Monday, February 25, 2013

JORDAN - PETRA, JERISH AND WADI RUM ON A BUDGET


JORDAN, MUCH  MORE THAN PETRA 

PETRA

JERASH

WADI RUM


                                                                                                             Article and Photos by
                                                                                                                                        John and Doreen Berg

Introduction

The ancient city of Petra was the catalyst that motivated us to visit Jordan.  However, it was not long before the research exposed Jordan’s hidden secrets indicating that the country has numerous worthy sites of interest for the intrepid traveller.  Even though Jordan is surrounded by countries that are in conflict, we found Jordan to be a safe peaceful tourist oasis.  The Jordanian people made us feel welcome with their spontaneous wishes to enjoy their country.  A fantastic tourist destination!  

Our use of a driver and car in Romania  was so successful and rewarding that we decided to adopt a similar format for Jordan.  Our local tour operator choice was Jordan Beauty Tours. The small independent company located in Petra, custom constructed an eighteen day tour that met our desires and fit our budget.  Ali, the manager, provided excellent service right from our airport arrival to our airport departure.  (www.thegoldenagebackpackerw.blogspot.ca – Romania)

Chapter One

 Amman, Jerash and the Desert Castles:  Bustling City to Barren Desert

            The centrally located Amman Pasha Hotel was to be our hub for city visits and trips to nearby destinations.  Our first day found us across the street from our hotel investigating the Roman Theatre.  We clambered the steps of the beautifully preserved amphitheater that seemed to stretch indefinitely up the hillside.  Near the top we looked down to marvel at the beautifully sculptured Roman columns and newly re-built plaza. 

Our driver whisked us away to visit the impressive King Abdullah Mosque. The mosque is dedicated to the late King Hussein's grandfather.  The gigantic prayer hall is able to accommodate 7000 worshippers at one time.  The large blue domed landmark is located in Amman's modern section.  Travelling to our third morning destination found us navigating the busy city streets to finally arrive at the entrance to the citadel that sits atop the highest hill in Amman.  Artifacts found at the site indicate that the hill was a fortress and agora as far back as the Bronze Age.  The most interesting attractions are two giant pillars as remains of the Roman Temple of Hercules.  The viewpoint provided a panoramic view of downtown Amman stretching beneath us.

A chicken shwarma ( flatbread rolled sandwich) washed down with a Pepsi was our lunch before heading back to the hotel for a brief nap before embarking on an early evening city stroll.



The Keffiyeh is woren by many Bedouins.
Our first stop on our late afternoon walk was at the legendary Hashem Restaurant.  The eatery is located in a narrow alley and cement-style pillars were the stools.  Judging by the long line of locals waiting to be served we anticipated the deep fried ball-like donuts called felafels to be delicious and they were as they melted in our mouths.  Tourism Jordan is attempting to expand the ancient cities attractions by including the first post office as a choicThe post office contains interesting early implements and memorabilia.  Once the curator's tour was finished, tea was offered which we enjoyed as we sat on a balcony chatting and viewing the passing parade of vehicles and pedestrians below us.  At the bottom of the street the restored Al Husseiny Mosque is compact and its outside courtyard is a busy meeting spot.  Following our brief mosque visit we walked through the gold souq, past the medicine stalls, finally gravitating to the many souvenir shops.  While they all appeared to contain the same tourist souvenirs our guide/driver, Fawaz, suggested Orientals Quasaybate Shop.  After much viewing and trying a variety of items, Doreen selected a fancy fuchsia pashmina and quickly learned to weave it about her head and face.  I tried on a red and white keffiyeh, but decided that it was too complicated and time consuming to tie so decided to stick with my floppy hat.  A small mosaic was also purchased.  On the way home we opted to spoil our appetites by indulging in a decadent dessert.  The small pastry shop was an outdoor eatery and the delicious "kunafa" desserts of cream cheese, crumbled crumbs smothered in honey syrup and served hot, became a favourite.

While we had the option of eating at the hotel or exploring Amman's restaurant scene, we elected to dine at the hotel's restaurant.  As events unfolded we had all our dinners at the hotel.  We discovered that the food was tasty and the second evening, the owner's wife, planned a birthday celebration for her husband, Raymond.  We were invited to enjoy varied foods and joined in with the staff, friends and other hotel guests to party away the evening, dancing and eating.  This was the first of many unexpected cultural experiences.

Next morning we arrived in the hotel lobby prior to our appointed departure time to be greeted with Fawaz’s smiling face.  Each morning Fawaz met us promptly with a cheerful attitude which continued throughout the tour making a pleasant beginning to each day.  The day's journey was into Jordan's northern fertile region.  We came to the town of Ajloun with an ancient castle which is a formidable presence strategically built atop a hill overlooking three wadis.  The Islamic armies of Saladin used it to protect the region against the crusaders. After a couple of hours of inspecting the towers, chambers and staircases of this well-preserved castle we were off to Jerash.

Fawez selecting just the right tasting jar of olives. 
The olive season was in full swing as the olive trees were laden with fruit and the roadside stalls were saturated with boxes of green olives and jars of pickled olives.  Fawaz stopped at one of the roadside stalls to purchase a gallon of olives for his family.  Shortly after this we persuaded Fawaz to deviate from the day’s program to visit an olive processing plant.  Although they were in the midst of a repair, it was easy to follow the olive oil extraction process.  The visit's highlight was a spontaneous snack of flatbread and freshly squeezed olive oil.  Staff workers, customers and tourists all partook of the impromptu offering and with fresh olive oil dripping from our chins and without verbal understanding, the big smiles conveyed a sense of goodwill and friendship.  A fantastic "off beat" experience!

Lunch was at a tourist style restaurant.  The buffet-serving restaurants were a common occurrence located close to a tourist attraction.  They had ample seating and offered a wide variety of Jordanian foods.  The drivers ate free and usually excused themselves to join their colleagues while their clients sat in another seating area to enjoy lunch.  We felt privileged that Fawaz elected to dine with us and together share good fellowship.  The meal cost ranged from 10 to 12 Jordanian dinars ($14 to $16 CA) plus drinks.  After our earlier snack we weren't hungry enough to justify a complete buffet lunch so elected to order a chicken shwarma and a coke.

Jerash is generally acknowledged to be one of the best preserved ancient Roman cities and is often referred to as the "Pompeii of the East".  We entered the site through the impressive monumental south gate and opted not to hire a guide but to wander, following the "Lonely Planet's" outline and our noses.  The massive site included the plaza surrounded by splendid columns, the theatre with marvellous acoustics as demonstrated with bagpipes playing for a tour group, the imaginary roar of the crowd at the hippodrome chariot races and the splendid triumphal Hadrian's arch.

The following day we visited three of the best preserved desert castles located in Eastern Jordan.  The group of misnamed castles served as caravanserais, hunting lodges and forts dating from the 8th century.  The once richly decorated castles attest to Jordan's glorious historical past.

Our first stop was at Qash Kharana an impressive block structure located in the middle of a vast barren plane.  We climbed the stairways and explored the many rooms.  We noted a basin for collecting rainwater and two larger rooms near the entrance that we concluded were the stables.

Next up, was our favourite, Ausayr Amka, which is on the UNESCO list.  This particular structure was a private home, thus, the risqué frescos displaying nude women.  This is something that would not be displayed in public buildings.  The house walls are richly covered with frescoes and two rooms have colourful mosaic floors.  We were fortunate to encounter an Italian archeological team with whom we spoke.  One group was unearthing a nearby burial site while another was in the interior restoring the frescoes to their former glory.

Qass al-Azraq located near Azraz was an impressive fort where T.E. Lawrence based himself and his men during the 1917-18 Arab Revolt.  Even though busy Highway 5 flows past the entrance and a 1927 earthquake destroyed much, one can still sense Lawrence dressed in his Arab robes sitting around a fire to fight off the winter cold or pushing open the huge heavy entrance doors.  This connection to “Lawrence of Arabia” is the castle’s major draw for tourists.

Chapter Two

 Madaba, Dona and Little Petra:  Mosaic City to Desert Caves

Following the desert castle visits we undertook a frantic drive to Madaba to visit Mount Nebo prior to its gates closing at 5:00 p.m.  On the eighteen day tour this was the only time Fawez rushed.  Usually we had ample time to enjoy the passing countryside.  Mount Nebo is where Moses viewed Canaan across from Jericho and God gave the lands to the Israelites and told Moses he would die on the mountain.  The prophecy did occur!

After our visit Fawaz selected one of the many roadside mosaic workshops demonstrating the art of creating mosaics complete with attached showroom selling their products with no obligation to buy.  The ladies love the shops as it's an opportunity to purchase a souvenir or two to collect dust on the shelf at home.  Due to the late hour the workshop was empty as the workers had left for the day but we briefly observed the works in progress at each workstation.  Next were the showroom displays and true to form we did not escape unscathed as we purchased two of the most expensive coffee cups we've ever owned!  And low and behold, one broke on the way home!  All in all, good fun bargaining as we could have been more forceful with our "No Thanks" and promptly left.

Entrance to St. George's Church.
Madaba is considered the "City of Mosaics" with the most famous mosaic found in St. George's Church.  The floor mosaic represents the oldest Palestinian map in existence.  It has provided scholars with historical insights illustrating the major biblical regions of the time.  Unfortunately, our visit to Madaba was on a Friday and other major sites were closed.  By this time we had fallen in love with the city and elected to approach Ali to rearrange our last two days to return to Madaba instead of Amman and visit the previously closed sites. As things turned out the alterations were easily orchestrated and we enjoyed our revisit visit to Madaba.

Leaving Madaba we drove the King's Highway, the same ancient trade route that was followed 3000 years ago to access the central regions. The highway passes through a barren landscape possessing a beauty of its own.  With many curves and switchbacks we snaked our way down through Wadi Mujib, the "Grand Canyon" of Jordan, stopping at Karak Castle.  The fort is the most impressive crusader fort perched high upon an easily defended hilltop.  Karak demonstrates the crusaders' architectural skills.  Our flashlights came into play as halls and endless passageways are a dark maze and the best preserved rooms are underground.



Bridge connecting the hotel together.
Our overnight stop was at the Dana Tower Hotel that overlooks the Dana Biosphere Reserve.  The reserve has four distinct eco-systems and is ideal for hiking enjoying nature.  Hikes are easily arranged through hotel managers.  Dana’s local residents are slowly restoring the abandoned stone houses to further enhance the tourist trade. Our Dana Tower Hotel was an interesting menagerie of rooms, patios and dining room.  We found the surrounding area intriguing but unfortunately we had only planned one night here.

Little Petra, further south of Dana, was our morning destination.  While many visitors bypass the region we felt Little Petra was well worth a visit, an impressive introduction to Petra itself.  From the car park we followed the path into the narrow siq (canyon) emerging into a larger open area housing various sized caves carved out of the dusty rose coloured canyon walls.  At the far end we climbed a series of stone steps.  The top of the climb opened to present a beautiful panoramic view of the surrounding landscape.  It was here we met a Danish girl who, earlier on holidays, had met a Bedouin and over time married him.  The young couple sold jewelry and trinkets and the husband leads hikes through the area.  We were especially interested in talking with her as we'd read the book "Married to a Bedouin" by Marguerite van Geldermalsen and as events unfolded we later met Marguerite's son, Raami ,at the family souvenir stall in Petra.

Our final day's destination was modern Petra City and a visit to Jordan Beauty Tours' office to meet Ali Al-Hasanat.  After concluding business Ali invited us to his home to share their dinner with his gracious wife and two lovely children.  Ali made certain we enjoyed a traditional Bedouin dining event providing only one concession by giving us two small plates and two forks rather than sharing directly from the large family communal platter.  The meal served was a traditional rice and chicken dish called maqluba- an “upside down cake”.  We all sat on the floor taking food from the communal food tray.  This was a wonderful cultural shared encounter.

Chapter Three

  Petra: Mountain Tops to Valley Floors

The early morning walk from ancient Petra’s entrance brought excitement and anticipation surging through our bodies as we passed the Djinn Blocks and the Obelisk Tombs.  Entering the narrow twisting siq with its towering walls was a surreal experience.  As we walked we paused to take numerous photos and to allow the few early-rising tourists a chance to vacate our view giving us a further sense of wonder and awe, imagining the many cultures that over the centuries had trod upon these very same stones.

It was a breathtaking sight as we emerged from the narrow siq to view the famous Treasury!  There isn't a camera or description that has truly captured the perfect scene with the morning sun just rising and bathing the rose coloured Treasury in sunlight with contrasting dark shadows on the high hilltops.  The massive facade carved out of the shear pink stone did not disappoint!

Once the adrenalin spurts had subsided and our many photos were taken we were ready to move on.  We negotiated the hire of two donkeys to pack us like bundles of firewood to the High Place of Sacrifice and to trek to the Monastery, finally returning to the starting point.  In hindsight paying $83.00 ($60 JD) was extravagant on our part.  At first it appeared to be a bargain as Mohammad spoke excellent English and our thoughts were that he would be able to share his knowledge with us on our donkey trip.  This was not to be as we were placed in the care of his two young sons!  Only the oldest spoke English and once we reached the top he stayed behind to manage the family’s trinket shop.  We became very adept at employing hand signs.  Were we disappointed?  Not at all!  When travelling things are not always what they appear to be so we’ve learnt to accept and enjoy what’s presented.  Makes travelling life a lot more enjoyable.

With us clinging to the saddle horn the sure footed donkeys worked hard trudging up the steep narrow winding path to the High Place of Sacrifice.  The location is a leveled top of Jebel Madhah mountain to create a sacrifice platform dedicated to the Nabataean gods.  At first the sacred place did not appear to be much.  Taking time to look more carefully the location began to unlock its features.  Leaving the carved stone we spent time at this lofty height observing Petra's daily activities far below of the camels and donkeys flowing to and fro, of the tourists milling in groups supposedly listening to their guides, and of the shopkeepers haggling with customers. Turning away from the scene below we soaked up the amazing surrounding mountain top views before beginning the descent.

I'm sure our trip down was a lot slower than our young guide wished.  The sooner he finished, the quicker he could collect his money and contract another couple.  However, we were determined to enjoy the views and points of interest and to insist on walking instead of riding on steeper trail sections for safety reasons.  We had read that the donkeys and guides travelled too fast descending and accidents have occurred.  We did not wish to become a statistic!

Once reaching the valley floor we rode along Colonnaded Street passing the museum to begin our ascent to the Monastery located high in the mountains.  Again the path was steep and hard work for the sure footed donkeys. The spectacular Monastery is similar to but larger than the Treasury.  We ignored the shopkeepers’ invitations and hiked a short distance to a vantage point for Monastery photos.  Here we sat in the shade of a huge boulder to share a meager lunch. Afterwards we explored the Monastery's interior rooms. Finally we decided to walk via the same steep slippery, but now much busier, trail to the valley floor.  Leading the donkeys our guide knew our routine and agreed to meet us at the trail head.  Our day's journey ended near the treasury and our goodbyes with a tip left our young guide with a broad smile.

There were many spots where the beautiful
 coloured rock had been exposed.
The sight that met us when we walked into the courtyard fronting the Treasury was wall to wall people! It was difficult to visualize that only a few hours before this space had been virtually empty.  It was tricky to maneuver around the flowing mass and the two kneeling camels were partially obscured from view.  The scene was a complete contrast to the morning experience so photos of the jam-packed area were in order.  It reminded us of a rock concert crowd!

The return walk in the siq was an adventure as we needed to be aware of the horse drawn buggies rapidly approaching and listen for the returning ones, plus avoid bumping into individuals in large tourist groups navigating the siq.  I’m sure if you did not pay attention to your surroundings you could be run over by horse, bugguy or man.  We were certainly pleased that we had started early morning and pledged to repeat the same procedure beginning the following day.

As it turned out we were the only dinner guests dining at the hotel and the chef and waiter created special meals for us.  On the last evening dimmed lights and a candle lit table met our restaurant entrance.  The two young men were excited and pleased with the romantic candlelit dinner atmosphere they had fashioned for us.   We appreciated this special treatment.

As promised to ourselves, the next morning found us entering the siq early.  This is the best time to see Petra as there are fewer people and more importantly the early morning sun enhances the amazing natural colour tones of the rock faces.  On our second day we visited the four Royal Tombs and our favourite was the Urn Tomb recognizable by the enormous urn on its top.  We continued past the tombs following a walking path to the seldom-visited Sextius Florentinus Tomb.  Of course we paused to share a cup of tea with a Bedouin grandmother.  Along the path we stopped at caves and photographed the exposed colourful layered reddish rock formations.  It was apparent by the strong odour that a few caves were being used to stable goat herds.  We hiked to the Petra Church and admired the exquisite Byzantine floor mosaics.  Lunch time found us sitting on two rocks in Wadi Musa just below the ancient city of Petra’s center sharing our meager lunch of bread and cheese.  The possibility of a flash flood did cross our minds but the wadi did afford us a tranquil moment complete with shade.

The afternoon was spent clambering over and around the ancient Roman ruins and visiting the two museums.  All too soon the day and our energy were spent and it was time to rent a donkey taxi from in front of the museum for the return to the siq entrance and home to Sunset Hotel for a much deserved nap.

The "Petra at Night" walk through the siq to the Treasury is lit by candles draped with paper bags which soften the light.  The atmosphere was awe-inspiring and mystical.  One could surmise that ancient travellers must have viewed Petra in a like manner.  Hundred of lit candles filled the Treasury courtyard as we sat toward the back.  Traditional Bedouin music began and the flash cameras erupted.  Further mystery was added as a breeze sprung up causing a few bags to ignite sending sparks skyward.  The breeze increased and raindrops began to fall.  We elected to leave before the performance finished anticipating a deluge of water flowing through the siq and people rushing to leave, soaked to the skin.  Even leaving early we felt the candlelight experience was one not to miss.

"Petra by Candle" is currently being held Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings.  Check the weather forecast as there are no ticket refunds if the evening is cancelled due to rain.  People are instructed to walk quietly, not to use flash and no flashlights until the return walk.  A flashlight is a must for the return walk as many of the bag lanterns will have expired and light is needed to navigate the rougher spots.  Dress in layers or take a jacket as the evenings can be cool.  Pre-purchase your ticket at the main ticket office during the day thus avoiding a lineup and being in front with fewer walkers.  This truly is an awe-inspiring occasion.

Chapter Four

 Wadi Rum:  Bedouins and Camels

About five minutes before our designated departure time from Petra, Ali showed up in the hotel lobby to inform us there was to be a change of drivers.  Fawaz had phoned half an hour earlier to inform Ali that his wife was in the hospital.  Ali had already arranged for a replacement, an English speaking driver, and wished to make sure we were satisfied with the change.  Ali instructed the driver as to the day’s program.  We were amazed how quickly and seamlessly Ali was able to deal with the adversity and adjust our transfer to Wadi Rum.

On arrival in Wadi Rum, Salameh, the manager of Caravan Desert Camp, met us at the entrance and placed us in a three person tent thus providing extra space for storing our backpacks.  Once stowed away, lunch was served.  What fantastic meals were prepared by our chef who had recently retired from a five star Aqaba hotel to enjoy the more relaxed pace of a desert camp.  The three daily meals were varied and scrumptious.  As a result meal times were an event to anticipate with drooling taste buds.


Photo was taken from a hilltop behind our camp.
In the late afternoon we climbed into the back of an older Toyota 4x4 for our desert tour.  A young Bedouin driver dressed in traditional gowns drove us to sand dunes where we were joined by truck loads of tourists from other camps.  Of course the dunes presented a challenge to reach the top.  It was two steps forward and one step back plus a pause or two before we reached the sand dunes' summit.  The spectacular view of the vast desert stretching before our eyes made the onerous climb all worthwhile.  After descending the dunes we drove to view petroglyphs depicting camel caravans, warriors and animals inscribed on the rock faces by the Thamudies and Nabataean many centuries ago.  The visit to Lawrence of Arabia's house was more of a tea stop in a large Bedouin tent to relax and enjoy tea traditionally brewed over an open fire.  Driving around the maze of monolithic hills, one could imagine Lawrence in his flowing robes, with rifle in hand seated on a camel, to come galloping around the next corner.  The day ended watching a brilliant sunset.

Early morning sunrise ride
 and doreen hanging on.
Wishing to witness a desert sunrise we arose the next morning in the dark and met our camel driver outside the camp entrance.  Once seated on the ungainly animals, we bounced around until they stood and then off we went at a fast walk.  The sun was an awesome sphere as a fiery ball slowly rose to blank out the shadows and fill the morning sky.  The next morning with heavy hearts, we bid the fabulous Caravan Desert Camp staff a heartfelt farewell as the Red Sea beckoned.

Chapter Five

 Aqaba and the Red Sea:  Sun Tanning to Snorkeling

Our morning's drive covered the last segment of the King's Highway.  The highway flows from Madaba through the central part of Jordan ending in Aqaba.  Even today the highway, as witness by the many tractor trailer trucks on their way inland, provides the main access to the interior much like it has over the centuries.

Lunch at a restaurant near our hotel. 
We did not spend much time visiting Aqaba's historical sites nor did we find them interesting.  For us this was a time away from our busy schedule to relax and enjoy Aqaba's beach scene.    A stroll along a tree-shaded street found us at the nearby beach renting a glass bottom boat.  This was an opportunity to keep our feet dry and to quickly be out on the water viewing the brilliant coloured fish swimming amongst the picturesque coral.  The only unsettling observation was seeing discarded cans and food containers resting on the sea's floor.  Will we ever learn to protect our fragile environment?

The following morning a shuttle bus transported us to Berenice Private Beach Resort.  At the ticket booth we discovered that all personal snacks and water were collected to be returned to us when we left.  Needless to say we had no other option but to purchase food and water from the resort which was expensive!

Sun umbrellas and loungers were plentiful and soon we put on rented snorkels and fins to delight in swimming amongst the colourful corals and tropical fish.  It soon became clear why the Red Sea is considered a world class diving and snorkeling center. 

Dining at a downtown restaurant was the evening plan.  The selection was the popular Ali Baba Restaurant with its large outdoor seating and oodles of ambience.  The delicious sayadieh, a fish and rice dish cooked with caramelized onions, was a recommended local favourite and an excellent choice followed by kunafa, a dessert that was now an addiction. 

Chapter 6

Wadi Ghuweir: Bedouin Family Stay

Our question as to who our driver might be for the next two days was answered as Fawaz with a grin from ear to ear walked into the hotel's lobby.  Once we said our warm welcomes and heard the good news that his wife was well enough to be discharged from the hospital we piled into the car.  Fawaz drove around the corner and stopped at a local restaurant and ordered coffee and our favourite dessert, kunafa, all around.  The 9:00 a.m. time was early so there was to be a half hour wait until the pastry was available.  We suggested foregoing the decadent treat and pushing on, but Fawaz would hear none of this.  As we waited, I coughed, so I explained that I'd developed an irritation in my throat.  Fawaz, with me in tow, was off to the nearest pharmacy to purchase a cough suppressant! These are just two examples of the many reasons our Jordanian trip was special.  Our past experiences with tour personnel had been their focus on visiting the designated spots without deviation except for a photo opportunity when asked.  But not Fawaz?  It was his treat and not the first time he had surprised us with a local delicacy.  No wonder we enjoyed this guy!

Enjoying the evening meal Bedouin style.
After enjoying our treat, the day's destination was to visit Wadi Ghuweir to explore an ancient copper mine and a Roman settlement, finally stopping to spend the night with a Bedouin family.  Upon reaching the visitor's center we transferred to a battered-looking Toyota 4x4.  Doreen and I squeezed into the cab and Fawaz stood in the truck box.  We endured a rough bumpy ride which explained the truck's wounds.  Directional signs to Feynan Eco-lodge were posted roadside, promising a great end to the day.  As we topped the ridge a Bedouin tent was established in the hollow.  As the truck had stopped, I grabbed the camera for shots of a typical Bedouin camp.  Little did I know I would later be obtaining close-up photos!  Upon my return I was informed to grab my backpack as this was home for the night.  Not the eco-lodge I was anticipating!  After meeting the family and surveying the tent and surroundings, I must admit I was in a state of shock but was confident that when we returned from watering the goats the night's lodgings could be altered and we would be on our way.  Expecting a green lush oasis I was again surprised as the watering spot was fed from a half dozen small holes in a three inch black plastic pipe.  The water was permitted to leak forming small water puddles and a sparse growth of vegetation.  This was the watering hole for all the small goat herds.

A newer Toyota 4x4 was waiting to transport us into Wadi Ghuweir where we walked the creek bed to the water source for the valley vegetable farms.  Since Fawaz's English and knowledge of the archeological sites was limited we were not sure which of the many sites we visited.  It was fun and interesting to poke about the many remnants of metates and manos and to peer into the many dug holes and speculate whether the excavations were the result of an archeological team or of treasure seekers. 

Driving back I was still fussing and not convinced that we were going to stay at the Bedouin camp.  Doreen continued to assure me that the Bedouin tent was indeed where we were spending the night.  I finally was convinced when upon our return the delicious smells of cooking were drifting from the open pit cooking fire.  Doreen smiled telling me that was our dinner cooking and since she wasn't troubled with the evening's accommodation or lack of privacy, I resigned myself to what, in the end, turned out to be a fantastic cultural "happening".  Not many tourists would experience the chance to be adopted by a Bedouin family for one night.


VIEW INTO OUR HOTEL ROOM!
The goat hair tent was open to the front and farrsha thick mattresses stuffed with wool were placed around three sides of the enclosed perimeter.  These were used for reclining as we chatted or for sitting as we ate.  Next door was the female and cooking tent.  It was closed in, affording more privacy.  The goats and donkeys were corralled nearby.

Prior to the evening meal a water pitcher was provided to use for hand washing and if need be for other washroom tasks.  The complete meal was served on one large circular platter with an accompanying basket of flat bread.  No plates, no silverware, no condiments, no water glasses just your fingers!  We followed Fawaz's example and ripped chunks of bread to use as a spoon to scoop up a tasty tomato based dish and with our fingers selected deliciously flavoured chicken pieces.  The outdoor smoke-scented air created a camping ambience flare.

In the evening the men and boys sat around the perimeter many smoking and drinking tea.  The father entertained us playing the rababah, a one-stringed musical instrument shaped much like a violin and can be found in most Bedouin homes.  Fawaz could have remained in town but he chose to remain with us blending and enjoying a new experience too.  Just one small cozy tour group spending the night in an unexpected setting!

For sleeping there was no privacy at all!  All the males slept on a farrsha or outside the tent on the hard ground.  Doreen stated that she was going to sleep in her clothes and I followed suit.  An easy solution to the privacy concerns. Out came our flashlights and a small toilet paper roll.  Our hosts provided each of us with a thick heavy blanket which we folded in half using one half for further padding atop our farrshas and the top half for warmth.  At our age there's bound to be a needed toilet trip in the wee morning hours and here the bathroom was gigantic.  All we had to do was stumble over rocks to pick a spot away from the tent!  At night the open air plan was not a concern.  However, in the daylight, our western customs caused us self-conscious embarrassment.

After a hearty breakfast of bread, fresh fruits, canned tuna, cheeses and of course hot tea, we were to leave with the oldest son.  He would return us to the tourist office and continue on to his school teaching employment.  The tourist office afforded private washrooms where we completed our morning routines.

When we first outlined the trip we had asked Jordan Beauty Tours (Ali) to factor in different "off the beaten tourist track" activities. The Bedouin family stay was one of the events.  Remember to be careful what you ask for as you might just get your wish, and we certainly did.

Chapter 7

Dead Sea Resort : Floating and Relaxing

On the way to our Dead Sea Hotel we selected an option to visit Hammamat Ma'n.  The resort is considered the most famous of the many hot springs located in the region.  The hot waters cascade off the hillside in a series of waterfalls.  We three musketeers enjoyed the water pelting off our backs as we sat beneath the falls.  Eventually we climbed to a cave behind the falls where the water was too hot to dip your foot into.  The cave's moist air created a sauna like atmosphere.  After enjoying our refreshing soak we changed and continued on our way.  The steep twisting and turning road returned us to the main Dead Sea Highway.

The new Winter Valley Warwick Hotel was difficult to locate.  Upon arrival we were pleasantly surprised how lovely the hotel's exterior was and how near to the Dead Sea the hotel was situated.  From the hotel we could see the Dead Sea’s bright blue waters.  After checking in we said our goodbyes to Fawaz, thankful for his cheerful disposition and safe driving skills.

We treated our Warwick stay as a resort hotel holiday remaining on site, booking spa treatments, covering ourselves from head to toe with mucky mud and soaking in the buoyant Dead Sea waters. The time flew by and soon we were to the trip's last days.

Chapter 8

 Madaba: More Mosaics

The day's highlight was a visit to Bethany, Christ’s baptismal site.  Upon arrival at the tourist office we were instructed to wait for the next shuttle bus to transport us to the starting point.  However, our driver wished to visit the site too and arranged with a guide to transport the three of us to the tour's beginning point.  Of the sights we were most interested in was the spot that is believed to be where John the Baptist baptised Jesus.  The others were viewing the wilderness in which John the Baptist wandered and the Jordan River itself.  While rather narrow and muddy in appearance, the Jordan’s historical significance makes the river a favourite spot to be baptized.  On the Israeli side two tourist groups were proceeding with baptismal ceremonies accompanied with singing and cheering.  On our return walk we stopped to visit a modern Greek orthodox church with a lovely golden dome on top.  Once at the car park we thanked our guide and completed the drive to Madaba.

It was pleasant to enter the Mosaic City Hotel's lobby in Madaba and be greeted with familiar faces.  After having been living out of backpacks, the return felt like entering one's own home.  The evening witnessed us returning to what was now our favourite local restaurant, Haret Jdoudna Restaurant.  The meal featured Jordanian dishes such as humus, fatteh, (bread), and roast lamb ending with a fig dessert.

Returning to the room we "skyped" our kids and found that only a few hours earlier our grandson's wife had given birth to Jackson, their first child.  Thanks to modern technology we had discovered within hours of the birth and thousands of miles away that we had just become great grandparents!                                     

The following day we were able to visit the attractions that had been closed on the first visit to Madaba.  The purchase of a combined ticket provided entrance to the Church of the Apostles, Madaba's museum and the Archeological Park.  We leisurely visited all three great sites, each having distinctly different contributions.  We stumbled across a small mosaic workshop and watched the owner creating mosaic wall plaques for a hotel order.  Of course we purchased a mosaic design and at a much lower price than the tourist shops on the roadway to Nebo Mountain. 

The homeward bound flight from Queen Alia Airport was scheduled for a midnight departure time providing ample time to celebrate our last night in Jordan.  Entering the lobby we noticed the hotel's steel shutters drawn.  Upon inquiry we were informed that street demonstrations were in progress protesting the government's 30 % gas increase.  The family felt we would avoid the protesters and be safe walking to the city center so they unlocked the door letting us out onto the front street.  We had not walked ten meters before the shouting increased and we were immersed in a pushing panicked crowd running down the main street.  We broke free of the pack turning down a side street to regain entry to the hotel via a side entrance.  The initial plan was to pound on the door to attract the owner's attention.  Fortunately our destination was realized and the son was already there unlocking the side door when we arrived.  What a relief!

The nightmarish experience altered our plans for an evening dining celebration. Stranded in the hotel we retreated to the second floor restaurant to order dinner and peered out the restaurant’s windows at the erupting street scene of fires and damaged cars. The family had not planned on serving us an evening meal as other guests had opted to eat elsewhere too.  They had prepared their own meal and inquired if we would like to share it with them or they could cook a chicken meal for us.  We happily agreed to share and enjoyed a typical meatless Jordanian dish similar to our cabbage rolls.  This turned out to be a most satisfactory solution to our plight.

Due to the street disruptions we were concerned our taxi would not be able to enter the downtown area to transport us to the airport.   However, the taxi arrived on time but the driver had to make several route adjustments to gain Madaba's outskirts.  It was with some relief when we arrived at the airport without further incidents and were safely past airport security to wait for our flight to London, England.

For us, Jordan was not just Petra.  Certainly, Petra is the main attraction and deserves the world wide recognition it receives but we discovered there are other worthy sites and activities to challenge the intrepid tourist.

General Information:

Hotels:   Hotels were centrally located close to attractions and restaurants.  The rooms had ensuites, televisions and air condition.  The amenities varied widely from hotel to hotel but all were comfortable and clean.  The hotels were ideal for getting a comfortable night’s sleep and with breakfast included were very good value hotels.  Hotels book tours and/or hikes.  Internet was available in rooms where indicated.  Prices are for a room in Canadian funds.

Amman:  Amman Pasha Hotel  E-mail:  booking@ammanpashahotel.com,  Web: www.ammanpashahotel.com ($46  )

This is an excellent location with the restaurant serving tasty inexpensive meals.  Outstanding service and Raymond, the English speaking owner, would assist with any problems a guest might encounter.  Comfortable rooms with basic facilities.  A great value hotel.

Madaba:  Mosaic City Hotel  E-mail:  info@mosaiccityhotel.com   Web:  www.mosaiccityhotel.com  ($62)

This is an excellent beautifully appointed accommodation.  Offering more than the hotel’s three star rating.  Rooms have a mini bar and free Wi-Fi.  A family run hotel located about a half hour drive from Queen Alia Airport.  A pleasant surprise to find such luxury at this price.  One of our favourite hotels.

Dana:  Dana Tower Hotel  E-mail: danatower2@hotmail.com  Web:  www.danatowerhotel.com   ($22)

A collection of quirky rooms, seating areas and restaurant all cemented together.  The reconstruction process used existing ancient structures adding stone and block to create a funky hotel.  Rooms have quaint names like ours “The Cave” or “Flying Carpet”.  Ask for an ensuite room.  Fun place to stay.

Petra:  Sun Set Hotel  E-mail: info@petrasunset.com  Web: www.petrasunset.com  ($39)

Located on the main street within walking distance of the entrance to Petra which is the hotel’s main feature.  Lobby is spacious.  Rooms were basic.  Dinners were excellent and better value than nearby restaurants.  Good value at the price.  Internet in the lobby.

Wadi Rum:  Desert Caravan Camp  Business cards being printed.  Web: Desert Caravan Camp or Trip Adviser.  Priced from ($24 to $33)

An excellent organized well-run camp.  Satameh, the manager, made our visit special with attentive service and provided us with a three person tent.  The three daily meals were excellent.  The shower/washroom building was clean and set away from the spacious eating/sitting areas.  Excellent value and hospitality.

Aqaba:  Days Inn  E-mail: info@daysinn –aqaba.com  Web:  www.daysinn-aqaba.com  ($62)

Well appointed rooms and extremely helpful staff.  Breakfasts were very good.  Dining room lacked ambience.  Spotless, comfortable rooms with free Wi-Fi.  Another favourite.

Wadi Ghuweir:  Bedouin Family Stay  Book through Jordan Beauty Tours.  E-mail:  info@jordanbeauty.com

Wanting an “off beaten” travel experience this is it.  Great hospitality and a true taste of Bedouin life.  Facilities are primitive.  Food was flavourful and served Bedouin style.  A fantastic travel experience we still reminisce about!

Dead Sea:  Winter Valley Warwick   E-mail: info.wintervalleywarwick@warwickhotels.com  Web:  www.wintervalleywarwick.com  ($155)  All meals included.

A spectacular new property with staff striving to make one’s stay most enjoyable.  The reception area of modern architectural design provides a bright, cheerful ambience throughout the hotel.  Rooms are spacious and well appointed.  Free Wi-Fi and free mini bar.  However, I would assume this feature would disappear as the hotel becomes established.  Pool is large with ample lounging chairs and the Dead Sea touches the property.  Phase two will be the construction of the beach front.  Currently there are umbrellas, loungers, towels and a fresh water shower, plus buckets of free healthy Dead Sea mud to slather on from head to toe. Beach safety is a focus with a lifeguard on duty.  Restaurant is spacious with ample seating and wide food choices.  An excellent resort/spa hotel.  A favourite.

 

Tour Company:

Jordan Beauty Tours:  E-mail:  info@jordanbeautytours.com  Web:  www.jordanbeauty.com  Ali Al-Hassant – Sales and Marketing Manager

Our tour included all transfers by deluxe car with an English speaking driver.  Entrance fees to all sites including Petra, hotel accommodations with breakfast and all dinner at the hotels, a jeep desert safari plus airport pickup and departure assistance.  Within our package were extras like side trips to an olive factory, a brick plant and a stop at local produce stalls.  Cost for 18 days was $1500 US p/p. As independent travellers we usually utilize local transportation and book tours when needed, but considering the excellent services and experiences we received, I doubt very much that we could have organize our own tour for less!  Ali strove to create a “once in a lifetime” Jordanian experience and he most certainly did this.

Transportation:

Fawaz Farajat:  E-mail: fawaz.farajat@yahoo.com   Mobile:  00962(0)7774457950

A safe driver and equally important, a wonderful cheerful person.  Prompt and helpful.

Research Sources:

Lonely Planet:  Jordan, 8th edition Published July 2012

Internet:  www.visitjordan.com  

Hotel Bookings:  www.agoda.com    www.booking.com  Plus many others.

Please use the comment box to let us know of any errors.  Unable to make a hard copy thus difficult to edit.  Thanks.                                                                                                                                                           
 
JERASH -COLONNAED STREET
Original stones complete with ruts worn by
chariot wheels. 


                                                                                                                                                       

1 comment:

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