With UK based budget airline easyJet offering service to Queen Alia International Airport in Amman, more visitors from Europe have an opportunity to visit this exciting country, which today’s New York Times Travel section includes among its list of 45-places to visit in 2012.
When I saw Jordan on the list it stirred memories of my trip there a few years ago. I had less than a week so I did a quick hit of three important sites.
The River Jordan – There’s not much water left in the Jordan River and what is there is brown with the silt of the earth at its banks, but during my visit to the site where Jesus was baptized I felt a flood of emotions.
As an American, stories of Jesus’ life always seemed to have taken place not just in another time but in another world. So to actually stand in that world, among the people who work the land or see the moon rise over the same mountains revealed a vision of Jesus more human than the character in the stories.
Standing there I imagined someone who likely looked like the men of today’s Middle East. And I suspect the fighting over land, power and religion was much the same as it is today.
High fences topped with barbed wire and soldiers armed with automatic weapons guard both sides of the river, which creates the border between Israel and Jordan.
The baptism site is an hour drive south of Amman and I made the trip with my friend Sabah’s sister Elham, who is a Muslim and a return visitor to the site, but nevertheless was patient and did not hurry me as I explored the river and the beautiful artwork inside the modern church there.
The Dead Sea – At 1,300 feet below sea level, this is the lowest place on earth. My ears popped as our car flew past the elegant resort hotels along the shore. It was a sunny day in November and a few dozen people were at the beach, though only the men and children were in swimsuits. This body of water is ten times saltier than any ocean and inhospitable to life, hence, the Dead Sea.
Nevertheless, a number of folks were slathering themselves in a coat of mud and even more people were crowded into the gift shop where the gray sand is sold for medicinal and cosmetic use. I’m sensitive to salt water and squeamish about sand so I avoided both the sea and the shop.
I was delighted to move our little tour on to the Movenpik Hotel and Resort, located a mile up the road. Here we planned to watch the sunset at a dinner table, a safe distance from the salt water and the sand flies. But in the Middle East in the fall, the sun sets early and it goes down fast. We missed the sunset but instead got a lengthy view of a magnificent moon the size of our dinner table rising over the mountain.
This was the second spectacular moonrise I saw in as many nights. It was coming up over the Al-Husseini Mosque in Amman the night before. It hung low in the sky as if waiting for me to come along and take its photo.
Petra – My final full day in Jordan was reserved for a trip to the ruins of the great city of Petra, a 2,000 plus-year old community, much of which was carved out of mountain rock. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The most famous of the buildings, the Khaznah or Treasury became an icon when its façade was featured in the movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. This is a structure that lives up to its fame. Like Michelangelo’s David, or the leaning Tower of Pisa, no number of photos or descriptions can prepare one for actually seeing it up close.
The dramatic punch is heightened because the treasury sits at the end of a half-mile long walk through a deep stone cleft. This remarkable structure is positioned so that you can only catch glimpses of it for the last few meters of the walk. Emerging from what is essentially a stone tunnel, the full view of the immense and ornately carved building is an overwhelming, take-your-breath-away experience.
I felt exceptionally blessed to see Petra because the weather on the three-hour drive from Amman had been terrible. A thick fog hung close to the road and I watched appreciatively as our JETT bus driver made slow, steady progress on the two-lane highway.
When I arrived, it was so cold and damp, I stayed in the visitor center for 20-minutes trying to motivate myself to brave the foul weather. Realizing it would be a tragedy to spend the day having only seen the gift shop, I buttoned up my thin sweater, tied the belt around my neck like a scarf and with my large green sun visor providing a pretty effective umbrella, set out to explore. Dontcha know, I had such a good time I barely made it back in time to catch the JETT bus home.
Had I more days, (and had it been warmer) I would have spent time snorkeling in Aqaba, viewing the mosaic maps of the ancient Middle East at St. Georges’ Church in Madaba. If all those maps put me a driving mood, I’d have toured the Royal Automobile Museum in Amman, which I hear is not so much about vehicles as it is about how the country moved forward in the 20th Century.
Forty airlines in addition to easyJet, fly into Amman. USAirways, Turkish, Virgin Atlantic, Emirates and Delta are some of the major carriers. Of course the national airline Royal Jordanian – a member of One World Alliance – offers direct flights from 60 cities on four continents.
Nope, getting to Jordan isn’t hard, the problem is finding time to see all the country has to offer. But the Times is right, this is destination worth putting on the to-do list.