lessons in Jordan – part one
Ah Jordan.. what a place! A small country bordered by some of the world’s most intense conflicts, and yet a land of peace and harmony. That is a basic summary of our overall impression of this fascinating place and so, I thought I would share some of our stories and experiences for those who are looking at perhaps venturing this way – especially anyone with kids. We head out one hot and cloudy Dubai afternoon… just lovely hubby, myself, the two little peeps and our lovely friend, Ms T. We have no idea what to expect and no concrete plans except for a list of the key places to visit and so here begineth the lessons in Jordan
- Lesson One – this place is certainly authentic
For those of you who follow this blog and have read my post on “authentic Dubai” you will know that I don’t like pretentiousness nor a lack of authenticity. Jordan is certainly somewhere that neither of these things is an issue. From the second we walked out of the airport, you could see that this was a country that has stayed close to its roots. Miss Sparky was a little confused initially by the lack of Ferrari’s and Maserati’s until we explained that a majority of people in the world don’t actually live like that. As we headed out following our lovely driver, there was one moment where we got a little nervous as we could see the hugely dodgy looking bomb of a car sitting waiting for us – were we really prepared for this level of authenticity? As if by magic, we turned the corner and there was our slightly better looking sedan, ready to whisk us away to the city centre. Our driver was another fabulous example of authenticity – he was born in Amman, lived there all his life and was happy to share with us his knowledge of the country and the people. He even apologised for the traffic! We were a little confused what he was referring to as the car was still moving (clearly he hasn’t spent much time in Dubai traffic) but we politely told him not to worry and to just do his best.
We arrived at our hotel (Heritage House) in the centre of Amman on the main restaurant strip of Rainbow Street to be greeted by the lovely host of our hotel and a gang of happy looking gentlemen who helped us park and locate the entrance. Lots of smiles and ‘welcome’s all around and Miss Sparky of course made them all melt with her decrees of ‘shukran’ at every opportunity. This the land of friendly, happy people who somehow manage to steer clear of the conflict that surrounds them on all borders. This is truly a fascinating feat when you think about it. Perhaps this extends to their everyday lives as well as we certainly at no point felt unwelcome or threatened, regardless of where we wandered. And any of the people we met were keen to explain or highlight their ‘live and let live’ philosophy which extends both culturally and religiously. Now, there was one small area that we felt could have done with a little less authenticity and that was in the smoking department. Pretty much EVERYONE smokes here…. in cafes, restaurants, cars, shops, hotel rooms, lobbies, wherever you can think of really! I think they even smoke in bed as each bed I emerged from on our journey produced the smell of stale smoke on my clothes and I’m almost certain I wasn’t sneaking out at night for clandestine cigarettes. Anyway, small issue in the scheme of things. So a great night was had exploring the old town and all the noise and frivolity of Rainbow Street. It’s also helpful to remember that when a sign says ‘Cafe’, it doesn’t mean place to sit and eat food as it does in Aus. A cafe here means a place to sit and smoke, talk and sip tea. Normally this would not be an issue for us except that we had a couple of hungry munchkins who were way overdue for dinner. Eventually we worked out the trick and came upon a place that actually said ‘restaurant’ where we could sit, eat a yummy Arabic meal and breathe in the shisha smoke with gusto!
2. Lesson Two – Petra’s unwritten rules
The second morning and we were up bright and early to enjoy our free breakfast (much to lovely hubby’s delight – “eat up people so we don’t need lunch” is the common refrain at such sittings…) and then we met our driver for the next couple of days as we head off to finally see the incredible Petra. The road to Petra is not too bad if going the Desert Hwy on the way there. The road on the way back is not so good even though it’s the same highway so just be aware that the time to drive can be longer than you expect. As we began to near Petra, our driver began to share some local knowledge that would be essential for the rest of the day.
The first thing he said was that the pram we had brought for the Little Chubs would not be suitable in Petra. Lovely Hubby and I looked at each other with immense alarm… my arms were already beginning to get sore at the thought of having to lug that big chunk of a dude around for a whole day and I feel an overwhealming sense of impending doom. My Petra exploration dreams are slowly slipping away. We must have looked beyond distraught as, while we were stopped for a bathroom break, our driver has rung ahead to some of the guides he knows in Petra to get their assessment on the pram situation and they have given the thumbs up – we might not be able to get all the way to the Monastery but we could do most of the main features without too much trouble. I was so relieved I could almost kiss this lovely Jordanian man but I elected instead to kiss my little chubs and hubby and relax in the knowledge that we have options. And for anyone who is interested, you can most definitely get a three-wheeler off-road pram through most of the main features of Petra. We did have to admit defeat in getting to the Monastery but given how beautiful and fascinating the rest of the place is,we didn’t feel that we were severely missing out on anything, so the trusty guides were right.
Some other important points to note on Petra (as advised by our driver, which we believe to be true):
- Beware the animals – People offering donkey, horse or camel rides from the front will take your around the mountains, not through the main sites of Petra. They will likely then dump you at another entrance some 15kms or so from the main entrance and you will have to find your way back. Possibly not worth the risk. If you must take a donkey, horse or camel ride during your visit, save it for the end of the day when you just can’t walk anymore, that way if they do dump you somewhere you won’t feel that you have missed seeing anything in Petra
- Guides not necessary – The signage in Petra is really good and you do not need a guide. Pick up a free map when you buy your ticket and you can make your way around everything you want to see and perhaps read up a bit before you go to get the background on what everything is. Many of the ‘guides’ who will offer to take you around will require payment up front of around 20-40JD and then they somehow mysteriously disappear after about 10mins of walking. As we were walking down to the Siq entrance, we heard a couple behind us saying “where has our guide gone? He’s disappeared” so I’m almost certain this was really good advice!
- Take food! – There are shops along the way within Petra that sell drinks, food, souvenirs and even have WIFI!! However, they are expensive and stock limited selections therefore you are wise to take your own food and water for the journey. And whilst there’s quite a bit of shade in the Siq and other areas, the majority of the time you will be walking in full sun and on rocky ground so plenty of water, a good broad brim hat and sturdy shoes are essential! I saw a lady walking down as we were leaving in heels and I was quite fascinated how that was going to work but alas, no time to observe the train wreck waiting to happen!
- Don’t pull out your wallet in front of Gypsy’s! – We stopped in front of the most incredible part of Petra, the Treasury, for a breather. After hours of constantly being hassled to buy bracelets, necklaces, donkey rides, horse rides, camel rides, even rocks, lovely hubby finally gave in and started negotiating with a young guy over a bracelet. The line was “three for one” which hubby took to be three bracelets for 1JD. So, feeling sorry for the guy, he pulls out his wallet and it is like the floodgates have opened! All of a sudden, the price soars to 20JD for one bracelet! “I meant it was three for the price of one” the young man exclaims as he keeps shoving more bracelets in hubby’s face. And then another guy comes over with some necklaces, then another with jewels. Poor hubby was being accosted even worse than before. It was like they were a pack of wolves that had smelt the blood of the wounded animal. We were able to eventually extract him from the throng but it was a valuable lesson in negotiation etiquette in Petra!
All of that aside, this place is truly one of the wonders of the world. There is a magical feel about the structures and the rock and the colours and textures of everything is just amazing! Nothing can quite prepare you for that first site of the Treasury as you emerge from the passage of the Siq and it is truly just a breathtaking scene – you can almost hear the hooves of the Roman horses thundering down the passage – oh, hang on a minute.. that would be the thundering of the gypsy horses pulling along the dodgy little chariots that can take you from the entrance to the Treasury and back. But it does add a certain level of daydream quality to the experience.
The kids were even enraptured – well, ok, that might be overstating a little bit, especially given that Little Chubs somehow managed to sleep his way through the Treasury and the Street of Facades, even though his little lead was lolling around and being banged all over the pram as we attempted to negotiate all the rocky patches. Miss Sparky could have possibly been more enraptured by the mysterious gypsy boys who kept inviting her to go for a ride on their horses – I think she was slightly swooning at the Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean lookalikes that constantly popped up as we were exploring and perhaps I was misinterpreting all the faraway stares and coy smiles? But seriously, Miss Sparky is in year 4 and has been studying ancient history so she recognised some of the ruins we were looking at. This was super exciting as she could finally connect to something she has done at school and as we all know, this can sometimes be a challenge. This is probably another tip – for older kids, make sure you do a bit of research before you go and read some stories about ancient times as it gives them an anchor to something recognisable. Otherwise, you run the risk of them getting bored looking at a pile of rocks!
Magical, amazing, once in a lifetime! Probably all clichés but definitely all true. If you find yourself anywhere near Jordan, do not miss Petra is my number one piece of advice.
Tune into the next installment – our glamping adventures and the Dead Sea – can’t wait to share it and please do remember to leave comments if you have other experiences to share! I love reading stories and adventures as well as writing and living them!
Have a great weekend!