Discovering Jordan with Amanda
Jordan has been front and centre on my travel radar ever since I read a book which so wonderfully described this amazing country 6 years ago. My trip delivered everything I had hoped for and more! I wandered through the ruins of ancient cities, soaked up the magnificent history of Petra and went diving in the crystal clear waters of the Red Sea. Jordan packs a lot of history, culture, adventure and breathtaking views into a relatively small package.
Highlights of Jordan
I joined G Adventure’s Highlights of Jordan which touched on all the sites I wanted to visit, as well as visiting Aqaba where I did some amazing diving. I arrived a day early into Amman so I could explore some of the ancient sites this cosmopolitan city hid amongst its hills. I met with three women at breakfast who had the same idea as I did! We walked up and down a million hills that day and discovered some of the most beautiful ruins and panoramic skylines I have ever seen. We spent a good portion of our day at Citadel Hill (or Jabal al-Qal’a in Arabic). This site has artifacts that are 7000 years old which makes this region of the world’s continuously inhabited areas. The hill is right in the middle of old (East) Amman and has spectacular vistas of the city and the hills they surround. The Roman Amphitheatre can also be seen from the Citadel and is easily accessed through a series of winding roads and steep stairways—all in the name of exploration! It is said that if one stands in the middle of the stage and whispers, everyone in the stands will be able to hear. Remarkably, this is true! We ended our day on Rainbow Street with an assortment of mezze and fresh juice; with that we were ready to head back to the hotel.
My tour officially started (as always) with a welcome meeting with my CEO and the rest of my group. We spent about 45 minutes going through the upcoming week’s itinerary, writing our insurance information down and making introductions. Ayman, our CEO offered to take us to dinner that night. I believe his exact words were ‘who wants to have dinner, it is the cheapest and best falafel you will ever have’. Everyone present (and two clients of mine who had been on the preceding departure!) took him up on his offer. All I can say about that meal is: he was right.
The next morning we were off at (what felt like) the crack of dawn for an Ancient Roman city—Jerash. They say that the ruins of Jerash are some of the best preserved Roman ruins outside of Italy. We wandered along the cardo maximus and got an intense history lesson that I wish I could remember more of. Our brains got quite the workout so we headed to the Dead Sea to unwind at a beautiful resort. The Dead Sea is named as such due to its super high salt content (almost 10 times that of any of the world’s oceans!) does not allow for any life to thrive in its waters. The water is shockingly clear and the shoreline is fringed with colourful salt deposits. The most interesting thing for me was the fact that the water was as warm as bathwater; no wetsuits needed here! Suitably rested, we headed back to Amman to get a good night’s sleep; Wadi Musa was our final destination the next day—Petra by night was on the horizon!
The road between Amman and Wadi Musa (the town in which Petra stands) is less than 400kms long but is teeming with history and remarkable sites. We took all day to arrive at our hotel not because the traffic was bad but because we stopped to take in the significant history of this region. Our first stop was Mt. Nebo — the site of Moses’ death which also offers striking panoramas of the surrounding desert and mountains. We were there on a clear day and able to see Israel in the distance. It would seem each new site offered better views than the last; Karak castle kept that trend going. The castle is the largest of its kind in Jordan and is close to the charming town of Madaba. After an interesting tour of the castle and a wander around town for souvenirs, we were off to our final destination of the day—Petra! We arrived to our Wadi Musa hotel in time for a lovely dinner which gave us just enough time to head over to the ancient city of Petra to experience ‘Petra By Night’. The ambience of this spectacle is like nothing I have ever experienced. The narrow canyon (the siq) leading to the iconic Treasury façade was lined with candles. It is about a 2km walk to reach the Treasury, and it would seem everyone in attendance was in awe. People were speaking in hushed tones, if at all; you could really feel magic in the air (full moon and everything!). The walk did not compare to finally reaching the end of the Siq and seeing the Treasury illuminated by hundreds of candles. I like to think I am a pretty reasonable person that can keep my composure but I could not help but let a little squeal of excitement escape my lips when I first laid eyes on it. The candles coupled with the full moon offered just the right amount of detail to be seen without losing the otherworldly feeling our walk had created. There was a musician performing and tea to be had but everyone in attendance collectively sat in awe. All I could think was ‘if it is like this now, I can’t wait to fully experience it tomorrow.’ And experience it, I did.
I knew it was going to be hot in Jordan, but it was really hot. We set out at 6am, taking the very same path we had walked the night before. We were told it was going to be a long day, but I don’t think anyone expected to see (or walk!) so much. We climbed stairs (and stairs…and more stairs), we scaled down the side of mountains (and back up), and discovered what Indiana Jones must have felt like in The Last Crusade. The Treasury, although spectacular was not the only awe inspiring thing we saw that day. All of our blisters and beads of sweat were rewarded by breathtaking views of the desert mountains. The Monastery—located at the top of the last mountain we hiked was just as beautiful as the better known Treasury. We hiked up the cliff opposite the Treasury to see it from above, walked up 700 stairs to the High Place of Sacrifice (then back down), and to end the day walked up another 850 steps to the Monastery (and…back…down). In those rare moments when we weren’t walking up hand carved stairs we walked by ancient tombs and cave dwellings, inspected ancient inscriptions and tested out the acoustics of an ancient Roman theatre. We explored the city for a total of 12 hours; every minute of it felt like we were on a movie set.
That night, a young man working at the hotel invited my roommate and me to his family’s home for breakfast the following morning. We accepted with great anticipation; connecting with locals all over the world is one of my favourite things about travelling (and we’d be crazy to pass up a home cooked meal!). Bright and early the next morning—albeit 40 minutes late, our gracious host pulled up in his sedan and no more than 5 minutes later we were pulling into his family’s driveway. We were welcomed by his mother, two brothers and an assortment of nephews and nieces. We were ushered into the sitting room and made ourselves comfortable on the cushy majlis sofa. We barely had time to introduce ourselves before tea was offered; it did not stop flowing the whole time. We ate the best meal of our trip that morning. We sat cross legged around a giant spread of food on the floor and were handed a large chunk of homemade Abud with which to eat the various dishes. The Abud was good enough to rival and bread I’ve ever eaten in France or Italy! It also happened to be the perfect vessel to scoop, soak and eat up the delicious breakfast mezze. After indulging in scrambled eggs with halva, clotted cream with jam, olive oil with za’atar and labneh, we were stuffed! Had we not had to catch our bus, I am sure we would still be sitting in that living room eating! I had always heard that Jordanian hospitality was second to none; this lovely family surely proved that to be true.
We arrived at the hotel with just enough time to grab our bags and jump on the bus. We were off to Wadi Rum and our remote desert camp. We stopped at a bigger, more conspicuous camp en route to have lunch and get out of the midday sun. It gets hot in the desert, in case there was any confusion on the matter! I was completely in my element; shoes were now more of a suggestion than a requirement and the sun was completely unobscured by clouds! We all decided to take the long way ‘round and opted for the extended 3 hour jeep safari. Our fleet of Toyota pickups (complete with padded benches in the truck beds to sit on) took us far enough into the desert that there were no other tracks. The landscape seemed more suited to Mars than Earth. We traversed sand dunes and climbed giant natural rock bridges. Just before sunset we stopped to watch the sun go down behind desert mountains. The colours were nothing short of breathtaking.
One would think our adventure was over for the day, but we hopped back in the truck beds and headed off further into the desert. When we finally arrived at the Bedouin camp, it looked like it was just a sand dune with two giant rock faces directly behind. It turns out our cozy camp was nestled between the two, completely sheltered from the outside world. The location was perfect and comfortably appointed with two single beds in most tents, in others—double beds. There was a central fire pit with mattresses all around and a nice tent in which to eat dinner. We had a traditional Bedouin dinner cooked in a zarb. Our bon fire that night was extra special as we had a classically trained singer in our group. She treated us to a moving performance worthy of any international stage. Who knew the acoustics in the desert could be so good? There was an option to sleep in the goat hair tents or to sleep around the fire under the full moon. Under the full moon was the obvious choice for me, and I had the best sleep of my trip!
We woke up slightly before dawn and mounted our camels. We rode through the desert and enjoyed a beautiful sunrise, and the cool morning air. Our Toyotas were waiting for us at the end of the track to take us to our bus and we were off to Aqaba!
It is a relatively short and uneventful drive from the desert the Red Sea. Aqaba is a small town and quite a bit more modest than urban Amman despite its costal location. We arrived in the late morning and had time to shower and cool off after our desert adventures before we boarded our yacht! We spent most of our day living the high life on a chartered yacht and snorkeling in some of the clearest, bluest waters I have ever seen! We were so lucky to have an ex-marine and master diver as our captain. He was extremely knowledgeable about all things underwater, and was able to hold his breath for an unnecessarily long time. Everything about this day just added to my excitement to check out if diving in the Red Sea is as good as everyone says.
One member of our group was celebrating her 50th birthday so our amazing CEO got her a cake and organized a lovely seafood dinner. After dinner Ayman brought us to a tiny spice shop, it was actually more like a one man comedy show taking place in a spice shop. It was great to wander around the market area of the city—everything seemed to come to life after the heat of the day subsided. As this was going to be my last day with my group a few of us (under the guidance of our CEO) headed to a rooftop bar to enjoy the sea breeze and a few glasses of incredibly drinkable Jordanian wine. The night seemed to fly by, and soon it was time to retire to our hotel rooms.
The tour was 8 days long and on day 7 I said goodbye to my group as they departed for Amman. I stayed behind in Aqaba to do 3 full days of diving. My dive shop was right next door to the end hotel of my tour which was a happy coincidence. We got fitted for our gear and set off on a short walk to the pier. Our boat, the Laila One, was roomy with a great dive deck. I was lucky to only have two other (amazing) divers in my group and an equally great dive master. We saw a total of 7 different dive sites, including a wreck dive, a night dive, walls, a sunken tank and a unique site where power lines are passed from Egypt to Jordan. There are not many large species as the Gulf of Aqaba is quite sheltered with a very weak current. The reef is very healthy and supports a ton of small, colourful reef fish as well as octopus, eels, turtles and the cutest nudibranchs I have ever seen. The fringing reef is just off the shore which makes shore diving a viable option. We had perfect weather for my entire trip, which made for ideal diving conditions. The water was warm, the breeze was light and the sun shone. There wasn’t much more I could ask for.
Jordan has everything I look for in a destination: great diving, nice people, amazing food, interesting history and an abundance of outdoor activities to keep me busy! My trip gave me just a taste of what this amazing destination has to offer; I can’t wait to go back!
Looking to take in the highlights of Jordan for yourself? Contact your local Merit Travel Expert today to get started!
November 19, 2014