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Jordan

Bedu in Petra

Jerash

March 12, 2010
Old Roman City of Jerash

The bus ride into Amman from the airport was a preview of the city that consists of rolling hills rising out of the plains covered with everything from mansions and sheep, often times on the same hill. The hills rose until we reached the city, climbing to the top of each hill provided views of the city sprawled over the surrounding hills, making the city appear seemingly endless.

After checking into my hotel and buying a bus ticket to Petra, I went to the bus station to go north to Jerash, an old Roman ruins. The bus trip was just over an hour and once we had arrived, I saw the Roman ruins to my left so asked to be let off. With the help of a tourist police officer, I was directed to the ticket counter, but got distracted along the way by the hippodrome, used for chariot races. This was open to the public free of charge so I meandered around, then under the intricate arch to the ticket office. I paid the foreign price and went on my way, back through the gate and past the hippodrome into the city of Jerash.

Jerash is very impressive and one of the best preserved Roman ruins I've seen. That said, it's very similar to ruins like Ephesus in Turkey and only slight differences, like Jerash's rounded forum, make one exceptionally unique from the next. For a Roman historian the difference in these details is probably striking, but for an untrained eye like mine, each ancient city appears similar to the next.

After visiting, outside the city walls, I was told by multiple people that there are no more buses to Amman today so had to take a taxi; unfortunately my sources were all taxi drivers offering a ridiculous price so I made my way to the tourist police stand on the corner and asked where to get a bus. He also said that there are no more buses running today, but that long-distance buses from the west pass through and I could get on one of those.

This police officer, who was probably no older than 20, was happy to talk to me and insisted I take a bus instead of hitching or taking a taxi because buses are cheaper. His English was poor, but he liked to show off his poor dental hygiene in smiles and continuously said "welcome friend!" After a few minutes a bus came by and he waived it down for me; I said goodbye, he said "welcome" and I left.

Amman

March 12, 2010
An Introduction to Jordan

Once back in Amman, I met with a friend of a friend, Dr. Zaid, who I later found out was out of town with his family, but left them to play host to me. He was extremely friendly and assured me that leaving his family for the night was not a big deal.

Dr. Zaid showed me Amman, his home and it seems, left no detail or street unshown. We started in east Amman, which is the old city and primarily Palestinian. He seemed less interested in this part of the city, but as a good host showed me none-the-less.

We next drove downtown to see the citadel and Roman theater in the middle of the city, then continued in this direction to west Amman. We ate at Cairo Circle in west Amman, and although it was about 9:00pm, the area was packed and our restaurant, apparently the greatest schwarma restaurant in the country, was full.

We each ordered a schwarma, then went outside to eat on the patio area. The schwarma was nothing more than seasoned meat wrapped in a tortilla-like bread and pressed like a Panini served with a salad. The meat was good and the salad an odd combination of tomatoes, cabbage, olives, and cucumbers. It was also served with French fries and a yogurt-based dill-flavored dip.

The atmosphere on this circle was exciting as everyone was out. Young people passed in every direction, yet it seemed we were at the destination, not just on the path. Most of these people were young and dressed much like Americans, primarily in jeans with shirts of all colors and styles, yet the women all had their heads covered. Unlike the locals in Dubai, the people here seemed to dress more casually and much less traditionally.

As we ate, Dr. Zaid told me about the nightlife's changing landscape. Most people still only go out to smoke a hookah, dance, or drink tea/coffee, however alcohol has been introduced into this society and is becoming more and more prevalent. I got the impression he views alcohol as a bad thing on society and feels it distorts reality and impairs judgment, none of which I can argue with.

Once we finished eating and just watching what appears to be the pulse of the city, we continued on; I was hoping to bed, but my tour had not yet finished. West Amman is littered with new, expensive houses and cars. Our drive then continued on to see the King's Palace from a distance, symbolized by the huge flag of Jordan flying over the top.

Our final stop was down another street Dr. Zaid said is the heart of the city, a street full of coffee shops and dance clubs, whose foot and car traffic were overbearing. We watched the people pass for a few minutes before turning off and noticing the ghost town just a block away. The only reason the cars wouldn't be driving on these deserted roads was if they wanted to be seen, like a cruise night outside the local ice cream shop in a small Wisconsin town.

It was about 10-10:30pm when I returned to my hotel and I went straight to the bathroom to quell my digestive issues, then straight to bed to catch my early bus to Petra.

Petra

March 13, 2010
The Tourists & Touts

I had a 6:30am bus to Petra, so walked out of my hotel and started looking for a taxi on the city's empty streets. My driver didn't speak much English, but got me to where I was going and shockingly ran his taxi meter, which said the trip only costs 1.30; a welcomed action of honesty.

The trip to Petra was long and the scenery changed from the rolling hills of the city to a barren and seemingly endless desert. We made one stop on the way, which gave us all an opportunity to stretch our legs, eat something, and stop at the bathroom.

Once at Petra, I had to make my way to my hotel in Wadi Musa, the small village that has been the recipient of the tourist explosion that Petra has created. I didn't stay here long; just long enough to drop off my stuff, buy some groceries down the street, then got the free shuttle to Petra that my hotel provides.

Petra was 26 dinars, now its 38 dinars, and in December it will be something like 50 dinars; I suppose the government is taking advantage of their "new" world wonder. After buying tickets, there are no signs to the entrance, which I found extremely odd until I realized everyone here is with a tour group except me and maybe a couple other people so their tour guides direct them where to go.

Once I eventually found the entrance and went in, I was offered a horse to take me to the start of the siq or the pathway into the city itself. I refused the horse, but with some convincing changed my mind. The entrance ticket is 26, but you must buy a "service ticket" which is an additional 12 dinars, making the total 38. This service ticket includes a tour, horse ride to the siq, and is used to help maintain the city of Petra. When I say city, I mean city, Petra stretches for over five miles.

The person leading my horse immediately asked where I was from and said that Americans are his favorite people in the world. Not long after this, I was being taken off course into the hills, which I asked not to do. He kept saying its better this way and I had to see these incredible ruins; since he was leading my horse I had no choice. The ruins there were not spectacular and I asked to return to the marked path multiple times, but he refused.

Once we had seen the sights he wanted to show me he agreed to take me back to the path. On this final stretch on the path to the entrance to the siq he asked me a series of questions, which only reassured my belief that this trip was a scam, yet a scam I was stuck in. First he asked if I was married and once I said no, he asked how much money I make a day in America, because Americans are very rich he told me. He then started talking about his wife and three young children and how he must support them; it was just a matter of time before the punch line.

As we approached the siq he continued on that he only like Americans, Brits, and Germans; all I could think was that they were the biggest tippers. He then said "what you pay me for trip, some pay 60, some pay 40 dinars, what you pay?" 60 dinars, I thought, that's nearly a $90 tip for a ten minute horse ride! Oh, this wasn't going to end well for this poor man. I was ready to tip him a couple dinars when he got extremely aggressive and began yelling at me, so much so his tip fell to 0. The irony of the situation was that if he just took me to the start of the siq instead of trying to scam me he would have gotten a tip.

Once out of the scam and into the siq I found Petra much more pleasant. The area is huge and there are more people following numbered signs here than I've ever seen before; and not just the Japanese, in fact mostly Brits and German.

The Treasury is the highlight of the city, but I quickly moved on to see the other tombs of the kings and the rest of the city, as I would pass by the Treasury again on the way back and it was fairly crowded. As I continued to walk, the souvenir prices fell and the number of people offering horses or camel's back to the entrance increased. I decided to go to the very end of the city, the Monastery, which is a façade carved into a rock wall much like the Treasury and the tombs of the kings. I found this more impressive than any other place here, perhaps because it wasn't surrounded by speakers and numbered signs as it took a great deal of time and endurance to reach.

Near the Monastery there is a lookout into the mountains and down to the Monastery in the opposite direction. The views were great, but as I was here the winds picked up and sand was thrown all over. I eventually had to stop and wait out the storm as sand filled my eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. After about ten minutes the storm died down and my eyes drained out so I continued back across the city.

After taking my time back to Petra's entrance, I exited and asked the tourist police to call my hotel, since my hotel includes drop off and pick up from Petra. The tourist police here were very different from those in Jerash and they refused to call, which I was alright with since it was their personal phone. What struck me was when I asked how much it should cost a taxi to Wadi Musa and they said 5 dinars. I was only asking to double check what my hotel told me: 2 dinars at most. Well, welcome to Petra, the tourist capital of Jordan. I soon got a taxi for 2 dinars back to my hotel.

As I ate at a schwarma place near my hotel I became more and more disappointed by the people here. Or I should say more and more disappointed by their actions. In fact, there is nothing wrong with the people here, but there is something wrong with the way they have responded to money. This city is consumed with greed and their quest for money has made lying, cheating, and manipulating morally acceptable to accommodate their quest. These people have lived side by side with Petra for centuries, neither hugely affecting the other. Now, as tourists, or "people with money" began arriving, visitors were no longer viewed as "visitors" or even "humans" but as walking banks. These people seem to assume every person is rich or at least every American, Brit, and German is rich and that they somehow deserve that money. And I, as a victim of their attitude, began to view them as a pestering annoyance rather than as "humans."

Perhaps the foreigners and tourists are to blame for invading their town, perhaps the local's to blame for succumbing to greed, perhaps monetary inequality is to blame, the invention of money itself is to blame, or perhaps only those who reward manipulation are to blame.

What the rest of Jordan doesn't realize is that they are falling victim to Petra. For many visitors, Jordan and Petra are synonymous, for others they only see Petra, perhaps on a cruise trip excursion, so know nothing else of the country. For those people, Jordanians may be viewed as greedy, selfish, manipulative, insincere, and parasites. Here in Wadi Musa I don't trust anyone and question their motives, even if they are pure. For the rest of Jordan, I have yet to find a reason to question anyone as their kindness and hospitality goes beyond what any guest would expect.

Petra is stunning, but the people's greed overcame this today. Every guidebook in the world recommends Petra, but I can't, not when you can experience the culture and people in Amman. More visitors to Petra will only encourage the destruction of these people. If you go, don't reward greed and manipulation; succumbing to the guilt and giving a tip to an unworthy recipient sentences these people to death.

March 14, 2010
A World Wonder to Myself

Last night I was up constantly, at 1:30, 4:30, and 5:00 for call to prayers. After that last call I just stayed up and was out the door to Petra by 5:45 to beat the crowds. By 7:00 I was at the Treasury and had it to myself for 20-30 minutes. This building is the most impressive building in Petra and is the scene from "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," my most frequent movie reference and a great movie if you haven't seen it. The entire façade is carved from one piece of rock and is called the Treasury because there were rumors that the large ball on the top contained a Pharaoh's gold. If you look closely you'll see the entire top is riddled with bullet holes put there by people trying to break the chest open so the gold will pour out. Suffice to say, there was no gold and the result of their efforts is the partial destruction of a world wonder. However, this is now a part of the history and legend behind Petra, which makes it unique.

I sat in awe here by myself, just staring at the Treasury for about 30 minutes until I finally got up and decided to head back. By 7:45-8:00 the tour groups were already arriving and the siq's volume was rising.

I took a cab back to my hotel, checked out and got on a bus for Amman. On the bus I met a South African named Ernst and a German named Corinna. Both were very nice, but I was exhausted and my conversation was minimal at best. We were all entertained by a young girl named Alia who didn't speak any English, but offered each of us gum and drew pictures for us.

Amman

March 14, 2010
Ancient Philadelphia

As we were approaching Amman from Petra, Corrina called a friend of her's that she had met earlier to pick her up. He was a boxing instructor who lived in Baton Rouge, Louisiana U.S.A. for a few years. He was kind enough to pick all three of us up and bring us to our hotels, but first had to pick up his son from school so we swung by an elementary school, dropped off his son at a babysitter's house, then got stuck in traffic. Eventually he found out we were going in the wrong direction so dropped me and Ernst off at a shared taxi stand to get to our hotel. We eventually haggled a respectable price and shared the taxi with two women completely covered and dressed in black. We got dropped off at our hotel one hour after reaching the bus station. The receptionist at our hotel started laughing and said the bus station is only 10 minutes away with traffic; well at least we have no plans today.

Ernst and I decided to see Amman, starting with the Tourist Information booth. They told us that there is a theater and a citadel, plus gave us some ideas for excursions out of the city. That confirmed what we believed: there's little to see in Amman, but the people here are kind and outgoing.

We started at the nearby Roman theater. Amman was the Roman city of Philadelphia and little remains of that period other than the theater, which is situation in the middle of the thriving city, seemingly out of place. We entered the 6,000 seat theater to look out at the opposite valley wall, now covered with modern buildings.

After leaving the theater we stopped at a couple tourist shops. Ernst bought a bottle with sand in it after the person there showed us how to make sand bottles and was kind enough to put Ernst's name in the bottle. We then stopped next door at another shop, at which Ernst bought a Jordanian keffiyeh (head scarf). The woman running this shop was born in Jerusalem and has since moved to Amman due to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. She was very open and willing to discuss the political situation and said she only got Jordanian citizenship so she could freely travel around the Middle East, but many Palestinians refuse to get citizenship in protest. This woman however also holds a permanent resident card for Israel so can go back whenever she wants.

On our way back to our hotel we stopped for some roasted nuts at a street vendor and for falafel. I had a falafel sandwich for 300 fils or about $0.50. It consisted of falafel balls, fried potatoes, fried cauliflower, fried eggplant, tomatoes, and some strange sauce, all served on a thick white bread. It was good, much better than $0.50 good, probably about $0.80 or $0.90 good! I ate nuts most of the night since the sandwich was rather small.

After paying I began to dwell on the number system here; we use "Arabic numbers" in English, but the numbers here are different. I learned that the numbers here are the original Arabic numbers and the west has since altered them, so some are nearly identical or at least very similar, while others are quite different.

Western Jordan

March 15, 2010
Madaba, Mt. Nebo, Bethany-Beyond-Jordan & the Dead Sea

Ernst and I organized a trip with two people from another hotel to see the Dead Sea and other spots of interest today. When we got in the car we met an Italian and a Swede, both living in London. They seemed nice enough, however I was in the front seat of our cab and had problems twisting to join in on the conversation.

Our first stop was Madaba, known as the city of mosaics. We saw a small church with a floor mosaic that mapped the entire area including the Dead Sea, Mt. Nebo, and Bethany-Beyond-Jordan, our next few stops.

The rest of Madaba was ordinary until we stopped in a shop and started talking to the shop owner. The owner said he worked as a banker with the British in Kuwait for years before returning to Jordan to retire. He had so much money when he retired he built a six bedroom, six bathroom house and only opened his tourist shop to occupy his time and meet people. At first I thought that sounded like a good sales pitch, but he never even asked me if I wanted to buy anything, yet offered me tea and talked to us for about 20-30 minutes. In fact, as we left he didn't say goodbye, thanks for stopping, or are you sure you don't want anything; he said "thanks for your time, welcome to Jordan."

After Madaba, our next stop was at Mt. Nebo, the legendary mountain from which Moses proclaimed they had reached the "Promised Land" from their exile in Egypt. The small display there had the quotation from Deuteronomy displayed and after Moses had led his people to the "Promised Land," his mission was finished and he died here on the mountain.

The mountain, other than the history is less than spectacular, however the views to the west were very intriguing. What seemed like it was just below us was the city of Jericho and further into the hazy distance was Jerusalem. I would like to have claimed I could see Jerusalem, but the air was so hazy you couldn't make out a mountain, hill, or city a few kilometers beyond Jericho.

Mt. Nebo allowed us to relax and enjoy the breeze, which cut the scorching heat. As we looked out, our Italian friend questioned why Moses's people made such a trek for this land, which looked barren and deserted. He wanted to know why the Bible didn't include the quote that read "This is the Promised Land? It's a bit crap isn't it? And for all that effort."

We then sunk into the depths of heat as breathing became difficult due to the air's consistency and the dehydration, which felt like it was leaving our bodies before we could even get any water in us. Our next stop was Bethany-Beyond-Jordan, or Jesus's baptismal sight.

The area near the Jordan River is well militarized due to the Israeli-Jordanian tensions. We were escorted to the sight and saw the very location Jesus was baptized. This may seem unbelievable to find the exact sight, but multiple archeology teams came to the same conclusion and the sight has been home to 5 churches, built from foreign marble despite the fact that it's on a flood plain. Why would anyone build the most expensive church in this part of the world multiple times if they knew a flood would come and destroy it? Because of its significance.

Jordan means "slope" due to the huge drop in elevation the River Jordan falls. We got to put our hands in the river and were just feet away was Israel, where there was a baptism taking place. If I jumped I would have been in Israel, but didn't want to be shot by border guards, so just got back on the tour bus and continued on our journey.

Our final stop for the day was at the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth (above water) and so salty just about anything will float. The entrance fee was 15 dinars, a foreign tourist special, but I heard from multiple sources that private beaches are safer because the public beaches are dirty, polluted, have huge drop-offs, and have sharp rocks, so we paid out 15 dinars; even most of the locals prefer these private beaches.

I immediately went in the water and as I "sat" down I almost just stayed there. The water is so dense it feels like you're literally sitting in the water. When I leaned back to do a back float the entire front side of my body was out of the water. I soon got out as the others got as we each watched everyone else's passports, wallets, etc.

Over the next hour I went in and out only to be covered by a salty slime, relax, and avoid getting the water in my eyes and mouth. I failed in the last regard and the water burned my eye for a good 20 minutes and the taste didn't leave all day, so if you make it here, be careful.

Once back in Amman, the four of us, who got along rather well, decided to spend a little more time together so headed out to dinner. The menu was only in Arabic, so we all just ordered what the waiter recommended, which was a slight bread shell stuffed with saffron rice, vegetables, pine nuts, almonds, and lamb. It was very good and after the long day I needed to get some food in me. After dinner we all said goodbye and went our separate ways.

Continue the above trip to: Egypt

Learn more about Jordan Return to Justin's Travel Blog