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Jordan, the Progressive Country in a Conservative Middle East

For me, the single most exciting thing about travel is venturing off into the unknown, the chance to explore and to experience a country for yourself first hand. Without fail, the more and more I travel and the more I think I know about a country, it’s people and their traditions, the more I become [&hellip

by Justin Wegiel Posted on 27 June 2012
The group on camels in the desert in Jordan

For me, the single most exciting thing about travel is venturing off into the unknown, the chance to explore and to experience a country for yourself first hand. Without fail, the more and more I travel and the more I think I know about a country, it’s people and their traditions, the more I become aware of how little I actually know upon arrival.

Enter Jordan, a progressive country in an otherwise conservative Middle East. Jordan is like a little brother struggling for attention, a country longing to create it’s own identity and brand itself to the outside world, to seperate itself from it’s perhaps more popular siblings, Eqypt and Israel.

Jordan sits in the midst of some serious twenty-first century shit – the Arab Spring that saw Egypt and Lybia rise up and oust their oppressive governments, the war in Iraq, Iran’s unsanctioned nuclear program, the ongoing Israeli/Palestinian conflict and Syria’s civil unrest that saw a suicide bomber blow himself and ten innocent civilians to pieces during my time in the Jordanian capital of Amman, a mere 2 hour drive from the bloody scene in Damascus.

With so much negative press in the Mideast, Jordan’s tourism business has taken a massive hit in the last 12 to 16 months, and in fact some of my loved ones also had their concerns when I told them where I was headed. To their defence, rightfully so. But here’s my take on Jordan, a safe, welcoming, hospitable and peaceful gem in the heart of the Middle East, Salem Aleikum.

Local Jordanian pouring tea for the group
The hospitatlity in Jordan is second to none.

The only thing warmer then their welcome is their tea. In every town we ventered off to, be it the ancient ruins of Petra or the remote deserts of Wadi Rum, the locals would sit us down for a cup of tea, or by North American standards - sugar with a spot of tea. When drinking tea in Jordan consult your dental plan in advance, be warned, they like it sweet.

Food in Jordan

Every meal in Jordan is meant to be a celebration. A symphany for the senses where the pita plays the role of conductor and the selection of dips from hummus, tahini, baba ganoush and labaneh, all come together to create the tastiest arrangement of flavours and textures to warm up the crowd before the almighty falafel takes centre stage.

Fresh humas from a local shop

When in Amman go to Hashem, on King Faisal Street in the old city. A local favourite - tucked away in a tired alley - where I could watch their falafel machine do it’s thing all night long. It’s (expletive) hypnotizing. They specialize in all the usual suspects, and our massive spread of pita, dips and falafel served with typical Jordanian tea came to under $5 a head.

For dessert, kanafeh at Habiba. Located a falafels throw away from Hashem and is another must for any traveller looking for a local genuine delicacy. Kanafeh is a traditional pastry heated with butter or palm oil, then spread with soft cheese and topped with more pastry and crushed green pistachios. It’s crunchy, it’s chewy, and it’s all sorts of zachy (my Arabic quota for the day, our CEO Zuhair would be proud).

What to do in Jordan

Treasury in Petra lit by candles

Every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday night at 8:30pm something very special and very magical happens in Petra. A 2 KM hike snakes it’s way from the entrance of the historic site - lit up with nothing but the soft glow of paper lanterns - through the siq, eventually pouring into the main event. The canyon opens up to a goose bump inducing orange glimmer of hundreds of candles lighting up the majestic Treasury like a jackolatern. The hairs on the back of your head will stand on end, I’ll bet you a falafel sandwich on it. Rows of soft mats sit at the entrance and visitors are asked to sit cross-legged in front of the Treasury where a local bedouin plays host to a massive group of curious travellers for an hour or so. Almost on cue, sweet tea is served to the hum of traditional bedouin music and the host explains the storied history of Petra City all to the back drop of the luminous Treasury. To cap off the evening the host will ask everyone in attendance to use their camera flash on the count of three to light up the Treasury for just enough time for the point and shoot crowd to catch a sharp image in the low light conditions (pro-tip, bring a tri pod. It’ll make your life that much easier).

The early tourist catches the donkey.

Wake up early the next morning to beat the crowds to that same spot and grab another hero shot with the soft lighting of dawn - sans the western tourist crowds. Battle through the scorching heat and make those 800 steps to the Monestary your bitch. Grab an afternoon beer to celebrate your latest triumph and push on for a birds eye view of the Treasury. Your legs will burn, your mind will weary, but your soul will hum that high and white note heard only on a rare occasion such as this.

Enjoy your rest, you earned it, but the desert of Wadi Rum awaits. Going into my trip, the chance to spend some time in the desert was a personal highlight. I’m happy to report it did not dissapoint. We started our day in a couple of vintage Toyota Fourunners, a bit worse for wear would be an under statement, but the rough looking exterior and cracked windshield only spoke to their experience and know how of a life spent in the desert, without saying a single word. We tore up sand banks, had tea with bedouins, climbed up one of Wadi Rum’s natural stone arches and spent the night around the fire drinking tea and smoking shisha. Before breakfast we woke up and hopped on a camel, just cos we could. A short camel ride to a comfortable red rock face welcomed us with a beautiful sunrise over the desert. Sadly - much to the chagrin of my dentist - no tea was had, what gives?