As part of our trip to Israel, we wanted to take a few days to visit the neighboring country of Jordan. Our three days there were spent sandwiched between our 5 Days in Israel.
The vast majority of what we saw in Jordon was more or less how you would expect it to be in the Middle East: dry, dusty, and more than a little run-down. That was immediately evident on our entrance into a little run-down village near the border into our first glimpse of real-life Jordanian/Middle Eastern life.
What the average Jordanian may lack in luxury, however, they more than make up for in personality. As we drove through the surprisingly mountainous and forested region of north-western Jordan, that first village and the ones that followed were teeming with kids on the street who would stop what they were doing to wave at our bus as it passed (except the one that playfully gave us dual, one-fingered salutes along with a wicked grin). Nearly every one of our interactions from that point on was nothing short of delightful.
Our amazing Jordanian tour guide, Mahdi, took us through the country to our campsite in southern Jordan, explaining some of the cultural differences in Jordan. We were given some really interesting insights into the fun-loving Jordan people as we trailed behind several cars filled with young men hanging out the windows and listening to music in a ritualistic celebration of a friend’s marriage while Jordanian families sat along the roadside taking their customary Friday picnic and watched. It was at one such picnic that we picked up our police escort which showed us the potentially dangerous side of Jordan though at no point did any single person on our tour feel like we needed Ahmed there.
We stopped for lunch in Jerash where we enjoyed our falafel, hummus, pita, lamb, and a chicken and rice dish called maqluba, all of which would become staples on our journey throughout Jordan. The meal was finished off with a taste of Jordanian coffee which is unique in its use of cardamon and the bitter toxic looking sludge that is left on the bottom of the cup. Overall, our first one-on-one interaction with the Jordan people was extremely pleasant as Lauren made friends with our waiter who jokingly brought her a plate full of Luqaimat (honey soaked vanilla dough balls), when all she wanted to know was what the hell they were, and I watched as a kind baker made pita for us to take home with a heart and “U.S.A.” inscription he baked into the bread after asking us where we were from.
The real draw to Jerash, which we had no clue we were in store for, was the ruins of the Roman city of Gerasa from which the city got its name. Gerasa was a prosperous biblical city that prospered in the 2nd century and was favored by the Roman emperor Hadrian who built the same Hadrian’s Wall which we saw pieces of when we visited Newcastle in December. We were completely blown away by the ruins of the sprawling city with its quintessential features of Roman architecture including columns and massive arches, along with a Hippodrome and a beautiful Roman amphitheater. Our guide took us through the entirety of the city on a mini-tour explaining the history of the city and many of the more important buildings in Geresa. As something we were not expecting, several of us felt that this portion of our trip to Jordan was among the best sights we saw. As we were leaving, we had an interesting clash of cultures as a group of completely covered Muslim women gawped at the attire that the females in our group were wearing (shorts above the knees) which is completely normal for us, but looked down on by them.
We left to some breathtaking views of the nearby valley before making a quick jaunt to the capital city of Amman where we stopped at a restaurant that served us an interesting Jordanian dessert called Kanafeh, a baked bed of gooey cheese topped with a thin pastry sprinkled with nuts and drenched in honey. The interesting idea of melted cheese inside a dessert was unique and not super pretty looking, but was altogether delicious. From there we continued south through the desert to our home for the next two nights near the highlight of our Jordanian journey, Petra.
Under the stars of the desert sky and the mars-esque sandstone formations that are typical of the Jordanian landscape, we stayed in a traditional Bedouin campsite run by the nomadic Arabic Bedouins. That night we listened as the owner’s family sang and danced to the steady beat of a drum while many partook in the ancient art of shisha, which is smoking flavored tobacco through a tall waterpipe.
Our day-long visit to the beautiful ancient city of Petra began with a brief hike down the amazing Siq canyon toward the iconic Petra treasury. There we were hounded by many of the merchants selling their goods or services. We continued with our group past the canyon towards some of the amazing sights of Petra which included an enormous theater carved only out of stone and some impressive and interestingly colored tombs carved into the above mountain which we were able to walk inside of.
From there we continued up the main trail to the monastery, Tiffany and Lauren opting to ride a couple of donkeys to the top of the 800+ steps while Dean and I walked. At the top of the main trail, we were rewarded with a view of the beautiful monastery, the largest carved monument in all of Petra which dates back to the 1st century AD.
Petra, despite the constant pressure to buy cheap postcards or any number of other worthless crap, was, in the end, an extremely rewarding experience as the sights in Petra are truly one-of-a-kind. Much of the experience was filled with jaw-droppingly beautiful hand-carved monuments and other natural made canyons that are stunningly beautiful.
Our trip to Jordan was not done yet. The next day, we headed south toward Wadi Rum, a protected desert wilderness which is quite appropriately named “Sand Valley” in Arabic. Wadi Rum has been home to filming for several blockbuster films throughout the years which includes Lawrence of Arabia, 2016’s The Martian, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The mountains on each side of Wadi Rum were truly breathtaking to behold as we took a ride on a 4×4 jeep through the valley. Being in the Middle East, we decided to fork out some cash to take a few camels through a part of the valley. My camel, Shylan, was the leader of the group and ventured out ahead of the rest, giving Lauren and I some unforgettable views of the surrounding desert unhindered by the rest of our group. As another part of our tour that none of us really expected, the whole experience blew us all away, the valley’s tranquility serving as a perfect ending to our visit to Jordan.
Not knowing what we were in store for on our visit to Jordan, I think the experience surpassed everything any of us could have dreamt of. Our tour guide first and foremost was among the best we have ever had. He loved to joke, was incredibly honest about the positives and negatives of the Jordanian culture and was above all patient with each and every individual in our enormous group. The people of Jordan were amazingly friendly, quick to help us, and loved to joke, which really helped to dispell many of the preconceived notions that he had regarding middle easterners. I had the overwhelming feeling, given all my interactions with the Jordan people, that these are people who live and love life just as much as us privileged Americans do.