Whilst in the Middle East visiting Travis, who is working in Qatar, we decided to spend a week in Jordan. Nestled between Israel and Palestine to the west, Syria to the north, Iraq to the east and Saudi Arabia to the south, the country is regarded as one of the most beautiful, historical and safest of the countries within the Arab/Gulf region.
We arrived in Amman firstly, after a short transit at Dubai. Upon arriving at the airport, I found it to be similar to the other ME countries I’d visited – Dubai and Doha – language and dress wise. We had decided to rent a car as a lot of the main attractions are out of the capital Amman. We ended up getting a little Citroën
The drive to our hotel in downtown Amman was interesting. Whilst Travis was getting aquainted with driving a manual again, I was clicking away on my camera – the view was amazing! Amman is such a hilly city and looked a lot older (what I had pictured the ME to look like) in comparison to the cities of Dubai and Doha. Our hotel was literally in the middle of the hustle and bustle of downtown Amman. Parking was hard to find and we had to roll our luggage (adding more to the potential for stares from locals) to the hotel. With our standard budget-accom approach to travel, the hostel (City Palace) was exactly what we wanted – clean, basic and a great location. After a quick unpack we wandered down to the city streets. The trusty Lonely Planet provided us with a suggested walking tour which we tried to follow. In the end we ended up walking up to the Amman Citadel – an archeological site located ontop a hill in downtown Amman. The Jabal al-Qal’a, as it is known in Arabic, is over 7000 years old and is considered one of the oldest continually inhabited places. Whilst we had missed the oppportunity to enter the site as by then it had closed, we could view the Temple of Hercules from the adjacent park which also had wonderful views of Amman city. On our way back through the streets, past the busy markets we passed the Grand Husseini Mosque. We had dinner at a popular local restaurant, Hashem, which specialises in falafels, bread and hommus and some yummy mint tea for only 1JD per person (about $1.6 AUD). After, we went to a sweets shop and bought an array of middle eastern sweets such as pistachio baklava, kunafa, ballorieh, besma.
On the morning of our 2nd day we decided to check out the Citadel and Roman Ampitheatre in daylight. Upon arriving outside the Ampitheatre a friendly local man in an icecream van came up to us and frantically advised us not park there as he said we would get fined (parking signs are not clear at all in Amman). He pointed out where to park, to which we headed. Upon arriving at the carpark we found him waiting for us!! He kindly said goodbye and left us his card and contact details! An unexpected friendly start to the trip…
Mt Nebo and Madaba
We continued our trip leaving downtown Amman and headed towards Mount Nebo. After a very scenic, windy route (thanks to the GPS) and being flagged by another car (with non-english speaking local tourists) looking for the same site, we reached the place. It was very quiet, not many people at all. Mount Nebo is where Moses was shown the Promised Land. From the moutain (800m high) you can vaguely make out the Dead Sea, and on a clear day Jericho and Jerusalem as well (we couldn’t quite see that far on the sunny day we were there). All the holy cities of Bethleham, Jerusalem, Jericho are only within a 40 km radius from where we were standing.
We stopped by Madaba after Mount Nebo. The infamous Madaba map was our first destination. Located in the Greek Orthodox Church there is a section of the church floor covered in mosaics. The mosaic depicts a detailed map of the Holy Land and is thought to be the oldest map of Palestine (6AD) from the Byzantine period.
Kerak Castle and Dana Reserve
After seeing pictures online of Dana Reserve I was convinced it was a Jordan-must see. Only about 30km or 40km from Madaba, we thought it wouldn’t take too long. But, alas we were wrong. We had decided to take the scenic Kings Hwy south, which passes through the beautiful Wadi Mujib (“Grand Canyon of the East”). Having visited the Grand Canyon earlier this year, I was more impressed by Wadi Mujib, perhaps by the history of the gorge (known in the Bible as Arnon River) or it’s unexpected vastness… Anyway, the drive took a lot longer than expected due to the steep hills and narrow, windy roads.
Passed through the Kerak Castle, a Crusader castle inhabitated since the Iron Age. A gentle elderly Jordanian Bedouin man introduced him as our guide – took a while for us to accept his request to show us around , but we were glad he did as he was very thorough in his explanations and brought us to many underground rooms which we probably would not have visited ourselves.
Then the sun was setting quickly, and our GPS couldn’t quite locate Dana Village (where we were hoping to stay that night). Eventually, we found the village, located on a elevated plateau in a valley of large mountains (see photo) . By the time we reached, it was pitch black. The village is quite small and has a handful of hotels. On our way, we had rung to arrange accommodation with one of the hotels there. We arrived late and had a quick dinner of hummus, flat bread, a tomato and meatball dish, eggplant dish and mint tea – quite delicious! We talked briefly with the hotel keeper about Dana Reserve hikes, and decided we would do our own hike the following morning. That night, we watched the rest of Lawrence of Arabia on Travis’ laptop (great movie!). In the morning we headed to Dana Reserve for the hike. Arriving at the entrance of the Reserve, we found that we needed to walk about 2km down a steep hill to reach the camp, in order to speak to a camp guide who would instruct us on the trail locations. It was hot. We reached the camp and decided on the “Cave Trail” (someone thought there was a geocache reading on the GPS, hmph!) . We did not see any caves, in fact to this day I think we ended up making our own trail, but we got some nice photos anyway! I think Dana Reserve is meant to be rich in birdlife and plant species but it was just way too hot (for me) to do any proper hiking.
We decided to continue on to the infamous Petra. First, we stopped at Little Petra, passing some wild camels on the way. Although wild, they seemed quite used to humans/tourists and seemed happy for me to snap their photo while they chewed on the dry grass on the side of the road. Little Petra was our introduction to the Nabatean rock carvings so famous in the region. Whilst Little Petra was, well, small, it was quiet and less touristy and made for some nice photos.
We arrived in Wadi Musa (the small touristy town next to Petra), and decided to grab some food. After having some issues parking up a steep hill in our manual car, we decided to check out one of the Lonely Planet suggestions. A little restaurant in the heart of the town, there we ate a shish kebab each whilst contemplating on whether to start on our Petra exploration or wait until the following day. We thought we still had some time (by then it was about 4pm), found a nearby inn, dropped our stuff off and headed towards the ancient city.
We decided on a two-day pass which meant we could go back the following day for a full day. At 4pm it was still extremely hot. Now, my parents had visited Petra the following year and told me how huge it was but I didn’t realise just how big until we reached the Siq (al-Siq). And that’s just the beginning of the main entrance! No wonder they offered horse rides from the Wadi Musa entrance to the Siq. The Siq is a narrow gorge which acts as a pathway for over a kilometre, then reaching Al Khazneh (The Treasury), a ruin widely known for its appearing in Indiana Jones Last Crusade. The Siq is a natural, geologic formation and was used in ancient times as the caravan entrance to Petra. It was one of my favourite parts of Petra, with its high rocks that changed colour as the sun moves over.
Upon arriving at the Treasury, one of the more touristy parts of the city, we were inundated by Bedouins trying to earn their keep for the day. “Would you like to ride a camel Sir? Mam, take a donkey up to the Monastery?” We walked around for a while, probably looking completely in awe and somewhat lost. One of the young boys trying to sell us a donkey ride followed us for about half an hour, telling us the Monastery was most beautiful this time of day. I consulted my LP, which also stated something similar – Monastery being very impressive and much larger than the Treasury. However the Monastery was something like 900 steps to the top! My energy was faltering greatly, as we’d spent the morning hiking in Dana Reserve so I came up with the brilliant idea of taking the donkey up to the Monastery! The poor donkey. And Travis, who followed us closely behind. Fifteen dinar later we were close to the top, absorbing breath-taking views of Petra city from above, as well as glimpses of Wadi Aruba – one of the vast desserts of Jordan, and far less explored than Wadi Rum. The boy advised the poor donkey wasn’t able to make it to the top (although we suspect the guy made an excuse as we saw donkey droppings much further up), but I was rather relieved, he did seem quite tired. Upon reaching the Monastery, we rested whilst admiring the magnitude of the ruin. It just looked so big and brilliantly orange carved into the rock face. We decided to explore further, following signs that promised to take us to places which had the ‘best view in Petra’. After a few, we decided they we all offering about the same deal! We were tired and decided to head back down. It was getting late, we thought we’d visit the rest of the city tomorrow.
By the time we’d descended it was already getting very dark – almost 8pm. By the time we had reached the Treasury the sun had set completely. Our walk back through the Siq was in almost pitch black and I could hear footsteps behind me. If Travis hadn’t been there I’m sure I would have freaked out. When we reached the entrance of the Siq I found out the footsteps belonged to a friendly older Australian man (not a serial killer) as we continued the rest of the way we all chatted and he told us he had been backpacking for over two months catching public transport everywhere! Amazing.
Dinner that night was well-deserved. We were simply starving and tired. We ate at a local restaurant near our hotel, picked up some sweets from a bakery and settled in for the night.
The following day by 9am it was already hot. We had our Petra-itinerary planned – first the High Place of Sacrifice, some 800 stairs high. To prove to Travis I wasn’t a weakling I skipped the donkey this time (embarrassed as I remembered my mother saying she did the High Place AND Monastery by foot) as we walked up. It was actually a relatively a pleasant climb and as we reached the top, I was distracted by some shop stalls selling handmade jewellery and other goods. At the High Place we came across a young boy (or should I say astute business man) around 7 years old – he cleverly managed to sell us (or me) a couple of necklaces (“one for your sister, one for your mum”) as Travis looked over us in dismay. Anyway, he pointed us the route up to the best views (of course) and on the way back, a different track to other sites/ruins. By this point it was midday and indescribably hot. From the High Place we saw the Royal Tombs, Colonnaded Street and realised just how much there was to see in Petra.
We headed down… and took a different route out. No one seemed to be around (don’t blame them, it was so hot), only the occasional Bedouin local trying to sell tea, postcards, jewellery. We explored the area for the next few hours – a bit of random Geocache-seeking by Travis, attempts to take artistic photos at the ruins etc. Some points in the hike didn’t look like it was a proper track, but we managed to find our way back to the main Street. Took our last obligatory photos and decided we’d had enough. Our legs were sore, we were hot and tired (and I was suffering from initial realisation of severe sunburn). We snapped our last photos, said our goodbyes to Petra and headed back to Wadi Musa. It was late afternoon, and we had planned to go to Wadi Rum for the night. A night without a hot shower in the desert sounded a little too painful to me so I suggested we travel to Aqaba first, spend a night and day there and then do Wadi Rum after. Travis willingly agreed, and we continued on our journey south.