As soon as the Covid-19 related lockdown looked like it might be relaxing, we booked our trip to Jordan. I’d been before and Ange was interested in whether my stories about Jerash and Petra were accurate, and I had omitted Wadi Rum last time, so I was intrigued as to whether it would live up to expectations.
We arrived into Amman quite late at night – we were supposed to be there at 10pm but with an hour delay with our connection in London (one of the crew’s PCR test result was late), it was closer to 11pm by the time we touched down.
We’d arranged to be picked up by our hotel which was a little more expensive than the posted standard taxi fares, but being able to not have the hassle of dealing with the local taxi drivers and potentially being ripped off when you’ve spent a long time on a flight was worth the trade off. We stayed at the Marriott Amman Hotel.
In the morning we checked Uber to see how much it should be to go to Jerash. The previous time I’d been to Jerash, I had gone with a private tour which pretty much consisted of just the transport there and back, so I was interested in how much just the transport would cost.
According to Uber it should only be £20 each way (Jordanian Dinars are almost 1:1 with GBP – GBP 1.04 = 1 JOD / 0.96 JOD = 1 GBP). Which meant if we went on the same “tour” as I did last time it would cost £150 for the pair of us, whereas if we Uber-d there and back it should only cost £40!
So we ordered an Uber. Who promptly told us a sob story about how Visa had blocked his account and that he would not be paid for the trip and so we could either pay for a cash fare (for the same amount), or else we would have to get a different driver.
I’m not sure how much was true and how much he was just trying to get around the various fees that he would be charged by Uber/Visa but we eventually agreed, me hoping that if he decided to murder us and leave our dismembered bodies in the desert somewhere that we had left enough of a digital trail to point to our driver.
Forty minutes later we were getting out of his car at the Jerash carpark. The driver had tried to enter the complex at the Visitor Centre which was being renovated and so we’d gone to the main entrance, which really he should have dropped us off at anyways – from my memory of my last trip that really is the only entrance.
We then fought our way through the street merchants to the entrance and showed our Jordan Passes to the ticket office. I expected the local convenience shop across the path from the ticket office to have extortionate prices but we were offered water at a reasonable rate and picked up a couple of punnets of nuts to fuel our day.
Jerash soaked up a good two hours of wandering in the hot sun (take lots of water and some snacks for energy!) and then we headed to the entrance to try and find an Uber.
We couldn’t access WiFi and my SIM card didn’t have internet access, so we went out into the carpark to see if there were any taxi drivers there. The local tout for the restaurant helped us out and introduced us to Ali. Ali agreed to take us back to the hotel for £25, and on the way quizzed us on where else we were going and for how long.
He suggested that he could take us to each of the spots on our itinerary. I was wary, and agreed only for him to take us to the Dead Sea the following day, and on to Petra after that. I was worried that he would charge far more than what Uber said the route should cost. I knew that he would be less than what a taxi organised by the hotels would cost, because they would be adding their cut!
Back at the hotel I checked with Uber what the costs between each of the stops should be and found that Ali’s quotes were very competitive. I also checked him out on social media to find references on him on TripAdvisor – all of them complimentary. I began to feel a little more comfortable about our new best friend!
We had a late lunch and enjoyed the pool and Jacuzzi in the hotel, before dinner and bed.
Ali picked us up at the appointed time and took us to the hotel on the shores of the Dead Sea. Apart from a brief pause while sheep crossed the road (reminding us of country roads in New Zealand), and a mask checkpoint, the trip was non descript.
Our access to the Dead Sea was all through the hotel we stayed at – the Movenpick Resort & Spa Dead Sea, and we didn’t end up leaving the resort the whole time that we were there.
When we left the Dead Sea, we headed south along the coast and then cut drastically to the east, ascending the mountains very steeply. Ali proudly told us that not many people came this way, and judging from the goats on the road and the sheer drops from the side of the road, I can’t say that I blame them. Great views admittedly!
We arrived at Petra and stayed directly opposite the entrance to the complex in the Movenpick Resort Petra. This was my second time staying at the hotel, the first time was in summer, so a totally different experience. I hoped that this visit to Petra would be better than last time.
It was Ange’s first time at Petra, so I wanted to make sure she had the full on “reveal” experience by walking through the Siq to let the Treasury have its full impact. I think she enjoyed it.
After walking all the way down to the restaurant, we took a camel back to the Treasury as our legs were tired and I managed to get us a good price.
We had to walk the rest of the way out of Petra. The next day we got up early and took the golf cart as far as the Treasury before walking back to the restaurant for the steps to the Monastery.
Now the last time I had come to Petra I was maybe 15kg (30lbs) lighter, so I thought it might be a little harder going up the steps. But I had also had two years of sitting around not doing any exercise, so the ascent dang near killed me!
The two main attractions seen, we made our way back out yet again, this time to have dinner and then return for the Petra by candle light experience. This is an additional cost, and reviews we’d read online had ranged from breathless wonder to cynical sneering, so we weren’t quite sure what to expect.
Objectively, both extremes were factually correct. It costs more. It’s windy and cold. It’s a little dangerous walking on uneven ground at night. There are musical performances. There is a reading which is hard to hear 2/3rds of the time unless the speaker is pointing straight at you (he has a megaphone).
But for me the candles on the ground look nice, and the coloured lights they put on the Treasury at the end were good too. But what made it all worth it for me was my slight pyromaniac streak. You see the candles are in waxed paper bags, weighted down with sand so they don’t blow away.
But occasionally the wind would blow the sides of the bag so that it was close enough to the candle’s flame for it to set the paper alight. And when that happened, the paper would burn away into a shower of sparks before being extinguished by the wind. It didn’t happen very often, but I enjoyed the fleeting chaos when it did. It wasn’t very dangerous because the same wind which made it happen would also blow out the fire very quickly.
We still didn’t quite get to all the different parts of Petra, it’s just so tiring to get into the complex, let alone using your energy to climb all the stairs and see all the parts. I guess we’ll just have to come back.
Just up the road from Petra is its little brother, Little Petra. This is much more compact and accessible. A short walk from the carpark and maybe 30-45 minutes is all it takes, but you get a more intimate insight into the Nabateans and their construction methods with the cisterns you see here.
We stayed nearby at the Seven Wonders Luxury Camp, which was a five minute drive from Little Petra. Or a thirty minute walk if you were keen.
We had arranged for Ali to organise our transfer from Little Petra to Wadi Rum and for a jeep tour of Wadi Rum. He dropped us off at the meeting spot on the edge of the Wadi Rum Protected Area and our jeep tour began.
As we drove through the desert I could recognise scenery from various movies: Wadi Rum plays Mars in many movies and other planets also. I was looking around at the different colours – splashes of red on the regular beige/tan before I realised I was basically looking at the inspiration for the spice of Dune.
I amused Ange by illustrating the non-rhythmic walking patterns the Fremen used to avoid attracting Sandworms.
Dotted around the grand expanse of the 720 sq km (277 sq mile) Wadi Rum Protected Area are attractions and features which link up to form the journey. Some are only visible in a six hour trip, some are clustered close enough that you can get them all in a two hour trip.
We got our money’s worth with a three hour tour which took closer to four hours (and included lunch), but by the end of the day when the sun was dipping we were happy the bouncing around in the back of the truck was coming to an end.
The driver brought us back into the cab of the truck because it was getting chilly and the wind was getting up. And because a sandstorm was on its way! We drove through near zero visibility for about half an hour before our driver dropped us off at our next hotel, the UFO Luxotel, which is just outside the Protected Area.
The next day we went for a walk across the desert to the nearby French Fort. This was actually a film set for a TV series that has since been abandoned except for a caretaker Bedouin family who look after the place. Or they might have been squatters.
And then off to our next hotel, the Aicha Memories Luxury Camp, which was right in the middle of the Protected Area. The hotel had a free pickup from the Wadi Rum Village, and they took the time to discuss whether we wanted to do a jeep tour. They looked a bit put out to learn that we had already done one.
After the trip to the hotel and settling in, we signed up for the sunset camel ride. Without many clouds in the desert, the sunset was a far different experience than the one over the Dead Sea from the infinity pool at the Movenpick’s Zara Spa. But we did enjoy the view from the rocks, a group of Italians in recently purchased head gear occupying the spot below us.
After dinner we went out for a spot of star gazing, a free activity including some free photos, taken with very long exposures. Each room in the hotel had Bedouin jackets which were lifesavers against the cold.
And then it was time for one last stop, this time in Aqaba. Aqaba is the port town on the Red Sea, just across the Israeli border from the town of Eilat. I was surprised that the land border had been closed, though because of my experience crossing the border I didn’t mourn the closing.
We checked into our hotel, the Movenpick Aqaba before heading out to explore the city. We decided to walk to Aqaba Fort along the touristy area of the City Centre. The fort was a little underwhelming so we walked to the Fisherman’s Harbour and tried to dodge the touts wanting to take us out in their glass bottomed boats. And then we headed back to the hotel for a soak in the Jacuzzi.
And then to the airport for the flight home. I was surprised that such a small airport (three gates and a walk across the tarmac straight onto the plane) had a lounge, and then I was astonished that the lounge had alcohol. In an Islamic country!