Review of "General: Jordan"
It is a real shame that at present, due to the on-going troubles in the Middle Eastern region, that Jordan is now listed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the British Government as suffering from a high risk and threat of terrorism, which has lead to the closure of the British embassy in the capital Amman.I write a review though as a point of interest and with the hope that if things change in the Middle East, tourists from the West will once again feel safe and secure to visit this remarkably historic country.
The official language of the country is Arabic, but English is widely spoken, and indeed - at the time - the English were welcomed with larger open arms than any of our European compadres, partly because the then King had studied in either Oxford or Cambridge (Sorry, I can't recall which) and married an English woman.Many people have misconceptions about the whole Middle East region, due to local customs and laws in Saudi Arabia where thieves still have their hands chopped off, terrible punishments occur for adultery (I won't go into it, it hurts just thinking about it!) and prohibition exists throughout (apart from in the hotels, which have special dispensation). Further misconceptions stem from the wars and religious factions well documented in Iraq and Israel especially. However, Jordan in particular (although, neighbouring both Iraq, to the north-east, and Israel, to the west) has, until more recent security scares, been a peaceful and friendly nation for over 50 years. Relations with the bordering countries are very good and Iraq has never invaded simply because Jordan has no natural resources, for which it invaded Kuwait & Iran.
The religion of the country is largely Sunni Muslim, but Christianity is also practiced and preached, and largely tolerated without discrimination, which - as we all unfortunately know - is very rare in the world we live in today, and that includes the Western world. In fact, there is one area in Amman where a Church and Mosque stand almost side by side ... I had unfortunately run out of film at this stage and wish I had my digital camera back then. However, disposables do take incredible pictures !During the course of the trip, we visited 5 very different but equally spectacular areas of the country, which you will find, highlighted below and in more detail later on:
The capital is an interesting city, which sprawls across an expansive area, with the Desert barely visible in the background. A panoramic view of the city displays few buildings above five storeys high, except for one or two of the cities hotels. The buildings are all made from white or cream stone and are very closely located to one another, helping to generate a tight community. The city is one of the oldest "continuously" inhabited cities of the world, steeped in history. Due to the city's Roman heritage, at which time it was renamed from the ancient Ammon to Philadelphia (Just had to look this up again ... but, in Greek, means The Brotherhood Love) before later being renamed Amman after the Romans had departed, there are many heritage sites and ruins around the city, including Roman amphitheatres, also visible in others areas in the Kingdom of Jordan.~~~~~~~~~
From the Mediterranean climate of Amman, the next place I visited was the Dead Sea located in the Jordan Valley, which - for me - was quite a spiritual experience, especially with Jerusalem no more than 20 miles from where I stood and then later "floated".The Dead Sea is the lowest point on the face of the earth, at over 400 metres below sea level. At these depths, the temperature can soar to an average of 40 °C in the summer months. The Dead Sea is a truly remarkable natural phenomenon, whereby the fresh water is so full of natural salts and minerals, it is has created it's own industry, through the export of beauty products. The high salinity of this natural lake (8 times that of the worlds oceans) allows one to float effortlessly on the surface. Although, I would highly recommend floating on your back and not splashing around too much, as the water is very unpleasant if it touches your lips and certainly stings if it enters your eyes. It also stings areas of your body where you may have any tiny little nicks or cuts, which I found out the hard way ! All in all, it's a very surreal experience ... knowing that you cannot possibly sink and also knowing that there is nothing alive in this natural fresh water lake.
RUM & WADI RUM
To the south of Rum is the infamous Wadi Run, made famous by T.E Lawrence, and where most of the film "Lawrence of Arabia" was filmed. Wadi Rum is an incredibly naturally beautiful landscape, and once in the mountainous desert region, you could be mistaken for thinking you were on a different planet, and Mars in particular. The red colour of the sand in this region is truly remarkable and like nothing you will ever see elsewhere (to my knowledge). You cannot venture into and around these areas without the assistance of locals and their jeeps, which have specially deflated tyres to drive around the desert, that has pre-carved out tracks / grooves for driving in, so not to harm the local vegetation. I was in a jeep of 4 English people, 2 lads and 2 girls, along with local Arabic driver, and it was a totally exhilarating and surreal experience to be bouncing around the desert at high speeds, as if in a rally against 18 other jeeps, with loud Arabic dance music pumping out of the cassette player - it was truly awesome and an experience I can't really truly put into words. I didn't even want our driver to change the music; it just fitted so well and was part of the whole enjoyment of the experience.~~~~~~
Our final stop was the port of Aqaba on the southern tip of Jordan ... the only outlet to the sea! The climate in Aqaba is described as tropical and the Red Sea is one of the richest for marine life in the whole world, with many people descending here to do literally just that in the depths of the Red Sea. It is a very popular world site for divers; also because of it's famed coral reefs. Aqaba is perfect for a beach holiday in this region and is abley supported by hotels of all categories, restaurants and a plethora of shops.* Jordan hotels - There are a host of very good quality hotels throughout The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, including top International brand names such as Starwood, Marriott, and Inter-Continental. However, everyone is catered for and there are plenty of fair quality economy hotels located throughout the kingdom.
* Cost - The cost for a break such as the one I enjoyed over a 6-day period can vary greatly dependent upon the time of year and how much you wish to cram into your tour, but it would typically cost in the region of £700-£900. This price would include entry to the likes of Petra and Little Petra, but would not include tips, which are an expected extra to tour guides, coach driver and jeep drivers.* Customs & Dress Codes - There are no local customs that tourists should necessairly be aware of, but women are expected to cover up their knees and elbows, particularly in the cities such as Amman, as they are considered to be sacred parts of the body to those following the main faith of the country. Thank goodness it's not like that over here .... just as summer is coming :-)
* Who to book with - There are a range of suitable travel agents offering tours, but ensure they are bona fide, and ensure they are either ATOL bonded, or have an ABTA/IATA license. Travel Agents will work closely with selected Ground Handlers, such as UTA Jordan to organise special activities and help co-ordinate group trips.* Food - It is okay, but there can be very minimal choice, unless you have chosen to stay in one of the large branded hotel chains, who are all full service hotels, and have - as you might expect - excellent gastronomy.* Time Difference & Flight Time: GMT + 2 hours and approximately 5 hours flying time to Amman - the capital (up to 7 hours + to Aqaba in the south).
- Population / Cultural Details: The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has a population of approximately 5 Million people, of which 2 Million people inhabit the capital city of Amman.
90% of the population are Muslims and 10% are Christian (divided between Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic). The country was a very peaceful nation, no more so highlighted than in the capital where a Mosque and Christian Church stand side by side, which is - as I am sure we can all appreciate - very symbolic of their tolerance.
The Bedouin tribes of the Middle East are also very prevalent throughout the Kingdom and their way of living is very important in retaining the rich history of the area.
- Languages: Arabic is the official language of the Kingdom, with English used extensively in commerce and by many Jordanians as a second language.
- Currencies: The official currency is the Jordanian Dinar (JD), which was (during my visit) roughly equal to Pounds Sterling. US Dollars are also widely accepted throughout the Kingdom.
- Entry Requirements: British nationals require an entry visa to Jordan. Single entry visas can be obtained, on arrival, At any port of entry, except for the King Hussein Bridge (linking Jordan to Israel north of the Dead Sea) where it is essential to have a valid visa prior to arrival. A single entry visa costs JD10 (roughly £10). There is also an exit tax of JD10 by air and JD7 by land.
Visitors are admitted for 2 weeks, but this can be extended up to 3 months at any police station (if you stay more than 2 weeks without informing the police, you will pay a fine of JD1.5 for each day beyond 2 weeks.... and lord knows what strange things may happen to you in the cells!). Visitors are allowed to extend their stay in Jordan for a maximum period of 6 months. Residents and visitors to Jordan for more than 3 months are required to undergo an HIV test. Unless of course you are on military manoeuvres but then it's likely you will not have informed any authorities of your impending arrival !
* Transportation: International and charter flights fly into Amman's Queen Alia International Airport, 32km (20 miles) from the city, or Aqaba. I flew on a charter plane from Aqaba International to Amman to get a connection home and it was almost laughable. Aqaba was called an International airport, yet it was literally one shed and a dusty runway. It was also rubber glove city, with fat, sweaty, moustache wearing men eagerly awaiting young men to abuse. Thankfully, I was spared but not without one or two dodgy glances!
The air-conditioned buses of the Jordan Express Tourist Transport (JETT) company start from the Abdali and Wahdat bus stations and link Amman with Petra and Aqaba and north to Jerash. Jordan's one passenger train, a steam engine on the historic Hijaz railway, runs on special occasions. Private yellow taxis serve the major hotels and can also be hailed in the street. The meter tends to run only by day, so agree on the price before starting out for your destination. White 'Service-Taxis' shared by several passengers follow set routes and usually start off only when full.
- Bank / Religious Holidays:
1st January - New Years Day
22nd March - Arab League Day
1st May - Labour Day
25th May - Independence Day
10th June - Army Day
11th August - King Hussein's accession to throne
14th November - King Hussein's Birthday
- Moveable feasts varying with Muslims' lunar calendar:
Ramadan Fast - during 9th month of lunar year
Eid Al-Fitr - 4-5 days at end of Ramadan
Eid Al-Adha Feast of Sacrifice at end of month of Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca
1st of Muharram Muslim New Year
Eid Al-Isra Mohammed's wa'l Mi'raj Ascent to Heaven
- Medical Information:
Like most areas of the Middle East your doctor will recommend that you be immunised against 'Typhoid' and 'Hepatitis A'. It is also advisable to drink bottled water only. Medical Facilities outside of the capital Amman are also limited and quite primitive. If young, male and good looking, take a cork for your bottom (see Aqaba International airport!).
- Weather / High & Low Seasons:
There are 3 main climates within the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan: Mediterranean, Desert and Sub-Tropical - with slight variations within each. In the autumn and especially in the spring, the weather is often very mild, when wild flowers are in bloom. The summer is long, from May to early October, and intensely hot and dry though evenings are cooler and chilly nights are common in the desert and hilly areas. Winter is an ideal time for Aqaba - mellow days and warm seawater. Winter temperatures in Amman average 8°C (46°F), in Aqaba 16°C (61°F). Summer temperatures in Amman average 25°C (77°F), in Aqaba 32°C (90°F) and at the Dead Sea, temperatures can climb too as high as 50°C (over 120°F).
- Government / Political Situation:
The form of Government in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a Constitutional Monarchy, headed by His Majesty King Abdullah Bin El Hussein.
Due to the well-documented troubles throughout the whole Middle Eastern region, Jordan has been re-categorised recently as posing a serious threat to British nationals. As I explained earlier, the British are - on the whole - welcomed with open arms, but the current situation of instability has spoiled this. This was clearly demonstrated during our visit, where all the locals we came across (including our hosts) were more open and friendly to our English contingent and in fact, the Dutch - who share a similar personality to the English - than with the French, German, Spanish and Italians.
It is a good idea to avoid demonstrations and areas where large crowds are gathering, Palestinian refugee camps and like any big city around the world, take care when visiting downtown areas of Amman.
Main Hotel Groups Represented throughout the Kingdom:
2. Starwood & Le Meridien
Thanks for reading
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Listed on Ciao since: 20/10/2001