Feb 162014
 

I have tried to catch-up on my blog posts since returning home briefly for a surprise visit and this post on Jordan should finally bring me up to date.  Jordan is the dream destination for any history buff and for the budding photographer Jordan packs many punches from desert landscapes, interesting and diverse cities and obviously a ton of archaeological sites.

Township of Wadi Rum

Township of Wadi Rum

Jordan is not really a destination where you can just arrive and stumble across an established trail similar to what you might find across Europe. As I gained experience travelling solo I got addicted to the freedom of having no itinerary or set plan when arriving at a destination.  Apart from an initial hostel booking and transportation ticket I didn’t plan much else and relied on the advice and feedback from fellow travellers and hostel staff.  I have become so accustomed to this style of travel that actually planning something with a little more structure (such as my upcoming visit to Cuba) actually makes me nervous.

Outside of the capital Amman, hostels are pretty scarce which makes connecting with fellow travellers challenging.  English-speaking locals are not abundant and when combined with public transportation that revolves mainly around busses and shared vehicles called ‘servees’ you definitely need to plan ahead.  But once you overcome those challenges it makes for a truly rewarding experience  and a greater sense of achievement.

Upon arriving into Amman airport at around 6:00AM I piled into a servees and headed for the main bus station in town called Abdali which is where the national bus carrier CTM departs for their daily service to Petra.  The bus ride was comfortable enough taking around few hours along a straight road through mostly desert.

The township of Wadi Musa (Petra)

The township of Wadi Musa (Petra)

The township of Petra is actually called Wadi Musa. It is divided into two sections with the area close to archaeological site obviously geared to the tourist trade and another area where I stayed (about 20-minutes walk up the hill) with a more local feel.

The biggest bonus for me during my stay in Jordan was knowing the lingo.  Morocco was a nightmare for my arabic skills as they have a difficult dialect for me to understand but Jordan is so much closer to what I was taught.  I genuinely appreciated the ability to converse and hang out with locals, especially in Madaba where I made some great friends.  English is not widely spoken in Jordan so I literally was forced to speak almost immediately upon arriving and I quickly improved each day.

New friends in Madaba.

New friends in Madaba.

The archaeological site of Petra is Jordan’s biggest tourist attraction. I had no idea of the scale of this site and strongly recommend at least a 2-day pass to see most of it.  You also need to be ready for extensive and often challenging walking terrain which varies from soft sand to broken rocks and many hills and uneven stairs.  Havaianas definitely have no business going anywhere near the park and packing your own food and water is highly advisable.

The Indiana Jones view of Treasury - Petra

The Indiana Jones view of Treasury – Petra

Many of the ‘special’ vantage points within the park have no defined trails and can only be accessed with a local guide.  An example of this is the ‘Indiana Jones’ view of Treasury pictured above.  I was so lucky to stumble onto the most beautiful 2 Bedouin sisters (pictured below) who closed their stall and took me on an extremely challenging and dangerous trail to this very special spot. These 2 had absolutely no fear of heights and were racing across the cliffs edge like it was a football field.

The best guides I could ever ask for.

The best guides I could ever ask for.

By the way I did also take a stack of photographs at Petra which I am gradually uploading and you can view them in the gallery page I created here –  http://soloworldtour.com/gallery/middle-east/jordan/petra

After two intense days trekking around Petra I was ready to bounce to Wadi Rum aka The Valley of the Moon which is a valley cut into the sandstone and granite rock in southern Jordan 60 km to the east of Aqaba.  My sister recommended I go camping in the desert which is exactly what I organised.

Wadi Rum Desert Camp

Wadi Rum Desert Camp

I organised the tour following a recommendation from my B&B in Petra.  The 6 hour desert tour in a 4WD followed up with a traditional dinner in the camp and sleeping under the stars all seemed great.  What everyone failed to mention was that it was low season and the camp was literally empty.  I was so lucky to recruit an older Croatian gentleman on the bus from Petra which at least gave me some company on the tour and at dinner.

The scenery out in the desert was spectacular and words can’t really do it justice. Besides a few of the main attractions like “Big Bridge” (pictured below) we were literally the only people out in the middle of nowhere.

Big Bridge

Big Bridge

I really enjoyed simply gazing at the rock formations and desert vegetation and couldn’t help but to think what it would be like for the local tribespeople to live in such a remote and desolate place.  I love having my own space and doing my own thing but living out here would take this to the absolute extreme.

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Apart from the spectacular scenery there is not a huge amount of activities on offer in Wadi Rum – unless you love rock climbing.

One full day and night is definitely enough to get some photos, see the sunset and chill out under the stars.

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I also learned that transport in and out of Wadi Rum is limited.  The single bus service to the nearest city of Aqaba is almost impossible to board (especially on a Monday) which meant that I had to hitch a few rides to the main highway and then another to Madaba.  Fortunately Jordan is a very friendly place for hitch-hiking and apart from a short wait in the township of Wadi Rum, I was not left waiting more than a few minutes for a ride.

I only spent one night in Aqaba.  It sits between the borders of Saudi Arabia and Israel on the Red Sea.  It has a bustling little township with some great food options and a few bars etc. This shisha’ were good and the falafel was cheap, apart from that I can’t really say much else with my limited time in the city.

Aqaba Township

Aqaba Township

After leaving Jordan for a few days to visit Palestine and Israel, I returned to spend a few days at the Dead Sea and the nearby town of Madaba. Unfortunately weather was not on my side with the first of my 3 days featuring torrential rain and that left me with limited options such as hanging out at local stores in Madaba.  The positive that came from this is meeting some local guys Rakan and Sufian whose family owned a local coffee shop.

Madaba Township

Madaba Township

Laith making me a coffee at the family store in Madaba

Laith making me a coffee at the family store in Madaba

I did actually manage to get to the Dead Sea the following day but the rain from the earlier days had made the water really murky.  The temperature was not exactly the best for bathing either so my experience was far from positive.

The Dead Sea

The Dead Sea

The water in the Dead Sea is really viscous which I believe has something to do with the high salt concentration which fluctuates at around 30%.  It was literally like wiping oil over my skin.

Not the best day for a swim at The Dead Sea

Not the best day for a swim at The Dead Sea

You also immediately notice any scratch or cut once the water comes into contact with your skin and be sure to keep it well away from your eyes as it stings really badly. Following my quick bathing session I bought some Dead Sea mud from some locals and covered myself from head to toe.  Unfortunately I didn’t take any photos but I’ll leave it to your imagination to picture me walking around in a pair of speedos completely covered in black Dead Sea mud for about 30 minutes.  There were zero tourists around due to the weather which meant the locals had a field day with my presence.

During my last day in Madaba, my new friends Rakan and Sufian gave me a guided tour of the township and main attractions.  It is best known for its Byzantine and Umayyad mosaics, especially a large Byzantine-era mosaic map of The Holy Land.

The Madaba Map (aka Madaba Mosaic Map) is part of a floor mosaic in the early Byzantine church of Saint George at Madaba, Jordan.

The Madaba Map (aka Madaba Mosaic Map) is part of a floor mosaic in the early Byzantine church of Saint George at Madaba, Jordan.

Madaba has a large christian community being home to the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George and Church of the Virgin and the Apostles.

Greek Orthodox Church of St. George

Greek Orthodox Church of St. George

About 30 minutes drive from Madaba is Mount Nebo which is an elevated ridge in Jordan, mentioned in the Bible as the place where Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land that he would never enter. The view from the summit provides a panorama of the Holy Land and, to the north, a more limited one of the valley of the River Jordan.

Day trip to Mt Nebo

Day trip to Mt Nebo

I was really fortunate to meet Rakan and Sufian.  Not only did they help me fine tune my arabic skills but they gave me an insider’s view in Madaba that most may not experience.  They were particularly interested in visiting Australia and I hope they do so some day as I would love to return the gesture.

Rakan (Left), Sufian (Right) and me.

Rakan (Left), Sufian (Right) and me.

I soaked up so much history during my time in Jordan and it added yet another dimension to my world tour that I had not experienced earlier.  The stunning sights of Petra and Wadi Rum I will remember forever.

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