Him (via WhatsApp): Weather check. How are you feeling?
My reply: Still crappy.
Him: Well, I guess you’re not going to Jordan then.
My reply: Whaaaat? No, I’m fine, actually. 😀
So this is how we ended up on our impromptu visit to Jordan for a few days. Sent from his job to do routine maintenance on an airplane. Sure, why not? It’d be nice to take a Dead Sea dip and even visit Petra. So off we went a couple days later, via Emirates Airlines – and thank goodness for that! If you ever have the chance to fly Emirates, DO take it. It is posh! Even with coach seats, you won’t regret it.
We get to Jordan and all I can say is: This is no Dubai for sure. It came to no surprise, though. I had a good picture painted beforehand of what to expect, so I was not disappointed in any way. I was really curious to see what the Middle East looks like outside of all the over-the-top opulence Dubai offers. And, boy, was this a humbling experience. No doubt that Jordan can’t cut the mustard in comparison to Dubai. But a trip there is a great way to understand and learn more about this region’s rich history (the real “Bible Belt” as Z calls it) and life without all the distractions of glitter, wealth, the biggest this, and the tallest that. Likewise, it reminds you not to take one’s daily simple luxuries for granted – like Tim Horton’s, toilet paper, and business establishments where it’s not allowed to smoke inside. Shoot, smoking indoors in not even allowed back home in the U.S.V.I. Jordanians are some true chain smokers for sure. Think I’d need a detox program for at least a week from the inadvertent smoking I was subjected to.
We stayed minutes walking distance from the Dead Sea. Although our hotel turned out to be less than desirable, the panoramic view of the Dead Sea encompassing Jericho and the mountain ranges on the West Bank across the water more than made up for it. The altering colors of the sky and the Dead Sea as the sun rises and sets is just transcendent. At night, we can see the glowing lights of Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Jericho. Magical scenery, at best.
Oh, and the olives and olive oil in Jordan are DIVINE!!!
My Dead Sea Experience
I have to admit, this was not on my bucket list, but come to find out it is for a few people I know, so let me tell you how it went. First, it’s staggering how close Israel and Jordan are across from each other between the Dead Sea (a huge source pride for Jordanians). Michael Phelps can probably make it over in about less than an hour, I bet. It lies directly on the border of Israel and Jordan, with Jordan to the East and Israel to the West. Our hotel was just yards away from the Israeli border; we could actually see one of their watchtowers from our room. We even woke up one morning to gunshots popping and echoing through the valleys. We asked at the front desk what that was all about and they said “Military Training”. We settled for that answer and went off to have our morning coffee. Weird, yes, but stranger things have happened, I guess. We were, after all, situated right by the West Bank so anything can happen in these parts.
After two days of choppy waters from high winds, I finally get to do my mud/soak ritual. So we walk down to this lowest point of land on Earth, which is about 400 meters below sea level, in anticipation of what it’s like to float in the salty water you supposedly can’t sink in. There, your Dead Sea boy / Lifeguard (yes, you can actually drown in the Dead Sea), offers you your towel and to help apply the fresh mud on your back. I wore a black bikini, so I would not ruin my other ones. The mud looks like well — mud. It’s gray, soft, and slippery and does not have much of a smell. First, you wet your skin in the saline water, then slather the stuff all over your body. After you’re coated with the velvety sludge, you wait about 15 minutes before going into the water to rinse off.
The water and mud of the Dead Sea have been known for its healing properties since Biblical times. The Dead Sea is said to be 10 times saltier than seawater. It is technically a lake where no life can survive, so no shark threats to worry about. It’s the salinity that makes the water so dense that you can float effortlessly. This is not a place to snorkel nor should you ever submerge your head underwater. I followed the instructions and walked in, stooped, lean back and up popped my legs to protrude above the water. I busted out laughing. It was the STRANGEST sensation, but simply splendiferous! The natural buoyancy takes effect and you just find yourself on your back bobbing around. I stretched my arms out wide and wished I had brought a book to read in the water. 🙂
Sound alarm: Do not enter the water if you have any cuts or have shaved!
I read this online, but was not as prepared as I thought I was – I forgot about the skin chafing I had acquired the day before. And OUCHIE-OUCH! That was a STING! I had to wobble over to the showers whilst my husband laughed at me. I know – mean. The good news is my skin felt incredibly soft afterwards – literally like a baby’s bottom!
No trip to Jordan would be complete without a trip to The Lost City of Petra (aka Rose City) — a majestic city carved out of mountains reportedly lost for over 300 years. Remember the scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where the grail is found in the fictional Canyon of the Crescent Moon? Don’t worry, I didn’t and had to Google it. This is where this shot was filmed. There were also some scenes from The Mummy Returns shot there. Petra is the ancient Nabataean city, boasting over 800 monuments, in the southern region of Jordan. A UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the newest members of the family of Wonders of the World.
We hired a private driver to take us on the 5 hour round-trip journey to Petra from the Dead Sea. Our driver, Muhammad, showed up right on the dot — wide-eyed, cheery, and smelling of heavy cologne. He referred to me as “Lady” and Z as “Mister” from the moment he picked us up and for the ENTIRE 5 hour trip. It was odd, but also cute. He was warm, kind-hearted, and open. Along the way, as anticipated, he recited stories of the Biblical significance of some of the spots we passed or stopped at. He got us safely through those checkpoints that make you gulp as you approach via a simple nod and “Salaam Alaikum”.
The scenery on the way there was STUNNING: farms (miles and miles of them), jagged coastlines, rapturous mountain ranges, towering rocky cliffs, the cave of the Prophet Lut, The Pillar of Salt, factories, Bedouin camps, the end of the Dead Sea, small towns, long stretches of barren lands and nothingness and that Mount Dana.
After the long butt-flattening drive where your muscles go into atrophy, we arrive at Petra — exhausted and overly anxious. We enter through a busy little town which seems to flourish off the main attraction of Petra. Our driver pulls up, drops us off and goes off to take a nap to refresh for the drive back
We enter the Lost City of Petra, walk through for about 20 minutes, passing the The Obelisk Tomb, until we enter the Siq (the principal route into Petra) and oh-my these are no fusty historic structures! They are so alive, so ever-present, with sand blowing in the wind, and the bright blue skies glaring over them….it was simply breathtaking! The coolest thing about this archeological treasure is its irrigation systems which we got to see as we walked through the dusty and narrow Siq. The Nabataeans were masters of irrigation and other water technology, which I gather they had to hone in order to survive in the harsh, arid climate. You immediately feel the chill when you enter the narrow passageways. As you zigzag your way to The Treasury the suspense starts to build and then…
Boom! You bank one final corner and there it is, revealed in the most dramatic way!
Mysterious. Charming. Enchanting. Dramatic. Alluring. Curious. Dazzling. Remarkable. Magical. Awe-inspiring. Compelling. Stately.
You are suddenly face-to-face and start to take slow steps and pictures – of course – towards the loveliest structure you can ever imagine. You feel like you are on a movie set. Our personal tour guide was kind enough to offer to take our photos, which was a blessing because when traveling alone, it’s hard to capture those Kodak moments without someone else playing photographer. The funniest thing was that there was actually a snack shop there and yes, you can get a signal on your phone. Be warned, you will not have this place to yourself to gaze and reflect on. There are hoards of tourists, pesky panhandlers, donkey and camel taxis, and sadly children trying to aggressively sell you something all pushing through and fighting for space.
As usual, you end up spending more time trying to get a perfect shot than just taking in an absorbing what you are seeing. This is the kind of place you’d like to be selfish with and just have to yourself for one day. Where you can walk in solitude, without the sound of galloping horses, and really take in everything — even leaving the camera behind.
We finally make it past Roman-style 8,000 seat amphitheater, The Urn Tomb, and the Royal tombs towards the monastery. This is where it gets bad. You are bombarded by children trying to sell you things and the taxi guys repeatedly asking you if you want a ride up to the monastery. You say no and they keep at it. Well, anyone that knows Z will know he has a short fuse. One guy kept persisting and would not leave our side, until he finally popped on him. The guys snapped back and that was it – our mood went sour.
Our personal guide did warn us this would happen, noting that the children should be in school and not out there bugging tourists and they will be the ones to grow up and be thieves one day. I don’t know the dynamics of poverty in Jordan, but I can certainly say it was heartbreaking to see a child as young as 6 lying on a dusty rug selling what seemed like collected rocks from the site. As you get closer to the monastery, it only gets worse since, as our guide informed us, they are Bedouins who live right across the hill and they cross over each day to try to make a buck off the tourists. Can one blame them? Of course not. But, at the same token, it can be bad for tired tourists who just want to enjoy the site in peace. I saw one girl literally place one of the booklets she was selling on an older tourist’s chest insisting that he buy it.
Then I saw a girl seemingly asking for water from a male tourist. The bottle was already drunk from (like 2/3s full) and he just gave it to her and I saw her drink from it – a complete stranger. It was just too much. Some of the vendors had a British accent, perhaps trained to lure sales? One young girl selling cheap trinkets told Z “Excuse me, you dropped something behind you”. We looked back and she said “Your smile”. Followed by “Come see my table”. Good one – smarty pants! 😀
We walked all the way back, hopped in the van with our driver to have lunch before we head back. He took a different route on the way back. Thank goodness, because I would not want to be caught dead in those crazy mountains after dark. On the way back we passed by the Church of Moses, Mount Nebo (which was like going down The Beast back home, but to the 10th power!), olive tree farms, young men playing soccer on a field of dirt, humping dogs, more sheep and camel, and a great view of Jericho on the way down the Jordan Valley.
Overall, a true experience of a lifetime! A place worth visiting for sure, especially if you’re a history buff.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
And now for the flip side…
It would be unfair to my readers to romanticize the whole trip. There were some things we did not like. Actually, quite a few. We found prices to be VERY high in Jordan. For everything: food, souvenirs, and even our crappy hotel. We stopped at one shop on the way back from Petra where I picked up a cute poncho I felt I just had to have. It had no price on it, so I walked to the front and asked the clerk who pretty much ignored me when I walked in. Price: 150 Jordanian dinars, roughly $260!! I asked again to be sure: Dinars???? “Yes” he said, “it is wool”. Ah, OK. No thanks, then. While I know wool products are more expensive because their production is more labor intensive, that just seemed like an outrageous price, especially for a country that is struggling economically. The worst part was that he did not even try to entice me with a lower price — something that would of happened in Dubai for sure. There is almost always a chance to haggle down a price there…especially at Global Village.
And then there is the fly issue. They are EVERYWHERE. Inside and outside. I believe it may be seasonal, and in all fairness, we have that problem in Dubai too, but it seems to be much more controlled. There were flies inside the eating area at the hotel as well as the restaurant we stopped to eat at as part of our Petra tour. It’s hard to sit by the pool or anywhere outside without having to swat away those wretched flies. There has to be a way for businesses to control that problem a little better. The weather was really nice most days. It was a shame we could not enjoy it more because those darn flies just made us run back inside each time.
The other big one is the odors. The smell of cigarette smoke, camel & sheep urine and feces everywhere are enough to make you barf. I’m pretty sure there are other hotels that don’t have sheep farms just yards away, though. Our hotel was so bad I can actually write a whole other blog about that, but I’ll just cover that in my Trip Advisor review.
And finally, the sun sets right before 5 pm this time of the year, but that’s actually a good thing because there is absolutely nothing to do anyway after that time in these parts we stayed at. Make no qualms about it. There is poverty in this country and you can see it as you drive through some of the communities. It’s a part of life everywhere, I guess. If you have a problem with seeing that, then it’s best to stay away. But, in my humble opinion, we all need to see this every once in a while to check ourselves and appreciate what we do have, rather than complain about what we don’t have. As I ate my dinner that night in the comfort of my room, I looked up at Z and said: There are people out there right now, a mile away from us, sleeping in tents and warming themselves over a camp fire. Maybe we shouldn’t complain about how crappy our hotel is.
And like we say back home: Wheel bend…story end. 🙂