Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

We loved our trip to Jordan. We only had three days but we packed them chock-full. We started by renting a car at the airport in Amman. I was a bit apprehensive about driving in Jordan just because we’d never been there but the allure of traveling independently and seeing the country on our own terms was too powerful, particularly after our experience in Egypt. The car we rented didn’t shift properly and we had to jam the key into the gearbox to unlock it every time before starting the car. Ominous beginning. But the roads in Jordan are outstanding and the traffic relatively painless. The country is 80% desert and the combination of the beautiful expanse of sand and an empty, open road made us feel like we were in the middle of nowhere. To complete our car rental experience we got pulled over twice during the three days – the first time for what I’m still not sure and the second time for speeding. The police officer asked to see my license, told me I was going 25km/hr over the speed limit, and then demanded, “Give me JD20” (US$28), after which there was an awkward 20-second pause while we were deciding whether to pay the bribe. Suddenly the officer received a call on his radio and abruptly let us go I think because there was another driver speeding more than me. Lucky for us. Nothing like getting pulled over in a foreign country to get the adrenaline flowing a bit.

Our first stop was Petra, the ancient sandstone city built in the third century BC by the Nabataeans, Arabs who controlled the trade routes of the region in pre-Roman times. The abandoned city had escaped the attention of the Western world for hundreds of years until it was rediscovered by accident in 1812 by a Swiss explorer. It also formed the backdrop for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and is one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. We spent our first night and the entire next day hiking among the palaces, temples and tombs carved into the sandstone cliffs. Spectacular.

From Petra we drove further south to Wadi Rum, the desert made famous by Lawrence of Arabia. We spent a half-day exploring the sand dunes, sculpted rocks, and Bedouin encampments of Wadi Rum in a 4x4. There’s something about the desert that I love. I think it’s the lack of human life, which always makes me feel like an explorer.

Our last stop was the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth, and famous because it has such high salinity that it’s pretty much impossible to sink in it (and extremely fun to float in it). We arrived a bit late from Wadi Rum so we woke up at 5:30am the next morning to play in the sea before we had to race back to the airport. We floated, bathed in Dead Sea mud, floated some more, sat on the water, tried doing some yoga positions, and finally it was time to go. Crazy fun.

Wish we had more time in Jordan. We could easily have spent a week there. Also would have loved to go to Israel, Lebanon and Syria. We hadn't planned to travel much in the Middle East (just a week in transit) because we had prioritized Africa and Asia, but we didn't appreciate how much there is to explore here. Definitely have to make a separate Middle East trip!

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