Jordan Chronicles 7: Wadi Rum (hiking in the desert), Day 4

March 28, 2016: After sleeping under¬†the milky way and blazing falling stars, I was sure to get the most peaceful sleep of my life and yes, I did! I slept like a baby for 9 hours at a stretch. The other girls were already up by that time and Metab had returned back from his village to cook us fresh Bedouin breakfast and tea. I walked to them and the air felt so fresh with sun shining bright in the blue sky. Metab was very kind and on my request, played his Bedouin lute again while I kept eating my breakfast. Heaven, isn’t it? ūüėČ

After breakfast, we helped Metab pack the bedding back in the jeep again and finally¬†we were ready for another adventurous ride in this amazing desert! We decided to spend the afternoon in Wadi Rum after which I had decided to make my way to Petra. There were no buses anymore from Wadi Rum to Petra after 6:30 am in the morning and I was very sure that I had to hitch-hike my way; but I was very very lucky when the Swedish girls assured me a ride in their car because they also planned to see Petra after this! Wow!!! I was on cloud 9 and all my worries of not reaching Petra on time was vanished! ūüėõ

It was particularly a very windy day in Wadi Rum and we asked Metab to take us to canyons and gorges where we could hike more and so did he! We arrived at a huge canyon where¬†Metab dropped us and said he would wait us on the other side of it. We were the only tourists in this whole Wadi Rum as I couldn’t find anyone as long as my eyes could see. The canyon hike was very very nice as we also teamed up more as a group¬†helping each other climb and hike it.

I made a wrap around my head to save my hair from the dust and the heat and I strongly advise you to do the same :). I love how the head scarf looks in the pictures. After hiking in the canyon, Metab took us to a huge gorge where again we hiked for another 1.5 hours.

While hiking, we were invited by two Bedouins to join them for a Bedouin tea (Bedouin hospitality is well-known) and we had a short tea break.

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Panoramic view of the desert

After hiking for around4-5 hours, it was time for lunch after which we would head back to the Bedouin village in Wadi Rum from where we start driving towards Petra. Metab took us to his family tent (very authentic Bedouin tent of his parents) and asked us to rest while he got busy cooking us fresh Bedouin food! We were so tired already and rested on the mattresses he placed on the sand for us. The pictures below should help me explain how the tent looked like! It was made up of camel and goat skin (very very tough) and Metab told us that his other made it by herself and it was already 22 years old! Wow ūüôā

After having delicious lunch, we headed back to the Bedouin village finally to pick up our bags and I had to say goodbye to Atallah too for arranging such an amazing trip! We hea

Finally around 4 pm, we set off for Petra in the rental car the girls had rented at Amman.

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Packing ourselves for Petra ūüôā

TIPS for Wadi Rum:

  1. Sunscreen, scarf and jacket: No matter which time of the year you are in Wadi Rum, days get extremely hot, so please carry a sunscreen because there are no shops in Wadi Rum. Wrapping a scarf around your head os useful because its very dusty there. Finally, nights get extremely cold in the desert and you should have warm clothes to keep you warm.
  2. Keep cash with you: There are no ATMs in Wadi Rum (even not in the Bedouin village outside the desert), so don’t forget your cash!
  3. Water, water and water: Yes, very very important! Please make sure you carry lot of water. You get dehydrated very early for obvious reasons when in a desert!

Read my next post about our scenic drive to Petra and how I hitchhiked to get to my¬†couchsurfer’s¬†place¬†here:¬†Jordan Chronicles 8: Drive to Petra from Wadi Rum, Day 4

Missed my last post on how I slept under the stars in Wadi Rum? Its here: Jordan Chronicles 6: Wadi Rum (sleeping under the stars), Day 3

 

Jordan Chronicles 6: Wadi Rum (sleeping under the stars), Day 3

March 27,2016: I was very excited about the whole jeep tour with 4 Swedish girls I had just met (who were so nomadic and hence so fun to be with) and our Bedouin jeep guide and driver Metab (very young and kind bedouin of 20 years old)! But hold on, did we just go inside the jeep and start driving? HELL NO! We put a mattress on the roof of the jeep and sat on it getting ready to venture Wadi Rum in the most adventurous way!

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Just before venturing out Wadi Rum

Jeep Ride in Wadi Rum: It was a terrific start to the trip and once we entered the desert, it left me spell bound! I cannot describe in words how amazing the colors were and I have not seen a landscape like that before. I can say closest I could relate it to was the Grand Canyon I have been in Arizona, but again,  nowhere close to it after all.

Where was I? Was this really a part of our beautiful planet or am I transported to Mars? It was a very unique terrain with a lunar-like landscape that I haven’t encountered before and hence I still call my first foot-steps in Wadi Rum as¬†my “Moon landing in Wadi Rum”! ūüėČ

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Moon-landing in Wadi Rum! ūüėõ

Metab was very flexible with us and was ready to drive us anywhere we wanted. Our first stop was a huge sand dune which we climbed (partially) and enjoyed terrific views! In the picture above is Mount Rum which is around 1700m tall and also known as “seven pillars of wisdom” by the locals due to its terrific shape!¬†After taking a few photos, we started exploring more and I (obviously being the most petite traveler in the group :P) lied down on the mattress of our jeep to experience the winds and the sun on my face while looking at the blue sky with beautiful clouds up above me.

Usually the desert gets very hot during the day, but luckily we didn’t feel the heat¬†much due to the rainfall last night in Wadi Rum. We rarely encountered any other tourist jeep in the desert apart and we were completely¬†be cut-off the civilization. I watched the shadow of our jeep (carrying 5 nomadic girls on top) project upon the facades of the red mountains. It was beautiful and I totally love this picture (below)!

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Checking out our shadow facading upon the red sands

After this, we saw many natural rock bridges and stopped at the biggest arch (Jabal Umm Fruth) in Wadi Rum because the girls wanted to climb it! It was so so beautiful and a great experience for sure.

By this time, the sun was slowly going down and I could definitely start feeling the wind chill! Before climbing the jeep, I made sure to put on 2 sweaters on me (yes, deserts gets really cold in the nights) and Metab drove us to a gorge where we could see the lovely sunset!¬†Sunset was breathtaking as¬†I kept watching¬†how the setting sun made a painter’s palate of the dramatic landscape.

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Sunset in Wadi Rum

Sleeping under the stars in Wadi Rum: After watching the sun go down, we started driving around to check for a spot where we could sleep in the night. We didn’t get tents or camps, but we decided to just lie over a mattress and enjoy the infinite tranquility that Wadi Rum had in offer under the dark blue sky filled with millions of stars! After searching for 30 minutes, we finally found a narrow gorge where Metab parked his car and we pulled off the mattresses and blankets to arrange for the night. Metab put on the camp fire to make the place warm and made us amazing herbal Jordanian tea. He then started cooking vegetarian dinner for us and meanwhile I put on all the (somewhat) warm clothes I had in my backpack to keep myself warm.

The desert looked majestic and when I looked up above in the sky, I could see thousands and thousands¬†of stars! I had never seen something close to this in my life and being cut-off from the world with no phone connection made the experience more surreal! By this time, Metab finished cooking and dinner was ready. It was very dark in the desert and thankfully I had my headlight (thanks to a friend back in Amsterdam) to refrain myself from being blind. Metab started playing his “luke” (traditional Jordanian string instrument) and meanwhile we enjoyed the delicious meal he had cooked for us.

Shooting stars and the Milky way sighting in Wadi Rum: After we finished eating, Metab left us (5 girls) and went back to the Bedouin village. So here we were in a deserted land with just nobody around us! The feeling was terrific and you have to do it to know how exactly I felt in that moment. We all lied down trying to get sleep as we had a pretty tiring day. It was when I lied down, I started wondering¬†how beautiful our planet Earth is and how we keep worrying about things which actually shouldn’t matter to us so much! I had sightings of the milky way above in the sky and counted 7 fallen stars before my eyes closed at some point and I fell asleep! I have two pictures of how the sky looked and trust me, its no where close to what I saw and experienced!

Want to know if I survived the night safely in Wadi Rum? Then read my next post here: Jordan Chronicles 7: Wadi Rum (hiking in the desert), Day 4

Missed¬†my previous post on how I arrived in Wadi Rum on¬†a local bus? It’s here:¬†Jordan Chronicles 5: Wadi Rum (arriving) Day 1

Jordan Chronicles 5: Wadi Rum (arriving), Day 3

March 27, 2016: After spending a great (and relaxed) time in Aqaba, I was all packed for my next destination which was Wadi Rum. It wouldn’t be wrong to confess¬†that Wadi Rum was the real reason that I always wanted to come to Jordan. Wadi Rum is really unmissable on any trip to Jordan. It is a big desert valley spreading 720 square kilometers on the South of Jordan and extends further to Saudi Arabia. Its often referred to as the Valley of the moon and have been successfully as the surface of Mars in big movies like The Red Planet, The Martian, Prometheus, The last days in Mars¬†and¬†Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

There is only one local bus (not the regular JETT bus) which goes from Aqaba to Wadi Rum very regularly as it shuttles locals between Aqaba and Wadi Rum mostly. The bus fare is 3 JD (they tricked me by charging me 5 JD as I was a foreigner!) and it leaves from the Aqaba local  bus station (close to the police station) at 6:30am, 11am, 1pm and 5 pm. Make sure to be at the bus stop 30 minutes before or else you wont find a seat and sometimes, the bus will leave before time if it gets already filled. It is important to remember that there is also a JETT bus which is more expensive, but much more comfortable which is headed to Petra from Aqaba which takes you to Wadi Rum too. Check the bus website for the timing. Its the major bus company in Jordan and can be used to get from every major tourist attraction in Jordan, but Wadi Rum still being an off-the-beaten track attraction, the bus service is highly unreliable in this route! One more thing is, I call it unreliable as if there are not enough passengers (during off-season), the bus gets cancelled abruptly on the spot as the driver can decide whether its worth to do the trip or not with such less passengers.  So, good luck!

I had a¬†cultural shock¬†when I entered this bus! It was filled with locals and women were sitting at the back of the bus (all men were in the front)! This was something strange to me as in my home-country, women would always get the better seats which are in the front rather than get dizzy at the back because of all the jerking when the bus is on the road. To my surprise, I found another backpack in the bus which meant there was someone else like me too! ūüėÄ So this is how I met Garry (a guy from Singapore who was also backpacking in Jordan) and hence the boring bus ride of 2 hours became very interesting and entertaining. We shared many stories of our travels and turned out that last night it had just not rained in Aqaba, but also Wadi Rum which is why bedouins in the desert were very happy!¬†The bus driver¬†dropped us at the WadiRum’s visitor center for getting the tickets to get inside the Wadi Rum desert.

I had to wait for my Bedouin friend Atallah who had offered me a volunteering opportunity. Atallah was a very hospitable bedouin and he lives both at the village and in the desert with his parents. Because I was a volunteer, I could skip the 5 JD entree fee to Wadi Rum! He had asked me to help with his Wadi Rum tour website (he organizes Jeep tours, climbing, trekking and camel rides in Wadi Rum). Atallah picked me up in his jeep with his cousin and we headed towards the bedouin village where he had his house. It was lunch time by then and Atallah offered me a great meal before we headed to the desert. ! Atallah paired me up with 4 more Swedish girls for a 2 days 1 night tour in Wadi Rum and I felt so so safe with them as it was indeed a bit scary that I wanted to sleep in an unknown big desert all by myself. Thankfully, that was solved!

I also met a big German group at his place who had just returned from the desert after 2 days and were very excited! I got more and more excited about this whole sleeping under the stars thing. Atallah assured me that I will have the best time of my life in Wadi Rum. So, did I have a great time in Wadi Rum ? Follow my next post to know how was it.

Still wondering whether to visit or not?¬†Well, the big blockbuster “the Martian” was shot entirely in Wadi Rum. Liked the moon landscape in the movie? Then Wadi Rum should definitely be in your bucket list!

Read my next post on how I slept under falling stars in Wadi Rum here: Jordan Chronicles 6: Wadi Rum (sleeping under the stars) Day 1

Missed my previous post on snorkeling in Red Sea? It’s here:¬†Jordan Chronicles 4: Aqaba Day 2

Jordan Chronicles 4: Aqaba (snorkeling in Red Sea), Day 2

March 26, 2016: After a good 7 hours of sound sleep, I woke up fresh and excited thinking about how diving would be in reality. I had always wanted to try diving, but never got my hands on it. Last time was back in Puerto Rico, where I had signed in for a dive, but because of hurricanes, it didn’t happen! But this time, I was so sure that I will finally do it (even though it can get very expensive to make it a hobby, but I really wanted to try it first).

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All set for my first dive!

Omar picked up his customers (around 10 Americans) who would be in his sailing boat with me¬†and we started driving towards the South of Aqaba where he had parked his private¬†boat. This was a private beach of a big resort (Tala Bay Beach club)¬†and was far off from the city. Its important to mention that in Jordan, good beaches are always private which means they are owned by big hotels and resorts and are accessible only to their guests or if you are ready to shell out a lot of money to pay as a “day-charge” to use the facilities. I strongly recommend using private beaches as they are so much more safe, very less crowded ¬†(only tourists) and you can pull off in a bikini without getting any stares in almost all of them. In public beaches, it is impossible to swim as a girl, not because you are not allowed to, but because its very very crowded and women in water are always wearing their hijabs. Yes, really!!!

Just when we arrived in the private beach and started heading towards our¬†boat, it started raining heavily :(. It never ever rains in Aqaba and Omar said they had such a weather after two years! Can you believe my bad luck? So obviously I knew luck was again not in my favor and diving was instantly cancelled because of strong winds meaning poor visibility. We started sailing soon and even though the weather was not promising, we were assured that we could still snorkel! I was so so relived and equally happy! I love snorkeling and took it up a couple of years back in Florida where I first snorkeled. I¬†have been doing it since then and I love it! That’s one of the reasons I always look for island and tropical vacations (if not the Pina Coladas ūüėõ !).

After an introductory guide, we soon started our first snorkeling adventure. The coral reef we ventured first was called the Japanese garden and if only I could describe in words how beautiful the coral reef in the Red Sea is! I have snorkeled few¬†times in the Atlantic¬†Ocean and the Mediterranean sea before, but they were¬†nowhere close to what I saw in the Red Sea! It was mesmerizing and breath-taking! I found myself in the middle of thousands (literally thousands) of colorful fishes and purple jelly¬†fishes with¬†beautiful corals beneath me. It was so so amazing and I felt like a free bird…I swam quite some far away from the others in the group (I am not the best swimmer, but I can handle swimming in rough waters pretty well) and found myself shouting with joy and happiness beneath the waters where nobody could hear me and I could actually tell myself BRAVO!

It was already lunch time after the first snorkeling (the boat would take us to three different locations in total). The food was authentic Jordanian (humus, pita bread, baba ganoush, salad) and grilled chicken was made right on the boat! Oh my god, I feel like going back in time and having it again ūüėõ

After good food and a little bit of rest, we started moving again towards our next destinations. Those reefs were equally good and I wish I had my under-water camera (which I left in US last time I was there) and could take some snaps of how pretty everything was. Anyways, after 5-6 hours of sailing and snorkeling, we headed back to Aqaba. I was super tired, but I still had the energy to head to the downtown to grab some good food and a beer. I met more people in the restaurants and pubs and overall Aqaba was a great experience!

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All set for my first dive!

Read my next post on how I made my way to Wadi Rum in a local bus here: Jordan Chronicles 5: Wadi Rum (arriving) Day 1

Missed¬†my previous post on how I explored Aqaba and enjoyed its night life? It’s here:¬†Jordan Chronicles 3: Aqaba Day 1

Jordan Chronicles 3: Aqaba (exploring the city), Day 1

March 25, 2016: After being dropped safely in the city centre of Aqaba, I met my first couch-surfing (CS) host Omar who happened to be the best dive-master in Aqaba. Because he already had informed me earlier about his time shortage, I dropped my bags at his dive-center and then met up my second couch-surfing host Eiyad who promised to show me around. At first, Eiyad took me on a trip to the Red Sea on his cousin’s glass bottom boat. It was a very nice experience!

After the boat ride, we had Jordanian tea in the beach and because we both were very hungry, we headed to his house where he introduced me to his lovely family. His family was very conservative (South of Jordan is the most conservative part of Jordan), but very welcoming to me and wanted to know a lot about India and the Bollywood films !;) They also offered me to show how to wrap an Arab scarf and complimented me a lot. Meanwhile, Eiyad prepared BBQ chicken in Jordanian style and I ate together with his big family.

By this time, it was already evening and Eiyad took me to the local market to check out how Jordanians live normally. After an hour of exploring the local specialities, he dropped me back at the Aqaba beach where Omar  (my CS host with whom I would stay in Aqaba) promised to pick me up after finishing work.

The Aqaba public beach was very very crowded and all Arab women were wearing hijabs. I found myself to be stared at by everyone around me. Thankfully, Omar arrived soon and took me to his place to drop the bags. He had a very cute dog (Sascha) at his place, a big apartment where I had a lot of privacy. After having dinner, we headed out to the city to enjoy the Aqaba nightlife!

To my surprise, Aqaba was fled with American tourists (most of them arrive on cruises and stay in big resorts for which Aqaba tops in Jordan), Buffalo Wings and McDonalds ! :P. Drinking amongst tourists was not uncommon (although not promoted) and you can easily get a couple of beers in the city centre till 2 in the night.¬†Omar introduced me to his nice diving friends and it was a fun night meeting local Jordanians and listening to their stories. He promised to take me diving and snorkeling the next morning. ūüôā

Read my next post on how was snorkeling in Red Sea here: Jordan Chronicles 4: Aqaba Day 2

Missed¬†my previous post on how I managed to get to Jordan from Amsterdam? It’s here:¬†Jordan Chronicles 2: Amsterdam to Aqaba

Jordan Chronicles 2: The journey from Amsterdam to Aqaba

Amsterdam: On March 24th, with a camera, a book, a backpack paired with comfortable sneakers and without sleep for past 28 hours, I arrived at the Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. I had booked myself a round trip to Amman with Turkish Airlines (345 ‚ā¨ round trip) with 3 hours layover each way in Istanbul (the total flight time each way was around 11 hours). My flight¬†from Amsterdam was a bit delayed and so I used that time to take a few selfies, start reading my book and like any other travel nomad I was exploiting¬†the free WiFi ¬†in the airport to update my Spotify playlist and kept¬†checking what is not to be missed in the places I have decided to go in Jordan!

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All set to start my trip

Istanbul: I arrived in Istanbul very late (midnight), but still didn’t ¬†want to miss my favorite Turkish Kebabs¬†and hence ordered myself a plate! I have been flying with Turkish Airlines few times now,and I definitely recommend this dish in the picture below.

Amman to Aqaba transit: Finally I arrived in Amman early morning at 4am and got my Visa on Arrival (read more about it here). After immigrations, I moved to the domestic terminal to check in my Royal Jordanian flight from Amman to Aqaba from where I would start my journey!¬†My flight to Aqaba was a very short one (55 minutes) and came with¬†a heavy¬†price tag (55 ‚ā¨). Thankfully it was on time and not to my surprise, I was the only female traveller without a hijab! I had already read that South of Jordan is very conservative (may be due to its proximity to Saudi Arabia) and hence I had dressed myself accordingly with full sleeves and trousers.

After arriving at Aqaba, I collected my backpack and headed towards the airport exit. There was no public transportation available and I decided to try my luck at hitch-hiking. I was very lucky to be picked up by a group of photographers (open-minded young people speaking very good english) and they safely dropped me in the city centre where my couch-surfing host had asked me to wait.

Read  my next post on what I did in Aqaba the first day here: Jordan Chronicles 3: Aqaba Day 1

Missed my previous post on knowing Jordan in general? It’s here:¬†Jordan Chronicles 1: Nutshell

Jordan Chronicles 1: Tips for backpacking in Jordan on a budget

It was March 2016 when I went on a solo backpacking trip to Jordan for 6 days. 6-10 days is good enough to visit most of the country.

Why Jordan? The first reaction (maybe, obvious as Jordan is still an off-the beaten track destination) I got from many friends¬†and family was “why Jordan and why on earth would¬†I want to go alone¬†to¬†an Arab country in the Middle East??!!” Well, I always wanted to see Petra and most importantly, I fell in love with the Wadi Rum desert the first time I saw pictures of it. I had put sleeping under the stars in Wadi Rum and walking around in Petra in my bucket list since 2014 and finally I had a chance to do it. But honestly, going out of your comfort zone, taking risks if necessary and living your dreams is the biggest gift you can give yourself! ¬†Additionally, Jordan has visa-on-arrival¬†(including Indian passport holders, check¬†on this website) for many countries and it just makes the experience much more hassle free!

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Map of Jordan in the Middle East

Best time to visit:

Spring (March till May) is the best time to visit Jordan as temperatures are soothing and you will have a lovely time.

Summers (June-September) are very hot because it is in the middle east and temperatures can go up till 45 degrees. Good time to avoid!

Autumn (September 15 – November 15) can be good marked with rain showers in October. This is definitely the second best time to visit the country.

Winter (December- February) can be very harsh and the experience wont be same with such cold temperatures (specially in Petra and Wadi Rum). Temperatures can drop till – 6 degrees. Better to avoid for sure!

Languages spoken: While Arabic is the national language and Islam is the pre-dominant religion, most people in the cities and touristic sites speak English well and I did meet many Christians too who were natives of the country as well. Even though next to Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Syria in the Middle East, Jordan is very different and much more liberal and open-minded country unlike its neighbors.

Dress-code: You should be fine with loose trousers and shirts. Don’t put on flashy clothes as you will only draw unwanted attention. The main religion being Islam, you need to respect the culture and not show off much of your body. I have seen many female tourists wearing shorts in Petra which looked fine but they were all a part of organized group tours and not traveling by their own. When you travel by yourself, you instantly get more attention, and hence, I would advice to wear loose clothes. I always wore trousers and T-shirts. You can buy a head scarf anywhere in Jordan (around 3-4 JDs) and it is a nice experience to learn to put it on. Head scarf doesn’t just let you blend in and have a local feeling, but also saves from the heat and sand dust everywhere. FYI, it also gave me a chance to take numerous selfies (Girls, you know what I mean :P).

My itinerary: In Jordan I visited Amman, Aqaba, Petra and Wadi Rum.

  1. Amman is the capital of Jordan.
  2. Aqaba is in South Jordan and serves as a gateway to the Red Sea.
  3. Petra is one of the 7 wonders of the world.
  4. Wadi Rum¬†is a desert which is also known as the “Valley of the Moon.

Travel expenses:

1 JD = 1.4 USD approximately and USD is accepted in many places except local shops. I would strongly advice using JDs as ATMs and money exchange shops (western union preferred) are not uncommon (except Wadi Rum). Jordan is definitely not a hard-core backpacking destination because it is an expensive place to visit and the visit to Petra itself takes 50 JDs (70 USD) for a day! Yes, it is expensive, but that doesn’t mean you cant count it on your backpacking country list. It is possible and I did it. Tickets from Amsterdam to Amman on a Turkish Airlines flight costed me 340 Euros when booked 3 months back. FYI, I saw round trip tickets from Amsterdam to Aqaba (another port of entry in Jordan) for 190 Euros recently. So keep an eye!

How to curb down your expenses in Jordan?

  1. Get the¬†Jordan Pass:¬†The first thing you should¬†do after you make up your mind on Jordan is to get the Jordan Pass which might sound expensive in the beginning because it is 70 JD (99 USD), but it includes visits to Petra, Wadi Rum, Jerash, Roman Theatre in Amman and many many other sites). Most importantly, it includes your visa on arrival fee of 40 JDs (55 ¬†USD) too! So, what are you waiting for? Grab it and remember to order it online atleast 4 days before your visit to Jordan as you need to show the confirmation email at Amman airport to get your visa fee waived off!. It is still not very popular among tourists and I did know about it before my arrival to Jordan, but just didn’t know that I had to order and pay online for it 3 days in advance atleast! Stupidity!!! ūüôĀ
  2. Enter and leave at¬†Aqaba airport:¬†Yes, if you enter and leave at Aqaba airport, then you don’t need to pay the visa fee! How cool is that..You instantly save 40 JDs! wow ūüôā
  3. Couch-surfing and Hotels: I didn’t stay at any hotels in Jordan as I was always couch-surfing. Couch-surfing is a great option for backpackers as there are many options in big cities and many many people do it there including big groups and couples. So, try it. If you didn’t ever try couch-surfing, start with making an account and Jordan will not disappointment you. But hotels are not much expensive and will be around 20 USD at max for a budget double room all over the country. The next relatively big money you will probably spend is in Wadi Rum. I paid 40 JDs for a 1N 2D Wadi Rum tour including everything as I shared my trip with 4 other girls. This was relatively very cheap and it is hard to crack a deal like this, but not impossible!
  4. Rent a car: Renting a car in Jordan is not expensive and gives you a lot of flexibility. Public transportation in Jordan is very cheap but not very reliable except in big cities. Major bus operating company is JETT bus. I used only public transportation while moving from big cities and it was very cheap.
  5. Hitchhiking:¬†If you are very adventurous, then hitchhiking can be a very good and safe option. I did it twice and it worked out very well. Getting a ride is very easy and people are always curious about you, your culture and mostly try to communicate with actions if they don’t speak English (here it works well if you learn a bit of local words in Arabic which I did and worked fine). Please note that putting your thumb to the car is considered prostitution in Jordan, so better check the rules first. Check out hitchwiki for best advises for hitchhiking rules in different countries and how to do it good. Taxis are also not very expensive if you are traveling within the city. But can get very expensive if you want to do long distances like reach Petra from Wadi Rum/Amman for example!
  6. Volunteering in Jordan:¬†Volunteering in Jordan for a week (2 days for me) is a good way of seeing the country at a very cheap price. Free food and accommodation are provided and you do very easy jobs like I helped a bedouin guy in Wadi Rum to build his website in English. On return, my entrance fee for Wadi Rum was waived, I got one grand meal for free and he teamed me up with 4 Swedish girls for the jeep tour in Wadi Rum for 2 days at a little price of 40 JDs. He also arranged for us to sleep under the stars by giving us a mattress and blankets (it was an amazing experience as we didn’t have any tent on us).
  7. Food:¬†Ok, couch-surfing has a lot of perks like I didn’t have to pay for own food anywhere and always my hosts would prepare local (vegetarian) food for me and often take me out and pay for my food! Did I say that Jordanian hospitality is well renowned in the world? :). But if you have to pay for yourself, I suggest avoiding touristic places and a bit outside the major touristic attractions and then the price reduces by half! Food isn’t super cheap, neither super expensive.
  8. Skip Dead-sea: I know its not a very good suggestion, but definitely an economic one! I really wanted to float in the dead sea, but the price you pay for that is terrifying. There is a public beach, but if you are a female and want to really have a good experience, then you better not swim (with all your clothes on and people staring at you) in the public beach. You have to stay at a high-end resort in the Dead sea to access the private resort beaches and another option is to book a day access to the private beach from a resort, but still its very pricy. Prices to stay at one of the resorts start at 99 USD per night for a couple. It might not be very expensive for many people, but for a broke backpacker like me, it was! May be next time when I am traveling with my partner (ahem ahem ūüėČ ) or I am at Israel as the Israeli side of Dead sea is definitely much bigger and better.
  9. Getting a local Jordan sim card: I wish I had stopped being lazy and got a local sim card which was just 4 JDs for 1 GB internet. Instead, I kept using my American number and which landed me with a huge bill. Don’t be so stupid like me. Really!

Overall experience:¬†Did I have a good experience and will I recommend you to visit Jordan? Hell yes! Little did I know how amazing my trip would turn out to be.¬†I met many Bedouins (cave dwellers in Jordan) and even couch-surfed at¬†couple of them. I also met local Jordanians (both Christians and Muslims), enjoyed great food together, got blissed with¬†beautiful landscapes, swam and snorkeled in the crystal clear Red Sea with thousands of fishes, ventured into the beautiful Wadi Rum desert where I slept under the falling stars, hiked in Petra with beoduins and also¬†got a taste¬†of Amman (the capital of Jordan). I made a point to only couch-surf and use public transport¬†(well, I was brave enough to hitch-hike twice) in Jordan. Not to forget, that SISHA is a must-try in Jordan if you don’t mind smoking flavored nicotine! I am not a smoker, but it was a very nice experience! Overall I had an incredible time ! Happy reading :).

Read my next post on how I traveled from Amsterdam to Jordan here: Jordan Chronicles 2: Amsterdam to Aqaba

Day 5 (Part 2: Night bus from Trabzon to Kars)

Nightmare!!!

I have split this day in two parts as it’s important that I share my horrifying experience in the Turkish night bus which I took from Trabzon to Kars that night. I had tried buying tickets online from the Igdir Tourizm website before, but it didn’t work well and they only accept credit cards from Visa and Master card. It’s worth pointing out that Metro Bus company has the widest bus network in Turkey and also have special travel card passes where you get discounts, but I didn’t use them anytime in Turkey (mostly because we wanted to try different bus companies, and also often the metro bus timings didn’t match our schedules). In Turkey, intercity travel with buses is the most common and comfortable way of traveling, and trust me, most of the buses are super comfortable and they would stop every 2-3 hours in an eating place with toilets. Highly recommended if you are in Turkey!

However, this post is about my experience in the Igdir Tourizm bus which turned out to be a nightmare. Because the Turkish bus companies don’t accept an Amex credit card, I¬†couldn‚Äôt book tickets online. I had to get my bus tickets in the last minute directly fro their Trabzon office.I made a reservation for the night bus (11:30pm) from Trabzon¬†to Kars. I will always advise to book your tickets on long route buses in Turkey atleast 2 days before (this can be done by either walking into their bus offices in the city you are in ‚Äďmostly all of them have offices in the city center, if not, then go to¬†the ‚Äúotogar‚ÄĚ of the city you are in). I¬†paid 70 TL to go from Trabzon to Kars.

Sunrise from the bus
Sunrise from the bus

The bus arrived on time in Trabzon otogar stop.It was a very nice and comfortable bus with 2+1 seating arrangement, but sadly I got the last seat (37) in the bus and I was very unhappy about it. I asked the bus conductor/helper if I could move in the front, but they didn’t speak much English and was in general were very hesitant to help move in the front even though there were empty seats. I tried having a conversation with a guy from Azerbaijan and he was the only one in the entire bus who could speak very little English and tried to help me. I asked if he could ask the conductor to give us front seats which he did, but the conductor refused to change our seats saying the bus is full. The first stop of the bus was after couple of hours and the conductor took in more people and offered them front seats instead of us. I was furious, but eventually cooled down and decided to let go and sleep. It was around 3am in the morning and all the fellow passengers were almost sleeping when suddenly I could feel someone touching me in an uncomfortable way and trying to wake me up. It was the conductor guy and he was speaking Kurdish to me which he was well aware of that I wouldn’t understand. His gestures started becoming way too uncomfortable and he started pointing at my fingers and asking if I were married or not. I replied NO and he seemed very happy to about it. I raised my voice in this moment and the conductor left me alone.

Again I was awakened by something and on opening my eyes, I found the same guy just staring at me and giving me weird looks. I was kind of scared by then and by this time, the bus had stopped again for rest. I felt very helpless in this situation as nobody spoke English and I  just wanted to reach Kars safely as soon as possible. It was almost sunrise by then (5:30am) and the conductor guy came to me again and started smiling at me in a very weird way and I totally ignored him and started looking out of the bus window. The sky outside was all red with dry mountains and plateaus in the backdrop. By 7:30am in the morning, the bus arrived in the Kars otogar station and I felt so so relived to to leave the bus.

Tips:

  • Buy your long journey (especially night buses) tickets in Turkey atleast 2 days beforehand as they always sell out fast.
  • Something that I learned the hard way is once you are in Eastern Turkey, dress in a covered way and always carry a scarf with you.
  • Try avoiding the back seats in the long distance buses and it is true that the bus companies will always try to sell you the last two seats in the end, as Turkish people usually never buy those seats.
  • They will respect you much more as a woman if you say you are married (even better to wear fake ring as they always check your fingers!! Trust me, I am not kidding).
  • I think I¬†grabbed more attention than any other western girl traveler in general as being Indian, I look a bit like them¬†(infact, everyone I met there thought I was either Turkish, Kurdish or Arab).

Day 5 (Part 1: Sumela Monastery and Karaca Caves)

After the hot sweaty night in the hotel in Trabzon, it felt great to check out early morning and I had to rush to Ataruk Square as the pick up for the tour was around 9:30am. A dolmus ride helped me get there cheap and thankfully on time. Sumela monastery was a little more than an hour ride from Trabzon and there were around 14 people in our touring mini bus. Sumela monastery is a very ancient Greek monastery built in the name of Virgin Mary and is absolutely stunning as it is built on a high mountain hilltop.

Sumela monastery set-up
Sumela monastery set-up

Finally it was a relief to be on the mountains as it helped me escape the scorching heat in the Trabzon city. Remember to put on running shoes, as it’s a one-way climb of around 300 steps (1.5 kms approx) to reach the monastery from the parking lot. An entrance fee of 15 TL each is charged to enter the monastery and is totally worth it (payable only with cash). The monastery has different chapels, one church, kitchen, library, etc. and the paintings on the walls are well preserved and are absolutely stunning! Apart from the monastery, the surrounding views of the big mountains with lush green trees and small waterfalls made the visit really amazing.

By the way, I¬† got stares from almost every tourist (few Turkish and mostly Arabs with their women in black ‚Äúburkas‚ÄĚ). I¬†still wonder why was Sumela monastery fled with so many Arabs ;-). I was¬†happy to be approached by some Turkish tourists time to time in very little English they knew and they were very friendly. After spending¬†2 hours at this place, we all headed back to our mini bus.

Before heading to the caves, it was time for lunch as it was like 1:30 pm by then and hence the driver drove us to a super nice (and touristy) restaurant up in the mountains in a valley. It was a bit weird at this fancy eating restaurant as the waiters were kind of really rude to me (may be they don’t like western tourists as it’s an orthodox part of Turkey and specially the small village the restaurant was located in). The food however was really authentic local Turkish food, but was expensive. However the views from the restaurant was terrific and eating at this fancy place is a part of every Sumela tour that the travel agencies organize from Trabzon.

Restaurant where we had lunch
Restaurant where I had lunch

After a sumptuous lunch, our mini bus headed to the Karaca caves. It was half an hour drive through the huge mountains before our bus arrived there. Getting to the caves from the parking lot was 7 minutes walk up the mountains and they charge an entry fee of 8 TL to get inside. However only a part of the caves are open to the tourists and photography is strictly prohibited inside (just managed to take a pic somehow :-P). It wasn’t very extraordinary as I had been to the famous Mammoth caves in Kentucky just 3 months back, but still was quite impressive with the rock formations inside. If you are going to see the monastery, it’s nice to take the tour which includes both the monastery and caves.  The driver of our bus was a very nice guy, but didn’t speak any English. I used sign languages to connect with him and also the other tourists in our bus as none of them spoke English, but everyone was super accommodating and nice to me.

Karaca caves
Karaca caves

It was 5 pm by now and we started heading back to Trabzon. The final stop for the tour was a local village famous for the delicious Turkish rice pudding. I tried it and yes, tummy felt good ;). After another 20 minutes here,  finally everyone was ready to board our mini bus to arrive in Trabzon which was an hour drive from the village. The tour started at 9:30 am in the morning and we were back in Ataturk square around 8 pm and I was pretty happy by the end of it.

Tips:

  • Camping in Sumela is a very good option if you plan to stay in and around Trabzon for more than just a couple of days. Here are the available camping options:
  1. Camping option 1 
  2. Camping option 2
  3. Camping option 3
  4. Camping option 4
  • Sumela monastery and Karaca caves with a tour agency is a good option if you don‚Äôt have your own car/rented car as the drive is quite long and the roads are not very nice up in the mountains.
  • Uzungol or Ayder are two great mountain places with great views which you can do from Trabzon as¬†day trips..but I¬†didn‚Äôt have much time to do it and also in summers, they are fled with tourists which is why it didn‚Äôt fancy me¬†much. But if you have time, do it :).

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Some more pictures:

Turkish rice pudding
Turkish rice pudding
well preserved interiors
Well preserved interiors of the monastery
terrific views from the monastery
Terrific views from the monastery
Paintings
Paintings
Paintings in the monastery
Paintings in the monastery
Waterfalls along the way to the monastery
Waterfalls along the way to the monastery
Views from the bus
Views from the bus

Day 4 – Arriving in Trabzon

July 29th early morning I took an Onur Air flight from Istanbul’s Ataturk airport to Trabzon. Trabzon is one of the main cities in the Black sea region of Turkey and I kept it as the base point in my travel itinerary to start venturing eastern Turkey. I had quickly booked the cheapest hotel available in Trabzon after checking in the flight in Istanbul the same day morning and little did I know that it would turn into a nightmare (I suggest you check the booking.com reviews carefully before booking a budget hotel in Trabzon).

After reaching the Trabzon airport, which was pretty small and not so clean, I took a taxi to reach the hotel. The cab ride was pretty cheap here (9 TL for 3 kms approx) and I recommend you taking a cab too from the Trabzon’s airport to the city. It was almost noon by then and hence I decided to have a little lunch break in a local Turkish kebab shop before starting to explore the city. The shop owner was super nice and he confirmed that it wasn’t common to see western tourists in this part of Turkey. Almost nobody speaks English in this part of Turkey and hence body language and gestures is all how I started connecting with the locals (hotel, cabs, shops, etc). Having an internet on phone was really handy for me as I often used Google translate and also started learning common Turkish words to start a conversation (highly recommended). I could already notice the change in clothing from western Turkey and people looked way more conservative too.

Hagia Sophia museum, Trabzon
Hagia Sophia museum, Trabzon

The¬†hotel sadly was quite far away from the city centre and hence I¬†decided on taking a ‚Äúdolmus‚ÄĚ (dirt cheap local Turkish mini vans/buses usually for short distance travels and highly recommended). Luckily, I¬†found a free ride from a local Turkish guy (kind of hitch-hiking) and he dropped at the famous Hagia Sophia Museum (also called Aya Sophia by the locals) from where you can get a good view of the Black Sea. AyaSophia is an impressive old church, which is a working mosque now and has a lot of history (if you are in Trabzon, this is a must-see!). After spending a couple of hours, a local helped us getting a ‚Äúdolmus‚ÄĚ (our very first dolmus ride in Turkey!!) to Ataturk square (the main square of the city). Here I¬†booked the¬†next day-trip¬†to Sumela Monastery and Karaca caves with a travel agency located right in Ataturk square. Prices are almost the same for all the tour operators and are normally 40 TL for the entire day tour and does‚Äôt include entrance fees to the monuments, foods and drinks

Hagia Sophia museum, Trabzon
Hagia Sophia Museum, Trabzon

Bars/pubs are not common in this part of Turkey as the culture is very conservative, but still Trabzon being a big city, it wasn’t super hard to find one. I had a couple of nice beers (Turkish Efes beer) in the Efes bar right around the corner of the Ataturk square (next to the Mc Donalds) and headed for good food in the square.

Obviously, I¬†wanted more good kebabs and luckily wasn’t disappointed. I also tried ‚Äúnargile‚ÄĚ in a rooftop place to chill out and it was more awesome with some Turkish tea.

Ataturk Square, Trabzon
Ataturk square, Trabzon

It was super hot even in the night (around 30 deg C) and finally, I¬†decided to head back to the¬†(crappy) hotel, which by the way even didn‚Äôt have fans! I didn’t have any¬†energy to complain tot he hotel owners about it after such a tiring long day and just¬†had 6 hours more before I¬†had to start my¬†next day.

Efes bar, Tarbzon
Having a beer at the Efes brewary in Trabzon