Jordan: A Tangle Of Old Arabian Fairytales And Modernity

Jordan, Petra, Bedouin, Travel, Tourist
(c) Lada Redley

Rich history, feisty neighbors, and ancient sights make Jordan an exciting place to visit. It can satisfy beach lovers and adventurers alike with sizzling sun and exotic excursions. And Jordan’s generous people will make sure you feel welcome.

My friend Eugenia and I loved the country. We spent a significant amount of time on the beach and got absolutely toasted, even though it wasn’t that hot. March isn’t exactly swimmer-friendly either, but the Red Sea’s Gulf of Aqaba holds many underwater wonders you simply can’t miss. Fish, corals, algae are there for you to gape at. We also visited the ancient city of Petra and the Jordanian desert, Wadi Rum.

Of course, a more tenacious wanderer will be able to discover other places in Jordan that we didn’t.

A Safe Place To Relax And Fill Your Stomach

It was my first time traveling to the Middle East, and a lot of my friends and family expressed their concerns about the destination. That Jordan borders Israel, Palestine, Iraq, Syria, and Saudi Arabia only increased their apprehensions, which somewhat rubbed off on me as well.

Jordan seems to be asking for trouble.

And yet, the country is remarkably safe. You won’t believe the security measures taken at the airport, across the in-country checkpoints, and even at hotels.

Jordan, Petra, Bedouin, Travel, Tourist
(c) Lada Redley

Our baggage was scanned upon arrival in Aqaba Airport, which isn’t something I remember ever encountering elsewhere. And as you travel across Jordan, you’ll see occasional checkpoints separating different country regions, where your car can be stopped and inspected. We also had to go through metal detectors before we could enter our hotel — another thing very few people anticipate to see in a small country like Jordan, even if they’re staying in a five-star hotel.

Now, speaking of those five stars. Expecting a top-notch service in a country where tourism is still a developing notion is like expecting a whale to fly with its fins. Whoever was in charge of cleaning had an extraordinary vision for their responsibilities. Sometimes they’d make our beds and place our hats on top. Perhaps they were an interior designer at heart. There was also a bit of an issue with towels. You’d hope to see them changed every day, but that was just our silly wishful thinking. To request fresh towels, we had to drop the used ones on the floor. We did that once only to return to no towels at all.

But those five stars also equaled an abundance of food. A great variety awaited us at the cafeteria every day, with very few repeats. Particularly foodgasmic was the chocolate fountain set up in the evenings. Dipping fruit and cakes in it soothed any worries I may have had over what my hips would look like after a week of repetitive feasting.

Some of the other food wasn’t ideal though — not for me, anyway. Whatever spice they were adding to it gave most hot dishes a curry flavor. And for someone who isn’t a big curry fan, that was quite a challenge. Garlic chicken? BBQ chicken? Nope, both were actually curry chicken. Fish in sour sauce? Wrong again. It was curry fish. And by the end of the week I may have developed a liking for curry, though. Bring it on, Jordan.

Jordan, Petra, Bedouin, Travel, Tourist
(c) Lada Redley

A Gem Of Ancient Architecture Born In Iron-Rich Rock

A city hidden in mountains, Petra can only be reached by walking along a narrow passage at the bottom of a canyon. The locals also offer to drive tourists to the city in small horse-drawn carriages. Hence, the road is richly carpeted with feces, resembling a minefield. It had rained heavily the day before our visit to Petra, so the surface was wet and slippery, at times forcing me to jump from stone to stone to avoid pools of wet sand and horse excrement. To be fair, the road is cleaned frequently, but not when crowds of tourists are jumping around, like video game characters.

Apart from horses, you can find donkeys and camels in Petra, all used primarily to entertain visitors. You can ride them, take pictures on or with them just for a few Dinars. A low price for a traveler, but a high cost for the animals. I’m no fauna expert, but the exasperated sounds they make can’t be an expression of joy. Plus, the camels have thin deep patterns across the fur of their thighs — our tour guide claimed they were simply shedding. Do all animals shed in whip marks?

Those issues have a human factor but aside from that, Petra is incredible. The city is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and is believed to have existed since the 4th century BC. The site of the magnificent Al-Khazneh, a temple carved in stone, will take your breath away as soon as you see it through the narrow entryway into the city. It makes the hour-long walk toward it well worth it.

Jordan, Petra, Bedouin, Travel, Tourist
(c) Lada Redley

If you’re a sucker for ruins, like I am, Petra is the place to be. There’s a theater, Roman in design, but local in structure — having been carved right out of rock instead of simply built. Further down the road from it and to the left are the remains of a colonnade leading to a ruined mass, The Great Temple. It’s an archeological marvel to explore.

Jordan is famous for its gorgeous ceramics, so if you want a token to remember your visit by, go for handmade bowls or plates. I went to a shop right outside of Petra, filled with all kinds of local produce, and got myself a bowl. The shop assistant there was a handsome Jordanian who spoke perfect English. After a bit of casual flirting as part of his sales routine, he revealed that he was a Bedouin and actually grew up in one of Petra’s ancient caves. It’s amazing that spending the first fifteen years of his life there didn’t stop him from going off to study an international language and then use it to make a profit. Oh, and he’s not the only one into trade. Local goodies are offered all over Petra in huts, on tables, off the lap. Almost every tiny shop accepts credit cards, and with the city set among iron red cliffs, that’s the real new wonder of the world.

A Martian Landscape For Earthly Pleasures

Wadi Rum, translated as the Valley of the Moon, is an enormous desert, spread across 280 square miles. Its unique mix of sand and rock formations makes it a perfect movie set. Matt Damon colonized Mars here, and Will Smith plays his Genie tricks for Aladdin in Wadi Rum. The scenery is decidedly spectacular, and the sheer size of the desert gives you an overpowering feeling of freedom. You’re so small and insignificant in comparison with the volumes of sand and stone all around you, and yet you matter and feel like you’re capable of conquering the world.

Here, Bedouins are in charge. They’re a nomadic Arab people often described as desert-dwellers. That lifestyle is innate among them, hardwired in their genetic memory. When the late King Hussein bin Talal had housing built specifically for Bedouins to move them out of the desert, they didn’t stick around for too long. The unrestrained outdoors drew them right back in to Wadi Rum, Petra, and other regions across Jordan.

Jordan, Petra, Bedouin, Travel, Tourist
(c) Lada Redley

A typical Bedouin now lives in a simple black tent, wears long robes and a red-and-white keffiyeh, traditional Jordanian headdress. You might think they’re succumbing themselves to a poor existence. Now, don’t judge the book by its keffiyeh. The land that generations of Bedouins have owned is worth millions of dollars, so try not to feel too bad for them.

Today, Wadi Rum is both a home and a place of business for many Bedouins. They take you on a hair-sweeping ride across the desert on a jeep. If you’re lucky, it’s a huge modern comfortable car. Ours was a small old thing, so we got a wilder experience than other tourists: we hit every bump on the road and had to grab onto our seats at every turn to make sure we didn’t fly out of the car. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Tip: don’t forget sunglasses to cover your eyes from all that sand rushing into your face.

Next on the list was sitting back and enjoying the sunset. I imagine it would’ve felt like the sun’s last rays melting everywhere around us, but it was cloudy and we missed some of that magic. Although sunglasses came in handy there as well — through their lenses we saw what the naked eye couldn’t. Slowly and majestically, the sun moved down to hide behind the rocks, shining its goodbye for the day right through the stubborn clouds.

Jordan, Petra, Bedouin, Travel, Tourist
(c) Eugenia Anikudimova

Finally, as the sun bid its farewell, we were taken to a nearby Bedouin settlement to have dinner under the stars. We sat in a café where every motley cloth and pillow seemed to have absorbed the smells of cooked mutton and fruity hookah. The locals prepared a traditional savory meal for us called Zarb. It’s a mix of meat and vegetables cooked for several hours in a large underground pit. They dug it right out in front of us, so the hot mutton, chicken, and veggies basically melted in our mouths.

The list of the countries I’d return to as a tourist is very small, because there’s just too many places and cultures I haven’t explored yet. But if I do end up in Jordan again, I’ll definitely pay a visit to the Dead Sea and the northern part of the country. I’m sure I’ll find ancient ruins there, too.

Author: Lada Redley

Lada Redley draws inspiration from her travels, experiences, and the people in her life. She writes both prose and poetry, and has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Westminster, London. You can follow Lada’s adventures on Instagram: @ladaredley.

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