Given the current situation in the Middle East, it may seem surprising that I spent last week in Jordan. Had conflict not materialised, I was also due to visit Israel and Palestine with my other half Lucy as part of our holiday/honeymoon. As events unfolded the weekend before last, the tour company we used, Exodus, gave us the option of a full refund or a shortened trip to Jordan. After some deliberation we opted for the latter based on the notion that the country we would be entering were not involved in the troubles.
It proved to be a good decision allowing us to sample the wonderful culture of Jordan as part of a select group of five plus guide, that pre-Gaza/Israel conflict had totalled over 20 people. Perhaps unsurprising, two of the other group members were former journalists and therefore equally intrigued by this area of the world so rich in history with the Greeks, Nabataeans, Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans being just some of the collection of people to have left their mark on the area.
I have to admit that in part, our interest in the destination had been driven by the 1989 Steven Spielberg film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which makes use of Petra for its climatic final scenes. The vast site, which we visited on our second day, did not disappoint with a multitude of facades and intricacies carved beautifully into a mesmerising limestone landscape. Unfortunately we were not alone and even a 7am start to the tour was not early enough to escape a multitude of other visitors, hawkers, donkeys, camels and their handlers. Tat shops, cafes and free WiFi signs were also part of the spectacle.
Heading south, a few hours drive along predominantly good roads brought us to the entry point of Wadi Rum. We changed vehicle to a 4x4 pickup that could better cope with the sandy surface we were about to travel on. The Valley of the Moon as it is also know proved an approriate name for the sandstone luna-esque landscape. Vast golden mountains rose from an almost flat bottomed surface dotted with other vehicles and dromedary camels, and which is home to Bedouin tribes. Wadi Rum is also the setting of the 1962 movie Lawrence of Arabia, which increased Jordan's tourist industry, and more recently was the location for The Martian, StarWars: Rogue One and Dune. After several stops to visit sites of springs, Nabataean paintings/inscriptions and eye-catching rock formations, we reached our camp for the night. A feast had been prepared, cooked under the ground for many hours in a Zarb - a metal, multi-levelled cage. Stomachs full and nighttime upon us, stargazing was next on the agenda, with the desert's inky skies providing a light and pollution-free viewing extravaganza.
A tranquil, yet awe-inspiring, sunrise was the perfect way to start the following day as we retraced our path to tarmac roads and headed north to the Dead Sea. Nearly ten times as salty as the ocean, there is little opportunity for plants or animals to flourish in this body of water, hence the name. It's also one of the lowest points on earth with the surface lying 430m below sea level. After checking in to the very lavish Holiday Inn Resort, swimsuits were donned and into the salty water we went. A unique experience indeed, where it was difficult to keep your feet on the seabed as the density of salt in the water caused you to float. Heeding the guide's advice to not stay in for more than 20 minutes, we re-entered the shore to cover ourselves in the Dead Sea's mineral mud, said to have a variety of skin-healing properties. Only time will tell if this proves to be the case.
With visits to Mount Nebo, which the Bible mentions as the place where Moses was able to sight the Promised Land, the Christian city of Madaba, the castles of Karak and Ajloun from the era of the Crusaders and the the Roman ruins of Jerash, Jordan proved to be a spectacular destination with much to offer. I truly hope that peace can return to the Middle East and tourism can fully flourish in this historically-rich part of the world.