Jordan: Part 3

Our time in Petra came to a conclusion as quickly as it had started and we didn’t get any time to reflect on our experience in one of the wonders of the world. We were up bright and early the following morning to catch a taxi from Wadi Musa (Petra), to the visitors centre in Wadi Rum, the village at the beginning of the desert.

We decided to spend three nights in the desert to relax and really live the experience. Most people do the dessert of Wadi Rum via a pre-booked 20-hour tour in which they get a jeep tour during the day, spend the evening, and leave very early the next morning. We were definitely a bit of an anomaly out there in terms of the duration of our stay, but we are ecstatic that we decided to spend the extra days as 20 hours isn’t near enough time to fully experience and appreciate the beauty of the landscape.

We had shared the taxi with our new friend Mike and upon arriving to the visitors centre were forced to say our farewells. He had booked through a different company than us so we thought that this would mark the end of our short-lived time together. Luckily, as it turns out, the owner of our company and his company are cousins, and due to the low numbers of tourists this year, they have combined their business into one camp to cut down on staffing costs. We were very happy and surprised to see him show up to our camp a mere 6 hours after our farewells. It was a stroke of luck, as he is an amazing and upbeat guy with whom we share a lot in common.

The camp consisted of 4 tents (see picture below as they are sturdier than camping tents) that could sleep 2-3 people each, and a main larger tent that was the living room space with an open air fire pit. This space was situated under an overhanging cliff jutting out of the rock face in such a way that you could sit near the rock face for shade earlier in the day and hang out in the big tent when the breeze rolled in later in the day. The kitchen and toilet/shower areas were brick buildings.

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Our first day was spent relaxing. We climbed the rock face upwards above the camp to find a nice shaded ledge to spend the morning, with the camp far below our feet, the desert views for 180 degrees in front of us, and the most blue sky we have ever experienced above us. Our spot was shaded until midafternoon, when the sun came over the rock face and it was full on desert hot. Our ledge quickly began heating up so we scrambled our way down where we met the camp cook and discovered he was a hilarious character. He made us a fantastic veggie curry for lunch and even played us some music on his traditional bedouin instrument that was a string instrument similar to a guitar (but don’t tell him I said that- he was quick to point out that it is NOT a guitar). He made endless pots of tea, which he called bedouin whiskey and is very sweet (we found out just how sweet on our last night: over a cup of sugar per pot!!!!) but delicious. The rest of the afternoon was spent lazing on the comfy cushions found throughout the common area, dozing in and out in the shaded heat.

Later in the afternoon Simon, Amanda and Jake, a lovely family we met briefly during our time in Petra, returned from their jeep tour. Jake is 3 and is a very mature and intelligent little guy. His curiosity was infectious and his boundless energy admirable in the heat. We read a few stories together, and Chris, Simon and he went on an adventure to find secret treasure places (which he was able to find 2 secret places, 4 big beatles, fell twice, but didn’t even cry once). During the adventure, Chris had some time to share some stories back and forth with Simon about life, work, travel, and more. Simon is a well travelled guy that has seen it all but is very humble about it (most likely as a result of all the travel).

Chris and I were both inspired by Amanda, Simon and Jake. We had always discussed traveling as having a definitive end date of “if and when we have kids.” To see this amazing family making it work and continuing to do what they love made us realize we don’t need that end date. Some families will have pictures of their kids posing with Mickey Mouse, others with their kids riding a donkey all the way to the Monastary in Petra (a highlight for little Jake). Both are equally amazing, but each suited to different types of families. We didn’t imagine the possibility of the latter category, but now that we see it is doable, I think we will fall into it. A big thanks to Simon, Amanda and Jake for being such an inspiration! Jordan is the 12th country Jake has visited in his three short years on this earth! I bet a lot of you reading this are trying to count your countries off with your fingers, seeing if you can stack up to him!

Mike arrived back from his tour a bit later in the evening and we all continued to chat about our different travel adventures (and misadventures) and future plans. At sunset Chris, Mike, Simon and I headed to a rock bridge close to our camp and were able to snap some fantastic shots. The sunset was incredible, and as Mike and I discussed, rather difficult to put in words. I will let the pictures do the talking, although it can’t even come close to capture the experience.

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Later that evening a large group of Israelis showed up after spending the day climbing the highest mountain in Jordan, bordering Saudi Arabia. Chris got along with them quite well and even got invited to share with them a sampling of their kosher Israelian meal. Chris loved it and thus ended up eating two dinners that night (one kosher Israeli and one Jordanian bedouin). The precious experiences that life on the road offers!!

Our second day was spent much the same as the first, except we had the camp to ourselves for the day. The only person that stopped by was the owner to deliver us lunch, besides that we were alone until the late afternoon. It amazed us how quiet it was, we enjoyed every minute of it and were able to have some great discussions about things big and small.

We realized by the end of our second day that the desert is a fickle place. The heat was tolerable until 2 pm each day, when it became unbearably hot until 4 pm, and then cooled off completely, even becoming quite chilly in the evenings without anything to absorb the heat.

There was only 3 other people in the camp that evening, 2 of which who were insistent on connecting to the internet. It was rather hilarious to watch, considering the setting. One of them even asked if the desert had 4G.

Our third day was spent doing a 6 hour jeep tour through the desert. It was a fantastic day as the scenery was amazing. Also, the owner of our camp and our tour guide Audah was a wealth of knowledge about the area and the people. We were able to ask lots of questions and he answered them graciously. He shed light on the fickleness of the tourism industry recently, and the immense impact it is having in the bedouin people of Wadi Musa whose economy relies exclusively on tourism.

See below for some of the pictures I snapped throughout the day!

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The next morning we wanted to head to Aqaba, and thought there may be a bus, but the owner of our camp wasn’t entirely sure if it would be running. He woke us up at 6:00 am and we made our way to the visitors centre with the hope there would be a bus. Luckily, it was running and we were able to make it on. It was only 4 JD vs. a taxi being 20 JD, so it was a big cost saving.

We had messaged a few couchsurfers before heading to the desert to try and stay with them in Aqaba. We hadn’t heard back before arriving to Aqaba (at 8 am) so we had to try and navigate our way to a restaurant with wifi or an internet cafe to check our messages. We found a restaurant with wifi, but they weren’t open yet. We had a quick breakfast of an assortment of different pastries before heading off to find an internet cafe. By a stroke of pure luck we ran into Simon on the street by the internet cafe! He told us they were heading to a lovely private beach for the day and invited us along. We quickly checked our messages and unfortunately had no definitive answers, only a maybe. We sent off a reply and then headed to Simon and Amandas hotel where they were kind enough to let us store our bags for the day in their room. It would have been a very disastrous day had we not run into them!

The private beach had several pools, towel service, a restaurant, snorkel and dive gear, and shower facilities. It was spectacular to laze around and swim for the day. Chris went snorkeling in the Red Sea and saw tons of fish, but reported there were lots of jellyfish so I wasn’t too keen on that. I stuck with the pool.

Around 4:30 pm we caught the shuttle back to re-check our messages to see if we would have somewhere to stay that night. Unfortunately we hadn’t heard back so we began looking at hotels. Aqaba is a very popular tourist spot so the prices for 1 night were more than 3 nights back in Amman. Chris dashed off to the bus office to see if we could catch a bus back to Amman and when he returned with tickets in hand they were for a bus leaving in 30 minutes. We scrambled to gather our things and head to the bus, and thankfully made it. We arrived back to Amman at 10:30 pm and checked into our (much cheaper) hotel. We had no idea when we set out that morning how hectic of a day we were going to have!

For the last three days we have been resting and recuperating for the next leg of our trip. We fly to Dubai tomorrow morning for a 3 night 4 day stopover, and then on to Cape Town. It is going to be a very exciting and diverse month of travel for us and we are so excited for it. We look forward to sharing it with all of you!

Jordan: Part 2

We arrived to Wadi Musa, the town adjacent to Petra, after a particularly cramped 4 hour ride on the local bus and were greeted with total chaos. We were confused as to why the bus driver made us close all the windows before entering the station, but it became painfully clear once we pulled in. Thankfully, the bus driver had called our hostel ahead of time to arrange someone to pick us up. We made our way through the sea of people pulling at us trying to get us to stay at their hotel, ride in their taxi etc. and gratefully plopped into our car. It always amazes me how much 5 minutes of total madness can take out of you. Retrospectively, paying 3 JD ($5.16 CAD) to take the comfortable tourist bus may have been worth it.

We dropped our bags at the hostel and headed straight to Petra. It was a 15 minute walk to the entrance, and a further 30 minutes to the start of the city, marked by the famous Treasury.

My expectations of Petra were majorily influenced by the Canadian TV show Departures, which is one of my all time favorite shows. If you haven’t watched it, all seasons are available on Netflix. I expected a tranquil walk into the Treasury, and a sort of awestruck quietness to be present throughout the entire city.

What I got was probably the polar opposite of this expectation. To be fair, we did go on a Saturday when most Jordanians visit. We were immediately assaulted by men trying to get us to take a horse from the gate halfway to the Treasury to cut down on the walk. They kept insisting we look at the back of our tickets to see that it was “free.” Nothing in life is ever free, and I had one look at the sad state of the animals and vehemently declined. The further we walked on, the further the level of insanity increased. The walk in is through a canyon which all sounds reverberate off of. This meant the sounds of the horse carriages carrying lazy people seemed to be coming from everywhere. The horses were being driven to exhaustion in the heat. We had to continuously squeeze ourselves against the walls of the canyons to escape the droves of carriages going by. I was just about finished before we had even begun. The canyon opened up to reveal the Treasury and before I was able to process anything I heard,

Hey lady, you want to ride a donkey?

I looked to my right and saw a child no older than 10 years leaning against the worlds saddest minature donkey. No, the last thing I could ever possibly want would be to ride that poor creature.

I did a 360° turn and took in my immediate surroundings. Numerous questions popped into my head; Why did this feel like a zoo for horribly mistreated animals rather than one of the wonders of the world? Why are small children trying to sell me rocks that I am sure they illegally harvested and are thus destroying this wonder? Where is the awful rap music coming from? Is it just me, or do all the men have a certain resemblance to Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow in the Pirares of the Caribbean? Is this area not protected?

I took a deep breath and decided to accept there are probably no good answers to any of the above questions. Even amidst all that was going on around us, we couldn’t help but be impressed by the Treasury. It is a magnificent building, only slightly tarnished by its surroundings.

We walked on and things settled a bit. People still tried to get us to ride their donkeys/camels/horses, buy whatever junk they were selling, visit their cave etc. etc. etc. but it was with less and less frequency the more we walked. However, it continued to shock me the number of people who set up souvenir shops in the middle of the ancient city! “It is free to look! Good, good price! Afternoon discount, 1 dinar for everything!” rang throughout the city as we walked.

By late afternoon many more people were leaving the park than entering. We continued to walk, stopping to admire the numerous other impressive buildings throughout the city.

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We walked all the way to the Monastary, climbing an endless amount of stairs in the heat. To be honest, the Monastary was just as, if not more so, impressive than the Treasury. The best part was there was only 2 other people there, and no sad animals.

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We hiked to the two view points by the Monastary and were basically the only people there at the time.

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We started our descent at 5:30 pm, with the park closing at about 7 pm. It took a solid two hours to walk all the way back to the gate, and we only saw a handful of people the entire walk back. All of the animals and handlers had gone for the day, and all of the shops selling souvenirs had closed. Finally, the tranquility I was looking for! In the stillness of the late afternoon sun with all of the distractions removed, the full magnitude of the city hit us. The late sun hit the royal tombs and turned them a beautiful rose color. It was a spectacular walk back. I would recommend going at this time of day, where you have the park to yourself, the heat of the day has dissapated, and you can fully marvel at the city in peace.

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What I hadn’t realized on our walk to the gate from the hostel was that it was all downhill. I struggled back to the hostel battling a massive migraine from the heat of the day. It was an early night for both Chris and I.

We had originally planned to wake up very early the next day to be at the park when it opened, but having experienced the park to ourselves the evening before we decided to just go whenever we woke up.

Knowing what to expect made it easier to mentally prepare for our second day. It was a Sunday, meaning a working day for Jordanians. We were very pleasantly surprised when we arrived to the park to find it very quiet. There was only a fraction of the number of animals as there had been the day before. The walk in was what I had originally expected. It was wonderful.

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The rest of the day in the park was spent slowly meandering. Whenever we felt like stopping we did, for however long we wanted. We ran into Mike, an English lad living in Australia, and easily sparked up a conversation. We realized we were all staying at the same hostel so we made plans to hang out later that evening.

We hiked a trail to get a view of the Treasury from above and it was so worth the effort in the heat.

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We chatted with a local guy who conveniently has a shop at the viewpoint who invited us to supper, to stay with him etc. We didn’t do either as it was such a hike up we knew we wouldn’t be able to do it a second time, and we also didn’t know if it was really allowed. The park closes at sunset, but the shop is within the park. He was adamant it was okay, but I am still not convinced. We also hiked to the place of high sacrifice for some fantastic views over the city.

From both viewpoints we were able to see just how empty the park was without the locals visiting. The hostel owner had previously told us it is the worst year for tourism in the last 6 years, and it was quite evident from our vantage points. Many people in Jordan are totally dependent on tourism for income. The media is having a massive impact on everyone. I cannot imagine how frustrating it is to have your livelihood affected by things going on in neighboring countries, despite your country being very stable and safe. Do your research and do not generalize, despite media coverage the Middle East is not all the same!

We then made our way slowly back to the hostel. We had a fantastic supper and were able to watch the sunset from the rooftop terrace of the hostel chatting with Mike and a lovely dutch girl who has been traveling for 3 years now. We also watched the moon rise from behind the hills of Wadi Musa, which was equally as beautiful as the sunset.

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We had another early night as we had to be up very early to head to the desert the next day. My next post will cover our experiences there!

**Note: I have done some research into some of the questions I had when I arrived to Petra. The local people present in the park are called Bdul and hold the traditional rights to the park. They originally inhabited the caves surrounding Petra and were farmers and goat herders. Unfortunately, as seen time and time again, they were forced to relocate to a village built for them called Umm Sayhoun which sits on a hilltop over looking the city. They are unable to continue with agriculture and goat herding due to lack of available land. This of course means they are unable to earn money, so more and more are turning to the tourism industry to make a living.

You can google “Bdul” sometimes spelt “Bedul” to find out more information. The book called “Married to a Bedouin” by a New Zealand woman is also suppose to provide much insight into the Bdul people.

I wasn’t able to find a direct link to Jack Sparrow and the Bdul people. I am unsure if there was any inspiration for the character or not, but the resemblance is uncanny.

The rap music was coming from one of the many portable boom boxes carried around by the Bdul people while riding their animals, sitting around etc.

There are many other threats Petra faces, most due to unsustainable tourism, looting and robberies, and improper restoration. A few minutes of research certainly opened my eyes to the challenges ahead.

This research inevitably leads me down (yet again) the path of what is sustainable tourism. I seem to find myself pondering this more and more the further into the trip I get. Beyond injecting money into the local economy, what is my impact? Am I ruining local culture and tradition by my mere presence and interactions? Am I contributing to the destruction of some of the wonders of the world by visiting? What can I do differently? What can all tourists do differently?

Hopefully I will be able to answer some of these questions throughout our journey. Perhaps sharing my insight and experiences will help make a difference in some small way.

Jordan: Part 1

Hello everyone!

Can you believe I need to split our 12 days in Jordan into more than one post? For such a tiny country there is an incredible amount to see and do. Our first four days were action packed, and there is no sign of slowing down. I figure it is easiest to keep on top of it so I won’t have a monster post at the end of the 12 days.

We arrived to Jordan at 4:25 pm and had no problems obtaining our visa on arrival (except the pricetag of $68 CAD) and finding the airport bus that shuttled us to a part of downtown called the 7th circle where we then caught a cab to our hostel. On our drive in I was overwhelmed with a feeling of familiarity; the incessant horn honking, the absolute chaos on the road and sidewalks, and something about the smells in the air brought me back to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I had forgotten that feeling of your senses being totally bombarded with new things (and some familiar things) when arriving to a place so different from Canada.

Immediately upon arriving we met a very interesting Dutch guy who was here partly for holiday and partly for work as a journalist. We headed to supper next door to the hostel and had some very interesting conversations about his experiences in the middle east. He is currently obtaining a Masters in Islamic Studies and spent 3 months in Afghanistan and numerous other shorter trips to other countries in the region. It was very fascinating and a great introduction to our time in Jordan!

The next morning we woke up and headed out to explore Amman. It is certainly not picturesque and has a gritty feel to it, but it has a certain attractiveness all the same. There is a pulse that seemingly emanates from the city itself. It was 35+ degrees combined with the need to dress conservatively made for a very hot day of exploring. We visited both the citadel and the amphitheater, and then meandered through the streets and a few markets.

I had (again) forgotten what it is like to be an anomaly. I garnered much attention from the locals, despite being very appropriately dressed. Canada is an incredible country to be a woman, I am grateful to have been born and raised in such a respectful, safe environment.

We met a fellow Canadian, Lehm, at the hostel and the following day we took the local bus to the ruins of Jerash. Jerash is the home to the best Roman Ruins outside Rome in the world. When we arrived we were intimidated by how much ground there was to cover.

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I won’t bore you with the details of the city (that is what Wikipedia is for) but I will say that the ruins are by far the most impressive Chris and I have experienced to date. We found them much more impressive than Ephesus! Below are a few pictures to give you some context to how incredible they were.

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We stopped at the amphitheater and sat down to take a break from exploring in the heat. We noticed there was several men traditionally dressed with a drum and set of bagpipes so we were hoping there would be some music. I turned my head towards Chris to say something, and the next thing I knew two local women plopped down on either side of me. I was quite surprised and rather confused as there was approximately 10 000 other empty places to sit, but I said hello. I then noticed all of their friends down on the main stage of the amphitheater laughing and taking pictures. One of the women asked where I was from, and then proceeded to yell to her friends that she was hanging out with her friend from Canada. At least that is what I assumed she was saying as she spoke in Arabic and the only thing I understood was “Canada.”

Then, the men started playing music. This excited all of the women and before I could process anything I was being dragged to the stage to dance. There was a large number of people in the amphitheater so I was mortified, but went along with it. As the music began to pick up I was pulled into the center of the circle of dancers. Thankfully, the song ended shortly after. It was great fun but I hurried back to my seat before another song could begin. Then all of the women, at least 15 in total, came and sat and stood around me. They all wanted pictures with me and one woman even placed her child on me to have a photo taken. They spoke very fast, all at once, and in broken english so my head was spinning trying to keep up.

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The woman who sat beside me originally then insisted she wanted to decorate my hand in henna. She did a beautiful job in only 10 minutes. She wanted to paint my nails as well, but I declined.

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As quickly as they arrived, they were gone procaliming they loved me, and they were coming to Canada as they walked away. I still don’t know if I was being made fun of, or they were just genuinely interested in me. Either way I was the token white girl and there is 10000 pictures of me somewhere on the Internet.

After wandering through the rest of the ruins we headed back to where we were dropped off by the bus in the morning to try and catch one back to Amman. We were hassled by numerous taxi drivers on our way there, telling us there were no buses running as it was a holiday. We were born at night, but it wasn’t last night so we knew they were lying to us. As we got closer to the bus stop the number of taxi drivers hassling us increased exponentially. At one point we were surrounded and no matter what we said they wouldn’t leave us alone again saying there was no buses. Five minutes later a bus pulled up. One taxi driver took the lead and began speaking to the bus driver and then turned to us and said this wasn’t the right bus, it was going somewhere else. Chris spoke over him to the bus driver and said, “Amman?” and initially the bus driver didn’t reply. The taxi guy spoke more to the bus driver and then the bus driver turned to us and said “Yes, Amman,” and waved us on. The taxi driver then stood in the doorway to the bus with his arms spread so we couldn’t board. We asked the bus driver again if it was the bus to Amman and then all the passengers said yes and waved us on. One older lady was very angry with the taxi driver and was letting him know as much. Finally we pushed our way onto the bus. The taxi driver then proceeded to walk to the front of the bus and lay down infront of the tire!!! A very intense 10 minutes ensued where the driver and several passengers tried to get him to move. The bus was blocking traffic so everyone was continuously honking and yelling at the bus to move. I don’t know what the taxi driver thought would happen, but eventually he relented and moved. We were very happy to get out of there and made it to Amman with no further issues.

That night we headed to a bar with the dutch guy to smoke hooka. The bar was a LGBQT bar, which was a very interesting experience considering we are in the middle east. The dutch guy had spoken with the owners so was able to provide much insight into the history of the bar and the challenges it faces. We had a fantastic time.

The next day we had arranged a tour with the taxi driver who had picked us up on our first day to visit Madaba, Mt. Nebo and the Dead Sea. He had offered us the best deal by far and spoke great english so we were happy to give him the business.

Our first stop was Madaba which is a city famous for its Byzantine and Umayyad mosaics. The most famous mosaic found in this region is the map of the Holy Land. It was found on the floor of the Greek Orthodox Basilica of Saint George. It is made up of 2.3 million pieces and is one of the most important finds as it details much of the land during the 6th century. Jerusalem, Mt Nebo and other important Holy Sites were all labeled with incredible accuracy on the map. Pretty neat!

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We then made our way to Mt Nebo which is mentioned in the bible as the place where Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land. He apparently died on the summit and his burial site is somewhere in the valley. As with most historical events, these events are greatly disputed.

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Our tour guide offered to take us to Bethany where Jesus is (said to) have been Baptised. The entrance fee was $20 CAD and we were pretty religion-ed out, so we decided not to go. (Sorry mom and dad). Instead we headed to the Dead Sea! This is of course, the lowest point on earth, being 429 meters below sea level. The salt content is so high (35%) it is impossible for any living thing to survive in the waters. It also means you are able to float with no effort.

There are several options to access the Dead Sea depending on how much money you wanted to spend. We wanted to spend none, so our taxi driver took us to the free parts of the Dead Sea that the locals use. Thankfully we found a spot we had to ourselves, so I could float in relative peace. The beaches can be very crowed and uncomfortable for women so it was a good alternative. Sure there was trash all along the shore, but the water was the same and the pricetag unbeatable. It was a very surreal feeling to just lay on your back and not sink. It was very fun to just be able to float about and not have to expend any energy. If all beaches were like that I would stay in the water much longer! I was able to snap a few pictures of Chris, but unfortunately I peaked the attention of a few local guys so we left a little hurridly so unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of me. The only downside of doing it cheaply was there weren’t any showers to shower off after floating, so we had a very salty ride back to Amman.

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Tomorrow we head to Petra for a few days and then we are off to Wadi Rum.

Cheers!