Since October 10th 2013: 145 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.
Keep calm and Saga on
Jordan is a lot of things. One of them being a perfect host for its guest from far and near. My friend Timo told me that the typical “Jordan tourist” is more adventurous than the average tourist. Perhaps so? There is nothing to fear here and hospitality is through the roof. My friend Rakan told me that Jordanian’s are people of the heart. That sounds just about right.
Everyone who watched the Titanic movie from 1997 already knew the ending. My fiancée departed this Kingdom a few days ago and it’s like loosing a leg to me. She becomes a bigger and bigger part of me and next time it might be like loosing a leg and an arm ;) Parting is such sweet sorrow. That’s William Shakespeare and not me. However the sentence rings very clear. Talking about legs, I injured my left leg two days ago when my brain for a second told me that I’m a ninja! I thought I could make a quick move and bypass some concrete near the Saudi embassy. Apparently I’m not a ninja and my foot slipped into a crack while my entire body weight pushed down from above. Ouch! Fortunately my leg didn’t break but I’m limping a bit these days. Enough about that. Let’s talk Jordan.
Did you ever picture the Middle east could look like this?
The Hashemites are a royal family which has reigned over Iraq, Syria and the former kingdom of Hejaz (which you should look up). The royal family here pull a lot of weight in Jordan and are highly respected. You’ll see a winged crown on many private vehicles, on clothing and on buildings. People here proudly portray it and it’s not without reason. You’ll see the gently smiling face of the late king, the present king and the crown prince all over Jordan. Not in a fearful way but in a loving way. The Hashemite’s are direct descendants of the prophet Muhammed and they are also directly linked to the peace Jordan enjoys along with this countries good relationship to other nations. This kingdom borders Israel, Palestine, Iraq and Saudi Arabia which are all countries you know from the evening news. And yet it’s incredibly peaceful here in Jordan. Come and feel it for yourself.
The Kings Highway.
What would you do when the love of your life arrives to the Middle East and makes it her 16th visits in an already four and a half year project? You get the best out of it and we definitely did! Jordan is the perfect host to visitors with its great hospitality and an endless amount of see worthy attractions. At the top of many visitors list you’ll find Petra, Wadi Rum and the Dead Sea. So that’s where we began. We rented a car, switched on the gps and drove south on the Kings Highway. It’s a really old road which has been upgraded with asphalt and might be incorrectly translated from Hebrew. Some say that the original name would simply translate into “the main road”. On the road to Petra, as our first main attraction, we drove past beautiful green fields and friendly villages. We stopped at Wadi al Mujib and took in the sight of the great dam along with the fishermen at the still waters.
Wadi al Mujib.
Al Karak Castle.
Then we drove on until we reached Al Karak Castle which was once a crusader stronghold protecting caravans. It’s history stretches far back before the crusaders and reportedly you can see Jerusalem from its majestic position at the top of a hill. So many historical warlords and conquerers have expanded on its magnificent structure over the years. If the rocks and dirt could only whisper their story. Perhaps they do if you listen closely?
Al Karak Castle.
Sunset at Dana.
The Kings Highway continues and we continued with it. Our next stop was Wadi al Hasa which is a beautiful gorge that we only got to see on pictures because google maps sent us to the wrong location. However as I asked a man at a farm for directions we were immediately invited for tea. Further down the road we stopped to enjoy the sunset across Dana. A tourist bus had the same idea and a local man offered us yet another cup of tea. We bypassed Shobak Castle saving it for later and rolled into Petra shortly after the sun had set. My friends, Bernhard (Bernie) and Liis, had recommended a guesthouse for us and we booked two nights. That same evening we opted to venture into Petra and experience the “Petra by Night” event which takes place most nights.
Petra by Night.
Entering the Petra visitors center is not completely unlike entering Disneyland. It’s very modern and well developed. From the visitors center we followed a long dirt road which was lit up by candles in brown paper bags on both sides of the path. After 20 minutes we reached “the Siq” which is a 1,200 meter (1,300 yard) long narrow passageway through an impressive gorge. Romantic and adventurous all at the same time. Hundreds of people were being seated at the end of the Siq in front of “the treasury” which is Petra’s most famous temple. The temple is called Al-Khazneh and is among other places famous from Indiana Jones and the last Crusade. It was dark apart from the many candles however on and off you would catch a glimpse of the temple from the many people trying to take pictures using their flash. A hopeless task but it did not stop people from trying. People are just people ;) I will not reveal the full program but I’ll tell you that I think this was the best possible introduction to Petra we could possibly have. Like seeing a trailer before the movie.
Well alright...mostly on foot ;)
The next morning (early) we ventured back to the visitors center and explored Petra on foot. Petra is one of those things you simply cannot comprehend unless you see it with your own eyes! It is one of the Saga’s foremost highlights and to summarize it in one word I would say: BIG! Petra is far from just the one famous temple. It’s a massive area of cities and city states. The landscape would be worthy of a visit on its own without all the rock carvings, houses and temples. The temples would be worthy of a visit without the landscape. The combination of both is truly worthy of its recent title as a modern wonder of the world. Its construction and development is largely contributed to the Nabataeans who are the pride of the region much like Danes pride themselves as Vikings and the Lebanese pride them selves as decedents of Phoenicians. It’s funny how we pick a period in our history and identify with it. As an example Denmark rose as a powerful and highly influential kingdom long after the short Viking period. We had a massive and feared army but we just reference Vikings most of the time. And forget about the horned helmets because that was never a thing. The horned helmets appeared in Wagner’s ‘Valkyrie’ a few hundred years ago and the image stuck. A thousand years ago the Vikings didn’t add horns to their helmets. Why would they?
When Denmark meets Jordan. Lunch ;)
Ad Deir temple.
The Royal Tombs, Petra.
I could write several blogs about Petra, Nabateans, Roman influence and so on. I’ll just say that we hiked up to the “monastery” which is really called Ad Deir and wasn’t a monastery at all but very much worth the hike! Then we hiked back and ended a brilliant seven hour day inside Petra. The following morning (early) we headed back for more and completed a great hike called the Al-Khubtha trail which we mostly had to ourselves and it boasted a great view of Al-Khazneh. As we returned to the gorge hundreds of tourist had arrived and a cheeky guide leading a group coming in our direction shouted at us: “HI! DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?” I replied yes and the guide smiled while saying: “why are you so tall and she’s so low?” I sensed he was setting us up for a punchline and in a split second I heard myself saying: “I don’t know? - why are you so low?!” The guides group laughed out loud while the guide clearly lost his momentum. Then the (short) guide laughed and moved on with his group. Oh me oh my...the amount of times I’ve thought of what to say just minutes after it’s to late! This was great for a change. Do you know that feeling? :)
Sand dune in Wadi Rum.
We left Petra before noon and continued on our way to Wadi Rum. It’s in the desert and was the setting for Matt Damon’s 2015 movie: “The Martian”. However the protected desert area is perhaps best known for its connection with British officer T.E. Lawrence’s (Lawrence of Arabia) role in the Arab Revolt of 1917-1918. We had mansaf for lunch and met our guide Hashem. We parked the car and boarded the 4x4 where we sat in the back under a blanket roof. We saw a few sites, rock formations, ancient rock carvings and ended up at the Desert Moon Camp, where we would spend the night. Wadi Rum is definitely worth a visit however it’s also very touristic and we were far from alone. The area we were in reminded me a bit of the area you first get to drive in as you’re taking your drivers license and before you hit the road. As such I mean it’s really safe and kind of boxed in by mountains protecting you from “the real desert”. It’s magnificent though and far more exiting than taking your drivers license ;) The camp was great and we were introduced to bits and pieces of the Bedouin lifestyle. The Bedouin’s are really kind and there was also plenty of humor.
Desert Moon Camp, Wadi Rum.
The highlight for me was however holding my fiancée under the star spangled night sky. It was silent and for a while we were the only two people in the world. We tried to make out a few constellations and managed to spot the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia. We couldn’t see Orion...there were simply to many stars. Did you know that on a night when you think you can see millions of stars you’re really only looking at 2,000-3,000 stars? Also the first stars that appear on the night sky are usually planets and not stars so chances are that you’ve been wishing upon planets ;) We were also looking for satellites which you can sometimes see as “stars” moving slowly across the darkness between the stars.
Our guide Hashem.
The next day we made it back to our car. We said farewell to Hashem at the camp and a boy who couldn’t be older than twelve drove the 4x4 back to the parking lot. As we approached our car another kid was riding a camel into the desert. Bedouin life. Never underestimate the ability of children. They do not lack ability. They lack experience.
There were 16 guards at Shobak Castle.
Back in our rented Toyota Yaris we headed towards the Dead Sea making a stop at Shobak Castle. At the castle we decided to take a guide which was a good choice. He was kind and full of interesting knowledge. Shobak was another crusader stronghold and also has a lot of history both before and after. Our guide showed us the entrance to one of the castles three secret passageways. A 450 step decent into darkness. I asked if it was still accessible and the guide replied: “yes, it leads down to where they used to collect water when the castle was under siege”. Can you sense how a plan immediately formed in my dim brain? We finished the guided tour and I then revealed my plan to my fiancée: “let’s exit the castle through the tunnel!!” At first she wasn’t keen on the idea but I persuaded her and it became a great adventure. A few other tourist caught up with us as we moved into the pitch dark hole very slowly. After a very long time I heard my relieved partner in crime utter: “Ican see light!!” We finally exited Shobak Castle on a road far below the hillside which the castle is located on. Brilliant! :)
Would you enter? ;)
We stopped to buy us some lunch and ordered four falafel sandwiches. We small taked with the guy making them and he offered the meal for free. That's Jordan for you! :)
I turned the key in the ignition and the Toyota brought us back on the Kings Highway. It wasn’t long before the mountains opened up. From the mountains we could see the Dead Sea far down below. The winding road took us deeper and deeper down to the lake which borders Israel, Palestine and Jordan. Hurry if you want to see it because the lake is dropping about one meter (three feet) each year. This one is not credited to global warning but to human interference. Rivers which feed the lake are being diverted for agriculture and the factories at the southern end are also a major factor. My fiancée decided it was time for luxury and splurged on a two day stay at a resort. I was anticipating a smell coming from the extremely salty water but there wasn’t any. It was however really hot! Some 35 degrees Celsius or 95 degrees Fahrenheit if you’re in the USA ;)
Fully invested! ;)
That is a lot of water which has gone missing!
Physics at play will make your body unbelievably buoyant in water which is 30-40% salt. They say don’t taste it, don’t swim on your belly, don’t get it in your eyes. As the idiot I am I did all of that of course and now I will tell you: don’t taste it, don’t swim on your belly, don’t get it in your eyes! :) Good call on my fiancées part. We had an excellent time at the resort, covered ourselves in the mud, floated on our backs and enjoyed several great meals. On our second day we didn’t even leave the resort. I’ve never been that low in my life and felt that good about it! ;) Denmark is a fairly flat country and I like playing mind games when I’m in the mountains by pointing at the ground and saying: “Denmark is now 1,000 meters (3,000 feet) below us. It’s however really strange to be floating on a lake while pointing up at the sky and saying: “Denmark is now 450 meters (1,476 feet) above me!?” Even the tourist t-shirts for sale couldn’t keep up as they read: “the lowest point on earth. 390 meters (1,280 feet) below sea level. You are here: Dead Sea”.
As we left the Dead Sea to drive back towards Amman we made a stop at Mount Nebo which is accredited for being the mountain which the prophet Moses climbed to see the promised land before he passed away. It’s a holy sight and you’ll find a nice church on top which contains archeological remnants of buildings and old mosaics. You’ll also have a view of Jordan, Israel and Palestine. We continued through Madaba which is yet another ancient city but we didn’t stop. We pushed on to Amman which by the way is located 800 meters (2,625 feet) above sea level. Amman is also rich in history and boasts itself as one of the oldest continuously inhabited capitals in the world. We are (like with Damascus in Syria) taking at least 10,000 years. Oh Jordan...where does it end? We saw so much and we hardly saw anything!
On our last night together we upheld an expensive tradition we started in Greenland back in 2014. We went for sushi. And we had a boatload of sushi!! The following day we sorted out everything I wanted to send home and finally dropped in on Amman’s well preserved Roman amphitheater which is located downtown not far from the Citadel. Our last trip in the Toyota was to the Queen Alia airport which I have now been to three times in a completely flightless journey? Think about that. Funny thing...I had a dream not long ago in which I was in a bus which suddenly flew across dense traffic in an unnamed city. Just slightly above traffic but it was flying and I panicked thinking that I had broken one of the cardinal rules within the Saga. Fortunately it was just a dream and the Saga can continue untainted ;)
Amman Roman Amphitheater.
Then the Titanic sank. “Jack, Jaaaack!” Rose, Rooooose!!!” And off she went after a fantastic week together in an amazing country. I was left alone with 58 more countries to reach which could end this project in January 2020 if Once Upon A Saga keeps its 11 day average/country. It’s the journey not the destination - right? Let’s keep on keeping on.
I’m now looking into visas (as if I ever stopped). The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is not far from here but the borders are well guarded. KSA has not been open for tourism for MANY years however there are signs that it may be changing. Resent developments have reopened cinemas in KSA where both men and woman can sit together. Women are being allowed to drive and the rumors of proper tourism visas are on many people’s lips. It just hasn’t happened yet and I’m networking as usual. As such I have had help from Rakan at Maersk who introduced me to the Danish embassy in Lebanon who tried to get me in touch with the Danish embassy in KSA. Instead I received a solid contact which I will be happy to share with you later on. That contact is invested in the Saga and it could lead to yet another hard to believe solution for us to move forward. When I say “us” I mean you and me because we are in this together ;)
That is Aya to the left and her mother Rania to the right :)
I have a great network of people here in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Some are from my visit at the Maersk office, some are from my visit at the Jordan Red Crescent (JRC) and some are from my hotel or from the Saga’s ever growing social media. As such Rania picked me up in her hybrid car two nights ago. We went for dinner together with her twelve year old daughter Aya, who isn’t just a good student but also an entrepreneur. There’s a current trend with slime which you buy and play with. Aya is importing components and manufacturing various forms of slime which she markets and sells online. Apparently it has abilities to reduce stress. Twelve years old!! Her page on instagram is called: cloudberriesslimes2. The first account was hacked and she lost her followers which explains the “2”. Don’t underestimate children ;)
How about we end this entry with Saga values? Be polite. Think outside the box. Treat people with kindness. Work hard but smart. Be open minded. And whatever you do: keep on keeping on! In fact:
Keep calm and Saga on ;)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - Sagaing on.
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
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