Jordan. The name of a culturally rich Middle Eastern country, filled with landscapes the colour of honeycomb, but also that of my obnoxious ex-boyfriend.
I had the preconception that the highlight of my trip to Jordan would be Petra, one of the most precious cultural properties in the world. However, I walked away at the end of my eight-day journey with a greater comprehension for the land that I had explored, and an altogether disparate highlight.
As I step off the plane in Amman I am greeted by a surge of dry heat, one that every Brit takes pleasure in when arriving in a foreign land. The short journey from the airport to the city is filled with hillsides blanketed in box homes in various hues of ecru. But Amman is just the starting point of my small group tour. From Amman, we journey to the ruins of Jerash, Jordan’s largest Roman site, and to the famed Dead Sea, where we have time to float in the therapeutic waters. From here we head further south, to Petra, home of one of the seven new wonders of the world.
We arrive at the entrance to Petra just as the sun is rising and embark on a journey that takes us between narrow gorges the colour of caramel. Our guide, a local man named Zuhair, tells us tales of bygone times; of the Nabateans, the Arab Bedouin tribe that once called Petra home. “And, if we all jump here at the exact same time, you’ll see the ground shake. 1, 2, 3…” We all jumped. Nothing. “Now look up” proclaims Zuhair. I don’t know why we all fell for such foolery, or even believed that we could make the ground move; but there, highlighted by the first rays of the day’s sunshine, the Treasury of Petra. As if in unison, a sound of awe comes from the group.
At this time of the morning, before the swarms of tourists arrive, the Treasury is peaceful. I take time capturing different angles of the magnificent facade before breaking away from the group. I settle myself in a quiet corner and observe the comings and goings happening around me. Bedouin men at work, shopkeepers setting up their stalls, tourists taking selfies, camels yawning.
We venture deeper into Petra, past bazaars selling souvenirs; frankincense and traditional Jordanian scarfs. Past coffee houses serving fragrant Bedouin Coffee and Limonada, a Jordanian drink made of lemon juice and fresh mint leaves.
Following Zuhair’s recommendation, myself and a number of the group decide to take on the Monastery route. It doesn’t take long for us to realise that climbing an uneven, ancient rock-cut path, made of more than 800 steps, in the intense midday heat is a bad idea. The route is long and taxing, however, this soon slips my mind as we turn the final corner and are met by the impressive and imposing facade of the Monastery.
My Lonely Planet guidebook had somewhat prepared me for the beauty of the Treasury, with its ornate carvings and intricate detailing; but standing here in front of the 48-metre high exterior of the Monastery, I am blown away. At first glance, it looks much like the Treasury, just less ornate. However, the shapely curves, in varying shades of butterscotch, and the enormity of the rock-cut Nabataean tomb leave me speechless. I had found the highlight of my trip to Jordan, or so I thought.
The next morning we leave the ancient town of Petra and head south towards Wadi Rum. We exchange our minivan for several 4×4 vehicles and head out into a vast landscape of ancient river beds and stunning rock formations. We climb burnt orange sand dunes and visit landmarks made famous by blockbuster movies.
We journey further into the desert. In the distance, we spot the silhouette of a group of Bedouins and their caravan (group) of camels – our final mode of transport for the day. I inelegantly mount one of the larger camels in the group and hold tight onto the reins, leaning back, waiting for the inevitable. The camel forces himself up off the ground, tipping me gently forward and then suddenly jerking me back, all before throwing me forward again – it’s an awkward affair!
The sunsets in a blaze over the sands as we reach our destination, an isolated Bedouin camp, just in time for dinner. We dismount our camels, deposit our belongings in the goat-haired tents that we will call home for the night, and head towards the traditionally decorated central tent. Dinner has been prepared in a customary fashion – underground in an earth oven. We gather around as a three-tiered grill, arranged with various kinds of meat and vegetables, is pulled from a hole in the sand.
Our group fills their plates, and slowly their tummies. The hum of conversation fills the tent, and soon the space around the campfire. Members of the group share stories of their individual travel experiences and we discuss our day exploring the ‘Valley of the Moon’.
As the fire loses its light, the sky darkens and the stars come out in an abundance. I spot the Ursa Major and Northern Cross constellations and as my eyes adjust, the dusty white Milky Way is smeared across the sky. I stand in awe – the view is simply breathtaking. In the clear air of the desert, feeling a thousand miles away from the rush of everyday life, I make a decision to not sleep in the stifling hot tent made of goats-hair, but to sleep under the stars. It is then, as a shooting star passes overhead, and my eyes fall heavy that I know that this is my highlight of Jordan.
Now, when I utter the word ‘Jordan’ I no longer think of my obnoxious ex-boyfriend, but of an inspiring country. One filled with inspirational treasures, stunning desert landscapes, delectable dishes and some of the most kind-hearted people I’ve met while travelling.
Notes: I discovered Jordan as part of a small group adventure tour with G Adventures. Highlights of Jordan is an eight-day guided tour with a maximum group size of 16. As a solo female traveller, I found this the best way to explore the country while not missing any of the key attractions. Prices start from £879 excluding flights. This is not a sponsored post. All thoughts and images are my own.
Let me know if you’ve ever been to Jordan or if you’re considering it!