Sand, Salty Seas & Secret Passageways

Trip Start Mar 12, 2009
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Trip End Sep 02, 2009


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Flag of Jordan  ,
Saturday, July 18, 2009

Special thanks to my fellow adventure travellers Rudi, Sarah and Mikaela for letting me post some of their pics with this entry.
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Although Egypt was full of amazing religious, architectural and political history; amazing contrasts of fertility and barrenness along the Nile River and Red Sea; and great memories from my treks there, by July 12 our tour group was quite ready to depart for the much more developed and less harried Jordan.  Our adventures in this Indiana-sized country in the heart of the Middle East began as we arrived via ferry in Aqaba and would lead us north from there to its capital, Amman. 

While still distinctly still an Arab country, Jordan possessed an infrastructure, people and overall culture that had much more of a friendly, modern, clean and civilized (developed?) feel than in Egypt. It still certainly had a very arid and hot climate and its cities reflected its Islamic majority with many mosques and absence of bars/clubs, but there were seemingly more churches, synagogues and western-influenced shops and restaurants, particularly in Amman, than I noted in Egypt. 

Being the home of many significant Biblical and archaeological sites, Jordan had much to offer outside of its rich Arabic culture to the curious world traveler, and I was eager to set off on my week-long tour of this country.  Below is attempt to recount summarily the highlights of my time in Jordan....

PS-I am creating just one blog entry for Jordan under "Amman", but am setting map pins to mark the different cities at which our tour stopped overnight.  

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   ~After spending our first night in Jordan in the port city of Aqaba (which shares its coastline with adjacent Israel on one side and Saudi Arabia on its other), sleeping overnight in a tent at a Bedouin camp in the middle of the Wadi Rum desert and – after a fresh meal of lamb and vegetables cooked in a pit of buried coals) staying up late by a campfire listening to local music, trying shisha via a hookah for the first time (I can live without) and playing cards with our tour group
    ~Taking a tour of the vastly barren and dry Wadi Rum desert-whose colorful and intermittent imposing rock formations and arches had been carved by thousands of years of wind and weather -  in the back of a 4x4 pickup and recounting areas where T.E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia) camped in more recent times and where camel caravans stopped thousands of years before
    ~Welcoming clean streets, non hassling merchants and fixed prices in Jordan after ten days of haggling and being seen as a walking ATM in Egypt
    ~In the coolness of the afternoon (in the shade, at least), hiking through the narrow gorge where Bayda, or little ancient Petra, had been established as one of the first formal cities along the camel caravan route in Jordan, and returning to our hotel in modern Petra well covered in sand and dust and quite ready for a shower
    ~Spending nearly eight hours hiking through the ancient city of Petra and being amazed with how much more than just the well known Treasury and Monastery there was to see (and that only 20% of the total site has been excavated) 
    ~Being startled when hearing bursts of gunfire coming from the neighborhood below our hotel in Petra, but then being told that it was just local revelers celebrating at a wedding
    ~Realizing that in Jordan (as with in Egypt) one can purchase alcohol only in hotels and certain restaurants, except when in Aqaba or Amman, where a handful liquor stores are operated 
    ~It getting cold enough for my fleece an hour before sunset while relaxing on the terrace of our hotel in Petra (new city) and still getting a little cold during our barbecue dinner after sunset
    ~For all of $2 US, buying on the street in Petra a rotisserie chicken with fresh peppers, tomatoes, spices, onions and fresh pita bread 
    ~Throughout the trip, discussing science and religion with Haakon, Lena and Mikaela and also sharing many of our own local cultures, traditions and political views 
    ~Enjoying our guide Riyadh's humor and jokes interlaced among many good facts and insight into Jordan
    ~Visiting Shobak Castle (built originally by the Crusaders in the 12th century) and making the 20-minute trek from atop and inside the castle down the dark, steep and very dusty secret passageway to the outside (note: not for the claustrophobic or those wearing sandals) with Alex, Haakon and Stijn 
    ~Gaining historical perspective on many of our sights from my roommate (and college student) Alex and Stephen the former UN police officer and military history buff
    ~Reading "The Old Man and The Sea" while floating without aid or effort at the lowest point on the face of the earth (1,200m below sea level), the Dead Sea, and being able to see Jerusalem across the Sea from the top of the nearby shoreline
    ~Walking along the top of Mt. Nebo (where God showed Moses the Promiseland) from where we were 30 miles from Bethlehem & Jerusalem and less than 25 miles from Jericho 
    ~Getting used to (mostly) the sound of lots of gun fire (some automatic) and fireworks in the evenings as part of wedding ceremonies
    ~Visiting the Greek Orthodox church in Madaba which housed one of the oldest maps of Palestine – a floor mosaic no smaller than 20' wide and 15' tall
    ~Taking in Jordan's archaeological and cultural history at the antiquities museum at Amman's Citadel (which overlooks the city as well as an impressive amphitheater dating to Roman times)
    ~Taking the 45 minute drive (via the car of the very friendly and knowledgeable driver, Nabil, from the Caucuses) from Amman towards Syria to the site of one of the greatest still intact examples of a Roman community, Jaresh, which Haakon, Lena, Sarah, Carla, Wendy and I walked through for several hours.  (PS-Nabil shared a rumor with us that an important discovery relating to the location of the ancient Biblical city of Sodom and the Dead Sea would be announced soon) 
    ~Buying a dish dash and kouffieh – traditional Arab clothing - off the street in downtown Amman along with Stijn, Haakon and Alex and shopping with Haakon for a traditional Arabic dress for Lena 
    ~All of us wearing our new clothing out for our last night on the town as a tour group (and to celebrate Sarah and Mikaela's birthdays) in the "hip" and modern part of Amman and getting way more looks/stares as a tourist than in any other country thus far, as well as getting asked to be photographed with no fewer than six locals
    ~Taking in seeing the full expanse of the Dead Sea and then Israel east to west from the air as my flight ascended after takeoff from Amman. I could also clearly see the Wailing Wall/Dome of the Rock from no more than 15,000 feet on this Royal Jordanian flight to Athens.

My arrival in Athens would mark the 6th continent I had visited on this Around the World trip and the start of my European travels.  Not only was a Greece a country I had not visited previously, but it was also the home of my mother's ancestors and birthplace of my great grandfather. There was much more of the world to explore ahead of me...

Jordan was more developed, and this more expensive, than Egypt was, but still a very affordable place to travel.  Costs here were generally as follows:

~Bottled water: $.40
~Local beer (Philadelphia or Petra-500ml-at hotels/in stores only in Aqaba or Amman): $3.50/$1.40; Coke-250ml: $.35
~Internet/hr: $1.50
~Meal (pitas, hummus, rice, chicken, veggies): $4.00 (half chicken with pita and veggies-Petra): $2.50

Counts as I ended my time in Jordan include:
~
Flight segments: 0                    
~Bus rides (non intracity-1 hr+): 4
~New friends on Facebook: 8

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