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

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.

The Dead Sea Available Only For A Limited Time

The Dead Sea was really cool!  It was like floating in a warm pool of jelly or jello depending on what part of the world you live in.  Not that I have ever floated in jelly before but I imagine thats what it would be like.  You body is as light as a feather and you can feel the water lifting you up.  It was so strange to be bobbing around on the surface and the exposed part of your body completely dry.  The further you drifted out the heavy the water becomes and the higher you body extends out of the water. Apparently when you venture out quite far you can stand in the water without touching the bottom, I wasn’t that brave to try.

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Private beach at the Holiday Inn Dead Sea Resort, Jordan
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Dead Sea Done
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Best mud body scrub you will ever have

The water was really warm which I didn’t expect, however the temperature that day was  45 degrees, an unusually  hot day for Jordan due to a heatwave in the Middle East.  When you enter the water you are to wade out and then sit and lie backwards and you just start to float, just let the Dead Sea embrace you.  After your float and soak there is the mud, thick brown almost black sludgy goodness full of wonderful minerals that will leave your skin feel soft and refreshed.

Dead Sea Tips

  • People actually do drown in the Dead Sea, common causes are when they try and swim on their stomachs. Its much harder to put your feet down to see floor if you get into trouble so follow the safety rules and stay on your back.
  • There is a public beach located just outside of Amman that cost around 20JD and also gives you access to a pool or you can do what I did and purchase a day pass to one of the many hotels along the Dead Sea.  It is a little more expensive, it cost me about 50 JD but it gave me access to all the hotel facilities and a private beach with deck chairs, water, towels and a life guard.
  • Jordan is quite conservative when it comes to showing skin so if you want to rock a bikini without causing any offense or unwanted attention go for the hotel option.
  • Another bonus to using a hotel is all of them have a day spa. What better way to finish off your Dead Sea experience with a wonderful massage.
  • Make sure you wear sandals as the high concentration of salt can make the rocks and sand quite sharp, if you cut yourself it will hurt once again due to the high concentration of salt.
  • Take a container or use an empty water bottle so you can take some mud with you.  I did and had a wonderful Dead Sea mud face mask daily for the rest of my trip.
  • You can experience the Dead Sea from either Israel or Jordan, I chose to do it on the Jordan side because it was so close to Amman, only a 40 minute drive.  No check points to go through like you would on the Israel side.

Unfortunately due to the world we live in and the disregard we have taken towards looking after our environment this wonderful place is slowly disappearing.   Over the past 60 years the water levels have dropped significantly and you can clearly see where the water line used to be.  The length of the Dead Sea in the 1950s was 50 miles long, now it is only 20 miles so if you want to visit do it now before it is gone.

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The sun is huge in this part of the world

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