Sandwiched between its borders with Syria to the north, Iraq to the east and Saudi Arabia to the south, Jordan is, erhem, the perfect place for a holiday.
Naturally, high on my list of places to visit was Petra – famous for the film set that was designed and built especially for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – and Wadi Rum, another set that was abandoned after the making of the movie Lawrence of Arabia, though little remains of it and it’s now little more than an expanse of sand.
I jest, of course.
It was Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Wandering around this dusty land really does make you feel like you’re on a film set – archeologically it’s astounding. The northern city of Jerash hosts the ruins of Gerasa, a Greco-Roman city which is truly one of the most spectacular places I’ve ever been to. It’s totally breathtaking. Your mind plays tricks on you, filling in the gaps in the ruins like cutting edge CGI leaving you to imagine you’re in the middle of a living, breathing city.
Jordanian school kids seem to go on an awful lot of day trips and there are always hundreds of them at such sites in large, noisy groups. My visit to Jerash coincided with boys’ day, as it was every alternate day. At first I was disturbed by the sheer volume of noise they created and their commanding physical presence. So much so that I went to complain to the tourist police, saying I found the environment threatening – but was pretty much laughed out of the room.
Quite what I was expecting them to do I don’t know – they certainly weren’t going to evacuate the place just so I could wander around in peace.
What a twit.
After I’d had a word with myself and told my face to cheer up, I managed to enter into the community spirit. In hindsight, the testosterone-driven youths probably contributed to my enjoyment. Their boisterousness made the place come alive and, through them, imagining how Gerasa would have been in the hustle and bustle of its heyday was child’s play.
I won’t lie though, I could have done without the constant, unnecessary brushing past me.
The desert castles and fortresses on the road out to Iraq are a stunning legacy of man’s achievements and, not to be out done, Mother Nature puts on one helluva show of her own in the wonderful Wadi Rum.
Very difficult to get a beer anywhere but, nonetheless, the place is stunning.
Hmm … maybe that’s WHY it’s so stunning. Maybe I should lay off the beer for a bit and see if everywhere looks quite as stunning.
Hackneyed it may be but there’s no getting away from it – Petra is overwhelmingly delicious. There’s nothing I can say about it that hasn’t already been said.
Or is there …?
What I can categorically say is I’m thankful I wasn’t there alone. Having made my way down from the north I was joined in Amman by a friend, Catherine, for the rest of the trip. With two full days to explore Petra, we went off-piste on the second one, away from the main thoroughfare and entering via the beautiful Wadi Muthlim. This led us to the foot of a very steep hike to the top of a hill which promised an extraordinary view down onto Petra’s most famous site.
It was definitely worth the climb.
Having passed no-one on the way up and believing we had the place to ourselves, we realised after a few minutes that we could heard voices. Teetering on the edge of the precipice was a well hidden hut which, if you have the nerve to slide down to it, would offer an unobstructed view of The Treasury. Steeling ourselves to approach the vertical drop, the voices grew louder – and also more familiar.
Standing before us was Remy, a French guy we’d met and gone drinking with a couple of weeks’ earlier in Amman. After a few surprised pleasantries he introduced us to a young Bedoul chap who, it seemed, lived in the hut. Remy had hiked up that morning and having stumbled across this guy was sharing a few hours chilling with him in this exclusive spot.
After taking the obligatory photos, the Bedoul offered us some hot tea. About to accept, I noticed Remy was discreetly, but firmly, shaking his head.
‘Er … no, thank you, I think??’
He tried to insist, but Remy continued to quietly make it clear it would be a bad idea.
Feeling the atmosphere change, Catherine and I decided it was time to head back down, making a plan to meet up with Remy that evening in Petra’s only bar.
It was here that he later revealed we were right to have declined the tea as there was every chance it would have been spiked.
It seems he had spent his time up on the hill trying to convince the Bedoul that he had some extremely bad habits. The guy had admitted to Remy that he regularly waited at the hut for females – tourists or locals, he wasn’t bothered who – to come along and stop for the views.
And come they would as it was a truly prime position.
Once there, they would be offered ‘special tea’ which would render them unconscious allowing him to assault them. He had suggested Remy stay with him so that he could also benefit from offering the tea.
Instead, Remy chose to stay and ensure no-one drank any on that particular day.
Lucky for us, this was the day we visited.
Jordan is a great place but, like anywhere, it has its good Bedouls and its bad Bedouls.