(picture of As-Salt) It takes a few minutes to get a visa on arrival. Of course, I had to be stopped and taken to a special room. ‘What is this?’ asked a guy pointing at my Afghan visa. ‘Why is it here? Why you went there? why? why?’ “To see friends”. ‘Local friends? American friends?’ “Local”, ‘hmmmm’. Then he opened my passport at a Syrian visa asking the same. ‘Why you went there? Why travelled? why!?’, “I don’t know. I was passing by”, was the only thought that came to my mind. He look at me suspiciously and then ‘Welcome to Jordan’ and I was free to go. Yes, it took a while to get out of the airport. I understood, that I had to take a taxi to get to town. I met a cool local girl, who was returning from her solo trip to the Nepalese mountains. It was great to see an Arab girl going on such adventures. She accompanied me in a taxi to my place.
The first night I stayed in Amman. I was hosted by a strange guy. He accepts too foreigners who go to study Arabic and volunteer for a living. It’s nice, they have such organisations there.
It’s not as cheap as I imagined it would be. The prices are probably influenced by tourism. To eat in a restaurant, a chicken breast, potatoes and vegetables was around 9 Euros. Salaries are not so high. Arabic language classes are 16 Euros per hour, a lot more than a standard French salary! The locals are easy to talk to. So with a strong determination to learn the language, and a bit of local help, you’ll speak Arabic fast.
The locals are always ready to help. Just stopping in the street, someone will immediately propose his help if you are looking for something. They like animals and lots of locals keep big dogs as pets. People don’t ride bicycles. The roads are bad and Amman is very hilly. What looks like a short distance on a map, in reality is a long drive and strenuous walk :). Sometimes it’s quicker to walk than taking a car! What was strange was, that I didn’t see any beggars there. The locals say that beggars and prostitutes are thrown in jail, for a few weeks if are catch.
Next was a bus ride to Aqaba. I sat next to a local woman. She was poor but shared some snacks and gifts with me. She was too generous. I wished I had something for her, but she seemed to be happy just spending time with me.
Aqaba was not the best place to visit in Jordan. It’s a small town with only a few shops and restaurants. What is unique about the place though is, you can see four different countries, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel and Egypt from the same point.
It’s possible to camp in Aqaba on the way to the Saudi border. Yes, it was easy to pitch a tent there and enjoy a calm life.
On the main beach you can rent a boat. They even have glass bottomed boats so you can observe under the sea. There is even one underwater tank around a hundred meters from the beach, close to the town centre.
Locals are welcoming and helpful. Visiting specific places, I was invited to join for a lunch. Women in Aqaba are easy going, while the men looked a bit shy. I had a lot of attention, as it’s rare to see solo female tourist there. Twice while I was in a friend’s car, the police stopped him and interrogated him for at least fifteen minutes. They are very protective of tourists and so he was suspected of kidnapping me. As far as I knew, locals didn’t need a permit to have tourists in their cars! It was a complete nonsense. They saw me smiling in the car and looking happy in there, but it was hard for them to believe that we were really friends. There was too much unnecessary protection.
Girls at home remove their scarves in front of their uncles, brothers and cousins. But as soon as someone else enters the house, they jump immediately and put them on. There are lots of open minded families, and girls can choose whether to wear scarves or not. They can even travel abroad alone as that met at the airport girl did! However, in some families unfortunately they keep to strict Muslim traditions and girls can’t go even to a close village without their father’s permissions or a man’s company.
It was hard to sleep at a traditional Arab family’s house. They make lots of noise and don’t care if people are sleeping or not. They behave as if no one is in the room. ‘Diana! Do you want to sleep?!’ Shouted an uncle into my sleepy head, at 7am! Of course, after that I could not sleep anymore. He felt proud as already knew I wasn’t sleeping. Trying to sleep again, was impossible.
Arab usually don’t have a lot of things in their homes, especially in traditional families. They aren’t attached to material things so can easily give whatever they have away as a gift. They didn’t even let me pay for anything. They were not a rich family so when I could, I bought food in the town and took it home, giving them no choice but to accept it. Be ready to accept gifts, and try to give something back too. They always say they need nothing, but they are happy to receive food and gifts. We shared meals all together, like a real family. They saved the best pieces of food for their guest.
One time their grandma came to see them. The craziest Jordanian I ever saw. Eighty years old but still so positive and full of energy. She smoked nonstop and at the same time counted all her asthma medication on the ground! (Everyone usually sits on the ground). She decided to find a husband and asked me to find someone from Europe. I’ve no idea if any European could handle such an energetic lady :).
On one occasion, my friend’s uncle stopped by. He didn’t expect to see me at his sister’s place. When he saw me, it seemed like he forgot why he was there. He came in my room and performed a mini concert, playing and singing! He was such a sweet and positive guy. With my friend, we all went into town. He insisted to buy drinks or whatever I wanted, he took all responsibility. Later on, he gave his niece some money and asked if I needed any too. I didn’t expect to be offered money. He explained that he could easily give 50-100 Euros while he had a salary of 900 Euros per month. I didn’t understand, but then it was explained to me that Bedouins take care of each other and help those in need. They like to give gifts, and when they have no gifts, they offer money. He just thought, maybe I was running out and need some, wow…. I met a student in Amman with a similar story. Bedouins, who he didn’t know, would just give him money as they know, students are usually poor. They support them in such a way. I’d never seen this anywhere else. Incredibly, they help locals too, not just foreigners.
I went to an office to meet a friend. The office interior looked a bit like in the Soviet Union. Everyone smoked inside and everyone smiled, talked and behaved as if they known me for a long time. When I left, they asked when I’ll be back. It’s hospitality at its best.
I had gone to Aqaba for just one day, but ended up staying four nights, as my family had seriously adopted me and didn’t want to let me go. Hala, my friend was a cool girl and all her friends and cousins too. We had fun. Here, girls don’t just sit at home doing nothing, they study too. Some from more radical families study in their town. Others have the chance to study in other cities and have their own life. ( unfortunately I can’t show girls faces 🙁 ).
They always did something in their free time. Once we went for a few hours at the beach. We were around 15 girls, including the crazy grandma. We sang, danced, had fun, ate and of course swam too. It’s quite save to swim in the Red sea. The water is salty so it’s hard to drown, but it’s not quite the Dead Sea where you literally float on the surface. The girls carefully chose a place to swim far away from any guys. We swam in clothes, damn it. Everyday dresses serve as swimming suits. It was hard for me swimming fully dressed and changing clothes was not funny. First, we had to find an isolated spot and for each changing cloths girl, we had to carefully scan the territory and hide her. But damn it, to remove wet salty clothes and immediate put on dry ones, was not cool at all. The girls were perfect swimmers by the way. For swimming though, it’s better to go 7 kilometres to the east of Aqaba. The beaches there are arranged better and are less crowded. Also with being quite isolated there’s the possibility to swim with a swimsuit, or even without.
One day, in the back of a truck, we went to Titin, which is about 20 kilometres from the Saudi Arabia border. It was kind of like their summer house; yes it’s summer there all year long but still. This area is used for military training, which is probably the reason the entrance is checked by police. I didn’t see or hear any military though. We had a barbecue, some walks, and met a local shepherd, and his animals. The shepherds constantly migrate between Jordan and Saudi Arabia. This area is not touristic at all and there’s security before entering. We were lucky getting entering but were stopped on our way out. My family were asked a lot about me. If it had just been guys in the truck, it could have been more complicated, but in our case, there was just one male driver – the father and his wife, the crazy grandma, my dear Hala, two small girls and finally me. We didn’t look too dangerous, so after around ten minutes we were free to go. The police either can’t or don’t want to understand how a traveller travels with locals and has local friends, and doesn’t pay tour guide. My friends didn’t let me worry and always took responsibility. Travelling in places like this, it’s better to hide from the police than to waste time with unnecessary questions and explanations.
Wadi Rum is a beautiful tourist destination. My friend wanted me to go with one person he knew, but had his doubts if he was reliable. So he left his job two hours early to take me there. He could have lost his job. I didn’t want him to take the risk but he insisted. Being a friend in Jordan is more important, especially to a guest. He was even going to pay for the petrol with the last money that he had, but I insisted. He said that his aim was to make me feel good. I said letting me pay would make me feel good! That was the only way he would let me pay. Such incredible generosity to offer the last of his money to help a traveller he met 3 days before.
On the way there was of course, a police check point. They asked for tickets, but I had no idea what tickets they were talking about. Tourists normally come here with guides, on an all expenses paid trip. As I was travelling alone, it brought complications as the police again kept checking on me and my company. Jordan cares about security and keeping a good reputation, so they protect tourists as much as they can that sometimes they just destroy all moods and wish for travelling. I was always in a good mood and they could see that I was OK, so there was no need to complicate my friend’s life. The police though insisted on my ticket. My experience in Chad taught me to fight until the end. My friend told them he has land there and we were going there to see his family. The police didn’t believe him so asked for papers or told us to turn around. We had to get by these bastards. They only let the ‘legal’ tourists pass by. After this, my friend decided to get the tourist permit to avoid such future complications, from simply driving a car with a foreigner inside. Eventually, after a lot of negotiations and calling a guide friend who lived in Wadi village, the police were convinced to let us go. Tourists alone with locals create a lot of suspicion so be prepared for it. They exaggerate about security but it’s a safe country. We were lucky that he had a friend living there, otherwise we would not have been able to pass.
Having local friends help me save money twice more. They were very kind and made a tour for me in Wadi Rum for half price. My guide’s wife insisted on giving me gifts, as very sweet so I had a grat company to talk to. We dressed like locals, made nice fashion pictures in Wadi Rum and looked really romantic compared to the tourists we saw there. Being around locals all the time I felt perfectly integrated. Wadi Rum is the place where desert meets… ancient castle ruins and beautiful sunset!
Returning to Aqaba, I had to lie that I was going to Petra and would be returning. Otherwise my family didn’t want to let me go. The bus was heading to Petra. They drive fast, with no speed restrictions. Luckily, there are not many new cars so the buses going at 110km is no danger to them. The drivers though are kind. Aqaba to Petra on the bus costs 5JD. In Petra, taxi drivers offer to drive for 2JD, however the town is so small, it’s easy to get around on foot.
A friend’s friend-local guide hosted me in Petra. He told me to leave my luggage in a hotel and meet in Petra canyon at 6pm. There are lots of tourists in the canyon. Tickets for tourists are 55-70 Euros, while for locals it’s almost free. Unfortunately, Bedouins don’t see any of that money. They live there all their life and have to earn their money offering animal rides, selling souvenirs and being tour guides. One great thing is that it’s possible to stay in the caves! The locals are always around and always ready to talk to each tourist that’s passing by, especially the girls.
Most locals try to look like Jack Sparrow, with scarves on their heads, long hair and eye makeup. I was dressed like a local, with a Bedouin scarf on my head. Bedouins kept telling me that I looked like a girl who had a Bedouin boyfriend and kept asking who he is. Seeing me alone was a big sign for them to talk to me. If you don’t want to talk, just ignore, look serious or angry so locals will keep their distance. Of course, I talk a lot and I was curious to talk to them. My 30 minutes walk took a few hours! It seemed so easy to become ‘friends’ with Bedouins. Be warned, most of them are big liars, they told me, they knew my local friend or that they were related. My new friend had no relatives there. All sweet boys creating stories to try and earn trust, or a bit of sympathy.
I was offered a donkey ride for 5JD. NO! Lots of animals looked really sad and some in really poor condition. Please when you travel to Petra, use your legs. I even saw one dead horse still attached to a carriage. For many, money is more important than caring for animals. Sadly, lots of Bedouins mistreat their animals just to earn a bit of extra money from tourists. Some animals just feel down due to heat exhaustion. There are police but they do nothing about it. They are there just to look after the tourists. There is a vet in the town, but there are so many animals they can’t check all of them. I was talking online about this and trying to find a solution to help animals, but locals saw this and accused me of lying (poor animal situation reached even queen’s Rania assistant). Calling me a hypocrite, saying they had seen me riding the donkeys. They had no shame. I don’t use animals during my trips. Just once I sat on a donkey, a healthy one, and that was just for a picture. Please remember that you are there to discovers, so use your legs!
It’s easy to find admirers there. They talk about love easily and compliments flow from their mouths so smoothly and sweetly. One Bedouin kept following me with his sexy donkey. He seemed like a good boy and didn’t create any stories about fake family connections. We spent at least an hour together until my friend’s friend, local guide Ghassab, came to pick me up. He already had my luggage and took me and another girl up to the mountains to stay in a cave. I had no idea about. It was a cool surprise. Such a calm place, lots of stars, a barbecue and definitely great company. One guy was the son a local sheik. He was such a positive guy. I felt safe and secure with him. He was one of the few people I’ve met who shined with such a calm and positive energy. There were no people around us 4. Just one local, passing by with his goats. Surprisingly there was electricity in the cave, but no water or toilet.
Some Bedouin families still live in caves, but now most live in town. Some men still live in caves while their wife’s live in town. Their husbands only going back to town to give money, take a shower, or make some more children.
In the morning my guide told me that my new ‘boyfriend’ was waiting for me. I had no idea who he was talking about. I had forgotten about Arab Telephone – news travels fast. He was talking about the guy with the donkey. He was waiting for me in the same place I’d left him. Locals know and see everything. My guide even knew how many times I’d passed by certain places and what I’d done. It’s impossible to have secrets. Luckily I had nothing to hide.
After breakfast with my guide and another girl, we were taken to the main canyon where I continued my explorations. All the locals again wanted to talk and I was invited to lunch. I didn’t refuse, I was there to discover, to feel local life.
In Petra there are two main bus stations, so be careful. I, of course, went to the wrong one. Cursing and complaining a lot that it’s far, road goes up and I was tired. When I finally reached my ‘destination’, I had to go back down to the other station that was just close to a canyon entrance. After, again, cursing all the way there, which didn’t make me feel better, my Bedouin sheikh’s son was waiting for me with my luggage. He was such a nice person. It was hard to leave him and his friends, but life goes on.
Back to Amman.
Maps can be misleading. Distances that seemed short and easy on a map, were in reality not so. It’s a city, where walking on a hot day can induce a lot of cursing. The city is very hilly, up and down nonstop. Even walking around a house you can’t be sure you won’t change altitude.
My new host was Karam. He was soft and kind, like a bear. I had planned to stay for two nights but stayed for a week. I felt like home with him, his friends and a girlfriend. They were cool people, they love rock music :). He had a dog so when Karam was at work I took him out for his walks. This was a great way to meet local people and even look like one of them.
Jordanians often go out in the evenings to meet up for a drink. The restaurants and bars are concentrated, like local centres on each hill. You’ll always meet someone you know or who knows you.
I love that you can talk the locals very easily, passing by a shop and staying there for an hour if not more. Talking, learning, sharing…. It’s enough to stop on a street, look around and someone will ask if you need any help, or just ask how you are doing. Once I was looking for a bookshop and I ended up in an alcohol shop. Yes it’s legal to buy alcohol in shops here. The shop owner was a cool guy. My type, a real jerk but a cool, kind hearted bastard :). My quick ‘bookshop’ visit ended after a few hours in a nice restaurant. Eating grilled fish and enjoying great panoramic views. For sure, being introduced to his friends too.
I was looking for someone to share a taxi with to go to the Dead Sea; it’s 30Eur for the taxi. Instead, that guy proposed that we go together as he had plans to go there too, we enjoyed a crazy ride. He left his ‘girlfriend’ at home to avoid any dramas and to be able to speak freely. I always felt respected and treated like an equal. We had a really great conversation on the way to the sea. Visit Madeba on a way. This place is best known for a collection of Byzantine-era mosaics.
Swimming in the Dead seat without the chance to shower, is not a good idea. it’s advicable to get there passing by a hotel and paying for this service. There are lots hotels to choose from. It was the greatest swimming ever. A mud mask made my sensitive skin so shiny, soft and looking healthy. The water is perfect for beginners to learn to swim, but I was confused. It was hard to swim as my ass was always rising and I kept floating on the surface like a piece of…… The only thing I managed to flip myself over as if I was on a barbecue. To get out was challenging too, switching from a horizontal position to vertical was not easy. This place is worth the title of a healthy holiday at the beach, your skin will love it!
Don’t miss the chance to pass by As-Salt. It’s cheap and easy to get there from Amman by bus. As-Salt is built on three mountains surrounded by the city square. The town is surrounded by breathtaking views. While you’re there don’t miss out on seeing the unique architectural style seen in homes there, which are being considered for inclusion for on the UNESCO World Heritage list.