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Jubilant Jordan  //  Ammam, the Dead Sea, Petra, Aqaba, and Wadi Rum

30 Nov Posted by in Jordan, Middle East, UNESCO | Comments
Jubilant Jordan
 

Jordan is an exhilarating mix between East and West. While fundamentally Muslim, its avant guarde western ideals make it the perfect first step onto a mystical and sometimes daunting world. I certainly would have never contemplated hiring a car and taking a ‘Thelma and Lousie’ type trip in Egypt or Sudan, but here? Perfect!

Reclining back on the reception lounge of my hotel, I am staring at my best friend Kathleen. I cannot believe I managed to convince her to fly to Jordan to visit me, but alas, here she is. Skype and emails go a long way in bridging the gap between wandering souls (me) and those who prefer a much saner and safer way of life (her), but there’s nothing like a one on one, in Jordan no less, to reconnect with long time friends.

This Middle Eastern Kingdom is snuggly wedged between hotspots like Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Israel; yet its people have retained a relaxed and welcoming attitude, probably because the world around them is in so much turmoil. The fact that it is a relatively small country to explore by car (a 10 day self drive holiday will see you take in all the major sights) Jordan is jam packed with UNESCO SITES, cultural points of interest and quite possibly the best food in the Arab world.

AMMAN, Jordan’s Capital

Amman

Amman
Image Credits: Laura Pattara

It is raining incessantly on our first day together in the capital Amman. I had originally planned a visit to the local outdoor bazaar, lunch in a hole –in-the wall falafel joint downtown and perhaps a tea and shisha smoking session in the afternoon. But we need to make a quick change of plans.
“How about we go to a hammam?” I offer “I found the perfect one only a 10 minute ride away. It’s considered to be the best in town. How about we soak, scrub and massage instead?”
“Oh that sound s great! I wanted to visit one when I was last in Turkey but dared not go alone.” My jovial buddy responds.

Al Pasha Hammam is a hazy and enticing marble haven open only to women during daytime hours. It is the epitome of decadence. Colorful mosaic tiles and dim chandeliers give the place a wonderfully exotic atmosphere. We steam, soak and bubble for hours while sipping icy-cold hibiscus tea, awaiting our turn at the ‘scrubbing table’. Soon we’re approached by an Asian girl asking for the ‘next in line’.
Playing host means I get to go first and, after a 20 minute session, return to a hysterical Kathleen soaking in the hot tub.

“Oh my goodness, did you see how much dead skin she scrubbed off you?” She screams in delight.
“That’s not dead skin! There’s soft tissue and bone fragments in there too!” I protest. It’s true that best shower heads have been hard to find lately, but I am somewhat annoyed at the fact that I seem to have no tan left. Hmmm…

DEAD SEA

Kathleen and I jump in our hire car at 7am next day and head straight for the Dead Sea, a mere hour’s drive away.

The Dead Sea

The Dead Sea
Image Credits:Laura Padgett

The Dead Sea is located 422 meters below sea level and is 9 times saltier than the Pacific Ocean. Its density makes it one of Mother Nature’s ideal playgrounds. We soon find a resort offering day passes and within minutes are bobbing around the sea like mad sea-otters. Covering ourselves in the reputedly therapeutic mud from head to toe, we are quick to take some snaps before our skin goes stiff as a board and we can no longer smile. Some of the world’s most exclusive resorts are found here, although we fail to see their appeal. There’s only so long you can soak in extremely salty water before your ovaries get permanently preserved; you’d end up spending more time by the chlorinated swimming pool!

After a couple of hours, and quite a few refreshing showers, we hop in our car and head to our next stop.

PETRA

The Monastery (Al Dier), Petra, Jordan

The Monastery (Al Dier), Petra, Jordan
Image Credits:Dennis Jarvis

Built in the 6th century BC and named the Red-Rose City for the amazing colors of the rock hewn facades, Petra was recently chosen by the BBC as one of ‘the 40 places you have to see before you die.”
We spend 8 hours getting lost in the ancient Nabataean city, yet we could seriously spend week on end hiking through the red, rocky hills. This UNESCO World heritage Site is the single biggest tourist attraction in Jordan and it’s not difficult to see why. Even Harrison Ford made it here to film Indiana Jones!

The intricate carvings on the massive facades are something to behold; coupled with the heat and dust it makes for quite a surreal experience. Petra is like a real life time travel machine. We’re talking about a city which was occupied, and lived in, around three and a half thousand years ago. We’re making buildings nowadays which can barely stand a natural disaster, yet their temples, churches and amphitheaters thrive now like never before.

AQABA

Jordan may only boast 26kms of coastline…but when that coastline is on the Red Sea you soon learn that here, it’s all about quality, not quantity.

Aqaba

Aqaba
Image Credits: Laura Pattara

The city is hot and sticky and we head straight to the Aqaba Diving Centre. The Diving Centre offers day passes to its private beach and all the snorkeling and diving equipment one can imagine.

Regarded as one of the top diving destinations in the world, the Red Sea displays colorful corals, countless endemic sea life and quite a few old wreck dives. Unfortunately, the gale-force winds that greet us make it almost impossible to snorkel, lest we be swept across to Israel. We manage to stay around the reef long enough to see some coral and tickle the fishys, and spend the rest of the afternoon by the pool baking and chatting.

WADI RUM

We could almost pass as locals, aboard our belching camels; the only dead giveaway that we’re tourists is the insane amount of photos we take once we reach Wadi Rum, an incredible valley cut into sandstone and granite rock formations; also known as the ‘Valley of the Moon’.

Considered one of the best rock climbing areas in the world, Kathleen and I have unfortunately not enough time to spend the required few day here hiking, and staying in Bedouin camps. We barely manage a two hour camel ride before we need to head back to Amman; however I would highly recommend a visit to discover ancient petro-glyphs, hike the highest peaks and take in the best views of the Red Sea.

When to go, how to get there and what to do…

The best time to visit Jordan is during spring (March-May) and autumn (Sept-Nov); when you’ll enjoy a respite from the scorching summertime temperatures. Although the country is quite small, its various altitudes mean that it may be difficult to pick a ‘perfect’ month.

Kathleen and I toured in February and while temperatures in Amman were a little on the low side, it was certainly bearable; whilst only a few hours away, in Petra, any hotter and we would have melted. So pick your battles.

Amman International Airport is serviced by all major airlines, and the capital is the perfect first base for your travels. While hotels and hostels are numerous, do book in advance if going in high season. We’d (still) highly recommend hiring a car and traversing the country on your own, it was just so easy!
While modern in all respects, do show off your cultural sensitivities; even in extreme heat, cover your shoulders and legs. Actually, in deserty countries, you’ll soon learn that long sleeved cotton kaftans are a Godsend, as are lose fitting long trousers. Sun burns here are pure evil.

A highly desirable destination with a difference, Jordan offers the best of culture, history, nature and cuisine…and it’s all yours for the taking.

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