Our journey started on Thursday 4th Oct with a typical pre-dawn flight to Heathrow. The flight on to Amman was fairly empty so we were able to stretch out across three seats each. On arrival our pals Peter and Dagmar, who are living in Amman for a while, picked us up at the airport. Exchange Rate UKP£1 equals 1.10 Jordanian Dinar (JOD). Jordan map.
Amman and surrounds
Peter and Dagmar had intended to take us into central Amman (“downtown”) but we had to re-plan because of an anti-government protest in the downtown area (Friday is the first day of the weekend in Jordan). Instead we took a trip out of town to Madaba where a church contains a 6th C mosaic that is a map of the “holy land”. I believe it’s billed as the oldest existing map of the area. After Madaba we visited Mt. Nebo for a view of the surrounding area, including the Dead Sea. It’s reported that it was on Mt. Nebo Moses was shown the promised land by God, upon seeing this Moses dropped down dead. Perhaps he was hoping for lush green valleys and couldn’t hide his disappointment? That evening we went to a “beer festival” at the British Embassy (attendance organised by P’n’D), not so much a festival as a drinking session with a fairly decent live band, disco and BBQ, but quite good fun….and up until we left about 10pm, no-one had been thrown into the swimming pool.
On Saturday we had a look round some of the ancient sites in Amman. After breakfast at a local restaurant with great views over the town, including the “tallest unsupported flagpole in the world” which flies a 60×30 metre flag. From there we went to the Roman theatre. Impressively large and well preserved, this could accommodate 6,000 bums. From there we drove to the top of one of the hills overlooking Amman to check out the citadel which has been a settlement of some sort for about 7,000 years.
Peter had taken the Sunday off work, P’n’D were kind enough to take us out to the ancient Greco-Roman site at Jerash, even though they’ve been there a few times before. Morag and I were amazed at the scale of this site, which we hadn’t heard of until we researched the trip.
Dana (conservation area)
On the way to Dana village we drove alongside the Dead Sea, taking the detour up to the nearby viewpoint to see great views across to Israel. Dana village was not easy to find, the locals aren’t big on roadsigns, well they know where they’re going don’t they, and the satnav wasn’t up-to-date with new road layouts, and kept trying to direct us the wrong way down a one-way road. Eventually we got there to find we’d been moved from the hotel we’d booked into and to the Dana Guesthouse. This turned out to be a bonus, P’n’D had a room with a balcony with great views over the valley, Peter and Morag took many photos of the sunset.
On the Tuesday we had the full day in Dana, we went for a walk out into the open area near the village and at the top of the valley, giving us great views down the valley and back to the village. We had a couple of leg injuries in the group so we didn’t push it too much, but the more ambitious could do a long walk down into the valley – and back up.
That night we were moved from the Dana Guesthouse to the Dana Hotel, where the accommodation was even more basic than in the guesthouse. Food was good, buffet style with lots of stews, rice, bread. Evenings also included local entertainers, music and some local “dad-dancing”.
P’n’D were due to head back to Amman but were kind enough to give us a lift over the Petra via a visit to Shobak Castle, built by the crusader Baldwin I. In Petra we were booked into the Petra Bed & Breakfast which is high up on a hill overlooking the town. It’s a great place to stay and we’d really recommend it. The owner’s are Eid (Jordanian) and Patricia (Belgian) who couldn’t be more helpful.
That first evening we went to “Petra by night“, entry into the park and a candlelit walk to the main attraction (the Treasury) where there is some good music and a lame speech. It could have been much better, we’re glad we did it before we’d seen Petra during the day. We’d agree with P’n’D that it’s worth doing if it’s your first sight of Petra, otherwise save the JOD12. After the show Eid picked us up and drove us up the hill where we had a good night’s sleep in our comfortable room.
Next day (Thursday 11th) Patricia gave us a lift down to Petra gate, we bought 3-day tickets for JOD60 each. The walk in through al-Siq (“the shaft”) is great, apparently this is not a gorge (which is formed by water flow) but is a geological feature where a solid formation of rock has been torn asunder, then smoothed by water flow. At the end of the Siq you get to the treasury, made famous in the first Indiana Jones film, this facade seems to retain more of its original detail than most of the other tombs, but really it’s just an impressive taster for a huge array of other facades carved by the Nabataeans.
We went further in and spent some time in the Street of Facades which is an impressive row of large facades. At this point we made an error, taking what we thought was a staircase to a viewpoint down to the treasury but turned out to go to a spot where you could see the theatre only. Still, some good views on the way. By this time we’d been in there for about 4 hours so headed back out, only then do you realise it’s quite a long slow slope out, took us over an hour! By now it was mid-afternoon and very hot by our standards, we stopped at a restaurant just outside the gate and had a big lunch followed by a lift back to the B&B with Patricia. We had a quiet evening with just a snack.
On the Friday we headed oot early (7am) with a picnic breakfast, we had a plan to get to “the Monastery“, about an hour’s walk in and 800 steps up from the Street of Facades. It’s a long haul and even early in the morning it was pretty hot, we stopped often to drink water. Once you get there you realise why it’s worth it, this facade is huge and has a lot of well preserved detail. Nearby you can get great views ou onto the surrounding valleys and mountains. All too soon we had to start heading back, once we’d descended the steps we had a look around “Petra town centre” – the Colonnaded Street and the Great Temple.
By now it was early afternoon and once again we had a big mid-afternoon lunch followed by a quiet evening back at the B&B though by now we didn’t have it to ourselves as other guests had arrived.
On the Saturday we had another early start, this time our target was the High Place of Sacrifice, another long upward walk. Great views from the top of this climb and we’d been advised not to retrace our steps downward but to look for a path down round the back of the mountain, which we found. It was a little steeper and more difficult than the way up, but well worth it as we had great views of the strange rock colours and some excellent tombs, including the Soldiers’ Tomb, Garden Tomb and Renaissance Tomb. Once we’d found our way back into the main area we took a little detour to look at some of the bigger Royal Tombs – especially the Palace Tomb.
Now it was time for our final exit from Petra, our final look at the Treasury on the way out, our final walk through the Siq. Once again we had the big lunch and quiet evening. We were quite chuffed with ourselves for not getting on any of the local horses or donkeys -that are whipped by their owners – for any of the walks in, out or up.
On the Sunday we took a local taxi to the village just inside the Wadi Rum conservation area (cost JOD25 for 80 minute journey) where we met up with Khaled who runs the camp we’d booked into. We started with an all-day jeep tour (an open-top beat-up old Toyota that will probably run forever) which took us into the desert to some of the main sights, as per the “one day and one night” schedule. This also included a 2 1/2-hour lunch stop – had we known it was going to be that long we’d have kicked back for an afternoon snooze in the shade, but we kept busy looking at the views and watching some small birds forage.
The camp was basic as you’d expect, a torch was essential as there’s no electricity. The jeep tour had been just the two of us but at the camp was a variety of folk: Dutch, French, German and Japanese. Dinner was good, once again a buffet with stews, rice, bread. The sunset was good and the star-filled sky was great, we hadn’t seen that many stars since we were kids. Our only regret was that we slept in our tent rather than outside under the starts, we wish the workers at the camp had given us more encouragement to do so and had told us they had mattresses specifically for the purpose.
Next morning it was an early breakfast and back to the village for our 45 minute taxi ride to Aqaba, down on the Red Sea (JOD35).
After three busy days in Petra and a busy day in Wadi Rum we were ready for some time-out and we’d booked into the Hilton Doubletree Hotel. We arrived earlyish and had a stroll around then lunch before checking-in where we were upgraded to a bigger room with sea-view. In retrospect we should have tried to fit in two nights here so we’d have time and energy to try some Red Sea snorkeling or at least a glass-bottomed boat. Otherwise there’s not much in Aqaba except unreasonably humid atmosphere and some cheap restaurants.
The Dead Sea
Tuesday we headed back to Amman for one night via the very comfortable JETT express bus (JOD20 each for the 4 hour journey), and the following day we took a taxi to the Dead Sea where we had a room at special rate (thanks Peter) at the Movenpick resort. We did our once-in-a-lifetime Dead Sea experience that afternoon, smothering with mud by the shore then tottering down the slippery pontoon into the water. It’s a really odd experience and the water is quite oily as well as very salty. The resort was quite nice, being arranged as a self-contained village, with great swimming pool. You don’t leave the resort because there’s nothing outside except the next resort and a lot of dust.
Thursday back to Amman via a pick-up by Dagmar (thanks again) and an evening meal at a very nice Jordanian restaurant (as different from Lebanese or generic middle-east restaurant). On our last day we went to an afternoon BBQ at the Australian embassy (attendance organised by P’n’D) – which has a much nicer BBQ and pool area than does the Brit embassy I must say…. and this time getting into the pool was allowed.
Well that’s the tale of our trip to Jordan, successful at the second attempt. If it wasn’t for the fact that Peter and Dagmar are there at the moment it probably wouldn’t have been on our places to go list, but we’re very glad we did as there’s a lot of good stuff to see.
Many thanks go to Peter and Dagmar for helping us out with transport and tour-guiding, and for being great hosts and great company.