Our quick trip to Jordan included one full day in Amman, three days in Petra, one overnight in the desert Wadi Rum, and two days on the Red Sea in Aqaba. Unlike in Morocco, where we had several days with no particular itinerary beyond wandering and absorbing, our brief stay in Jordan was packed with a tight sightseeing schedule. Given our short stay, we spent most of our time in a circuit of well-known tourist sights surrounded by other tourists, and barely knicked the surface of actual Jordanian culture.
Our brief time in Amman was really just a launchpad for our visits to the nearby Dead Sea and a few Old Testament-era landmarks in the neighboring city, Madaba. In Madaba, we visited the church of St. George, which houses the restored remains of a fascinating 6th century floor mosaic depicting the earliest known map of Jerusalem. We then explored nearby Mt. Nebo, which, according to the book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament, is where God first showed the promised land to Moses. These are pilgrimage sites that wove an unexpected spiritual thread into my experience - a thread that would resurface throughout our Jordan trip.
After exploring Madaba, we continued on to the Dead Sea, where we paid for access to a private beach for tourists where I could appropriately wear a two-piece swimsuit among other western travellers. I felt strangely naked after weeks of consciously covering up. The excess salt in the Dead Sea increases buoyancy, and it took considerable effort to keep any part of our bodies below the surface of the water, as if we were floating on invisible pool noodles. We spent the afternoon floating in the shallow sun-warmed water, contemplating the not-so-distant shore of Israel across the narrow sea. It was not a bad day.
From Amman, we took a bus to Wadi Mousa, which is a small town that appears to exist primarily in service of tourism to Petra, the ancient walled city carved into sandstone that is now a world heritage site. Once an important city along the overland spice trade route, Petra was inhabited by several different groups of people, notably the Nabateans, between roughly 1200 BC and 400 AD. Nomadic Bedouin people currently live in tents and caves surrounding Petra, and sell crafts and souvenirs in market stalls throughout the site. Petra is run like a museum to which tourists purchase one, two, or three-day passes. We opted for the three-day pass, and we truly needed all three days. It takes about 40 minutes just to walk from the ticketing entrance to the threshold of the ancient city, and the city is so large that it cannot possibly be seen in one day. Much of the walk from the ticketing entrance is through a canyon trail, with steep red-marbled sandstone walls. Approaching the end of this entrance trail, the first glimpse of Petra's famous rock-hewn "Treasury" building, partially viewed through the approaching crack of light, is pretty spectacular. Inside Petra, we spent our entire first day on a five-hour hike to the "Place of High Sacrifice" and its surrounding tombs and temples. On day two, we hiked up 950 rocky hillside stairs to the impressive "Monastery" building and explored the main avenues of the city. On the third day, we were hiking in the hills above a structure that had most recently been appropriated as a Byzantine Christian church, and I was struck by a sudden swell of "Ave Maria" echoing up from the crumbling walls, where a group of Spanish pilgrims were holding a Catholic mass. I believe this moment of prayer carried us to safety later that day, when we nearly got lost in the mountains while attempting an off-map trail back to the park entrance. After walking more than an hour into the hills with no sign of a real trail or clear sense of direction, we were discovered by a 12-year-old Bedouin boy who led us back to civilization through a very tight canyon trail that we never would have found on our own. That experience aside, Petra is an amazing place filled with unbelievable ruins that are not justified by photos.
Our final few days in Jordan were split between a day and night in Wadi Rum, a beautiful desert where we did some rock climbing and hiking, and two relaxing days in Aqaba on the Red Sea. Though we barely scratched the surface of beautiful Jordan, we left with impressions of beautiful desert, seas, and history. As in Morocco, I still felt a bit out of my comfort zone in a culture in which men and women have such different roles (and so few local women are out on the streets, working in stores, etc.). I appreciate being out of my comfort zone though, both to expand my understanding of different cultures and to better appreciate my home. Apparently, many Western tourists have been deterred from traveling to the Middle East (even conflict-free Jordan) due to the Arab Spring and other recent conflicts. Our guest houses were only half full, and Petra was not very crowded. I hope peace and safety returns to the surrounding region so more can experience Jordan's amazing sites.