We got to the airport without any issues and it was still dead despite the warnings that this morning will get pretty crazy for holiday travel. We probably overpaid the taxi at least double since there was no traffic but at least we are in his good graces. We entered the airport but couldn’t get into the check in area that was boxed in glass. It was a bit like India where you have to go through a specific entrance to actually check in versus getting into just the general waiting area. We finally sorted out how to get to the right counter, were wished a happy journey, “complimented” by being told I was very old when checking my passport and then we were on our way.
Unfortunately, despite my signal of headphones in, I was seated next to a young chap determined to go to America and enlighten as many as possible regarding our corrupt political system. I was also schooled on Islam, tried to remain anonymous, learned he was allergic to bananas, and asked to go to Luxor where I could take photos while he studied. Some of it was informative , but mostly it seemed like a very long way to Jordan and despite jet skiing and also traveling to Cyprus sounding somewhat enticing, I was so so grateful to be reunited with my travel mate who was seated further back. We were even more excited at how easy our arrival was with the meet and greet service provided by our tour (Jordan select if anyone is looking for a recommendation). It made everything super simple although it wasn’t too busy. The first thing he said was let’s review your itinerary at the starbucks outside. Mug, check! We settled some logistics and found our driver. He bounced out of the van and greeted us in a cheery voice and a quasi American accent. We asked him where he learned English and turns out he lived in Orange County for 10 years in the 80s. He also loves rock and roll, enjoys pulling our leg and is the most gracious driver and guide we could have asked for. He wanted to make sure we understood that anything we want, he could make happen. I want to move to Jordan and have all my student loans disappear but we kept the requests reasonable such as finding a toothbrush. Spoiler alert: still no camel milk.
First off, Amman is much more hilly than Kuwait. That was our first surprise, that and then our excitement at grass. We enjoyed seeing some views around the city on our drive with the first stop being the citadel. Our tour here was very comprehensive and fascinating. I will not recap all of the details but wow, I continue to just be in awe of the fact that we are in a place with such a rich historical background. Some of the highlights at the site were the temple or Hercules and the Ummayad palace. We also learned that the literacy rate is nearly 99 percent or something very high, which seemed quite impressive to us. It is due to a large effort to make education a priority by the previous King. The big blue mosque was built in honor of him. What I didn’t previously appreciate was the population of refugees in Jordan. First in the 40s, the Palestinian refugees arrived and have now made permanent homes that scattered across the hill sides quite impactfully- it used to be a hillside of refugee camps but the permanent homes started being built after the situation became more long term. More recently, in the last four years, the population has nearly double with the influx of Syrian refugees. It was beyond humbling to pass the Syrian embassy and see the line of people waiting outside in hopes of getting paperwork completed. It was a topic we heard much about over the next several days and though still far from understanding, gained a much deeper appreciation for the crisis we hear about in the news.
After the citadel, we drove to the amphitheater which we could see from above and got to marvel at its history and size in the middle of the ever developing Amman. Seeing kids playing football in front of the Roman ruins was kind of great. At that point Sufyan, our driver, told us that we had two options. Since Petra has nothing but the site once we arrived he wanted to round out our day in Amman. There was, Jarish, the most complete Roman city in the world, or we could go a more religious historical route and visit Mount Nebo and Madaba. We were quite intrigued by the idea of seeing mosaics and Jerusalem and chose the latter.
The mosaics in Jordan are beautiful. They use all local natural stone instead of coloring them making them much easier to maintain. The Church of Saint George now contains the mosaic map which is the oldest surviving cartographic depiction of the holy land. The entire church is decorated in mosaics as well complimenting this significant piece of history. We continue onward to Mount Nebo where Moses saw the Promised Land. A serpentine staff represents where he stood and down into the valley we could see one of Moses’s oasis. It was a spectacular view and we were a bit sad we couldn’t journey across the border.
Afterward we stopped at a shop run by the Jordan River Foundation where the queen has established a program for persons with disabilities to learn how to do mosaics and other arts to support themselves. Can’t lie this is the main reason I was swayed in this direction over an excursion to Jarish. We got a tour of the process and met some of the men and women who make the mosaics. They have also developed their own cutting and painting design to replicate mosaics for those that are unable to actually perform the intensely fine motor technique of the original art form. We validated our spending by knowing it was for a good cause and I still really want to buy a whole table and art pieces. They will ship for free with no duty if you buy a big piece but sadly you can only purchase while in Jordan. Otherwise, trust me, I’d be promoting this place to everyone. One day I will have money and a place for a pretty Jordanian mosaic table 🙂
Our last stop for the day was dinner. Despite a couple of snacks our driver kindly provided we were ready to indulge in some traditional Jordanian dishes. It hit the spot but I can’t say it would be my favorite at every meal – I had the cultured goat milk sauce with yellow rice and barbecue chicken. I would feel a little bad if I was the king and apparently have to eat this a lot because it is standard to serve it to the king if you invite him for dinner. It was also our first real awakening to how expensive our weekend in Jordan was going to be given the price of our gas station restaurant local meal. Something tells me it wasn’t the local price but c’est la vie right? In other fun news, three people thought we actually knew Arabic today.
That night we fell asleep outside the entry gate to Petra and we’re still baffled and unsure that we were actually here…