Jordan, The Place With Petra
We found ourselves in the worst hail storm either of us have ever been in, we were in a car that might have been our car rental guy’s personal car, driving in a foreign country where traffic laws are best described as "suggested”, headed a few hours south of Amman to get to the desert so we could sleep in a tent for the next two days; it was an adventure to be sure.
We decided to go to Jordan after many years of admiring Petra from photographs, travel articles, and that one Indianapolis Jones movie where the Nazis pick the wrong cup and Indianapolis almost spells Yahweh wrong and falls to his doom, luckily he spelled it right. We did find a pretty good deal through Etihad Airways, somewhere around 700 buckaroos, with a layover in Abu Dhabi on both sides of our short trip.
The flight was uneventful which is how every flight should be, actually. Our stay in Abu Dhabi was short, noodles cooked with our tea kettle, a bit of Sheik Zayed Mosque looking (it was closed by the time we got to it) and a hearty sleep was all we had time for. The real fun began after a short flight to Amman, where we landed in a dust cloud.
Our rental agent picked us up from the airport in a 2008ish four-door Puegot, which he parked outside the rental car agency that was not too dissimilar to the “internet cafe” we used in Aswan many years before. Thinking that this car was his personal cruise-mobile, we went to take our bags out, only for him to stop us and let us know this was our rental. It was a 5-speed manual, the floormats were rubber and looked as though they came out of a big-rig. There was also a handful of zipties in the door in case we had to change a flat and needed to ziptie the hubcaps back on (we did not have to use them).
The first thing I learned about driving in Jordan is: there aren’t any real rules. On a road with two lanes each way, anywhere from one to four cars could be traveling abreast in the same direction. I can, without hesitation, say that this was the most fun I have had driving in a long time. Even when we hit the hail storm, which was about 20 minutes of the most insane hail I have ever encountered, we were worried that the windshield was going to break, it sounded like someone was throwing rocks down onto us from a bridge, and visibility was about twenty-five feet. This rain storm is the same one the pushed a bus full of children into the Dead Sea. Our final destination, which would be the southern-most we would be going on this trip, was Wadi Rum, a desert in southern Jordan.
When planning our trip, Carmen had read a plethora of reviews on various travel sites about Wadi Rum, one of the common themes was “Wadi Rum is amazing, we wish we had more time”. We booked two nights at a small Bedouin style camp, a “luxury” camp called Jamal Rum Camp. The reviews were amazing, the place had an almost perfect rating, so we booked. We received an email from them, telling us to contact them upon arrival they would meet us at the visitor center and to not trust anyone but them. We thought it was strange that they would tell us to watch out for fake Jamal Rum Camp people, and after some back and forth conversation about keeping our reservation or booking elsewhere, we opted to stay with our reservation, which was 55 Jordanian dollars for the two nights.
We met at the visitor center, registered our stay, then followed our host to a random patch of sand three or four miles away. Here, we parked our car at what looked like someone’s tent, hopped in the 4x4 our host had, and drove across the desert to find our home for the next two days and nights. Our room was less than stellar, it was a cinder block hut that had silk stapled to the walls and ceiling, the shower was cold, the electricity was bad, and there was no wifi. Our issue with places like this is not their lack of amenities, that is completely fine. However, this place advertised that they had wifi, heated water, consistent electricity, so we felt like we were lied to.
The dinner we had the first night was pretty great, vegetables and meats cooked slowly over a day or two in a hole in the ground. We ate in a tent with the other guests, some of whom had very annoying children, they were from Spain but lived in Dubai. We went to bed after dinner and woke up around the time for dinner the next day. We neglected to do anything for the next day, choosing instead to rest from our long journey over the last two days.
At dinner that night, the hosts kept asking us what they did wrong, why we spent the day in our room. instead of doing activities - it was pretty irritating how many times they asked, actually. At dinner, we overheard some Australians planning to do a morning camel ride to see the sunrise, so we added ourselves to that activity. Given how poorly that went the next morning, I was glad we had not planned any more expensive or more complex activities the previous day.
We got up early to find no one around, five camels sitting outside the camp, and the sun slowly rising. I walked around until I found and woke up someone who I had not seen before. This new fellow, a young chap, grogilly got up, got us all on our camels and walked us into the desert as he texted someone on his phone. The sunrise was beautiful, we were about 200 yards from where we started. We then went back 200 yards to settle up and then go eat breakfast. We weren’t told to pay or not to pay, the guy had no idea what to do, either. Eventually, we just paid him and he disappeared into the desert with his camels.
We then asked if we could get a ride back to our car, ready to drive up to Petra. I had to ask three or four times before they finally decided it was an appropriate time to take us to our car. When we got to our car, the beautiful haggling that we had not realized we were going to have to do started. They insisted we owed 75 JOD, we insisted we owed 55 JOD. The owner got on the phone to explain that while we booked 55 JOD that we actually owed 75 JOD. This went on for a while, me insistent that we pay exactly what we agree, which resulted in him taking our money, changing his demeanor and leaving. We later found out that they cancelled our booking on booking.com so we would not be able to leave them a bad review; we found out why they have such high reviews. After a few well placed emails to the info folder at booking.com, we were able to leave an honest review.
We hit the road to Petra, not the pedal to the floor, but we were driving in Jordan, so the pedal did hit the floor a few times. The drive was mostly the same until we broke off after a police station to hit the back roads, then the switchbacks into Wadi Musa, the city closest to Petra. We went straight to the site, which was about noon, that is 12 o’clock for some of you, parked our car amidst the hundreds of other cars and buses and legged it to the gate. We opted for 2-day tickets, deciding that we could spend about 5 or 6 hours here on our first day, then go back the following to see anything we missed.
The first real excitement and huge thing you get to see, after a long meandering walk through gorgeous canyons, is the Treasury. The treasury is the facade in the aforementioned Jones movie. This place was absolutely packed with people, camels, horses, and a few pups. Here was my first real excitement at the site. There is a vantage point where you can hike up to get a view down on the Treasury, which we opted to do. However, as with most countries like this, there were people at the bottom hindering your way up unless you pay them. Most people will either pay them or just not go up, even though they have no authority or way of forcing people to pay. I walked past them, which they tried to stop, some words were said back and forth, and it ended with them threatening to throw me off the top as we hiked up. The vantage point was pretty cool, no one threw me off, though.
We then opted to take the long walk to the Monastery, which was a million miles or so, the very end of the complex. It took us about two hours to get there. The nicest part of this was that because of the length and incline of the hike, it was much less crowded here than anywhere else. This part of the compound was not in any of the Indianapolis Jones movies, just to clarify. I drank a Gatorade, took some dog photos, and peed on the ground because the bathroom was locked. Then I petted a dog.
We took the long hike back, along with everyone else, as the place was closing for the night. We ran into my friend from earlier, the one who threatened to throw me to my death, he asked me to catch a dog for him - I did. He then opted to tell me how I broke his business and I left, the great business destroyer. After a quick dinner (camel) we went to bed.
The following day we went back to Petra to see all the things between the Treasury and Monastery that we missed, look at some trinkets and then head back. We did meet a nice couple who was on a Holy Land tour with their church, they were from DC and super duper friendly, so friendly that their super power might have been being friendly.
The Dead Sea
I was really excited to see the Dead Sea, it is something I have heard about for many years, plenty of people I know have gone, and I finally had my chance to see it. We opted to meander along the Dead Sea instead of making a direct path to Amman.
Through all the small towns along the way people were hitch hiking. I finally decided to pick up a man who looked old enough to have been following Moses for 40 years, spoke no English, and smiled like he was having a great day. We also picked up a much younger guy. The older fellow only went about a mile or two, but when we dropped him off, the bag of chips I had in the back seat was gone, replaced with a bracelet of green beads, which I consider to be a pretty awesome trade. Those green beads are around my stick shift in my car, giving me good luck.
The younger fellow stayed in the car for about 25 miles or so, getting out just before we got to the Dead Sea. As we let him out, another guy jumped in, but he was trying to go to Amman, which we were going to just not directly, so we asked him to get out. Unfortunately, the storm from our first day in Jordan washed out some roads and the Dead Sea was inaccessible, so we had to back-track after a police blockade and drive through the mountains, up and down, brakes and low gears, down into a valley and across a dam and back up. It was very disappointing to not see the Dead Sea, especially as I had really wanted to get in, but the drive was beautiful.
The final hour into Amman was terrible, our rental car’s brakes were in deep need of changing, the pads were worn down and grinding; i was trying my best to downshift and not use the brakes. The traffic was exactly what you’ve see in videos of massive cities, that is to say it was nerve-racking, bumper to bumper, mirror to mirror, and everyone cool as a cucumber. It took us a solid two hours to traverse the surface streets to get to our hotel, which we eventually did. We checked in for our two nights, the following day we would be going to Israel, but I’ll write about that in another post.
At the end of the trip, Jordan was different than I expected. Petra was more amazing than I had hoped, but the feeling that someone lied and then tried to cheat us in Wadi Rum was really off-putting. The people, for the most part, were friendly and helpful. I would, without hesitation, fly back to Jordan just to rent a car and drive around for a week.