In April we left adoption bizzle behind and went to visit one of the wonderfullest people we know. Ellie, who is also one of our referees, is living in Jordan so we thought we’d take advantage of her hospitality and check out life in the Middle East.
Jordan stands at the intersection of the three continents of the ancient world, lending it incredible geographic and cultural diversity. A whopping 40% of the population live in Amman, which is a hilly, heady mix of old and new. It is a juxtaposition of chaos and tranquillity; raunchy underwear and Islamic culture. As many travel writers have observed, Jordan has grown up in a rough neighbourhood, it borders Syria, Iraq, Israel and Egypt, all of whom have been known to be a little punchy. Persians, Babylonians, Greeks, Nabateans, Romans and Ottomans have passed through and left their mark. Quite frankly it is magical and we were immediately hooked!
Ellie lives in a – lets call it ‘eclectic’ – apartment in Jabal al-Weibdeh, which the guidebook describes as “….the cultural and artistic district in the heart of Amman” or “…a bohemian, hipster area in one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Amman“, now I don’t really hold with hipster culture: I don’t have a beard, and whilst I have been known to rock a checked shirt (I’m in a relationship with a woman, need I say more), I have a aversion to drinking from a jam jar and avoid Shoreditch like herpes, but it is certainly arty and liberal. There is even a grotty pub (intriguingly named ‘Cafe de Paris’) and several off licences for ‘us Christians’.
Holidaying with a ‘Local’ is always a win and this was certainly no exception, Ellie works for a large NGO and has wholeheartedly embraced Jordanian culture – she knows where to buy the best Manakeesh, drives like a madwoman and she’s learning Arabic. John, her partner was also visiting, so we had a ball exploring and visiting their favourite haunts.
We took part in a cookery class at Beit Sitti, where sisters Maria, Dina and Tania cook recipes to keep their grandmothers legacy alive. It’s unusual for Women to run businesses in Jordan, so we were glad to support this…and their Mutabal recipe has revolutionised my life/waistband.
One sunny afternoon, we hit the Kings Highway and headed to the Dead Sea. Shunning the standard tourist route of using a hotel beach, we decided to join the locals and scramble down a stony escarpment to the pebble beach. As we gazed out across the eerily still lake toward Israel and the West Bank, we began to draw a little attention. Three ‘unchaperoned’ western girls were quite the novelty and we featured in photographs with children and politely declined offers of social media friendship. We floated ungracefully in our clothes and massaged our skin with stinky, slightly gritty mud and had a jolly old time.
Jerash (aka Gerasa, Gerash or Gerasha) the most well preserved Roman City outside Italy was beautiful covered in wildflowers and well worth a mooch.
Petra was, unsurprisingly, the jewel of the trip. The ‘Lost City’ is one of the seven new Wonders of the World and deservedly so. As we emerged from the Siq to see a shaft of sunlight hitting the Al Khazneh (Treasury), I shed a little tear. It was relatively busy, but the site is so vast, 264 km² to be precise, you can leave the hoards of tourists behind and explore the caves, temples, and tombs in peace. We took a high path, up hundreds of steps to view Al Khazneh from above. At the top of the trail is a tiny Bedouin tent, where you can recline on floor cushions, sip mint tea and listen to Americans exclaim loudly over the view. Not being loud Americans, and offering to take pictures of other people as they jostled for a seat with a prime view, seemed to endear us to the owner. He invited us to go through a small door at the back of the shack, where we were descended a decidedly wonky set of steps to a tiny ledge with the most incredible view. Needless to say, this also reduced me to happy tears.
Sipping ‘Jordan River’ (wine not the biblical waterway), on Ellie’s balcony, smoking shisha, overlooking the Citadel and listening to call the prayer will stay with both of us for a long time. Click here for the video, I’m too cheap to upgrade my WordPress account!
Whilst this may have become a slightly indulgent travel diary, it does have an adoption link, I promise. Before going to Jordan, we considered this ‘one last fling’, a trip we wouldn’t do with children in tow. I mean, IT BORDERS WAR ZONES. Oh how wrong we were – this was the perfect trip for children and we saw lots of western families. Children are universally adored in Jordan, it is safe, friendly and a fantastic example of multiculturalism. This is exactly the kind of trip we should be taking the kids on – challenging, exciting and a million miles from our Western sensibilities and ideals. Next stop Aqaba for some Snorkelling!
Thanks to Ellie, John and Jordan – You are amazing.