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Trip Report Just back from 9 wonderful days in Jordan - a trip report

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Hello All,

My husband and I were in Jordan in late November this year for 9 days. We stayed with friends in Amman for a few days and also traveled around Jordan - a few days with them, and then on our own. Jordan is a beautiful country and we had a grand time. There aren't very many trip reports for Jordan on these forums, so hoping this report will give those of you looking to travel to the region an idea of what to expect. Jordan is much more than just Petra and in fact, I wished I had a few more days to travel to places like Umm Qais, Umm Al Rasas, the desert castles that we didn't get a chance to get to on this trip.

This was our itinerary for our 9 days there.
Day 0 - Landed in Amman in the afternoon from NYC
Day 1 - Drove to Wadi Rum; spent the night in a Bedouin camp. I booked this with Attayak Aouda who runs Wadi Rum Mountain Guides
Day 2 - Jeep tour of the desert; drove to Aqaba after lunch. In Aqaba, we stayed at the Coral Bay hotel in Tala Bay to the south of Aqaba city
Day 3 - A day of snorkeling booked through Dive Aqaba
Day 4 - Took a taxi to Petra; spent day in Petra and also checked out the Petra by night tour. In Petra we stayed at the Petra Palace hotel, just steps from the Petra entrance
Day 5 - In Petra at the crack of dawn and spent the entire day at the site
Day 6 - Hired a car and driver (through Petra Moon Tours) to drive us to Karak, Mt. Nebo and Madaba along the King's highway and Dead Sea highway and drop us off in Amman
Day 7 - Day trip to O Beach on the Dead Sea; took a taxi both ways
Day 8 - Day trip to Jerash
Day 9 - Day in old Amman; late night flight back to NYC

I booked the camp, Coral Bay hotel and snorkeling trip via email directly with the business. For the Petra Palace hotel, I was getting a better rate through a local travel agency than via email. So, I had Petra Moon tours book the hotel for us, and also the car and driver. All email exchanges were easy and prompt.

The downside to Jordan is the absence of reliable public transportation except for the JETT buses that operate primarily for day trips to Petra and the Dead Sea. Just before we left for Jordan, we heard of a new daily bus service between Wadi Rum-Aqaba and Aqaba-Petra operated by Nyazi Tours out of Aqaba. We tried to book tickets for the Aqaba Petra bus at their offices in Aqaba, but they were unfortunately sold out. With a little bit of pre-planning, this would be an easy and much cheaper option for those wishing to do the Wadi Rum - Aqaba - Petra circuit on their own without a car and driver.

The taxi from Aqaba to Petra cost us 40 JD and from Amman to the Dead Sea 25 JD each way. Taxis within Amman are plenty and cheap.

Hope this provides some of the logistical info for future travelers. I'll be back soon with the actual trip report.

Thanks for reading!

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    Yes, this does supply interesting logistical information. I do hope to get to Jordan one of these days. It is on my bucket list. I imagine that you got some of your info. from friends who live there. Now, Fodorites have the info., also.

    Pat

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    Hi Pat,

    I hope you do get to go to Jordan, you'll love it! And by the time you go, there may be more public transportation options available.

    Actually, I did all the planning and booking myself using the Lonely Planet guidebook and the Trip Advisor forums. Our friends left it all to me, since I am the planner. :-) To be honest, the TA forums were very useful for Jordan - they have quite a few local experts who chime in from time to time with useful updates. In fact, the tidbit about the Nyazi bus service was from the TA forums.

    Oh, and another good source of information is the Jordan Jubilee website - http://www.jordanjubilee.com/index.html.

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    Ok, here goes...

    We studied about the Dead Sea in our geography classes growing up, and that was pretty much all we knew about Jordan as kids. In the years since, we read about the Jordanian monarchy and politics of the Middle East, but had still not considered Jordan a country to visit. Fast forward to 2007 when we were planning our trip to Egypt, we decided to add on another destination. Reading up on Jordan, we realized that there was so much more to this country and it piqued our curiosity. We ended up going to Greece that year instead, but Jordan was added to the list of counties we wanted to travel to.

    This year, one of our friends decided to move to Jordan for a year, and invited us to visit. Very serendipitous! So we decide to spend a few days with them in Amman and also travel around Jordan.

    We fly from NYC to Amman direct on Delta on November 17th; very easy and convenient. We land in Amman the next afternoon. Immigration is a breeze and our friends, Dawn and Kai, are there to pick us up. The airport is about 45 minutes outside of Amman; on our drive we see several families picnicking right by the highway beside their parked cars – we are told that this is quite common in Amman. Interesting! We reach Abdoun, where our friends live, and are famished. So, we drop off our bags and walk to Abdoun Circle (about 5 minutes from their house) and pick up falafels, hummus, ful and khobz (local version of the pita bread), and gorge on this incredibly simple but delicious meal back in the house. Aaah, we are finally in Jordan! After dinner, Dawn and Kai watch a few Mad Men episodes. We join them, but doze off within the hour. It’s time to call it a night.

    We have planned an early start the next morning; we are driving to Wadi Rum in the south of Jordan and will spend a night camping out in the desert in a Bedouin tent. We haven’t camped in many years, so are very excited! We are up early, have a hearty breakfast and are on the road by 10:30. Along the way, we notice that all the road signs have been covered with posters from the recent election (mostly of one man; damn these politicians!), so speed limits, city names, directions etc. are largely not visible! It is a 3 hour drive on the Desert Highway; there’s not much to see on the way until we get closer to the Rum valley. All of a sudden, massive pink and orange colored rock outcroppings appear out of nowhere and take over the otherwise barren landscape. We turn into the Rum protected area; from here it is a 15 km drive to the visitors' center, where we will meet our Bedouin host and guide. I have booked our stay with Attayak Aouda at Wadi Rum Mountain Guides. We are met by Radi, Attayak’s brother, who we immediately take a liking to. We park our car, buy tickets and get into Radi’s jeep. Our first stop is a small restaurant for lunch. It’s about 2 pm by now and Radi tells us that we will stop at Khazali canyon on the way to the camp.

    The drive to the canyon is a little bumpy and the scenery is breathtaking. Wadi Rum, also called the Valley of the Moon, is a valley cut into sandstone and granite rocks and is the largest Wadi in Jordan. Its landscape is unique and unlike that of the other desert areas of the Middle East and North Africa. Wadi Rum was made famous by T.E. Lawrence (otherwise known as Lawrence of Arabia) who based his operations out of here during the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans in 1917. Several Bedouin tribes, including Radi’s, currently live in this area. Radi tells us that his tribe has about a 1000 members and he knows most of them! They are mostly nomads who live in the desert in goat hair tents, but in recent years, some of them have been moving to permanent housing in Rum village.

    We stop at Khazali canyon and walk through the narrow opening between soaring cliffs. The rocks are beautifully sculpted by the erosion of the soft sandstone. From here, we continue on to our campsite which is set amidst some spectacular scenery. The camp has the traditional black and white goat hair tents, and is basic, clean and comfortable. We are the only guests, which is wonderful for us. The camp can however sleep up to 15 people. We have 2 tents to ourselves, and there is a cot with blankets and a small table in each tent. We drop our bags off and head out to explore, while Radi starts preparing dinner.

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    We climb up to the top of one of the rocks to watch the sun set and cast this wonderful golden light on the yellow, orange and red colored rocks. It is magical; the only thing missing is a bottle of wine! :-) At dusk, the rocks and sand turn this deep red color and the full moon casts a silver light on the desert. We walk around for a while, appreciating this otherworldly landscape and enjoying the pin drop silence of the desert. We spot several shooting stars in the star lit sky and make wishes. When we get back to camp, Radi has some intensely sweet sage tea boiling on a fire. The night is warmer than we expect, but it feels cozy to sit around the fire, hold the warm glass in our hands and sip the aromatic tea. There are some sesame biscuits to go with the tea and we happily sit around talking for a while. Radi is busy cooking our dinner, but comes by every few minutes to enjoy his tea and talk with us. He’s studying for a tourism degree in Aqaba and says that while he loves the desert, he only stays for a few days at a time these days because he misses the internet too much! Looks like technology is changing the Bedouin way of life! His brother, Attayak, runs the company and organizes climbing and hiking trips in the desert. He has a sister in Saudi Arabia, and his mother still lives in the desert and tends to her goats.

    For dinner, Radi has whipped up chicken gallayah, a Bedouin specialty. We have it with rice and it’s delicious. For dessert, there is more tea and oranges. Kai, Dawn and Marcus retire for the night, while we wander off for another lovely walk through the moonlit desert. It’s about 9:30 when we finally call it a night and head to our tent. We use a candle for light, so we can change and get under our warm blankets. Jetlag finally catches up with us on our second night, and we sleep fitfully. It doesn’t help that we hear a cat meowing outside the tent, who then appears to be chased by another animal (possibly a fox) and starts scrambling up the outside wall of the tent. At least, that’s what we think it is. We had planned to wake up early to catch the sunrise, but since we drift off to sleep only in the wee hours of the morning, we get up around 6:30. There is no evidence outside the tents of the drama that played out at night – no pawmarks in the sand, and no dead cat. That is a relief!

    Kai is already up and has climbed up a rock to take pictures. Ajit joins him, while I walk around the valley floor warming myself in the morning sun. It is beautiful to see the desert being bathed in soft sunlight; soon the light will become harsh. We head back to camp, where Radi has prepared hot tea for us. Ajit and I are really loving this tea! We take turns to freshen up (there is one western style very clean toilet; quite fancy!) while Kai wakes up Dawn and Marcus. For breakfast, we have some freshly made bread along with olive oil and zaatar, halva, spicy hummus, cheese and jam. Sumptuous! Then, it’s time to pack up and head out for a day driving through the desert.

    We make numerous stops during the day – Little Rock Bridge, another canyon with sheer cliff faces that we walk through, sand dunes in Wadi Um Ishrin (where Ajit and Marcus run up the dunes), Annafishiya inscriptions and Burdah Rock Bridge. It’s not too hot and there is a cool breeze, so it’s nice to be out. Around lunch time, we stop at Lawrence’s spring. Radi tells us that his mother’s tent is just around from here, and that’s where we will be having lunch. While we sit down, relax and have more tea, Radi and his mother are cooking our lunch in the tent next door. For lunch, we have bread, hummus and fasoolyeh (a bean stew) – another lovely meal. After lunch, we play with their dusty little dog who loves the attention from a few strangers. Before we leave, we stop to thank Radi’s mother, who is very shy and smiles in acknowledgement. Next, we stop at the ruins of the Nabatean temple built in the 1st century.

    On the way back to the visitors’ center, Radi shows us the house that he and his brothers are building in Rum village. His older brother and wife will live in one house, and he and his other single brothers will live in another. He is clearly proud and excited about their house. We say goodbye to him here, he’s been a wonderful host and guide and though we’ve only spent a day with him, it still feels a little sad. At the visitors’ center, we stop to take pictures of dramatic Jebel Rum, also called the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, after the book by T.E. Lawrence. And then, we are on our way towards Aqaba, our home for the next 2 nights.

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    Here's the next installment...

    The drive from Wadi Rum to Aqaba takes about 45 minutes. We are staying at the Coral Bay resort in Tala Bay, about 15 kms south of Aqaba city. This hotel is 5 kms away from the Saudi border and we almost miss the exit off the main road to the hotel. Uh oh! We turn around quickly and take the exit which is also used by the naval base next door. It helps that Kai has a diplomat card and speaks Arabic, so all the checkpoints along the way, including this one, are quick. Once at the hotel, we are shown to our rooms (again basic, but clean, and much cheaper than the five star resorts in the area). A couple of the hotel staff are Bangladeshi, and when we tell them that we are from India, they are very excited! They are disappointed though to hear that we don’t speak any Bengali. They are a friendly bunch and give us big smiles every time we see them. Ajit and Marcus go for a quick swim, while the rest of us shower and meet up by the pool. The hotel has a nice pool and has its own private beach in front of it with a bar and beach chairs. The Royal Diving Club is also situated in the hotel and offers dive/snorkel trips, but I have booked us on a snorkel trip with Dive Aqaba for the next day.

    The food at the Coral Bay doesn’t look too exciting, so we decide to head over to the Movenpick next door. The Movenpick is a huge resort and much more upscale, with prices to match. We enjoy a few drinks and some decent but overpriced western style food outdoors and watch the sun set over the Gulf of Aqaba. After dinner, we go back to the Coral Bay. Marcus goes off to the room to watch TV, while the rest of us sit on the beach and enjoy a bottle of Mt. Nebo wine. The wine is surprisingly good and a fine end to the day. Ajit and I walk on the beach afterwards – there is a slight chill in the air and the silence only broken by the sound of the crashing waves. We sleep much better tonight.

    We’re up early the next morning. The dining room opens at 7, and we’re the first ones in. The buffet breakfast is a large spread and pretty decent. The boiled eggs looked like they were made a couple of days ago though. We ask Dive Aqaba to send a car to the hotel; the car arrives at 9am and we follow in our car since Kai, Dawn and Marcus are headed back to Amman after our snorkel trip. The dive center is located in the center of town. There are 3 other divers who will be joining us on the boat. After we pick our snorkel/dive gear, we drive out to the marina. The boat is comfortable and the staff is friendly. The plan is to snorkel/dive in 2 different sites and get back to the marina by 4pm. We get some tea and go up to the deck to lounge in the sun while the boat sets out to the first location. The sea is a deep blue set against the backdrop of arid mountains, quite unlike anything we had seen before. Gorgeous! Across the Gulf of Aqaba on the opposite coast (and pretty close) is Eilat in Israel. Further south, are the resorts in Egypt like Taba.

    Aqaba does get windy in the winter months, and it is quite windy today making the water choppy at the first site. Dawn has never snorkeled before and gives it a try, but decides it’s not her cup of tea and goes back to the boat. The boys are snorkeling and enjoying themselves. I try to snorkel but keep getting water into my goggles, so head back to the boat to get another pair. The choppy water was making it a little less enjoyable for me, so I take a break and get back into the water with one of the staff a little later. It's a good thing I did. The water is warm, very clear and the coral is amazing! He expertly guides me through the forests of coral, pointing to the different kinds of fish, including those hidden between and under rocks. It is fun! We see clown fish, parrot fish, flute fish and others that I don’t know the names of. There are some spectacular brightly colored coral formations as well. We head back to the boat after about 45 minutes.

    Ajit’s feeling a little out of sorts because of the choppy water and decides not to join us at the next site. This site is much closer to shore and the water is calm, so it is really nice! The coral is so close to the surface in some areas that we have to swim flat. We see a school of the flute fish here and also a lion fish (gorgeous!). Kai has an underwater camera with him, so he is constantly diving down taking pictures. Marcus is having a whale of a time as well. They will be back here in January to get their dive certification. An hour goes by quickly and we swim back to the boat for lunch. There is a delicious spread of salad, tuna, chicken stew, spiced rice – very satisfying after a morning in the water. The kitchen staff did a bang up job of cooking that lunch in the tiny kitchen.

    We go back to the deck for some rest and relaxation afterwards as the boat makes it way back to the marina. It’s been a fun day out on the Red Sea. After we dock, we say goodbye to Dawn, Kai and Marcus who are on their way back to Amman. We will see them in a few days after our time in Petra. We take a taxi to the Dive Aqaba office, pay up for the day and then decide to check out the Nyazi tours office to see if we can get tickets on their morning bus to Petra. This would have been a great option for us, cheap and convenient, but unfortunately they are sold out for the next morning.

    We then walk to the bus stand, discussing on the way if we should take the mini bus or just hire a taxi instead. The taxi stand is right next to the bus stand, and Ajit walks over to one of the drivers to discuss hiring him for the drive to Petra. Tamer, the first person Ajit approaches, agrees to pick us up at our hotel at 8am and drop us off at our hotel in Petra for 40JD. This seems reasonable to us since the LP indicates a price of 30JD from Aqaba city. As we are finalizing the details with Tamer, a group of other drivers arrives to try and sabotage the deal by encouraging us to take the bus instead. It is quite funny. Tamer, is generally shy and not aggressive, so doesn’t pick up a fight with the group. We ignore the others and walk away after exchanging phone numbers with Tamer.

    For dinner, we try Ali Baba as it has been recommended to us. We sit outside by the street and enjoy some lovely mezzes (chicken liver, labneh, makdous and kibbeh) followed by the fish specialty 'sayadieh' for Ajit and kebabs for me. We are too full to order any dessert. After dinner, we wait for a few minutes for the shuttle back to the hotel that picks us up right in front of the restaurant. We enjoy another walk on the beach before going back to the room to crash for the night.

    The next morning, we’re up early again to get some breakfast and check out before Tamer arrives to pick us up. We’re on our way to the ancient Nabatean trading city of Petra; so exciting!

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    It's a 2 hour drive to Petra; Tamer stops to fill gas on the way and buys a bunch of bananas for us. He smokes and sips a glass of tea the entire way. He drops us off at the Petra Palace hotel, which is about 300m from the entrance to Petra. We check in and immediately head out to the visitors' center. The ticket prices have skyrocketed since November 1st, so we pay 138 JD for a 2 day pass + the night tour for the two of us! Then, we walk the mile to the entrance of the Siq.

    Petra is one of the great wonders of the world and certainly the most famous site in Jordan. Described as "...A rose red city half as old as time...", it is a magnificent trading city built by the Nabateans around 6 BC. The Nabateans were an Arab tribe who controlled the ancient caravan trade routes from Arabia, India, China and Africa. They established a vast and powerful kingdom across most of Arabia. They absorbed outside cultural influences, which becomes evident to us in our two days here. Petra had paved roads, agricultural terraces, conduits and terracotta piping for water harvesting and channeling, temples, tombs, and theatres, making it a crowning glory of Nabatean achievement.

    On the way to the Siq, we pass several tombs including the Obelisk tomb with its Egyptian influence. The Siq was the main entrance to Petra and is a long, deep and narrow gorge hemmed in by sheer soaring cliffs in a myriad colors. Emerging from the Siq and coming face to face with the elaborately carved Treasury is dramatic! Even though we have seen so many pictures of it before, seeing it with our own eyes is special! It was carved out of the face of the pink sandstone cliff in 1BC as a tomb for a king and believed to have been later used as a temple. The beautiful details are still evident, and are a testament to the mastery of the Nabatean craftsmen. We then walk through the Street of Facades littered with tombs on either side, some with pretty geometrical carvings on the doorways.

    We are hungry by now and decide to get some lunch at the Basin restaurant, past the colonnaded street. There are only a couple of dining options in Petra and they are both overpriced as expected. Oh well, we’ll just have some fruits tomorrow. We then head over to the impressive Royal tombs – the Urn Tomb is especially lovely with its immense courtyard and the most beautiful ceiling in Petra that reveals the fantastic grain of the natural sandstone in many colors. This, for us, is one of the highlights of Petra. We stroll around for a while, taking in the tombs and the hills and valley in front of us. The late afternoon light casts a wonderful glow on the tombs and we have the place almost to ourselves at this time. We leave around 3:30, as it takes an hour to get back to the entrance gate.

    We are all out of dinars at this point, so we take a taxi to Wadi Musa and withdraw cash from an ATM. The only ATM in the Petra vicinity is at the Movenpick, and is out of commission. Then, we check email at an internet café, buy some bottles of water from the grocery store and walk back to the hotel. After a hot shower, we go out for an early dinner since we have to be back at the Petra gates at 8:30 for “Petra by night”. We walk down the block checking out the fare in the various restaurants and decide to try the Red Cave restaurant. We have the kibbeh and chili kishkah (couscous with red chili paste) followed by mansaf (the traditional Jordanian lamb stew with yogurt sauce) and chicken galliyah. I am excited to try the mensaf but the dish itself is a little too mild for my liking. We love everything else that we eat and wash it all down with some tea and baklava.

    Now, we are ready to set out into the cold again. There are about a 100 people all bundled up and crowded around our guide for the tour, as he instructs us on decorum and tells us what to expect. As we walk to the Siq with paper lanterns on either side of the road, the full moon casts a brilliant light on the surrounding hills. The Siq is also lit with paper lanterns and is beautiful, but as expected, the loud talking and flashes going off mar the experience. The treasury is also lit with candles; we sit on blankets and are offered sweet tea. There is a music performance that we thoroughly enjoy – a Bedouin man sings a traditional song that is haunting (reminds us of the music of the gypsies in India) and another man plays the flute. This is followed by a speech about Petra that is just ok. We don’t take any pictures because it is too dark. Then we walk back to our hotel. Overall, we enjoy the experience, but it is not for everyone and more importantly, it is not as romantic an experience as one might expect, so be aware.

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    We are up at 5 the next morning, grab breakfast at the hotel at 6 and are out by 6:30. This is what we enjoy most – getting to a site early before the tourist hordes arrive. It is lovely to walk to the Siq and through it – we only see about 4 or 5 other people on the way. And when we reach the Treasury, we have it all to ourselves for a few minutes! Our plan for the morning is to climb up the steps to the High Place of Sacrifice and descend down through Wadi Farasa and end at Qasr Al Bint. The High Place has an altar and was used for religious ceremonies. The views of Petra and the valley are spectacular from up here. We find a quiet spot from where to take in the view, the fresh air and warmth of the sun. Soon, a stray cat comes purring to me and after rubbing his back for a bit, proceeds to sit on my lap and nuzzle up against me. We did notice several cats in Petra – they are all friendly and love any attention they can get. There was one in front of the Treasury last night that came and rubbed up behind us as we were watching the music performance! Anyway, this cat then goes over to another lady sitting a little further away and gets some loving from her. Soon enough, she is back, and this time proceeds to get comfortable on Ajit’s lap, and takes a snooze until we are ready to leave and have to gently push her away. Awww.

    Before we begin the hike down, we stop for some tea at the tea shop. My hiking shoes that I haven’t used in a while are hurting my toes, so the brief stop is good for my sore feet. The hike down Wadi Farasa is very rewarding – with lovely colors and striations on the rock walls, and stumbling on to some gorgeous tombs and tricliniums along the way as we wind down the beautiful valley. The trail is marked with small piles of stones as well as arrows chalked on the steps. As we walk in relative solitude here pondering as to how many more such tombs and monuments are awaiting discovery, it feels more real to us than walking down the main street with the other tourists. We walk slowly – partly to admire the excellent views and partly because of my sore foot – so it takes us a couple of hours to reach Qasr Al Bint.

    Once there, Ajit goes off to get some biscuits and fruit having learnt our lesson from yesterday, while I plop myself on a rock, take off my shoes and rest my feet. Two little adorable kids come by to sell us some postcards; we offer them some biscuits instead. While the older sister eats her biscuit, her naughty younger brother grabs the bag of biscuits from me and proceeds to throw it into the sand. Not so cute anymore! We want to go up to the Monastery in the afternoon, but with my sore feet, I decide it may be better that I ride up a donkey instead. We start haggling with the “donkey wallahs” and finally agree on a price (albeit inflated, 12JD round trip) with a teenaged boy named Raja.

    So off I go on the donkey with Raja pushing him along from behind, while Ajit follows on foot. Raja tells me his donkey’s name is Jack (an appropriate name I guess - jackass :-) ). Raja and Jack are mavericks; while the other donkeys climb up the 800 steps at a slow pace, Raja gallops ahead urged on by Raja, pushing anything and anyone out of his path, and there are several people going up and down the steps in both directions. I constantly yell “Look out, excuse me, please move”. He almost knocks over an unaware tourist who isn’t paying attention to all my yelling. At one point, Jack doesn’t hear Raja and turns around on a ledge facing the opposite direction. I try to look calm, but am quite terrified that we may hurt someone else. I yell at Raja to slow down and brace myself for the last stretch of the journey. My hearts finally starts beating normally when I get off that damn donkey. I decide then and there, that I’m walking down, no matter how much my feet hurt.

    The monastery is bigger in scale than the treasury, but with simpler embellishments – marvelous nonetheless. It was carved into the sheer rock face in the 1st Century BC and is over 50m high. There are several people around the structure so we walk away to the view points that look over vast Wadi Araba. Then, we get some tea and snacks at the modern looking snack shop in front of the monastery, take a seat with a view and wait for the crowds to disappear. Sure enough, in about an hour, most of the people have left and late afternoon sun highlights and enhances the amazing natural colors of the rocks. At about 2:30, we head back down the steps. We stop for one last tea at the shops in front of the royal tombs and then make our way back to the hotel.

    We have hired a car and driver from Petra Moon tours for our drive to Amman tomorrow making several stops on the way. So, we go over to the Petra Moon office right next to the hotel to make the payments and confirm the pickup time. Back in our rooms, we freshen up. I soak my feet in warm water…much better! We head back to Red Cave for dinner tonight. The owners recognize us and greet us with smiles. We order the same mezzes, but for the main course, we get the recommended lamb stew that is very good. We get tea to finish our meal, but since we didn’t take our change yesterday, the owners don’t charge us for the tea tonight. Very generous! By now, we are tired and sleepy from two very long days, and decide to scrap the idea of getting a drink at the Cave bar and head back to our rooms instead.

    The next morning, we are up at 6, have a leisurely breakfast (the spread here is very good) and are ready when Mahmud picks us up at 8am for our drive along the Kings Highway.

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    The plan for today is to drive along the King’s Highway, stopping at Kerak, Mt. Nebo and Madaba on the way to Amman. We hope to get back to Amman by 5 or 6pm. The King’s Highway was used by the Nabateans as a trade route for luxury goods such as frankincense and spices. It was also used as an ancient pilgrimage route for Christians and Muslims alike.

    Mahmud drives slowly and stops along the way to show us interesting sites. We stop briefly for views of Shoubak Castle, one of the smaller fortifications built by the Crusaders in the 12th century. He shows us the original mud homes that Bedouins lived in before the government moved them into housing establishments in towns in the area. The King’s Highway meanders gently through harsh, but lovely desert landscape; it is very picturesque. We also stop at a viewpoint overlooking Dana nature reserve, popular with hikers. It is cold and windy up here, but the owner of a small tea shop by the roadside offers us some hot tea – perfect! Our next stop is Kerak castle, the largest in Jordan and one of the largest in the region. It is situated on a steep hilltop surrounded by valleys with olive and cypress trees. We walk around the fortress for an hour – the views of the castle and countryside juxtaposed with the modern town are pretty. Kerak is still a largely Christian town, and many of today's Christian families trace their origins back to the Byzantines.

    We see a few cement factories in the area, another important industry in this part of Jordan. From here, we drive towards the Dead Sea highway and then along it until the turning to Mt. Nebo. We have driven from the high altitude area of Tafila (1700m) to the Dead Sea (-400m) in a little over an hour! The drive along the Dead Sea highway is beautiful; the southern end is not touristy and therefore not overbuilt like the northern end. The sunlight is too harsh for photographs so we don’t stop. There are several potash processing facilities dotting this area – potash is one of Jordan’s biggest exports - but this industry in turn has had a damaging effect on water and salinity levels. We make a brief stop at Wadi Mujib, the lowest nature reserve in the world. If you are into adventure spots, there are hikes involving rock climbing and rappelling that can be done here.

    Then we are off to Mt. Nebo, which is of significant importance in Christianity. This is where Moses was shown the Promised Land and is also where he is buried. The church here is under renovation, but remnants of the lovely mosaic floors are displayed in a separate area. There is a sign at the end pointing to the holy cities of Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Jericho, all within a 50 km radius from where we were standing. We see bus loads of tourists enter the site as we leave – one of them is a church group from Kerala!

    From here, we proceed to Madaba, best known for the large Byzantine-era mosaic map of The Holy Land. Our first stop is at the Ayola Coffee Shop, a cozy sidewalk café near the Church of St. George where the mosaic is located. We are famished as it is almost 2 pm by now and order 2 falafel sandwiches and 2 mint teas for a grand total of 3 JD! It’s a delicious meal that provides much needed fuel for the rest of the afternoon. The Madaba map is the first known map of Palestine and the Nile Delta made around the 6th century and depicts biblical sites from Lebanon all the way to Egypt. The Nile, Dead Sea (illustrated with fish swimming away from it towards the Jordan River, very playful!), Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jericho are all represented on the map.

    After viewing the mosaic, we wander around town, following the LP walking tour. There are some old homes from the Ottoman era, mosques and markets along the way. We end at the Church of St. John the Baptist, with pretty frescoes on the wall and some Roman columns on its grounds. We had to get some dessert to end our day, so we make a quick stop at Al-Baraka and get half a kilo of different kinds of yummy baklava. The three of us eat some in the car and we save the rest for when we get back to Amman.

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    The drive back to Amman takes about 45 minutes in traffic. Mahmud has been a fantastic driver – he plans to spend the night with his friend in Amman before driving back to Petra the next morning. We’ve been talking to him all day during our drive and we appreciate the opportunity to talk to a local and hear his thoughts on Jordan, its economy, the perception of Westerners, the slowly changing role of women in society and so on. He is married with 3 children, one of them a girl, and they all go to school in Wadi Musa. His ideas are modern – one wife, education for all, equal opportunity for women – and we hope that in a few years or a few generations (sometimes, change is slow), this will resonate with the wide majority of the population. This is true, not just for Jordan, but for the other countries in the Middle East, and other developing countries around the world. Mahmud is clearly proud of his family and of his country.

    The next day is Thanksgiving, and Dawn and Kai have invited a few guests over for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. No sooner than we reach their house, we're off again - this time for some final grocery shopping. We need pork sausage for the stuffing, veggies, snacks for the guests and some ingredients including bourbon for dessert. Some of these ingredients like pork, rosemary and bourbon present challenges but we are mostly successful in the end. We return home victorious, and have barbecued shish kebabs for dinner followed by the sticky and delicious baklava. We also book a taxi to drop us off at the Dead Sea (O Beach) tomorrow morning. On Dawn's agenda for the night is the making of the pies - 2 pumpkin and 2 chocolate bourbon pecan pies. Yumm! So, we get working on rolling out the pie crusts and making the filling. We finally finish the pie making minus the baking at about 1 am and roll into bed.

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    The Dead Sea...

    This morning, we're up and out the door by 8:30 for our day at the O Beach on the Dead Sea. We are looking forward to a day of relaxation and doing absolutely nothing. The Dead Sea lies some 400 m below sea level at the lowest point on the earth's surface, and forms part of the Great Rift Valley. It is one of the most saline lakes in the world, which gives it its buoyancy. It is fed mainly by the Jordan river, but having no outlet, the Dead sea loses huge amounts of water by evaporation into the hot dry air. This results in high concentrations of salts and minerals, making it an inhospitable environment for any living organisms. However, the minerals and healing mud of the Dead Sea coupled with the enriched oxygen atmosphere and low UV levels in the area, make this a unique therapeutic environment, taken advantage of by humans for centuries.

    It takes us an hour to reach the O Beach, the furthest south of all the Dead Sea resorts. They have just opened for the day and setting up when we arrive. We buy a day pass for 20 JD each and set off for the lounge chairs by the pool. There is only one other family here at this early hour. One thing to know is that the Dead Sea area (not just the O Beach) is ridden with flies. The manager asks us to leave the pool area so they can fumigate the place. So, we decide to go down to the beach. The water is a clear turquoise blue with the hills of Israel in the hazy distance. Rocks covered with salt provide a slightly treacherous entry to the water with their sharp edges. Ajit gingerly steps over the slimy rocks and gets into the warm water. It takes him a few minutes to get used to the unusual feeling of buoyancy, but he is soon like a little kid in the water trying various poses! :-) I smear myself with the black mud provided by the hotel and get into the water myself. How cool is this!! We spend about half an hour happily floating about and then wash off at the showers.

    While we are in the water, we hear sounds of shells being fired; we know the sounds are coming from the Israeli side, but it feels too close for comfort. When we talk to the local lifeguard, he casually dismisses it as just another day of fighting between the Israelis and Palestinians! It's sad when shelling and artillery fire becomes a part of daily life. Such is life in this part of the world...sigh! We head back up to the pools and lounge for a while. It takes us a while to get used to doing nothing and just relaxing. We usually prefer to be out and about all day. :-) The fly situation is much better compared to this morning.

    By about noon, the place starts getting crowded; there is a huge group that arrives for an organized lunch. So, we decide that this is the perfect time to grab a bite at the Lebanese restaurant. We order a bunch of mezze, the muhammara, chicken liver, kibbeh and labneh are especially good washed down with Mt. Nebo Chardonnay.

    After lunch, we are ready for some spa treatments, the mid-week discounts making it extra appealing. The spa room has a wonderful location facing the Dead Sea. We both get a Dead Sea salt scrub followed by a healing massage. When we lay on the massage table with our faces down, we look into a mirror that reflects the blue sky and trees. Ingenious! The treatments are soothing and relaxing, and we almost doze off. There is also a jacuzzi in the room and had we more time, we would have loved to soak in the warm water for some time. But, we want to get some drinks at the bar and take in the sunset before heading back to Amman in time for dinner. The late morning crowd has all but disappeared by now, as we sip our drinks and watch the sun set over the distant hills and streak the sky with ribbons of fire.

    We ask reception to call us a cab. There is heavy traffic on the way back to Amman, and it takes us an hour to get back to Abdoun. We have just enough time to shower and change before the guests begin to arrive. While we were away all day, Kai and Dawn have been busy preparing a turkey along with all the accompaniments - 3 different kinds of stuffing, sweet potatoes, green beans with pecans and gravy. The meal is lovely and there is plenty of St. George red wine from the vineyards around Madaba to go with it. The guests are interesting and the conversation is lively. The pies are a perfect end to the evening's festivities. By the time the guests leave and we clean up, we are all ready to hit the bed. Tomorrow, Kai and Dawn will join us on a day trip to Jerash. But now, all we want to do is sleep.

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    Happy New Year to everyone reading! I'm going to finish this up today and also include a link to our pictures.

    We take it easy this morning and leave for Jerash by 10:30 am. Jerash is an hour’s drive north of Amman. I had hoped to travel further up north to Umm Qais in the northwestern corner of the country bordering Israel and Syria, but our late start and shorter days of winter meant this was not going to be possible. The north of the country has a very different landscape from the south, where we have spent most of our time on this trip. The northern highlands area has a temperate climate and is home to most of the agriculture in Jordan and is therefore much more verdant.

    The ancient city of Jerash boasts an unbroken chain of human occupation dating back to the Bronze Age. Conquered by General Pompey in 63 BC, it came under Roman rule and was one of the ten great Roman cities, known as Gerasa. The site is now acknowledged to be one of the best preserved Roman cities in the world. Gerasa reached its height of prosperity during the first and second centuries, and is a fine example of grand, provincial Roman urbanism, comprising paved and colonnaded streets with markets, soaring hilltop temples, excellent theatres, spacious public squares and plazas, hippodrome for chariot races, baths, fountains and city walls pierced by towers and gates.

    We enter the site through the majestic Hadrian’s Arch built to commemorate the emperor’s visit in 129 AD. We stop at the Hippodrome and imagine the throng of spectators cheering as they watched chariot and horse races and other sporting events. The site is framed by gently sloping hills filled with evergreens and olive trees, with the modern-day city to the east providing a striking contrast. Large parts of the impressive city walls are still in view today. The grand Oval Plaza is remarkable with its broad sidewalk surrounded by a colonnade of elegant Ionic columns. From here, we walk on the Cardo Maximus (the main Roman road) still paved with the original stones, the ruts worn by the chariot wheels visible to this day. There are elaborate Corinthian columns and sidewalk with shops on both sides – this was the marketplace and focal point of Gerasa. Further up, we find the Nymphaeum, an ornamental fountain dedicated to the Nymphs. This impressive fountain was originally embellished with marble, with water pouring out of 7 carved lions’ heads into drains in the sidewalk – some of these drains are still visible.

    Then, we walk towards the north gate and turn into the smaller of the two theatres. The acoustics, as expected, is amazing! We then turn towards the lovely Temple of Artemis, daughter of Zeus, sister of Apollo and the patron goddess of Gerasa. Its graceful Corinthian columns soar impressively from its hilltop site. From here, we walk to the ruins of Byzantine churches where there are some realy pretty mosaics. Then, it’s on to the larger South Theater, which has an ornate stage and equally remarkable acoustics. Our final stop is at the Temple of Zeus, much of it destroyed by the earthquakes in the 8th century. We can still see remnants of the grand staircase lead up from the Oval Plaza to an esplanade, from which another staircase leads up to the temple surrounded by massive columns. As we depart, the afternoon sun casts a glorious light on the Plaza and Cardo. A walk through Jerash has been a journey in time.

    It's 2:30 pm and we are ravenous, but the Lebanese restaurant outside the site appears to be very busy. Instead, we decide to head back to Amman. We first try Fakhr El-Din, which has received rave reviews and has been recommended by a friend. But, they are not open at the time. So, we go over to Wild Jordan Cafe. The food is good (a mix of local and western) and healthy, but the best thing about it is the view – looking out to the citadel on the hill across. We want to buy some spices, so we drive to City Mall to buy sumac and zaatar from Carrefour. They vacuum pack it for you - a good way to travel with spices. We also get some halva and baklava (can’t resist!). When we get back home, we order Lebanese food from a local fast food shop and watch several episodes of Outsourced back to back on Kai’s projector. Ajit and I have already watched them all, but we still laugh so hard the entire time.

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    I just finished ClarkB's report, which peeked my interest about Jordan, so I jumped into your report. Wonderful! Jordan has just moved up my list, and I can't wait for more of your lovely writing.

    I am curious to learn what you feel were your favorite spots, as well as what you wished you had taken more time to visit.

    Thank you and happy new year!

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    This is our last day in Jordan. Kai has a flag football tournament this morning and Marcus has a birthday party, so Ajit and I are off to Old Amman for the day. We hail a taxi from Abdoun Circle to the Citadel. Taxis are very cheap in Amman, but you need to make sure to keep small change with you or you’ll overpay. Since we are out the door early, we reach the Citadel before the tour groups arrive. The Jabal al-Qal'a sits strategically atop one of Amman’s seven hills and towers above downtown Amman. It was occupied through the centuries by various civilizations. Little remains of the Byzantine Church and Temple of Hercules except for a few surviving columns. The most impressive building in the Citadel is the Palace, with its renovated domed audience hall, which dates back to the Ummayad period. Views of the urban sprawl that is Amman can be seen all around.

    After spending about an hour here, we follow the Lonely Planet walking tour in reverse, and head down the long staircase to the base of the hill, through alleyways, across busy Hashemi street and end up at the Roman Theater. The views from the bleachers are splendid, facing the citadel, and we sit and take it all in for a while. After the exorbitant entry fees at Petra, it's nice to finally pay 1 JD for the sites here in Amman. From here, we walk in the direction of the Nymphaeum, but are unable to find it. Oh well, moving along to the mayhem of the souks.

    Around Al-Husseiny mosque, there is a maze of small shops selling everything from fruits, vegetables, nuts and spices to clothes, cosmetics, household appliances and souvenirs. We wander around, turning this way and that, not really following the map. It's lunch time and the souk is busy, filled with locals going about their day shopping for things they need - somehow it feels like we are in the way. There are no street signs here, so we ask around for Basman street to get back on the LP trail. As we walk towards the gold souk, we see a narrow alleyway lined with risque lingerie shops - interesting! The gold souk is filled with dazzling displays of gold jewelry; being from India this is nothing new for us though.

    Our stomachs rumbling, we try to quickly find Hashem restaurant, a hole in the wall eatery very popular with locals and tourists alike and recommended by the LP. There is no menu here. We sit down and order 2 mint teas, a plate of hummus and 2 plates of falafel. The server, who speaks surprisingly good English, brings us warm, fluffy khobz (bread) and lays it on paper placemats, and a bowl of chili paste. We dig in eagerly, and the food doesn't disappoint; in fact it is exceptional. And it cost a grand total of 3 JD! While we enjoy fine dining in the best NYC restaurants, we also love eating in places like this - with simple, clean, delicious food. Sitting outside on plastic chairs in an alleyway, eating with our fingers, watching the waiters bustling around taking orders and serving up hot freshly fried falafels to hungry customers - is happiness!

    After the fine meal, we walk up on Al-Malek Faisal street to Habibah, a popular sweet shop. We sit upstairs and have some kanafa (the famous middle eastern dessert made with shredded dough filled with cheese and soaked in syrup) washed down with more sweet tea.

    On a sugar high, we decide to make our way to Rainbow street for some shopping. Too full to walk, we hail a taxi from the main road. Rainbow street has several antique, handicraft and souvenir shops dotted with cafes and restaurants. We browse around several stores and finally purchase an antique Jordanian tea pot, a copper jug and a bowl made with dead sea clay from the JARA store. This part of Amman is very pretty with beautiful old homes set on narrow winding roads with views of the citadel on the hill across. We end up going back to Wild Jordan for tea and milk shakes and enjoy the views. As we walk back on Rainbow street, we spot JARA cafe, with sofas on a terrace overlooking the city - it looks cozy and another sage tea couldn't hurt! ;-) It is about 4:30 pm when we are done with our teas and head back home. Our flight back to NYC leaves at 11:30 pm, so we need to leave for the airport by 8.

    Kai has returned victorious but tired, his team winning the flag football championships. We pack and then sit around chatting waiting for our taxi to arrive. Soon, it's time to say goodbye and leave for the airport. Our flight is on time, but security is extra tight with every carry on bag being searched before boarding. It's a full flight; we mostly catch up on our sleep and watch a couple of movies. We land on time at JFK at 5:30 am and are back home in a couple of hours.

    This has been a wonderful trip filled with ancient history, culture and architecture; varied landscapes from the desert to the second most saline water body at the lowest point on earth, deep canyons and beautiful coral and fish in the Red Sea; varied activities like camping, hiking, snorkeling, and some buoyant floating; friendly people and simple, but delicious food.

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    Thanks Local! While Petra and Jerash were wonderful, our favorite part of the trip was the the night spent in Wadi Rum. That was a unique experience is a unique location.

    If we had extra days, I would have loved to add on Umm Qais, Umm Al Rasas and the desert castles to our trip. I hope you do go to Jordan, it's lovely.

    Happy New Year to you too!

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    Loved your trip report - your writing is wonderful. I was thrilled to relive my time in Jordan - especially Petra - through your words. And you guys are excellent photographers. Your report & pix from Cambodia were a big inspiration for me when planning our trip there - which we leave for this week. So thanks for that, too!

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    Leslie and Axel - Thanks so much for your kind words. My husband is the photographer, so will pass on your compliments to him...he will be thrilled and I'm sure will use this as a reason to get a bigger lens this year :-)

    Leslie - I'm so jealous that you are off to Cambodia...that was one of our favorite trips. I'm sure you'll have a splendid time. Safe travels!

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