One of the real advantages of living in the UAE is the many oportunities for travel. Indeed, it is the prime reason I am still here after seven years. So when my travel buddy decided she might be leaving soon, we decided to see as much of the region as we could over weekends. First up – Jordan.
I had visited Jordan before, some years earlier with my parents when we had more time to explore. Hence I knew which parts of this fantastic country could be missed in order to be able to cram the visit into two and a half days. Wonderful as they are, Amman, Aqaba and Wadi Rum didn’t make the cut. Instead we arranged an incredibly compressed itinerary combining Petra, the Dead Sea, Bethany beyond the Jordan and, possibly, time allowing, Mukawir.
Following a full day’s work and a four hour flight, we finally arrived, collected the hire car and were on the road to Petra by 10pm. It was a brutal drive with high winds and terrible roads adding to the very long day we had already had. Thankfully, TB preferred to drive so I slid down in the passenger seat and, with several duty-free cocktails by my side, proceeded to act as encouragingly as I could. At one point driver fatigue led us to a roadside truck stop where I read as TB napped. Very atmospheric. Like an Arab Hopper painting.
We arrived in Petra at 2am, which meant 4 hours sleep before an early start to visit the Rose City. The hotel was not very good, but location is everything – we were less than 100m from the entrance to Petra itself.
Petra is without a doubt the prime reason for visiting Jordan. The prime reason for visiting the entire region. It is one of the few world class tourist attractions I have visited that is even more impressive in reality than either on the page or in the imagination. There is, however, a lot of walking involved. A lot. And it gets hot.
The initial trail from the entrance promises some of the most incredible scenery on the face of the planet. And it is a promise that is more than adequately fulfilled. The path descends to the kilometre long Siiq – a narrow passage through the rocks made famous (as with most of the site) by the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The rocks are a fantastic stratification of pinks and peaches and yellows. Note – it really pays to get up early. Not only is it much cooler (and even a brief tour like ours took 5 hours) but there will be very few other tourists about. The view of the Treasury – the most famous of the buildings – as you emerge from the Siiq is one of those you will take to your deathbed with you – I promise. Beyond belief and worth every mile flown, driven and walked to get there. And we only had about three other tourists and a handful of camels and site workers to share it with.
After the Treasury, comes a wide open walk past incredible tombs carved into the hillside, to the city centre – with the remains of houses and the impressive Grand Temple.
From the city centre, it is another very, very long walk to the Monastery – the other primary point of interest. And thanks to the ticket office not accepting credit cards, we only had a single Jordanian Dinar between us – nowhere near sufficient to buy passage by donkey up the 850 or so steps to the top. TB was not impressed. At several points we came close to giving up. But even she, once we reached the top, admitted that the heat and the pain and the strain and the exhaustion were worth it. Just incredible. And, again, at this time of the day, we shared it with a few other tourists and a handful of Bedouin shepherds and their flocks. Definitely, definitely worth the effort. But you might want to ensure you have enough Dinar to ride up the steps if you are not of an athletic persuasion.
Of course, having seen the Treasury, the Monastery, and everything else we wished to see in between, it was still nevertheless a good hour and a half’s walk back to the hotel, which was situated right by the main gate. As time was of the essence, with a long drive to the Dead Sea ahead of us, we didn’t climb to any of the tombs, or even stop for a drink in the world’s oldest bar by the gates. We had hoped that we might be allowed a late checkout to get a couple of hours sleep before the long drive, but no such luck.
So, by 1pm we were back on the road, this time heading for the Dead Sea. The journey was a long and arduous one, enlightened by some of the most incredible scenery. It was a Friday, the Muslim holy day, so almost everything was shut. Much as in Iceland some months previously, the only food available was from petrol stations. And then the petrol stations dwindled, leading to a nail-biting last few miles to the hotel, with the car running on fumes. The thing that struck both of us – long-term residents of the UAE as we are, was seeing Arab poverty. Jordan is not a rich country, and the few, fly-blown, dusty towns we passed through were very, very poor. The other thing that struck us was the locals. Again, being used to wealthy Emirati Arabs (who I am sure are probably lovely people once you get to know them but have a public persona of extreme aloofness), every Jordanian we met went out of his or her way to be friendly, welcoming, helpful. Even the ferocious looking soldiers at the frequent roadside checkpoints (necessary, sadly, in such a troubled part of the world) smiled and welcomed us to Jordan. Wonderful.
And the other thing, as already mentioned, was the landscape. Wow. Through the mountains of central Jordan we dropped down (and down (and down)), to the Dead Sea. All was incredible. Beyond incredible. The last stretch of the journey, along the banks of the Dead Sea to our hotel at the far northern end, involved frequent stops for photographs. And, as we were scared we were going to run out of petrol, we were travelling slowly enough to really take it all in. Beyond spectacular.
We finally arrived at the hotel just in time to sit on the balcony and watch the sun set over Israel (sadly, only literally rather than metaphorically) and to spend a well earned peaceful evening doing very little in readiness for the next day’s Biblical sightseeing epic…