Hello, welcome to Jordan! First, for those of you who regularly follow our pages, you will notice that the text below is in large part the same as the blog. This is because the text is in large part straight from the blog's. We started the blog here in Jordan. It was becoming clear that we simply weren't able to update our pages as frequently as our gentle readers had wanted. So in order to provide some form of content, we came up with the blog, which we then proceeded to update with (alarming) frequency (at least compared to the web pages). As I don't relish having to re-write everything, I simply take the text and expand on it a bit, and add my usual pictures to spruce the whole thing up. It is nevertheless well worth the effort to re-read, as I try to expand and add more info to these pages.
Standing in line for a while we got our tickets to Aqaba for a hefty 760 Egyptian Pounds. (This is for 2 persons, 2 motorcycles and includes 50 E£ per person as an exit tax)
For anyone headed this way, the ticket office is the building on the right as you face the entrance to the port. There are no signs in English! The office is only open in the morning, although unconfirmed reports say that it should be open as long as the ferries are in port. Also, note that the FAST ferry does NOT take vehicles so you are forced to go on the slow ferry if you have anything bigger than a bicycle.
The ferry turned out to be an older Danish ferry, which still had the signs for Fredrikshavn exit on the door. All signs were in three languages, english, german, and danish, with a piece of paper written or printed in Arabic taped up next to the other signs.
After all the formalities were done and we were allowed to board, it was 11:15am and we spent the rest of the time just sitting around and reading, the ferry ended up leaving at 15:00 (3pm), and got to Aqaba at 19:30 (7:30pm), for some unknown reason we weren't (everyone) allowed to disembark for a further 40 minutes.
Jordan: First impressions
1 - Modern
2 - Organized
3 - Well behaved motorists
4 - The most westernized country we have been to since Spain
5 - Friendly and inquisitive people.
6 - Expensive
1: As soon as we got off the ferry, everything, their immigration and customs seemed very "European"
2: See above, with only a slight hiccup, due to language problems. The bureaucracy was manageable
3: Traffic here is chaotic by West European standards, but nearly civilized compared to what we had just been through.
4: If you overlook some of the shops, and signs, it could be anywhere.
5: Again, very friendly and helpful people, and here it really felt genuine, and not a repeated slogan.
6: For some reason this always goes with 1,2, and 4. It hit us as soon as we got to the camp. The prices were going to be steep here!
The accommodations we were heading for was 3km south of the port (according to my GPS), unfortunately we got on the wrong road after getting out of the port area, and nearly ended up in Saudi Arabia which is just a few kilometers further down the road. There simply wasn't anywhere else to turn around!
Once on the right road, we found the accommodations and to our surprise there was a newer one right across the road. After a little haggling back and forth we settled for the new one as it turned out to be 4JD cheaper for a little room (we were to tired to camp, and the grounds of both places did not look very inviting). The cost was still seriously expensive for our tastes (16JD per night for a little room with bath and ac), considering we had paid the equivalent of 2.5JD in Egypt for similar accommodations (ok, no bath, but still). We unpacked and cooked some noodles on our front door step before crashing for the night. We don't quite know why but we were really dead. The day had been long and very tiring, although we had not really "done" much.
The next day we explored Aqaba, and to our surprise
found it a totally charming "little" town. Very quiet, clean,
and much more "westernized" than anything we had previously
encountered. You are still in an Arabic country, but there is no hassle,
no haggling, traffic is almost comprehendible (only the cabs like to split
lanes). So for us it was a real nice change of pace.
The following day we decided to move down to the beach, where we had found out that there is "free" camping, in zones specially reserved for foreign tourists. Excellent. We also ran into a couple from Tessin (Switzerland) whom we had previously met in St. Katherine in the Sinai. We informed them of our plans, and they also joined us down at the beach.
Camping on the beach turned out to be heaven, with the exception of the wind. Ever since we had gotten here the wind had been blowing pretty fiercely. But once we go away from the campground we noticed how strong it really was, around 30-50kmh. The temperature around 37°C feels really comfortable with so much wind, but it is pretty cold to get in the water. Water temperature is 22°C which is nice for anyone from Europe.
The beach is very busy with lots and lots of locals enjoying a brief outing and swim. Women by the way, get in the water fully clothed, not something you will see in Malibu. Also at night, women will never go to the restroom alone! They are always either escorted by a man or with other women.
Everybody fighting with the wind makes for some excellent entertainment, and every once in a while an empty can or bottle will literally fly by our tent as we are sitting with out friends Manuela and Francesco (the couple from Tessin), discussing our experience in North Africa. Out in the water, nearly once an hour an un-accompanied blanket, plastic bag, or children's blowup water toy flies by and is well on it's way to Saudi Arabia before anyone can do anything about it.
We ended up spending a few days here, getting acclimated to Jordan. In town we discovered the sweet shops which sold heavenly baklava for a pretty hefty price, but definitely worth it. A note about Arabic sweets, we have been hooked on them since Morocco, and tend to buy them whenever we get a chance, so there is very little chance that we are going to loose much weight while there is any of this stuff to be had. There is basically two kinds of sweets, one is fresh and needs to be eaten immediately, while the other can be kept for a while. The difference is one is usually a pastry dough filled with various things, while the latter is more like cookies, made from nuts and honey and all sorts of other things. The biggest surprise was they had a Popeye's fried chicken. This is something I hadn't seen anywhere except in Louisiana, and just happened to be one of my favorite fast foods. So one day we bought a huge portion and had a picnic on the beach with Francesco and Manuela. Pretty dear but certainly worth it.
In Aqaba we also found a theater which has a show called the Jordan Experience. It's a type of multi-media experience where you get a sense of what there is to see in Jordan. We decided to see it, and we really like the footage of the Wadi Rum and Petra, as well as some of the other things shown. It made us really curious about these places, which were on our itinerary anyway!
After we took care of updating some info on the internet, we were pretty much finished here and decided to head on to Wadi Rum. Francesco and Manuela also left the same day for the same destination and we agreed to meet at the visitor center at Wadi Rum, as they had some errands to run in town first.
From Aqaba the road runs into the hills and follows a ravine until it climbs out onto a plateau. A few kilometers out of town we went through customs (Aqaba is a special economic zone). As we had nothing to declare, we just drove through. A half hour later or so the highway split off towards Wadi Rum, and nearly as soon as we turned off the landscape changed and provided spectacular vistas and colors. This wonderful, almost extraterrestrial landscape was the setting for part of "Mission to Mars", not to mention "Lawrence of Arabia" (the movies).
A little like monument valley in the USA (see nearly every cowboy movie ever made), or maybe the Bungle Bungles (Purnululu NP) in Australia (not in any cowboy movie that I am aware of), and partly Grand Canyon (USA), or Karijini (Australia). The rock formations in the distance with the sand was really amazing, and just got better and better the further we rode towards Wadi Rum.
Instead of going straight to Wadi Rum we decided to
take a little ride around the area with a stop to Al Disah which is on
the "other" side of the Wadi Rum (there is only 1 road going
into the area, and at a fork, one goes to Wadi Rum and the other to Al
Disah). Here we wanted to ride our motorcycles on a dried lake bed just
after the town, which we had heard about from Ennio (an Italian MC rider)
whom we had met back in Tunisia. We just rode off the road and onto a
totally flat surface broken up in millions of almost even sized chunks
in wonderfully strange patterns. After riding around on this for a while
we exited back on the outskirts of Al Disah and headed to Wadi Rum. One
thing we noticed is that there were a lot of "Bedouin" camps
on this side also, and they looked pretty busy, with 4x4 going off in
The visitor center is right in front of the "Seven Pillars" named after the book of the same name by T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) and has an outstanding view over the whole area. The visitor center also has a nice restaurant and an informative display of geological and cultural information of the area. Eventually Manuela and Francesco showed up in their WV bus and we headed into the park (after paying the obligatory 2JD entrance fee). One is only allowed to drive to the end of the paved road in Wadi Rum, after that one has to arrange for a guide preferably from the visitor center, as they manage the booking for the guided tours in the area. In Wadi Rum we setup camp at the Wadi Rum Rest House which is just at the entrance to the town. Here there is a restaurant, and tent accommodation available. We pitched our own tent and our friends parked next to us at one end of the compound right below some wonderful climbing rocks.
The following day after being besieged by locals who wanted to know if we were interested in going to the desert and offering their services in this endeavor, we decided to head off on our own and explorer a canyon which lay just across from the town. Apparently there is a way to go from this side of the canyon to the other on some fairly easy "scrambling" paths. Unfortunately after a day of scrambling around and having a grand old time, we still hadn't found the proper way through, so we called it quits and headed back to camp. We were totally dead, the heat and the exertion of climbing up, down, around, through, over, under, in between all the rocks, canyons, boulders, ravines and valleys had really taken their toll. But we were elated, it had been a lot of fun, if sometimes a bit scary and frustrating not being able to find the right path. And it was great to finally get some exercise, move those bones and muscles instead of just sitting on the bike.
Due to our efforts the previous day, we had decided to book a half day tour with the local guides (though the tourist office of course, this insures that the money is evenly distributed between the guides, and tribes in the area, and cuts down on the hassle and hustlers). We specifically wanted to see a couple of the rock bridges and some of the desert and then get dropped off at the exit of the canyon we had been trying to go trough the previous day. This should make it easier to find the way, and we would get to visit some of the sights along the way.
This turned out to be a brilliant idea, and the cost split between the four of us made it "fairly" reasonable. The guide took us into the desert and showed us the various rock bridges (Burhda Rock bridge in particular, was really stunning. Perched high up on the mountain, with a nice wide span). The rock engravings seemed bogus (to our untrained eyes), at least some of them were definitely fakes or recent, but the guide insisted they were all "real". On the way we stopped at "Lawrence's House", probably a misnomer, but nevertheless the spot commanded a very beautiful view of the entrance to various valleys and open desert on the other sides. If Lawrence really lived here he certainly picked a militarily strategic position. The "house" itself is just a crumbling wall in front of a rock formation. After 4 hours or so we were then dropped at the entrance (or exit) of the canyon, and the guide pointed in the general direction we had to take.
Leaving Wadi Rum :-(
We left Wadi Rum two days later after a day of rest and relaxation as well as taking care of some practical matters, and headed to Petra a short (100km) distance away. Once back on the main road to Amman, the road climbed very steeply and after the turn-off to the "Kings Highway" it ran along a high plateau, with excellent views towards the plains and Israel in the distance. At one view point, we stopped and waited for Francesco and Manuela to catch up. As soon as we stopped, we were besieged by American tourists, wanting to know everything about us. I haven't had to speak this much English in a long time. They were very impressed with Cecilia riding her own bike! In short order Francesco and Manuela showed up and we continued to Petra. After spending a couple of hours looking for appropriate accommodations we settled for a "Bedouin" camp in the direction of Little Petra, just outside of Petra. There are two such camps here and one was twice as expensive as the other, so we of course chose the cheaper variation. Francesco then spent nearly and hour haggling with the guard and in the end negotiated a further discount of 1JD per person (2 Sfr.), in the end it was still pretty expensive though.
The camp itself was deserted, we were the only guests, and it was very relaxing and quiet. The camp turned into a 1001 Nights Fantasy at night. When they turned the generator on, the hills glowed with a "thousand" points of light. They had placed lights in many of the holes in the rocks around the camp. Some in various colors, and the grounds themselves were also bathed in light. Very impressive. It turns out their main business is as a venue for tour groups to have a night in the desert with food and a show. Sure enough the manager showed up with a troupe of singers/dancers (all men) and they rehearsed for a show the following night. Very interesting, listening to them perform and being the only audience. As soon as they left, they turned the generator on and then the real light show started. It was totally dark, with only the light of the stars glowing in the sky, and then late, the moon came out, and the hills glowed with soft moonlight. Very beautiful. We slept very well, in the totally deserted and quiet "campground".
The next morning we made our way to the entrance to Petra in Wadi Musa. We got a three day pass and started to go in. First you are besieged by "Guides", horse riders offering a ride down to the entrance to the city gates (they can't go further) 200m further down, or horse / donkey carriages who can take you all the way into Petra (~1.4km in). Once into the city entrance, you have to watch out that they don't run into you as some go pretty fast through there with their carriages. At the city entrance proper, the road goes into a "ravine" which you then follow until you emerge at the plaza in front of the Treasury. The whole walk is surreal, they have carved a water channel along a wall, as well as niches, and even the remains of some figures (camels, a person leading camels), and when you look up you have sheer walls on either side, or you go through overhangs making it look like a tunnel in some places. Very impressive, and I didn't even mention the color, and coloration of the various rock strata. Depending on time of day and position of sun, it ranges from, light brown, to deep red or light pink. The first glimpse of the treasury is through nearly touching canyon walls. Hollywood couldn't have designed something like this. In the plaza itself there were quite a few people milling about and the usual touts selling jewelry and drinks etc., as well as touting, camel and donkey rides to the city proper (another 600m down). The Treasury itself isn't much inside, a huge room carved out of the mountain, but what I really found fascinating is the details on the columns and the entrance itself with the pillars. Additionally there are a couple of smallish side rooms, again everything carved out of the mountain.
After spending some time in the plaza just watching the tourists and marveling at the Treasury we continued further down the valley to where it opened up into an open area between the rock formations. Here on both sides are huge "buildings" carved out of the rocks. These are actually tombs of varying shape and sizes, carved into the mountains on both sides of the canyon. We then took a sharp left and climbed up the mountain to the left of the Coliseum and headed up to the High Place of Sacrifice. Half way up we stopped and had lunch on a nice rock outcrops giving us a stunning view of the valley below as well as of the tourists making their way up, huffing and puffing, or often sitting on a donkey being guided up the mountain. Just below the top there is a snack bar across from the 2 obelisks, near these "obelisk" my GPS reported that there was a Geocache, so we explained to Manuela and Francesco what that was, and all set off to try and find it. We did find it in the end, a brand new micro-cache, with no entries in the log. We made our entry and hid it back where we found it and continued up to the High Place of Sacrifice. Here there is a great view over the whole area. There is an altar and some niches here where apparently sacrifices were made (of what no-one is really sure). We had a good look around before walking down the mountain on the other side.
This side lead to the Lion fountain, and the Tomb of the Roman Soldier as well as a number of tombs and other structures, again don't imagine anything build out of the ground, rather everything carved straight out of the naked rock, incredible. Just the stairs going down where great, with 90 degree turns and a sheer face on the outside, you always had to watch your step. The lion fountain was a lion carved into the mountain, with a fountain at the bottom, and the most fascinating thing was the way they carved channels into the rock to guide the path of the water to cisterns or in this case a fountain. This is seen all over Petra, everywhere there are water management measures implemented. With the scarcity of water around here I am not surprised that when it did rain they would want to make the most of it.
Before coming back out on the right side of the Coliseum we stopped and did some "archeological" digging of our own; in the garbage heap. Apparently here for eons the inhabitants (30,000) dumped their garbage and as long as you don't bring a shovel, they don't mind you scavenging around for pot shards and other garbage of various civilizations (Nabetean, Byzantine, and Roman). We did find a couple of interesting looking pot shards with patterns painted on them, probably only 100 years old if that, but hey, lots of fun anyway. We then sat in the Coliseum and were very impressed with the acoustics, I stood on center stage and did my best stand up comedy (quietly), they still heard me in the back and just shook their heads! So much for show biz.
So ended our first day in Petra. That night back at the camp, we had an excellent dinner of Roasted Chicken, and fruit salad for dessert, topped off by a lovely campfire. While eating and cleaning up we watched as a number of people were making preparations for tonight's party. And promptly at 21:00 a busload of tourists showed up. All the lights were turned off and they were lead along a path lit by brown bags filled with sand holding a candle. Once in the middle of the camp, the performers started singing and the lights went on. Everyone went ooh, aah, they were very impressed, and rightly so, it was very well done. Then they all ran off to the buffet tent, guess that was to be expected. Their dinner consisted of lamb and chicken roasted on a fire, with potatoes straight from a larger fire in the middle of the tent. Once they finished eating, the show started. Our troop from last night, this time dressed in "traditional" white robes and some sporting a holster with a gun, started, singing and dancing. Some songs were accompanied by a drum and a flute, the rest were just chanting along to clapping hands. Very rhythmic and almost hypnotic. After the singing and dancing, our night watchman took the stage and played an instrument similar to a violin, with a single string, and a bow which he drew across the instrument while resting it on the ground. The sound similar to a cat being strangled. This he accompanied with what sounded like a chant. Later the campground manager showed up and played something like a Lute (a short round guitar, almost). Lots of fun and very interesting. After a couple of hours everything was over and everyone left and we were again alone in the dark. Excellent.
The second and third day in Petra were more of the same, but different. Lots more huge structures and tombs. On the second day we also spent a while finding another Geocache hidden above the police station in the middle of Petra proper. It was a lot of fun scrambling around the rocks and enjoying the view and the incredible architecture while looking for the cache. We found it eventually and spent the next 30 minutes just reading all the entries in the log and adding our own comment. Afterwards we headed to the Monastery on a mountain opposite of where we were. This turned out to be a huge, as in very large, building. The entrance is higher than a house. The plaza in front was all carved out of the mountain, incredible. Nearby we also enjoyed the view over towards Israel, 22km in the distance.
On the last day in Petra, we started by walking through the "Tunnel" next to the entrance to the city. There was a "guide" who tried stopping us from going this way, saying it is too dangerous and we weren't allowed to do it without a guide. A classic method to earn some business. We ignored him and continued. The walk led along a dried river bed, through canyons and ravines, in places so narrow that you had to walk sideways through them. This is probably the best canyon walk any of us have ever done! Towards the end there were then the signs of the Nabeteans who had carved funerary niches in the walls of the canyon more than 2000 years ago. Completely surreal. Not to mention the Water conservation measures they had taken on the canyon itself, by damming part of it, and redirecting other parts, very impressive. By now we were pretty worn out, with all the sights so the last day we left fairly early (only 6 hours), and headed back to camp and relaxation. Our Swiss friends ate dinner with us and then left for Amman and we settled down for a nice little campfire with our friend the Fiddler who came over and made us Bedouin tea on our fire (which he had lit for us), and told us about being part of an Finnish archeological excavation on Mount Aaron back in 2000! Turns out our night watchman besides being a musician, is also an archeologist, and a Sheik (leader of local a Bedouin tribe). His wife and mother are in Lyon France, where his mother is being treated in the hospital (for what we couldn't quite figure out). Strange world.
The following day we headed north to the Dead Sea, where we spent a few days relaxing on the beach. On the way there we passed through a lot of villages, and in one again a young boy picked up a rock and threw it at me (why always me). Again, I stopped and of course he ran as fast as he could. No harm done!
We decided to skip the Dana nature reserve, which is another tourist draw in Jordan. As we neared the Dead Sea, from the southern end, we were immediately aware of an increased security presence. We were stopped 4 times by military checkpoints, between going down to the Dead Sea and the northern shore where the beach lay. This was the first time since Egypt that anyone was so interested in our Passports and where we were going; and I was just starting to get used to not being checked every 10km anymore! The first thing one (well, I) notices about the dead sea is that it is, well, dead. There are no boats on it, no fish in the shallows, there is nothing growing along the banks, no waves either for that matter. At the northern end there are the hotels, and beaches, further south there is nothing (besides military checkpoints). We set up camp, after waiting 2 hours for the previous occupants of our chosen spot to vacate it. And enjoyed a wonderful sundown over the hills of Jerusalem in the distance. The following day we started the day early by a nice float in the Dead Sea. The salt level in the Dead Sea is so high that you literally float, you can't sink. This makes swimming pretty difficult, getting your feet down a maneuver in it self. Floating in a certain position you will suddenly spin around. Lots of fun. The rest of our time here alternated between laying in the shade reading, floating in the sea, and just plain relaxing. Later in the afternoon our Swiss friends showed up from Amman, they had managed to take care of what they need to do and decided to come down and say hello.
The following day we left the Dead Sea, Manuela and Francesco heading back to Amman where they were going to wait for their paperwork for Syria to come through and we headed up the Jordan valley to Irbid. The Jordan valley is very similar to the Nile valley (surprise surprise), lots of military everywhere, particular in the northern end where we neared the Golan heights and Syria, no problems getting through, though once they wanted us to open our boxes. After explaining how much work that was they just waved us through. In Irbid, there is no camping so we found a fairly cheap hotel and asked about prices, negotiated the price down to what we could afford to pay and confirmed that we could put our motorcycles in front of the entrance to the reception. Unfortunately when I went to get the bikes, the Tourist police wouldn't let me drive it down to in front of the reception (the road was blocked). Naturally I informed the hotel of this, and this then started a huge discussion between the hotel staff and the police. In the end we waited an hour for some other police to show up, they inspected the content of our boxes and luggage and then allowed us (reluctantly) to park where we wanted to. A real production, the hotel staff was very apologetic, if not apoplectic that the police was being so "difficult". We don't know what exactly the problem is, we have never had a problem with the Police, if anything the hotel will say we can't park somewhere. Nevertheless, Irbid turns out to be a great little town. It is a university town, no tourists anywhere to be seen. Too bad that they don't have a campground. Not much to "see" or do, but excellent to get a realistic feel for life in Jordan.
Well, after a week's vacation in Irbid, we finally hit the road. But first, in Irbid, we spend the whole week going from our hotel to the internet cafe, to a fast food joints and back to the hotel. The whole week! Despite this gargantuan effort, we (I) still haven't finished updating the web pages. Although, I did find some new programs to play with, downloaded some more neat stuff for Celestia, etc. Back to the story.
On our last day in Irbid, we got a mail from our friends Manuela and Francesco who had just picked up their passports, fresh from Switzerland with a shiny new visa for Syria. Since we were still here they decided to come up from Amman and spend the night in Irbid, so that we could cross the border together on the following day. When they showed up we had a nice drink in the cafe on the ground floor of the hotel, and made plans for the following day.
As we were about to leave, we noticed, someone had stolen Cecilia's good luck charm. Her Bugs Bunny figure was gone. We couldn't believe it, he had been with her for nearly 10 years now. Oh, well, we are lucky it wasn't something more valuable.
Jordan: Last impressions.
- It has been a great visit. The country has plenty of interesting things to see, and well worth the visit.
- With the exception of one "almost" incident, everyone was very nice and friendly
- The country is very easy to travel in, and for tourists there are practically no hassles whatsoever. The only police checks are around the Israeli and Syrian border, which is understandable. Yes, I haven't forgotten the incident in Irbid (see above), but this was caused by a request on my part, they were just reacting to that, perfectly understandable.
- Jordan is very well prepared for visitors. They have a lot of National Parks and good rules, which preserve nature and still let you visit. But this also comes with a hefty price-tag for foreigners. Locals only pay a fraction of what tourists get charged. The money is however well spent, as it goes into maintaining the parks.
- The people form Jordan are a very proud people and are very proud of their country.