A Travellerspoint blog

Jordan

Jordan

It's Less Complicated

sunny 85 °F
View Israel and Jordan on paulej4's travel map.

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Jordan is the “East Bank” to Israel’s “West Bank.”

The east bank of the Jordan River marks the western boundary of what is technically the “Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.” To the south and east is the mysterious Saudi Arabia. To the northeast is the once and perhaps still war-torn Iraq while civil-war decimated Syria is to the north. And, our home these last few days, Israel, is on the west. It is landlocked save at Aqaba, across the border from Eilat, Israel, where the Jordan River empties into the Gulf of Aqaba (or if you’re Israeli, the Gulf of Eilat) which, in turn, empties into the Red Sea and ultimately into the Indian Ocean.

Amman is the capital city but we cannot visit there; due to time constraints we must save that for a subsequent journey. We come to Jordan to briefly experience Petra, the onetime capital of Nabataea, a thriving kingdom which peaked in the 1st century. Talented stone carvers lived here as evidenced by the famous Al-Khazneh, said to be the burial place of Arab Nabataean King Aretas IV. Romans ultimately conquered Petra.

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Jordan, like Israel, is home to about 10 million and has, since the founding of the State of Israel, hosted refugees. Today, the estimate is that over 2 million Palestinians are here and nearly as many Syrians have fled here from the civil war in their country. Iraqi Christians fleeing ISIS are here as well. Those refugees have come to a “high middle income” country with an advanced healthcare system and a skilled workforce.

Modern Jordan was essentially born only in 1920-21 when Abdullah persuaded tribal leaders to organize and split off from Syria under King Faisal. War after war saw the French and British in control here until the League of Nations agreed to recognize “Transjordan” as a state under British mandate until 1946. In 1948, the Arab-Israeli War saw Jordan invade Palestine and gain control of the West Bank. Abdullah was assassinated in 1951 leading to the rise of King Hussein who took the throne in 1953 when he was but 17 years old. In 1955, today’s Jordan joined the United Nations. Wars discussed earlier in this blog followed.

In 1999, King Abdullah II took the throne upon the death of his father, King Hussein, and undertook an economic revitalization of his country. Foreign investment arrived and has remained even given unrest created by Al-Qaeda’s Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who caused widespread havoc here in 2005. The unrest of the “Arab Spring” in 2011 partially helped to create a new Constitution, greater freedom and elections and the establishment of a parliamentary government. The King still holds both executive and legislative power and is both the head of state and commander-in-chief of the army and ratifies all laws but is subject to a veto by parliament. Even with all of that, according to most sources Jordan is ranked as the freest or mostly freest Arab state but that, reportedly, does not extend all the way to great freedom of the press. Islam is the state religion but other religions are protected under the constitution.

Well known by Americans is Noor Al-Hussein, born as Lisa Najeeb Halaby on August 23, 1951, in Washington, D.C., and is the widow of King Hussein. She was his fourth spouse and queen consort between their marriage in 1978 and his death in 1999. Today, she lives in the United Kingdom, Washington, and Jordan.

Tourism is a large part of the economy but the majority of tourists are not Americans; they are European and Arab. Petra, said to be first settled in 9,000 BC, is the leading tourist destination.

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Our Echo Tour promised pickup time of 6:50am came and went. At our Dan Hotel, a group of eight plus a semi-private group of four French speakers and our group of two became worried. Eventually, fifteen minutes late, we were called for, bussed to a meeting point near the border where we paid balances due, plus border taxes and fees of $125 each in cash. There is a hefty surcharge if you pay by credit card—I had been forewarned.

Walking from Israel to Jordon is intimidating, reminiscent of cold-war no-man’s-land crossing of neutral zones. It felt weird.

A computer-generated photograph was taken and a visa issued; then customs and immigration and then wait. At 8:25, everyone was finally allowed to complete the final few steps into Jordan and, at last, be on our way. There was lots of finger pointing regarding reasons for the delay but, as with most delays, inconvenience is forgotten once you are on your way. “It is in the past.”

We got to Petra by driving two hours and 80 miles north from Eilat and Aqaba on a three-lane asphalt road populated primarily by heavy trucks. Our only turn was made to the left at the one-hour point, onto “King’s Road,” a two-lane twisting affair rising in elevation into the hills, flanked by wild camels, domesticated goats and not much else. A wind farm of 45 generators sits atop the fleet of hills.

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Along the way the terrain—barren terrain—was host to the filming of feature films Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars and The Martian. No set dressing was required.

We pause at Petra View Shop on the mountaintop for a photo and shopping for Dead Sea Bath Salts and Natural Dead Sea Vita Mare Mud Masks (OMG); a palace for a wealthy man sits just above us. His home is flanked with trees; the water to support them comes from ancient wells. The village of Arajif lies a few hundred yards further on.

Neither our driver nor our guide wear seat belts (Justified because culturally that means admitting you are not a very good driver) even as our guide relates that there are many accidents when motorists hit donkeys or camels or goats but that occurs mostly at night when you cannot see them. We came upon an accident that happened just moments earlier; a car was on its roof after a sharp curve. We don’t know if he swerved to avoid something or just lost control on the curve. The only thing certain is that he—or she—was driving too fast.

Heavy trucks are supposed to keep to the right but they don’t because the left lane is less like a washboard than are the middle and right lanes. Lane markers are mostly ignored; our driver straddles lanes most of the time.

We see occasional black tents of Bedouin people scattered here and there. The tents are black to keep the occupant cooler in the hot and warmer in the cold. Our guide, a Bedouin, tells us there are also Syrian Gypsies here but their tents are orange plastic. He clearly doesn’t think much of the Gypsy people.

We pass through the hillside city Wadi Moses, a city of 35,000 (Christians and Muslims who get along quite well—but no Jews, of course) where Prophet Moses led his people, stuck a stick into the ground and got water for the thirsty. From here, they moved on to the promised land.

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At the end of our drive, through the entrance gate to the Petra Ruins Site, approaching through a nearly mile-long gorge, we are greeted by a rose-colored stone edifice which we are told is visited by almost one million people annually. The Treasury. The scene most photographed here, including by us, is the Al Khazneh—the treasury—which is cut directly into a sandstone cliff. Further on is a gigantic theatre—also cut into the stone—with tombs beyond. As recently as 2016, archaeologists using satellite imagery discovered a monumental structure beneath the sands here.

Closer inspection along the downward sloping crevass reveals a sophisticated water conduit system which is remarkable and thought to be the first such system ever conceived. In this desert, here is a man-made oasis where flash floods were controlled by dams and cisterns connected by conduits without which the city could not have persevered.

Due to many factors, this place is considered threatened. I am reminded of Egypt’s Abu Simbel which I visited forty years ago and which was saved only through relocation in 1968 to accommodate the construction of the Aswan High Dam on the Nile. Places such as these have persevered for centuries but today’s political, economic and climactic realities threaten to finally bring their demise.

0af176e0-8159-11e9-a1bb-c7d560709c2d.JPG0b4b7dc0-8159-11e9-a1bb-c7d560709c2d.JPGIt is a mild day, twenty degrees cooler than a few days ago. Even so, we are tired after end of a 10,000 step hike. We opt for donkeys back up to The Treasury and a cart back to the visitor’s center. Discretion is the better part of tourism.

After lunch at the typical tourist restaurant we are off on our two hour ride back to the border. Formalities are easy and we are back in our room by 5:15 to a message that our flight tomorrow has been changed. Rather than a noon departure, we leave at 10:30. We are really glad they called.

Posted by paulej4 08:03 Archived in Jordan Comments (2)

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