"What is there to do in Jordan? It's Muslim you know. It is next to Syria isn't it? Are you allowed to go?" A lot to do. Yes I know. Yes and Yes. Jordan is one of the world's secrets. Are you ready to hear it?
1. Modern vs. Old. Old Town of Amman, Jordan looks perhaps like similar to what we envision an old middle eastern city to look like…small markets, men speaking to each other outside of their shops, women with chadors running errands, signs in Arabic, large mosques with moving prayer calls, quiet and quaint. Then we go to the new part of Amman, Jordan. My first reaction was “It looks like downtown Chicago." The buildings (both commercial and residential) resemble a lot of what we see in modern cities. There is a lot of investment happening in Amman and it all builds to a beautiful country that is moving beyond the verge of greatness. The modern Amman has restaurants with alcohol, food that you may see on any pub menu, luxury malls and squares, fancy Italian cars and secular attitudes.
2. Food. Right. Back to Food. Jordanian food is delicious. Basically, there are traditional restaurants and there are ones that serve more international food. We opted more for the traditional route. Karam had lovely Lebanese food - the fatoush salad was delicious. Jabran also has delicious traditional middle eastern like the Taouk Shish (chicken). Both are beautifully set and have reasonable prices. The W Hotel Amman has a sumptuous breakfast where we devoured all things middle eastern like Foul (fava beans), Shakshuka (breakfast egg dish) and Mankeesh (a soft bread with cheese and z’atar). There really was every opportunity to eat and it was taken.
3. Petra. I have been itching to see Petra since I laid my eyes on it in a National Geographic magazine. It is gargantuan, old and has a story to tell. Petra is an alluring sight. It is a two hour drive from Amman to this archaeological site that is a wonder of the world. It dates back to 300 B.C. and it was the capital of the Nabatean Kingdom. You can access most of it through narrow canyons which are so vast and beautiful you are already transported. There are large temples and sandstone cliffs which appear “rose colored" at sunset. And the crème de la crème is “The Treasury”, a large temple built into the sandstone standing at over 100 ft tall. It is a sight to behold. We took a tour with a local guide who had grown up in Petra and this site was his playground. It was lovely to receive a story from him directly. The locals could not have been any more welcoming. There are options for horse rides and camel rides. I would suggest walking as much as you can. It is purely divine. A full day tour is recommended if you want to see how magical it is at sunset but a half day tour is perfectly doable.
4. Wadi Rum. At sunset in Wadi Rum, I sat on top of a large cliff and looked out. There was a faint sound of the wind howling through the sand but other than that it was quiet. Aside from the sun, the desert and me it did not feel like there was anything else there. I felt immense gratitude in that moment. I thought of all the people that walked through that desert, that camped there, the wanderers of centuries that saw this same sunset over and over. Wadi Rum is a sandstone and granite desert valley in southern Jordan. It is now known as an “archaeological park” similar to Grand Canyon but the Bedouins still live there as they have for hundreds of years. There are cows, goats, camels and beautiful rocks and stones that carry on through the land. We did a camel ride for an hour to take in the sights. Afterwards, our lovely local Bedouin guide drove us around in a jeep tour. We climbed enormous rocks, ran down the sand dunes in our barefeet, took countless pictures and ended the evening with a family style Bedouin tent "zarb" dinner cooked to perfection by a Bedouin chef. I recommend one full day for Wadi Rum or an overnight stay at one of the tented camps. The stars visit you at night.
5. People. Remember I mentioned Jordan is on the verge of something great? That is solely because of the people. In all my travels, Jordanian hospitality has surpassed my expectations. Starting with the friendly people of W Hotel Amman, of the restaurants, of Petra, of Wadi Rum, of Al Hamawi Roastery, our sweet driver, the taxi drivers and a bevy of others...we were spoiled with kindness, friendship and a pure gratitude for visiting their country. I remember telling so many people I met how much I loved Jordan and would tell others to visit and they lovingly replied with "You are most welcome." Their big hearts will take this country into a future where they can demonstrate it is possible to be stable in the Middle East, it is possible to be secular, peaceful and to progress in whatever way is truly best for its people. The people of Jordan are rich - in love, beautiful natural landscapes, history, warm hearts and do not get me started on those falafels!