A while back we were on a journey through Jordan. Don’t misunderstand now: I’m not trying to present myself as a member of the somewhat dubious club of footballers Teddy Sheringham, Dwight Yorke, or Dane Bowers (from the gay ‘music’ group Another Level). I’m not trying to say that I have been to see a leading and profitable brand business with Nordic focus in oral hygiene, cleaning and painting tools, that with the help of knowledgeable staff, innovative products and extreme retail expertise are consumers ‘and retailers’ favorite. Oh no. That’s not what I am saying.
What I am trying to share is that I somewhat recently undertook a tour of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan – an Arab country in the Middle East / West Asia that borders to Syria in the north, Iraq to the north-east, Israel in the west and Saudi Arabia in the south-east.
Wikipedia tells us that Jordan share the shoreline of the Dead Sea in the west with Israel, and the coastline of the Gulf of Aqaba in the south of Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The border with Israel has a strong fortified transition at the Allenby Bridge that crosses the border river Jordan, a river which is the only significant water source in the country. Previously, Jordan also had land west of the Jordan River, but they were lost to Israel in 1967 during the Six Day War, before the political concept of Palestinians were invented, and before the Palestinians suddenly discovered their national identity (prior to this ‘palestinians’ were Egyptians, Jordanians, Syrians, etc, and the palestinians first president: Yassir Arafat, was an egyptian born in Cairo).
To get to Jordan, we took the bus to Eilat. We had flown the same route a few weeks in advance to have a short stay in Eilat, but now we crossed the border at the Yitzhak Rabin Border Crossing, where we met up with a Jordanian guide who we had arranged to meet. First he showed us around the city of Aqaba, a pretty lame place where everything is tax-free. People come from all over Jordan to shop there, but it didn’t seem to be much of interest there for us.
There is an old, rapidly decaying fort in the city. A fort where Jordan’s royal family used to live until 1932 (or was it 1929?), but it is not worth the trip there for that reason only, unless you are an archeologist and/or very interested in ruins…
After the peace treaty with Israel, several Israeli and international businesses has started the construction of hotels in the area, and since it’s situated right next to the Red Sea, it is conceivable that Aqaba will become a popular city for bathers. Not only Aqaba, but the entire Jordan has experienced a boost in tourism after the peace agreement. Peace pays. Perhaps a lesson ‘palestinians’ can learn from?
After Aquaba we left for Wadi Rum, a place which perhaps is best known (?) from the prehistoric film Lawrence of Arabia…? (if any of you remember the film, you might belong to the dying generation of old, wrinkled people who are in need of care…) They also shot some scenes from Indiana Jones in Wadi Rum.
Wadi Rum is a desert with rock formations. It’ll probably be a good place if you like to climb, or if you are interested in sand. Actually I highly recommend it if you’re interested in sand, rock and stone! There are lots of it! Like our tour guide so enthusiastically pointed out: “Over there you can see 3 different types of sand”
Also, if you’re more of a phosphate type of guy, you’ll be glad to know that in Wadi Rum they extract phosphate which they sell to India and China.
Another story tells that when the King of Jordan was traveling near Wadi Rum, he saw a village where impoverished Bedouins lived in houses without roofs. King Abdullah didn’t like what he saw, so he built new houses for all residents – gratis – free of cost! Rumors also has it that King Abdullah has introduced a system where the top 10 out of 40 school children, receives free education.
Wadi Mousa – Petra
Fortunately, we went quickly on from Wadi Rum to Wadi Mousa, a small town located vis-a-vis Petra. Petra was an ancient city with houses and temples are also cleared directly from the mountain. Petra is also one of the “New World 7 Wonders”, a place that was unknown to the Western world until 1812, when a guy from Switzerland visited and “discovered” Petra. Petra boasts to be the backdrop for several movies over Wadi Rum, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, “Arabian Nights” Passion in the Desert, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, the Sisters of Mercy’s music video “Dominion” and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, have all been filmed there.
Here’s a short clip from Wadi Rum that someone uploaded to YouTube:
In Wadi Mousa we lived in a low-cost guesthouse named Valentine Inn. The rooms vary from single, double or dorm (rooms shared by up to 14 travelers). After checking in we drank tea, ate dinner and smoked a nargileh. Nargileh is a water pipe you use to smoke fruit tobacco. The most common flavor is apple, but you also get countless other tastes. Nargileh is the Turkish word for the water pipe, in Arabic it is called shisha and in India they call it hookah.
The next morning we got up really early to go see Petra, one of the new world’s seven wonders. It gets pretty hot during the day in the Middle East, and Petra is Jordan’s most visited tourist attraction, so it’s worthwhile to start early – it saves you from the worst crowds of people and gives you the opportunity to enjoy the morning before it gets too hot.
It’ll save you some cash if you bring a lunch, some fruit and at least two large bottles of water into Petra. You can buy both food and drink inside Petra, but it is up to 6-8 times more expensive than outside. Petra is a large area, so there’s a lot of wandering around. We were recommended by the guide to buy a two-day pass to Petra, but we chose to listen to other travelers and thankfully got ourselves one-day pass – a whole day wandering around looking at ruins should cover your innermost needs!
Again: If you are particularly interested then you can certainly be entertained for two days of ruins, ruins, ruins, ruins and more ruins …
Here is the recipe I recommend for a successful day in Petra:
- Arrive early in the morning
- Take a few pictures at the first sight you’ll arrive, then:
- Go directly to the monastery which is located as the topmost point and farthest from the entrance (you’ll have plenty of time to check out the other sights on the way back towards the entrance/exit).
- Take short breaks in the shade to get some rest.
- Bring water, fruit & lunch.
It’s possible to rent camels, horse carriages or donkeys to carry you around in Petra, but we observed people older than 60 that was trekking on the mountain path by the help of the Apostles horses. In other words: no reason to be lazy.
Jordan is not a particularly cheap country to travel in, but Petra is definitely worth seeing. You can also keep costs fairly low in Jordan if you are traveling as backpackers / live cheaply. The closest we got a stay at a luxury hotel in Jordan was after we had seen Petra: on our way to the taxis that were waiting for customers, we went through the Mövenpick hotel to pamper ourselves with world-class ice cream! Lovely!
After some sleep at the guesthouse, we met our guide again. He had invited us for a traditional dinner with his family in his home. First we stopped at the chicken market to buy chicken. The chicken salesman was an Egyptian living in Jordan, and I couldn’t help to think that if he had settled in Israel instead of Jordan, he would have been a Palestinian (according to the mindset of the political left in Europe).
3 chickens cost 10 Jordanian dinars, and the chickens were definitely fresh. Within 5-7 minutes the chickens were killed, plucked, gutted and washed. After the chicken market, we went to the vegetable market where they of course had all kinds of fruits and vegetables.
Our guide told me that all the fruits and vegetables were produced in Jordan, except for bananas that they import from Somalia.
In many traditional societies, a woman’s place is in the kitchen. In muslim Jordan too.
Still that doesn’t mean that men doesn’t help with the cooking: the men in the house were responsible for the barbecuing part.
This dish was made in a “Mandi” (earth oven), and the dish was buried underground for about 1 1 / 2 hour. The “Mandi” is basically a barrel sunk in the ground. Inside the barrel you first light a fire and let it burn for a while, until you have a thick layer of glowing charcoal. Then you lower the food on top of the charcoals and close it off with a lid before you bury the whole thing and cover it with soil.
the kitchen / how to cook in an earth oven.
If you’re going to try to follow this recipe, you will have to experiment your way regarding the portions and proportions. Since I was only a spectator in this process, this is more a description of the procedure than a recipe:
- melted butter in a saucepan.
- washed rice mixed in the pan with a salsa of fresh tomatoes.
- whole garlic cloves are added in the kettle before water is poured over.
- tomato puree is mixed with salt, pepper and hawaij (I’ve posted a recipe for hawaij earlier).
- chickens are rubbed in the tomato puree / hawaij mix before being placed in a metal basket.
- whole unpeeled onions, placed in metal basket accompanying the chickens.
- whole potatoes peeled, rubbed in oil and placed in basket.
The food is lowered unto the glowing coal in the hot mandi (the barrel which is sunk into a hole in the ground). First, lowering the pan with rice, then, on top you place the metal basket containing the chickens, onions and potatoes. The food is the covered with a lid and sealed tight.
- Knock the edge of the lid / barrel with a stone so that it becomes really tight (this prevents soil / rock / dirt falling into the barrel). Then you place a heavy rock on the lid, cover the lid with earth and make a fire on top of the soil.
- Leave the food cooking, buried underground covered with earth and fire, for 1 1/2 hour – depending how much food you have in the barrel and if it is chicken or lamb.
By using a “Mandi” for cooking, you can supposedly make food for 150-200 people at once – in other words: perfect for a party (or a small family gathering). In Jordan, it is common that several houses in a neighborhood share a Mandi.
While the men were busy with the Mandi and waiting for food the to be done, the women made a wonderful arabic salad of tomato, cucumber, parsley and grated carrot, as well as dry-frying chopped almonds (without skin), which they later mixed in the rice. When the food was finished, the women laid cloths over the floor and covered it with cutlery / plates. First, they had plans to set up a table and chairs, so that us westerners could sit around a table and eat, but we refused and would rather sit on the floor like they do in Jordan.
hot springs, cool springs and garbage
The next day we had planned to travel to Amman and spend some days in the capital, but we were already tired of Jordan, and decided to return to Israel. A traveling American girl we met told us she had been in Egypt before she went to Jordan. I asked her which of the countries she liked best. She replied:
Israel. In Israel I can dress as I want without being uncomfortably stared at and without getting unpleasant comments shouted after me
It turned out that she had been in Israel before visiting Egypt, and she was not happy with the attention she got as a lonely, female traveller in Jordan & Egypt.
Let’s just say that some people can be quite uncomfortable when it comes to behaving respectfully towards women…
On the way to the border, we stopped at Shoubak Castle (500-year-old ruins) and to see a spring where there is both hot and cold water coming out from the mountain a few meters apart – it’s appropriately called the “hot and cold springs in Wadi Hasa”. There’s also a natural pool there where the hot water is collected, but unfortunately the area was so littered that it ruined the whole experience.
This was something that seems to be a part of the culture in Jordan – to throw your garbage wherever you are, and the sanitation system does not appear to be particularly good, which results in a country that seems littered with garbage (a doubtful feature they share with India).
On the positive side I can tell you that Near Wadi Mousa they’ve managed to build a plant that cleans the sewers, and that the water from this can be used to irrigate the desert, but it is the UN, not the Jordanians, who have ensured this.
Moses and the Holy Land
We also went to Mount Nebo, known from Tanakh (the bible), Deuteronomy, chapter 34: 1-6 (source: biblegateway.com, King James Version):
1 And Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto the mountain of Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, that is over against Jericho. And the LORD shewed him all the land of Gilead, unto Dan,
2 And all Naphtali, and the land of Ephraim, and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah, unto the utmost sea,
3 And the south, and the plain of the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, unto Zoar.
4 And the LORD said unto him, This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed: I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither.
5 So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD.
6 And he buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Bethpeor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.
According to Jewish and Christian tradition, Moses was buried on Mount Nebo by God himself, but nobody knows exactly where. Several religious scholars dispute whether the mountain now known as Mount Nebo is really the same mountain as referred to in the Torah. Mount Nebo, which is also known as the place where the Hebrew prophet Moses was promised the holy land is a sacred place for many Jews, Christians and Muslims. The view is not too bad either. We heard through the grapevine that on a clear day you can see all the way to Jerusalem.
In the disputed 2nd. Maccabees it is stated that the prophet Jeremiah hid the Tabernacle and the Ark somewhere in Mount Nebo (Second Maccabees is part of the Apocrypha / Bible deuterocanonical).
Here’s a short explanation: Deuterocanonical = books and passages of the Christian Old Testament that are not part of the Hebrew Bible.
These texts are not in the Jewish Tanakh (Old Testament), but found in the older translation into Greek called the Septuagint (translated in the 2nd century BCE). These texts belong to the bibles that the Catholic and Orthodox churches use, but the Protestant churches doesn’t regard them as scripture. (Source: bibel.no)
According to rumors, Moses and his followers ended the Exodus on Mount Nebo, so what more suitable place to end our journey in Jordan? We stopped to look at the mosaic floor of St. George, also known as the Madaba map. The mosaic floor of the Byzantine church is the oldest known cartographical depiction of the Holy Land, and especially of Jerusalem. The map dates back to the 6th century CE.
The Mosaics where interesting and quite beautiful, but this was the first time I’ve had to pay to enter a church! Admission to enter St. Georges church?!
All in all I would say we had a good stay in Jordan. There are some interesting religious and historical sites around, but I would definitely say that what was most memorable was to experience the hospitality of our tour guide and his family.