Tag Archive | UNESCO

Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum
Camel Crossing, Jordan

Wadi Rum is the stuff of dreams: sweeping landscapes of sand and rock and sky. We are looking forward to exploring this space and spending time with a local guide. We headed further south from Dana, for a Bedouin experience.

Our trusty driver Jad got us from Wadi Dana to Wadi Rum, stopping at the visitor check-in for appropriate desert head gear. The village parking lot was occupied by suitable desert transportation.

We booked our day tour and overnight accommodations with Wadi Rum Bedouin Way Camp. Once connected with our local host, we set out across the desert on padded seats in the back of an open truck. To minimize the impacts of visitors and protect this unique desert biome, tours are routed to specific locations on alternating days. Inhabited for millennia, some Bedouin families still make their homes in Wadi Rum. Amid the vast expanse, there are small slot canyons and niches providing cool shade, water, and evidence of previous inhabitants.

By midday, we were miles from anywhere. Our guide built a fire, providing a personal pop-up lunch stop, complete with tea.

After lunch, we explored a small canyon amid the rocks on foot for a more intimate look at the desert microclimates.

Late in the afternoon, we arrived at the camp in time for sunset. The camp provided Bedouin tent accommodations, with shared bathrooms, and family style dining.

As the stars emerged, we were entertained by local musicians while reclining on rugs laid down in the sand around a fire. The highlight of the evening was our dinner: a multi-tiered affair of meats and vegetables unearthed from the pit where it had been roasting all day.

Music, a fire, and the ubiquitous pots of tea – a perfect end to the day.

It’s not surprising that this singular place is favored for dramatic movie settings: Lawrence of Arabia, two Star Wars movies, and The Martian.

Petra: Half Day

There is a reason that nearly all travelers to Jordan go to Petra: the scale and setting are beyond anything pictures can convey. Descending down the siq to the opening at the Treasury (Al-Khazneh) is only the beginning. Beyond the main road running through Wadi Musa are many other sites in the surrounding area.

The best advice we received (and followed) is to plan your trip to Petra: because there is so much to see, and the area is somewhat spread out, a little time with a guidebook goes a long way. We were prepared for lots of hiking: we wore trail shoes and prepared for lots of stairs. Most of the people don’t wander much beyond the central area, so it is easy to get out of the crowds by exploring other spots. And, avoid the weekends (Friday and Saturday), when it is most busy.

We arrived mid-afternoon on Saturday, and seemed to be the only people going in, while the majority of the traffic was headed back towards the entrance. Our goal was to head straight for the Monastery (Al-Deir) to catch monument in the late afternoon light. There were very few people here – even many of the trailside vendors had closed up for the night. We carried headlamps just in case night fell before we got back to the gate. When we returned, the central area was all but empty, reaching the entrance at twilight.

The Monastery
(Note 5’4″ person standing below the main doorway)

We stayed at My Home Petra, far enough from Petra’s entrance to avoid crowds, but easily accessible by walking or a 5 dinar cab ride. We walked to the Petra entrance (downhill), but took a cab ride back (uphill). The manager provided good trip planning assistance, and arranged a boxed lunch, ready for an early departure.

Petra: Full Day

Treasury from Above, Petra

A full day in Petra is ahead of us. We picked up a boxed lunch prepared by hotel at 7am, with the goal of arriving before the tour buses. We hiked along the Royal Tombs, and climbed the series of stone steps to the overlook of the Treasury and the main road through Petra in the morning light.

We returned back down, refreshed ourselves with orange juice at the Why Not shop, then headed up the steps on the opposite side of the canyon to the Place of High Sacrifice, where we stopped for lunch.

With goats as occasional companions, there are far fewer people off the “main street.” Many visitors don’t devote this much time to this place: it deserves even more time than we spent – everywhere you look, you see signs of human history written in the stone.

And, this is the marvel of Petra: much of the monumental architecture has been carved out of the canyon walls. Even the pyramid-style pillars above were created by carving away the surrounding stone, rather than building a pillar with stone. And modern day Jordanians still make use of these ancient carved places.

Some only hike up to the Place of High Sacrifice, but we found more amazing places by continuing down the trail to the other side, into the valley with the Lion Monument, Garden Tomb, Roman Soldier’s Tomb, and Garden Triclinium – well worth the hike, and very few people are here.

Once we hiked out to rejoin the main thoroughfare, we stopped for a cold beer at the restaurant at the far end of the road. We still had time to poke around the “newer” Byzantine church and marvel at the mosaics and the blue granite pillars imported from Egypt.

We worked our way back to the siq, again reaching the entry gate at twilight.

Yes, we covered a lot of ground. My fitness app says that we covered 14.6 miles and climbed 123 floors the first half day (from our hotel to the Monastery and back to the entrance gate), and 10 miles and 79 floors the second day, a slightly more leisurely pace. We are happy with our visit. We did not hire a guide, so I’m sure that we missed some really interesting points and perspectives. For example, modern technology is revealing the robust water infrastructure that made Petra bloom.

There is plenty to see without quite so much effort, and still have an incredible experience. Our advice: go early, stay late, and avoid the weekends. Purchase the Jordan Pass. Plan your visit: decide what are the “must see” sites, and map out your route. Say “No, thank you,” if you are not interested in the vendors’ wares – they are fairly ubiquitous. Most are friendly, only a few are insistent. Enjoy this magnificent place: in the right light, you can still see the camel caravans that traveled the trade routes through Petra.

Little Petra and the Dead Sea Highway

After a day and a half hiking Petra, we weren’t quite ready to say farewell to the Nabateans, making a brief stop at Little Petra. Some might say, “More of the same, but smaller.” Indeed, there are the tombs and rooms carved in the stone, and remnants of a water system. But, after spending two days imagining the interior decorations of monuments, we were delighted to see a well-preserved fresco with grapes and birds and putti playing flutes and shooting an arrow from a bow. Totally worth the stop to us.

No trip to Jordan is complete without a dip in the Dead Sea. The experience is startlingly buoyant. For the equivalent of about $7, a gentleman sitting on the beach with a bucket of mud under his chair will happily allow you to slather up for a photo op, er…spa treatment.

Dead Sea “spa” treatment

One more stop on the road back to Madaba and the St. John Hotel for the night. Umm ar-Rasas, another UNESCO World Heritage site layered with history, has extensive ruins dating back to Roman, Byzantine and early Muslim occupation of the area.

Protected by a large roofed structure, the church of St. Stephen has extensive, well-preserved mosaics dating to about AD 785.

Tomorrow, we head north to Umm Qais, overlooking the Jordan River Valley, near the Syrian border.