After a ‘wonderful’ layover in Doha, Qatar that was supposed to last for 1 hour and instead lasted for 23, we finally get to Amman, Jordan. Being our first time in the Middle East as well as our first time in an Islamic country, we have absolutely no idea what to expect. You can read that Jordan is one of the safest countries in the region over and over, but it still doesn’t change the fact that it borders Iraq and Syria. So when I look over at Ryan as we look out over the desert sands right before landing, we both have a look of determination mixed with uncertainty and curiosity on our faces. Will we be well received in Jordan or will it be an absolute nightmare? We honestly have no idea.
So we land, observe a shouting match in customs, meet our driver, and make our way into downtown Amman. We check into our little hostel and then quickly head out in the fading light of dusk to find some food. We wander around a bit, only to realize that our hostel is perfectly situated in the absolute heart of Amman. We end up finding a nice open air restaurant and sit on the patio as the city winds down. It is up on this patio that we get our first real glimpse of the culture here. We can see men, women, and children as they go through their daily activities on the street. We can see what people are wearing, how they are acting, and what they are doing. We are loving this bit of ‘people watching’ while we eat our hummus and pita, and then out of nowhere, we hear ‘it’ and our hair stands on end – the call to prayer. For the next 5-10 minutes, the music in the restaurant is turned off and city buzz seems to wind down while the Islamic prayers are being sounded from loudspeakers atop mosques all over the city. It is magical, soothing, and awe inspiring to hear the prayers echo off of the hilltops of the city in the evening light and watch the select few people stop what they are doing to pray. Of the 5 times that the call to prayer comes out per day, this dusk prayer is by far the most magical and interesting [we are not so much a fan of the 4:30am call when it seems that they turn up the volume to make sure you wake up]. Our time in Amman is off to a very good start.
The next day we wake up to make sure that we can see all the sights in the city. We first head to the ancient citadel, where one can find Roman, Islamic, and other ruins on the highest hilltop in the city. We explore through pillar archways, archeoligical sights, and museums as we meander through the citadel complex. There is no better place to get acquainted with the city of Amman than on this hilltop, where everything can be seen and the busy city runs underneath. We even take some time to sit in wonder of the full Roman ampitheatre built into the adjacent hill.
Following the citadel, we go in search of one of the more famous restuarants in the city: Hashim. We search and search for this place that is renown for having evenyone from the king and queen to random travelers visit for a bite of lunch,
only to realize that it is one block from our hostel and on the main street of the city. We walk down this little alleyway and realize that it is basically the Coney Lafayette of Amman. You sit where ever there is an open seat, the waiter asks you if you want hummus, filafel, beans or tea, and you begin to feast. There are no menus and there is no messing around. We were in heaven. So we sat and talked to a uncle and nephew who were in Amman from Palestine and absolutely feasted on our spread of food. An hour later, we were stuffed and were estatic to find that our meal costs us a total of 5$. Hashim just went to the top of our list and we told the waiters that they would no doubt see us again.
After lunch we broke out the map to find our next destination: King Abdullah Mosque. As part of the goal of this adventure, we wanted to experience as many different cultures and religions as possible, so a mosque was definitely a goal of ours. This mosque is known for being accepting of tourists, so we were
determined to see it for ourselves. A half hour of walking through the maze of streets leads us to another hilltop where we find the mosque with its enormous, deep blue colored domes. Upon entering, everyone is extremely welcoming and respectful of our wish to observe prayer. We end up walking around the building for a while then head into the actual sanctuary. Although this is not my first mosque, I had forgotten how breathtaking they are inside. Circular in shape, the building has nothing inside of it besides carpet and a single, massive chandelier hanging above. It is absolutely beautiful in its simplicity and Ryan and I are immediately enchanted. We sit down by the wall and watch for what seems like hours, just observing men go through their daily prayers.
To put the cap on a wonderful day, we went to another great rooftop terrace restaurant, ate well, and smoked sheesha with the locals. While sitting above the street, under a fresh crescent moon, discussing middle eastern politics, with the strawberry scented smoke swirling around us, we decided that this day was definitely one of the best, complete days of the trip. We were very, very happy men.
The next day we decided to lounge around a bit and find a nice rooftop café in which to read. We sat for hours in the sunshine on this terrace while we mowed through our books. We were really ‘roughing it’ now. That night we grabbed some more street food, which was this delicious cheese and sugar goodness, and more of our hummus treats at Hashim. We again capped off the night looking over the city with sheesha amongst the locals and couldn’t be more content.
The next morning was early as we were on the bus to Petra by 6:30am. We arrive in Petra by mid-day and immediately make our way down to the archeological sites. We’ve become quite aware of a change in landscape at this point – Amman was a wonderful 75 degrees with a light wind, while Petra is in the middle of the blistering Jordanian desert. We realize that we are going to need a bit more sunscreen as we are being boiled under a 90 degree sunshine that is absolutely energy sapping.
We arrive to the Petra archeological sight and make our way down through the first portion which is called the Siq. This is a 2km gorge that is no wider than 20ft, but easily 80ft tall. Although there is a significant amount of tourists, far too
many for our taste, we meander in awe and wonder of the rising walls around us. After a while, we turn another corner in the Siq and are stopped in our tracks. Out of no where, we can see the famous Treasury and it is more spectacular than we ever imagined. It completely surprised us as we were walking and it was absolutely breath taking. Accordingly we started doing our best Indiana Jones impressions, acting out the final scenes of “The Last Crusade” in the search for the Holy Grail. From the Treasury we explored and climbed throughout the rest of the park in exploration of tombs, sacrificial mounts, and sanctuaries. Everywhere you turn there is another ancient ruin, worn down by 2500 years of sand and use. Even in the mid-day heat, it was a wonderful experience.
That night we decided that we should check out this “Petra by Night” tour, even though we really didn’t know what it entailed. We showed up at the gates with about 300 other guests and were let into the park, to walk along a candle lit path down into the Siq. With the sliver of moon above and the candles dancing on the walls of the Siq, everyone was stunned into silence. After the 2km walk through the Siq via candle light, we came out at the Treasury. To be completely honest,
when we made that final turn in the snaking Siq to see the Treasury at night, we said some words that would make my mother blush. We thought it was stunning in the daytime, but this brought it to a whole new level of magnificence. The Treasury was only luminated by candles, which meant that there were hundreds and hundreds of candles in front of the ancient temple. It sent light dancing and licking up the walls and pillars, making the orange sandstone glow a deep red. It was one of the most beautiful things we have ever seen. So we sat in front of the Treasury for an hour, while traditional bedouins played instruments and sang songs from thousands of years ago. It was a night that we will never forget.
The next day was spent with more relaxing and exploring the ruins of Petra. We did some more reading and then I ran off to check out some places that we didn’t get to see the day before. This basically turned into me rock climbing the pourous sandstone to get into tombs and caves that most guests don’t get to see. Once I decided that I had climbed high enough, because if I fell I would never be found, I headed back to see what Ryan was doing. This being a rare few hours when we weren’t together, when I got back to the hostel I didn’t expect him to have much to say – at least not more exciting than rock climbing high above Petra. I was wrong. When I enter the room I eagerly tell Ryan about the climbing and he listens silently. When I finish, this is the rest of the conversation:
Ryan – “Dude, automatic weapons.”
Jack – “What are you talking about? I just told you a story about rock climbing.”
Ryan – “While you were out almost falling off cliffs, I was here reading peacefully. Then I began to hear lots and lots of men shouting. They weren’t regular shouts. These guys were real angry. I looked out the window and saw about 30 locals no more than 40ft down the street screaming at each other. I decided it would then be best to get my white face back inside the window. Nothing much happened for the next 15 minutes, then a rediculous amount of automatic rifle fire broke out. We are talking AK-47 rifle fire. It was one of the more absurd moments of my life. Welcome to the Middle East.”
We couldn’t help but laugh later that night at the absurdity of the situation, but we did our best to take it in stride and move along.
The next morning we were off to Wadi Rum for some fun in the desert. We arrive and immediately jump on some camels for a quick ride through the desert to some ruins and end at a moutain spring, the main water source in the region. Following riding the most upset animals we have ever encountered, Ryan’s was just an angry old guy, we head to our Bedouin guide’s house for some tea and lunch. We lounge in his basic living room while we hear a bit about his life, his family, and the local community. We listen and find out that his family has been in Wadi Rum for generations and they were originally traders, but now they have turned into
running their camp in the desert for tourists. After lunch we jump into one of the oldest Jeeps I have ever seen and tear off into the desert – best part was that in order to start the truck, it had to be hotwired. The 8 of us on the tour really have no idea what is going on, but we are all hoping that the driver doesn’t roll the truck in the soft sand. We drive to cave carvings, enormous sand dunes, rock bridges and more. Eventually we make it to the camp, which is tucked against one of the many rock formations that litter the deep sands. We unwind in the tent and then head out on foot to climb one of the rock mountains to watch the sunset, which is absolutely stunning. We sit and watch as the sun dips over the desert, thinking about how this very desert has played a major role in trade for over 3000 years. It was a very humbling experience.
That night we all sat around a fire in the tent and tasted local dishes prepared by our Bedouin guide. All of the guests trade travel stories and we finally retire to our tents for a much needed night of sleep. The next morning we entice our Bedouin guide to drive us to Aqaba instead of paying for a taxi and we get a nice lesson on road rules in Jordan. We all pack in his nice truck and take off down the highway like there are police chasing us. Any curve that we went through was treated as a race track curve – start in the highside lane, swerve down to the lowside, and return back to the highside without ever checking a single mirror. By the end of the 45 minute drive, we were laughing at the rediculousness of the experience, but we were alive and that is all that mattered.
For the next 2 days we hang out in Aqaba, the Jordanian resort city on the Red Sea. We lounge on the beach, which was more rock than sand, and by the pool while enjoying our hummus and books. We really take it easy, drinking in some of our last days in the sun and by the water before real life desks and meetings come calling. As we sit watching the sun set over the Red Sea, we can see Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel – our next destination. We have had an absolutely fantastic time in Jordan and it most certainly ranks amongst our favorite destinations of the entire trip. The people, culutre, sights and food make this a must see, even if you find yourself fearful of the unknown while landing in the plane, as we did. It is absolutely worth it.
Current Location: Aqaba, Jordan