“Welcome”. It’s a word we heard a lot in Jordan. From the border security guard to the street shopkeeper, it was evident that people in Jordan wanted us there. In reality, maybe they needed us there. Situated in the heart of the Middle East with land borders connecting to Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Syria (and of course, Israel/Palestine), Jordan has the misfortune of being an oil poor Middle Eastern nation, while also having taken on a massive amount of refugees, particularly those fleeing the Syrian Civil War. Because of this, tourism is a massive draw to Jordan, but despite its reputation as a notoriously stable country, a peaceful oasis amidst a sea of chaos surrounding it, tourism numbers have been down over the past years. Welcome.
We began our week-long journey to Jordan by entering via the land border crossing from Eilat into Aqaba, an exercise in patience that would be a constant thread throughout our time in the country. After countless delays we were on our way to Wadi Rum. I wasn’t sure what to expect there – having had numerous visions of images past dashed by onslaughts of rapid fire tourism, I was wary to have much of an opinion. But in truth, Wadi Rum was amazing. Seemingly out of the middle of the desert itself climb massive rock walls stretching to the sky, dousing the ground beneath it in deep long shadows and cascading a beautiful rich red hue onto the desert itself as the sun’s angle gets longer in the afternoon. We spent a few hours out in a Jeep surveying the desert in all of its wondrous glory until the sun crept under the horizon and the temperatures plummeted, after which it was time to move on.
After a night in Aqaba we were on our way to Petra, the lost city, Jordan’s crown jewel and the primary reason that many people travel to the country. Petra had been imprinted in my mind ever since the first time I saw Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – my expectations were high.
There have been a few man made structures that I have seen in my travels that I went into with lofty expectations and had them not only met, but somehow exceeded. The Taj Mahal. Machu Picchu. St. Basil’s Cathedral. No matter how many times you see these places in photographs there is simply no substitute for witnessing the majesty of them in person. I was hoping that Petra would fall into this category. After walking through the winding corridors of smooth igneous rock, your eyes glued to the sky entranced in their beauty, you suddenly glimpse it – the Treasury. Despite the crowds of people, I am happy to report that the Treasury of Petra actively left my mouth agape in wonder. How humans created such wonderful places on Earth will always be a true marvel for me and a huge motivation for travel.
Most people travel to Petra and leave the same day, but like all the treasures of the world, they are best seen first thing in the morning when the crowds are reduced only to the truly dedicated, so we stayed the night in town and woke up at 5am the next morning to visit the Treasury again. As you can see, it was well worth it.
For a comparative, this next shot is at the same location as the first picture, but at 11:30AM.
As we had the whole day in Petra, we hiked the 1000 steps up the Monastery, a second gem almost as beautiful as the Treasury, but with a bit more of a relaxed pace, sipping on a pomegranate juice and taking in the view.
After a full day at Petra, we boarded a bus to Amman, figuring that since we had made it to Jordan we may as well check out the capital city rather than going back the way we had come (as most tourists will do). Amman was a cool city, extremely hilly but with few crowds, interesting cafes, and wonderful architecture of both Islamic and (surprisingly) Christian nature. We spent a great day and a half there.
We had read mixed reports about crossing independently across the King Hussein Bridge/Allenby crossing from Jordan into Palestine (well, technically Palestine although Israel controls the border), so we elected to hire a driver to embark on the hour long drive from Amman to the border before it opened at 7am. In actuality, the border crossing was extremely simple – our passports were taken care of by kind passport officials (“Welcome,” they said) before we boarded a bus to the Israeli side, where again we were met with smiles and simplicity. I had also read horror stories of people being gouged on the Palestinian side with high priced taxis to Jerusalem, but after walking about 100m past the exit at immigration, you can easily take a shared bus back to the city. Easy peasy.
All told, we had a great time in Jordan. I likely wouldn’t make an independent trip out of it, but in conjunction with Israel it was a wonderful view of varying sides within a very contentious region.