Just forty-five miles, a river, and a border crossing separate Jerusalem from Amman, or a twenty-five minute flight from Tel Aviv via Royal Jordanian Air. Like Israel, Jordan is a young nation, independent since 1946; it’s officially named the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. In a country famous for its hospitality, we were repeatedly greeted with “ahlan wa sahlan” loosely translated as “may you arrive as part of the family, and tread an easy path (as you enter)” or in another word “welcome.”
Taking residence in the gorgeously serene Kempinski Ishtar Hotel, Dead Sea, we easily explored many of the country’s star attractions:
Known as Philadelphia during the Graeco-Roman era, the progressive capital city of Jordan boasts modern buildings, stylish restaurants, high-end boutiques, a “millionaires row” in an area called Abdun, and even (my measure of civilisation) a Starbucks. Amman’s Citadel offers lovely views above Amman, and archaeological digs have uncovered evidence of Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic settlements.
Jarash (ancient Gerasa)
Built by the Greek armies of Alexander the Great in the 2nd century BCE, Jarash is considered one of the best preserved Roman provincial towns in the world. Walk though Hadrian’s Arch past the hippodrome to wonder colonnaded streets, hilltop temples, plazas, baths, fountains, and markets.
Bithani: The Baptism Site
Identified as the site where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, pilgrims also visit on the Israeli side just across this narrow section of the Jordan River. The entire area is a military zone due to the international border. Don’t even think about crossing though, we were told either side is happy to shoot first.
In the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George, find the 6th century mosaic map of the eastern Byzantine world, the oldest surviving and largest scale map of Palestine. Several local workshops handcraft stone-inlaid mosaics and other types of decorative artwork.
According to the Bible, specifically the last chapter of Deuteronomy, Moses died here in the Land of Moab after seeing the Promised Land (Canaan). An important place of Christian pilgrimage, excavations and reconstruction led by the Franciscans who own the site have uncovered remains of the early church and its magnificent Byzantine mosaics. Look across the Jordan River Valley to the ancient city of Jericho and on a clear day glimpse Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
Once a thriving Nabataean City, now a Unesco World Heritage Site, Petra is spread over 38 square miles with over 850 registered monuments. Understandably the most popular site in Jordan, and astounding to consider that 2000 years ago Petra was carved-out of the pink and tan rock. Preferable to visit for a few days, otherwise be prepared for a long walk (we clocked 5 miles) to see the main monuments. Transport in the form of camel, horse, or donkey is offered by the local residents, the Bdul, a small, isolated community who are differentiated from the traditional tent-based Bedouin tribes. The mysterious Bdul people occupied the caves and dens of Petra until 1980 at which time they were controversially relocated to a local village.
Whether a short visit via jeep or a few nights camping with the Bedouins under the vast expanse of a star-filled sky, the spectacular desert sands and landscapes should not be missed.
Aqaba and the Red Sea
The seaport town of Aqaba (or the more developed town of Eilat on the Israeli side) has several beach resorts and for scuba-divers and snorkelers, the clear sea has plenty of coral reefs and colourful marine-life.
At the lowest point on earth, 400m below sea level, have a healing and buoyant float in the highly dense salt water. For maximum health benefits, dip your hands into a pot of mineral-rich therapeutic mud, slather it all over your body, and after it dries, wash it away with another plunge in the Dead Sea. For optimal pampering, stop by the luxurious Anantara Spa.
Jordan has even more to offer, sadly on this trip we had to miss gorge-hiking, waterfalls, ancient castles, and the nature reserves. For more information, check out Visit Jordan.
And so ended a second holiday with my Mother. Somehow I am starting to relish a future adventure with her. She’s easy-going and keeps up with my ambitious itineraries. Plus, she makes me laugh because weird-crazy is funny. Here is one of our random conversations over dinner:
Mom: I don’t know about you, but I didn’t evolve from a monkey.
Me: Evolution is science.
Mom: Science has been wrong, many times.
Me: Not lately.
Mom: If people evolved from monkeys, how come monkeys aren’t still making people?”
At least I had a lovely view.
The winner of best quote of the trip goes to this treasure: my mom referring to one of the five daily calls to prayer chanted in Arabic and projected over each mosque’s minaret loudspeaker, “oh, it is time for the Muslims to sing again!” Why yes it is.