Yala Habibi!

Trip Start Oct 12, 2005
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Trip End Mar 31, 2006


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Friday, March 3, 2006

Yala Habibi! One of the few things we have learned to say in Arabic, it translates roughly into "Let's move it, baby!" That's a pretty good slogan for our time in Jordan. It may not be the biggest or the wealthiest country in the middle east, but Jordan definitely has the richest tradition of courtesy and kindness that we've experienced so far. It's a wonderful feeling to arrive and hear echoes of "Welcome to Jordan" from every corner (we actually heard it first from some people on the plane flying in!). Sure, some of the people want you to come visit their shops but you really do get the feeling that they are very sincere in their hospitality. This wealth of hospitality combined with a modern, cosmopolitan feel and some of the most beautiful scenery we've come across has made Jordan a high point of our trip.


Amman
Our first night in Amman, we walked from our hotel over a few of the cities higher hills to the third circle in search of some dinner. We didn't know what to expect of Amman and were thinking we would end up with some falafel or schwarma in some hole in the wall restaurant. Boy were we wrong. We ended up at a flash place called Bonita's which served Italian food and wine in a fancy setting. While the Italian food wasn't the best we've ever had, the Jordanian wine really hit the spot (are they exporting to the USA?) and the atmosphere was much appreciated. We were also pleased to chat with a fellow American diner who works in Iraq but maintains an apartment and office in Amman. A retired cop, this guy had all the energy and enthusiasm of a man a quarter of his age. It was fascinating to chat with him about his impressions of the situation in Iraq and he kindly treated us to desert at another Italian place down the street called Romero's, which was next door to a sushi place. We liked the desert so much we went back the next night for dinner. Who knew Amman had sucha happening restaurant scene? In addition to eating, we also toured Amman's sites including a Roman amphitheater situated in the middle of the downtown area. Mostly, we just had a good time hanging around town, drinking delicious cups of mint tea, and soaking in the pleasant atmosphere. We're definitely looking forward to returning to the Amman area after we finish our stint in Israel.

Petra

It's impossible to capture the scale and impact of Petra. Petra is a city some thousand years old that was carved from solid rock in the walls of a desert valley by the Nabatean people. It made it into the popular world by appearing as the location of the Holy Grail in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade", which is where Matt first saw it and vowed that someday he would visit. It is sometimes called the "8th Wonder of the World", and named in addition to the Pyramids in Egypt as the most incredible sights in the Middle East. Check out the pics for a visual.

We traveled to Petra with our friends from Washington DC, Michael and Rebecca. If you don't remember them, take a look at our earlier planning entries. They were the awesome couple we met who were also planning a six month trip, and as we discussed the similarities in our lives all we can think of is the traveler creed "Same same, but different". Seriously, they must be our doppelgangers. Although we've traveled over the some of the same ground, the world's a big place and our timelines never crossed until now when we are both in the Middle East in final weeks of our trips.

Our taxi driver to Petra, Nidal, must have had a headache before we even left the city limits with all the chatter and laughter that comes with catching up and swapping war travel stories! We had all been looking forward to traveling together for several months. With infinite patience, Nidal pointed out sites along the way and stopped us off at a very unique and rustic hotel called the Tower Hotel in the Dana Nature Preserve. Although the hastily constructed, primitive themed rooms were a little bizaree, the spectacular desert view more than made up for it. Our lunch of hummus, pita, lamb meatballs, salad and french fries kept us going all afternoon as we toured Shofar -- an ancient crusader castle, complete with secret passages and ancient cannon balls, courtesy of Saladin who conquered it and kicked out the Europeans. What was amazing was that we were just about the only people there, and got a private tour complete with actual "artifacts" as souvenirs.

We continued on and had no sooner arrived in Wadi Musa (the town closest to the ancient city of Petra), than we set out again on a tour of Petra by night. This is a special program run by the Jordanian Tourist Authority three times a week involving a dramatic 2km candlelit walk through desert canyons to the Treasury (a building used in the filming of Indiana Jones). Like most other structures in Petra, the Treasury was carved completely out of a sandstone cliff-face. Thanks to it's sheltered position from the elements it is fairly intact. The city, which dates back to 60 BC, thrived as a center for trading caravans traveling through the middle east until its gradual decline in the 14th century. It lay undiscovered by the West for almost 500 years but was consistently inhabited by local Bedouin tribes. In 1812, a Swiss man disguised as a Muslim pilgrim discovered the city and it has gained more and more attention as the years have passed. We explored the tombs and caves of Petra for two days before heading further into the desert for a little camping trip to Wadi Rum -- the setting for Lawrence of Arabia.

Wadi Rum

Everyone knows Kristy's not much of a camper but with the promise of beds inside the tents and spectacular scenery, our merry four-some left Petra for the wilds of Wadi Rum. We visited it under the guidance of Mohammad Asri Hamadeen of Zaman Tours (sales@zamantours.com)-- the best guide and 4x4 driver in Petra. Mohammed took us off-roading to amazing rock formations, natural stone arches and enormous sand dunes. We couldn't help feel like we were in a car commercial, especially when Mohammad drove us up the side of one of the arches!

Our camp for the night, created in the style of the Bedouins, was surprisingly comfortable. We enjoyed a few beers by the fire and ate a hearty dinner. Mohammed took us out further in the desert for some star gazing before we all collapsed wearily in our tents outfitted with a double mattress. Bright and early the next morning, we hopped on a few camels and trekked around the outside our camp. It turns out Kristy is a natural with the camels. The photos speak for themselves. Most amusing about the camel ride was the Bedouin guides who spent the whole time screaming into their cellphones. You think that would be annoying but it actually added to the atmosphere. Before leaving Wadi Rum for Aqaba and the Israeli border, we took a ride out to the remaining set pieces of Lawrence of Arabia which was filmed in 1962 but still standing. Our four-some turned into six with the additional of a lovely couple from Melbourne, Australia.

After a quick visit and a cup of arab coffee with Mohammed's family in Aqaba, he kindly drove us to the Israel / Jordan border where we spent the better of the next two hours running the security gauntlet. It's true what they say about Israeli security -- it's the best in the world. On the positive side, we felt sure no shady people were getting through that border. On the not so positive side, the thorough bag searches caused us to miss the last bus to Jerusalem. How's that for a cliff hanger? Tune in next time and we'll tell you what we did about it!
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Comments

wandering_nabia
wandering_nabia on

Habibis
My loves,
Stunning photographs. Envy is oozing from every pore in my body! You have made Jordan another addition to my continuing list of places to visit. I wish you all the best for a pleasurable time in Jeruselem. I wish I had thought of this earlier and I hope you check soon, but I have family in Tel Aviv whom I'm sure would be willing to show you around or possibly offer room for you to stay. Let me know. Love and hugs, wandering_nabia

jael
jael on

Shofar - ancient crusader castle
'we toured Shofar -- an ancient crusader castle, complete with secret passages and ancient cannon balls, courtesy of Saladin who conquered it and kicked out the Europeans.'

I could not find a picture of this castle on the net. Please add it to your article, if you have any. Please also let me know, if you have the information, if Saladin ever entered Petra. I need this information urgently.

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