36 hours in Jordan
There's something about the drive from Amman to Petra that makes it memorable. But it's not because of the scenery or the architecture and it's certainly not because of the people-watching - in this heat, there’s just not many people out and about. What sticks out like camel’s teeth though, is the number of houses you drive past that are only half-built. Some have roofs, some have walls, most have some form of concrete floor but all of them look deserted – as if they’ve been abandoned for years. Our driver, who we had hired for the day, could offer us no explanation but it’s fair to say that the drive to Petra absolutely does not prepare you for the wonder that awaits.
This is a city carved from red rock thousands of years ago. Settled by an ancient Arab tribe, the Nabateans, as far back as 9000BC, Petra was abandoned in the 12th century, then forgotten. Its position in the mountains kept it hidden from the western world for hundreds of years until it was re-discovered in 1812 by a Swiss explorer. Now it’s one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
For 50JD we got a personal tour, which allowed us to see everything we wanted to see within a four hour time frame. Petra has been nick-named the Rose-Red city for the colour of the rock that its buildings have been carved from. But its not just the colour that astounds – the detail too is phenomenal. We started at the Treasury, constructed in the 1st century BC, then walked to the ampitheatre, ancient tombs and the Monastry. I could spend an entire day here quite happily but I also dearly wanted a swim in the Dead Sea!
We headed north, close to the Israeli border. This leg of the journey was much more interesting– huge mountains and loads of salt farms. We drove past Mount Nebo, where Moses once famously stood and looked out towards Jerusalem in the distance. I have to admit, after catching glimpses of the Dead Sea’s aqua-coloured water, I had high expectations by the time we arrived at the beach. Unfortunately, the weather had turned somewhat and a cold wind had set in, chopping up the salty water and making swimming conditions less than ideal.
Still - this was something my mother had done when she was my age and I felt like it was one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunities so we jumped in.
A few myths to correct here. You can’t walk on the water. No one sits back on an invisible recliner to read a book (well not in these choppy conditions anyway). And while yes, it’s fun to float in the extra salty water at the Earth’s lowest exposed point, it actually comes at a cost. All your bits sting like buggery. And they do for quite some time afterwards too. You can’t touch your face for fear of spreading the salty sting from your wet hands to your eyes or nose; and much, much worse, is that you can’t simply wash it off afterwards - the bathroom conditions are appalling. We opted to stay salty until we got back to the hotel in Amman... only half an hour away... thank goodness.