Category Archives: Jordan

Team ACTIVE, Part 2

Petra, Jordan

We started our day with a 5:30am breakfast and headed to Little Petra at 6am. Our plan was to trek backwards from Little Petra to the Treasury, a total of 25km to be hiked to cover the entire site. Zuhair promised that Petra was better experienced this way. We’d be hitting up the less popular sites with virtually no one else around.

Little Petra, also known as Siq al-Barid, is thought to have been a post for camel caravans en route to Petra. There are rooms with tables and seating fashioned out from the rock. These are thought to have been dining rooms for the travelers. There is also a Painted House, another enclave in the canyon where there are still faded frescoes of vines and flowers, an example of Nabataean painting. (The Nabataeans were nomadic people from Arabia responsible for building Petra.)

Zuhair led our group with an earphone in one ear. Nathan joked that he was playing an audioguide feed through the earphone and reciting it out to us. Zuhair swore that it was music.

Zuhair: “Hold on guys,” as he reached for his phone in his pocket.
Nathan, miming pressing a button: “Press play.”

He was really pressing pause on his music.

Zuhair: “Okay guys, you already know that The Martian was filmed here in Jordan. So was Lawrence of Arabia. You know what? I have to give you guys a list of movies to watch.”

Zuhair: “Ah, and Ted.”
Us: “Ted was filmed in Jordan?”
Zuhair: “Oh, no. I just really like it.”

We reached the Monastery around 10am and had time for a coffee with cardamon at the cafe across from it.

It’s similar in architecture to the more popular Treasury but, way bigger.

We continued on into Wadi Musa (Valley of Moses) and walked up the hill to check out the Silk Tomb and Urn Tomb, two of the Royal Tombs, each with pink striations in the sandstone. On the way here, we ran into several clearly unfit people who, feeling too lazy to walk, decided to take donkey rides into the valley. On the positive side, I guess it supports the local economy.

We hiked to the top, above the tombs, for a panoramic view of the valley. In the top left is the large Theater that was pretty much all carved into the rock.

And, then, we reached the Treasury, the obvious main attraction. Rumor had it that treasure was hidden inside the urn on the facade. Clearly, someone had believed it because you can see gunshot holes in the urn. In this case, a rumor was indeed just that.

There was a snack stand across from this view where we ate lunch in the shade. One local (who may have been drunk) decided to jump from one rock to another below. Chances of missing the rock and falling to a serious injury below in front of the Treasury were pretty high. Apparently, he’s not the only one to have done this nor will he be the last.

We headed back down the valley after that and opted to take a longer route back to the hotel that involved climbing up 800 steps. Then, we almost got lost. “Hm, this never happened before,” Zuhair said with an awkward laugh. He had a momentary relapse but quickly re-remembered the way. Throughout the hike, we were always trying to calibrate our Fitbit’s and Health App’s and Nathan would always be about 1,000 steps behind. So, at the end, he attempted to run the last few bits. It didn’t even make a slight difference.

“Um, it seems like we only did 24 of the planned 25km!”
“Well, we were driven to the entrance this morning, so that counts.”
“Yeaaaa,” as we all treated ourselves to ice cream at the Movenpick.

We skipped the “Petra by Night” because according to Zuhair, it was a 3 out of 5 star experience that, more often than not, led to tourists’ disappointment. Apparently, they don’t light as many candles around the Treasury as one might expect and, given the cost and effort to get there, it wasn’t all that worthwhile.

Instead, we went right at opening time, 6am, and watched the sunrise fall over the facade.

We ladies attempted to spell out Petra. I look like I’m scratching my head but, I’m really a P.

Wadi Rum

We made our way to Al Zawaideh Camp out in the desert where we were staying for the night, then hopped on 4×4’s for some sand duning. Ours kept trailing behind the other 2 and I saw that our driver had earphones on and was on Whatsapp most of the time. We suspected that his playlist had changed when he finally started driving faster.

Me, looking hot in the desert. Temperature-wise.

We then drove to a Bedouin tent which was in a shaded area alongside a rock wall full of 2,000 yr old animal drawings. (They’re all the way to the left in this photo, somewhere underneath the white stripes.) Apparently, these were drawn to communicate to other travelers the direction they were going or to warn of nighttime predators (e.g. hyenas).

Nathan: “Zuhair, did you call up your friends to draw this before we arrived?”

Kasia then ran off to do her usual climbing of something.

The first of 2 arches on our visit. At one point, I walked out a bit, sat on the ground and felt the vacuum of silence. Not even a wisp of wind. It was so silent that I felt like my ears were getting sucked into my head. Then, someone laughed in the distance.

The 16 of us on arch #2, with Zuhair as our photographer.

We drove past some camels on the way to our sunset spot. Suddenly, we veered off path and were no longer trailing behind the other 2 pickup’s. We were, at first, unsure of what to do but then decided to just go along with it and WHOO! The driver ended up taking us to another set of camels where he proceeded to get out of the truck and tie their legs together so that they wouldn’t stray too far. Then, he jumped back in and sped up to catch up to the others. We were thrilled with the speed.

The sunset was incredible. Notice the face protruding out of the rock on the left?

Back at the camp, we had an amazing meal that was cooked in a zarb, an underground oven covered in sand, very similar to the Maori’s hangi in New Zealand. The meat fell off the bone so smoothly and was quickly devoured and washed down with ice cold Amstel’s.

Later, Zuhair took some of us on a night walk to see the moon and stars. We found tire markers along the path, pulled one out and proceeded to play human bowling. Darragh had to periodically flash his ultra-powerful torch to do a scorpion check for us. We finally settled down on safe ground, with drinks in hand, and asked Zuhair to clarify something for us.

Us: “So, what does ‘habibi’ mean? I thought it was something you call a significant other. But, we hear you saying them to your guy friends.”
Zuhair: “Well, first, if you’re referring to a guy, it’s ‘habibi’ and if you’re referring to a girl, it’s ‘habibti.’ It’s something you call a person who’s close to you. Whether it’s a friend or a lover, it all depends on the way you say it. There’s a difference between ‘habibi’ and ‘habibi.'”

As he said the version in italics, his eyelids suddenly drooped and his voice became sultry.

Ah, got it.

Aqaba

One of the optional activities was a boat ride on the Red Sea, including 2 snorkeling stops and a BBQ lunch on board. Um, HELL YEA!

We passed by loads of pretty but, ominous-looking jellyfish. They luckily weren’t the stinging kind. We could see Israel and Saudi Arabia from our boat as well but, what really interested us was the view underwater. The water was warm and clear. In other words, perfect.

(Photo credit for the Red Sea: H)

Wadi Mujib

On departure day, Zuhair found out that Wadi Mujib was finally open. Water levels had gone down enough, although it was still at 1m (about 3x higher than normal). So, he was able to arrange a roundtrip from Amman for the 11 of us who weren’t yet flying out.

We did the Siq Trail (about 1-2 hr) and as we started out, there were a group of guys in front of us who clearly seemed scared shitless. They were of the nicely gelled hair kind. But, the deeper we went in, the higher the water level and the more aggressive it became. The trail ended at an awesome waterfall and on the way back, we all had to either jump from a rock and dive to the safe end or, let the rapids take us further down and have someone grab us. I took the latter approach and almost face-planted into a rock wall. Then, we reached another part of the obstacle course where we followed a line attached to the wall, our bodies partially submerged in the water. I somehow lost my grip and the current rammed me into a barricade of lines (similar to the second photo below) while the guide shouted at me to grab his hand. He was actually angry. “Why did you do that?!” “I didn’t do it on purpose!”

  

Finally, we were back to where we started. The water eventually trickled off into a dam, the other side of which a guy was hanging out, collecting items that people lost in the rapids. Were parts of it a little scary? Yea. But, it was so damn worth it.

(Photo credit for Wadi Mujib: Felicia)

Team ACTIVE, Part 1

Amman, Jordan

djja

We arrived just in time to meet our G Adventures group and go out for dinner at an awesome local falafel place, Hashem Restaurant. We were a group of 17 including our CEO, Zuhair – Kasia, Nathan, Darragh, Christian, Reiner, Claudia, Jen, Gareth, Bostjan, Romana, Charline, Kerstin, Sarah, Felicia, Hayden and me. Countries represented: Poland, England, Ireland, Germany, Slovenia, France, Canada, Singapore, NZ and the U.S. With tourism down 80% in 2015 due to conflicts in the neighboring countries (Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Israel), we were all glad to be here to support the economy, especially given that they were one of the poorest in the Middle East. It also helped to have a lot of the main sites basically to ourselves (yea, being a little selfish here).

As we walked to the falafel place, we had to cross a few streets where traffic was constant. Zuhair’s word of advice: “Just keep walking.” The cars will see you and slow down. If you just stand at the curb, they won’t give a shit. One time, though, we were about to keep walking when Zuhair told us to stop. Some cars zoomed by. He sheepishly scratched his head, smiled apologetically, then told us to keep walking.

Travel tip: To get to the city center from the airport, make sure to go to the taxi kiosk at the airport and double check that there are a list of fixed prices. The fixed price into the city was 18 JOD (about $25). There should also be a sticker of prices on the taxi window.

Visa: We were able to get visas upon arrival at the international airport. 40 JOD.

As we drove past olive groves, Zuhair called the olive tree the “lazy farmer’s tree.” All they needed to do was wait for the olives to grow, harvest them and ship them off. All done in 2 weeks, especially if the groves were passed down to them from older generations. If a farmer planted new trees, they would need to grow for about 25 years before growing olives. Then the olives would be harvested and shipped off, all within 2 weeks. It’s just a matter of waiting.

Ajloun Forest Reserve

When you think of Jordan, you think of deserts. At least I did. And, then, I saw this beautiful greenery (and Israel over yonder). We hiked the reserve in about 3 hours, thereby making us the fastest group that Zuhair ever led. I thought this was a fitting time to break out a bag of Haribo, an instant hit.

Ay poppy.

We ate lunch at a local’s house, a place where I only pictured to exist in Tuscany somewhere. Vines stretched above us, providing shade, and ended at a garden full of flowers. In front of us were plates of hummus, roasted eggplant, eggs and potato, cooked tomato, cheese and endless pita. Traditional and delicious, especially after a 3 hr hike.

After some crazy sweet tea, we were then picked up in an 80s-style van and driven to a center run by local community women who sold homemade cookies and handmade soaps. They also made these really tasty energy bars that seemed like healthier and chewier versions of nut brittle. Zuhair bought 5 to eat in the next few days and finished them all by the time we reached our lodging. For the rest of the afternoon, some of us opted to do a self-guided hike that supposedly took 45 minutes. We finished it in 20. So, we chilled out afterwards with whiskey & Cokes and a round of Yahtzee. Kasia and I teamed up as the “Sexy Ladies.” Sexy did not mean winning.

Jerash

After a unanimous vote, we stopped by the ruins of the Greco-Roman city of Gerasa, an optional visit. It remained buried for centuries after a series of earthquakes and wars until it was discovered by a German archaeologist/historian in the early 1800s. It is known to be one of the best preserved Roman cities because of the dry desert air. Perhaps I’ve found the key to looking young?

The above Hadrian’s Arch was built in honor of (Roman) Emperor Hadrian’s visit in 129-130AD. He was known to be the third of the “Five Good Emperors,” a line of emperors under which the government thrived. Now, it’s known as Amman Gate (Bab Amman) since it stood on the road towards Amman, formerly known as Philadelphia.

The Oval Forum stemming out into the Cardo Maximus (the main colonnaded north-south street) and the modern city of Jerash in the background.

The South Theater above used to seat up to 5,000 spectators and in addition to the seating that still remains, there was a tier above it with even more seating. There was also one spot on the ground under the stage where your voice projected out into the audience as if you were speaking into a megaphone. One step to the right or left, your voice became small again.

The Temple of Artemis was, as the name suggests, dedicated to Artemis, the patron goddess of the city. She was also the goddess of hunting, wild animals and fertility, as well as the protector of young girls. In other words, she was badass.

All the carvings and details were still impressive, even in ruins. You could even still see the wheel ruts on the stone paths. It made history feel a little less faraway.

Back at the entrance, Darragh was ready to bargain for a Jordanian red and white scarf. We had passed these markets on the way in and, throughout our tour of the grounds, he had talked up a big game about paying a certain price for it. Hayden also wanted a scarf which gave Darragh a bargaining chip – the more you buy, the more they’ll be willing to lower the price. But, as soon as he was approached by the first salesman, he said “okay” to the price mentioned and was done within a minute or two. I’m not sure what happened to his bargaining plan.

Dead Sea

At 400m below sea level, the Dead Sea is the lowest point on Earth. The high salinity (about 9x more than oceans) is due to the high rate of evaporation and is also the reason for many scrunched faces unfortunate enough to get a droplet of it in their eyes and/or mouths. It honestly tastes and irritates like hell.

The sea looks gorgeously blue from here but, believe it or not, the water level used to be where I was standing for this photo. “The Dead Sea level receded quickly, the water level was here in 2005.” Further down the steps, between the 2 guys and the sun umbrellas, was another sign. “The water level was here in 2010.” Apparently, Israel’s been using way too much of the Dead Sea to supply water throughout the country that water levels have been decreasing rapidly, at a rate of 3.3 feet per year. The water was also being used by Jordanian farmers and industries dependent on its mineral extraction. The locals are now scared that the emptier it gets, the less it can shield Jordan from feeling the earthquakes. Luckily, the 2 countries have signed a $900m deal to replenish the Dead Sea by building a canal from the Red Sea.

There were buckets of mud placed along the shore and we took full advantage. That stuff really hardens on you in the heat (that’s what she said).

And, floating in the sea was…weird. Felicia started walking into the water with a bunch of random papers in her hand. “What is that?” everyone asked. Then she struggled to get her feet up and float without getting the papers wet. Ah, the “I’m effortlessly reading these papers while floating” pose.

I then laughed at other people’s reactions when they got water splashed into their eyes and mouths, then in the midst of laughing, a splash went into mine. I gagged. After about 30 min, though, the novelty wore off and we headed to the slides at the hotel pools (Dead Sea Spa Hotel). Then when we got bored with the slides, it was off to the sun loungers. Team ACTIVE.

Wadi Numeira

We actually really were active. Due to heavy rains, Wadi Mujib was closed and, instead, we came here to go canyoning.

Dana Biosphere Reserve

On our way here, we stopped at a shop to fill up on snacks and drinks. While most of us were chilling out on the minibus, a child peeked in through the open door.

Child: “Give. Me. Money.”
Us: “Sorry, but no.”

Another child peeked, possibly a sibling.

Child: “GIVE. ME. MONEY!!”

By then, Zuhair came back in and shooed them away. We saw the children run off to a man sitting on the curb.

Darragh: “If that child had asked nicely, then maybe. And, it’s not ‘give me money.’ It’s ‘SHOWWW MEE THE MONEYYYY.'”

We picked up our guide for the day, Asa (or Issa). He seemed so serious at first but, later we realized it was just a cover for his real awesomeness. Along the way, he told us about various plants and their healing powers and, while he seemed convincing, I remained skeptical. I mean, if these plants were really that great, why weren’t pharmaceutical companies on top of it? We even asked the opinions of Gareth and Jen, the 2 doctors in the group, and they were also skeptical. On the other hand, it could be a hidden gem. Anything’s possible, right?

Asa, Zuhair, Christian, Darragh, Felicia, Sarah, Bostjan, Romana, Charline, Kerstin, Jen, Gareth, Nathan, Hayden, me and Kasia (the photographer). Missing from the photo: Reiner & Claudia.

Kasia: “Guys, do a jumping photo!”
H: “I don’t do jumping photos.”

It was time for tea. Asa pulled out a teapot from behind some rocks, pulled out a bottle of water from his bag and gathered some surrounding herbs. He then gathered a few branches to start a fire on a spot that was clearly used many times before. Asa has been a regular here ever since he was a child.

Kasia and Christian then ran off to climb some rock towers. Asa looked up with furrowed eyebrows. “Not that one! It’s not safe!” He seemed annoyed. But then, he yelled out, “I’ll show you a better way!” He ran off and climbed one of the towers in effortless Spiderman fashion. He had better control on the rocks even while wearing sneakers that were falling apart. Badass.

Jordan’s national flower, the black iris.

Later in the afternoon, we arrived at our lodging which was supposedly called Silk Road. The “R” had fallen off the sign though. “Looks like we’re staying at the Silk Oad, guys.”

April 15 – 22, 2016: Jordan Active Adventure