I am going to be really honest about something here. When Shack first called me to tell me that he agreed to work on a movie on location, I was thrilled because when he takes an away job, it means that we get to go and visit unless, of course, it's a February shoot in New Liskeard Ontario. Then we kiss him goodbye, tell him to bundle up, that we will miss him and anxiously await his return. Where would it be this time? Brazil? Prague? Thailand?
He said "I am not sure if it's good news or bad news. It's in Jordan"
You mean Jordan, right next to Israel and Syria Jordan or is there another Jordan that is right beside the Italian Alps that I am unaware of?
He said "No, Jordan right next to Israel and south of Syria Jordan"
|We stopped on the road into Petra and this is officially the highest we had ever been when NOT in an airplane|
At first I reacted much like most people I know reacted when I told them where he would be spending the month of November and that I was considering taking The Kid to visit for a couple of weeks.
"YOU CAN'T GO AND TAKE THAT KID TO THE MIDDLE EAST!! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE! YOU WILL BE BEHEADED BY ISIS AT THE AIRPORT!"
Because I am me and, in the end, the lure of foreign travel will always win out, I started to research the country online. Perhaps we could just fly to a nice European city after he finished the job and rendezvous with him and then all fly home together?
As I was researching, I kept reading travel blog after travel blog about the wonders of this place, all written by people who were either still there or recently returned. Every travel forum was filled with glowing reviews from real travellers who were all raving about their trips. From what I was gathering, it was safe, it was fabulous and full of warm, welcoming people and, slowly, I began to get excited about going. Who hasn't always wanted to see Petra (Hello! Indiana Jones, people), apart from Karl Pilkington? I certainly did but I assumed it was a region that I would never be able to visit so I didn't give it any real thought. The Kid was not sold on the idea and originally refused to accompany me and we did discuss leaving him home while I went alone but the more I read, the more I became convinced that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and convinced him to come. He admitted he was still nervous but he trusts us and knows we would never take him somewhere dangerous and so the wheels were set in motion.
Whew. That was done but now I had to deal with the well meaning friends and family who thought we had lost our minds. It's dangerous! You are a woman! You can't travel around alone with The Kid while Shack is working! What are you thinking! YOU ARE THE WORST MOTHER EVER.
I was kind of shocked that I was made to feel pretty guilty by a number of people but I knew it would be okay, so I just chose to ignore them and we bought our tickets after Shack had been there for a week and gave us the green light.
I will tell you right now that it was one of the best trips I have ever been on and that I would go back tomorrow in a hot second if I had the opportunity because there are still lots of things we didn't get around to doing and seeing.
1. It's safe and the people are lovely, welcoming, hospitable and generous.
With true world wonders like Petra, The Dead Sea and the Wadi Rum not to mention lesser know archeological sites like the Roman ruins of Jerash, the Citadel, endless important religious sites like Mount Nebo and a host of desert castles, this place should be crawling with tourists and those tourists should be there with their kids. If you like a bit of city action, Amman is where you want to be - you can go to the new part of town and stay in a high end hotel and shop in the modern malls or you can roll in the older, downtown area to soak up the middle eastern flavours, sights and sounds, shop at the souk and buy a couple of pashminas. We skipped the new part altogether because, frankly, I don't travel half way around the world to shop and H&M and eat sushi but to each his own.
I was told by many a tour guide that where there used to be so many visitors to Petra that Unesco was considering putting limits on how many people could enter the site daily but now, that number has dropped tenfold. Sure, it made it nice for us to not have to contend with huge crowds but it's not great for Jordan.
TAKE A TRIP TO JORDAN PEOPLE. IT'S SAFE.
|this was a little more common in Amman where there are more Syrians but it was not the norm, by any means|
To be honest, I was having major hijab envy by the end of the trip because these young women WORK those things. The fashion seems to be to wear a high, big bun underneath so that the scarf sits up and extends out at the back. They all put their own spin on the way they wear it, the colours are beautiful and you never, ever have to worry about a bad hair day again. I could totally buy into a hijab if I didn't have to worry about being accused of appropriating someone else's culture. I had some really nice photos of women on my phone but they seem to have disappeared but here is a whole website devoted to helping young women express themselves through their hijab fashion steeze.
The only time I was reminded that I was not totally free to do as I please was when at the public beach. I was assured that it was not that anything bad would happen if I wore a swimsuit there, but that it would be disrespectful so I swam at the hotel or at a private beach, which was absolutely fine with me. Just be respectful and use your head.
DON'T BE AFRAID TO TRAVEL TO JORDAN IF YOU ARE WOMAN < IT'S COOL.
3. The food is amazing. Jordan is a Levantine country so, like Israel, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria there is no end to the mezzes - hummus, baba ganoush, foole (also spelled ful) , falafel, za'atar, olives, pita, labneh, kofta, lamb, lamb and more lamb. There are also dishes that are specifically Jordanian like the Bedouin specialty, mansif, the national dish of Jordan which is so much better than it sounds. It's lamb cooked with fermented dehydrated yogurt on rice with nuts and the thin, almost crepe like bread called shrak. The tea and the lemonade are both served very sweet and full of fresh mint and both are highly addictive. I have not eaten so consistently well on a trip in a very long time. Don't even get me started on the rich, dark, rocket fuel that is the cardamom laced turkish coffee.
|these filling savoury pastries come filled with spinach, potato or cheese and cost about 30 cents|
YOU WILL EAT YOUR FACE OFF.
4. It's a great place to take your children. It's safe, it's so crammed full of amazing, ancient history that you can't swing a cat without hitting something significant and super cool. My teenaged gaming, geek son who is a total Grand Strategy nut was in heaven. Because he spends all of his time on his computer pretending to be Saladin invading Crusader strongholds, actually sailing out to Pharaoh Island to visit the ruins of a garrison belonging to the real Saladin was pretty thrilling.
You can ride camels and donkeys, climb ancient steps to mind blowing sites, float in the dead sea and walk around the ruins of an ancient Roman city that rival anything you will find in either Greece or Italy. Jordanians love children and are very family orientated and the fact that for much of our trip, I was a women alone with her son meant we were treated with kid gloves. People were so enthusiastic, wanting to make sure we were having a great time, wanting to make sure The Kid knew all the history about all of the places we were visiting. Everywhere you go, people will greet you, ask where you are from and then, with a big smile, say "Welcome to Jordan". It almost became kind of a joke between us and we would ask each other a question and then after the other answered, we would respond "Welcome to Jordan".
"Hey Kid, have you seen my new scarf?"
"It's over there on the chair"
"Welcome to Jordan!"
|Come on. Camels. Teen on Camel.|
Unlike most other vacations we have taken, The Kid was not subjected to drunken people on the streets and in restaurants etc. We could be out late at night on the weekend (their weekend is Friday/Saturday) and be surrounded by families with lots of kids running around, drinking lots of mint tea and coffee. Now, that doesn't mean that I did not spot more than a few adolescents with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths but even the dogs smoke there. Still, it took some getting used to.
It was odd that I saw almost no foreign children. There were lots of touristing couples, solo adults and groups (religious tourism is a big thing in this region) but the two things I did not encounter were Western families and Americans. The only families we saw at the hotels and the various sites were Middle Eastern families and that is a damned shame. As for the Americans, it was kind of like going to Cuba where it's nothing but Canadians, Australians and Europeans everywhere.
TAKE YOUR KIDS THERE INSTEAD OF DISNEY LAND> FOR REAL.
|I brought back my weight in spices and scarves|
5. It's affordable. If you want to stay in super fancy hotels, it's still going to cost a fraction of what those hotel rooms would cost in Europe and if you are okay with a small guesthouse, like the one we stayed at in Amman, you can get well appointed, safe, clean rooms with a small bathroom for anywhere from $40 and up. If you eat food where the locals eat, it is very cheap and very good. You can get a falafel sandwich or a shwarma on the street for a buck.
|the store we bought the walking stick from. The one he really wanted had a dagger hidden in the handle. Um, yeah, no.|
Just try to stick to their food and things will be much better, for the most part but this is the case most everywhere in the world.
Every time poor Shack would try to get his comfort food, spaghetti bolognese, he would ask "is it cow beef, or lamb beef?"
Each time he would assured that it was cow beef, the bowl of pasta would come, I would try it for him and laugh and laugh and laugh. In Amman you can get cow beef but anywhere else? It's most likely going to be lamb beef. Same goes for "bacon" it's going to be cow bacon or lamb bacon but you can rest assured it won't be pig bacon. Lamb, chicken, goat and seafood, if you are lucky, decent cow beef but no pork (although I think you can get it in some Christian owned places in Amman but I never saw this elusive bacon eating going on)
You will be expected to barter so don't be shy, but be polite about it. We brought back a suitcase full of pashminas and shemogs, spices, Bedouin tea and some trinkets and I would be surprised if we spent more than $150 Canadian for everything, including The Kid's walking stick. Don't ask.
I fell in love with the brightly coloured, patterned tunics that they sell in Aqaba and bought three of them for 15 JD. I gave one to a friend and I basically lived in the other two for the entire time we were in Aqaba. I wore it over my bathing suit around the pool, over jeans when I went out into town or with tights to go down to breakfast. They are cheap and cheerful and so pretty.
|look at the colours in that tunic!|
YOUR MONEY WILL GO FAR, EAT LIKE A LOCAL AND DON'T ASK FOR BACON> IT'S NOT HAPPENING
6. You can drink alcohol. Granted, most local restaurants don't serve it but all the big hotels do and many tourist restaurants or more expensive restaurants like the restaurant at the Yacht Club in Aqaba will offer alcohol and there are liquor stores where you can buy it yourself. Muslims are not supposed to touch alcohol (they have to declare a formal religious affiliation on their ID which is an interesting tidbit for North Americans) so I was told that all liquor stores are majority owned and operated by Jordanian Christians and all servers are either Jordanian Christians or, from what I experienced, Filipino. I was surprised to learn that there is an actual wine industry there and that Jordanian wine is not half bad but it's also not cheap. Stick to Arak, which is a middle eastern anise flavoured liquor that turns white when you add ice or a bit of water, hence the local nickname "camel's milk". it's delicious but you must handle iy with care because it's about 50% alcohol. It's like the beverage choice of the most mysterious man in the Middle East.
"I don't always drink booze, but when I do I drink rocket fuel"
AGAIN, IT WAS REALLY NICE TO NOT HAVE TO DEAL WITH DRUNK TOURISTS FOR TWO ENTIRE WEEKS EVEN IF THERE WERE MOMENT WHEN I WOULD GIVE MY RIGHT ARM FOR A GLASS OF WINE WITH MY DINNER. SMALL PRICE TO PAY, IF YOU ASK ME.
7. Which brings me to the next point. Although it is a very muslim country, not absolutely everyone is muslim and everyone I met tended to be very moderate, kind, people like moderate, kind people anywhere. There is a dwindling Christian population (between 3 and 5% at this point) but, in fact, there are growing numbers of Iraqi Christian refugees who are fleeing to Jordan for safety where Muslims and Christians appear to coexist in relative harmony. Most of the locals working on the film Shack was there for were Jordanian Christians, interestingly enough and it was really interesting talking to them and getting their unique perspective on things. They also all seemed to be related which means the film business there is just like the film business here.
Because Jordan is smack dab in the middle of what is considered the cradle of the three Abrahamic faiths, there are beautiful churches to see, Catholic and Greek Orthodox being the most common and many ruins of Byzantine Churches. Nine seats are reserved for Christians in their parliament, which might not seem like much but they represent only that 3 to 5% of the population and most other Arab nations don't make any effort to give them a voice.
We saw a number of large groups of Italians who were clearly on some type of religious tour and visiting all of the important Catholic sites like the River Jordan, Mount Nebo etc and I assume that these groups also go to Israel as part of their journey.
THERE IS A CALL TO PRAYER OVER LOUD SPEAKERS FIVE TIMES A DAY, BEGINNING AT SUNRISE. IT'S BEAUTIFUL, YOU ARE IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY SO STOP COMPLAINING BECAUSE YOU REALLY WANTED A LIE IN.
|make sure to spend a couple of days in Aqaba. It's like the Miami of Jordan minus the bikinis, beer bongs and wet tshirt contests|
If you are Jordanian, you must apply for a visa, you must have one hell of a compelling reason to go there and there is no guarantee that you will ever be granted the visa. The only Jordanian I met who has been to Israel has both a Jordanian and a British passport, has a name that is more John Watkins that Ahmed Abbadi and travels with the British document and even he said it can take up to 12 hours for him to get across the border. It was another reminder of where you are to hear locals asking what it was like in Eilat because they cannot go there when it's just a few km away and basically the other side of Aqaba, in clear view across the Bay.
CROSS AT AQABA, GET A SEPARATE PIECE OF PAPER AND TRAVEL UP TO JERUSALEM BECAUSE YOU HAVE GONE ALL THAT WAY AND YOU SHOULD DO THAT.
|Watch out for this kid. He will run after you wanting to touch your tattoos. He will then demand a dinar for his trouble. He is a very busy kid and he doesn't have time to argue with you. Just give him the dinar.|
DON'T ASK PEOPLE FOR DIRECTIONS TO THE CLOSEST TATTOO PARLOUR SO YOU CAN GET A LIVE LOVE LAUGH IN ARABIC TATTOOED TRAMP STAMP AS A MOMENTO OF YOUR STAY.
|This was taken at about 3pm, and as you can see, we were pretty bundled up|
10. Last, but not least, It's not always hot and it's not all desert. The Wadi Rum, although the desert, can get really cold at night, especially in the winter time. We were there in November and it might go up to a lovely, dry 28C during the day but once the sun goes down it could get as low as 8C. Bring some warm clothing. Amman is in the mountains and when we drove from the dead sea up to Amman, we watched the temperature gage in the car go from 24C down to 12C in under 30 minutes. It also rains from time to time, even in Aqaba at certain times of the year so check that out before you go. The mountains around Madaba are pretty lush and green, with olive groves, farmland and wineries all over the place.
|The Jordanian shemog is the red and white one that this dapper gentleman is sporting|
JORDAN IS MORE THAN JUST DESERT, BRING SOME WARM LAYERS AND BUY A SHEMOG IF YOU ARE GOING INTO THE DESERT - IT NOT ONLY LOOKS FABULOUS, IT KEEPS YOU WARM, KEEPS YOU COOL AND YOU WILL THANK ME IF A SAND STORM KICKS UP. YOU'RE WELCOME.
|look at the condition of the coliseum at Jerash!|
|This Umayyad Palace structure at The Citadel appears to have been a repurposed Byzantine Church and was one of my favourite things|
So, there are ten things you probably didn't know about Jordan.