After a not so memorable stint back in Tallinn that lacks enough substance for a post, I headed to Jordan to meet my brother for a couple weeks of being a tourist. Famously home to Petra, Jordan frequents the bucket list of a lot of avid travelers. With my brother forced to take more traditional American vacations, we organized what resembles a pretty normal vacation. Well, the cheap version of a normal vacation.
Jordan is a pretty expensive place to travel. They know they’ve got their tourists, and they try to take advantage of it. That said, life there is actually pretty cheap, so you can find some great deals. And that starts with the food. If you like hummus as much as my dad, this place is heaven.
I was happy to just eat hummus, falafel, and baba ganoush for every meal. Which mostly just cost a dollar or two. Hashem was a very famous and popular place in downtown Amman where you could get a serving of any of those three for $1 or so. Always busy, but we went a couple times and it was amazing.
I had a couple days before my brother arrived to wander around Amman, and I ended up finding a nice hipster area with cafes where they served fancy coffees and it was ok to hang out for an hour or two and work. The area is called Jabal al-Weibdeh, and they even have places that serve alcohol (gasp) for the rule-bending Jordinians. I decided I could easily live up there for a couple months if pressed. There were many nice cafes, but Rumi Cafe was probably my favorite.
The biggest mosque in Amman is the Blue Mosque, or King Abdullah I Mosque. These places have the most comfortable carpeting I’ve ever experienced, which I guess is important because of all the kneeling and praying. But even without doing that, wandering around the inside is like getting a little foot massage on what is just a few notes away from memory foam. The religion bit I can take or leave, but the carpeting is on point.
We went back there later because there’s also a wonderfully cheap falafel wrap place there, and maybe to buy a beer or two. They had local beers with fun camel names, so it seemed like a good decision. They also had beers that were like 10 or 11% (that we didn’t get). Tried the 8% one though – terrible. I guess if you’re going to drink in Jordan, they really go for it.
There was a lot of walking up hills here though. Getting to the hipster neighborhood was up a big hill, and then the other famous tourist road with shops and restaurants was back down and then up another hill. Which isn’t fun, but it does produce a great view looking back on Amman. The one below if from Wild Jordan Center, which not only does food and deserts but also events, tourism stuff, and eco-friendly efforts.
From Amman, we decided to go all the way to the South of the country and then work our way back up. So we look a long bus to Aqaba. We did a bit of diving in the Red Sea there, but unfortunately don’t have any pictures to prove it. I saw a sea turtle, so that was cool. They put a bunch of shit in the water you can dive down to see, like a plane and a tank, but we didn’t do those. Stuck to the nature.
From there, we went to Wadi Rum to spend a night under the stars. It’s a Bedouin area with camping all around in the desert. We were a little worried about freezing to death or how the conditions would be, but we booked a nice place and hoped for the best.
The camping was more like glamping and far exceeded our expectations in that department. We had a tent to ourselves that had two single beds / cots in them with plenty of blanks, so sleeping wasn’t a problem at all. They were actual permanent structures too, not just tents, so we could lock ourselves in and not get eaten by wolves.
Some of the other people there were rather annoying, and the breakfast left a lot to be desired so we skipped it, and we were forced to sit there for the drumming circle that every nomadic tribe in the worst insists on. That said, it was beautifully still, the stars were as bright as I’ve seen them, and it’s a peaceful place to decompress a bit.
We joined a tour the next day with an elderly Swedish man and his son, the latter which looked like Captain Holt’s husband in Brooklyn 99 / the devil dude in The Good Place, both of whom made for nice tour partners. The tour exceeded our expectations, as there were a ton of cool things to see around the desert area (see pictures below). It was considerably more walking and hiking than anticipated though, so the older guy did not do so well with it and didn’t participate in everything.
The most disappointing place? The Lawrence of Arabia spring. It took like 10 or 15 minutes walking up to in the heat, and it was just a tiny pond of water up in a hill. Worst spring ever, zero stars.
The primary tourist attraction in Jordan is of course Petra. They had quite the civilization going for them. We opted for the two-day pass when purchasing the Jordan pass, and based on the advice from previous travelers we decided to go as early as possible when the area opened (both days).
It was a very sandy, dirty couple days getting up early and trudging around. Sadly, we didn’t have Fitbits on or I think we would have set some flight records, because this place was up and down a lot too.
But it is absolutely magnificent. Getting their early is totally worth it, as you can see the main treasury building and the Monastery without a swarm of people on day tours around you. Walking back towards the end of the way, it looked impossible to have any peace, let alone get a picture, at the main sights.
There are several trails throughout the complex, from checking out the tombs to other monuments and views from above. I think my brother must have been in charge of pictures for a lot of that (or my phone was out of battery, which happens more frequently than I should) because I don’t see many pictures on my phone. But it you spend the two full days, you can get quite the workout in.
From Petra, it was easiest to go back to Amman and use that as a base for seeing the rest of the things. First, we hiked a hill in Amman to see the Temple of Hercules. Which has definitely seen better days, but there are still a couple pillars in place.
Another Amman highlight is the Roman Theater. Pretty impressive in size, and still in good shape. It’s also a great place to get some climbing in if you need a workout.
From Amman, we did a day trip to the Dead Sea. This is one of those things we could have planned a lot better. We ended up hiring a taxi to take us to see all the things, which was cheaper than the proper tours (and it was private), but it wasn’t exactly the same value.
Despite that misstep, we still got to see the things we were supposed to see. A church in a tiny town with lots of awesome mosaics in it, and then on to Mount Nebo, the place where Moses climbed to see the promised land. So it had some spiritual importance to a lot of people.
We should have bought our special Dead Sea mud beforehand (which they sold for a couple dollars in convenience stores) – our driver took us to the fancy store of course where you had to buy a fancy bottle that started at like $30 (which we didn’t buy).
And then we went to the free public beach, which was super sketchy and we were the only ones there. I walked into the water a little bit – enough to nearly ruin my sandals and make my skin weird. My brother went all the way in and floated around a bit.
So if we could redo that portion I would, but hey, we still did the Dead Sea.
Our last day trip was to the ancient city of Jerash, which has some of the most well-preserved ancient ruins around. It was a major city thousands of years ago, but now it’s mostly broken rocks. Growing up my brother’s favorite animal was Giraffe and this sounds kind of like that so I figured we should go.
It’s absolutely worth the day trip from Amman though. Doesn’t take long to get there, and the ruins are awesome.
We then took a taxi to Ajloun Castle down the road a bit to explore. Also cool. But that left us a bit stranded (it was a holiday there). Public transit was done, the market was closed down, and we had a typical Mike-fashioned stressful experience negotiating a taxi back to Amman. The kind I’m so used to I forget about relatively quickly but my brother reminded me of in fascinating detail when recapping the trip months later.
What we should have done is rented a car for the last few days so we could make the Dead Sea trip and then easily visit Jerash and Ajloun. But you know, live and learn. I say that, but that kind of thing happens to me a lot and I never learn, so I guess the saying should be “live and probably don’t learn from it but survive.”