It has been a long time since I sat down and added a trip to my “adventures” list. Today, I’m taking some time to write down all of the biggest things I can remember from my trip this past November. Be prepared. This is going to be a long post but with lots of detail to share.
To make it a bit easier, I’ll break it out by country, and by destination. Here we go.
The original intention for this trip was for me to make my lifelong dream of seeing the pyramids in Giza for the first time. However, because of the civil unrest that was going on in Egypt at the time, our tour was cancelled because of safety concerns. We opted to make Jordan the larger part of our stay instead of Egypt. We would not be disappointed.
This particular location was actually never on my list of places I wanted to go visit. In fact, truth be told, I didn’t have a lot of interest in seeing much of Europe at all as I am not really a history buff and I know a lot of people go see Europe for the history. Frankfurt ended up being a stop simply because it is a major transportation hub in Europe and our flights were connecting through it. Tamara made the suggestion that we stay a couple of days to see what it had to offer, then make our way to Jordan. Tamara was responsible for figuring out what to do while we were there and I think for the most part, she did a pretty decent job.
We arrived on a Friday morning and went directly from the airport to our hotel, dropped off our bags, then went for a walk. A long walk. We actually took a 2-3 hour walking tour of the downtown Frankfurt area. We saw a lot of the history of the city, some very cool churches, memorials, and an awesome bridge. But after having just been on a plane for something like 6-7 hours, we were pretty tired, and honestly, the walking tour just went WAY too fast. It was great to see a lot of things and have someone put it in context but because it went so fast we really never got a chance to enjoy it as much.
One funny story about the hotel room. I brought a transformer to change the voltage on my power bar and when I plugged it in, POW, the power went out. We managed to get someone to come up and flip it on and they gave us a special plug to use on our stuff. Never had the issue again.
We did however revisit one spot that was definitely both fascinating and sad at the same time. It was a memorial for a large amount of Jewish people who had been killed during the war. It was very creepy in some respects and very nice in others. I had never seen anything quite like it.
Once the tour ended, we rested up a bit and then went exploring some more. We checked out some local food spots, some shopping areas, and just generally explored the area quite nicely.
Saturday, I thought there was supposed to be a geocaching event going on in Frankfurt and I had brought a PILE of trackables from Moncton to drop at the event. We went to the other side of the city and did a little geocaching and discovered a really nice park. We saw a lot of wild swans and took a ton of wildlife pictures. We did not expect to encounter that in the middle of the city. Turns out I had made a mistake and the event was actually on Sunday. But, as luck would have it, the host of the event was actually there and I gave all of the travel bugs to her, and we headed back to our hotel.
Sunday morning, we ventured out on a tour bus to a place called Heidelberg. There was a really nice old castle there that Tamara had found which is why we did the tour. Despite it pouring rain, we saw the castle and a lot of cool things there. It would have been nice to spend more time at the actual castle itself, but it was a single day tour, and we kind of got the impression that the guy running the tour wanted us to see more of the city than the castle.
He took us into town, showed us a couple of nice spots, then sent us off to do our own things for an hour or so. We checked out a pretty cool bridge, this weird monkey statue, and a ton of really cool houses and other buildings. Tamara picked up a few small bottles of Absinthe which she then later drank sometime after Christmas. No, she didn’t see anything weird but it is apparently quite strong.
Monday was our day to catch our flight but it was in the evening so Tamara had found this large cemetery she wanted to visit. It was huge. I have never seen so many gravestones in my life. But this was not like any regular cemetery plot you’d see back home. All the stones were quite large and very impressive. Quite a sight to see. We finished up there, headed to the airport and caught our flight to Amman Jordan that evening.
We landed in Amman, Jordan which is the capital city around 2am. After getting through customs, obtaining our luggage, and finding our ride, we headed off to our hotel which was located in the nearby city of Madaba. Now, just the ride alone was an interesting experience. We got into a car with a man who had been sent by the hotel as per our arrangements when I reserved the room. He very quickly got us out of the airport area and took some side road on his way to Madaba. No street lights to be found anywhere and given that it was about 3am maybe, we couldn’t see anything, anywhere. We saw a couple of dead animals, broken down cars, a small fire or two, but other than that, it looked like a barren wasteland. We didn’t know quite what to expect.
We got to the hotel and checked in and were quite surprised by the room. Small, three single beds, and not quite what we were used to but we really did just want to sleep. Our plan was to get up, see Madaba, and then make our way to the Dead Sea hotel reservation we had later that day.
When we woke up, we could now see outside and at first it looked ok. A lot paler than I had ever thought but we went and had breakfast, and then decided to go for a walk. I had brought my GPS and had a vague idea of where the visitor’s center was so we went on our way. Once we left the hotel however, we really started to see how dirty the place was. Garbage was all over the streets. There were dead cats, all over the place. We must have saw three or four of them while we were just walking around. While we walked to where we thought the center was, we both were a little concerned about our safety. We were foreigners in a foreign country and we didn’t really know if Tamara should have her body covered up more than it was. The stuff I had read said she was fine but we really didn’t know judging by what we saw. It was kind of unsettling as we walked around and got some strange looks from the locals. When we finally did hit the visitors center, it was actually women working there who helped us to realize that there was no concern about it being safe, or Tamara having to cover up. Once we were pointed in the right direction, we were fine.
We did get to see some of the amazing mosaics for which Madaba and Jordan in general is known for. Talk about amazing to see. We did a little walk around town then came back to the hotel to check out, store our bags, arrange a drive, then went back out. We visited a church with an old mosaic floor which had been uncovered years ago. Pretty amazing stuff to see. We also watched a guy fill a bottle with sand and draw artwork using coloured sand and glue to put our names in the sand with a nice sunset. Very cool to watch. We then had some food where I ate some sort of weird chicken dish with a white paste sauce that was not to my liking. I somehow managed to muddle through.
We took some more photos and then headed back to our hotel where our ride to the Dead Sea was waiting for us. Turns out we’d see a lot more before we got there.
Museum & Mt. Nebo
Our driver knew we were just seeing the sights so he made a stop or two on the way to the Dead Sea. He took us to some sort of Jordan museum where there were a lot of replicas of famous biblical things that were known about the area. We didn’t have to pay to get in and honestly, it was kind of tacky. It was nice to see that they had put this together, but it really was just a bunch of fake people set in some of these scenes from early times depicting earlier days of Jordan. Yes, neat to see, but very tacky.
The cool part of the museum was a spot where we got to actually put in a few pieces of stone to a large mosaic that is being submitted to be the largest in the world. We put our names on a couple of stones, and glued them into place. Very cool.
The driver then continued on his way along the road towards the Dead Sea. Now, it was just desert on either side of this road and the filth and garbage that we saw in Madaba didn’t stop at the city boundary. We saw this everywhere which was very unfortunate. He made another stop for us at a place called Mount Nebo.
This is apparently where Moses looked out into the desert and saw the promised land. We took some photos of the nice area, and I even cracked a joke about Moses using the pipes there to bring water to the locals. We didn’t stay too long but we did manage to see a pretty nice view of the valley from there.
The Dead Sea
We arrived at the Holiday Inn Dead Sea resort right around suppertime. We heard that the beach closed at sunset and Tamara really wanted to get into the water before that happened. So, we dropped our bags in our room, and went off to the beach to see what the big deal was about.
The water was cold, but you could very clearly see on the surface of the water a sort of film or something. We knew the salt content was high but it was interesting to see that you can actually SEE it in a way. We walked out just a bit and before we knew it, the salt was lifting us up. It is not like anything else you will ever experience. As someone who has lived near the Atlantic Ocean for 75% of my life, I can tell you that floating in the water back home is nothing like this. You have NO control over NOT floating. In fact, at one point, I stood in the water, straight up, not able to touch the ground because the water just pushed me up. You could roll around without issue and would never sink. It was truly surreal to experience this. The sun went down and we went to the pool where we kicked back with a regular swim for awhile and then headed in. But not before we’d enjoy some nice dinner entertainment.
We opted to have dinner outside at one of the restaurants at the hotel. What we had seen after arriving there was that stray cats were actually the norm. We saw several of them while there and when we sat at our table, a few came over. As cat people, me and Tamara didn’t mind it. We did not however expect that after a few minutes there would be more. At some point, I think there was 5, 6, maybe 7 cats around the dining area. We smiled and just took it all in as part of the experience of being somewhere else. One of the staff told us that the cats are just part of the area and that they have tried to get rid of them but they just keep coming back.
Now, the funny thing was that these cats are hungry. They are strays and are looking for any food you might have and they are not afraid to ask. We had a couple of them paw at us and meow but nothing serious. However, for a few select other people, the cats jumped on the chairs, the table, and even swatted a couple of the other guests. It was even more entertaining because the cats seem to sense which guests liked cats and which ones didn’t because they only went after the people who hated cats. Me and Tamara sat there and laughed as this one older couple near us got pretty mad and was yelling at the animals. The food was not anything spectacular but the entertainment was awesome.
We headed back to our room which was quite nice for a Holiday Inn. In fact, the entire resort was really amazing and quite high end for something I sort of expected to be on a lower scale. I’d definitely go back there.
When we got up in the morning, we knew we would be leaving by noonish so Tamara wanted to get in another float plus a mud bath. We went down to the beach again and did a bit of bobbing in the water. We also took a walk on the mud where Tamara snagged a bit of mud and salt to bring back home. We finished it all up with Tamara getting covered by me from one end to the other in the famous Dead Sea mud. Didn’t feel any different than regular mud but it was pretty neat. We cleaned up, checked out, and then started on our ride towards Wadi Musa where we’d have our encounter with Petra.
The Drive To Wadi Musa
Getting from the Dead Sea area to Wadi Musa and Petra was going to be about four hours by car. We knew the drive would be long but it was the only way to get there. The same driver who had driven us to the Dead Sea came back and picked us up to drive us to Petra. He was awesome. Plus, he took us to a few cool spots along the way.
Some of the more memorable spots along our journey was to a “cave” motel. There was this little shop along one of the small little villages we drove through that was actually a store, built into an old cave. Tamara and I checked it out. While she was looking at the jewelry, I wandered around the area a bit and found an actual motel that was inside of the cave. Stone beds, but still very neat to see.
We then were taken to a “castle” in the middle of the desert. I thought it might have been Karak but it was some other lesser known castle. We were greeted by a friendly guy who wanted to be our guide of the castle. We paid him and he took us around the castle showing us this very long and dark deep hole where they used to get water, places where the hung criminals, and all kinds of other cool stuff. My biggest problem with him was he didn’t seem to want to keep his hands off my wife. Everytime I turned around he was putting his arms around her, holding her, and it made me very uncomfortable. But, we got through it and made our way out of there.
We made several stops along the highway to take pictures of the desert and views. Quite amazing to see actually. So pale but so beautiful at the same time. Enroute, our driver made arrangements for us to get tickets to see Petra @ Night. When we finally pulled into our hotel, the stuck his hand out the window and two tickets were put in it and that was it. We were done our ride and would begin our adventures in Petra.
Of all the places we saw in Jordan, Petra was my favorite. Tamara said that Wadi Rum was her favorite but for me, Petra was the absolute best part of the entire trip.
After we got checked into our room, we opted to go for a little walk. Across the street from the hotel, we found the entrance to Petra. There were a pile of little shops there with folks trying to sell you pretty much anything. The Indiana Jones Gift Shop was a notable spot.
We walked by one of the shops and a guy insisted we come in and dress us up. He proceeded to put one of the head wraps on me and Tamara and took our picture. It was a little tacky but still kind of neat.
After waiting for a little while, we started to follow the crowd into Petra for the Petra at Night show. We walked, and walked, and walked, and walked some more through a long walkway and passageway lit by candles. I am sure it took at least 30-40 minutes to get there but when we did, wow.
It was pretty amazing to see the Treasury at night. We parked ourselves at a picnic table and waited for the “show” to begin.
It’s hard to remember exactly the order of how things went but I do remember a man playing a sort of flute instrument that seemed to go on FOREVER. I mean it was really nice to enjoy the local music but I am sure he played one song that lasted at least 30 minutes. After awhile I was getting bored and just wanted it to be over with. At some other point they had a man come out and tell us a few stories about the history of Petra and what we would see. Eventually, the music and lecture ended and we wandered around for awhile.
After that, we headed back to the hotel where we really did crash for the night. The next day would be quite busy.
We woke up bright and early, packed our small daytrip bags, grabbed the hiking poles, and headed off to see Petra. I fired up my GPS and wanted to track exactly where we went and how long it took us. According to the track, we hiked about 15.5K over 8 hours. Now keep in mind that a lot of that time was also sight seeing as well. If it was pure hiking, we would have covered a lot more territory.
We started down the same path we had been down the night before but this time we could actually see things. It was a long path with cool stone caves on either side, and a “lane” for horses. We eventually came to a sort of turning point where we entered the “Siq”. This was basically a very long and narrow passageway between tall rocks that we had to follow until we would hit the start of Petra itself, known as the Treasury.
We walked and took pictures and admired a lot of things. The size of the Siq and the rocks around us were pretty breathtaking. We did see a few donkey’s and carriages carrying people but we kept on foot. We also spotted some little kids playing, and even trying to sell the tourists some little trinkets.
Eventually we came to the end of the Siq and the Treasury peaked out behind it. I got really excited as I knew we were getting there and just as I was bouncing, it all came into sight.
To see the Treasury in the day is quite something. There’s nothing quite like looking at a structure like that that has been sitting there for more than 2000 years. I took a pile of photos and just soaked in as much as I could see. Me and Tamara walked around a little bit but eventually we worked our way past the Treasury to some of the other small tombs and made our way towards the main part of Petra.
There were a lot of people around and a lot of tourists and lot of people trying to sell you horse or camel rides. We said we would stick to being on foot until we couldn’t no more. We also checked out a few of the small little vendors who kept insisting that their prices were the best. “Only 2 dinar” we heard many, many times. (Dinar is the currency in Jordan).
Eventually we opted to climb the steps to the high place of sacrifice which is basically on top of the mountain. Tamara was going to take a donkey up as she didn’t think she could do the hike. She paid a local for a donkey and they started up the steps just behind me. Within 5 minutes of getting on the donkey, Tamara almost went head first onto the ground and almost slipped off the side of the animal. That was enough for her to say no thanks to the donkey and try the hike anyway.
The hike up for me was hard, but not too bad. The hiking poles really helped and you just took your time. Before you knew it you were up high enough that local merchants on the mountain were trying to sell you stuff. Tamara was slower than I but she took her time and like a real champ, she made it all the way to the top.
Once there, we had a pretty amazing view of the entire area, including down where we had just come from. We headed on to the place of high sacrifice which was an area where many animals were sacrificed and their blood would drain off. Creepy to think about but very cool to see. Tamara made friends with a local woman there who was quite fascinated by Tamara. When we finally came down off the spot where the high place was, there was a sitting area. The woman showed Tamara her baby and they talked for a bit before we moved on.
A point of interest here as well is that I managed to find two geocaches while in that particular area. Tamara’s new friend helped me find one and the other one was stuck in a rock wall overlooking the backend of Petra. Very cool.
We started down the back way and going down for me was easier than going up. Before we knew it we were looking at an old garden tomb and many other tombs on the ground. We came to a spot where we had to decide which direction to go but it wasn’t entirely clear. So for us, the GPS came in handy.
The track showed that we should go right and not left but there was no clear path as to where to go. So, we winged it. A little weirded out, I tried not to think about it and just kept following the GPS until it showed us getting closer to the track line we had already been on. Before we knew it, we could see down below where people were and then we spotted some familiar spots from where we had started. We made our way back to the road and took a pause.
Tamara was feeling a bit sore but I had a few more tombs I wanted to take some photos of. So, she sat and rested while I made my way over to a few more tombs. Again, Tamara made some new friends who insisted on getting their photos taken with her since she was the one who looked different to them. Kinda funny.
After I got back, we worked our way back to the Treasury and made one more stop at the Theatre. This was the last thing I wanted to see while I was there. Took a few photos, then we started the trek back to the hotel, through the Treasury and the Siq.
By the time we got to the hotel, we had spent a whole 8 hours out and about hiking. We were dead tired but man, the things we had seen would never compare to anything else, ever.
When we got up the next morning, we had breakfast and made our way to Wadi Rum. Wadi Rum was something I had never heard of but one of the guys I work with had been to Jordan before and recommended it as something to do. It’s a protected part of the Jordanian desert and many people go out there to see the mountain areas and desert and camp out under the stars. This seemed like a very relaxing way to experience the desert so I signed us up for a night there.
We actually took a taxi from Petra to Wadi Rum which was quite a long drive. When we finally got there, we got on an open back “jeep” and set sail for the desert. Now this jeep was not a jeep but a pickup truck with a sort of half-canvas on top of it. Not great for coverage and not great for all terrain driving but is apparently the norm in that area. We were driven to a sort of shack which was our first stop. Tamara had some tea while I snapped some photos.
From that point forward, we went from point to point with our guide, Rakahn. He took us to a wicked sand dune which we climbed up and took some photos. He also brought us to a couple of places that had ancient writing on the rocks. At one point, we ended up at another dune where people were using a snowboard to “slide” down the side of the dune. It was pretty funny to watch. While we sat there and watched them try to go down the hill, our guide was trying to get his truck fixed as it had died.
Once the vehicle was mobile again, he took us exploring some more to a small canyon rock which was pretty cool. Eventually we ended up having lunch in the desert and then heading onward to our camp. Just before hitting camp, we stopped at this “cow” rock. Our guide showed off his climbing skills as he got up to the top and waved down to us. We took some photos, and then went to the camp.
Turns out our camp was not just tents in the desert. We had a little hut with two beds where we stashed our stuff. We then had supper with our guide, his friend, and two other folks who were staying at the camp.
The other local, I want to say his name was Omar but I can’t recall for sure, was telling us stories of him and his dad hunting. Turns out they hunt with machine guns. He showed us a few pictures and it was pretty funny to see someone with a machine gun in their hand while trying to hunt for the Jordanian version of a deer. At one point, one of the other visitors said “Omar, you look like a terrorist”. My eyes jumped out of my head thinking that was something you just don’t say. But then sure enough, he laughed and said he did kind of look like a terrorist.
They finished the night off by going outside setting off some small fireworks on the ground and on the top of one of the rocks. Me and Tamara took a walk around one of the big hills and enjoyed the sunset in the desert. It was so quiet and so peaceful that it was weird not to hear much of anything. Add to that the fact that there was NO light except the moonlight and stars that you really could see everything. It was pretty amazing.
We crashed for the night and woke up in the morning ready to go. Our bags were taken for us and we were put on camels which we would ride back into town. Now here’s the thing about riding a camel. It feels kind of cool for about 5 minutes, and then afterwards, your ass starts to hurt. It is not comfortable to be on for very long. I sat criss-crossed on the camel and switched positions often to try and be comfortable but it really didn’t help. The ride took about 2 hours but the funniest thing about that entire experience was the fact that here we are riding camels in the desert, and our guide is talking on his cell phone. Seemed so funny.
From there, we snagged a ride over to Aqaba where we would spend our last night in Jordan before working our way back to the capital on our journey home.
Aqaba itself was just a sort of beach town. Not a lot to do there but we did wander around a bit and get some food. The hotel was pretty nice but security was a bit of a pain in the ass because of language issues. We had gone to Pizza Hut for supper and brought back some leftovers. When we tried to go through security, the guy wouldn’t let us bring the food in. So I said fine and put it on the machine. After I went through the metal detector, he starts yelling at me in Arabic about the pizza. He said I couldn’t bring it in but he didn’t tell me what to do with it. I tried to explain that if I can’t bring it in, what do you want me to do? The disagreement got a bit heated and then the hotel bellboy came over and talked to him and the security guy just barked something at me and told me to take the pizza.
We took the bus down to the beach to do some snorkeling. This was pretty awesome. I had not been able to do snorkeling before because I kept panicking when my face was in the water. But this time, I took my time, and managed to figure out a way that worked for me. Once I got it, it was easy from there on in. We spent a few hours snorkeling the reefs and enjoying the sun before heading back to the hotel. Just as a side note, we could almost see the border of Saudi Arabia from where we were. Very close.
That night, we took a taxi to the Aqaba airport and caught a flight to Amman which is the capital of Jordan. Now, a couple of notable things about that experience. For starters, I wasn’t allowed to have the carabiner from my GPS in my carry on bag. Very weird. They really dug through all of our luggage and asked a bunch of questions but we were eventually let through. But the most interesting thing about that flight was what I saw while in the air.
Aqaba to Jordan is only an hour or so by air. Quick and easy. It travels from the southern most point of the country north. I was on the right (east) side of the plane at a window seat. It was midnight when we left so everything was pitch black. As we are flying, I start to see these flashes of light off in the distance. At first, I didn’t think anything of it but after awhile, some of them were pretty big. I then realized that these were explosions. From everything I could tell, it looked like weaponry of some kind that was going off in the middle of the night. I got pretty freaked out as I had never seen explosions on the ground from the air like that. I have no idea what they were or where they came from but it was kind of freaky to see.
We got to Amman, snagged a cab to our hotel, then proceeded to crash for a few hours before our last day of sightseeing.
Given that Amman was less than 50km from Israel, me and Tamara opted to take a day tour of Jerusalem and Bethlehem just to be able to say we were there. I may not be a Christian, but to be that close, you kind of have to go see it just to say you were there. Well, let me tell you, THAT was a bad idea. Here’s how it went.
We had arranged a tour, so we got picked up at the hotel and driven to the Allenby bridge. This is a bridge that goes between Jordan and Israel. When you get to the Jordan side, they check you in, and TAKE YOUR PASSPORT. They don’t just look at it, they take it. They then load you onto a bus, and once on the bus, they give you your passport back. You then cross the bridge, and in the process go through I believe it was 5 or 6 security checkpoints on the bridge. Once across the bridge, you go through two more sets of security screenings. One for your luggage, and one for immigration. Once out, our guide was there and picked us up for our tour but it seemed to take FOREVER to get there. Not a great experience.
Our guide was fantastic but the overall experience in Israel was very disappointing. For that reason, I won’t go into a lot of detail about every little thing we saw. The biggest thing about the entire experience was that me and Tamara only knew of the biblical Jerusalem and Bethlehem which is a far cry from the real thing. Both places were excessively over crowded, and VERY busy. It was kind of insane how busy it was in that part of the world. So many people there to see so much of what it had to offer that it kind of turned us off.
We did get to see the supposed birthplace and deathbed of Jesus. We also saw the Sheppard’s fields which was kind of cool. We took some photos but a lot of the interiors were hard to capture on camera. Plus, with so many people around it was kind of crazy. A big part of what sort of freaked me out was how so many of these people were so emotional about being there. There was a stone tablet of some kind that Jesus was laid on or his clothes were on or something, and many people wanted to touch it or pray on it. The tomb where Jesus was buried was also another spot with a huge long line of people just waiting to get inside. It was very unsettling to me.
Another interesting thing was that we had two guides. The first one couldn’t take us to Bethlehem because that’s considered part of Palestine and he wasn’t allowed to go there. No security but we did switch vehicles. The second guide was ok but not great. He really tried to push us on souvenirs at some shop he either owned or was involved with.
We finished the day off with a ride back to the bridge where we went through the same sort of long hassle about getting back into Jordan. We hit the hotel and crashed, and then headed to the airport for our 2am flight. Before we knew it, we were back home and it was all done.
This was a trip that was supposed to be one thing but turned into something else. For both me and Tamara, it was an amazing experience. It’s been 8 months since we were there and it seems like so long ago.
If you ever have the chance to see Jordan, go. Don’t hesitate and just go see it. It was truly an awesome experience.