Apr 16 11

You’re Welcome in Jordan

by Emily Benjamin

Now I try to capture 8 days in Jordan in a succinct blog entry, including all our adventures, mishaps and experiences. From Amman to Wadi Rum, the deep blue of the Dead Sea to the bright red of the sunset on the Monastery, from the lowest lake in the world to the high peaks of Petra, and all the sights in between. What an overwhelming surprise Jordan has been.

We knew it would be a packed week, but I had no idea we could fit so much in. From our early morning arrival on Friday 8th April, we gave ourselves only 3 hours rest before we went out to explore. In that one afternoon and evening we covered most of Amman, from the cheapest and best falafel around, the views of the citadel looking over the city, and the panorama of sandblasted yellow and white Lego block houses of Amman. We met some locals, smelled the sweet shisha, and enjoyed the cool sunset from Rainbow Street.

On Saturday we shared a cab with a determined French man to Umm Quays, Ajloun and Jerash. I’d never heard of the first two, but was keen to see the ruins of Jerash to the north of Amman. We filled our day in these spots by taking photos and enjoying the warm but dry sun – a welcome change from the sweltering humidity of Asia. It is so much easier to walk around in hot dry heat than hot wet heat, I know that for sure! By 6pm we were back in Amman and back to Hashem’s Restaurant for the best falafel in town – for only 4JD.

Sunday came quickly after a quiet night in and we were up early again for a public bus to Petra. This was the big goal of our trip to Jordan – to see the Treasury in Petra, perhaps best known as the backdrop for the Indiana Jones movies. Over two thousand years old and taking years and years to carve, the temple and tomb facades of Petra were truly a breathtaking sight. By 5pm we were alone but for 4 other people, able to absorb the magnificent Treasury as it was bathed in the last of the afternoon sun. I’ve written a separate account of Petra in an earlier blog, so I won’t gush much more here, but it was absolutely spectacular.

By Monday we were itching to see the rest of Petra, as the day before covered only half what we had expected. Preparing to walk the same way as before, through the narrow, mysterious Siq, we were stopped by locals offering a horseback ride over the top to the Monastery. We haggled them down from 70JD to 40JD, and set off. For the next 2 hours our horses negotiated rocks, rubble and sand as we went around, up and over the top of the mountains, eventually stopping at a point with a clear view back to our hotel, kilometres away. We left the horses here while we scrambled down one side of the mountain, across narrow paths, and at times sliding on bums as it felt safest. Ten minutes later and we were told to keep our voices low, close our eyes, and hold hands, as our guide lead us up to a ledge above the Treasury. We opened our eyes and had to quickly remember to keep the ‘WOW’s’ to a minimum – being in this spot could get our guide in trouble with the police below, apparently. For the second time in 24 hours, we could see the Treasury with no one in it – but this time, there were hundreds of tourists below, unaware that we were peering over their shoulders.

The rest of the day was long but fulfilling. We crossed over to the High Place of Sacrifice for 360 degree views of the endless valleys below. I still haven’t found out how big Petra is, but the next day, I followed the view of the mountains from a bus window for more than 30 minutes before they disappeared – so I assume it’s pretty big! After lunch we found ourselves following closely in the footsteps of an Australian man with his local guide that we had met back where we left our horses. The guy from Melbourne quickly invited us to share his guide while we walked with them, and we discovered that Mohammed is not just any guide. It turns out Mohammed is a location director for movies and productions in Jordan, most notably responsible for the multiple Oscar award winning Hurt Locker in 2009. He rattled off more movies he had worked on, and sights he could recommend for us in Petra and Wadi Rum, and invited us to add him as a friend on Facebook. We took his card and promised to get in touch, before parting ways later in the afternoon as we headed to the Monastery.

We took donkeys to the top of the Monastery for the ‘best view in Petra.’ They weren’t wrong – the view was astounding. Another panoramic view but with the late afternoon shadows deepening the lines of the endless valleys, and the rich reds coming through in the last of the sun. Tired and overwhelmed, we trekked back down and made our way to our hotel, with our last 2JD put to use on a cab back up the hill to the hotel in Wadi Musa.

Tuesday would have been an ideal day for a sleep in, but it was not to be. We had booked a 6.30am bus to Wadi Rum, but by 6.45am it had not arrived. The day before we had asked three separate times to book the bus for us, but it turns out that three is not the magic number. It had not been done. No worries though – our knight in a shining pick-up showed up, and offered to catch us up to the bus some 25 kilometres away. We had no choice so we said yes, and over the next 15 minutes we gripped each other as our driver took racing lines at 140km/hr through s-bends on the edge of cliffs. No railings, no concerns that he was going to be caught speeding, and probably the most concerning was that he was on the wrong side of the road going around blind corners most of the time. But we made it, made not safe and sound, but at least awake. Our bus was waiting and we jumped on board, and settled in for the 1 hour ride to Wadi Rum.

Wadi Rum reminds me of Mars. No, I haven’t been to Mars before… after all, women are from Venus, right? But Wadi Rum, or the Valley of the Moon, could easily pass as another planet. In fact it has passed as Mars a number of times before, for movies – Red Planet and Mission to Mars, to name a couple. Here we had arranged for a night under the stars, and we were joined by five others and our hotelier, Walid. Maybe not a hotelier, as we were sleeping in tents. Does that make him a tentier, maybe? Who knows. But first we were given a jeep tour of Lawrence of Arabia’s one time home. The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Lawrence’s house and spring, and burnt red sand dunes. We wrapped our scarves tightly around our heads as sand whipped through the deserts in every direction. We saw rainbows of yellow sand, green shrubs, orange and red mountains and bright blue skies. Every corner looked like a movie set, complete with mini sand tornadoes and wild camels creating silhouettes on the horizon. You haven’t been to Wadi Rum until you’ve got a photo of a camel on the horizon with a cloud behind it, I say!

By night we sipped tea and stared at the stars, before setting off again early on Wednesday morning for Petra again. There we picked up our hire car and set off for Madaba along the Dead Sea Highway. A brief stop at Dana on the way was fruitful, as we met a couple from the morning’s bus ride there. Turns out I had forgotten my jumper on the bus and of all people to collect it, this couple grabbed it and hoped to catch us again. Which was very lucky, as the nights in Jordan had been surprisingly cool and I’d been layering up to 4 or 5 times to keep warm. That layer would have been missed! A few hours later after a flat tyre and our first glimpse of the Dead Sea, we were checked into our hotel in Madaba for our last three nights in Jordan.

Thursday we made the most of our hire car and went to the Dead Sea. We were stopped three times along the way, for very different reasons. The first was a passport check point, because of how close we were to the Israel border. The second stop was for a camel ride with a local boy named Ahmed. That was very random – he waved us down, got his camel to sit, and offered us both a ride. He tried to charge 20JD for the service but we weren’t having any of that, and gave him 6JD instead. The third stop was to make way for some rally cars. Ok, not just any rally cars – the World Rally Championship was being hosted here for the next three days. Monkey got out and took photos for 10 minutes, no doubt revelling in the opportunity to see the real life rally characters that he’s raced against in Playstation. Then onwards to the Dead Sea, where we did as tourists do – we giggled and posed as our legs were lifted out from under us and we bobbed up and down in the salty water. Of course we also covered ourselves in the Dead Sea mud, and enlisted the helpful lifeguard to take our photos while we dried the mud in the sun.

It was only once we’d had another dip, had a shower and scrubbed off the mud that Monkey, being the muppet that he is, realised his iPhone had been in his pocket the whole time. You might call that a Major Monkey Mishap. We let it dry, tried the blow dryer technique, but unfortunately the phone died at the Dead Sea. We traipsed back to Madaba and had a quiet night, but spoiled ourselves with a delicious feast of warm pita bread, spicy beef sausages, lemon and garlic chicken wings and kebab and chicken shawarmas for dinner at Haret Jdoudna, reportedly the best restaurant in Madaba. I can’t compare it to anywhere but it was a delicious end to a crazy day.

Friday was our last full day in Madaba and I think we used it well. We lay by the pool for a few hours, with regular attempts to access the internet seeming futile by lunch time. A late breakfast had us full until 4pm so we headed into town for a quick look at the Greek Orthodox church containing the famous mosaic map of Jerusalem before an early dinner. It wasn’t long before the crowds and loud music outside interrupted our dinner – Madaba Tourism Agency was putting on a Middle Eastern Music Festival for us! They gave us front row seats for the action – singers and dancers from Jordan, Egypt, Palestine and Syria all there to show off their local song and dance talents as the sun went down. If I were to be honest, a lot of it sounded the same – but they each brought their own flair to the table with bagpipes, oboes and mesmerising dancers.

And Saturday… well, I’m finishing this entry now from our hotel in Cairo! On the 18th floor, with a view to Cairo Tower and the Egyptian Museum. Apparently Tahrir Square is about 10minutes walk away, but given the recent unrest, and not wanting to concern our families and friends, we’ll won’t be walking in that direction needlessly. For now we take a break in the airconditioned comfort of our room and work out how we’ll be spending the next 18 days in Egypt!

There you have it – my week in Jordan. I was succinct as I could be but this may still be my longest blog entry yet. There was so much to see and do in Jordan, but I’m glad we fit it all in. My view of Jordan has changed dramatically over the past week and I would earnestly encourage my friends and family to visit – the temperatures in April were sublime, the people were friendly and always incredibly welcoming, and the sights were almost always breathtaking. Unfortunately there is only one downside, and that is that we’ve found Jordan to be far more expensive than we planned. When we mentioned this to some locals, they laughed and agreed – it’s like some sneaky secret of theirs, to entice tourists here and then surprise them with hefty price tags. We blew our budget by almost double, maybe more. But it was just one week, and one fabulous week at that, so we’ll survive!

Until next time…

– Em :)

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Filed Under → Words
Apr 10 11

Fala-fulls

by Emily Benjamin

I’m sitting on a bus right now with 19 men and one Monkey. Before you go getting all excited, no, it’s not a Wild Boys Afloat tour – I’m on my way from Amman to Petra! And it would appear very few women travel or walk around in Amman/Jordan, because I feel like I’m sticking out like a sore thumb here. Albeit an attractive sore thumb… the sort that might get me some hand modelling work :)

It’s hard to say what my expectations of Jordan were before I arrived here, but whatever they were, I was wrong. I really liked Amman, for the two days that we were there anyway. Maybe it was just the awesome falafel, or the cooler temperatures, or the blue skies. Maybe I was just revelling in the fact that I was getting all the looks again finally, after 8 weeks of Jamie being ‘flavour of the month’ in Asia. Everywhere we turned in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, some man or woman would come up to us and exclaim how handsome Jamie is, how much he looks like David Beckham/Brad Pitt, and how lucky I am to be with him. Very tiring stuff I tell you, and I’ve had to make a point to insult him regularly now to keep his ego in check. But now in the middle east, I am the highlight of the Baskin Robbins ice cream selection. White, blonde, and female. Finally, Monkey is my minion again!

We arrived in Amman at 6am after a 9 hour flight from Bangkok. I’m getting better with each of these long flights – apparently I was asleep before we even took off at midnight from Thailand. Maybe there were a few scotches under my belt… but still, I’m sleeping on flights which is progress! We had a rest for the first half of the day in Amman (Friday) and then went out for food – I hadn’t eaten in 17 hours, which might be a new record for me :)

First meal was at Hashem’s Restaurant, about 100m from our hotel. It was epic. Falafel, pita, hummus and ‘fool’ which I think is just refried beans. Served with tea and a Coke for me – can’t beat a good can of Coke I tells ya! Those who know me well might wonder now if you’ve ever seen me indulge in falafels before and you’d be right in thinking you haven’t. I might be one of the biggest carnivores in existence – or at least, one of the biggest consumers of chicken in Australia. But I was looking forward to testing my taste-buds with some vegetarian delights here and I was not disappointed. It was simply delectable. And only $7 for both Jamie and I, which is expensive, we were told – but well worth it.

Then we saw some sights. The view from the Citadel was spectacular, with blocks of buildings stretching over hills and valleys as far as I could see. Then the amphitheatre which was pretty amazing, but now I’ve seen 3 in 2 days I think I’ve had my ‘fill’ of amphitheatres. Pun intended. Then we walked around some more, caught the sunset from up on Rainbow street, had dinner and a relatively early night. I was searching for good falafel again but was disappointed. We sat down at the most local looking spot and were told that they only sold pizza. Force fed pizza when I felt like falafel – who’d have thought I’d ever say that.

On Saturday we took a day trip to Ajloun, Umm Quays and Jerash. Umm Quays took us to the north-west edge of Jordan, with a view to Israel, Lebabon and Syria. Pretty surreal, to be standing on a hill looking out to three different countries. I mean, I’ve stood at Tweed Heads and jumped from Queensland into New South Wales, but this might just top that! Then we were down to Aljoun for an old crusader castle, before driving back towards Jerash. The sprawling landscape and ancient pillars of Jerash were amazing, but after 2 hours of roaming through there I had shoes full of blisters and was well knackered. We returned to Amman, had dinner at Hashem’s again and had another early night.

Early start this morning to pack, upload some pics and get on the bus to Petra. It takes about 3 hours, so we’ll have the afternoon to check out some of the first sights in Petra before a full day tomorrow. We’ll probably go with a guide for either today or tomorrow – I know a lot of people find guides at popular tourist sites overpriced but we got a guide for 2 days in Cambodia for Angkor Wat and found it really worthwhile. So hopefully Petra is the same. That will be today and tomorrow (Monday) then on Tuesday we’re off for a day trip and overnighter in Wadi Rum. Famous for Lawrence of Arabia, apparently. Spectacular scenery, jeep tours, camel rides and camping in the desert with local Bedouin people. If I go missing, that’s where I’ll be!

Back to Petra on Wednesday where we pick up a hire car and make our own way back up north for Madaba, Mt Nebo and the Dead Sea. We’ve got three nights in Madaba which is more than enough, but should give us a day to relax before heading into Egypt on Saturday.

Now I’m not sure what inspired me to write such a long post about the middle east, when I maybe only offered a few sentences here and there for all of Asia. I’m creating a favourites list on my new iPod as I type though, so maybe the rocking beats are fuelling creativity and communication again. The joys of good music to block out the loud Jordanian radios playing. Time to go start a Mark Ronson sing-a-long on this man-filled bus, I think! Wish me luck! :)

– Em :)

Filed Under → Words
Apr 8 11

Amman

by Emily Benjamin

Although we were only in Amman for two night, I can’t rave about it enough. From the minute we stepped out of the airport, the Jordanians made us feel welcome. We made the most of the blue skies and warm temperatures and saw the city on foot, seeing the Citadel, Amphitheatre and local markets before finding the perfect falafel, right outside our hotel.IMG 0413OutputIMG 0390OutputIMG 0488OutputIMG 0504OutputIMG 0530

Filed Under → Travel
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