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Published: March 2nd 2016
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 MJ
Smiling with a knife in his hands.....
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. 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
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 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
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
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
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.
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