Tag Archives: Jordan

Day 14 – Comin’ For To Carry Us Home

Saturday 28 May 2022 – Rather surprisingly, the wedding didn’t prevent us from sleeping reasonably well.  Come the dawn, there was time for a final cup of Twining’s finest Earl Grey as we got up, and another with a brisk breakfast, blessedly (for me) possible as my ulcers were finally beginning to cede control of my mouth back to me.  We also got a reasonably close view of the starlings which are ubiquitous in Jordan and quite melodious.  These two were making the most of the breakfast buffet.

Saeed, prompt as ever, came to collect us to take us out of the Dead Sea area.  He gave us a parting present  of some olive oil soap (first experienced at Feynan – it’s a good soap) and, bless him, some local variant of sage – the same herb that we believe had caused the ulcers that had bedevilled the last few days.  However, his instructions were to serve it as tea, rather than just stuff it in your mouth, which will probably give a better result.

There followed a long, long climb to 600m above mean sea level (or 1km above Dead Sea level), past a ceaseless succession of big, big, heavy lorries, carrying mainly minerals from the Dead Sea area. The route goes through a very green area, fed by natural springs, and there were many cars stopped by the roadside as people took advantage of spring outlets of fresh, potable water, something that doesn’t come out of the taps in Jordan.

And then we were at the airport, saying goodbye to Saeed and thanking him for the truly excellent job he had done of looking after us for a fortnight, before coming back into the care of Edward (he who greeted us a fortnight ago, you’ll remember), which meant something of a canter trying to keep up with him as he took us to a fast-track side entrance and ushered us into the tender care of the Royal Jordanian airline Crown service.

The check-in process had much in common with the Virgin Upper Class check-in at Heathrow Terminal 3 in the Good Old Days when I occasionally managed to score this for business travel: a separate, private entrance;  its own dedicated passport control; and its own dedicated security scan. You’d have thought that the security johnnies would be familiar with ostrich eggs as a concept, given their prominent role among tourist purchases in Jordan, but Jane had a bit of a struggle explaining the one she’d bought; and they insisted on swiping both her egg and my camera for traces of explosive, but at least the chap nodded and said “good” as he handed me back my Nikon.  Nice that he approved.

(Parenthetical and post-factum note, here, penned later in the day with gin in hand. Prior to disappearing through the apparently wonderful, dedicated passport and security facilities, Edward had handed our bags over to two guys with a set of scales, checked us in with the desk and then told us to take those annoying long thin baggage tagging strips back to the two guys.  We (rather trustingly) did this and they assured us that they would handle the tagging and passing on the bags. When we got to Heathrow, being Crown Class got us off the plane nice and quickly, and the passport gates were working, so we were the first two at Belt 7 in the T3 baggage hall, arriving there by about 16.45. Some 10 minutes later, bags started appearing in desultory fashion on the carousel. These included a succession of boxes, which were picked up by various different people. Wonder what was going on?


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As time ticked by, more and more people came to the belt, waited a while, eventually picked up bags and left.  Eventually, there were fewer and fewer people standing by the belt, and still our bags hadn’t come through.  An hour after the first bags had appeared, we’d just about given up hope and Jane had worked out where the “Lost Baggage” desk was – and then our bags finally appeared.  Specially labelled “PRIORITY” – and, as far as we could tell, the last ones off the plane. Harrumph! Cost us an extra tenner for the waiting taxi, as well as an unwanted surge of cortisol.

Anyway, where were we?  We were in the Jordan airport departure lounge…..)

We had to ask someone how to find the RJ Lounge, because the signposting at Queen Alia airport is less lavish than at other airports, but here we are and I need to update the blog, so an 0930 gin (we’re still on holiday, OK?) to fuel the creative flow seems to be acceptable.  Yes, it is.

So, whilst waitin’ for the Dreamliner that is comin’ for to carry us home, we’ve looked over Jordan, and what have we seen?

  • A wonderfully heterogeneous culture, drawing on religious, historical and popular influences from the vast range of the different peoples who have come through, stayed to add to indigenous ways and maybe moved on.  Yes, it’s basically an Arab country with Arab customs, but it’s also very diverse in its attitudes towards other mores. Given that 20% of its GDP is through tourism, this is just as well, really.
  • (Hand in hand with the above, Jane found it a comfortable place to be as an un-veiled (Western) woman, which is not always the case in the Middle East, in our experience.)
  • An astonishing history, contributing hugely to the way the world as we know it today works.
  • A very welcoming people.  It seems that “Welcome” is the first word in English that Jordanians learn, they use it a lot and, by and large, seem to mean it.
  • Quite often, as a tourist, when you hear the word “Welcome” on the lips of someone in Jordan, it is followed, implicitly or explicitly, by a solicitation to talk, have tea, whatever – but basically to buy something. Although there are some very rich people in Jordan, there are also some very poor people; very rarely is an opportunity to earn a dollar or two spurned. There are two clear consequences: one is that contactless or card payments are taken in the most surprising places; the other is that people are grateful for tips.  If you’re thinking of visiting and using services such as guide or driver, it’s a very good idea to arm yourself with a selection of 1, 5 and 10-Dinar notes.
  • A highly opportunistic entrepreneurial attitude, combined with a ramshackle retail experience.  Wherever you go, there are people selling stuff – on the roadside (of a motorway, for heaven’s sake!), up a mountain, in a desert, often out of the back of a a ramshackle, probably Toyota, pickup truck.  Saeed told us that he’d simply built up, over the years, a knowledge of which are the best places to go to buy cheese, or watermelons or mulukhiyah, or whatever.
  • A “long game” approach to property development.  Similar to what we’ve seen in Spain and Portugal, there’s a developmental attitude to domestic and small business properties; this was something I’d meant to refer to earlier, but, well, didn’t: wherever you go, there are businesses apparently trading out of unfinished buildings, with reinforced concrete rods sticking out of the top, and houses, some apparently lived in, in the same state.  The reason is that the family has built enough to go on with for now, and the next generation will come along and add the next storey. Or that they’re still waiting for money to complete the works.
  • A ridiculous driving experience. My strongest advice to anyone considering renting a car whilst being unfamiliar with the “Insh’Allah” roadcraft of the locals, the apparently negligent approach to road surface maintenance and the “this looks as good a place as any” speed bump placement philosophy on the part of The Powers That Be is – don’t. Just don’t.
  • An expensive currency.  The Jordanian Dinar is currently worth more than a Pound Sterling and some of the prices charged might seem high relative to other places you’ve visited (particularly for booze and items that have to be imported). In your financial planning for a holiday visit, try not to compare the prices with, e.g. European norms, which will only cause you angst; be lavish in your estimates of cash needed and relax and enjoy the service.
  • A varied climate. If you hate the heat, avoid the peak summer months and the south of the country. If you hate the cold and wet, avoid the winter.
  • Overall, a great tourist experience – based, that is, on our limited statistical sample of one.   Our particular priority has been seeing as much of a country as makes sense in one trip, and the size of Jordan is perfect for visiting a wide range of places over two weeks. But you can find intense concentrations of specific activities – hiking, diving, camping, sunbathing – if that’s your bag.  We’ve had a fantastic fortnight and would unhesitatingly recommend it as a place to visit.  Would we come back?  There’s a good question. The answer is a probable “yes” – a bit earlier in the year, and with a more focussed plan – fly and flop to the Dead Sea; stay at Feynan – but better equipped, emotionally and packing-wise for the experience – and go hiking or experience more of the local culture; even (sigh!) go canyoning at Mujib or snorkelling in Aqaba. Whatever, as I bring this section of the blog to a close, we’ve had a blast and hope that you’ve enjoyed reading about it. Interested in Canada? Come back in August…..

Day 13 – Dead, in the water

Friday May 27 2022 – Our last full day; we leave for home early tomorrow. With luck, by the time I get to the UK, my health will be back to normal; at the moment it’s slightly embarrassing seeing the various medications I have had to use over the last days all lined up by a thoughtful hotel room cleaner.

Given the forecast for today and onwards

and my propensity for enjoying myself in the heat then (a) getting home may not be such a bad thing and (b) our planned activity today would best be done as early in the day as possible.

Accordingly, the alarm went off at 0630 and we donned swimmers and hotel bathrobes and headed down to the beach to tick the tourist box marked “swim in the Dead Sea”. The hotel’s beach officially opens at 0700, and we were very prompt.

There are instruction as to what to do

but we weren’t really interested in the mud bit, just to experience the buoyance from the extra salinity.

One useful tip we got from the Audley materials was that the entry to the water might be stony, and thus water shoes were advised. This is very sound advice.

Jane went in first

and I went in afterwards. I was expecting the water to be lovely and warm.  It wasn’t particularly, and so there was still that awkward moment when testicles hit cool water, but once I was floating I could feel some currents of warm water around me.

The buoyancy thing is quite remarkable; there’s something of a gap between understanding a principle and experiencing it. I tried making myself vertical in the water, which would result in me sinking in your average UK swimming pool; but this wasn’t a likelihood here.

We were the only ones at the beach, which is, I think, a first for me (under normal circumstances, my being the only person on a beach would indicate that Something Was Seriously Wrong).

And that was our experience of being 400m below sea level.  We showered the brine off and walked back to the hotel

before partaking of breakfast.  I discovered that eating had just about become possible, although occasionally still excruciating.  After breakfast, we pottered out to the front of the hotel to take some pictures of the Flamboyant Trees which are in profusion around the site.

We don’t know if we were lucky in being here in their flowering season, or whether they’re always flamboyant, but they really are a lovely sight.

Come 3pm, we thought that some lunch would be a good idea,

preferably in an air-conditioned restaurant rather than on a terrace.  So we headed back to Ashur, the Italian joint, and had a very pleasant meal there, which underlined yet again the potency of Afta Med + paracetamol + gin as an effective anaesthetic.  Afterwards we tottered back to our room for a siesta and some light packing, before deciding that a final glass of something cold would be Just the Thing.

There was a wedding going on at the hotel, in a section a long way from our bedroom (we had been warned at check in). That the temperature was 34°C didn’t seem to affect the enthusiasm of the crowd or the DJ.  Since I assume it was a Jordanian wedding, they didn’t even have excessive consumption of alcohol as a reason for their madness.



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So we resigned ourselves to a couple of hours of listening to a mix of Arab and Western dance music and got our heads down for the night.

Tomorrow, we travel home after an intense but extremely enjoyable holiday (despite one of the abiding memories I shall take with me).

Assuming no dramas between here and getting home, I’ll try to post a few final thoughts on these pages tomorrow.  So, please check back in then….

Day 12 – Bordering on Dead

Thursday 26 May 2022 – I’m playing for the sympathy vote, here.  During the night, my vigorous crop of mouth ulcers ripened into a mouth full of agony which grew worse every time my tongue touched anything. Have you ever tried eating, or drinking, or even talking without your tongue touching anything?  Take it from me: it’s not possible.  Breakfast was simply not an option; even a cup of Twinings finest Earl Grey was a significant challenge. That’s how bad it was.

However, I wasn’t going to let it entirely bring my day to a halt. Jane wanted to visit Bethany, the site of Christ’s baptism by John the Baptist, and, although organised religion and I are barely on nodding terms, it’s clear that it’s a site which has deep symbolism for a vast number of Christians over the globe.  It would have been churlish not to take the opportunity to visit.  So we did, having arranged with Saeed that he could do the driving for us.

The site is quite close to the Hotels Area, and the short drive there enabled us to increase our ever-expanding insight into the pharmacies of Jordan by making a stop off to buy something to address the pain of my ulcers.  We ended up with a gel called Afta Med which promises that it “immediately reduces pain” and seemed somehow just the ticket. I think it helped somewhat.

If you do a simple online search for “Bethany” you might expect that something of the pith and moment of the baptismal site for Jesus Christ, one of the most significant figures in the development of the world as we know it today, might figure high on the list of results.  You’d be wrong.  Among the inordinate number of churches, towns and charitable organisations using the name, there’s Bethany, where Lazarus was raised from the dead (a transition I was hoping might be reversed for me today), but that’s near Jerusalem on the West Bank. It’s described by one website as “a miserably untidy and tumble-down village facing East on the Southeast slope of the Mount of Olives, upon the carriage road to Jericho.” I couldn’t actually find any reference to where we were headed without using more focussed search words, but eventually you discover that it’s a Unesco World Heritage site and has its own website.  Clearly, having major religious significance doesn’t in and of itself convey any SEO skills. So, “Bethany Beyond the Jordan” it is, or “Al-Maghtas” in local currency.

The site is reasonably well-organised from a tourist’s perspective, with a car park by the ticket office and a shuttle bus (air-conditioned, woo hoo!) that takes customers and a guide on a short drive to the site itself. It was a hot, hot day as these dogs could vouchsafe.

Our guide was called Noor

who said that he was part of the team which discovered the site in the ’90s and did a good job of herding us cats from place to place along rather thoughtfully shaded walkways, whilst explaining what we could see.  So, what could we see?

  1. It’s now, unsurprisingly, the site for a concentration of churches of the various Christian faiths – Coptic, Armenian, Russian Orthodox.
  2. In the background are areas described in the Bible such as the wilderness where Christ wandered for 40 days and 40 nights (they didn’t have GPS in those days) and resisted the temptation of the Devil
  3. A Russian Orthodox Monastery
  4. The remains of the Byzantine St. John the Baptist Church/Monastery (destroyed by flooding and earthquakes)
  5.  The church built in 2003 to replace it
  6. A mosaic depicting the visit of Pope John Paul II (which was instrumental in bringing unity among all of the various flavours of Christianity that this really is The Place)
  7. And, of course, the baptismal site itself, described in travellers’ writings in A.D.500 as being marked with steps leading down to what would have been a cruciform baptismal pool with vaulted arches above. Noor explained that although there was no running water visible today, in biblical times the whole area was covered in the waters of the Jordan river.
  8. The River Jordan, the holy river where one could not only dip one’s feet (should one wish) but could also see its significance as a border point.

A religious service of a somewhat happy-clappy nature was under way whilst we visited

and we were able to go into the new (Greek Orthodox) church of St. John the Baptist, which is highly painted and very colourful.

On the floor is a mosaic of The Tree Of Life

directly under the painted ceiling.

On the site, there is also a museum (and, of course, retail opportunity)

which features, among the exhibits, some original mosaic work

and some amazing embroidery

in a nice – cool – space

which suited me well, as it probably did a fur-coated local.

How credible are the claims that this is really the site of Christ’s baptism?  Well, in addition to much archaeological and anecdotal evidence of the religious importance of the site over several centuries, the leaflet that comes with the tickets says, “The authenticity of this site is as pure as the testimonies from the gospels, the pilgrims and travellers that have visited this cherished site.” Whatever, it felt like a worthwhile visit and we were grateful to Noor for giving us the extra context of where things fitted into the biblical story.

After this visit, Saeed took us to the Panorama Complex and Dead Sea Museum that we had been unable to visit yesterday, which is a little south of the Hotels Area, and reached along a steep, twisty road.

Saeed stopped occasionally as we ascended and encouraged us to admire the view, but, frankly, it wasn’t that interesting.

We reached the museum complex and again stopped to look at the view.  It had hardly changed, but at there was something there to tell us what we could see and the compass direction of other places of interest in Jordan (all boxes we had ticked by this stage, fnah fnah).

We could see the works associated with the Ma’in geothermal springs (whose water nowadays gets pumped to Amman, rather than being allowed into the Dead Sea)

and amusingly the road that the complex is on is called Ma’in Street. I hope this naming was done with an appropriate amount of twinkle in an official eye somewhere.

The complex is a handsome building

and is well set up as a home for the museum as well as a restaurant.

The architecture is nicely done and offers the chance of some, well, architectural photography.

It was this architectural content that kept me interested for a while, but I really was beginning to flag in the heat and the oral agony, which is a shame, because the museum has some interesting exhibits that I simply couldn’t be arsed to read – I just wanted to get back to the hotel by this stage.  There was one arresting installation on the floor by the museum’s door, though.

This shows the projected shrinkage of the Dead Sea if nothing is done about anything.  Saeed told us that an initiative to replenish the Dead Sea with waters from the Red Sea had been gradually building for about 50 years, but the pandemic had got in the way and it has effectively been abandoned.

Saeed took us back to the blissful cool of the hotel, where we spent much of the rest of the day relaxing, in my case updating the blog, and building up energy for the evening, for life had sprung a pleasant surprise on us.  Magda and Guy, friends whom I first met when I lived in Sweden 40 years ago, happened to be breezing through on their way to a wedding in Amman on Saturday, and we overlapped at the Kempinski For Just One Night.  Over the years since, they have been responsible for some of my most famous hangovers, so a session with them, given my fragile state, was something to be seriously prepared for.  It turns out that a combination of Afta Med, paracetamol and gin acts as a good anaesthetic and it enabled us to have a great evening catching up, as it had been four years since we saw Magda, and five years since we saw Guy. We all treated ourselves (I think that’s the right word) to a meal in Rehan, the Lebanese restaurant at the hotel, and I even managed a little soup as effectively the first thing I’d eaten all day.  Isn’t it marvellous how good company can overcome mere bodily pain?

That said, my system wasn’t robust enough to allow the meal to degenerate into A Session (ah! memories!  vague and blurry memories!) so despite the fact that there was a bar outside as we left the restaurant, Jane and I decided to head for bed. Anyway, we had to get up especially early and preferably compos mentis the next day, so it seemed the best idea.

As to what it was that we had to get up for?  You’ll have to come back and find out, won’t you?