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Between Monks and Monkeys

Jordan - a brilliant place to spend a holiday

JORDAN | Thursday, 2 February 2012 | Views [2241] | Comments [2]

Wadi Rum. Stunning colours. A magical place.

Wadi Rum. Stunning colours. A magical place.

In June 2010 we spent two terrific weeks in Jordan.

NB when you arrive in Jordan airport you have to pay for a visa stamp for your passport. You then have to get the first stamp rubber stamped at another desk. Make sure you do this. We didn't, and when we left Jordan we had to go back to Immigration to get the rubber stamp. It took extra time which luckily we had.

We started with three days at the Black Iris Hotel in Madaba. Odeh of the Black Iris arranged for our pick-up from the airport. Madaba is a great place to get accustomed to being in a new and very different country - it's interesting but not too big and busy, and is a good point from which to explore other parts of the country. Odeh also gave us lots of good advice about places to see, which made the Black Iris an excellent starting point for our trip.

We spent the first day walking round town looking at the famous mosaics, checking out the shops and trying the delicious Jordanian food, coffee and mint tea; and often being greeted with "Welcome to Jordan" by the local people who were lovely to us - one man crossed the street to direct us as he could see we were lost, and a woman complimented me on my dress. No hassling, just genuine friendliness.

NB for women I'd advise wearing modest clothes in Jordan. I wore a long dress and long sleeved shirt most of the time, except in Petra and on a camel. Not only was it respectful to local custom, but it's actually cooler than wearing pants, and you don't get sunburnt.

The second day we hired a car and driver (via the Black Iris) and went to Ajloun and Jerash in the north. Both worth a visit, although our driver steered us into the restaurant in Jerash and we probably spent a bit more on lunch than we needed to.

From then on we hired a car, and I'd definitely recommend this, as long as you have a Lonely Planet or some other good guide book, and a map. We hired from Rent a Reliable Car ([email protected]) and had nothing but good experiences. The car was delivered to our hotel and we left it at the airport on our departure. Value for money, good car - not flash, but it did the job admirably. Highly recommended.

Driving in Jordan is a bit haphazard and the roads vary a lot in quality but as long as you are careful and patient it's fine. Driving in the middle of some small towns can be slightly alarming as it can be very crowded with people, donkeys and cars. Karak was the prime example - Lonely Planet recommends parking outside town and getting a taxi to the castle, and on reflection I'd agree.

We first drove to Umm ar-Rasas which I would definitely recommend for the amazing mosaics in St Stephens Church, as well as the large Roman and Byzantine site. It's a World Heritage site but the promotion isn't very good so it would be easy to miss. The same day we drove down to the Dead Sea and went to Amman Beach Resort, the cheapest of the places where you can go in the Dead Sea and have a fresh water pool to rinse the salt off with (important..)

NB There's a fairly pricey restaurant at Amman beach and a place selling ice-creams, but nothing in between. Take some food with you for a picnic along the road - you won't find much in the villages you pass though, especially on a Friday.

The drive down to the Dead Sea and up again made us glad that we had a car that could do the job - it's very steep in places. Great views, dramatic scenery.

The next day we drove down to Petra via Karak on the scenic King's Highway. Karak castle is worth seeing. A guide latched onto us and took us around, and it was worth it as the signage in the castle isn't great. Drove through Wadi Mujib which is huge! The drive took us most of the day with various stops.

Petra is amazing!! My expectations were high - we came to Jordan with Petra in mind - but they were exceeded. The geology of the place and the fantastic colours and shapes of the rocks would make it worth visiting even without the unique Nabatean tombs. We spent two days there and could have spent another. We didn't have a guide and did fine without one (we had a Lonely Planet and a map from the Visitor's Centre).

We also did the Petra by Night experience which was great and would have been even better if people had done as they were asked and refrained from taking flash photos when they first came to the candle-lit Treasury - it really did spoil the atmosphere.

NB Don't miss Little Petra - it is well worth visiting. It was a service town and caravanserai for Petra so it's a different kind of place - wonderful rocks, and some fantastic water courses and cisterns. Check out the lovely fresco painting in the dining room of the Painted House. We paid a guide for an hour and found it worthwhile.

From Petra we went to Aqaba (2 hours drive on the Kings and Desert Highways) and had a day snorkelling and diving with Aqaba Dive. Highly recommended. They were professional and friendly, looked after us well, served a delicious lunch on the boat and we had two good dives. The corals aren't as colouful as we expected (we've previously dived in the Pacific) but the fish life is good. A fun day.

We then spent two days in Wadi Rum on camels. This was the unexpected highlight of the trip. We signed up to do one day on camel and one in 4WD but we liked the way of travelling by camel so much we ended up doing the whole 2 days and the last morning's ride back to Rum village that way. It's the perfect way to see a most amazing desert - slowly and gradually, and you get to see everything - lizard tracks in the sand, beetles, birds, the subtle changes in the fantastic and almost other-worldly landscape - and a camel is a wonderful and totally perfect animal for the desert. My thighs and bottom got a bit sore by the end of the second day, but it was well worth it.

We saw other tourists roaring round in the 4WDs and leaping out at the various sights, and did not envy them at all. The silence and the sense of vastness and strangeness of the desert is what you get when you travel by camel, and you can't possibly get that feeling in a 4WD.

We spent two nights in a Bedouin camp (tourist style with toilet and shower) and had a great time. Brilliant moments - getting up before sunrise and watching the sun come up over the hills, and then watching the sun go down over the Jebels (vast rock hills) at night.

We booked our trip with Eid Ateeg, Bedouin Guide, via the Sunset Hotel in Wadi Musa. Eid is a very dignified man, rather taciturn and does not speak a lot of English, and we did get into some cultural misunderstandings as a result of this. For instance we offended him deeply at the end of the trip by getting into our car and preparing to drive off (there seemed to be nobody around at his place in the village where the car was parked.) I think we were expected to have a last cup of tea with him, but it wasn't made clear. Also we were never really told what was going to happen over the two days we were in Wadi Rum, and it would have been good to have a bit of background information - however we dealt with this by just going with the flow and generally it worked out fine. And he did let us have the camels for much longer than we had originally contracted for, so we are very grateful to him for that.

Our camels were led by a lovely 17 year old called Mutlak who we enjoyed being with. NB if you have a spare head torch, it makes a great gift for your camel minder - they are scarce and valued in Wadi Rum. We also gave Mutlak a generous tip as he'd spent two days leading us around and looked after us really well.

We drove back to Madaba (about 4 hours on the Desert Highway) and stayed our last night at the Black Iris - a good place to wash off the red sand of Wadi Rum and get rid of the camel smell.

The next day we visited Herod's castle at Mukawir in the morning (site of Macareus, the castle where Salome danced and John the Baptist was beheaded.) NB if driving yourself, take the signpost for the "Memorial to the Prophet" - that's the way to the castle.

In the afternoon we drove to the airport, left the car in the carpark, and sadly took our leave of Jordan. We could easily have stayed longer - we didn't see anything of Amman, and we did not get to see the Crusader castles in the North which are worth visiting, we were told. Jordan has a long and interesting history and it's everywhere!

All in all our Jordan trip was really memorable for all the right reasons. As well as the great things we saw and did, we really appreciated the friendliness of people all over Jordan. We felt safe and welcomed wherever we went. Even at the tourist sites like Petra and Jerash we were never seriously hassled. Of course people tried to sell us things - that's how they make their living - but they didn't push it and were also happy to chat, and there were many instances of genuine kindness that made us feel very good.

Fascinating country, lovely people. Definitely recommended!

Tags: aqaba, bedouin, camel, dead sea, jerash, jordan, mosaic, petra, roman, wadi rum

 

Comments

1

Hi,

I'm thinking about hiring a car from Rent a Reliable Car as well. Can you tell me how did you pay for your reservation there? There seems to be no way to pay at the website, and the guy there asked me my credit card number to ensure the reservation. How did you do it on your trip?

Thanks!

  Rodrigo Dec 4, 2012 10:57 PM

2

AS far as I remember, we paid using my credit card when the car was delivered to the hotel in Madaba. I think the guy had a zipzap with him that he used. Unfortunately the computer with all my Jordan stuff on it has got a virus and is in the fix-it place, but when it comes back I'll post another message if I come up with any useful info.

  flyingpiglet Dec 5, 2012 7:30 AM

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