May / June 2013
Coming from the Seychelles, I traveled on to Jordan. Not a day passed on my journey in Jordan without hearing “Welcome to Jordan” and “You are welcome”. These are not just empty phrases in Jordan, because strangers are really welcome, as you can see from the interest, friendliness and generosity of the people.
I love Arab cities like Amman. There is a lot to see. A shisha shop has a large selection of pipes to offer, others sell exotic smelling spices and dried plants. Bottles are offered with images made of different colored sand and fresh dates which are not available in Europe and then the Arabic sweets … In between you hear melancholic Arabic music. The prayer call of the mosques completes the unique atmosphere.
If you sit in a side street in a cafe, you quickly come into contact with the people. At the end the waiter doesn’t want to accept any money for the coffee. Welcome to Jordan! In Amman I was on the first day in a restaurant, which is actually only visited by locals. Since there was no free table, I asked a man eating alone if I could join him at the table. None of the waiters spoke English and there was no menu. I asked my neighbor, who spoke English, if he could order me something typical. Soon the food came on the table and I realized that it was enough for two. He was happy to eat with me and told me that he had just come from the divorce lawyer and needed a distraction. When I wanted to pay, he waved off and took over the bill. You are welcome!
Besides, the Jordanians are honest people who neither lie to the stranger nor cheat him, which makes traveling very pleasant.
There is hardly any alcohol in Jordan. Alcohol-free beer is offered at the tourist resorts. On the other hand in Jordan quite good wine is produced (with alcohol) and also the beers with one of the world-wide strongest alcohol contents are brewed here. The Petra beer is available in different strengths up to 13% alcohol content.
Despite their tolerance and openness to the world, many Jordanians are very conservative in their beliefs. According to Arab tradition and Islam, arranged marriages between the bride and groom’s parents are still common. However, marriage is never entered into against the will of the bride or groom. Nowadays, daughters and sons can also propose a partner to their parents.
Some women are completely veiled. Most women wear a headscarf in public. While in the West the headscarf is seen as a sign of the oppression of women, in Jordan it is quite simply one of the garments you put on when you leave home. A headscarf can also be practical, as I have seen in a woman who has her mobile phone clamped between the headscarf and the ear, freeing her hands.
In the public space, the women are dressed in modest clothes. These rules do not apply at home. That is why there are many shops for women where you can buy fancy western fashion. I have also seen shops that sell lingerie.
The war in Syria has also left its mark on Jordan, albeit only economically. Syrians who can afford it now live in Jordan, especially in Amman. This additional demand for housing is increasing prices and rents, so Jordanians have to pay more.
The Red Cross organization that coordinates Syria Aid is stationed in Amman. 65 employees organize and send thirty trucks every day to Syria with relief supplies, mainly food.
Tents of the United Nations Refugee Program appear again and again in Jordan, which were illegally smuggled across the border and are sold in Jordan, although they should actually benefit the refugees in Syria.
Nowadays you meet few Americans while traveling. But in Amman I met several Americans who show great interest in this region. One writes a report about the political situation in the Middle East, a professor studies the refugee flows and others are active as volunteers. I can’t get rid of the suspicion that there are not only scientific and humanitarian but also tangible state interests at play here.
When I arrived in Amman, I had a problem because I could not withdraw money from the ATMs. I tried several banks, but the transaction was cancelled every time. I feared that my cards were blocked, but after a call to Switzerland I knew that this was not the case. I still had a few US Dollars with me that I changed into Dinars, but that money was soon used up. I told my problem to the Bed & Breakfast owner and without hesitation he opened his wallet and put 200 dinars in my hand, which is about 270 US dollars. You are welcome! I hadn’t paid him for the overnight stays yet. Finally I found out that the western bank Standard Chartered has a branch in Amman with an ATM. And actually my cards worked there. I was relieved.
In the Shisha shop
A traditional coffee stall
Fifty shades of ocher
The Raghadan flagpole in the background is the seventh highest freestanding flagpole in the world with a height of 126.8 meters.
The Roman amphitheater is so well preserved that it is still used for events today.
The temple of Hercules on the citadel, a hill in the center of Amman.
The Museum of the Citadel shows these two copies of the 15 ‘Ain Ghazal statues, which were created between the 7th and 8th millennium BC. This makes them one of the oldest statues representing people in the world.
The Royal Automobile Museum
One of the attractions in Amman is the Royal Automobile Museum, which houses the private car collection of the Jordanian kings. Old cars of the brands Aston Martin, Bentley, BMW, Buick, Cadillac, Cord, Excalibur, Ferrari, Ford, Lamborghini, Lincoln, Lotus, Mercedes Benz, Packard, Panther, Porsche, Range Rover, Rolls Royce and Zimmer can be admired. At the time of purchase they were the best and most beautiful cars in the world. But what makes this collection unique is the historical context of these cars. Almost all were used for state occasions, important visits or funerals of personalities or had significant previous owners. Some of the cars are also gifts from other monarchs.
The Bed & Breakfast owner, Guido, is a man with many interests. He is among other things co-organizer of the full moon marathon in Wadi Rum. Wadi Rum is one of the main attractions in Jordan. It is a desert area with peculiar rock formations of sandstone and granite. Since Guido still needed volunteers, I spontaneously agreed. So I helped the day before with the preparations and on the day of the run with the registration of the participants and was then in the desert in the full moon night to distribute water and ensured at the junction of the marathon and the 21 km run that the runners took the right direction.
A Bedouin in the desert lent me his headscarf
The winner of the marathon needed more than an hour longer than usual, as running in the sand is much more strenuous than on the road.
The next day a colleague of Guido took me to a desert camp he already knew and which offered cheap desert tours. After one night I realized that this camp was not right for me. On the one hand the shower was out of order – which was not acceptable as I wanted to stay in the desert for another four days – on the other hand this camp offered standard jeep safaris for groups. But I wanted an individual tour. So the next morning I had to find another Bedouin camp at short notice to meet my requirements. As the photos show, I succeeded. I spent three days with my guide, a young Bedouin who had grown up in the desert and knew every corner. I was often on foot. This is the way you see the most and you can take time for the little things. All in all, I ended up spending six days in the desert. The desert and the Bedouin men – you don’t see Bedouin women because they work in the house – attract young women who live in a desert camp for a long time. In the first camp I met a Korean artist from a wealthy family, who now lives in New York and in the context of her artistic work had herself photographed naked in a pig farm amidst pigs. In the second camp lived a French woman who was writing a book. All in all, the stay in this desert was an impressive experience.
Near the start of the marathon
A traditional dinner: The rack is heated in a hole in the ground with hot stones.
A local man closes the lid over the hole in the ground.
Near the first camp
This Arabian breakfast in the desert tasted delicious.
This is where the Lawrence spring originates from.
View from a sand dune
My driver is cooking.
In the Burrah Canyon of the Wadi Rum Desert
The mushroom rock formed by erosion
My driver and our four wheel drive Jeep
Even in the desert there are herds of goats.
The Um Frouth Bridge
A Bedouin brings tea
Sunset in the Wadi Rum Desert
At the Burdah Bridge
My driver enjoys the view
On the last evening we enjoyed another traditional meal.
The temple city of Petra was the main reason for my trip to Jordan. The city was founded about 300 B.C. by the Nabataeans at the junction of important caravan routes. It had an ingenious water system and was thanks to its location at the edge of a deep gorge easy to defend. In 106 A.D. the city came under Roman rule. The Romans expanded the town and improved the transport routes. Another century later the sea routes became more important and the town lost its economic importance, but was able to maintain its position as a religious centre. An earthquake in 363 A.D. destroyed many buildings and the water channels, so that the city was abandoned. And who rediscovered the city in 1812? A Swiss, of course. Johann Ludwig Burckhardt studied Arabic and the Koran and traveled through the Middle East disguised as a Muslim under the name Sheikh Ibrahim Ibn Abdallah.
The visitor reaches the temple city via a 1.2 kilometer long and only a few meters narrow gorge, called Siq.
The 1.2 km long and only a few meters narrow gorge, called Siq.
Suddenly the gorge ends and the landmark of Petra, the temple with the English name ‘Treasury’ stands in full splendor before the visitor. An impressive experience! The temple became world famous through the Indiana Jones movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark”.
The Treasury Temple at the end of the gorge
The city stretches over several kilometers and includes valleys and steep hills on which other temples were built. There are also countless graves to admire. Most visitors to Petra come as part of a tour and see the easily accessible objects in a few hours. I bought a three-day pass and left early in the morning to enjoy the atmosphere of this unique place in front of the masses. My favorite place was a rock from which you could look down on the Treasury Temple. Since one had to walk to this place almost an hour in the heat, I was partly alone, partly two, three other people enjoyed this unique view. One of these people was an American, who dances with her Hula-Hop-Ring in front of the most famous sights of the world and gets herself photographed. I can claim to be one of the few visitors who really saw all the sights of Petra.
I walked to this place above the Treasury Temple for more than an hour.
Partly the rock showed interesting color patterns.
The floor mosaic in the Byzantine church of Petra
I like to tell two more stories about the Bedouins in Wadi Rum and Petra. The Bedouins are proud and hospitable people. But corrupted by the masses of tourists in Wadi Rum and Petra, they have learned that they can do more business with compassion. So the Bedouins in Petra are on their way with torn shoes and worn jeans, even though they charge overly high prices for their transport services and earn a lot by Jordanian standards. There are stalls with old, poorly dressed mothers where you have to buy something out of pity. When the group tourists have left in the evening, these mothers are collected by the clan with a large, new off-road vehicle. With my Bedouin guide in Wadi Rum I visited a poor Bedouin family with small children who live in some old tents from their goats. In passing, my guide mentioned that these were his parents. What my guide didn’t know was that I was already at his brother’s house in the village. Since I had to go to the toilet, I could have a look at the house. It was very stylishly furnished, with a flat screen TV, computers with internet, new furniture and large hand-knotted carpets. It is very unlikely that his brother lives so beautifully and his parents live in poverty in the desert. My guide just wanted to arouse sympathy with poor parents so that the tip would be all the more generous in the end.
The former Roman city of Gerasa impressed me very much. It is Jordan’s largest and most interesting Roman site. The area, which has been inhabited for over 6’000 years, came under Roman rule in 63 B.C. and in the following centuries was developed into a pompous Roman provincial town. Chariot races took place in the Hippodrome, which held 15,000 spectators. The Forum, the city’s main square, was 90 meters long and 80 meters wide, surrounded by 56 columns. An 800 meter long column road connected the forum with the temple of Artemis. Not far from the Forum was the temple of Zeus. Various magnificent arches and theaters with impressive acoustics as well as baths and fountains enriched the city. Destroyed by an earthquake in 739 AD and buried under the sand for centuries, the ruins of the city were not rediscovered until 1806 by a German explorer and have been excavated and restored since around 70 years.
Meanwhile, the columns are standing again.
The archaeological excavations continue. Here is a person involved in the excavations in his tent on the excavation site.
Baptism site of Jesus
Nine kilometers from the Dead Sea is the place where Jesus was baptized by John. It is the most holy place of Christianity next to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Since the 4th century churches have been built nearby.
The various Christian religions built their churches near the place of baptism.
The Baptism site
The Jordan River is now a small river that forms the border between Jordan and Israel. This picture shows the opposite Israeli side.
At the end of my Jordan trip I visited the Dead Sea. This is the lowest point on earth, 420 meters below sea level. The air has 15% more oxygen than at sea level and the UV rays of the sun are reduced as they are filtered by the additional atmosphere.
The lake has a very high salt concentration of 33.7%, so that bathers can float on the surface of the lake without moving. All these properties alleviate certain diseases. Even the Romans were aware of the health properties of this area. The name derives from the fact that the water contains hardly any life. The Jordan River is the only tributary to the Dead Sea. There is no outflow. The water evaporates. Nevertheless, the lake level has dropped by 28 meters in the last 43 years, mainly because the Israelis take water from the Jordan River to irrigate their fields. As a result, the groundwater level in the area is also constantly falling.
I stayed at the Kempinski Hotel Ishtar Dead Sea, which I highly recommend.
After a few weeks in Israel, I returned to Switzerland at the end of June.
This text is an automatic English translation from the German original by deepl.com