Jordan: Good Country, Bad Neighbors

18 Jun

We were both pleasantly surprised upon arrival in Jordan. Perfect 80-degree weather, good food, and extremely friendly and welcoming people. Jordan is a progressive, relatively westernized, safe country which just happens to have bad neighbors with Syria and Iraq (among others) in the Middle East. Everywhere you go, people say welcome to you, smile, and practice their English. It’s refreshing to see and a huge change from India where we felt so unwelcome. In addition, there is no tension between Christians and Muslims, and the country has taken a very progressive stance on women. Shorts and bare shoulders are not a problem like in many other parts of the Middle East.

Driving in Jordan is civilized and very similar to driving in the US. In fact, all of the major US car rental agencies are present in Jordan. We rented a Toyota Yaris for our drive to Madaba, Petra, and the Dead Sea and it turned out to be a great decision. Because the cities are separated by stretches of desert with no rail and limited bus connections (think: similar to I-5), we could drive at our own leisure. Being a LA driver, I had no issue with the driving and found the drivers to be quite courteous, although they tend to take unnecessary risks like passing around blind corners.

To give you a sense of our schedule:
Day 1, fly into Jordan, pick up rental car, stay in Madaba
Day 2, drive to Wadi Mousa, the town which serves as a tourism hub for Petra
Days 3/4, explore Petra
Day 5, drive to Dana Biosphere Reserve and stay at Feynan
Day 6, all day at Feynan
Day 7, drive to Dead Sea, float, drive to Madaba
Day 8, all day in Madaba
Day 9, drop off rental car and fly to Madrid
As you can see, having a car was so useful and convenient! And, we ended up not venturing into Amman at all.

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Quick stop at Kerak Castle on the way to Petra.
Food in Jordan is good too. Tired of vegetarian food from India? Go to Jordan, where you eat beef, lamb, and chicken kabobs all day, everyday. I was in heaven, although Jeannie got a little tired of the meats and started ordering cucumber and tomato salads as her main dish.

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Scenery in Jordan is unlike any other country we’ve been to so far. There’s plenty of dirt, but it’s not dirty, if that makes sense. We chose to make Madaba our base point rather than Amman. Madaba is closer to the airport, smaller, easier to navigate, and more historically relevant. Madaba is one of the most ancient cities in the Middle East, dating back thousands of years. In fact, the oldest map of the Holy Land is a floor mosaic set in one of the churches in Madaba. In addition, it seems that all cities have a ubiquitous mosque spire which belts out calls to prayer at various times of the day.

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We’ll talk about Petra and the Dead Sea in future posts, but here we’ll briefly mention our time at Feynan Eco-Lodge. On paper the lodge sounded good, but it just wasn’t our kind of place. We get the whole sustainable tourism deal, but we felt that Feynan fell short and didn’t live up to its full potential. We didn’t mind the no AC or no Internet, but we felt that sleeping in the rooms was equivalent to sleeping in a clay oven that had been baking all day. There was not much to do unless you liked hiking during the hottest part of the day, and though vegetarian food can be tasty and healthy, the food at Feynan was neither of these and instead very oily and depended on jams, sauces, and dips to supplement the meal. Also, I feel like there was this expectation to spend money there, for example they seemed to look down on us when we declined offers of paid guided hikes, and also when we opted to not order drinks during meals. We weren’t expecting the place to be a 5 star Four Seasons type of oasis, but you can’t just slap an Eco-tourism label on things and expect people to be grateful for an “authentic” experience. It’s sort of putting and organic sticker on an apple, people aren’t going to miraculously think it’s the best apple ever. If the apple tastes good, people will eat it, regardless of its origins. There were some highlights though. We saw the most gorgeous sunset at Feynan. We also got to see a bunch of planets and stars through their very powerful telescope. And also, we had this really amazing soup that almost made up for the other lousy dishes. So overall, a slight miss in a country full of hits.

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Coming up in Part 2 of Jordan: Petra.

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