Jordan: The country, the people, and our stories

11/3/10 – Day 1

We are still a bit jet lagged, but we are having a great time. The people of Jordan speak Arabic, but the large majority also speak a good deal of English, so it has been pretty easy to get around. We have received a “Welcome to Jordan!” from almost everyone we have met – even when haggling over prices.

We arrived in Amman at night around 10pm. We had an easy time finding the express bus into town and soon we found ourselves in a taxi, winding through curvy streets at a very fast rate (no joke, they don’t slow down). As we pulled up to our hostel, we could see construction everywhere – the streets, the neighboring buildings. As we emerged from the taxi, we could here the noises of nightlife everywhere around us. Loud music was playing from more than one area and people were walking everywhere, over mounds of dirt and rocks.

We stayed at the Clif Hostel, a small, second-story hostel that was not the cleanest place, but had friendly staff and internet access. We put our things in our room and ventured across the street to a small outside food stand to indulge in an amazing falafel sandwich with fries and salad inside a delicious flat bread. Two large, tasty sandwiches were 1 Jordan Dinar or about $1.40.

11/4/10 – Day 2

The next morning, after a short taxi and mini-bus ride, we arrived at Jerash. Jerash is the site of one of the best preserved Roman Ruins in the middle east. It had large arches, temples, a Colosseum-style sports area, and a columned street that was simply stunning. We could actually see the marks in the stone of carriages from hundreds of years ago. It was incredible. The best part was that we were largely by ourselves, so we were able to explore and listen to our audio tour without interruption. It also gave us time to reflect on the history we were looking at.

After returning from Jerash, we headed to the trendier part of Amman, Rainbow Street, to meet up with our Couch Surfing host, KK. KK does not look like he is from Jordan by appearance. To paint a picture for you, he his around 6 feet tall, has long black dreads, and often wears sun glasses. He has a bit of a Jamaican vibe, but loves Jordan and enjoys talking to people about his travels. He manages a pub on the main road and we met him there. After stashing our bags and resting at his place, we headed out for a spaghetti dinner and drinks at his pub. We had a great conversation with him and some of his friends.

11/5/10 – Day 3

We departed the next morning, leaving our Couch Surfing (CS) gift of a pen with the Chicago skyline and a Karma Travels bracelet. A mini-bus soon had us speeding (very literally) on our way to Wadi Musa, otherwise known as the location of Petra. Petra is a canyon of cave dwellings, carvings, and columns from the Nabaatean people (probably spelled wrong), and later the Byzantine and Roman people. Most of you might recognize Petra from the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade movie at the end.

We stored our bags at a local hostel, then got a ticket to enter the park. A short horse ride comes with your entrance fee of 50 JD (around $70), so we definitely took them up on it. My horse was in fact pregnant so I slowly walked along admiring the view. Ashley was able to sprint her horse into the canyon. As I finally reached her, she had a smile on her face the size of California. The entrance path gradually lowered into the canyon and soon we were seeing ancient rock dwellings and carvings. We began walking deeper into the canyon and soon we were in a roughly 10 foot wide section, perhaps 100 feet or more high. The surrounding rock was reddish-brown and smooth. We could glimpse the  edge of the ruin ahead and it slowly began to come into view. A few more feet and we stepped into an open area of the canyon, perhaps 80 yards wide and 30 yards long, directly in front of the Treasury. It was so ornately carved and as big as it looked in the movie. Our awe was briefly interrupted when we realized there was a large tourist tent selling magazines, drinks, and snacks no more than 30 feet from the Treasury itself. After taking it in for awhile, we decided we should head out as the sun was setting.

We met our CS host, Carlos, at a local hotel, then headed with some friends by car out to his place in the local Bedouin village. Carlos is from the Czech Republic and was wearing a red and white towel head wrap. Carlos is a bit reserved, but very friendly and extremely generous. He is working as an English translator for a Bedouin tour company in the village and is staying in a house of the head family of the village. Three girls (20, 16, and 14) came over to visit soon after we arrived. They each wore a different brightly colored head wrap and the oldest daughter made a traditional dinner for us. Dinner was a mix of bread, hummus, and oil which was mixed into a paste. We ate with our hands, as is tradition, and rolled the dough into balls before dipping the balls into oil in the middle of the plate. The daughters spoke a little bit of English and spoke with us as we sat in a circle in a dimly lit, bare cement room.

We attempted to sleep on the roof under the stars that night. The stars were beautiful and it was quite dark out where they live – only a few single street lamps were lighting the village. Around 1am, I awoke to find that  a water tank on the roof was over flowing and that I was laying/floating on my Thermarest sleeping pad in the middle of a large puddle of water! I quickly woke Ashley and our friend Nikolas before we decided to go back into the house.

11/6/10 – Day 4

We woke up with the sun and headed out with Carlos towards his work. He pointed us in the “right direction” and we headed out across the desert towards the back of Petra. We walked a little ways until we met up with a Bedouin man, dressed in dark green clothes and a red/white head towel. He did not speak English, but motioned for us to follow him to a nearby rock dwelling just off the road. We followed and discovered that he was showing us an ancient, but still used, water catchment. He was able to communicate that it was destroyed by earthquakes twice and reconstructed. The catchment itself was a large cut out cave inside a large rock formation with a drip area for rainwater to enter. A great off the beaten track find!

We soon stepped into the desert and were following a mix of footprints, goats, and the occasional rock cairn. For three hours we passed by Bedouin herders moving their goats, camels wandering near Bedouin encampments, and open rocky, sandy desert. The rocks themselves were all sandstone and had the most amazing shapes from past wind and rain. We saw small arches, holes, tunnels, and curves in countless rock formations shooting up from the sandy desert floor.

We entered Petra via the back, hopping down some boulder fields and rocky drops, then headed up an hour to the Monastery. The monastery is huge, but similar to the Treasury, and is located on top of one of the mountains there. The view just opposite of the treasury is amazing and you can see as far as Israel/Palestine from the top. The view is deemed the “end of the world” view by the locals. After descending, we strolled through the columned walk built by the Romans, then explored the tomb area before departing for the day.

That night, we returned to Carlos’ place and had a dinner of bread and hummus. We were able to sit and have tea for a while with some of the men of the community. We were informed that the oldest man their was their “Sheik” like you hear on TV. They do not actually refer to him in that manner, but he is the head of the community. We soon found ourselves moving to the Sheik’s house to speak with his daughters while he played us a Bedouin instrument and sang – all while we watched satellite television : )

11/7/10 – Day 5

Carlos arranged for us an early morning taxi to take us into town for a mini-bus to Wadi Rum. After a few hours on the bus, we arrived at the Wadi Rum visitors center, paid the entry fee of 5 JD ($7-8), then arranged a camel tour. We were looking for our CS host, Mosa, but could not contact him by phone. We asked some of the local Bedouin men and they did not seem to know him. On our way out, a man said Mosa was his cousin and happened to be a cousin of the man with whom we had arranged the camel ride. He tried to call, but no one answered. To clarify, EVERYONE in the town is related, as is Bedouin tradition. They typically marry their cousin and the entire town of 500 or so people has around 4-5 actual different family groups all linked over time.

We hopped in a jeep with the man with whom we had arranged our camel ride and went off toward Rum Village (the Bedouin town in Wadi Rum). As we pulled up to the town a man stopped us dressed in a white robe and white head towel and introduced himself, saying “I am Mosa.” He invited us to his house to have tea before we set off on our camels. A German friend, Nikolas, joined us for our camel tour, led by a young boy of around 14 years old. At first the boy walked with our camel’s rope and we soon reached the “end of town” about 100 yards down the road. The end of town was precisely that; small roads and houses instantly became flat, dry sand accented with massive rock formations on either side and in the distance.

Our first stop was Lawrence Spring (see the movie Lawrence of Arabia), then we trekked across an open sandy area to some old rock carvings, then massive sand dunes. The dune we climbed was huge and took quite a while to actually get up and down. It was a lot of fun to play on though. We were in a bit of a hurry to get back into town by the end as our tour was a little longer than it was supposed to be, so our guide began to run the camels. For those of you who have never run on a camel, it is not like a horse. There are no stirrups and the saddles are not as comfortable. In fact, running on a camel hurts. My tailbone is still in pain.

Later that night, Mosa had arranged tea and dinner in a Bedouin tent near his house. Some of his brothers and cousins came over to chat with us and to share tea. We slept on pads and blankets on the sand under the tent by a fire pit. The night was silent at first, then became the loudest night I have ever experienced. Apparently goats are REALLY LOUD and when they are loud dogs start to bark. When dogs start to bark, roosters get confused and start to crow. When all this is going on it is loud. When all this is going on in a small canyon between two huge cliffs acting as an amphitheater it is unbelievably loud.

11/8/10 – Day 6

We caught an early bus to Aqaba, on the coast of the Red Sea. Aqaba is a much trendier town than the rest of Jordan and is located on the border with Israel in the Gulf of Aqaba. We ate breakfast at a nice cafe, then met up with our couch surfing host Omar at his dive shop just down the street. He was headed out for a dive, so we stored our bags at the shop and headed off to the “South Beach” where the public beach is. Since many Jordanians are quite conservative (some families were in full Muslim garb getting into the water), we paid a small amount to use a local diving club’s pool and showers. The other advantage to this is that we could be in our swim suits without issue.

We caught back up with Omar later that day and headed to his place. He lived just a bit out of town next door to his other dive co-workers. Omar was super nice and we had a room to ourselves with a big bed. We went to a local dive bar (read Scuba Diving) with Omar and met some of his friends. Part of the way through the night, I looked up to see someone walking in with dreads…it was KK, our host from Amman. He came down to celebrate a friend’s birthday. We were all happy to see each other and little did we know that KK and Omar knew each other. We played some pool, sang some karaoke, and had some drinks. It was interesting to see a completely non-traditional/conservative side of Jordanians. I was able to chat with them about it and they said that they are free to do as they wish. If they wish to be conservative, they will be conservative. If they wish to be more liberal, they will be more liberal. They think what people write about the culture being closed and conservative is a load of crap. Based on what we experienced there, we would tend to agree.

11/9/10 – Day 7

We awoke early to head out on the boat. Omar works for Dive Aqaba, a scuba diving company in town. We soon headed out with a larger group and were sailing on the beautiful turquoise water of the Red Sea. I did two dives and Ash snorkeled. My first dive was more of a refresher dive, but we were able to see some amazing coral, a stone fish (which is deadly), a lion fish, and some other great things. My second dive I went with the rest of the group and we saw fan coral, a frog fish, more stone and lion fish, and a sunken army tank that was converted into a reef. We also were able to see large underwater rock formations with loads of sea life on them. I also got to hop in and swim with Ash for a while while she snorkeled. After our dives, we were served a nice lunch on the boat.

After returning back to the shop that evening, we all had a cookout to celebrate the departure of one of their staff members – who happened to be an American from Minnesota. We chatted with all sorts of people from all over Europe and from Jordan. Ash (a guy), the owner of the shop, was a great guy who was very funny.

The one interesting topper to the evening was the incremental periods of gunfire. It was election day and the winning party fires their guns into the air apparently to celebrate. It sounded a lot like CNN, but the semi-automatic fire a few blocks away was a bit unnerving.

We both had an amazing time in Jordan. The people were so friendly, always greeting us with a “Welcome to Jordan!” It was quite safe to walk around town, even at night. I would highly recommend visiting if you ever get the chance!

2 Responses to “Jordan: The country, the people, and our stories”

  1. deb says:

    Sounds amazing! Love the bracelet Ashley has on, “How’s your Karma?” 🙂 Have fun, take care of each other!
    Deb

  2. mama summers says:

    Awesome pics and awesome journaling! How amazing! To eat, drink and sleep the culture is so cool. You two should be the national/global spokespeople for CS`s!!! I can`t wait to read your next adventure. Thought the howling goats, barking dogs, crowing roosters, while trying to get a nights rest was hysterical!!! Love you both, stay safe, Love, Myna Bird, MamaSum

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