A DIARY of the Friendship Tour team's experiences in Jordan:
Built in the 3rd century BC by the Nabataeans, the city of Petra was actually carved into the rocky cliffs that lined the city. One of the most spectacular aspects of the site is the rose hue of the rock which is mostly sandstone littered with iron.
The entrance of the city is the Siq, a passage over a kilometer long with cliffs reaching 80 meters up on both sides. This chasm in the rock was caused by tectonic forces and is worth the trip in itself. The Siq allowed the city to be easily defended as the Nabataeans took command of the trade routes from Damascus to Arabia.
The wealth of the city is very apparent as tombs, temples, a theatre, and countless other carved structures stretch along the length of the city. We were convinced, thankfully, to mount donkeys for the sweaty hike up to the monastery. The climb included 856 steps and incredible views of Petra as well as the distant hills of Palestine. As our donkeys raced each other down the hill, and back through the city and Siq, the amazing expanse of Petra became even more apparent to us.
We didn't even see the entire site and were thoroughly convinced that at least two full days could have been spent there. Later, we relaxed over lunch on the roof of the very lovely Movenpick Hotel, a perfect spot to contemplate 2300 year-old history.
Up the road from Petra is the village of Tahbeh, built in the mid 19th century by the Layathineh Arabs. It is a typical of Jordanian mountain villages. In 1990 the Jordan Tourism Investment began to develop a plan to restore part of the old village into a five star hotel resort. The result is a re-creation of an authentic village including a souk and a bakery that function as a comfortable and sought-after hotel.
The construction, or rather re-construction, of the village was done in such a way as to conserve as many resources as possible and also to avoid impacting the local environment. Taybet Zamen is definitely worth a visit and the Authentic Turkish Hammam, while perhaps not typical to a mountain village, is a perfect way to refresh the body after hiking around Petra.
A NIGHT IN WADI RUM
Racing the sun across desert and over rocky outcroppings, our expectations were high as we approached the famous Wadi Rum at sunset. Wadi Rum is spectacular and humbling. The area became known around the world with the Arab revolt in the early part of the last century. TE Lawrence both fought and wrote there.
The sky was still light when we reached the valley, but the desert floor was already in the shadow of the majestic jewels, or hills, and red-stained cliffs that surround the immense wadi. We were lucky enough to meet Auda Karim Al Zlebia, a resident of the little town that is nestled at the entrance to the Wadi Rum Protected Area. He took us into his home for an unforgettable evening of food, music, conversation, and of course...tea.
After the meal Auda put us in the hands of his brother, Awad, who took us out into the desert to spend the night in a Bedouin camp. It was the camp of their mother's family and we were offered a warm fire, sleeping mats, and more tea upon arrival. Then, it was the silence of the desert and the brilliance of a million stars keeping us from sleep. Not for lack of peace, but rather because falling asleep would be wasting the experience.
As light of the sun finally slipped into the sky, we finally felt a chill and were happy for the fire that Awad rekindled. He showed us how to toast the Bedouin bread on the coals. The goats started calling to each other in complaining rhythm and the camp came to life.
It is not enough to spend only two days in the capital, but we made the most of our time. A bossy octogenarian guided us efficiently around the very impressive Roman Amphitheatre.
The structure includes the theatre itself as well as two small museums that offer beautiful examples of historical life in the region. The clothing exhibits are especially noteworthy. Later we wandered around the souk. On final evening in the city stellar team from Fastlink/MCI.
It would be difficult to truly do justice to the quality of the food, which is all natural and delicious, or to the architecture which despite being very recently constructed was designed to meld perfectly with the much older neighborhood. The center itself is much more than a fabulous café. It is a "revolutionary center devoted to promoting Jordan's natural heritage" offering meeting rooms and gallery spaces to activists and artists.
The Architect utilized recycled and natural materials to create the building, which is an artwork in itself. Definitely plan to stop by the Wild Jordan Center on your next visit to Amman. (www.rscn.org.jo)
Diary of a unique journey
Reaching across borders