When I was a little boy, I watched Indiana Jones and Last Crusade. It was at that point that I determined I had to visit Jordan in order to see Petra with my own eyes. When I took this job here in the Middle East, I saw an opportunity to make this dream trip a reality. In addition to Indiana Jones, another reason that I have wanted to visit Jordan lies with my family. My middle sister Karena’s middle name is Jordan. So growing up, I have always wondered what that country would be like. So with these reasons, I knew I had to go. My friend Khaled is a great traveling companion for these historical adventures. So we began planning it at the end of 2015.
The airport is fairly new with a newer design. You can purchase a visa on arrival and there are ATMs next to the visa counter. We had set up a guided tour for the whole trip through Jordan Aventura Tours. This way we did not need to find a cab after our flight. I strongly recommend this action. Sadly, my international T Mobile service did not have included coverage in the country of Jordan. The currency in Jordan is the Jordanian Dinar. It is very strong; be careful. But the airport in Amman does have free WiFi. Our tour guide, Mahmoud, had a sign with my name on it, just waiting for our arrival.
We got to the Marriott and made arrangements for a morning pick up. This city has a very old feel to it. All the buildings have a similar white or cream colouring to them and with the hills, it felt a little like Istanbul: obviously oozing with history. The hotel was nice and well-kept. After putting my luggage in the room, I hit up the sports bar downstairs in search of some real beer. I was in luck. Recently, someone started a craft brewery in Jordan, Carakale. The beer might not have been perfect, but it made me happy to drink beer that isn’t macro produced. After some beers and phone calls, I called it a night. We had a couple long days in front of us.
The drive to Petra was going to be about 3 hours. Luckily I had procured some fresh Zofran which would make the ride a little less queasy. Khaled and I had determined that we wanted to see both Kerak Castle as well as Shawbak (Montreal) Castle. So we headed to Shawbak on the way down. Our driver knew some great stops. We were able to browse through souvenirs, and he picked up some delicious local bread. I will advise to keep at least a litre of water on you at all times.
Arriving at the castle, it is easy to see the strategic advantage at this place. I don’t understand how this castle was ever lost in battle.
There is a nice welcome area and gift shop before you head up to the ruins. The walk up the road to the castle is brutal. I will repeat… It is terrible. But, endure the walk. It is worth it. We walked around and looked through the archer slits. We saw the ancient rooms, and I thought about what life would be like in this castle in the 12th century. There were some locals there who have Saracen armour and shield to dress up. It is fun. After we visit the ruins, we head back to view the gift shop. There are some great necklaces and historical items as well. But alas, it was time to hit the road.
We got to Petra and went straight to the rosey city. There is apparent unrest in the city by locals. Something about a con man and money for cars… nonetheless… it isn’t safe to be in the city of Petra after about 5:30 PM. We arrived around 1 in the afternoon and purchased our tickets. Even though the counter clearly said CREDIT CARDS ACCEPTED and PAY IN YOUR OWN CURRENCY, the people at the desk told me “no, CASH ONLY.” We were in a hurry, so I didn’t argue, but if that is the case, then remove the signs. Once inside, you are immediately hounded by potential tour guides, local hats, rocks, snacks, and everything else you can imagine. SKIP THESE PEOPLE. There are plenty more vendors.
As you walk through you start to imagine the people that carved this ancient city out. Nowadays this feat would be impressive, but this work was done in BC. WOW. It inspired the same amount of awe that I got when I saw the Grand Canyon. We made it through the Siq past the Treasury and the Tombs, then headed to Qasr al-Bent.
Being on foot, we saw that the Monastery was another 7 KM away. It seemed impossible, until someone came up and offered a good price on a couple mules. We mounted up and headed out to the end. Susannah was my strong mule. She was a tough girl, and she took charge. We got to see the rest of the journey from her back. I met a Bedoin family and had some tea. They actually live in the caves along with 25 other families. I am glad we took the mule ride. It would have been sad to miss the whole stretch.
It was getting late, so we had two options: be late for our pickup or ride the mules up a mountain and grab a ride back to the front. Susannah and I were ready for the challenge.
We met back with Mahmoud just in time. Luckily the Marriott is outside the city, up a mountain. This was the least impressive of the three hotels over the weekend. Unfortunately, the cold weather came in that night, and our view of the valley was severely obscured. Apparently, during the winter the shut the AC off. So my room was way too hot. I think this practice is somewhat deceitful to the guests. When I arrived, they hadn’t even cleaned my room. To make up for it, they did send up a bottle of St George local wine, and it was tasty. Khaled and I had some dinner downstairs at the Italian restaurant, l’Affresco which was pleasant. The head chef came out to walk us through the menu and ended up making us a special salad and entree.
The next day we were picked up promptly and headed out to continue our journey. If you have seen the movie The Kingdom of Heaven, then you have seen Kerak Castle. The views from this castle are beyond impressive. You can see for miles. When we got there, the wind must have been blowing at 50 MPH.
We went through the castle with a guide. The walkways are extremely short, so beware, if you are tall.
After the castle, we piled back in the car and continued toward the dead sea.
The Dead Sea is the lowest point on the terrestrial earth. Obviously, the Mariana Trench is lower. As we drove, the clouds and fog had fully rolled in. The sea had a grey ominous look to it. We stopped to take pictures, and I noticed a weird rock formation on the top of the ridge. Mahmoud informed us that it was Lot’s wife, when she stopped to look back at Sodom and Gomorrah. At this point, I realized that a large amount of Biblical history took place in Jordan. I knew there were significant stories in Syria, Egypt, Israel, and Lebanon, but I never really put it together about Jordan. We arrived at the Marriott resort. This was definitely the nicest of the three. I would give strong recommendations for this place. The lobby is beautiful. The staff are welcoming. The rooms are great. I got the upgrade to suite 524. Which it turns out, I think several of my friends have all received that upgrade, judging by their pictures.
First thing first, we needed to get into the Dead Sea. Unfortunately, with the wind and storms, the Red Flag was flying. No floating for us. But we did get into the water.
bring Chacos or Tevas… The beach is full of sharp rocks and salt crystals. It will hurt your feet. It is terrible.
We covered ourselves in the mud and did the whole shebang. It was pretty cool. Then we hit the hot tub and relaxed. After cleaning up, we walked around and headed to the Samarah Mall. This place was just empty. So we went back to the hotel.
I was awakened at midnight and went out to my balcony. From there, I saw a beautiful view, and I realized it was Israel… right there just past my fingertips. But I couldn’t visit. It was frustrating.
For just a small additional charge, we had the opportunity to see the baptism location of Jesus Christ. Of course we took it. It was here where we fully learned what Jordanian Time is. The first shuttle was supposed to pick up at 8:30. We arrived at 8:25 and no one was working. We found some employees who told us it would be 5 minutes. Finally we bought our tickets and started waiting. The shuttle picked us up at 9:45. Just astounding. From there, we went to the area where John baptized Jesus, we then went to the Jordan river. This point in the river is maybe 10 yards wide. On the other side is Israel. We were talking to the tourists on that side.
I was able to pick up some beads that were blessed with holy water from the site and an olive wood statue. It was a really cool experience seeing this history.
When Moses struck the rock twice in the wilderness of Zin, he sealed his fate to never enter the Promised Land. Instead God gave him a vantage point from Mt Nebo to see the whole land from Gilead to Dan. He is also buried atop Mt. Nebo. It is also rumoured that the Ark of The Covenant is buried somewhere on the mountain as well (even though Indiana Jones already told us that it is clearly in Egypt). It is spectacular to see nearly the whole of the Holy Land: Jerusalem, Jericho, Dead Sea…
Holy Land, all around us
Madaba is home to the St George Basilica. After my most recent coaching time at St George’s, it was cool to be in this church. The floor is covered with a giant mosaic map of the holy land. Jordan is famous for their Mosaics.
We then met back with Mahmoud and proceeded to Amman. We made a stop at an awesome mosaic academy and store. I purchased a beautiful mosaic, and it turns out the queen wants to preserve Jordanian culture, so she fully insures and backs the shipping of these items back to the states at no charge.
As I said, Amman is full of history. We had a tour of the city, checking out the Grand Mosque and the Temple of Hercules in the Citadel and the Amphitheatre. The city is just beautiful. We made it back to the hotel and asked around for cool nightlife. This took up to Rainbow Road. It was a pretty cool street, but we were hungry. We had caught wind of a place online called Brisket. We finally made out way to the location. It is small, but it is amazing! The owner and his wife work there making some authentic barbecued meats.
We decided to walk back to the hotel. After that big meal, this was the best idea. Once back, we hit up the cigar bar, The Library, and relaxed a little.
There was one more stop we needed to make. So we woke up a little early and headed out to the ruins. I wasn’t feeling well this morning, so I took it easy, but we saw the temples and Hadrian’s Gate. This ancient city was huge. It was interesting that in the backdrop of the actual gate, there was a hotel called Hadrian’s Gate with neon signs: Old vs New.
At this point, I feel like we hit everything in Jordan (except Wadi Rum). It was time to head home. I was tired, but invigorated. I had seen so much history.
Our flight was of course delayed several times, but we did make it back safely. I am limited by how many pictures I can add per post, so each heading is a link to additional pictures.
until next time.