I’m en route to London from Amman, Jordan via Vienna, Austria. I’ve just finished reading the February edition of skylines, the in-flight magazine of Austrian Airlines. There was an extension article in the magazine about Vienna. Vienna will always be the city I was visiting when I was told by my mom’s doctor that my mother had stage 4 non-small cell lung carcinoma (lung cancer) and that I should travel to the US to see her “sooner rather than later.” As the one-year anniversary of her passing approaches, I can’t help but think of her. I think of her always.
Though the memory of my mum is vividly in the back of my mind as I pound away on my keyboard, I’ve not set out to write about her today. Today, I’m writing about the whirlwind tour of Jordan that Peter and I just completed. We have spent many hours in cars and planes and have walked and hiked more miles during this short trip than we have in all our trips in 2014 combined. We are both physically and mentally exhausted. Additionally, Peter is as sick as a dog and I’m doing my best to stay as far away from him as possible, remembering that it was about this time last year when I came down with an awful cold (bronchitis?) which lasted north of eight weeks.
So, let’s get on with it, shall we?
Jordan is a small country with a population of about six million. This may seem like a lot of people but when compared to the approximately eight million residents of London and 300 million residents of the US, it becomes clear how small Jordan really is. Jordan is technically located in the Middle East, however, it does not have the problems of its neighbors, specifically its neighbor to the north, Syria. It’s a peaceful country that is stuck somewhere between long-standing traditions and the slow movement towards becoming more Western. Jordan, unfortunately, has been stigmatized as being a Middle Eastern country and this has hurt their tourism industry greatly.
Geographically speaking, Jordan is a very small country. Driving from the northern border to the southern border takes a mere six hours. This is less than half the time it takes to drive from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Dallas, Texas. Driving from the western border to the eastern border takes even less time, “maybe around four hours, yanni” as our driver answered.
Yanni. Our driver used this world constantly and for our first few hours together, I was under the impression that he thought my name was actually Yanni. Peter eventually worked up the courage to ask him what yanni meant at dinner on our second day. Our driver – whom I’ll refer to as Rad – explained that it meant “I mean”.
Peter and I challenged him on his explanation because, when used in context, it didn’t make sense. We told him that we once took a tour in Italy and that our tour guide kept using the word “alora” which was just a filler word like “um” and “ah”. After three-and-a-half days with Rad, I’ve concluded that yanni actually means “you know”, not “I mean”.
Anyway, the land in Jordan is diverse ranging from seaside beaches to desolate mountainous regions to fertile valleys. There’s even a desert. Jordan is an oil poor country in that it has absolutely no oil. It’s also the 9th poorest country in the world for water. Water conservation signage is everywhere yet faucets and showerheads were not “low flow” and water poured out of them like a hose when the tap is fully open.
As far as temperatures go, this time of year (early spring) is a great time to visit. Temperatures ranged from the mid-60’s to mid-80’s (Fahrenheit), based on the region we were in that day. In the summer, temperatures in Wadi Rum (the desert) can be as high as 122 degrees Fahrenheit. In the winter, some regions, like Amman and Petra, get snow. Our server at breakfast told me that just last week, there was snow on the ground. I think visiting Jordan in the summer or during the high tourist season would be almost unbearable with the heat and tens of thousands of your closest sunburnt tourist friends.
We felt that Jordan was an expensive country. One Jordanian Dinar is almost exactly equal to one British Pound with the Jordanian Dinar stretching slightly further and also having three decimal places. I don’t know what this three-decimal place business is all about but sometimes the prices actually used all three decimal places. For example, 35.785 JD (Jordanian Dinar).
Our whirlwind tour of Jordan was split into four segments spread over four nights and three-and-a-half days with boring “filler bits” between the segments. We stayed in four different hotels, checking out of every hotel by 7:45am and having our days end typically around 5pm.
At a high level, this trip reminded me of our bicycling trip in Spain a couple of years ago. Get up early. Eat breakfast. Go-go-go all day long and arrive at the next destination/hotel just in time to shower and eat dinner.
To execute this whirlwind tour, we booked a private tour package with Petra Nights Tours. We were assigned a driver who picked us up at the airport in a brand new, wifi-equipped Hyundai Sonata. He drove us around for the duration of our tour and dropped us off at the airport a few hours before our departing flight.
At specific sites, we were seamlessly handed off to expert guides and when finished with the expert guide, we were either handed off to Rad or walked to our hotel. We certainly could have managed this trip by ourselves for a fraction of the price by renting a car and hashing out the details but there is no possible way we could have done it as efficiently and effectively as the tour company did.
To wrap up this Jordan introductory post, below is a short explanation of each of the four main segments of our trip. I’m going to write separate posts for the segments because there is so much to write about!
The Dead Sea is the lowest elevation on earth with the surface of the sea being 429 meters (1,407 feet) below sea level. Though it’s called a sea, it’s landlocked and bordered by Israel on the west and Jordan on the east. The water is 9.6x saltier than a traditional sea, burns like a mother fucker when it gets in your eye and has magical healing powers (which DOES NOT include healing burning eyeballs). Oh, and humans float when in the water.
Petra is a large village of approximately 50,000 residents. It’s known as the Rose City and is most famous for the Treasury and other carvings in the soft red sandstone mountains and plateaus. The Treasury was featured in the movie Indiana Jones: The Last Crusaders.
Wadi Rum is a red Martian-like desert located in southern Jordan, about an hour’s drive from Petra. It’s hot and sandy and sort of looks like something you’d see in Sedona, Arizona or the Grand Canyon. The movie The Martian was filmed here and, in fact, was in production during our visit (no Matt Damon sightings sadly).
Jerash is the site of the ruins of the Greco-Roman city of Gerasha. The structures and sites are better preserved than any Roman or Greek structures we’ve seen in Rome or Athens. It’s really something special and if you are planning a trip to Jordan, it’s not something to be missed.