Jordan – much more than Petra (part 2)

Aqaba - City beach walking distance from hotel
Aqaba – City beach walking distance from hotel

This is part 2 of 2 – last time we heard from the Bergs, they were in Petra. This, the second part of their story, describes the journey to Wadi Rum, Aqaba and the Red Sea, Wadi Ghuweir, the Dead Sea and back to Madaba.

Chapter Four –
Wadi Rum: Bedouins and Camels

About five minutes before our designated departure time from Petra, we learned that our now-familiar driver, Fawaz, was unable to take us to Wadi Rum. But Ali, the manager for Jordan Beauty Tours had already arranged for an English-speaking replacement driver, who was duly instructed about our program.

We were amazed how quickly and seamlessly Ali was able to deal with the adversity and adjust our transfer.

On arrival in Wadi Rum, Salameh, the manager of Caravan Desert Camp, met us at the entrance and placed us in a three person tent (thus providing extra space for storing our backpacks).

Once stowed away, lunch was served. Fantastic meals were prepared by our chef who had recently retired from a five star Aqaba hotel to enjoy the more relaxed pace of a desert camp. The three daily meals were varied and scrumptious. As a result meal times were a highly anticipated event.

In the late afternoon we climbed into the back of an older Toyota 4×4 for our desert tour. A young Bedouin driver dressed in traditional gowns drove us to sand dunes where we were joined by truckloads of tourists from other camps.

Of course the dunes presented a challenge to reach the top. It was two steps forward and one step back plus a pause or two before we reached the sand dunes’ summit. The spectacular view of the vast desert stretching before our eyes made the onerous climb all worthwhile.

After descending the dunes we drove to view petroglyphs depicting camel caravans, warriors and animals inscribed on the rock faces by the Thamudies and Nabataean many centuries ago.

A visit to Lawrence of Arabia’s house was more of a tea stop in a large Bedouin tent to relax and enjoy tea traditionally brewed over an open fire.

Driving around the maze of monolithic hills, one could easily imagine that Lawrence might come galloping around the next corner on his camel, dressed in flowing robes, with a rifle in hand. Sadly, that didn’t happen, but the day ended with us watching a brilliant sunset instead.

Since the sunset was such a delight, we wanted to watch a desert sunrise the following morning. So, we arose in the dark and met our camel driver outside the camp entrance.

Once seated on the ungainly animals, we bounced around until they stood and then off we went at a fast walk. The sun was an awesome sphere as a fiery ball slowly rose to blank out the shadows and fill the morning sky. The next morning we bid the fabulous Caravan Desert Camp staff a heartfelt farewell – the Red Sea beckoned.

Chapter Five –
Aqaba and the Red Sea: Sun Tanning to Snorkelling

Our morning’s drive covered the last segment of the King’s Highway. The centuries-old highway flows from Madaba through the central part of Jordan ending in Aqaba. Even today the highway – as evidenced by the many tractor trailer trucks on their way inland – provides the main access to the interior.

Our time in Aqaba was intended as a break from our busy schedule so we could relax and enjoy the beach scene. We did not spend much time visiting Aqaba’s historical sites, nor did we find them interesting.

Instead, a stroll along a tree-shaded street found us at the nearby beach renting a glass bottom boat so we could see the brilliantly-coloured fish swimming amongst the picturesque coral – without even getting our feet wet. The only unsettling observation was seeing discarded cans and food containers resting on the sea’s floor. Will we ever learn to protect our fragile environment?

The following morning a shuttle bus transported us to Berenice Private Beach Resort. At the ticket booth we discovered that all personal snacks and water were to be collected and returned to us when we left. Needless to say we had no other option but to purchase food and water from the resort – which was expensive!

However, sun umbrellas and loungers were plentiful and we soon put on rented snorkels and fins to delight in swimming amongst the colourful corals and tropical fish. It soon became clear why the Red Sea is considered a world-class diving and snorkelling centre.

After our day at the beach, the evening plan was to dine downtown. We selected the popular Ali Baba Restaurant with its large outdoor seating and oodles of ambience. The delicious sayadieh, a fish and rice dish cooked with caramelized onions, was a recommended local favourite (and an excellent choice) followed by kunafa, the dessert that was now an addiction.

Bedouin Family Tent
Bedouin Family Tent

Chapter 6 –
Wadi Ghuweir: Bedouin Family Stay

The next morning, we were thrilled to see our familiar driver, Fawaz, walk into the hotel’s lobby. Once we said our warm welcomes he drove around the corner and stopped at a local restaurant to order coffee and our favourite dessert, kunafa, all around.

Then, after hearing that I’d developed a bit of a cough, Fawaz immediately took off, with me in tow, to the nearest pharmacy to purchase a cough suppressant.

Thanks to Fawaz, these are just two examples of the many reasons our Jordanian trip was special. Many of our past experiences with tour guides and drivers had consisted of visiting the designated spots without deviation except for a photo opportunity when asked. But not Fawaz! Dessert and coffee was his treat – and not the first time he had surprised us with a local delicacy. No wonder we enjoyed this guy.

After enjoying our treat, the day’s destination was to visit Wadi Ghuweir to explore an ancient copper mine and a Roman settlement, finally stopping to spend the night with a Bedouin family.

Upon reaching the visitor’s center we transferred to a battered-looking Toyota 4×4. Doreen and I squeezed into the cab and Fawaz stood in the truck box. We endured a rough bumpy ride – which explained the truck’s wounds.

We spotted directional signs to Feynan Eco-lodge posted along the roadside, promising a great end to the day. As we topped the ridge we saw that a Bedouin tent was established in

Dinner in a Bedouin Tent
Dinner in a Bedouin Tent

the hollow.

As the truck had stopped, I grabbed the camera for shots of a typical Bedouin camp. Little did I know I would get some great close-up photos later on!

Upon my return to the 4×4, I was informed to grab my backpack – as this was to be our home for the night. Not the eco-lodge I was anticipating!

After meeting the family and surveying the tent and surroundings, I must admit I was in a state of shock but was confident that when we returned from the traditional activity of watering the goats at a nearby oasis, the night’s lodgings could be altered.

I was expecting a green, lush oasis for the goats and was again surprised: the watering spot was fed from a half dozen small holes in a three inch black plastic pipe. The water was permitted to leak forming small water puddles and a sparse growth of vegetation. This was the oasis!

When we returned from watering the goats, Fawaz was waiting to take us into Wadi Ghuweir (a scenic canyon) where we walked the creek bed to the water source for the valley’s vegetable farms.

Since his English and knowledge of the archaeological sites was limited we were not sure which of the many sites we visited.

Despite this, it was fun and interesting to poke about the many remnants of metates and manos (similar to a mortar and pestle, a metate is a stone and a mano is a stone slab with a worn groove). We peered into excavation holes and speculated whether they were the result of an archeological team or of treasure seekers.

Driving back I was still fussing and not convinced that we were going to stay at the Bedouin camp. Doreen continued to assure me that the Bedouin tent was indeed where we were spending the night. But it wasn’t until she smiled and explained that the delicious smells drifting from the open pit cooking fire would be our dinner that I started to come around.

Doreen wasn’t troubled with the evening’s accommodation or lack of privacy, so I resigned myself to what, in the end, turned out to be a fantastic cultural “happening”. Not many tourists would experience the chance to be adopted by a Bedouin family for one night.

Wadi Ghuweir - Goat herd drinking at oasis
Wadi Ghuweir – Goat herd drinking at oasis

The goat hair tent was open to the front and thick mattresses stuffed with wool were placed around three sides of the enclosed perimeter.

These were used for reclining as we chatted or for sitting as we ate. Next door was the female and cooking tent. It was closed in, affording more privacy. The goats and donkeys were corralled nearby.

Prior to the evening meal a water pitcher was provided to use for hand washing and if need be for other washroom tasks. The complete meal was served on one large circular platter with an accompanying basket of flat bread. No plates, no silverware, no condiments, no water glasses –  just your fingers!

We followed Fawaz’s example and ripped chunks of bread to use as a spoon to scoop up a tasty tomato based dish and with our fingers selected deliciously flavoured chicken pieces. The outdoor smoke-scented air created a camping ambience flare.

In the evening the men and boys sat around the perimeter, many smoking and drinking tea. The father entertained us playing the rababah, a one-stringed musical instrument shaped much like a violin that can be found in most Bedouin homes.

Fawaz could have remained in town but he chose to remain with us blending and enjoying a new experience too. Just one small cozy tour group spending the night in an unexpected setting!

For sleeping there was no privacy whatsoever. All the males slept on a wool mattress (called a farrsha) or outside the tent on the hard ground.

Doreen stated that she was going to sleep in her clothes and I followed suit. An easy solution to the privacy concerns. Out came our flashlights and a small toilet paper roll.

Our hosts provided each of us with a thick heavy blanket which we folded in half – one half for further padding atop our mattresses and the other over us for warmth. At our age there’s bound to be a needed toilet trip in the wee morning hours and here the bathroom was gigantic. All we had to do was stumble over rocks to pick a spot away from the tent!

At night the open air plan was not a concern. However, in the daylight, our western customs caused us self-conscious embarrassment.

After a hearty breakfast of bread, fresh fruits, canned tuna, cheeses and of course hot tea, we were to leave with the oldest son. He would return us to the tourist office and continue on to his school teaching employment. The tourist office afforded private washrooms where we completed our morning routines.

When we first outlined the trip we had asked Jordan Beauty Tours (Ali) to factor in different “off the beaten tourist track” activities. The Bedouin family stay was one of the events. Remember to be careful what you ask for as you might just get your wish, and we certainly did.

Chapter 7
Dead Sea Resort : Floating and Relaxing

On the way to our Dead Sea hotel we selected an option to visit Hammamat Ma’n. The resort is considered the most famous of the many hot springs located in the region. The hot waters cascade off the hillside in a series of waterfalls. We three musketeers enjoyed the water pelting off our backs as we sat beneath the falls.

Eventually we climbed to a cave behind the falls where the water was too hot to dip your foot into. The cave’s moist air created a sauna like atmosphere. After enjoying our refreshing soak we changed and continued on our way. The steep twisting and turning road returned us to the main Dead Sea Highway.

The new Winter Valley Warwick Hotel was difficult to locate. Upon arrival we were pleasantly surprised how lovely the hotel’s exterior was and how close it was to the Dead Sea. We could see the bright blue waters from the hotel. After checking in we said our goodbyes to Fawaz, thankful for his cheerful disposition and safe driving skills.

We treated our Warwick stay as a resort hotel holiday remaining on site, booking spa treatments, covering ourselves from head to toe with mucky mud and soaking in the buoyant Dead Sea waters. The time flew by and soon we found were coming up to the last few days of our trip.

Chapter 8  
Madaba: More Mosaics

The day’s highlight was a visit to Bethany, Christ’s baptismal site. Upon arrival at the tourist office we were instructed to wait for the next shuttle bus to transport us to the starting point.

We were most interested in the spot that is believed to be where John the Baptist baptised Jesus. The others were viewing the wilderness in which John the Baptist wandered, and the

Jordan River from Jordanian Side
Jordan River from Jordanian Side

Jordan River itself.

While rather narrow and muddy in appearance, the Jordan River’s historical significance makes it a favourite spot to be baptized. On the Israeli side two tourist groups were proceeding with baptismal ceremonies accompanied with singing and cheering.

On our return walk we stopped to visit a modern Greek orthodox church with a lovely golden dome on top. Once at the car park we thanked our guide and completed the drive back to Madaba.

It was pleasant to enter the Mosaic City Hotel’s lobby in Madaba and be greeted with familiar faces. After having been living out of backpacks, the return felt like entering one’s own home.

The evening witnessed us returning to what was now our favourite local restaurant, Haret Jdoudna Restaurant. The meal featured Jordanian dishes such as humus, fatteh, (bread), and roast lamb ending with a fig dessert.

Returning to the room we “Skyped” our kids and found that only a few hours earlier our grandson’s wife had given birth to Jackson, their first child. Thanks to modern technology we had discovered within hours of the birth and thousands of miles away that we had just become great grandparents!
The following day we were able to visit the attractions that had been closed on our first visit to Madaba. The purchase of a combined ticket provided entrance to the Church of the Apostles, Madaba’s museum and the Archaeological Park.

We leisurely visited all three great sites, each having distinctly different contributions. We stumbled across a small mosaic workshop and watched the owner creating mosaic wall plaques for a hotel order. Of course we purchased a mosaic design and at a much lower price than the tourist shops on the roadway to Nebo Mountain.

The homeward bound flight from Queen Alia Airport was scheduled for a midnight departure, providing ample time to celebrate our last night in Jordan. However, on entering our hotel’s lobby we noticed that the steel shutters were drawn.

Upon inquiry with the family who owned the hotel, we were informed that street demonstrations were in progress protesting the government’s 30% gas increase.

The family felt we would avoid the protesters and be safe walking to the city centre, so they unlocked the door letting us out onto the front street. We had not walked ten meters before the shouting increased and we were immersed in a pushing, panicked crowd running down the main street. We managed to break free from the pack and turned down a side street to regain entry to the hotel via a side entrance.

Fortunately the family’s son was already there unlocking the side door when we arrived. What a relief!

That nightmarish experience altered our plans for an evening dining celebration. Stranded in the hotel we retreated to the second floor restaurant to order dinner and peered out the restaurant’s windows at the erupting street scene of fires and damaged cars.

The family had not planned on serving us an evening meal as other guests had opted to eat elsewhere too. They had prepared their own meal and inquired if we would like to share it with them or they could cook a chicken meal for us.

We happily agreed to share and enjoyed a typical meatless Jordanian dish similar to our cabbage rolls. This turned out to be a most satisfactory solution to our plight.

Due to the street disruptions we were concerned our taxi would not be able to enter the downtown area to transport us to the airport.  However, the taxi arrived on time, and the driver made several route adjustments to gain Madaba’s outskirts.

It was with some relief when we arrived at the airport without further incidents and were safely past airport security to wait for our flight to London, England.

For us, Jordan was not just Petra. Certainly, Petra is the main attraction and deserves the worldwide recognition it receives but we discovered there are other worthy sites and activities to challenge the intrepid tourist.

General Information:

Hotels:  Hotels were centrally located close to attractions and restaurants. The rooms had ensuites, televisions and air condition. Amenities varied widely from hotel to hotel but all were comfortable, clean and ideal for getting a comfortable night’s sleep – and with breakfast included were very good value. Hotels book tours and/or hikes. Internet was available in rooms where indicated.

Prices are for a room in $CAD

Amman: Amman Pasha Hotel E-mail: [email protected], Web: www.ammanpashahotel.com ($46 )
This is an excellent location with the restaurant serving tasty inexpensive meals. Outstanding service and Raymond, the English speaking owner, would assist with any problems a guest might encounter. Comfortable rooms with basic facilities. A great value hotel.

Madaba: Mosaic City Hotel E-mail: [email protected]  Web: www.mosaiccityhotel.com ($62) This is a beautifully appointed family-run hotel offering more than their three star rating. Rooms have a mini bar and free Wi-Fi. Located about a half hour drive from Queen Alia Airport. A pleasant surprise to find such luxury at this price. One of our favourite hotels.

Dana: Dana Tower Hotel E-mail: [email protected] Web: www.danatowerhotel.com  ($22)
A collection of quirky rooms, seating areas and restaurant all cemented together. The reconstruction process used existing ancient structures adding stone and block to create a funky hotel. Rooms have quaint names like ours “The Cave” or “Flying Carpet”. Ask for an ensuite room. Fun place to stay.

Petra: Sun Set Hotel E-mail: [email protected] Web: www.petrasunset.com ($39) Located on the main street within walking distance of the entrance to Petra which is the hotel’s main feature. Lobby is spacious. Rooms were basic. Dinners were fabulous and better value than nearby restaurants. Good value at the price. Internet in the lobby.

Wadi Rum: Desert Caravan Camp. Web: Desert Caravan Camp or Trip Advisor. Priced from ($24 to $33) An organized well-run camp. Satameh, the manager, made our visit special with attentive service and provided us with a three person tent. The three daily meals were delicious. The shower/washroom building was clean and set away from the spacious eating/sitting areas. Great value and hospitality.

Aqaba: Days Inn E-mail: [email protected] –aqaba.com Web: www.daysinn-aqaba.com ($62) Well-appointed rooms and extremely helpful staff. Breakfasts were very good. Dining room lacked ambience. Spotless, comfortable rooms with free Wi-Fi. Another favourite.

Wadi Ghuweir: Bedouin Family Stay. Book through Jordan Beauty Tours. E-mail: [email protected] If you’re looking for an “off the beaten path” travel experience this is it. Great hospitality and a true taste of Bedouin life. Facilities are primitive but food was flavourful and served Bedouin style. A fantastic travel experience we still reminisce about!

Dead Sea: Winter Valley Warwick  E-mail: [email protected] Web: www.wintervalleywarwick.com ($155) All meals included. A spectacular new property with staff striving to make one’s stay enjoyable. The reception area provides a bright, cheerful ambience throughout the hotel. Rooms are spacious and well appointed. Free Wi-Fi and free mini bar. Pool is large with ample lounge chairs and the Dead Sea touches the property. Phase two will be the construction of the beach front. Currently there are umbrellas, loungers, towels and a fresh water shower, plus buckets of free healthy Dead Sea mud to slather on from head to toe. Beach lifeguard on duty. Restaurant is spacious with ample seating and wide food choices. An excellent resort/spa hotel. A favourite.

Tour Company:
Jordan Beauty Tours: E-mail: [email protected] Web: www.jordanbeauty.com Ali Al-Hassant – Sales and Marketing Manager

Our tour included all transfers by deluxe car with an English speaking driver. Entrance fees to all sites including Petra, hotel accommodations with breakfast and dinner, a jeep desert safari plus airport pickup and departure assistance. Included extras like side trips to an olive factory, a brick plant and a stop at local produce stalls. Cost for 18 days was $1,500 US p/p. As independent travellers we usually use local transportation and book tours when needed, but considering the excellent services and experiences we received, I doubt very much that we could have organized our own tour for less! Ali strove to create a “once in a lifetime” Jordanian experience and he most certainly did this.

Transportation:
Fawaz Farajat: E-mail: [email protected]  Mobile: 00962(0)7774457950 A safe driver and a wonderful, cheerful person. Prompt and helpful.

Research Sources:
Lonely Planet: Jordan, 8th ed; Published July 2012
www.visitjordan.com

Visit John & Doreen’s blog to learn more about them and their travels: www.goldenagebackpackers.blogspot.com