Jordan: Petra and beyond

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Middle East » Jordan
January 2nd 2012
Published: March 5th 2012
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It has been quite a long time between drinks as far as blog entries are concerned. Our last entry was almost a year ago, there have been a few reasons for this - and all will be explained in later blogs, but with the list of unwritten blog entries and unedited photos mounting we thought it might just be best start reducing the back log, starting what is most fresh in my mind: 8 days in Jordan in the middle of winter.

Jordan is almost completely desert, but not the rolling sand dunes type desert everyone pictureswhen someone says the Middle East (no? Just me?). It’s a mountainous rugged landscape with amazing seas and ravines, and of course that valley that hid Petra from western eyes for so long. As a matter of fact, there are so many geological features within Jordan’s borders we found it quite easy to navigate and I don’t even think the most geographically challenged person could get lost for any longer than, I don’t know, say, 40 years?

Seeing as both Lara and I have recently entered into the dirty 30s we have made a conscious effort to behave more responsibly, mature and sensibly so we decided it would be best to no longer subject locals to our ripped dirty backpacks on public transport and we splashed out on a hire car. That was probably the most sensible thing we’ve ever done on a trip as the public transport in Jordan as far as we could tell was poor to non-existent. Driving around Jordan was quite easy too (Amman aside) with 3 main arterial highways running North-South that flowed very well enabling us to drive our planned itinerary of Amman – Petra – Aqaba – Wadi Rum – Dead Sea/Madaba – Jerash – Amman. How is that for being sensible and responsible? We planned AND even booked a hotel AHEAD of landing!

As I mentioned driving around Jordan was a doddle, but only as long as you take the Sat Nav’s directions with a grain of (Dead Sea) salt at times. On the first day of driving it tried to say that that the fastest way down into a valley was directly off a cliff, which I guess is technically correct. And trying to appeal to my sense of misdirection by suggesting turning off major highways to get to our destination; it lost that argument on it’s 4th attempt to lead us up someone’s driveway. I have previously suffered a similar navigational error from my internal Sat Nav in Sydney, trying to get to 'Jackson’s on George' whilst actually being on George st, but I digress…

After a long sleep in, a full day's driving got us to Petra, where we checked into our Christmas present hotel booking from Lara’s parents right on the edge of Wadi Musa overlooking the valleys that contained the ruins of Petra.

If before leaving Australia I was trying to write a list of only 10 things I wanted see while living abroad it would have made it into the list with ease. Unfortunately for my bank balance the list was never as small as 10 and continually grows! But now I get to move Petra from what is now a pretty over-populated list of things I want to see, to a much more exclusive list of things that have lived up to their hype and reputations.

As you walk into Petra, despite the hordes of people (because you slept in and didn’t make it into the park until late) it still feels special, like you are discovering the city for yourself. It very slowly reveals itself over the 1.5km walk down the tight and twisty canyon, until all of a sudden it opens up and you see the Treasury. It’s at this point you start to wonder how this city could have ever been kept a secret for any period of time. With such ornate carving and such a dramatic entrance you’d imagine that someone would have given the secret up, without a Swiss man having to resort to pretending to be a Shiekh.

It’s also at this point I started to get a sense of the scale of the place. Looking at the grossly out of scale, and inaccurate map given to us with our park tickets I thought it would be quite compact, it turns out I was wrong! Over the 2 days Lara and I spent walking around we travelled almost 45km and only managed to see some of the valleys and ruins, there was plenty left to explore at the end of 2 days when it had come time for us to reluctantly move on.

We headed off on another spectacular drive towards Aqaba, which was uneventful apart from a couple of police roadblocks, but once we showed our
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"in 100m, turn right off a cliff"
UK/Australian passports the only response we ever seemed to get was “Welcome to Jordan” and we were allowed to go about our business. That is pretty much the response we got from all Jordanians; people on the street, hotel concierges, shop keepers, restauranteurs children on buses. Jordanians are a very friendly welcoming people and no matter where we were we had no trouble with pushy vendors trying to get us to buy their wares.

Their lack of pushiness worked well on us – the unassuming nature of the people when you were shopping seemed to allow Lara to spend the considerable time she needs to determine which particular shade of green a necklace has to be, or the exact size of a bead required to make a bracelet feel balanced and not overbearing… Whatever they are doing – vendors take note: don’t force people to buy stuff, they will just walk away! Actually what am I saying? Carry on, the less time I have to spend in these shops the better!

Back to Aqaba: Apart from shopping we had some grand plans to scuba dive in the Red Sea and spend a lazy day or two on the
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On the way to Petra
beach, and we did neither. Compounded by our late arrival time from London 3 days earlier, and the 45km walking over the two days previously, all we did in Aqaba was wander the streets and eat. It was nice to get some rest and just take in the city, but after 1½ days of lounging around we got restless again and decided to take a trip to Wadi Rum, Laurence of Arabia country.

I’ll let you in on a secret: I hate camels. Whoever said camels are horses designed by a committee was a genius, except that I don’t like Horses either. So when there was an option to wonder into the desert on camels, camp and return I quickly looked for other things we could do, and luckily there were lots. We eventually settled on a 4 hour ride on the back of a 4x4 around the national park taking in some of the sights.

Wadi Rum was seemingly made public with the release of Laurence of Arabia and now several other films since, touring around briefly it is easy to see why anyone wanting to set a movie in a desert would do it here. There are rolling sand dunes, eroded rock canyons, ancient ruins, rock bridges, even an oasis freshwater spring. We had a great time driving around in the desert stopping off to see the ancient rock art, rock bridges or to have tea – definitely worth taking a 4x4 trip and made me wish we had more time to stay a night.

Unfortunately we were on a reasonably tight schedule and by the next morning we were heading north again, this time skirting the border of Israel heading towards the Dead Sea. It was a very easy drive, but unfortunately when we got there the temperature had dropped so low that neither of us though it would be a good idea to go in, 4 degrees was not really swimming weather – so we went up to a Dead Sea Panorama and had a great lunch overlooking the water, we then drove on to Madaba.

Madaba is often used as a location for tourists to base their trips from as it offers good access to a lot of Jordans main tourist attractions but is not as hectic as Amman. We managed to find a quiet hotel, and once we settled in
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we went to see Mt Nebo – the supposed burial place of Moses. As we arrived there was a gorgeous sunset over the dead sea with Jerusalem in the distance, it is easy to see why this would be thought to be a final resting place for someone who had travelled the area, truly a great vista.

Ever conscious of our dwindling time in Jordan we decided to press on quickly, so after a quick visit to a great floor mosaic uncovered by the creation of a church in Madaba, we quickly drove straight to Jerash to see the Roman ruins there. After briefly getting lost on the way due to me not willing to break as many road rules as the sat-nav suggested we arrived at the Jerash ruins and we were greeted by the enormous and very grand Hadrian’s Gate. We picked up a guide, as suggested by from Lara's Dad, and we would strongly recommend getting one if you are ever in Jerash. Our guide, Mohammad, was extremely knowledgeable and showed us things that we would never have seen if we were to just wander around. Things like the carefully designed acoustics of the theatres and
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how far the columns sway on the numerous temples. Lara and I were in awe of the whole place especially when told that the vast majority of Jerash ruins still remain covered by rubble and the changed ground level, waiting to be uncovered and its secrets discovered.

Upon leaving Lara made a busload of children’s day by waving at them. Somehow in the time it took us to cross the road every window of the bus had a Jordanian flag waving and young Jordanians yelling “Welcome to Jordan”. As the bus drove off with the bus driver flashing his lights and beeping the horn, I wondered where they got their flags from.

Only a couple more things left to do on the list and 1½ days to do them. So without rest we turned south once more and drove to Amman. After a minor hiccough in getting a hotel, we got upgraded and ended up in a 5 star room. Not too shabby for a New Years Eve, so nice in fact for the rest of the night we didn’t leave, ordered room service and got some time to chill out and catch up on the world. In the morning we went to see the Roman ruins in the middle of Amman, and if we hadn’t just seen Jerash the day before we probably would have spent more time there, it is an amazing site perched above the city of Amman, surrounded by urban sprawl around it and ancient roman and Islamic ruins mixed into one site.

Just the remainder of the shopping to do then after that so we slowly walked into town, constantly waving away the taxi drivers who thought we were crazy for walking. Once we finally got our bearings and navigated our way to the shops that we (read: Lara) wanted go to we found that they had closed due to the limited hours around the New Year. What an outrage, didn’t they know there was a ceramic enthusiast on the loose?

That is where our time in Jordan came to an end. Apart from the epic five hour transfer in Istanbul we had on the way home, we thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of Jordan. It has so much that is easily accessible (by car) to everyone I'm surprised that it isn’t more widely visited, or more widely known about.

Before going to Jordan plenty of people asked “why would you want to go there on holiday?” and apart from saying something about wanting to see Petra I couldn’t give a coherent answer. Now having spent a week there I can whole heartedly say that it is worth it and recommend it to anyone. So much history is packed within its borders I constantly felt like I was treading the path of great men.

If you are thinking of making the trip to Jordan, do it – no more thinking is required.

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8th March 2012

Petra is on the list...heightened now I know of Jerash...thanks for that. We love deserts...the colour...the feel. Great blog.

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