In November I visited Jordan, which was the final holiday of my career break (soon to be finished as I return to the world of work!). Jordan had never occurred to me as a holiday destination, but a couple of my friends wanted to go and I’m glad they convinced me. This was one of the most unique holidays I’ve experienced.
There’s much to love about Jordan. There’s the friendliness of the people, for example this conversation which happened repeatedly:
Stranger: Where you from?
Stranger: WELCOME TO JORDAN!
Then of course, there’s the food (if I’m honest food is probably the main reason I go on holiday). Since meeting Omar I’ve adopted high standards for Middle Eastern food, and Jordan exceeded them. There was a lot of meat, but also plenty for veggies: humous, za’atar and flatbread, aubergine stews, kunafa, baklava… And I can’t not mention the landscape. Jordan had some of the most unreal landscapes I’ve ever seen, like being on a movie set. If you want to come somewhere to be struck by an unoriginal but nonetheless sublime realisation of your own smallness and insignificance, this is the place.
In order to see as much of Jordan as possible, we hired a car. This is probably the best way to do things, although beware, the driving can be hazardous!
We landed in Amman at about three in the morning and spent an uncomfortable few hours curled up fully-clothed on the sofas in our hostel’s common area. Despite having no sleep, in the spirit of tireless thrill-seekers we got up in the morning, splashed cold water on our faces and set about exploring; we only had one full day in Amman and wanted to make the most of it. There had been heavy rain and flooding in Jordan just before we arrived, so many of the main sights in Amman such as the Citadel were closed, but we still found plenty to do. We ate a hearty pancake brunch, did a self-guided walking tour, and ate ice cream at Mr. Lollies (the owner is the coolest) and dinner at Sufra restaurant. Dinner was delicious, but that night I was struck by a horrible bout of gastritis which left me unable to function or eat anything for a day and a half. Let’s move swiftly past that.
Petra, the ancient capital of the Nabataen Kingdom whose stunning buildings are carved into the rose-coloured rock, is a must-see in Jordan. A few days previously Petra had been evacuated because of flash floods, but fortunately it was open again by the time we arrived. We were staying with a couple in the nearby Bedouin village who arranged for a guide to take us on a tour, including the Treasury, the Monastery, the Royal Tombs and the Roman Theatre. At the end of a long and tiring day our guide took us up to the Monastery to watch a stunning sunset (apparently ‘the best view in the world’). The downside: when climbing down the uneven, slippery steps in darkness afterwards, two of my friends slipped and sprained their ankles. This obviously sucked, but it did show us the kindness of our hosts, who rescued us with a donkey and car and then cooked us a free dinner when we returned to the house.
Aqaba is a coastal city which felt more touristy than Amman. Our plan to spend some time on the beach was slightly scuppered by my poor injured friends having to go to the (overly relaxed) doctor to get crutches, but we did have an excellent lunch at Baba Za’atar, which serves za’atar (a mix of herbs) along with other toppings like cheese, egg, meat, yoghurt and honey slathered on flatbread. Things on Bread being one of my favourite meals, this was pleasing. We managed a brief stroll on the beach as the sun set and then ate dinner at Alibaba restaurant, which is touristy but still good. Seafood is the speciality in Aqaba, and my friends said it was delicious, though as a veggie with a still-tender stomach I stuck to Things on Bread and salad.
Wadi Rum, a protected desert area in the south, was my highlight of the trip. There are several different companies, such as Wadi Rum Nomads, who’ll arrange desert tours on jeeps, camels, or both (we avoided the camels!). This was where I spent a day gazing across breathtaking landscapes that made me feel as if I were on another planet; the Jordanian deserts have actually been used to depict Mars in films. We zoomed across the orange sands in a Jeep with our guide, Rashid, climbed huge rock formations and sand dunes, clambered through canyons, teetered nervously on naturally formed bridges and took hundreds of photos.
After sitting around the campfire to watch the sun sink behind the dunes, we headed to the base camp where we ate ‘zarb’, meat cooked in an earth oven under the ground (and vegetables for me). We slept in a tent, listening to the sound of torrential rain hammering on the roof – yes, it rains in the desert too, copiously if that night is anything to go by – and headed back the next morning after breakfast. One of the things I enjoyed most about Jordan, both in Wadi Rum and Petra, was learning about the Bedouins’ way of life and their deep love of being outdoors. Although many of them had houses, those we spoke to said they preferred solitude and simplicity would always choose sleeping in a tent or cave or under the stars – making sure their Smartphones were fully charged first!
The Dead Sea
We spent the last leg of our trip relaxing by the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth where you can famously float in the mineral-rich water. At this point we were so close to Israel our phone operators were sending us welcome texts, and as the Dead Sea is slowly drying up due to intense irrigation, one of our Jordanian hosts joked that soon we’d be able to paddle across to Israel.
There isn’t any decent budget accommodation in this area, so we embraced (semi-)luxury and stayed in the Ramada Dead Sea Resort for a night. Although it was nice to drink readily available wine and binge on a breakfast buffet, the resort didn’t feel particularly Jordanian; there was little Jordanian food on the menu, for example, meaning I couldn’t get my falafel fix. Due to bad weather we couldn’t go deep enough into the sea to float, but we did have fun slathering ourselves in thick, slimy mud on the beach. Looking extremely silly is worth it for the soft skin afterwards.
Finally, it was back to Amman for a final few hours of shopping before our flight; we also managed to squeeze in the Citadel which we’d missed on the first day. We had our last supper in Amman’s famous vegetarian restaurant, Hashem, where they make life easy: you don’t order off a menu but sit down and wait for them to bring you a variety of mouthwatering dishes. It was here that I discovered the Holy Grail: the perfect falafel. It was incredible. I still dream about its perfect crispy outside and soft, crumbly inside…
What an adventure this was. Tourism in Jordan has suffered due to its proximity to conflicted regions, and even I was a little nervous before going, but I needn’t have worried. Jordan is a stable country, Jordanians are extremely welcoming, and as a group of females we were always treated with courtesy and respect. I’m already scheming about my next trip to the Middle East. Somewhere out there, there might be an even more perfect falafel waiting for me to eat it…