Jordan and the Amazing Maher

Jordan a country in the Middle East with a big heart is how I would sum up this little piece of desert paradise.  When speaking with people who had traveled to Jordan before they always led the discussion with stories about how wonderful and friendly the people are.  This was to become the theme for my story  after spending four days in this lovely country, which begins with my arrival at Queen Alia airport.

After making my way through the security checks I was greeted by my guest supervisor from United Travel.  With a big smile he welcomed me to Jordan and asked if I had already obtained my tourist visa.  ” No I haven’t, where do I get it from? Was I supposed to get before I came? My travel said I could get it when I got here”  as I rambled on and on he looked me with a big smile and just said ” Relax, no worries I will get you one for free”.   “Free? really? wow!”, instantly relaxed and pleasantly surprised.   A few moments later I had a free tourist visa for Jordan and another friendly welcome from the customs officer who stamped my passport and wished me a pleasant stay. After collecting my luggage I was introduced to my driver  Maher,  who I call the Amazing Maher of Jordan.

 The Amazing Maher was my driver during my stay in Jordan and kept me entertained with funny stories and was so kind, especially when I was injured and unable to complete my day trip to Jaresh.  When we were driving to the Dead Sea on my last day he received a phone call from his mechanic, however it was not about the car, his mechanic was calling to see how his client (me) was doing after injuring myself.  Maher had serviced the car the day before and mentioned that I had hurt myself during my trip to Petra so of course this mechanic whom I had never met wanted to call and check if I was feeling much better.  A great courtesy that Jordanians extend to those who are guests in their homeland.

The Amazing Maher looks after all his clients like they are family and during my time in Jordan I would learn all about his and even meet one of his sons.  A clever young man named Mohammed who is on the precipice of success with a brilliant product he developed and launched.  Maher of course is a very proud farther of three sons and two daughters and I’m sure a wonderful husband too.

One of the many stories that Maher told me that made me laugh was about how his daughters came home from school crying one day.  When he asked what was wrong they explained that a man had been outside their school and was saying horrible things to them.  The next day he picked up one of his sons and drove to his daughters school, sure enough this disturbed individual was there.  Now Maher is over 6ft tall and so is his son, you can imagine what happened next.  After an exchange of words his son picked up this man and put him in the boot of Maher’s car. Crying and pleading to be let out he promised never to come near the school again. To the delight of many school girls who were watching the drama unfold and laughing at this man who had harassed them.  He was never seen again and Maher’s son become the hero of many school girls that day.

Maher’s family originated from a small village in Palestine called Wallaja and relocated to Jordan in the 1940s. Like so many other Palestinian families they were forced to make the difficult decision  to leave their land.  How heartbreaking it must have been for his ancestors to leave everything they loved behind to form a new life in a new country. They have never been back but perhaps one day they will be able to, one can only hope.

Jordan is a remarkable country not just because of wonderful places like Petra and the Dead Sea.  It’s a country that helps others in need by taking them under their wing when people need shelter.   This country has taken in over 600,000 Syrian refugees not to mention many Palestinian people who began to flee their country in the first part of the 19th century.   It has a big heart that puts others to shame.

From the air the Jordan landscape looked so flat with endless desert as far as the eye can see.  However this is not the case, Amman reminded me so much of my home town Wellington.  Anything but flat, with hills covered with houses and narrow streets that would wind up, down and all around.   Driving out of the city on one of the main highways really showcased the diversity of the Jordan landscape.  From hills covered with houses and the busy city, to a landscape so flat with fertile fields changing to barren desert, then mountainous valleys.

Diversity also exists within the people of Jordan and the lives they lead from those in the city and small towns to the bedouin people who lead a nomadic life living off the land and their goats.  The population of Jordan is 7 million with 4 million of those living in Amman, that’s pretty much all of New Zealand.  The people of Jordan are so friendly and laid back just like their royal family who you can apparently bump into at family restaurant or out and about in Amman just like everyday people.

I think one of the best things about traveling solo is that you have the luxury of connecting with people easily.  When you are in a group situation you tend to hang with the group, they become your social hub and not often do you venture out of it.  I was lucky to have such a great driver who I now call a friend and still keep in touch with.   Jordan will be a country I will visit again sooner rather than later as there is still so much to see and I know I will be welcomed back warmly as that is how this country rolls.

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The hills of Amman
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It was quite hazy in the city due to the heat and dry desert winds.
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The old and the new creeping up on the horizon

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Rolling hills just outside of Petra
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Bedouin settlement

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Why did the camel cross the road?     To escape the on coming dust storm.
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On the way back from Petra we drove into a massive dust storm it was so dense
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The Amazing Maher in his youth he was a hair model, true story
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My new friend seeing me off from the airport

Keep Calm & Just Keep Living Your Life

We were treated to another astral phenomenon on the weekend, the supper blood moon.  Unfortunately we have some in this world who choose to live their lives in fear and project that fear onto others.  The dooms day fundamentalist, you know who you are.  Pay no attention to them and just carry on living your life and appreciate every moment especially the good times with people you love.

Here in New Zealand we were not able to see the eclipse as it was below our horizon by the time it took place.  I did however take a snap of the full moon over my house, if you were lucky enough to see this cool  event, YAY for you!  It has since passed and we are still here so lets just carry on and keep living our lives to the full.

Always be kind to the those who cross your path and be fearless because that way your life will always be an adventure.

Lucky Parents? I Don’t Think So……

How often have you made the comment to a friend or family member about how lucky they are to have great kids? If you have then I ask you to read on and think about what it is you are saying.

In a conversation with a good friend who I hadn’t spoken to for a long time the subject moved onto her children.  My dear friend is the mother of two beautiful girls and an energetic and lively gorgeous boy.  She said that she is often told how wonderful her children are and that she is really lucky to have such great kids. While she appreciates  the compliment it leaves her feeling a little miffed.

It has nothing to do with luck it has everything to do with hard work, raising kids is hard especially on my own.

Raising her children to be well rounded, kind and respectful of others comes down to hard work, dedication and good parenting.  She has put in the miles as a single parent and is reaping the benefits but not the recognition she deserves.  So why do we take that away from hardworking parents, especially mothers?  I am sure it’s not the intent to do so but sometimes even the best intentions can still cause the recipient to be a bit miffed.

The next time you compliment a hard working parent on how great their kids are, don’t tell them they are lucky.  Just give them the recognition they deserve by congratulating them on being fantastic parents.  I know I will from now, one more lesson I am grateful to learn.

A Dark Side Of Egypt

If you have been reading my posts you will be aware of how much I loved my travels through the Middle East especially Egypt, but there is a dark side that needs to be acknowledge. During my time there I learnt about their history and visited amazing temples, tombs and great Pyramids. I also learnt about the countries revolutions and gained insight into their culture, ancient gods and Islam.  The dark side of Egypt is FGM which is still practiced today even though it has been outlawed.

Prior to traveling to Egypt I came across an article in a magazine that talked about Female Genital Mutilation practices and Egypt was mentioned as a country that had extremely high rates. According to the article 92% of women in Egypt had been subjected to this barbaric and inhumane practice.  Not wanting this article to be my single source of truth I looked for more information on Egyptian women and FGM.  Focussing on Egyptian publications I found  a barrage of information that was consistent with my original article.  When I eventually arrived in Egypt I was overwhelmed at the prospect that I was actually here and set off on my adventures, however in the back of my mind I also had an objective, I wanted to speak to an Egyptian about what I had read.

I remember traveling through Luxor and passing a family coming out of a building.  In the arms of a young boy was a girl who wouldn’t have been more than 7 years old, she was crying and looked to be in pain. As our van slowly passed this family  I hoped that she was crying because she was unwell with the flu, that little girls face still haunts me today. Summer time is when FGM is more likely to happen as the holidays provide time for the girls to recover.

Part way through my travels in Egypt I met someone who I felt comfortable enough to ask about FGM, he had talked quite openly about politics and religion so I broached the question.  What was to follow was a personal story about his mother and younger sister.  His mother had gone through this procedure when she was a young girl and when her daughter was 9 years old she wanted to carry on the tradition.  Fortunately for this young girl she had an older brother who took it upon himself to stand up for his sister and protect her.  At the age of 15 years old the person sitting opposite me stood up to his parents and managed to persuade his mother against inflicting this atrocious procedure on her young daughter.  He asked her to think about the pain and trauma that she had endured throughout her life because of what had been done to her.  He then asked why she would want to do the same to her own daughter.  The courage and love this person showed for his younger sister was quite moving not to mention inspirational, it also wasn’t the story that I expected to hear.  Not only had he saved his younger sister from a life of pain and suffering he also managed to break the cycle of FGM in his family.

We discussed why he felt it occurred so often in Egyptian society and his perspective was that it was rooted in culture and tradition.  There is nothing in Qur’an about female genital mutilation and this practice is also committed by Christians, his family was actually Christian. FGM occurs in many countries throughout the Middle East and Africa it is also becoming a problem in western countries.  Nor is it a religious issues but rather a human one that requires change through education and most of all more men like the person I was sitting with standing up and protecting their sisters, daughters and nieces from this barbaric practice.

Throughout my travels there were experiences and learnings that made me really appreciate the life I have.  However what I am truly grateful for is the wonderful people I met along the way who shared their stories about their own experiences to help me grow and learn.  The story of a young man protecting his sister also restores my faith in humanity which is one of the kindest gifts you can ever bestow on someone.  One person can make a difference in someones life, all we need is for more to realize this and stand up for those in need.

The Goddess Isis & Her Philae Temple

I loved this temple, it was such a lovely way to spend the afternoon in Aswan especially after the overnight train from Cairo. Philae Temple is located on island near the Aswan Low Dam on Lake Nasser and is dedicated to the Goddess Isis.   It was such a hot day and with the train arriving four hours late into Aswan meant that we would be visiting the temple during the hottest part of the day. However cruising across the waters  in our boat owned by local Nubian’s provided a small reprieve with a lovely cool breeze.

It’s quite breathtaking to see the temple from the water with it’s magnificent pylons rising up on the horizon the closer you get to the island.  As the whole temple comes into view it’s surrounded by lush green trees and reeds that stand out against the blue of the sky and the warm browns of this beautiful temple.  What’s even more remarkable is that like Abu Simbel this temple was also relocated to preserve it from further damage caused by flooding.

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Philae Temple, Aswan

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The Goddess Isis, magician, guardian, wife and sister of Osiris and mother of Horus can be found in almost all temples throughout Egypt.  I really liked the balance between masculine and feminine when it comes to ancient Egyptian Gods, while they do seem to have a god for everything it’s an even split gender wise. This temple was built for Isis and her image is represented throughout the complex as a woman with power and wisdom.  Like her special gifts as the stories go it was a magical place to visit.

The story our guide Mohamed talked of during our tour was about how she used her magic to bring her husband Osiris back to life after he was murdered and dismembered by his brother Set, it seems not even the Gods were safe from sibling rivalry.  With the help of the Goddess Hathor, Isis was able to escape from Set and fly across Egypt to retrieve Osiris’s body parts that Set had scattered across the land.   Using her magic she was able to put him back together with one exception, she was unable to locate his  penis so she made one out of gold and brought him back to life long enough to conceive their son Horus.  Osiris was then to become the God of the underworld passing judgement on those who would stand before him in the afterlife.

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Temple structure has multiple sections which this side on profile shows.

The design of all the temples I visited followed the same flow, as you enter you come into an open court yard that ends with pylons standing  either side of an entrance that leads into another enclosed court yard.  Another set of pylons stands over a second entrance where you come into a large covered hall filled with many columns.   This hall proceeds an entrance  into the inner sanctuary of the temple.  There was also a hierarchy in place when it came to accessing the different sections of the temples.  The inner sections of the temples catered to rich nobles and royalty with exception of the inner sanctuary which was reserved for priests and the Pharaoh.

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Open courtyard
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Inner courtyard
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Beautiful pillars can be found inside standing tall and strong decorated with stories of ancient times

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The inner sanctuary of the temple

Throughout the temple there are beautiful scenes on the walls and pillars decorated with hieroglyphics. The most common scenes throughout an Egyptian temple are of offerings to the Gods. In the Temple of Philae you will see Isis receiving gifts of food, lotus and oils.  These beautiful scenes are well lit so it’s like they are carved out of golden stone adding to the beauty of this enchanting temple.

On reflection Isis must have been the ultimate female role model in ancient times, she was a goddess ,wife, mother and leader. In modern times she would be representative of todays women, who hold down a career, raise a family and help put their husbands back together when they come apart, metaphorically for the latter.  Come visit this amazing place and admire it’s beauty and the magnificent Goddess Isis who it is dedicated to you will not be disappointed.

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Goddess Isis receiving offerings of lotus and fruits

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Islam For A Beginner – Part Two

Women and Islam

My curiosity about Islam mainly focussed on a woman’s place in the Islamic world.  The way a Muslim woman dressed was something I wanted to understand more about.  To me I felt as though women were being controlled and oppressed because they did not have the freedom like I do to wear whatever they like.  However on reflection I realize that this was quite an ignorant view to have.  There is nothing wrong with ignorant occasionally as you still have the capacity to learn, which I did.

On a visit to a Mosque I was given some literature to read by my guide and by now good friend Mohamed. He asked me to read them and not throw them away as they are religious books and you should keep them out of respect. Perhaps this gift of knowledge was also to put an end to many of my questions, which were always answered kindly and sometimes with a I can’t believe she just asked me that look on his face.  For example, me ” Mohamed, are Muslim women encouraged to work and have careers?” met with a look that said seriously? and responded with  “Of course they can some of my friends wives even have better jobs than their husbands”,  me “Oh”.

One of the brochures named ‘ Secrets of A Muslim Woman’  certainly stood out for me as I found myself  looking at my original view. In the introduction the author made a statement regarding what people may be thinking when they cross paths with a Muslim woman.

Burkah clad victims who hide their bodies away out of shame, forced marriages and honor killings, suppression and oppression of women, things that Islam totally condemns but some crazy Muslims are guilty of.

This piece of literature was written by a Muslim women who is a busy mother of four and Journalist  based in London and felt it was about time that we herd a Muslim women’s perspective from a Muslim women.  I really liked the passionate way in which she talked about Islam and the influence it had on her life and as a women.  It was well written and honest even to the point to acknowledge that yes there are some crazy Muslims who do things that contradict the teachings of Islam.  Like many other religions there are always some crazy people who take their faith to a dark place by extreme actions.  Google a religion and the word extremist and you will find that each one has it own dark story of violence against women.  It is so important to understand that the actions of a minority do not define the majority.

The covering up and loose fitting dresses for women is about modesty and similar rules also apply to men. It was interesting to learn that not all Muslim women cover their hair or cover themselves completely, it’s a choice.  Perhaps a choice that is not widely accepted in all Muslims societies but it is still a choice for some and the same choice I have about what I want to wear. Just because the choice is different to mine or yours doesn’t mean it’s wrong, it’s just different.

Another piece of literature named Women and Islam was given to me that day and had a different effect on me.  It talked about peace and equality amongst men and women and shared verses from the Qur’an to support these teachings which was great. However what left me disappointed was the way the author chose to strengthen his message about peace and equality by comparing Islam to Judaism and Christianity.  My religion is better than your religion because… is the tone he took and unfortunately is how arguments tend to start.  The previous day I had visited the Egyptian Museum and came across an exhibition about religious tolerance in Egypt named ‘One God, Three Religions’.  On display was a document of the Prophet Mohamed’s deed explaining how to deal with people from other religious faiths through applying the principle of religious tolerance.  It would seem that the author of Women and Islam had missed that completely.

I have found that taking the time learn about something completely new like Islam has helped me to have more respect and understanding for the different religions that people embrace.    I may not surrender to any particular faith as I go through life but appreciate and I am thankful for lessons and experiences of other faiths that people have shared with me.

To be continued…….

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Covering up is also required for men

Islam For A Beginner – Part One

The Middle East was a truly wonderful experience and so much of my blog is about the wonderful places I have visited.  Now I would like to take the time to write about my experience with Islam.  A religion that I had rarely been exposed to or understood but was ever present throughout my entire journey. 

Ramadan & The Call To Prayer

My introduction to Islam began with me arriving in the Middle East  in the last three days of Ramadan.  On my morning flight from Amman to Cairo I watched as the flight attendant’s offers of breakfast were continuously declined as they moved down the aisle.  I had read a little about Ramadan before my trip, mainly about fasting and considerations foreigners should show for people who are observing it.

On my second day in Egypt I travelled to Alexandria,  my guide for the day was a lovely man named Mohamed who was fasting for Ramadan.  I felt a little self conscious of eating or drinking in front of him, so much so that I barely ate my lunch. He was very considerate and didn’t have to sit at the table with me to keep me company while the waiter brought out multiple dishes of food, yet he did.  From sunrise to sunset for an entire month he and millions of others in the Muslim world would sustain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual relations, life’s simple pleasures that some of us struggle to go without for even a day.

Fasting  is one of the five pillars of Islam and is observed annually on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar in conjunction with the sightings of the crescent moon.  It is a time of spiritual reflection and growth by going without worldly comforts to gain an understanding and empathy for those who are less fortunate.  This kind of spiritual reflection and empathy for others was something I didn’t expect to be associated with Islam, it was the first of many lessons.

Eid marks the end of Ramadan with celebration and family holidays which were in full swing at the hotel I was staying at. It was quite lovely to see so many families enjoying themselves, laughing together and playing with their children in the  pool.  Also quite refreshing was to see so many people celebrating and having a great time without the need for alcohol as a stimulant.  It was a lively party with everyone high on life and so much love and gratitude for one another.

The call to prayer would become a daily reminder of where I was and the presence of Islam.  It would call out from the many Mosques in the cities and towns in unison, strong and clear.  Even as I sailed down the Nile on my cruise boat it would drift across the lush green fertile Nile valley from the Mosques that dotted the shore line.  My favorite time was at sunset, with the sky on fire  and the call to prayer echoing out  across the valley as the red sun slowly disappeared on the horizon.

I was intrigued and as time went by I was to learn more about Islam and the people who embrace and live by it.  An unexpected spiritual journey to compliment the amazing places that I would see on my travels through out the Middle East.

I welcome you to comment below and tell me about your experiences with religion when traveling through different countries, I would love to hear your story too.  Were you curious to learn more and how did it influence your travel experience ?

To be continued……

The Rose City Of Petra

Be prepared to be amazed, not only by the beauty of this magical place but also the brilliance of the Nabataean people who built this city after coming from the Arabian Peninsula more than 2200 years ago.  After centuries of earthquakes, floods and eventually changes to the trade route through the Middle East this amazing city was abandoned.  Left behind is an extraordinary ancient city built to last centuries that we get to experience and appreciate.

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Guarding the entrance to As-Siq an impressive 1200 long deep and narrow gorge with cliffs soaring as high as 80 meters.

As-Siq is the main entrance into this magical city and as you walk through the stunning 1200 meter long gorge you  feel excitement and anticipation building the further you venture in.  The morning was already quite warm but the high red and brown natural walls provided shade and the occasional cool breeze whistling through the gorge.  As it was the low season there wasn’t a lot of people around and you feel like the only person in the world, it was so peaceful and beautiful.

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Stunning natural beauty of Ad-Siq
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Water canals carved into the sides of Ad-Siq to capture rain water and transport it into the city.
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Rich red rocks of Ad-Siq

Emerging from the Siq you are absolutely blown away by the remarkable beauty and grandeur of the Al-Khazneh known as the treasury and also featured in the first Indiana Jones movie.  Al Khazneh is thought to have been carved as a tomb for a great Nabataean King in the 1st century BC.  All the remarkable carvings into the side of the mountains in Petra are actually tombs and only 13 mummies have ever been found, the Nabataean people actually lived outside in the open valley.

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Al-Khazneh, The Treasury Tomb
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Only camels in the shot the an added bonus of visiting in the low season, note the sun disk at the top of the tomb a symbol of the Goddess Isis. This temple is inspired by Hellenistic and Alexandrian architecture.

Petra is huge and you really do need at least 2 days to see it all however I only had the one day and managed to go through most of it.  I think I would have walked about 10 kilometers that day in 40 degree heat but it was well worth it , also there are lots of places to stop off for a cool drink and free wifi.

The Nabataean people were quite advanced and also open to outside cultural influence.  I saw examples of Egyptian, Roman and Greek in the magnificent carvings.  Roman pillars, obelisks and the sun disk from the goddess Isis to name a few, as well as a large amphitheater.

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Obelisk Tomb, Egyptian and Graeco-Roman influence
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Royal tombs that housed the tombs of Nabataean dignitaries

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The Theatre built 1st Century AD built to hold 7000 people

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It is a bit of a hike but well worth it to head to Ad-Deir which is the monastery tomb.  According to the brochure it’s only 800 steps but it felt like more.  The 800 steps seem to be spread out over a long path way that just goes up and up and I am guessing the pathway is just counted as one step.  You can catch a donkey up which I did for part of the way.  I just felt so sorry for the donkey, it was a hot day and the guide just kept hitting the poor thing to go faster.  In the end, less than half way up I politely told him I would walk the rest of the way but still pay him the full fare which was 10JD, poor donkey.

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Poor hardworking donkey
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Some of the many steps to Ad-Deir
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View from just over halfway up Royal Tombs in the distance
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Magnificent views of the Petra valley make the hike worth while

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You are treated to stunning views as you go higher and higher up the mountain and to my relief there was a nice little cafe up the top serving freshly squeezed lemon and mint juices and nice comfy couches to relax in while you marvel at the awesomeness of Ad-Deir.

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Ad-Deir, The Monastery Tomb

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Petra Tips

  • Wear comfy shoes there is a lot of walking, sunblock and water is a given when traveling anywhere in the Middle East.
  • If you do go to Ad-Der and decide to take a donkey only do so for the way up as coming down on the donkey is a little dangerous.  Also pay the guide a couple of extra JDs to go slow so it’s easier on the donkey and for you.  A rushing donkey means you have to work harder to stay on him, also be kind to donkeys they work hard.
  • Same advice if you choose to ride a camel, pay the guide extra to go slow as they will be rushing so they can drop you off and pick up more tourist.  A running camel is not a pleasant experience it’s really uncomfortable and quite hard on your lower back.  I know this because the next day I was laid up in bed with damaged nerves in my fourth and fifth lumbar. Never going on a camel again.
  • The great thing about visiting in the low season is that you feel like you have the place to yourself and you can get some great shots without people in them.  The down side is that low season is in the Jordan summer so if you don’t mind the heat, it’s a good trade off.
  • Another point about a low season visit to Petra is that you will get hassled more for donkey and camel rides, also the locals manning the market stalls will be a lot more persistent. They are just trying to make a living in tough times so don’t let it bother you, just politely decline.
  • Included in your ticket is a free ride on a horse from the main gate to Al-Siq, save it for on the way out as you will appreciate it after the long walk you have just had.  You do need to tip though so it’s kind of free.
  • Petra by night is supposed to be gorgeous so stay over in one of the many hotels right next to the main entrance.
  • Throughout Petra there are many cafes that offer cool drinks and free wifi, make sure you have plenty of small notes just in case they don’t have change. Free wifi was awesome, the Royal Treasury Tomb Petra would have to be one of my most original FB checkin post.

If Petra isn’t on your bucket list add it and go, it would have to be one of the most amazing places I have ever been lucky enough to visit.  The Jordanian people are so friendly and Jordan itself has many treasures to see.