Wadi Rum

While Petra is obviously the main attraction in Jordan, to skip the wonderful Wadi Rum desert would be a travesty!! This beautiful region is amazing to experience, especially in today’s hectic modern world. During the day Wadi Rum dazzles with it’s beauty, it’s history and it’s landscapes. For me though, the magic happens at night. After a glorious feast from the “zarb” (an underground contraption that cooks the meat and vegetables) we then sat around the campfire, drinking mint and sage tea, and watching the shooting stars in the sky. The sky here is so free of pollution that it is easy to see the stars. With no internet either it was a chance to just sit and chat with fellow travellers, listening to people’s lives and stories. In the morning, before anyone else was awake, I tiptoed out of the tent and sat waiting for the morning glow to begin. A cat had the same idea! lol. From the chill of early morning (the desert does get cold overnight) as the sun began to rise so did the heat. By 9am it was already promising to be another scorcher of a day. The desert is wonderful and I loved it!

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Little Petra

After two days exploring Petra one would think I would have had enough of Nabatean ruins, but not so! When our guide offered us a choice of an early morning trip out to Siq Al-Barid or a sleep in before heading out to Wadi Rum I obviously chose the chance to see another well preserved site by these fabulous desert peoples. A short 8km drive out from Wadi Musa will get you to the Siq Al-Barid, which translates to “cold canyon”. The name is apt – even at 8am it was super hot but as soon as you walk through the narrow slit into the canyon you can feel the coolness that the canyon walls provide. What a relief it must have been for those crossing endless deserts to come to this little cool paradise! It is said that the canyon was an agricultural centre and a hub of trade, and also a resupply post for those who were continuing on to Petra proper. While obviously not as grand as Petra, the site does have a few interesting features. For me personally I enjoyed the “painted house”, which was a small dining room that has a beautifully painted ceiling of vines and birds and flowers. True paradise in the middle of nowhere!

temple
possible dining hall for merchants
this old fellow started early to earn a few bucks, we were the only tourists around at this time
the painted house. My photo doesn’t do the intricate painting any justice

After exploring the small site we headed back out to the small carpark. Our guide said he wanted to show us one of the oldest sites in the middle east. Just to the left of the entry to Little Petra was a rough trail, with no real signage to mention. After about 15 minutes exposed to the searing heat we came across the ruins of Al-Beidha. There are around 65 round shaped buildings that are said to be 9000 years old! The site is important as one of the earliest examples of humans going from hunter/gatherers to settling down and start ‘farming’. For me it was amazing that something so old and historic is not really pointed out for tourists at all. I would never have known we could visit this from the carpark at Little Petra without our guides knowledge!

neolithic ruins of Al-Beidha
later rectangular style
earlier rounded style
today or hundreds of years ago?

Our walk back was a bit of a slog over rocky scree in searing heat, but our grumbles were put aside when we witnessed locals herding their animals towards their camps. Being the only people around it really felt like we had stepped back in time and were witnessing how life would have been all those years ago (I am sure the herders had mobile phones in their pockets but lets pretend they don’t!). It really was a fitting end to our little visit to this oft missed section of Petra. If you do have a spare hour or two do make the short drive over from Wadi Musa – both places are free entry, are quiet, and are perfect to get a sense of the true history that this region has to offer!

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Petra – day 2

After an exhausting and hot first day we knew an early start was a must in order to climb the 900 or so steps up to the famed Monastery. At 6.30am my friend Ms L and I were already out the door and we walked straight through the whole site all the way to the start of the climb up. Even though we were relatively early it was already quite hot, and after a tough slog up we finally made it. We enjoyed our time sitting in a cave and drinking fresh pressed orange juice before continuing on with our walk. After lunch Ms L went off for a spa treatment (smart girl!) and I, being a total glutton for punishment made the steep climb up another of Petra’s high trails – the al-Khubtha trail. It was super quiet on this trail during the hottest part of the day because most people aren’t as stupid as me. lol. This climb up was pretty horrible in 40 degree heat, and I was questioning my sanity, but the views were so worth it! By the time I came down back to the main touristy area of the Treasury it was around 4pm. The hordes were gone and I finally got my Treasury posts sans people. Overall an epically exhausting yet exhilarating day!!

A quick treasury photo in the early morning while it was quiet
Climbing up the monastery. It felt like it was never ending!
Made it! Dare I say maybe more impressive than the treasury?
After a juice break you can climb a bit more from the monastery for a sweeping view of it, and the deserts beyond.
The desert beyond
Back down from the monastery we could explore the points of interest on the main thoroughfare, such as is temple, Qasr al-Bint
The Roman road includes the Great Temple and the Colonnaded street
The climb up behind the Royal tombs on the Al-Khubtha trail offers amazing views and will make you realise just how much walking you’ve been doing!
The view at the end of the trail is amazing… And also slightly terrifying! No safety rails around here!
Worth the hike!
After this day I literally hobbled back to my hotel. That last kilometre in the heat from the siq to my hotel was the most painful thing in my life.
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Petra – day 1

Where does one even begin when it comes to describing Petra? This huge ancient site isn’t one of the Seven Wonders of the World for nothing. It made the status because it truly is an awe inspiring amazing site, and after having visited a few of the other ones, I have to say Petra would be the best (in my opinion). Anyone who is half a tourist has heard of Petra. Everyone knows of the main iconic site, the Treasury. Even some of the dopey school mums who had no idea where Jordan was would realise where I was going when I said, “you know, Petra, that was in the Indiana Jones movie and has that beautiful building carved into rock”. You’d get a nod and a glint of recognition from even the most ignorant and least travelled of people. But even I have to admit I was totally ignorant to the sheer size of the site. I knew of the iconic Treasury building, and maybe the Monastery, and that’s all I thought it was. The truth is Petra is soooo much more. It is hundreds of countless tombs, where if you find one off the main path is all yours to savour (after walking in the 40 degree heat the natural cooling relief of stone is amazing!). Petra is seeing local Bedoiun riding camels and donkeys, with their eyes lined in kohl, looking exotic and some are very handsome. Petra is rock, in all shapes and sizes, rock that is natural, rock that is hewn to benefit those that settled here. It is a place which yes, can be overrun with tourists, but because of its massive size it is more than easy enough to find a quiet spot to yourself. Move away from the Treasury and the crowds do thin out.

I had two full days in Petra, which I was so grateful for. Being the peak of summer, at around 40c the chance to take it easy and not feel rushed was definitely required. I got to explore pretty much every main trail and side lookouts, I got to sit in a little shack and drink ice cold mint and lemon, I could take the time to chat to a cheeky local who says she has cousins in Sydney and could she have my suncream which I had hanging on a caribiner. (she thought the mini suncream hanging off my bag was the coolest thing she’d ever seen). Having two days is definitely my recommendation to experience all that this huge site has to offer.
Please follow me on my first day itinerary….

The first 800 metres from the entry gate take you last djinn blocks and the obelisk tomb
There are carvings and writings everywhere – having a guide point them out can be helpful!
For about 1.2km you walk through a canyon called the siq. It’s an amazing walk through 200 metre high walls
The first glimpse through a tiny slot of the Treasury is one of those travel moments you won’t forget!
No words can prepare you for the scale of the carvings that is the treasury (Al-Khazneh)
The theatre was built by Nabateans by carving out of the rock.
While most on a one day tour might continue on the main red path to the monastery, we detoured to explore the upper royal tombs.
The colour of carved stone inside the tombs was amazing!
The Urn Tomb has Doric columns carved out of the rock. So intricate and delicate.
We took the higher path above the main colonnaded street to see the Byzantine Church, which was built on a former Nabatean site around 530AD.
I kept the Monastery for day 2 and took a turn back to climb up to the High Place of Sacrifice (Al- Madbah)
It was a tough climb but as we got higher the views became awesome!
Overlooking the main thoroughfare
looking towards the theatre
at the top!
At the top of the high place there was a boy running all over the rocks screaming and cursing at his donkey which kept running away. I was laughing so hard, and also concerned at how dangerous it would be for an Aussie kid to run around near sheer drops!
The altar area of the sacrificial rock, where those involved in the sacrifice would have had their supper.
Where they killed the animals. There was a channel (seen in the photo) where the blood could flow away
dinner at “My Mom’s Recipe” was awesome. Grilled meats and an ice cold lemon and mint was definitely on the cards
After having walked 13.2km, 67 floors and 21,405 steps in 40 degree heat a few more drinks at the Cave bar was required. One of the only places you can get alcohol in the town of Wadi Musa (which is where Petra is)
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Kerak

Following on down south on the Kings Highway one will come across the town of Kerak (also spelt Al-Karak), a small town of around 25,000 people. While many tourists bypass this town as they speed on down towards Petra it is worth a stop to see one of the most amazingly preserved castles from the Crusader era.

Built in AD 1142 by Baldwin I of Jerusalem, this site was chosen for its strategic location between Shobak and Jerusalem. Being on a hilltop it’s strategic position between trade routes meant it could charge high taxes on passing caravans, and thus Jerusalem prospered significantly from this. It was then inherited by a hated crusader called Renauld de Chatillon in 1148, and his greed for control over the whole regions trade routes severely impacted Islamic trading. Because of this, the famed Islamic leader Saladin stormed and took the castle with his army, and executed the evil de Chatillon in 1183.

Today, after passing a security checkpoint (ISIS tried a terror attack here in 2016), you will pass through the Ottoman Gate and pass a bridge over a huge moat. There are numerous display boards throughout explaining what you are seeing, so a guide is not totally necessary, but having someone explain the history and functions of the various rooms did add to the experience of the visit.

While of course the castle is amazing; full of hidden rooms, secret tunnels and fantastic stonework, it is the views from the imposing castle that were really special. The surrounding countryside is so dry and barren – it was great to overlook the landscape and try to visualise a hording army coming towards you over the vast plains. Just imagine being in the castle and seeing the dust of a thousand soldiers charging towards you!

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Mt Nebo and Madaba

After a few days in Amman and Jerash in the north it was time to wind our way down south of the country to the famed Petra and beyond to the Red Sea. While many quick tours or self drivers might use the Desert Highway which is alot more direct and quicker to Wadi Musa/Petra we ambled slowly down the Kings Highway, a road that has been used for thousands of years by the people of past times. This road is steeped in history – from Christians to Israelites, to Nabateans, Romans and Crusaders. The first main points of interest just south of Amman is Mt Nebo and Madaba, home to early Christianity.

Looking towards the Promised Land
So much history in these towns…
The cross and the serpent

Mt Nebo is where it is said that Moses saw the Promised Land. As someone who was raised in a Catholic household and did the whole Catholic schooling and church lessons, being here was somewhat a surreal experience. All those stories about the holy land, names like Jericho and Canaan and Moses and Jesus… it all happened around here. Even though today I wouldn’t call myself a Catholic (or anything really) I still got goosebumps knowing that I was in such a historical place. Early Christianity sprung up from around this very spot! That’s pretty special indeed no matter who you are or what you believe in. Anyway the site of Mt Nebo is a great place to see over the Promised Land from where Moses stood. There is also a fantastic little church called the Moses Memorial Chuch on the site, inside it houses fantastic mosaics that are beautiful in detail. Overlooking the sweeping views towards Israel you will find a sculpture that shows Jesus suffering on the cross entwined by a serpent that Moses had collected in the desert. There is also an olive tree nearby planted from Pope John Paul II in the year 2000.

the Abu Badd stone – used as a door to a Byzantine monastery
mosaic depicting the hunt
Moses Memorial

Just down the road from Mt Nebo, on the road towards Madaba we stopped by a modern day mosaic workshop. The workers who created the mosaics for sale were special needs or disabled, thus people who might not be able to get a ‘typical’ job were being employed. We got to see the young people carefully create their masterpieces with tiny pieces of “tesserae”. It’s fiddly work, and you need the patience of a saint in my opinion! Anyway the shop next door had amazing (but expensive!) pieces, all created next door in the workshop. As part of the charity, Queen Rania’s foundation pays for the shipping of any piece that a foreigner buys and needs shipped back home. Someone in our group bought a large heavy table, an absolutely beautiful souvenir from Jordan! 4 weeks later it arrived in perfect condition to Australia! All paid for by Queen Rania foundation, and thus helping to pay these young people and their skills. I thought this was a wonderful initiative to help give something back to the community.

After our visit to Mt Nebo we went on to Madaba, a city famous for it’s Byzantine era mosaics. Madaba is home to one of the largest Christian communities in Jordan, so there are quite a few churches in this town! The most famous of these is St George’s. In 1884, the local Christian community set about building a new Greek Orthodox church on the site of a Byzantine church. It was here that a mosaic map was discovered that blew everyone away not only for its artistry (it was made of over 2 million terrasae [small coloured stone]) but because of it’s details of the Holy Land at the time it was made. The map is one of the oldest maps of the Holy Land, said to be created in the 6th century. It’s most famous for it’s detail of Jerusalem – buildings made after 570 in Jerusalem are not shown hence why it is known to be made before that time. What excited archaeologists and historians most about the map is the incredible detail of Byzantine Jerusalem, showing such features as the Damascus Gate, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Tower of David. As a whole, the map showed an area from Lebanon all the way down to the Nile Delta, and from the Med to the Eastern Desert. Not much is known as to who actually built the map, but the mosaic artists were probably local Christians from Madaba, as the writing is in Greek and pilgrims who would have gone towards the Holy Land may have used the map for guidance. Before entering the church you can see a full size replica in the ticket office, which is definitely easier to see key features and familiar places.

a part of the famous Madaba mosaic
The altar of St George’s
I can’t read this lol

For anyone with a religious background then Mt Nebo and Madaba are definitely a must visit. Having said that though, even if you are not religious at all, you cannot help but feel just how historical this region is to the whole world. It definitely feels like our thought systems, morals, values and beliefs originated from the people who plied this land many years before us.

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Jerash

For those that love Roman ruins you just have to get yourself to Jerash! Located an easy hours drive north of Amman these ruins are reknown for their amazingly preserved buildings and monuments. The ruins are said to be some of the biggest and best outside of Rome, and once you get to the site you can see why – it is a huge area full of columns, facades, arches, paved roads, temples, plazas and theatres. The years might have taken their toll on other Roman sites around the world, but with the hot dry desert air the ruins of Jerash have had the chance to withstand the test of time and still stand as a testament to this mighty dynasty to this day.

We spent about 3 hours here exploring, which was ample time to visit this sprawling complex from Amman. Starting at the ticket gate (entrance 8JD) you will pass through a large souvenir market and a cafe before hitting Hadrian’s Arch. The tip I offer you here, especially in the peak of summer is to buy a hat or headscarf if you do not already have one, and buy a bottle of water, because once in you will walk for quite a while through a sprawling desert like complex with minimal shade. I would also definitely recommend a guide who can share the history of the area and pinpoint certain features, or at least have a guidebook so you can learn a bit about Roman life in this city known as Gerasa back in the day.

For me personally Jerash was a highlight of Jordan that once again exceeded my expectations (a common theme of my time in Jordan- expectations were always exceeded). You know, you can read blogs, see photos, and google beforehand, but nothing can prepare you for how large the city was, and just how well preserved it is. Even with quite a few tourists around, it isn’t hard to find a quiet place, to immerse yourself in times past, and just picture ancient Romans walking around on the remarkable roads and paths of the city. Jerash really is a special place and I highly recommend a visit here!

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