the number of available hotel rooms in the area.

Like the Great Salt Lake in the States, the salinity of the water allows you to naturally float in the water with absolutely no effort. There were tubs of mud near the shoreline, which allowed the bathers to coat themselves with this slimy substance, which apparently had great skin cleansing abilities. The area is billed as a place to rejuvenate one’s mind and body. When we went down to the shore, five Jordanian men were busy coating themselves from head to toe in the mud, laughing like schoolboys and posing with some young ladies from China. Quite a scene. A short time later, we were able to enjoy an amazing sunset…quiet serenity as the orb turned a shade of orange and disappeared behind the hills on the Israeli side of the sea.

While there, we also made use of the hotel spa for massages. MJ even indulged in a pomegranate body scrub. One must take advantage of all the available treatments, you know. After the massages, we headed back down to the sea. Needless
Narrow passageNarrow passageNarrow passage

Courtesy of earthquakes from long ago....
to say, we could not resist, so we slimed up and went in the waters for a brief dip. After smearing it on our bodies…we are not sure of the healing properties, but when in Rome……..

Sadly, the sea is shrinking in size at an alarming rate. In the past 15 years or so, the level of the sea has dropped some 29 meters (90 feet) alone since 1980. Water diversion from the Jordan River for crop irrigation and other uses has exacerbated the issue. Clearly this is presenting a large issue for both Israel and Jordan. As Haythem our driver told us, a lot of talking is done about this, but nothing is done.

Jordan is a peaceful country with very friendly people. With all the “noise” their neighbors have been making recently and in past decades, this country has remained very calm through it all. A credit to a good outlook on life of the Jordanians and also a monarchy that works hard to establish good relations with its neighbors (including Israel) and also partner with the United States to economically move forward. Our time here was quite brief…but quite enjoyable and we recommend that people come to visit.

Additional photos below
Photos: 77, Displayed: 32


MJ floats MJ floats
MJ floats

Dead Sea, Jordan
Dave and MJ get married...againDave and MJ get married...again
Dave and MJ get married...again

Ancient matrimonial style

2nd March 2016
The Treasury

Petra--at last!
Oh you lucky ducks--I've wanted to experience Petra forever! It sounds both extraordinary and awful--riding the donkeys through the gauntlet of hawkers seemed rather hellish--times like that, I put on my IPOD, so I don't even hear them. On the other hand, while I knew Petra had been carved out of the rock, I had no idea they, " started carving from up above and worked their way down." What incredible skill and planning! Your photos of it are fantastic, as were your other adventures there. How great to go first to Petra with all the hiking and then end up with massages and floating in the Dead Sea.
3rd March 2016
The Treasury

Petra--at last
Tara, Jordan was a good trip. We forced ourselves to overlook the bad to enjoy the beauty. The planning a intelligence used to create this was simply amazing. A little planning prevented them from damaging their work.
2nd March 2016

Love reading...
.. your blogs. Sounds like you are having a great time. And I love the pictures. Keep up traveling and posting. Reminds me that I have to do an update as well very soon. Welf
3rd March 2016

Love reading
Welf, we love your blogs too so hope you will post soon. This is a good trip and we have seen some marvelous things. Petra is unique in its beauty.
2nd March 2016

Great writing and pictures. A former Valley nurse worked as nanny to the current King of Jordan. She always spoke highly of the country and its people.
3rd March 2016

Once proving there is a good life after the Valley. She was right, the people are wonderful and the country has a simplicity and beauty. Thanks for commenting.
2nd March 2016

The wonders and pests of Jordan
Never a dull moment for you two! Weve not yet trodden the floorboards that far, but the hawkers and 'guides' of Egypt and Morocco will surely give them a run for their money. Looking forward to more of your exciting journey. David
3rd March 2016

The wonders and pest of Jordan
We've been to Egypt and Morocco and were not annoyed by the hawkers the way we were here. We just wanted some private space to enjoy the magnificence but didn't get it. That is ok, now one can take away what we saw and it is stunning.
3rd March 2016

Willing Subjects
Thanks to MJ, my taste for middle eastern food was kindled. It would be our pleasure to partake of your Jordanian cooking! No mud pics? Dave the floater didn't look to slimy at all! Keep on enjoying! C
3rd March 2016

Willing subjects
The evening at Petra's Kitchen was so much fun. Can't wait to get home and do some cooking. Dave washed off the mud before his photo shoot. I'm not convinced about the miracles of the mud.
3rd March 2016

Fascinating Place
Great to read your blog, brought back memories of when we were there in the early 90s. They had just a few donkeys then to take you up the mountain and I can remember mine heading off ahead of all the others and it got quite scary with some of the drops so I insisted on getting off and walked the rest of the way ... ... We were lucky though as there were no persistent hawkers there at that time, its a shame this has now changed as Petra is a magical place and great to enjoy in peace and solitude - keep enjoying your travels xx
3rd March 2016

Fascinating Place
Indeed Petra is amazing and has so much to offer. We are sad that they have decided not to control the hawkers. At some point that may impact their tourism but doubt it. I agree it is magical and would have loved some solitude. Glad we could provide some memories and thanks for the comment.
3rd March 2016

Petras Kitchen
Hope you didn't have to clean the dishes at the end of the night. Shame about the hawkers, we were there 15 years ago and they were fairly persistent then and sound like they have got a lot worse. We were annoyed at the number of children selling stuff and the treatment of the animals. As always, great blog and fantastic photos, looking forward to the next.
3rd March 2016

Petra's Kitchen
Fortunately no dishes at the end of the meal. Yes it is hard to watch the children selling stuff and being manipulated but we don't give into that. If you pay them they won't go to school and we will not contribute to that. On to Israel.
3rd March 2016

Your photos of Petra are gorgeous!
I really love the sound of Jordan as you have described it (apart from those hawkers on steroids and the sad looking donkeys). Floating in the dead sea looked like a super fun activity, regardless of whether the mud helped your skin or not :)
3rd March 2016

Gorgeous Petra
We think you would like it here. We enjoyed the Dead Sea and our massages. I even had a pomegranate body scrub which was amazing. Got all the dust and dirt was heaven. They've used Jordan to film a few movies because the landscape it so unusual. Lots to explore and completely safe.
3rd March 2016

A thoroughly enjoyable read!
Thanks, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your trip. Sounds like you had a blast. Jordan, Petra specifically is on my bucket list, I'm so jealous and filled with wanderlust after seeing your photos. I hope to get there some day.
4th March 2016

A thoroughly enjoyable read
Justin, thank you so much for the kind words and taking the time to comment. Our enjoyment of Jordan came out in our blog. I do hope you can make it to Petra sooner than later. Wanderlust can only be cured one way.....
8th March 2016

One of My Favorite Places
Petra is an amazing place. I combated the hawkers by spending several days getting off of the beaten path. They were overwhelming at the main sites, but at places like the snake monument, or the hidden staircases that crisscrossed the cliffs above the monuments they were mostly non-existent - I did find a hawker at the end of a long, narrow slot canyon at a remote end of the site one day, which was strange. Petra's Kitchen sounds amazing. I will have to check it out next time I am there. Thanks for reminding me of one of my favorite places.
8th March 2016

Favorite Places
Jordan has a great deal to offer and yes I hope you make it to Petra's Kitchen when you go back. It was a delightful evening. I agree the hawkers don't make it to the off the beaten path locations as much.
9th March 2016
Enjoying a beautiful day in a beautiful place

All this talk of food is making me hungry, shame you guys are too far away for me to be a guinea pig. It seems I have some catching up to do as haven't read your Egypt blogs. I love your Jordan blog and what a lovely photo of you both.
10th March 2016
Enjoying a beautiful day in a beautiful place

Hey Alan, we've had guinea pig before and that is enough for me. Certainly glad you are enjoying it. So much to see in South America. Thanks for commenting.
11th March 2016
The Monastery

Samantha says
Samantha has been ministering to me while you have been away. "I'm looking for a place to call, I'm looking for a place to call..." she says, "Nothing can compare," Wow you guys. I think you've found it!!!
11th March 2016
The Monastery

Samantha says
Certainly glad Samantha is singing to you and keeping you calm. She has that impact on you. We have seen some wonderful things.
11th March 2016
Dave and MJ get married...again

If only
We've spoken about this before. All you needed was the place and time. A golden opportunity...Petra...arriving by donkey for recommitment. Then the story fizzled...only hint a solitary photo of a dream...not dressed for the rings...sounds like Paradise Lost. Not dangerous enough?
11th March 2016
Dave and MJ get married...again

If only
Time at Petra can be magical indeed a golden opportunity. Plenty of amazing photos to be had including those darn Binkley's commitment.

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