Driving in Amman

Driving had been a breeze throughout Jordan, but it was only on the last night and following day that we had to navigate the streets of downtown Amman.  Oh my.

It’s kinda like New York City driving, but take away the lane lines and all the other rules of the road you take for granted.  Basically, if you see room for your car to go…ya go.  Eventually got that hang of it, but it had its hairy moments, no doubt.  The biggest trouble is that our map situation for the city was garbage, so general navigating was unnecessarily difficult.  We’ve always bought maps from Amazon in the past, not sure why we didn’t this time.

After much nonsense driving, we finally got to the Le Meridien Amman at 8pm.  I scored a sweet rate on a Royal Club Room there that included breakfast, 4pm checkout, free internet, and free drinks in their club lounge.  Racked up lots of Starwood points for the stay in the process, too.  This proved to be a very cozy place to hang out after a few days cooking in the sun.

Le Meridien Amman

Our big project after breakfast the next morning was to find a place to do some laundry (the hotel’s pricing was just off the charts silly for a big load).  After a chat with the concierge, we fast learned that Jordanians don’t do self-laundromats, but he pointed us to a dry cleaner a ten minute walk away.  This all worked out quite well, albeit much more expensive than we’d have liked.  We had to pay a 50% rush charge which brought our total to 44 JOD.  But now we have non sweat and sand drenched clothing for the East Africa portion of our trip.

Hertz Jordan gets a big thumbs down for pointing out a scratch on the car and proceeding to charge me 60 JOD for it.  First time this has ever happened to us, so we’ll see if our friends at Amex can help us out when we get back home.

And it was while processing this annoying paperwork at Hertz Jordan that we were about to hit another speed bump along the way…

Floating in the Dead Sea

After leaving Petra, we drove north back to Tafileh and then west towards the Dead Sea Highway.  While descending towards the Dead Sea, we watched the temperature gauge in the car climb a full ten degrees Celsius.  Things settled in the 100 to 104 F range. 

At a police checkpoint (these are all over and standard procedure), the officer was excited to hear we were Americans and invited us to join him for tea.  As mentioned above, it was over 100 degrees and we politely declined.

The Dead Sea highway is a snap to drive–you can just cruise at 100 km/h on a straight road.  After about 3 hours from Petra, we arrived at Amman Beach.  For 12 JOD/person, they provide some nice access to a beach.  The men’s changing room was pretty dank, but Lillie reports the women’s to not be too bad.  There are also swimming pools and a cafe, but we didn’t partake in any of that.  So it’s a bit pricey for just a dip in the sea, but oh well.

Anyway, we were all business from the changing rooms and raced to the water–the weather was absolutely stifling.  It was pretty much as advertised.  You bob like a cork.  This was especially weird for me as a person prone to drowning.  We both had some chapped lips which were quickly burning thanks to the salt.  But my Chacos did get nice and clean after getting super mucky at Petra.

Floating in the Dead Sea

Then back on the highway and off to live it up in our nicest hotel in Jordan (possibly nicest of the trip)–Le Meridien Amman…

Second Day in Petra – The Last Crusade

No breakfast at the hotel today, so we hit up a local bakery for a plate of baklava for breakfast.  Inappropriate but delicious.

This time at Petra we switched things up by not entering via the Siq.  Right before the Siq we took a right into Wadi Muthlim, disregarding the warning sign posted that suggests you take a guide down this route.  Pshaw.  Instead of sharing the Siq with hordes of other tourists, we had this thing all to ourselves.

Of course, there proved to be a few obstacles along the route which is otherwise simple to navigate.  Take for instance this:


That one really wasn’t a big deal, but it did crack us up when we first caught a glimpse.  The next obstacle proved to be a much better story.  This route is prone to flash floods during the spring time, so is impassable during that time.  We got to experience some of the aftermath from said floods.

Sidd Majjn is the junction where we bumped into two other pairs of tourists.  One pair threw in the towel and headed home.  Here’s what we were first faced with:

If you squint a little, you can see the brown pool of water in the path ahead.  It was at this point that a random Bedouin guy came by and nicely grunted/pointed the way along.  I first attempted some Spiderman action to avoid taking the plunge in the murky water.  But in the end, we just had to suck it up.

Luckily it was only knee deep water.  The random Bedouin was clutch later when pointing us to a shortcut that helped us avoid at least 100 more feet of this wading.

Good times in the end!  And what these pictures don’t capture are the rock carvings on the walls above.  This is where Lillie insisted she really felt like Indiana Jones while admiring/wading.  Then we were finally in Wadi Mataha that eventually lead us back to the main street.  This little route took us a shade under two hours while we were usually doing the Siq in 30 minutes.  A shortcut it isn’t!

Back on the main drag, the Monastery was our remaining sight for the day.  It’s about an hour slog up many, many steps (we’ve now reached mid-day again, of course, so the sun was a-blazin’).  You think you’re in the middle of nowhere until you arrive at this:


There’s actually a really nice cafe up here–complete with ice cold Coke for 2 JOD.  On a scorching hot day they were doing brisk business.  Lillie made friends with some 60-something Catalan men on the trail.  She had fun name dropping things from her year in Catalunya, and these dudes loved her.  For some reason, they asked the two of us to pose for a picture.  Would love to see that slideshow.  Those guys held back our pace a bit, but otherwise we were down to the bottom in thirty minutes.

We then took off for the exit through the Siq for the last time.  Another five-hour day at Petra in the books.  Awesome stuff.

First Day at Petra

About 80 km south on the Kings Highway from Dana is Petra.  Along the way, we picked up a hitchhiker.  Not our usual routine, but he was standing at a police checkpoint where we stopped.  And when somebody asks you “are you going to Petra?” on the road to Petra, there aren’t a whole lot of excuses.  So no big deal in the end.

Again we timed our arrival perfectly for the hottest part of the day (around 1pm).  We purchased 2-day tickets for 26 JOD each and headed for the entry gate.  Trying to keep it real, we’ve stuck with long pants while in Jordan.  But upon entering Petra, we quickly learned the uniform for tourists here is short shorts and long white socks.  Duly noted.

The size of Petra is really staggering.  Throw in the weather conditions, and you really need to be smart and selective about what you attempt to see and do.  We’re not going to get into all the history here, as that’s a bit above our pay grade.  So here’s the wikipedia entry if you need a primer.  Or rent Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

You enter Petra via the Siq, a narrow gorge, and after about 30-minutes of walking you end up with this in your sights:


That’s the peek-a-boo view of the Treasury.  After emerging from the Siq completely, here it is in all its glory:

We then went the High Place of Sacrifice route looping down into Wadi Farasa and back to the main street.  It’s a pretty healthy climb to the top, where the Nabateans performed religious ceremonies–likely including human sacrifices  Here’s a view down:

We bumped into a dozen or so tourists up here, but then only saw one other tourist on the rest of the loop.  There are no directional signs at Petra, so unless you have your own guide book (we were using the Rough Guide) you really don’t have a prayer of finding things off the main tourist track.

Plenty of Bedouins living down in Wadi Farasa with small gift tables, though.  You can see some of their goats hanging out here:

The below triclinium was one of our favorites.  Incredibly colorful and unique in that interiors were otherwise never carved.  There was crown molding on the ceiling and totally straight etchings around the windows.  Just amazing.


This is the view from the triclinium across to the Roman Soldier Tomb:

The Renaissance Tomb:

The Broken Pediment Tomb:

Five plus hours later we were back in the car and headed to our hotel to check-in.  We stayed at the Golden Tulip Kings Way Petra.  I got a pretty fantastic rate of $45 here thanks to an overly generous (and now expired) promotion from hotelclub.net.  It’s supposed to be one of the nicer hotels in Petra, but it’s definitely getting old and tired.  Though it absolutely served it’s purpose.  If you don’t have a car or aren’t on a tour bus, there’s no reason to stay here as it’s a few km away from the main gate to Petra.

We relaxed here for a bit before heading out at 7:30pm for dinner.  We went to Red Cave on the tourist road outside the entry gate, and it was surprisingly good food.  Finally got to eat some of the lamb we’ve seen running around everywhere.

Then we went to Petra by Night at 8:30pm.  Two days per week, they light candles all down the Siq and around the Treasury.  You are ushered to a mat and served hot tea during a short performance of Bedouin music.  It’s worth going to if you’re there, but it’s also super corny.  It’s 12 JOD per ticket and you can buy these tickets at the Petra Visitors Center–all the guide books seem to say you need to buy them from some specific tourist agencies, but that’s absolutely not the case.  Plus we purchased ours right before eating dinner that same night.

Here’s a long exposure of the Treasury at night:

Dana Nature Reserve

After much deliberation, we decided that Wadi Rum in southern Jordan was a bit too touristy for our nature tastes.  So instead we spent a day based at Rummana Campground in Dana Nature Reserve.  The tagline for the organization running this place is “Helping Nature. Helping People.”  No brainer for us.

It wasn’t particularly cheap, but it was acceptable given the social project you’re in turn supporting.  A night in a tent, dinner/breakfast, water, and a guided hike was 140 JOD.  This was all booked directly with them via email.  They were very prompt and helpful with their responses, too.

Upon arriving, we parked our car at the Visitor’s Center and then took this shuttle down the very, very steep road to the permanent campground.

Upon arrival at the camp, we threw our stuff down and then went with a guide on the 8km White Dome trail to the village of Dana.  It was about 3.5 hours in the blazing midday sun (morning would be the ideal time to do this).  A guide is required for this hike, but there are a few shorter hikes around the camp that can be done self-guided.  Great views of the Dana Valley and Wadi, though terrible photos as it was blazing hot and hazy. 

The hike ends at Dana Village where local women grow sage, thyme, nuts, pomegranates, apricots, etc. in a large garden.  It smells wonderful and gave us access to a pool of very chilly water running down from the mountain – incredibly refreshing after hours in the sun.  Their jams and dried herbs are available for sale at the Tourist Center and were used in our meals at the Camp.

Back at camp we unpacked a little and cleaned up.  The accommodations are really quite amazing considering the harsh location.  And all sparkling clean.

You can easily stand up in the middle of the tents, and the linens are fresh and wrapped in plastic for each new arrival.

Who doesn’t love open air bathrooms with trees in them?  The bathroom facilities were super impressive.

There’s a little man-made pool and bird shed behind the campground to hang out in.  Sadly, we don’t have good IDs on some of these, but we’ll look them up when back home.  However, these guys below are the Palestine Sunbird:

Again, a very great place to spend some time.  The staff was typically Jordanian (read: amazingly nice), the views fantastic, and very quiet (only two other people there the same night as us).

Here’s a candid of us:

Arriving in Jordan

(This post is pretty strictly logistics/boring)

Our Royal Jordanian flight attendants were pretty bored with us on MAD-AMM as we just weren’t very demanding passengers.  They were ever vigilant and constantly waiting to get us something to drink other than water.  Even though it’s a less than 5-hour flight, they treat it like a long haul–big leather reclining seats, multi-course meal service, and amenity kits.  Food was quite average, but they make up for it in every other regard.  Great airline for when you’re in this region.

Chicken Vegetable Soup Penne Pasta and Veggies Almond Tart and Coffee

Upon arrival, we swapped some USD for JOD (dinars) in order to buy the 10 JOD visas for entry.  There are no ATMs at this point in the airport and you must pay in dinars.  Not a fast process, but easy.  Our bags survived yet another transit and were already on the carousel after we crossed immigration.

Booked an automatic via hertzjordan.com, and a rep from Hertz was waiting with a sign.  Signed some paperwork, and we were off to Madaba for our first night.  First song we found on the radio was Kelis’ Milkshake.  Really weird.  Anyway, easy highway driving and we eventually arrived at Mariam Hotel (booked directly through their website) a bit after midnight.  For 40 JOD including a breakfast buffet, this is a perfectly fine little hotel.

We left the hotel around 9:00am, loaded up with dinars at an ATM in Madaba, and then began the 3-hour drive to Dana Nature Reserve…