On my around the world trip, I chose to go to Jordan almost solely based on the fact that it had a marathon race and would fit in with my rough route that I had made. Only after I decided to run the marathon did I really consider what there was to do in Jordan. And before I arrived in the country, the only place I was certain that I would visit was Petra. Planning last minute, while at times stressful, really is a wonderful thing. I let my experiences guide me and the freedom to change plans or follow a random path on a whim took me to unexpected places. Because of the chance meetings with friendly folks, I avoided hotel stays half the time in the country and was fortunate to have people living in the country to show me around or give me good tips on where to go and what to see.
After a fascinating three weeks in Italy, I stayed overnight in Egypt and flew in to Jordan’s capital city Amman. From a sketchy introduction to the country in Amman, I went to Petra, Aqaba, Wadi Mujib, the Dead Sea, Wadi Dana, Madaba, and back to Amman. After Jordan I was headed to Kenya. I found a really cheap flight, along the lines of what you would pay to fly Airtran back in the States, and stayed overnight in Qatar. Even with my budget friendly flight, it still included a five-star hotel stay in Doha. All in all, Jordan was a wonderful experience full of beautiful vistas, dramatic architecture, wonderfully warm people, and a glimpse into a culture very foreign to my own.
Petra & Aqaba
After my two days exploring the mysterious and captivating Petra, I took a two-hour taxi ride to Aqaba to get in some snorkeling and beach time. I ended up having to camp because all of the rooms were full. It wasn’t a big deal though, and I didn’t mind it. I enjoyed some sun and relaxation (with the exception of being assaulted by a dive instructor while in the water) and got in a few nice runs on the road to the Saudi Arabian border. I met a girl from Atlanta who shared a mutual friend from home (small world!) and met two foreign girls living and teaching in Amman who were running the Dead Sea races and invited me to stay with them.
From Aqaba I headed to Wadi Dana. It was a Friday and I had a really difficult time finding transportation because of it. I had to take a bus and then a couple of taxis to reach this small little village in a breathtaking valley but it was all so very worth it. Accommodations are slim and I chose to stay at the budget friendly guesthouse in the village that refers to rooms by name, not number. My room was called the Crazy Camel. Travelers are free to write on the walls and I fell asleep in the evenings reading quotes and random musings on the wall.
I met a retired couple from St. Louis who decided to take teaching jobs at a boarding school in Jordan for a year (where the Prince of Jordan attended school at the time) along with their daughter who was visiting, and together we took a guided hike through the valley out to Rumanna Campground. It was a beautiful hike and I ended the day with a sunset over the valley.
On the Road to Madaba with a Stranger
In addition to my awesome guide, one of my favorite people experiences in Jordan was the stranger who gave me a ride out of Dana. You see, buses can’t come down into the valley because the road is really windy and has sharp switchbacks. The manager at the hotel was trying to arrange for a taxi to pick me up to take me out of the valley to meet the bus, but then he pointed out that one of his friends from Amman was staying at our hotel and was leaving the same day. The gentleman was an archaeology research assistant and had made multiple trips to Wadi Dana for his job at the university. I was skeptical to ride along with this guy (especially after my incidences in the country already with creepy guys) but when the manager introduced me, the guy seemed nice and normal. I also considered the fact that tourism staff highly value their reputation, and the manager probably wouldn’t risk it if he didn’t think this was a good idea. After introducing myself to this potential driver, his phone rang and he said, “Excuse me. I need to take this call from my girlfriend.” Sweet! He has a girlfriend, I thought. That eased my concerns, and even though this guy needed to go 30 miles out of his way to drop me off in Madaba, he agreed so I just decided to go with him.
The next morning we left Dana a little late, around noon. He wasted no time in giving me a little lesson on sediments and archaeological rock talk. When we got out to the main highway, instead of turning left to head towards Madaba and Amman, he turned right. And I kind of panicked. I was like, “Umm, isn’t Amman the other way?” He apologized and said that he just needed to stop by the hospital nearby to collect data. I didn’t really understand but I went with it. The hospital was only about a mile up the road, and as I soon learned, it was the only place in the area with reliable electricity and generators so the hospital allowed him to have his machinery on the roof which runs tests on samples. The machinery looked very foreign but he tried to explain it to me as he was repairing one machine and switching out samples in another.
As we got back in the car, I was completely at ease and thought that it was turning out to be quite a unique experience. We stopped for road trip snacks, of which he insisted on buying stuff for me even when I said I was fine. I enjoyed the three hour ride out to Madaba with this random guy. In Madaba, I was planning on staying with the St. Louis family that I had met. They had left town after our hike to visit another place and wouldn’t be back to Madaba for another six hours. My new friend dropped me off at a hotel in town where I could meet the family later in the day. He was very concerned to leave me unattended but I insisted that it would be fine. We said our goodbyes and he wished me a Happy Easter. Honestly, I had forgotten that it was even Easter until the reminder from my Muslim friend. He got the phone number of my host, and texted her later than evening to check that I was able to meet up with them. It was a wonderful gesture of hospitality from a stranger in Jordan.
With my new friends in Madaba, we went wet trekking in Wadi Mujib which was one of my favorite activities in Jordan!
We then took a float in the Dead Sea and spent the following day visiting the famous churches and archaeological sites in the Christian centre of Jordan.
Amman and the Dead Sea Marathon
After that it was back to Amman to stay with the girls I met in Aqaba. I went sightseeing with my favorite taxi driver to see the Citadel and the Roman Theatre, and ran the Dead Sea Marathon. I tasted traditional Jordanian dishes and spent a night out with their local Jordanian friends, including a Jordanian-American girl whose parents met at my alma mater in Tennessee. Jordan made the world feel really small to me.
I was sad to leave Jordan but really loved this small and inviting country.