>> Friday, September 27, 2013
So, I'm back! I actually got back home late Monday, but I've been busy with all those pesky chores, such as unpacking and tidying up the house, which looked like a bomb site from when I packed. Turns out packing is especially messy if you're really not sure what to take. My instinctive response when it's hot it's to wear as little as possible (not quite the right approach when visiting a Muslim country, obviously), so I really had no idea how well my more 'modest' summer clothes would fare in the heat. Turns out, for most of them, not very well. I ended up wearing the same couple of very cool cotton tops several times, and buying some cotton trousers. Fortunately, one of the advantages of being in a really hot country is that if you wash something in the sink in the evening, it'll be dry by morning!
Thank you all for the good wishes in my last post. The trip was absolutely fantastic. My friend and I had a couple of days on our own in Amman (highlights included a visit to a local hammam, or Turkish baths, where we were pummelled and scraped on what looked like a marble slab, and some truly lovely food), and then we joined an organised tour with a company called Exodus.
It's not something I've done before, so I was a bit wary, but it turned out to be the best thing we could have done. It's nice to be an independent traveller, but it does take a lot of work to organise stuff (and it's usually me doing it, for some reason), so it was nice to just lie back and let something else take care of the details. We were able to do a lot more than we would have been able to easily arrange on our own (how on earth would we have been able to find out on our own that that Bedouin woman selling souvenirs in Petra had a little business cooking traditional dinners in a cave out in the desert?), and we didn't have to worry about sorting out annoying details like transport (taxi drivers trying to overcharge us was the only thing I didn't like about Jordan), or making a judgement about which boat captain would take us to good snorkeling spots off Aqaba. Also, the people we were travelling with were great, and I think 2 weeks of travelling with only 1 person might have been a little bit intense, much as I like my friend C.
I loved every single packed day of sight-seeing, exploring and culinary experimentation, but by far the best were the 3 and a half days which started with 2 full days in Petra, and then camping overnight in Wadi Rum. Beautiful, mind-boggling sights and we got to meet some great people. Fortunately we had been warned to pack walking boots, because it was all more active than I thought it would be. We spent pretty much all our time in Petra climbing and scrambling up and down rocks (our guide took us to some spots with truly amazing views, and pointed us towards good walks to do on our own), and there was a fair bit of sand dune-climbing as well.
It does make me a bit sad, though, that I suspect one of the reasons we enjoyed Petra so much was because there were so few visitors. Friends who've gone before have complained about the crowds, especially on narrow trails such as the way up to the Monastery, but it was nothing like that when we were there. Chatting with our guide and a few of the people who work there (including Salman, who learnt his Cockney-accented English from visitors staying with him and his family in one of the caves, back when the Bedouin were still allowed to live within Petra itself, and Rashid, the Jack Sparrow lookalike who owned the horse I rode out of the Siq on the last day), they reckon they're getting about a tenth of the visitors they got a few years ago. I know I didn't see a single American the whole time I was there (not unreasonable, since they'd probably be the first targetted if anything did kick off). So yeah, great for us to be able to enjoy the sights without the crowds, but not so good for the people who make their living from tourism. There was a definite whiff of desperation from some of the souvenir sellers, who weren't quite as laid back as those friends who went a few years ago had found.
When he said goodbye to us, our guide thanked us for coming during this scary time in the region, and asked us to tell people about our experiences in Jordan. Well, I hope this will do: on the last day, when C and I were having a last wander round Amman before catching our flight, we started climbing some steep, deserted stairs and a group of teenage boys appeared at the top. They started elbowing each other and whispering as they stared at us, C obviously being a Westerner. Normally I would have been a bit worried, but after a couple of weeks in Jordan, I wasn't. I knew what they were going to say as we went by, because that's what we'd got from pretty much everyone. And so they did: "Hello! Welcome, welcome to Jordan!"