Welcome! Welcome! – It would be fair to say that the ‘favourite’, if not the most used English word in Jordan is ‘Welcome’. Whether it is the cab driver, shop keeper, check-out man or stranger on the street, from the moment you hand your passport to customs for your visa stamp, you are greeted with the hallowed ‘Welcome!’
Arriving in Amman was a real treat for me, not only because within 25 minutes of landing I was standing outside the arrivals gate ready to catch my coach into the city centre, but within 30 seconds of landing in this country I had already witnessed Jordanian hospitality and an ambush of ‘welcomes’!
Part of my self-set challenges this year was to do more travelling within the Middle East. Fortunately for me, my sister recently moved to Amman to study at University and thus, I had the perfect excuse to jump ship, so to speak, and head north.
Rattling along the airport road into the city centre, it was very apparent that I had left dreamland Dubai far behind me. It was an educational experience where I quickly learnt that a) said number of seats on a bus are only a suggestion for the number of recommended passengers on it and b) all driving in Jordan is terrifying. There is nothing you can do about this except embrace the crazy driving, lack of road signs, non existent lanes and any sense of ‘normal’ driving etiquette. Drivers, generally speaking, do not know locations unless they have a clear and well known landmark, such as a roundabout or ‘circle’. It was only a few years ago that it was decided, by the powers that be, to put numbers on the buildings. I was on my way to 7 circle, which just to be clear, was the 7th roundabout built in Amman.
With so little time to spend in Jordan, I was up early on my first day ready for the 5.30am, four hour bus journey to Petra. It was a reasonably comfortable ride and I was looking forward to my first glimpse of the dusty blue sky over the desert as we journeyed up to the ethereal pink sand of the Rose City.
Arriving at Petra, I was pleased to see that the town had not been completely taken over by garish tourist attractions, accommodating the celebrity of Indiana Jones. In fact, the town was quite pleasant and had I longer than four days in the country, I would have thought about staying the night there and exploring further. Arriving at the visitors centre, I was hustled through the student entrance before taking the pathway that led through the caverns down to the treasury. For those who have had a rather less tiring journey, there was the option to ride a donkey and carriage but feeling lethargic with an overwhelming sense to stretch my legs, we ambled down taking our time as we took in every strata of the fabulous rock formation.
The first thing you notice about this momentous site is the colour, the striking blue sky against the pinks, oranges and browns of the rock is formidable, as is the size. The walk down to the treasury is a good fifteen minutes and the whole time you wind round corners, holding your breath waiting to see if the next one is the famous glimpse of the treasury. In truth, the reality is even more awesome, totally worth the anticipation.
Returning to the notion of Jordanian hospitality, whilst on our climb up past the monastery, we came across some rather overly friendly ‘bedouins.’ The most adequate description that comes to mind when thinking about these guys is ‘pirate bedouins’ although the term ‘bedouin’ here is used loosely, perhaps by origin but I am not sure it quite asserts tradition to be talking about Facebook and listening to Bob Marley on their mobile phones, whilst riding a donkey up the back of the treasury. On the other hand, the fact that they invited us to come and have some beers in their caves is complete proof. In the end, we did settle for some Jordanian tea, made with sage and boiled with sugar after the first 1000 steps or so. I think this may be the first time I have been proposed too.
The next morning, following a long day out in the sun, hiking up and down the mountainside, we decided to make a perfectly timed trip to the Dead Sea. The surreal experience of floating in the water (keep your mouth shut) and rolling on the surface of the sea was only made better by singing along to Flanders & Swann ‘the Hippopotamus song,’ as we coated ourselves in the famous mud.
Not going to lie, it really works wonders on the skin.
It’s not all frolicking in the sea and hiking up heritage sites though, Amman has a serious nightlife and if you’re looking for a good time, check out some of the cooler bars that play 80’s retro music and make lethal cocktails. Perfect for visiting students from UK universities.
Down town Amman. When I think of Middle Eastern food, I admit I do get a little light headed thinking about the quality of Hummus that we are spoiled with. None of that grainy shit that you find in the UK, nice and smooth is how it was intended to be consumed. On my third day, we headed into the oldest part of the city where the lively stalls and markets, and ever so occasionally riots, are. It was a swamp of clothes, food, electronics, live caged poultry, stalls selling toys and gadgets and whats-its and everything you can think of. The main objective is to get a good price and avoid, as much as possible, the wandering hands. We stopped off for lunch for some street food at Hashems, a local favourite, where we ate a feast of hummus, falafel and Arabic salad which amounted to 2JD each (about 80p). Absolutely perfect.
Next we headed up to the top deck of Pasha, where we had an ice tea and spent a few minutes checking out the view of the city. Down town is built in a valley so the roof top bar offered a great sense of perspective as well as a nice view in a multi-coloured, plastic chaired setting. Following this, we ventured up a few back alleys, clearly having taken some locals directions for the most ‘ direct’ route up to the Citadel. The site was interesting, although I think I would have preferred to have stayed a little longer for sundowners overlooking the amphitheatre in the spot we had just come from. None the less, it was nice to explore the city by foot, and certainly it was safer.
On my last day, my sister treated me to the Turkish baths. Now I don’t want to spoil the surprise for you, especially if you have never had a traditional turkish bath but this is not for the feint of heart. Trying to embrace the cultural normalcy of being handled, scrubbed, soaped, ‘massaged’ in an open room of nude women, walking around starkers in 3 inches of used water – I did however come out the other side feeling very good. Guess you have to do it once.
As I came to the end of my journey, I was sad to say goodbye to Jordan, although don’t think for a minute that the bus driver forgot to greet me with a ‘welcome’ as I stepped off the bus at the airport. Four days is clearly not enough time to do half of what I wanted to do, Wadi Rum is on my agenda for the next trip. One thing is guaranteed though, the place has character and you are infinitely reminded of their welcoming hospitality.