Seeing the UNESCO World Heritage site of Petra had been on Polly Rusyn’s bucket list for some time, so a visit to Jordan was long overdue
Often overlooked by tourists, Jordan’s capital city Amman proved to be a superb source of street life, super friendly locals and lively markets; women in hijabs and burkas choosing from piles of colourful fruit; a group of boys selling vegetables to the beat of a drum and rhythmic clapping; smiling locals asking us if we needed help whenever we stopped to find our location on a map.
We dined in a local restaurant in an alleyway. Families huddled around plastic tables covered in plates of food. We weren’t offered a menu – instead bowls of hummus and beans appeared before us along with Arabic flatbread delivered on brown paper and a plate of the juiciest tomatoes, and two glasses of strong sweet tea with mint. It was delicious and ridiculously cheap!
The gateway to Petra
Onwards to Wadi Musa, the gateway to Petra, on a public bus. The deal was that the bus went when it was more than full: we waited an hour. Squeezed into the bus was a group of young men wearing sunglasses and pointy shoes (we named them ‘Wrong Direction’), families with children and a large number of boxes stacked in the gangway. The driver, sporting the latest in men’s platform sandals, charged us twice as much as everyone else and, clearly angry about his height, cranked up the music to a painful level. No one else seemed to mind for the whole three-hour journey.
With great anticipation we headed off to Petra early the following morning. The long walk in through a gorge corridor, called The Siq, was stunning. Undulating rock walls with layers of time captured in them towered above us. The Treasury appeared through what seemed like a crack and as we entered into an opening its majesty was revealed.
It was incredible to imagine the artistry and skill involved in the carving! But Petra isn’t just about the iconic Treasury – the site is huge containing everything a city would need: homes, temples, tombs and the superb monastery. Eight hundred steps cut into the rock through stunning mountain scenery led us to this truly epic and breathtaking monument.
We had time the following day to visit Little Petra. I had expected a mini version of the main site but actually it was so very different. It looked as though it could have been a set for Star Wars. The site had something really special, and with fewer tourists it provided us with the space to imagine we had discovered it. My inner Indiana Jones was jumping for joy.
Into the desert
That afternoon we were driven to meet the 4×4 that would take us on the scenic route to our desert camp in Wadi Rum. To say we were overwhelmed by this most astounding of deserts would be an understatement. A vast expanse of red sand stretched before us against a perfect blue sky. Colossal cliffs of sandstone rock that looked like it was melting jutted out of the desert floor. Sand dunes beckoned and silhouettes of camel trains crossed the expanse in the distance.
We scrambled up a rocky outcrop to find an epic dune on the other side. Whilst my limber companion ran down like an athlete I gingerly followed my long shadow watching with fascination as the displaced sand took on the form of water, flowing down to the ground.
Finally at our camp the proprietor Kemal (not ‘camel’, he assured us) warmly greeted us with ice-cold beers. Sitting under a canopy, a Bedouin rug at our feet, we toasted the most marvellous of days.
The sun eased itself down and as a Bedouin tended a fire, surrounded with colourfully patterned floor cushions, Kemal delivered more drinks – this time triple G&Ts. Dinner was served and devoured before more gin came our way. The evening became a bit of a blur and we laughed rather a lot – only to be told off at midnight by a French couple trying to get some sleep. Shame on us grown women!
From the desert we made our final port of call in Jordan: the Dead Sea. Slathered in greenish black mud we giggled at how ridiculous we looked in our ‘mudkinis’! Once it had dried we edged into the sea; and what an unusual sensation to be able to lie, sit or even bob upright in the buoyant waters. It was wonderful.
And as the sun went down over Israel on the horizon we tried to hug in the water, finding one another a little slimy – but the sentiment was there. An awesome journey through an incredible country with a fabulous friend.