The Promised Land

Whenever someone asks me what was my favourite place I have ever traveled to, I reply with “Jordan”. A lot of people are usually taken back with my answer and respond with comments such as “Really? Isn’t it dangerous there?”, “Aren’t they in war?”. I’m alive aren’t I? I do admit that it is unfortunate that a wonderful place like Jordan gets lumped in with all the unrest that is happening in the neighbouring countries but at no moment did I ever feel that I was in danger, actually, quite safe on the contrary.

It all started one day when I mentioned to my sister that I’ve always wanted to visit Petra. “There’s the Dead Sea..” We locked eyes and it didn’t take very long for us to make a decision. My sister even threw in Egypt as a suggestion, me responding with “seeing the pyramids would be kind of cool” – unfortunately there was a bombing in Cairo later that week so we altered our plans stop by Turkey instead.

I started planning at once and anyone who knows me knows that I keep a spreadsheet for all my travels – hey, I like to plan! I like to think that I’m very methodical and strategic when it comes to planning. I usually like to find an ideal path to avoid any back tracking while being efficient.

So here was the game plan:

Aqaba > Wadi Rum > Petra > Dead Sea > Amman

Kempinski Hotel
The pool at the Kempinski Hotel Aqaba
We arrived early to the Kempinski Hotel and they were gracious enough to check us in early. My sister arranged what turned out to be an amazing padi diving experience with Ahlan Aqaba Scuba Diving Center. Seeing as neither one of us could swim, let alone have a scuba license, this was the ideal solution. Essentially, a fully licensed diver accompanies you in the waters, no actual swimming is required! Apparently the Red Sea is one of the most ideal places to go scuba diving in the world because of its favourable conditions such as warm waters (20 degrees Celsius), clarity and sea life.

Once I got over my initial panic attack, I do admit it was a mesmerizing experience floating through the water, admiring the sea life. My favourite moment was when we happen to swim through a school of jellyfish. My guide went to touch one to show me it was safe, so I in turn touched it which found myself completely mesmerized by the electricity flowing through. We’re conditioned to avoid touching a jellyfish unless you would like to risk getting stung. I felt like I was in one of those planet earth documentaries narrated by David Suzuki or Morgan Freeman.

Padi diving gets you hungry so we asked our guide for restaurant recommendations. He gave us a hand drawn map to a restaurant called Syrian Palace. This was the first time I ever had chicken maklouba which is an upside down, one pot rice dish with spices, vegetables and meat. This was one of my favourite dishes I had in Jordan and the one at Syrian Palace was the best – trust me, I tried several others afterwards and nothing came close. What made our experience at this restaurant even better was that we sat on the second floor which overlooked a mosque that happened to have prayers chanting throughout our meal which gave it a spiritual experience.

Wadi Rum Desert
The next day we journeyed to the Wadi Rum dessert for a “glamping” experience with Wadirum Bedouin Experience. For some reason I had the lowest of expectations for this portion of our journey (mostly due to the lack of running water or wifi) and it turned out to be my favourite part! Our guide Omar was phenomenal and I honestly could not rave enough about him – he was very knowledgable and took his time to share his opinions on the events affecting Jordan at the time.

Burdah Bridge
Wearing White Uniqlo Tunic, Community Cebu Pants, Toms Shoes

I did not have any idea of what was to come but my sister mentioned that we had a “leisurely” hike planned after lunch. It was more like rock climbing. I still remember the realization settling over me when Omar had driven us out to the middle of the desert, directed our attention towards a large mountain and pointed out the tiniest resemblance of a “bridge” and advised that was the Burdah Bridge that we were hiking to. I would like to mention that Toms are not the ideal choice of footwear for hiking, especially on sandstone – I would most definitely recommend bringing a pair of sturdy hiking boots. It was quite the treacherous hike but worth it. At some point I recall hanging off the side of a cliff, proclamating my concern over the wellbeing of my day old Shellac nails and muttering to my sister that if I made it through this alive, I was going to get even with her if the fall did not kill me. However, I do admit that the views on the way up take your breath away and when I safely made it back down, I was very proud of my accomplishment – unfortunately I found out just how far I could stretch my pants on the way down; let’s just say my pants did not make it.

Wadi Rum Desert 2
View of the mountain and landscape from the campsite

Next we settled into our Bedouin campsite and enjoyed a relaxing evening filled with tea and traditional Jordanian cuisine. I think the best part about this entire experience was simply kicking back and watching the sun set behind the monolithic mountains. It’s crazy how we function in a society that constantly revolves around technology and it was refreshing having no choice but to take a break from it.

Camel Ride
Camel ride in the afternoon – I named him Humphrey

For such a large mass of land, its amazing how silent the desert can be. I mean, yes, technically I was in the middle of nowhere but it’s a different kind of sensation. Being in the desert also had its perks – I love to star gaze and the night sky definitely shined that night. Omar had pointed out particular stars that were the planets Mars and Venus. Never have I ever thought that I would be able to see the planets with the naked eye. I still remember the conversations my sister and I had late into the night concerning what would now be trivial first-world matters worlds away.

Horse Carriage
Horse drawn carriages roaring through the Siq.

Finally, the pivotal moment came for us to visit Petra, the very reason that initiated this entire trip. To get to the ancient city of Petra, you need to make your way through a narrow and windy gorge called the Siq that stretches for 1.2 kilometers. One thing you will quickly notice is the number of horse drawn carriages running through the Siq. The echoes of the horseshoe stomping and warning cries from the drivers make it feel as if you’re in an Indiana Jones movie.

The Treasury
Standing in front of the Treasury at Petra

I still remember moving past the last crevice of the Siq and stepping into a wide opening to reveal the famous Treasury. I was in awe with how such a beautiful structure came to be, carved out of the sandstone on the side of a mountain, withstanding the test of time.

One could easily spend days exploring the remains of Petra as there are several different vantage points for all levels of hikers. On our last day, we decided to make a trek up to the Monastery. Don’t be fooled, 850 steps is no joke, take your time going up the steps and you will be rewarded with the beauty of the Monastery.

Kempinski Dead Sea Infinity Pool
Chilling by the infinity pool at the Kempinski Hotel Dead Sea

A week prior to our departure, my sister messaged me in a frantic state indicating that we must change our original accommodations at the Dead Sea to the Kempinski Hotel on the sole basis of some amazing infinity pool she read about. I will admit that my sister was right. The infinity pool was amazing, the view was ridiculous because on a clear day you can actually see all the way to Israel which was on the other side of the Dead Sea.

Now, anyone going to the Dead Sea cannot leave without taking a dip in the salt water. Because of it’s high salinity, it creates a natural buoyancy allowing people to easily float. I didn’t think this would be an issue until I attempted to walk into the Dead Sea only to slip, fall and float to the top. Try not to get any salt water in your mouth, it’s very, very, very salty… Another reason that several people flock to the Dead Sea is due to its health benefits – you can apply a layer of Dead Sea mud on your skin, let it dry for a bit and then wash it off in the Dead Sea for your own DIY spa experience. Be sure to pack a bathing suit that you don’t mind getting stained by the mud.

Amman
Views of Amman from a terrace
Our last stop was in Amman before we flew out to Turkey. The city is bit small in comparison to others but we still managed to get lost through the labyrinth of streets looking for the citadel that promised views that overlooked the crowded hills of Amman. Instead, we came across a Roman Amphitheatre right in the heart of the city where we decided to take a break from the scorching sun. It was kind of odd seeing all these families sitting on the steps of the ancient amphitheatre as if they were park benches while kids were running around. There was a group of boys and one of them had approached me holding out their phone and said “picture”. I agreed thinking that he wanted me to help take a picture of him and his friends but instead, he communicated with sign language that he wanted to take a picture with me. For some reason it did not occur to me that I was a tourist or be considered exotic in another person’s eyes. I was born and raised in Canada my entire life, surrounded by diversity which is one of the things that makes Canada an amazing country. I thought it was an innocent request and happily obliged. Afterwards, the families sitting nearby started asking me if I could take a picture with them as if I was some local celebrity. A part of me wonders if I’m in a random Jordanian family photo album.

On our final day, my sister and I somehow ended up spending 4 hours in a Turkish Bath called Alf Layla Wa Layla – ironically, it was even better than the Turkish baths in Turkey! I like to think that I’m an opportunist so when I found out that there was a place famous for baklava called Habibah Sweets nearby, I jumped at the opportunity. I enjoyed it so much that I ended up buying 2 kg of it and managed to lug it home.

Even though our adventure came to an end, I left Jordan with a number of unforgettable memories. I quickly realized that the people you meet while traveling also make a difference. There was a group of Italian guys that we had met on our Padi Diving tour, it turned out they had a very similar itinerary to ours and we ended up bumping into them in the middle of the Wadi Rum desert and on our way into Petra. At those moments where we stopped to say “Hi”, it felt as if we were catching up with an old friend. It’s the little things that remind you how important it is to put yourself out there or else the opportunity will slip right by you.

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