I arrived in Jordan mid-day and had previously arranged a car from the hostel to pick me up. The twenty or so minute drive set me back about $30, and I soon came to realize Jordan is not very backpacker friendly.
I was feeling pretty lazy, so I spent the day sitting around the hostel and doing some research on my plan for the next few days. I had chosen the hostel I did because it had good reviews for the hostel organizing day trips. What I found though was that all the day trips were only for a private driver and did not include entry fees. The price was a flat rate no matter how many people, so it was advantageous to find a few friends to go with. After looking online, I couldn’t find any group day tours. Every tour seemed to be a private tour with a driver and many were a minimum of two people. Jordan is a small country and the main sites are fairly close, but getting there is expensive unless you rent a car. By far this is the best option as gas is cheap and renting a car grants the freedom to see many more sites for much cheaper then hiring a driver for day trips.
It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be, but I eventually was able to find a guy in my dorm room who wanted to go to the Dead Sea, so we booked a car to split to take us the next day.
That night I went to get some takeaway with two people from the hostel staying longer term to learn Arabic. The small outdoor stand had been there many years and was known for their vegetarian fare. There was no menu, so I panicked and got a few falafel balls and baba ghanoush. The people from the hostel told me that I needed to go to one counter for the baba ghanoush and go across to another stand for the falafel. I was also introduced to the confusing world of small change in Jordan. The food was less then one Jordan JD. I almost handed over a 50JD, but luckily the owner was honest and said no put that away. The small change goes up to 1000, and I learned that whatever they said that sounded like a lot of usually under 1JD so I would hand them 1JD and take whatever change I gave them. I never did fully grasp the money.
The next day the English guy from my dorm and I set out with the driver on the hour drive to the Dead Sea. Originally we had planned to visit Wadi Majab as well. I had read that it was a beautiful area that some even called the Grand Canyon of Jordan and Petra but with water. The photos looked gorgeous, and I was looking forward to taking photos.
The plan was to go to the free beach at the Dead Sea and then Wadi Majab. I stupidly didn’t bring my credit card or ATM card and little cash as I thought I wouldn’t need it. In the end we decided to spring for the cheapest public beach with the slightly steep price of 15JD or about $21 U.S. dollars because the driver said the free beach was dirty and unsafe. Because it was a tourist beach I was also able to wear my swimsuit, but would have had to coverup at the free beach. Much to my surprise the beach was pretty much deserted when we arrived. Though the beach itself was a little rocky and nothing special, we quickly put our things down and got into the Dead Sea.
What a strange feeling it was to be floating above the water without having to swim and not sinking. In place of sand, the bottom had very hard salt crystallizations and extra care was needed to not cut open a foot. We stayed in for quite awhile enjoying the novelty of it. Eventually a big tourist group came in with books as props to take photos with. After we had asked to borrow the book to pose with as well, we got out.
We were going to put some world famous dead sea mud on ourselves as it is known for being good for the skin, but we balked at the price tag of 3JD on top of the 15 we had already paid. Instead we swam around the non-salt water pool awhile after we had showered the salt water off, and headed back to the car.
For some reason I assumed Wadi Majab was free or at least include in the price of the “tour”, but the entry fee was 22JD. As I didn’t have my ATM card and had used all my cash to get into the Dead Sea, we had to skip Wadi Mujab and head back to the hostel. Like in Egypt, people always seem to have a hustle in Jordan. Originally it was going to be 30JD to go to the Dead Se and Wadi Mujab. The price was 20JD to only go to the Dead Sea. We had paid in advance thinking we were going to do both, but back at the hostel the British guy asked for our 10JD back. Apparently the driver had told the hostel owner that he did take us to Wadi Mujab so he could pocket the extra 10JD, but we were able to get our 10JD back in the end. I wish I would have found a way to go afterwards, because numerous people I met later in Jordan said their favorite thing was Wadi Majb. Instead I hung around the hostel the rest of the day.
I was interested in going to see the Desert Castles the next day, but didn’t want to shoulder the cost only, as it was going to be about $50. I ended up meeting a Dutch guy in my dorm room who wanted to join me. He had met a driver the day before who offered to take us for much cheaper then the driver through the hostel.
The next day we set out for the desert castles. The driver turned out to be an affable old grandfatherly type. On the way to the castles we passed the sign for the turnoff to the road that goes to Syria (a few hour drive away). One of the driver’s sons has the unpleasant sounding job of patrolling the Syrian border every day. The driver said that before war broke out, people from Amman would travel to Syria once or sometimes even several times a week to stock up on groceries because food was so much cheaper there.
We stopped at a shop so the driver could pick up some cigarettes. A lot of the gas stations and mini marts on the side of the highway in Jordan look like they have been out of business for years, but in fact are still open for business. The one we stopped at looked like time had not been kind to it. While the others went into the shop I stayed by the car out back and found a friendly cat that occupied my time.
As we drover further we passed a sign for the turn off to Iraq, about a two hour drive, and Saudi Arabia, only a half hour from one of the castles. Jordan has been flooded with refugees over the years since it borders so many war torn regions.
The first castle, Qasr Al-Kharanah, appeared seemingly out of no where. It was a small castle, but had two stories, so we were able to wander through some of the open air rooms and walk around the courtyard before meeting the driver in the Bedouin tent selling traditional tea and souvenirs. One of the men had the most stop in your tracks and stare gorgeous green eyes and long thick eyelashes. As I spent more time in Jordan I noticed that many of the men have this unique eye color. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such a striking eye color before.
Next up was Qasr Amra castle. This castle is known for the frescos inside that have survived since the early 8th century. The castle itself is no longer standing, but the royal retreat remains.There is an intact well and an outdoor bath. Inside the small building there is a main room and two smaller rooms, all covered in frescos, including the domes. Much of the color can still be seen. From the outside of the building I never would have expected to see all the beautiful art work. Outside the castle a Bedouin tent was set up with men selling souvenirs and several cats. Sensing a theme here? Jordan gets an A grade for cat lady countries to visit.
The last castle of the day was one that Lawrence of Arabia co-opted for himself in the 1920’s. It was the only one made of black basalt.
On the day that I got to the hostel I asked if I could get the bus to Petra on Wednesday. The owner said yeah that’s fine some other people from the hostel are going as well. I was under the false impression that he had called and reserved me a ticket. After I got back from the desert castles I asked again, and he had not booked it and the bus was sold out for that day by then. I had to book an extra night at the hostel and lose a day at Petra.
The next day the English guy and I navigated our way to the bus office to pick up our tickets for the next morning since we had heard that sometimes they give away reservations. In Amman nothing is ever as easy as having an nice leisurely walk to the bus station though. Amman is San Fransisco level hilly so it’s a work out walking pretty much anywhere. Then there are the cars. There are barely any stoplight and no crosswalks in the city and unlike in Southeast Asia, pretty much everyone has a car, not a motorbike. Crossing busy roads with their non-stop flow of traffic was a slightly harrowing and stressful experience, but we made it, and saw numerous stray cats on the way.
Next up Petra by Rain.