Another article in our OBT series. Our roving retirement tour of the middle east had to include Jordan because we absolutely wanted to see Petra and we weren’t disappointed.
We arrived in Jordan having only 4 hours of sleep, because of some flight changes in Egypt (pretty much par for the course if you’ve read our Egypt articles). On our drive to Amman from the airport, we were happy to see that Jordan seemed more prosperous and modern than Egypt. Petra would be the highlight of our visit to this country.
Jordan is a mountainous, desert country where most of the towns are surprisingly on top of the ridges. We are used to seeing towns built in valleys but here the towns are on the ridge tops. In one small museum, we read about the history of Jordan and there were many wars and invaders so towns on the ridge tops make more sense because they are defensible.
Amman is a large city with one-third of the population of Jordan but there isn’t much of historical value to see. What is interesting is that it is built on 7 hills and sits at an altitude above 3000 feet above sea level. At night the city had a nice vibe but like Egypt no beer, wine, or cocktails with dinner. It seems absence makes the heart grow fonder. Our guide must think we are all alcoholics because we frequently talk about finding a place to get a beer or some wine.
The Northern City of Jerash
Our first stop of the day was the northern town of Jerash to see the remains of a large Roman town over two thousand years old. The theatre was mostly intact and happened to have a Jordanian bagpiper and drummer playing and the acoustics of the theatre was amazing.
Later we drove to a resort on the Dead Sea and we went floating not swimming. The salt content is so high you can’t actually swim and must be careful to not get your face in the water. It was definitely an experience. Mike and I both opted to skip the black mud treatment on offer.
Mt. Nebo, Mosaics, and Little Petra
Mt. Nebo is the place where God showed Moses the promised land and the place where Moses died. You can see Jericho from there and on a very clear day, you can see Jerusalem.
To celebrate this place, a church was built that was decorated with very well preserved mosaics. We also stopped at a church in nearby Madaba to see the remains of a mosaic map of the entire middle east.
After a few more stops we got to Little Petra, which is seven kilometers from Petra. It is a village where the workers from Petra lived in ancient times. It seems that in their spare time they carved monuments in the sandstone to beautify their own home in a slot canyon. Our visit here served as a teaser for our visit to Petra the next day. That night we stayed in the town where everyone stays to visit Petra, Wadi Musa. That is where the Nabateans live today.
Petra is the number one tourist attraction in Jordan. This famous site was created by the Nabateans, a tribe that still lives in the Petra area. From the visitors center, it is a 2 km walk to the start of the sandstone canyon then it is another 2 km to the treasury. The treasury is the building carved into the sandstone mountain that everyone has seen in movies like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I had a genuine WOW moment when I first got a glimpse of the treasury from within the narrow canyon leading to it.
But wait, there’s more. We continued walking from the treasury into a small valley (basin) with carved tombs along the sides. There was a grand temple, a church, and a Roman-style colonnaded Avenue. After a short break, we climbed up 800+ steps to a monastery carved into the mountain.
I broke my own trip record for steps by doing 26,000 or 11 miles on that day. The previous record was 22,000 on a day in Tokyo.
After a good night’s sleep, we headed to Wadi Rum in the desert of southern Jordan. We learned that Wadi means valley and Rum is the name of the Bedouin tribe that lives there. On the way, we stopped at a train station that had a steam train straight out of Lawrence of Arabia. Complete with mounts for the guns on one of the train cars.
After a short stop at a big Bedouin camp, we transferred to what they called a Jeep but it was really a pickup truck with seats in the back. It turned out to be pretty comfortable. We headed further out into the unspoiled desert toward another Bedouin camp. These days, the Bedouins mostly have camps for tourists. This area is where they filmed the Martian, the new Aladdin movie and many others.
The Jeep ride was going so well that we opted to continue for another 2 hours. Our first stop was at two natural arches. But in addition to the arches that you can climb on there were camels that you could ride between the arches, for about 5 minutes and 5 Jordanian Dinar. The perfect camel ride. Enough to get the feel but not so much that you get the ‘feel.’ We were so excited to have a camel ride that was cheap, fast, and good.
After the camel ride, we were able to climb the second arch, up is easy but down, not so much. It was so much fun. Our last stop on the ”extra credit” Jeep ride was a spot to view the sunset.
We ended the evening with a traditional dinner at the Bedouin camp. The dinner was chicken, lamb, vegetables, and rice cooked for 3 hours underground.
Aqaba and the Red Sea
The next morning, after another breakfast of pita bread, hard-boiled eggs, and mediocre coffee we headed to the resort town of Aqaba, on the Red Sea. Jordan has 12 kilometers of land on the Red Sea before you get to Saudi Arabia. Our main activity in Aqaba was a snorkel trip in the Red Sea. Across the Red Sea from Aqaba is Eilat, Israel and just south of Eilat is Egypt. So from our boat, we could see four countries.
The snorkeling was awesome, we actually made three stops during the late afternoon when the light is good and the fish are hungry. The first two stops were on coral reefs that looked pretty healthy and the last stop was at a sunken airplane and a sunken tank. Mike and I were always the last two people out of the water. We agreed on the way back to port that the snorkeling was better than the dives we did in Thailand.
We really had a blast in Jordan.
Are you ready to visit Jordan?