Last weekend I went out on Saturday night. My favourite night club in Lisbon had just launched a new concept of themed-parties and I was curious to check them out.
“Rodeo” was the theme of the night and I had the perfect headwear to fit the environment.
Lost somewhere in my closet was a brown cowboy hat that I bought the first time I stepped into a desert.
This was the Jordanian desert and although it was about ten years ago I remember it quite well.
All the paperwork was done. I had my legally certified permit to travel as a minor without my parents, my bags packed and two single aunts ready to go.
Yes, you got it right. My aunts were my travel buddies.
You see, I was lucky enough to grow up with three mothers instead of one. Ever since I was little, my aunts have taken me in wonderful and crazy adventures around the world and I can confidently affirm that most of my travel-related memories are shared with them.
Anyway, let’s move on.
Destination was Jordan, an arab semi-arid country, strategically located at the crossroads of Asia, Africa and Europe.
We arrived in Amman during Ramadan, a month of fasting, prayer, reflection and community. Because they were fasting from sunrise to sunset, our guide shared with us a box of dates, which he devoured with visible joy after it became dark.
Amman is the capital and largest city of Jordan, and it is considered one of the most liberal and westernised cities in the Arab world.
I remember being impressed by the country’s archeological findings exhibited in the Jordan Museum. It was a showroom where items from different ancient civilisations competed in their beauty.
In the old part of the city, at the top of a hill, Jabal Amman neighbourhood is renowned for its historic buildings and distinctive early 20th century architecture. This is a good place to appreciate downtown Amman from above.
In the past, this neighbourhood was reserved for the elite, including royalty, wealthy families, army officers and politicians. Nowadays, it has several cafes and small shops selling tradicional handcrafted products.
Jerash and Madaba
Very close to Amman is Jerash, home of one of the best preserved Greco-Roman cities, nicknamed the “Pompei of the East”.
Several Corinthian columns are scattered around two temples, in a scenery resembling the Disney movie Hercules.
We strolled along this sun-baked ruins until our feet turned grey covered in dust.
Madaba is a town best known for its Byzantine and Umayyad mosaics covering the floors of houses and churches. This town has religious significance as not only it is mentioned in the Bible but it also holds a large Byzantine mosaic map of the Holy Land.
Still immersed in this holy atmosphere, I walked the same path and contemplated the Promised Land from the same peak Moses is said to have once contemplated it before his death. This was moving, even for an atheist like myself.
Mount Nebo, the presumed site of Moses death and burial place, enchanted me in many ways.
First, by its meaning. Religion, like football and politics, is something my grandmother believed should not be discussed at the dinner table. Why? Because it was polemic and controversial. Different religions disagree with each other in many aspects. Yet, Mount Nebo is a meeting point to three of the major monotheistic religions, as the figure of Moses is esteemed by Jews, Christians and Muslims.
And second, by the dazzling view it offers across the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea, with the rooftops of Jerusalem stretched as far as the eye can see.
Wadi Rum Desert
Wadi Rum, also known as the Valley of the Moon, is home to several hundreds of Bedouins with their goat-hair tents and their camels.
In this desert landscape, where some scenes of the film Lawrence of Arabia were shot in 1962, we had the opportunity to enjoy a cup of tea with the locals.
Camels were “parked” next to our tent, the sun was burning and I remember thinking how amazing that monochromatic landscape was! A strong, bright red encircled us from every possible direction, making us feel at peace, hidden from our everyday lives.
Two Bedouin guys commented in a poor English that my posture and physical appearance seemed arabic. It made me happy to know that I was blending in.
On our way to the Dead Sea, we had the chance to visit several desert castles.
Qasr Amra (the most famous), Qasr al-Azraq or the “Blue Fortress” (that served as base of operations for T.E. Lawrence, known as “Lawrence of Arabia”, during the Arab Revolt) and Kerak Castle (one of the largest crusader castles in the area, designated UNESCO World Heritage Site for its frescoes that cover the walls and ceilings inside with hunting scenes, naked women dancing and zodiac figures) are three of the most impressive ones.
The Dead Sea was a truly memorable experience.
Fun fact, this is not actually a sea at all, but a lake that is made up of about 30 percent salt! It is the lowest place on Earth at 430 metres below sea level. The only living beings that reside in the Dead Sea are bacteria and some rare species of pretty resistant algae, and I could not wait to join them!
Due to its high salt content it is nearly impossible to swim in it, the best you can get is floating on the surface of the water (which I can guarantee sounds easier than it is!).
Safety rules were simple: we should not bathe for more than 10 minutes at a time and we should not splash or let any water get into our eyes, as it was extremely painful.
Ignoring the rules, I decided to try my favourite swimming style, breaststroke. In just a few seconds I was blindly running out of the water in despair, my eyes stinging like crazy.
My aunt was still finishing her sermon on how childish and reckless I was, when my second aunt suddenly screams and repeats the scene I had just made!
We ended up all laughing at the hilarious situation, my aunt complaining that she was traveling with two kids instead of one. Thankfully our second attempt at floating in those waters went smoothly.
The lost city of Petra
Finally, the Lost City of Petra. One of the new Seven Wonders of the World and also designated UNESCO Heritage World Site.
Petra is Jordan’s most visited tourist attraction, for its amazing monuments carved in a sheer rock face in a mountain range that runs along the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba.
It takes about forty minutes to walk through the long, tortuous rocky passage and get to the Treasury, Petra’s most famous icon. We decided to ride a horse on our way in, and to return in a carriage.
This was clever, considering the exhausting climb my aunts had to do. Not me, I did not do it. You will understand why in a minute.
After being amazed by the Treasury and the Lower Street of Petra, there was one more monument we could not miss, the Monastery.
The 850 steps that distanced it from us could be done by foot or by riding a donkey.
Since I was the only one enthusiastic about a donkey ride experience, my aunts paid a Bedouin to take me on his donkey and they would meet me at the top.
This seemed like a good idea, until they gave it a second thought… Too late, I was already gone.
So, they rushed up the hundreds of steps like they had never done before, regretting their decision of letting me go alone with that man, that could not speak a word of anything but his arabic dialect.
They reached the top desperate and breathless, only to find me happily seated on the floor, drinking tea with my new friend and a Bedouin old woman.
After all these adventures and frights, we returned home with many stories to tell and with Jordan in our hearts.
Wishing everyone safe travels,