The Middle East.
As soon as I would mention this term back home, I would get panicked glances and almost appalled „are you sure?“ comments. And surely well meant, but prejudice-caused suggestions of why not going on a nice vacation in South Italy. No offense, I absolutely love free border-crossings and 9,99€ RyanAir flights and drinking tap water.
But the Middle East is at least equally fascinating, and double as hospitable. It doesn’t matter whether people speak English or Hebrew or Arabic or some weird Bedouin dialect, because a smile is a universal language. I have traveled this area for over three months now, on tours or with friends or by myself. And wherever I went, I was welcomed by helpful human beings that were happy to encounter a curious soul that wasn’t afraid of talking to them.
The last days in Jordan have been more than proof of that. Even without tap water and beers on the menu. I mean, frankly I wasn’t sure what to expect, I didn’t do much research in advance. I had to leave Israel since my visa was expiring, and decided to go on a 3 day Petra & Wadi Rum Tour with Abraham Tours – I’m actually not the group touring kind of person, but this one was really dead on. Afterwards, I wanted to stay in the country for another week. But until the last night of the tour, I was still clueless what to do next…
Day 1: Jerash & Amman
The bad news first: We had to get up at 5.30am.
And being well-behaved backpackers, only after 4 hours of non-sober sleep.
Time to say goodbye to my temporary home in Jerusalem. A few last sleepy farewell hugs, the unnerving feeling of having forgotten something really important, the leaden tiredness causing us to not give a damn and making us fall into one of the 15 bus seats, dreaming away again.
The first big stop was the border crossing in the north, and getting all the procedures done to leave Israel and enter Jordan. Our driver took care of everything on the Israeli side, and we just had to pass the passport control. Tip on the side: Ask the officer to stamp your small visa paper instead of your passport, if you don’t want an Israeli exit stamp in there.
We then met our Jordanian guide Rania – one of the most inspiring women I’ve ever met. She’s around 40, has three kids, wears a hijab and is more open-minded than many Westerners I know. Straight away, she invited us to ask absolutely any questions, and we started interrogating her about Islam, traditions, marriage, divorce, women’s rights, homosexuality, religion and society in Jordan, etc. You get the idea. And her answers were far from the image that our dear media draws (big surprise). Like they try to tell us it’s raining outside – and your duty is to go check, and you’ll discover it’s actually sunny.
After all the visas had been taken care of, we met our crazy bus driver Farah, who played Arabic party music and danced in his seat the entire day. Which we joined, all tiredness vanished, sababa.
Jerash, the Ancient Roman City
The curvy ride up the mountains all the way to Jerash took around 1,5 hours. While the modern part with its little markets and winding streets doesn’t suggest any glorious past, this impression will change as soon as catching a glimpse of Hadrian’s Gate, marking the entrance today. The ancient Roman city of Jerash was never on a major trade route, but spoiled with fertile land and year-round fresh water – so no matter what route you take and what season it is, you’ll pass the omnipresent fruit stalls in every alley. Dates, apples, berries, plums, YUM. We took it all in and then easy, walking at a leisurely pace, and allowing time for sitting on fallen columns to enjoy the views…
The Citadel of Amman
The next stop was the citadel in Amman. Sitting on the highest hill of the city, it first of all allowed us an overview of the capital, hosting a population of 4 million. What’s most impressive to see on the site itself are surely the Temple of Hercules and the Ummayad Palace. The museum on the grounds even features statues that date back to 6000 – 8000 BCE, and several artefacts from Bronze Age show that the area was an important place of commerce and politics for thousands of years.
Last but not least, we embarked on the long drive to Petra, where we would stay in a Bedouin Camp. We arrived after sunset, some of us already asleep, when someone suddenly gave a big “WOW” and pointed to the front: The whole mountainside next to the camp was covered in countless orange lights. It was magical. And at least we couldn’t get lost anymore. Until they turned the power off while we were still credulously exploring the area…
We got up 10 minutes before we left, being immensely grateful not to be responsible for the bus full of yawning backpackers. But still, 8am sharp, we arrived at the entrance to Petra – one of the new 7 world wonders, “a rose-red city half as old as time”. I find that, despite being a passionate traveler, I often skip those highly praised must-see’s – because they’re overrun by selfie-addicted tourists, and the intimate relationship of Photoshop and Hollywood often ruins the reality. Not the case though with Petra. Despite the steadily clicking cameras. Even if you’re no big Indiana Jones fan, when one of the guys around you will turn on the soundtrack while entering the pathway to the Treasury (and believe me, there is always one of them), your inner child’s gonna get excited.
Imagine you’re surrounded by massive red cliffs that only every now and then let a small stripe of blue sky left to be seen, being repeatedly overtaken by horse-drawn carriages covered in traditional fabrics, and walking along thousands of years old pipelines and worshipping sites. And after a while, you turn a corner, and see a narrow opening in the stone walls in front of you, and at first it’s too bright to see what comes next. And suddenly you realize, you’re there. The 30m wide and 43m high facade makes you feel like a dwarf, and unexpectedly insignificant in the sight of what humankind was able to create 2000 years ago. The most beautiful, well preserved monument of Petra is naturally selfie-spot number one, and thus getting that high-end picture here is rather tricky. Here you go, photoshop…
In total, we spent 10 hours in Petra. After lunch, we were given the option of three different hikes, of which time would allow us to complete two:
The Viewpoint of the Treasury
This hike in the beginning took us along some ancient tombs, presenting us colorful stonewalls, winding corridors, small caves. Another girl from the group and I then made our way up the steps. Many, many steps. Seemingly endless. Halfway, a local Bedouin overtook us on his donkey and gave us a wink. We just sighed and continued climbing. The last few steps led through a small tent offering water, tea, and simple food – and indeed one of the most breathtaking views I’ve ever seen. I mean, literally, since I was gasping like crazy from the climb. Additional to trying to realize, I’m not in a movie but this is actually real.
Supposedly a 1 hour hike (or 3 hours according to the guys trying to sell us a donkey ride up the mountains), we took only a little over 30 minutes to get from the bottom to the monastery. The cliffs along the way presented an unexpected mix of colors; red and blue and yellow. We walked along many small market stalls, trying to sell hand-made scarfs and jewelry and stones and ancient pottery, „EVERYTHING FOR 1 DINAR!“. Five minutes from the end, we were encouraged by the local vendors that we almost made it (and made us promise to have a look at their items on our way back). And eventually sitting down at the overpriced café, drinking a fresh Turkish Coffee, watching the view of that impressive facade – mostly, I once more incredibly missed my sunglasses, that I had lost a couple of days before. But oh well.
The High Place of Sacrifice
We decided to not do this one, but that’s up to everyone’s own preferences. The High Place of Sacrifice is known to be one of the highest and easily accessible points in Petra, allowing views into Wadi Musa some 170m below you. The platform itself is about 15m and 6m and served as a venue for religious ceremonies – probably in honor of Dushara, but it is unsure what kind of sacrifices took place up here.
Day 3-6: Wadi Rum
Time for the desert. The one that has hosted big-time movies like “Lawrence of Arabia”, “Transformers” and “The Martian”. I fear I’m gonna use credibility now if I use the words breathtaking or stunning or amazing again. So let’s just say – it’s even better than Hollywood makes it look like.
Still with the group, we went on a jeep tour. Sitting on alarmingly rusty benches covered with haggled pillows, underneath a checked piece of fabric protecting us from the sun, and almost nothing to hold on to, the three jeeps took us high-speed through the red sand dunes. We went past viewpoints and canyons, cliffs and endless stretches of sand. Only a few bedouin tents interrupted the otherwise barren landscape. Having some more sweet tea, Rania explained us about the traditional coffee and its various meanings in the culture.
After lunch, the group headed back to Israel, while I had decided to stay in Wadi Rum for two nights. Well, it turned out to be three. And again, couchsurfing allowed me an amazing experience, staying with locals, away from the big tourist camps. Abdalsalam, a mid-20s bedouin from the Alzalabieh tribe, picked me up where I had left the group, and showed me his home for the coming 3 days. My comfort was his biggest concern. And my taste of music. Never would I have imagined to be speeding through the desert while listening to Fettes Brot.
I rarely encountered greater hospitality. Having nothing to worry about. We’ve slept in the desert underneath the stars, enjoyed wide views and campfire dinners and wild jeep rides through red sand dunes. Every two hours or so, we had some traditional tea at another person’s tent, and then continued the journey. I saw miles and miles and saw nothing at all built by humans. I stopped moving and I could hear absolutely nothing but my own heart beat. If we needed to make a call, we had to drive to the village again. No reception, no internet, but absolute peace. And freedom.
Day 6-8: Dana Biosphere Reserve
I discovered that I was swimming against the stream by planning to go north from Wadi Rum, to Dana, and then to Madaba or Amman. Every other traveler I met, whether by public transport or in a rented car, was going the other way. Well.
I managed to find a cheap ride that took me all the way to my hotel in the historical village of Dana. One of the three or four there are. And between them, one shop. That’s about it. The nature reserve is the biggest one in Jordan. From the village, you can enjoy wide views over Wadi Dana, enjoy the quiet, the rich green, the white stone domes on one side, and high red cliffs on the other. The activities here? Hiking. Various trails, some self-guided, others only with a guide. I felt how I more and more appreciated the nature around me, and less and less had an urge to get back to the city. I didn’t miss malls. Or clubs. Not even a central bus station.
Instead, I just walked by a place, started to chat to the owner of the restaurant, had tea, ended up talking the entire evening, and being invited for a day hike the next day. In exchange, I helped him setting up some accounts for looking for volunteers (Guys & Gals, consider staying in Jordan longer? Message Rami!). Anyway, that’s just how things roll here I guess. If you don’t like tea, you won’t get anywhere.
Two peaceful though rainy days later, it was Friday. The holiday. Public transport in Jordan is already a hassle. Insecurely, I tackled the challenge of hitchhiking. Alone as a woman? Hah. 200 km took me two (very comfortable) rides and not even a minute to wait each. When English didn’t work well, half the village gathered until someone understood my intention and helped me getting a ride. First, an air marshall on his way home took me to the highway, then a hotel manager from Amman, offering me a ride in the beige-colored leather seat of his BMW, and handing me a fresh Turkish coffee even before I could finish saying “Salam Alaikum”.
Day 8-10: Amman & Day Trips
Three more days in the city, before I would continue my journey to the next country. After all, it’s up to you what you feel like – whether strolling the city’s markets, visit the Roman theater, chill in cafés and try local food, or use it as a base to visit the North, the Dead Sea area, closeby nature reserves or historical sights. I stayed in the Tower Hostel, which I found to be a nice mix of location, price, and offers.
But of course I wasn’t gonna stay in the city for three days. Nature calling. And my adrenaline addiction was bugging me. I decided to try canyoning. I have some experience in rock-climbing, but never did any abseiling… So I had a thrilling tour in Wadi Zarqa Ma’in with two fun dudes from Tropical Desert.
The day turned out to be a fun mix of a road- and camping trip. With some additional random hanging some 30m above the ground while a waterfall massaged my back, and watching that guy below running back and forth to take my pictures.
And now… now I’m making the best of my last hours in Jordan, sitting in a café in a hipster-ish part of town where people give you the Wifi password before the menu. I guess that’s my life now. This whole digital nomad shit. With my one true love aka my backpack. And a laptop. And suddenly stumbling into the next adventure.
- Always have enough cash on you. Sometimes, you don’t come across an ATM for days.
- Public transport? Not really. If you’re with someone else, consider renting a car. Or go hitchhiking, was no problem!
- Learn some basic Arabic! It’s fun. It’ll make people happy. It’ll save you time.
Well. Jordan is an absolutely gorgeous country. And gorgeous not only because of the terrific nature and landscapes, but because of the people. Oh, and a general advice for the end – never leave the house without what you need to prepare some tea. Cause tea equals peace here.