I've been thinking about visiting Jordan for some time. The country's history and landscapes are gorgeous and one of a kind. Plus, it's the country Juliet, my childhood best friend, has called home for the last 15 years. So I've been planning to visit her and the country for a while but not as well as this year when it finally happened.
Here's my short but sweet 5-day trip to Jordan where I set forth on an awe-inspiring, stamina-challenging journey and a heart-warming reunion with my childhood best friend.
Petra, Wadi Musa, Ma'an Governorate
1-day Entrance fee: 50 JOD / 71 USD / 260 AED / 3,600 PHP
I arrived in Amman at 9:30 PM after having missed my original flight the day before. It was due to a visa mix up with my travel agency. When the DXB Airport staff finally sorted out that my Jordanian tourist visa was valid, the boarding gates had already closed. I had to re-book my flight at the airport, go home and wait for 24 hours. It was frustrating as hell but I was determined to go.
Nevertheless, on my first full day in Jordan, I left the capital city of Amman at 8:00 AM and drove 3-4 hours to Wadi Musa, which is the closest town and the transportation and accommodation hub for tourists and locals visiting the Petra Archaeological Park. I literally just dropped my bags at the hotel and headed to Petra with no lunch but snacks and water in my bag. I stayed in the park and mostly walked from 12:30 - 5:30 PM, which is still not enough time. The Bedouins or desert-dwelling people I met in Petra said you need at least 2-4 days to see the whole of the rock-cut city.
How magnificent is Petra? How brilliant! The Red Rose City lives up to its name. Also called Raqmu, Petra is 9 kilometers long of hand-hewn buildings, caves, and tombs on red-stone mountains and gorges. Believed to be from 9,000 BC, this city carved in red stones by the masters of the time's hydraulic engineers and craftsmen was the capital city of the Nabataean Kingdom. The City of Mysteries as it's also called was once the center of trade and commerce.
Here are the must-see locations in Petra that will challenge anyone's endurance and stamina:
Siq, the narrow passage that showcases the ancient aqueduct system in the Lost City featured in the 1989 Hollywood movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
The Treasury. Known locally as Al Khazneh, it is one of the 7 New Wonders of the World.
The 7,000-seater theatre
Street of Facades (40 tombs), Royal Tombs, and Urn Tombs
High Place of Sacrifice, which sadly I did not have the time to visit as it's a 45-min climb up
The Monastery or Al Deir at sunset. It is a 45-min climb and the last destination at the 9 km mark where I felt like passing out, but the descent was worth it. Al Deir was the perfect dessert at the end of a great meal.
Because of these, UNESCO has declared Petra as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985 and described it as "one of the most precious cultural properties of man's cultural heritage". It is a true bucket-list item.
Petra Travel Tips:
Wear a hat and sunglasses to protect you from the sun and sand
Buy and wear a Jordanian shemagh for 5-7 JOD. It is the traditional red and white scarf as seen in my photos. There are more feminine options, too. It is both functional and a great souvenir to bring back home.
Water and snacks in a backpack. It's a long day's walk, which in my case was more than 20,000 steps, so you will get thirsty and hungry quickly. There are also rustic cafes all over Petra where you can buy fresh juice, coffee or tea and some snacks.
Paper towel. There are toilets with soap and running water, however, cleanliness and available paper towel are another thing.
Wet wipes or a towel in case you get itchy. And if you're like me, allergy medicine, too.
Having lived in cities for most of my life, the town in Wadi Musa was quite interesting. Walking and driving up and down narrow streets was fascinating and truly appealed to me. For convenience, there are ATMs, restaurants and groceries everywhere.
I also picked my cliff-side hotel in Wadi Musa specifically for their Turkish Bath and massage services. I thought that after playing Indiana Jones (or Dora the Explorer) in Petra, it would be a brilliant idea to get a proper Turkish Bath experience.
If you haven't tried a Moroccan or Turkish Bath before, you should. Once you've gotten over the awkwardness of being naked in front of and being scrubbed by a stranger (LOL), you get to enjoy the experience and reap the benefits of a hot steam bath, scrubbing and massage in a warm room and a lukewarm shower. I think it was the perfect way to remove the accumulated dirt and grime, and relax at the end of a physically-exhausting but emotionally-exhilarating day.
Travel Tip: While in Wadi Musa, make sure to visit Little Petra or Siq al-Barid or Al Beida. As it is not only just 10 minutes away from Wadi Musa, but it's also beautiful site and quite frankly, a breather from the Petra crowd.
Yitzhak Rabin Crossing, Aqaba
One of my fondest memories of this tour is stopping on a cliff on our way to the Dead Sea. My guide, Derar, stopped the car and said that it was a good place to take photos as it did not only have a great view of the Wadi Araba mountains but from this vantage point, you also get to see Palestine. Wadi Araba or Arabah or Arava is one of the famous border crossings between Jordan, Israel and Palestine.
After he kindly took my photos, he asked me to wait and he went to get a camping bag from the back of the car. And he made Turkish coffee for the both of us. It was such a treat and beyond his duty of driving me from one destination to another.
We sat there for 15 minutes on the dirt in silence sipping strong black coffee. And he asked me to listen. It wasn't total silence but perhaps the closest I will ever hear and experience of peacefulness. It's hard to explain. And he said to me in Arabic what literally translates as "beautiful calm" in English.
And that was it, hudu jamil. Beautiful calm indeed.
Jordan Rift Valley
This would be my 3rd day in Jordan and based on my experience with the same driver, bless his heart, he tended to downplay the number of hours of driving. He said to me this one would be a bumpy 1-hour drive from Petra to the Dead Sea. As it turned out, it was more long and winding than bumpy. And what was supposed to be a 1-hour drive became three (3) hours.
But the drive was worth it. The moment I laid my eyes on the Dead Sea for the first time while we were cruising the Jordan Valley highway, I truly felt like crying. You only get to read about and see photos of the Dead Sea in the Philippines. The way the blue sky and turquoise sea (actually a salt lake) meets the significant amount of white salt grains on the valley beaches and the sand is beyond compare. I was in awe and felt truly grateful to see this one-of-a-kind sight.
Before you see the next photos, here's the deal. Will I ever come back to Jordan? I'm unsure. But I sincerely hope I get to come back. So when they said I had to put mud on my face and body before you go in the extremely-salty water, I went all out. LOL
The mud had a smooth consistency but the smell reminded me of carabaos (Philippine water buffaloes) when they've had their mud bath after a long day toiling in the farms. The sight and smell of them was common in the afternoons in a small town in Davao Oriental, Philippines I grew up in. They would pull carts to and from the town's market. As a kid, I would look forward to see a farmer's mother and baby albino carabaos, but to my dismay in many occasions, they look the same as the others because of their distinctively-pungent mud baths.
I met a lovely Jordanian family of 5 who I laughed with the whole time we were applying mud on ourselves. Walid and Amani (the mom and dad) said that the mud is good for the skin and hair. So I did as the locals said and did. And the outcome is hilarious photos of myself covered in mud. I can still smell the mud as I type this.
To end my day, I booked an oil-based massage at the Ramada Hotel Dead Sea where I stayed for the night. The Dead Sea salt water is good for the skin and body, however, it can be pretty drying. Plus, I already have dry skin to begin with and my legs were still sore from Petra. Ultimately, it was an awesome day.
Entrance fee: 2 JOD / 3 USD / 11 AED / 145 PHP
I will never forget this day. It was the day I finally got to be with my childhood best friend whom I hadn't seen in 20 years. I left my hometown when I was 9 to study in the city. She moved out, too. But I would look forward to our summer breaks together when we'd come home. But about 15 years ago, she moved to live and work permanently here in Jordan.
So, without a care in the world, we hugged and cried in front of my hotel in Amman when she picked me up. It felt amazing to be reunited with someone special who knows your heart and soul, and loves you dearly, and vice versa. She is truly one of the kindest people I know.
You can read my "Kape ug Gatas (coffee and milk)" write up about our friendship here.
Juliet brought me to Mount Nebo or Jabal Nibu, which sits 1,000 meters above sea level. It is a famous destination for Christians and Catholics on pilgrimage tours as it is believed to be the place where Moses stood and saw the Promised Land for the first time before his death. The Moses Church, famous for its Christmas midnight mass services, was recently refurbished.
It is a convenient place to visit as it's only 50 minutes from Amman or 15 minutes from Madaba. Plus, on a clear day, the Dead Sea, Bethlehem and Jerusalem can be viewed from Mount Nebo.
Entrance fee: 2 JOD / 2.82 USD / 10 AED / 143 PHP
My last destination in Jordan is the Amman Citadel on the highest hill called Jebel Al Qala’a. It features a 1700 meter wall that dates back to the Bronze Age. Some of the must see in the Citadel are:
The Temple of Hercules
I mostly spent some time going around the city with my best friend as who knows when we will be spending time with each other again. I hope it won't be too long. But I made sure to squeeze in one more destination while she was busy at work in the morning of my last day in Jordan. The Citadel was a great idea as it was just a 30-minute drive (including traffic) from my hotel in the city.
In case you are planning to go to Jordan soon, here are some travel tips based on my experience:
Best times to travel are in spring (March - May) and autumn (September to November)
City traffic can be bad. When traveling in the city of Amman, leave ahead of time as there's usually heavy traffic.
Take an Uber. According to Juliet, it is safer to take an Uber than the regular taxi especially if you're traveling alone.
Of course, anywhere you travel, vigilance is key. You can always go where the crowd goes but always listen to your gut instincts.
For certain, I would like to come back and visit Petra and the Dead Sea again, and enjoy a Bedouin camp in Wadi Rum under the night sky, Aqaba and Jerash to name a few.
Overall, Jordan was not only good for the body and soul, it was mostly good for the heart. It has fostered so much gratitude in me to be physically able to experience "Wonders of the World" like Petra and the Dead Sea, but most importantly, to reunite with my childhood best friend. If and when you can reach out to yours and visit a new place at the same time whether it's domestic or international travel, I highly recommend that you do as I feel that I'm all fired up to end 2019 right.
Thank you for reaching this far. What destinations are in your bucket list?