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 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