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Sam and Amy’s Budget Tours: Jordan’s Highlights

I love it when God places friends in your life that, despite distance and time, persist.  Steve and Sam met at a church house group in Uganda, back in 2008.  Every year or so, it seems that a wedding, a holiday, or a random flight path conspires to bring the guys together again.  Since 2008, they’ve both been married – Steve to me, Sam to Amy.  And Sam and Amy’s trip to Jordan last week was the first time that we’ve all been able to hang out and holiday together – and what a holiday it was!!  All the sites that Steve and I had visited over the last year and a half got squeezed into a single week.  It was pretty full-on, and a total blast.  Here’s the recap…

Day 1:  Airport welcome, Jerash, Hashem’s restaurant

  • Jerash: is only about a 45 minute drive from where we live, and it’s one of the most complete preserved Roman cities in the Middle East. Our tour guide accompanied us through the Oval marketplace, down the old Roman road where you can still see chariot wheel tracks in the old paving stones, into the Temple of Artemis, and to the center of the old theatre where your voice echoes in the amazing acoustics still preserved today.  We finished off with a tangy lemon and mint juice and headed back home.
  • Hashem’s: The final stop of the day was Hashem’s restaurant – a Jordanian restaurant located in an alleyway and famous because “the King ate there once”.  The service is fast, the food is cheap, the surroundings are a little dirty, and the atmosphere is…perfect.  It’s at the very center of Amman, and the place to go to feel the “vibe” of the city and its people.  A stroll past the enormous Roman amphitheatre and a quick dessert of “knaffe” sent us all home stuffed and happy.

Day 2:  Madaba, the Baptism Site, Mt. Nebo

  • The Madaba Map: Morning of the second day, we headed to Madaba, where the oldest mosaic map of the holy land is preserved on the floor of a church.  It was only re-discovered at the end of the 19th century, over 1100 years from when it was buried by a massive earthquake.  It’s an amazing preservation of the mosaic heritage of the region.
  • Jesus’ Baptism Site: We then wound our way down the side of the mountains towards the Jordan River – one of the most beautiful drives in Jordan (even if it does make you a bit queasy with all the twists and turns).  Just north of the Dead Sea, we parked our car and hopped into the Baptism Site bus that drove us to the beginning of a canvas-covered walkway, edged with bright pink flowers, which meanders beside the Jordan River to the baptism site.  The site is a series of pools that is claimed to be where John the Baptist baptized Jesus.  A few hundred meters more down the path we came to the present-day location of the Jordan River, where we dipped our toes into the water (a small relief in the 43 degree heat) and said hello to all the tourists visiting the site from the West Bank side (the river is only a few meters wide, and is the border between Jordan and Palestine).
  • Mount Nebo: After our visit to the river, we again wound our way back up the mountain to the Mount Nebo lookoff, where Moses looked out over the Promised Land.

Day 3:  Petra, Petra Kitchen

  • Petra: On day 3, we followed the Dead Sea highway for a couple of hours, then finished the last hour of our journey winding along the scenic King’s Highway, passing the Shoback Crusader Castle en route, to end up in Petra Village.  We headed straight for Petra, at least to get a couple hours of sightseeing in before sundown.  One of the most beautiful parts of Petra is the entrance – a two-kilometer hike through a canyon called the “Siq”.  It ends at the amazing tomb façade called “The Treasury” – what you’d probably all recognize from the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  We made the steep ascent up to the “High Place”, from where you can look over the rest of ancient Petra and admire the pink carved rock faces that overlook the historic city.  The high place was once a place of animal sacrifice, and you can still see the altar, with drainage channels for blood, preserved, carved into the rock.  For a special treat at the end of the day, we hired donkeys to trot us back out to the entrance instead of the hike – somewhere between a fun and a terrifying experience J
  • Petra Kitchen: That night, we spent three hours learning how to cook Jordanian specialties in the Petra Kitchen.  Baba ganooj, lentil soup, tahini salad, meat “arais” (aka “Bedouin pizza”), and baked chicken with veg.  For dessert, we were served crescent-moon sweets served during Ramadan – a perfect end to a wonderful day.

Day 4:  Petra, Camel Ride into Wadi Rum, Sleep under the stars

  • Petra (take 2): The next morning, we were ready to go again at 7:30am – hiked back through the Siq then down through Petra City towards the final attraction – the Monastery.  All the donkey owners try to tell you it’s 1000 stairs up to this final building – but I’m convinced they’ve inflated that number just to sell more donkey rides up the stairway carved into the mountain.  We opted to go up on foot and made the ascent to this final beautiful building carved into the sandstone.  A café at the top was the perfect ending, from where we enjoyed the view of the Monastery while drinking more lemon and mint juice in the shade.
  • Camel Ride: Waving goodbye to Petra, we continued south for another hour and a half to Wadi Rum village.  Parking our car, we mounted four camels (Anyan, Shahan, Mahan, and Aswan) who carried us into the desert as the sun sunk lower in the sky.  Once our bottoms started to “feel” the bumpiness of the camel plodding, we jumped into a jeep to finish our journey into Bedouin Whispers  We scrambled up a nearby rock to watch the sunset over Wadi Rum, then ate a delicious Bedouin meal “zorb” – which is cooked under the sand.
  • Sleep Under the Stars: The most incredible way to end an incredible day – we dragged four beds out into the sand, climbed under our fleece blankets as the desert night temperatures started to drop, and watched the heavens turn into sparkling goodness.  Shooting stars, planets, shining satellites – they all caught our attention until our eyes finally closed.

Day 5: Wadi Rum Jeep Tour, Snorkeling in Aqaba

  • Wadi Rum Jeep Tour: Bright and early the next morning, after a breakfast of sweet tea, rusks, and thyme on flatbread, we climbed into the back of Salama’s 1981 Toyota 4×4 and headed to see the highlights of Wadi Rum.  The rock bridge, running up a sand dune, canyon carvings, Lawrence of Arabia’s spring…and otherwise stunning scenery from the back of this old jeep.
  • Snorkeling in the Red Sea: Our next stop was Aqaba.  Donning masks, snorkels, and flippers, we waddled out into the Red Sea waters, plunged our faces under water, and were met with the cheerful colours of the coral reef just offshore.  It really makes you feel like you’re up close and personal with the characters of Finding Nemo.  The reef we were exploring goes on for 2 km.  No way did we swim that far, but we gave it our best!

Day 6: Wadi Mujib, Escape the Room

  • Wadi Mujib: We travelled north from Aqaba along the Dead Sea highway, on our way back home.  On a whim, we decided to stop at Wadi Mujib.  A pricy entrance fee, but fully worth it!  With lifejackets on, we made our way along this deep canyon, up-river, against the constant current, climbing up small waterfalls and navigating through rapids.  One waterfall we had to climb more than once, as we discovered that it was actually a natural waterslide…so, of course, every time we made it to the top, we slid down it again for kicks.  The ending of the wadi is a beautiful waterfall – we made our way behind the waterfall, from where we just sat and enjoyed the spray and the pounding noise and the immense beauty of God’s magnificent creation!  Then, laying on our backs, we floated back downstream to the entrance (not quite as peaceful as it sounds as we constantly became lodged on rocks – but fun nonetheless).
  • Escape the Room: Finally back home that evening, we enjoyed hot showers, a home-made meal, and then had one more outing before the end of the trip.  About a four minute walk from our house is an awesome business called Escape the Room.  The premise of the experience is that your group is locked inside a small room.  Sixty minutes is put on the clock.  And you then have to discover how to escape by solving puzzles hidden throughout the room.  And we did it – at 59:31 (with 29 seconds to spare) – we solved the final puzzle and the door to our room miraculously opened!

Day 7:  Goodbye!

  • Final goodbye: Early the next morning, we hugged Sam and Amy goodbye as their budget tour of Jordan came to an end and they packed up for their next destination – the holy land.

Sam and Amy – we love you and we loved having you visit Jordan last week!  Can’t wait to explore Rwanda with you next!

Everyone else – we welcome you to come experience Jordan yourself J

I have a question for you:  If you’ve never been to Jordan – what do you most want to see when you visit?  If you have experienced Jordan before, what was your highlight?  Did we leave anything out of Sam and Amy’s tour?

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