Posts Tagged ‘Jordan’

20th March
written by Hope

The kid driving us through the desert is 16 years old, and he’s a veteran 5 year smoker. He has 10 brothers and sisters, from his dad’s two wives. Like most of the rest of the world, he likes Obama, but not George Bush. And he makes a mean cup of sweet Jordanian tea.

Hussein is the second oldest son of Eid Ateeg, the patriarch of a Bedouin family making their living in Wadi Rum, the red sand desert in the south of Jordan where Lawrence of Arabia was filmed. We’ve ended up under their care after being handed off by the nice folks at the Petra Sun Set Hotel. It kind of cracks us up that we keep getting passed from one friend to the other as we travel through this desert landscape—every place we’ve stayed so far can be tracked back to the Black Iris Hotel in Madaba. It’s like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, Jordanian-style.

We set off into the desert and Hussein dutifully drives us from one site to another, first a spring where the camels get watered, and then a giant sand dune, which we scale with considerable effort, leaving our shoes full of sand and our lungs void of breath.

fighting an uphill battle, wadi rum
Jeremy fighting an uphill battle.

We check out some ancient hieroglyphic carvings, see the ruins of Lawrence of Arabia’s house (not sure if this was built for the movie or if it was actually Lawrence’s house, and we can’t get an answer out of Hussein either way), and walk across a rock bridge:

walking the rock bridge, wadi rum

But as usual in our travels, it’s not the sites themselves that make our experience, but everything that happens in between as we take in this stunning desert landscape…

a lone ranger, wadi rum
A lone ranger.

…and get to know this man/boy whose life is so different from ours.

lunch break in the shade, wadi rum
Want a cigarette? Breaking for lunch in a shady spot.

Our final destination was Eid’s family tent out in the middle of the desert, and we’re pleasantly surprised to find that the camp has a number of unexpected amenities. There’s a large covered area where you can hide from the sun, a squat toilet, and even a shower!

catching up on my travel journal in a bedouin tent, wadi rum
Catching up on my travel journal in Eid’s Bedouin tent.

The camp is strategically located to offer excellent views of both the sunrise and the sunset, and as the sun lowered into the ground, we watched as the colors of the desert grew soft and fuzzy. We ended our day with a delicious chicken dinner cooked by one of Eid’s wives, and fell asleep counting the shooting stars lighting up the desert sky. Truly one of the more magical experiences we’ve had so far on the trip.

Early the next morning, we were once again watching the desert change colors as the sun grew out of the red sand landscape and our 24 hours with The Eid & Hussein Show came to an end.

a long, sinuous curve, wadi rum
Dramatic shadows as the sun rises over Wadi Rum.

Make no mistake, there were some culturally shocking moments (beyond the underage smoking and the multiple wives), like the time when Eid responded to a girl’s fear of their family dog by kicking the poor pup. But as the day wore on, we found that our awe and appreciation for Wadi Rum’s stunning natural landscape was matched only by their affection for the desert they call home, an affection that is not at all diminished by the amount of time they’ve spent here. Common ground can be slow to reveal itself at times, but it’s no less stable once you find it.

jeremy with eid, our wadi rum bedouin guide

Details: We highly recommend Eid Ateeg as a Wadi Rum guide. Not only were his jeep tours cheaper than what you would pay at the visitor center, but the camp was impressively well-maintained, with excellent views of both the sunrise and sunset. He can also arrange camel rides. We paid 50 JOD each (US$70) for the jeep tour, food, and lodging for the night. Contact Eid on his Jordan mobile at 0777309249 or 0776470477, or on his email at eidateegz (at) yahoo (dot) com.

Transportation from Petra to Wadi Rum: For some reason the bus from Petra to Wadi Rum (5 JOD each, approx. US$7) leaves at the ungodly hour of 6AM. But don’t worry, if you go with Eid, you’ll be plied with Jordanian black tea all day long. If the caffeine doesn’t wake you up, the sugar will.

Where we slept in Wadi Rum: At Eid Ateeg’s Bedouin tent in the middle of the desert. You can choose to sleep in the tent, or pull the mattresses out and sleep under the stars. Guess which one we picked?

Our “hotel room” for the night.

Check out all our photos from Wadi Rum:

4th March
written by Hope

One of the best unanticipated benefits of extended travel is spending major milestones in special places: anniversaries, holidays, and of course, birthdays. We spent my birthday drinking rice wine with members of a Sapa hill tribe after a 24 km hike through the Vietnamese mountains. Six months later, we were walking through a candlelit gorge on Jeremy’s birthday, on our way to a haunting musical performance in front of Petra’s famous Treasury.

the treasury by candlelight, petra
The Treasury illuminated by candlelight, Petra.

Petra is, without a doubt, Jordan’s most famous tourist destination. And with good reason! An ancient Nabataean city chiseled out of rose-red rock? Yes please!

the street of facades, petra
The Street of Facades, where a number of Nabataean tombs are located.

psychadelic petra stone
Petra’s famous rose-red marbled rock.

The Nabataeans were an Arab tribe, and I don’t know much about them except that they were in the caravanning business, and they clearly believed in the power of anticipation. Entering Petra, visitors must first walk through a long (close to 3/4 of a mile), narrow gorge called the Siq, with colorful cliffs on either side that can rise up to 80 meters.

h + j in the multicolored siq, petra
12FOOT3 in the Siq.

And just when you get used to that meandering passageway, you see the following out of the corner of your eye:

siq view, petra
A sliver of the Treasury, as seen from the Siq.

And then…BAM! You turn the corner and you see this:

major photo op, petra
Petra’s most famous sight: The Treasury.

Though the Treasury is Petra’s most famous sight, the Monastery, set waaay on the other end of Petra’s vast grounds, is just as stunning and less crowded, since you have to climb over 800 stairs in the Jordanian heat to get to it.

the monastery, petra
The Monastery, Petra.

And if you’re not in the mood to climb 800 stairs, you can always hire a donkey. Or two.

tweedle dee and tweedle dum, petra
The Tweedle brothers, Dee and Dum.

We spent two days in Petra; the grounds are quite vast and we wanted to be sure we had time to see it all. After covering all the major sights on our first day, we spent our last day hiking up to the High Place of Sacrifice, with stunning views of Petra’s valley floor.

from the high place of sacrifice, petra
From the High Place of Sacrifice.

Though this was Jeremy’s second time visiting Petra, it was our first time seeing Petra by night. I don’t think he’ll soon forget that candlelit walk through the Siq, the haunting music echoing off the cliffs, or the brilliance of the stars over the Treasury that night. What a great place to turn 38. :)

Transportation from Madaba to Petra: We visited Jordan during the low season, so the normal bus from Madaba to Petra was not running. We had to take a taxi, and since it was just the two of us making the trip that day, it turned out to be quite expensive (50 JOD or US$70!). Ouch. The drive down the King’s Highway was quite lovely, though.

the kings' highway winding through jordan's desert landscape
The King’s Highway meandering through Jordan’s desert landscape.

Where we slept in Petra: Our cab driver from Madaba took us straight to Petra Sun Set Hotel, and since it was reasonably clean and located only 5 walking minutes from Petra’s main entrance, we went for it. There definitely isn’t much to say for the place except that the French woman working at the counter is really friendly, and the location can’t be beat. After walking in and out of the Siq, it’s really nice not having to trudge up the hill to Wadi Musa. We paid 25 JOD (US$35) for a double room ensuite.

Check out all our photos from Petra:

20th February
written by Hope

It’s ON. The Middle East portion of our trip, that is. Sure, our last destination, Turkey, has a strong Muslim culture, but it’s tempered by both European and Asian influences. Landing at the Amman airport, we saw men sneak off to the bathroom to change from Western suits into traditional thawb (an ankle-length white dress that looks like a long button-up shirt), keffiyeh (red and white checkered scarf), and agal (a circular black cord that sits on the head, keeping the keffiyeh in place). And in much larger percentages, we noticed women in full burqa and face veil (rather than just a head scarf). Toto, we’re not in Turkey anymore.

We chose Madaba over Amman as our first destination in Jordan, mostly on the advice of this website: Jordan Jubilee (a FABULOUS resource if you are ever visiting Jordan), which described Madaba as a pleasant town full of mosaics and Amman as a big, soulless city. SOLD! Madaba it is. Perhaps based on that description, I was expecting Madaba to be quite charming, but the reality is, Jordan looks a lot like this, with miles and miles of expansive desert in between the concrete jungles:

concrete jungle, madaba

The concrete jungle of Madaba.

Still, Madaba does have a few advantages over Amman. First, it’s known as the Mosaic City, most famously because of a mosaic map of the Holy Land set into the floor of St. George’s church.

mosaic map of the holy land, madaba

Mosaic map of the Holy Land in St. George’s Church, Madaba.

Secondly, Madaba is close to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on the planet (almost 1400 feet below sea level)! The water is so salty in this lake that you can literally stick your arms and legs out of the water and still float. In fact, it’s hard NOT to float in these waters—as soon as you lift your legs up, it’s like someone is pushing your butt to the surface. It was the strangest—and coolest—sensation!

floating in the dead sea

Jeremy floating in the Dead Sea with arms and legs out of the water.

There’s even a nice “resort” near the Dead Sea (called “Amman Beach”), with a pool, showers, and lounge chairs. At 12 Jordinian dinars (US$17) each to get in, it’s not cheap, and it’s true that you can walk down the highway and enjoy the Dead Sea for free. But trust me—you’re going to want a fresh-water shower after floating in that water. The high salt content makes it…hmm, how shall we say? A bit stingy on your sensitive parts.

salt deposit, the dead sea

Salt deposits near the shore of the Dead Sea.

Jeremy’s been to the Dead Sea before (via Israel), but he prefers this body of water on the Jordan side. Why? Well, if you’re in Jordan, you can watch the sun set over the water…and what a sight!

jeremy floating in the dead sea

Jeremy afloat at sunset.

hope emerging from the dead sea

Hope emerging from the Dead Sea.

Alright, so we’re not in Turkey anymore. And the towns aren’t as pretty in Jordan as they are in that country to the north. But hey, how often do you get to float in a prehistoric lake with waters 9 times saltier than the ocean? We had such an amazing time in Turkey that almost anything that followed was sure to be a downer…but so far, Jordan’s doing a pretty decent job of holding it’s own.

Transportation from Van, Turkey to Madaba, Jordan: Our travel from Van to Madaba was one of those “We-probably-should-have-researched-this-a-little-better-before-booking-our-around-the-world-tickets” kind of moment. See, Van is in southeastern Turkey, so we were set up to cross overland into Syria (we hear it IS currently possible for US passport holders to get Syrian visas) and then into Jordan. Instead, we flew all the way the heck back to Istanbul (in the west), where we caught our OneWorld Alliance flight east to Amman, Jordan. Kinda silly, but we had no way of knowing that we would end up in Van when we booked our around-the-world tickets. Sometimes you do pay for that spontaneity in travel.

Where we slept in Madaba: Apparently The Black Iris Hotel is considered a one-star accommodation, so either our standards were REALLY low at this point, or it is vastly underrated, because we thought it was pretty freakin’ nice! We paid 23 JD (US$32) for a nice double room with private bath. The owner is really nice and helpful in setting up your transportation to the Dead Sea or wherever you’re going next.