Normally I would be writing a story about my second trip to Cape Town following Cyprus. Instead, I want to fast forward to Jordan 2018. My blog posts may bounce from time-to-time, just to change things up. I wanted to write this story now while it is fresh in my mind and share with my followers.
Being my fifth trip to the Middle East in the past year, the past week was different. I decided that I would fly my wife over to explore some of Jordan as well. I also thought it would be nice for her to see where I am and who I am working with.
In the Middle East, Jordan is by far the safest country to visit. This, considering all that is going on all around it. The Syrian war to the North, Israel to the West, Iraq to the East, there are no shortages of issues.
My wife, Paula, arrived on March 14 for a nine day visit. While I would still be working, we would take time to enjoy some tourism. This would be done during my weekends while she was here. Having arrived at 2200 on the 14th, the whirlwind tour would begin early on the 15th with a trip to Bethany Beyond the Jordan.
Bethany Beyond the Jordan
We left Amman early morning of the 15th to head down to the Baptism Site “Bethany beyond the Jordan” (Al-Maghtas). The site is located on the Jordan river about 20km from the Dead Sea. There are two distinct archaeological areas, Tell el-Kharrar, also known as Jabal Mar Elias, and the area of the Churches of St. John the Baptist. The entry fee here is 12 JD per person.
Bethany beyond the Jordan is of immense religious significance to the majority of denominations of Christian faith, who have accepted this site as the location where Jesus of Nazareth was baptized by John the Baptist. The actual baptism site is located in Jordan. There is another spot where the river flows today, which is the natural border between Jordan and the West Bank. Here you can touch the water and “bless” items of significance.
On the West Bank side, many people will wear white robes and enter the water.
This reference encouraged generations of monks, hermits, pilgrims and priests to reside in and visit the site, and to leave behind testimonies of their devotion and religious activities, dating to between the 4th and the 15th century CE. At present, the site has regained a popular status as pilgrimage destination for Christians, who continue to engage in baptism rituals on site.
After a couple of hours at the baptism site, we got into our rental and drove to the Crowne Plaza on the Dead Sea. There are many luxurious resorts along the Dead Sea to choose from. Not all have beaches, however. The Crowne Plaza does have a beach, although small.
After a dip in the sea, you understand why it is dead! The salt content is absurdly high, more than any salt water I have experienced. One can actually lay back and just float, although there are time limitations for being in the water. Outside on the beach, there are small containers full of mud. This mud is apparently a cleansing mud and good for the skin. People will cover themselves with it and only wash it off after it dries.
During our second weekend together, we headed south to Petra. This is Jordan’s cash grab. Petra is the most expensive place to visit and one needs to be wary. Definitely one needs to visit Petra, but once is enough. The entry cost is 50JD if you do not have residency. That is 50JD per person, or $71USD.
Once you are inside the Petra park, you become at the mercy of the local Bedouin community. The Bedouin will try to take what is left of your money one way or another. They will tell you stories of an additional 50JD fee for the government if you want a guide. If you use a guide, at the end you will get soaked for a tip. The tip is your choice on amount, but can be upwards of another 50JD.
Camel rides, horseback rides, cart rides are all extra as well. Souvenirs here are also 3-5 times more than you will pay in Amman. But, not to take away from what is there, the site is breathtaking. It is unfathomable to realize that most of Petra was created more than 7,000 years ago. When you look at the architecture and understand that it was all done by hand. No power tools, no special equipment, just basic hammers and chisels.
History in Petra from 7,000 BC to the Roman Empire in 146 AD, one can only imagine the transformations. Petra is a jewel for Jordan, but one paid for by tourists.
If Petra is a must see, Wadi Rum is much more. A place unchanged and untouched by time, Wadi Rum is breathtaking. Sure, Hollywood has had opportunities to play in this natural wonder. Films such as The Martian, Last Days on Mars and Red Planet due to the Martian appearance. Others such as Lawrence of Arabia and Promethius used this location. In total, 12 films have been made here.
There are many different Bedouin camps to choose from if you want to spend a night or two. You can receive the true Bedouin life experience in most of them. We chose to stay at Khaled’s Camp, located some 12 kilometers from the Wadi Rum Village. Just outside the range of any communication signals, one can enjoy a world of silence.
Wadi Rum Sunsets & Stars
The sunsets here are also spectacular. Khaled’s camp is located at the base of a rock prominence facing the west. Half way up the prominence is a small cave with seating overlooking the valley to the west. Here, we were able to watch one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever witnessed.
After a typical Bedouin dinner, we relaxed with others in our camp before retiring after a long day. When I woke up in the wee hours for my natural nightly toilet run, I looked out the window. To my amazement, the moon had gone down taking the clouds with her. All that was left was the starriest sky I had ever seen. If you ever want to see what stars are what, I highly recommend the app “SkyView”.
If you have not spent all your money by now on things like Petra, there are other ways. Every camp offers tours by jeep of the Wadi Rum area. There are also camel rides and hikes. We decided to stay close to the camp and explored the rock prominence by climbing to the top. On the summit, there were all kinds of inukshuk’s. One was still a work in progress, to which we added our stones prior to leaving.
There are a few places of interest in Amman that are worth seeing. I can only highlight what I have seen personally, but there are many more. The Citadel in downtown Amman is definitely worth a visit. Quite possibly the least expensive of all tourist sites in Jordan. However, like everywhere else, there are guides who can make it more expensive. Walking here alone with a map is easier and at your own pace.
Inside the Citadel there is also a small museum. Although the museum is dated and somewhat unorganized, it is interesting. You can see items from as far back as 7,000 BC up to the beginning of the Islamic era. The Citadel grounds also show history from pre-Roman era onwards. From the Citadel, you can see an old Roman theatre, circa 146 AD.
A short walk down the hill will bring you to the Roman theatre. You can pay an admission fee to enter, but we did not. We walked the outside looking through the gates was sufficient. When we had concluded this site seeing, we walked the streets. There are several shops in downtown Amman where you can get souvenirs at better prices than Petra.
When in Amman, one has to try local cuisine and experiences. One of the best places to do this is the Jafra Café in downtown Amman. The menu is vast of local foods and drinks (non-alcoholic). One can also enjoy drinking shisha here while just relaxing with a coffee or tea.
There are plenty of things to see and do in Jordan. As mentioned, this is my fifth deployment to Jordan and the region. There will be many other posts in the future on my Middle East adventures. Paula returned home after her whirlwind tour of Jordan with what I hope are many wonderful memories. My mission here continues for a few more weeks and will be written in time.
My only real advice when visiting Jordan, if you do, is understand the exchange. The Jordanian Dinar is worth more than the US Dollar (1 JD = 0.70 USD). Jordan is a very expensive country to start before taking into account the exchange. Traffic is ludicrous here, so take precaution if renting a car. Rental prices start around 20 JD/Day for a basic small car. Uber is available, but illegal in Jordan, taxis will try to take advantage of you. Hint, taxis should be no more than 3-5 JD in Amman to go anywhere. Some will try to tell you 30 JD.
If you travel to Jordan, enjoy.