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Amman and Surrounds, Jordan

After departing Petra we headed northwards via Kerak Castle and the Dead Sea before making our way to Amman.

Kerak Castle

Well preserved arches at Kerak CastleKerak Castle was built around the 12th century AD and it’s history relates to the crusaders using it as a base point when trying to take back the holy cities of Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

At 900 metres above sea level and perched on a hilltop overlooking valleys, it had a good strategic position for defense. It is a reasonably large castle with a great deal of history. Parts of it remain in good condition.

It was fascinating to see, but I didn’t seem to retain much of the information about it.

Floating in the Dead SeaDead Sea

The Dead Sea is an absolutely fascinating place. We had anticipated a dark coloured sea and were surprised to find clear blue waters, with a white crystallized salt rim.

The Dead Sea is approximately 400 metres below sea level. It earned the name the “Dead Sea” due to the fact that it contains no life. The water has a very high percentage of salt in it. 290 grams of salt per litre of water, which is roughly a 34% saturation of salt. When you look through the water the salt content makes the water appear oily.

Oily appearance of the salty waterWhile I had heard that swimming in the Dead Sea is quite the experience as you are very buoyant, I really never could have anticipated exactly how it would feel. You float like a cork in the sea. You can stand vertically with your head and shoulders above the water, without your feet actually touching the ground.

Playing in the Dead Sea mudIn addition to all the salty buoyant water, the Dead Sea mud is fairly well known for it’s ‘health’ properties. Dead Sea mud contains 25 or more minerals and sells for a fortune in the form of body masks, face masks and well as various other creams.

We paid 3JOD (approx. $5) to spread the thick black mud all over ourselves. It was great for a laugh, but whether it improved my skin or not I can’t say.

Time spent at the Dead Sea was AWESOME!!!!

Amman Citadel & Roman Forum

Hercules' TempleIn the center of downtown Amman, on the hill between several valleys, is the Amman Citadel. In terms of fortification and safety, the location had a fantastic position and provides a view over Amman in all directions.

The site was built and rebuilt numerous times over the years by many different civilizations. Evidence of which can be found in the architecture and carvings.

Roman Forum in Downtown AmmanVery few structures within the citadel are in tact. The two best maintained/restored were Hercules’ Temple and the Desert Castle.

Looking down from the citadel into one of the valleys, the Roman Forum can be found. The Forum dates back to the 2nd century AD, in a time when Amman was known as Philadelphia. The Forum is a nice spot to visit but was absolutely overrun with people. It does however provde a nice view and has been fairly well restored.

Jerash

Jerash TheatreJerash is approximately an hour drive north of Amman, close to the Syrian border. It is a Greco-Roman city dating back to around 2000BC. This ancient city boasts an unbroken chain of human occupation dating back more than 6,500 years.

While the site is enormous, not many of the original structures are intact. It was hidden beneath the sand for centuries, but has been undergoing excavation and restoration over the past 70 years.

The highlights of the site included Hadrian’s Arch, the Theatre, Zeus’ Temple, Temple of Artemis and the Cardo.

Amman Downtown

Eating like a local
A delicious local meal for 2 people, with 6 dishes, bread and two cups of tea cost 5JOD

The city of Amman is large and used to be referred to as having seven hills. Over time the city has grown and now covers more than seven of the hills in the area. It has a population of roughly 4 million people, some people claim that approximately 1 million of whom are refugees. Currently the city hosts a large number of Syrian refugees.

The Downtown area of Amman is busy, noisy and smelly but in a way that is reflective of the culture. Wandering around is a very pleasant experience.

It’s great to stop by local food places for a savoury treat, a tasty dessert or even just a cup of tea. You can easily eat a meal out for 2.5JOD or 25JOD. I would recommend heading to the places that have big queues of locals as the food is likely to be the best and most affordable.

If you head to the right areas, the Amman Downtown has some pretty awesome street art. I went on a little mission to find some and was not disappointed!

Amman Street Art

If you are keen for a treat, then I would highly recommend a visit to a Turkish Bath (Hamam). There are a few around, but I went to Al-Pasha and was very happy with the service there. Over the course of 1.5 – 2 hours I sweated in the steam room and sauna and I roasted some more in the Jacuzzi. I was also scrubbed from head to toe, washed with soapy bubbles and had a full body massage. All for 25JOD, the cheapest Hamam I have visited to date. For an extra 3JOD you could add in a facial.

For me this body scrub and pampering treatment was a great way to wash off the collective dirt of the desert and city, and relax at the end of a fantastic adventure through Jordan.

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Petra, Jordan

The Treasury at PetraThe city of Petra is hidden in the hills below Wadi Mousa. The city was originally known to the Nabateans as Raqmu, meaning colourful. Since then it has received the official name of Petra, meaning rock in Greek, and the nickname of the Red Rose City due to the pinkish-red colour of the rocks.

Entry to the city is via a chasm in the rocks called the Siq. The walls of this chasm are approximately 80 metres high, and the distance from the start of the Siq to it’s end point of the Treasury is 1200 metres.

The Treasury earned it’s name from rumours that it was where all the gold was hidden in an urn at the top. Bullet holes in the urn show the Bedouin attempts to determine if this was the case. Building of the Treasury started around the 9th century BC, which was some time after the city of Petra was established as the capital city for the Nabatean people around the 4th century BC.

Textured sandstoneWalking through the valley you can see many tombs, a facade wall, the royal tombs and other interesting carvings. The sandstone by itself is even fascinating as it is multicoloured and patterned.

The place of High Sacrifice was one of the sites higher up on the mountains that was recommended for us to see, but most strongly recommended was the walk up to the Ad-Deir Monastery at the end of the city’s road.

The Ad-Deir Monastery at Petra

According to our guide it is 866 steps up to the monastery, the path is constantly winding upwards and around the mountainside. In the heat of the day the walk is exhausting, but once you reach the top it all becomes worth the effort. The monastery is in my opinion equally as spectacular as the Treasury. In fact it probably feels a bit more special as there are fewer tourists and Bedouin touting their wares and services.

Sitting at the monastery and soaking up the atmosphere is a fantastic way to recharge your batteries before walking several kilometres back to the visitor centre to end your visit.

Cost: 50JOD for a single day pass, or a single day pass is included in the Jordan Wanderer pass.

Petra by Night

After having seen photos of the event on Instagram, I was ridiculously keen to see Petra by Night. The show starts at 8:30pm sharp from the visitors centre and takes 2 hours including the walk in and out of the city.

The walk in to the city is lit by candles on either side of the road and through the Siq. It is beautiful and calming.

Passing through the end point of the Siq the Treasury shimmers in the golden glow of hundreds of candles. It is an absolutely breathtaking sight.The Treasury at Petra, by night

Everyone is seated behind the candles on rugs, the crowd is silenced and the show begins. Echoing through the valley is the sound of a flute playing a local melody, this is followed by the playing of an old style violin/guitar and the lone voice of a Bedouin man singing a traditional song. The show concludes with a Bedouin gentleman recalling a story of the history of Petra.

When the show concludes you have some time to take photos before meandering back to the visitors centre.

I absolutely loved the Petra by Night experience, I felt very grounded and calm; it was almost a meditative experience. It was simply breathtaking to see such ancient architecture by the glow of the candles. But I must say that I consider it excessively overpriced for what it is and the actual ‘show’ is ridiculously short.

Cost: 17JOD

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Wadi Rum Desert, Jordan

Visiting Jordan

Before I launch into my adventures in the Wadi Rum desert, just a few quick notes on visiting Jordan. Firstly it is worth considering buying a Jordan Pass.  The tour company advised me to buy the Jordan Wanderer Pass which waives the visa entry fee to Jordan, covers a one day visit to Petra and covers the entry fees of numerous other attractions. It costs 70JOD (approx $99USD) which is expensive, but is actually worth the money. It’s new to Jordan, so make sure you print out your copy and always keep it on you, together with your passport.

Wadi Rum Desert - photo by KeraThe Jordanian currency is very strong and with the turmoil in the Middle East they seem to have very few tourists visiting. As a result, prices can be obscene and it feels like they are trying to get every possible penny out of you! Despite the crazy costs of many things, eating locally is actually incredibly affordable. I mostly eat for under 2JOD per meal, but you could easily pay up to 20JOD depending on where you go. You are also expected to tip for any kind of service.

Even though the locals want all your money and can sometimes hassle you a little, I did find them all to be very friendly and mostly respectful when you say “No Thankyou” or “Shukran” with a wave of the hand to indicate “no”.

Wadi Rum Desert

The Wadi Rum desert is often referred to as the Valley of the Moon due to it’s moon-like landscape. Fittingly it is also where parts of the movie The Martian were filmed.

The Bedouin clanThe term Wadi actually translates to Valley and Rum stems from the word rum which refers to the tribe who inhabited the region for a long time. Over the years erum got shortened to rum. Though wikipedia implies that it may have an Aramaic root meaning “high” or elevated”.

The desert became popular for tourists as it was seen as a great location for rock climbing and bird watching. I assume it remains popular for these reasons, in addition to the gorgeous natural rock formations in the area.

I spent one night in the Wadi Rum desert, staying in a tent/hut in the Hillawi Camp. As it is low season, and with the tourist issue previously mentioned my tour buddy and I were the only two guests at the camp, the staff were incredibly friendly and helpful throughout our visit. For dinner a bus loads of Jordanians joined us for a traditional Bedouin meal, music and dancing. This made the evening rather entertaining.

I did two activities in the Wadi Rum, a Camel Ride and a Jeep Safari.

Panoramas at sunset

Camel Riding for Sunset

Abdullah and his CamelsAt around 4:30 in the afternoon Abdullah the camel rider turned up at our camp with a small caravan of camels. We hopped on up and off we wandered into the desert. Abdullah taught me a new, and more comfortable way to ride a camel. Rather than sitting with a leg either side, as you would when horse riding, sit cross legged. It is much more comfortable.

The camel driver Abdullah was an absolute hoot!! We walked through the sands, took photos of ourselves on the camels and of the beautiful environment around us.

Camel ridingSuddenly with the cry “Yalla! Yalla” (Let’s Go!!!) we were trotting along in a rather ungainly fashion on our camels. It was hilarious!!! For all those women out there reading this, if you go camel riding and think there might be a chance of travelling faster than a slow walk, wear a sports bra!

As the sun dropped we “parked’ our camels by a mountainous rock and climbed up for a good view of the sunset. The rocks were lit up a fiery red and while the sunset wasn’t a huge array of colours it was simply magical. After some entertaining sunset photography we headed back to our camels for some more laughs before dinner time at the camp.

Cost: 15JOD

Sunset Fun in the desert

Jeep Safari

Promptly at 9am our jeep driver Akram turned up at the camp to take us on a jeep safari into the desert. Jeep safari’s in the desert are mostly driving with a few stops.

A natural bridge in the wadi Rum DesertWe sat on the back of the ‘jeep’ and enjoyed the wind whipping through our hair and the golden red/orange glow of the sand and rocks around us.

The desert scenery was spectacular. I was throughly surprised at how much vegetation there was when I had expected to see none. There were even sea’s of little purple flowers.

We made a stop at some ancient inscriptions on the rock walls, Lawrence’s house, a natural bridge, some sand dunes and some spectacular view points. Along the way we also made two stops for tea in Bedouin huts. Also learning how to tie a headdress/scarf like a true Bedouin. While I didn’t feel like we actually saw much of what the Wadi Rum has to offer, I certainly had a spectacularly fun time seeing the bits I saw!

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