Having a Jordanian journey sat firmly at the top of my 'bucket list' of places to explore. Since watching 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,' I was captivated by the majestic beauty of Petra's rock-cut architecture. So, in 2018, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and travelled solo to Jordan to explore the culture. Alongside the thrill of experiencing a new country, I re-established a conscious connection with my adventurer within.
My life has been a heady rush of study, work, bringing up a family, and research. I'd always had the desire to travel, but could never fit it in with the existing commitments I had. Consequently, I had spent my life consciously connected with the aspirations and dreams of my children, family, and partners.
Then, one life-changing year, everything altered and I realised it was time to fulfil some of my own dreams. You can read about this chapter in my life here. Laying in a hospital bed, having survived a surgery which could have taken my life, I made some firm decisions. Firstly, I would consciously connect with my own dreams and aspirations. Secondly, I would begin following through with putting my happiness first. Thirdly, I would prioritise my time in a more productive way. Fourthly, and most importantly, I would tick off places on my long bucket list of travel destinations. The first of which would be a Jordanian Journey to explore the lost city of Petra.
Preparations for travel
Having only ever travelled abroad on a family package holiday to Spain, I had to make decisions as a solo wanderer. Should I buy a package deal with flight, accommodation, and excursions included? Or, would I opt to book everything separately leaving me flexible to go with the flow of the experience?
The second option sat well with my souls desire for the freedom to explore at my own pace. It also worked out cheaper, when I researched prices online, to book flights and accommodation separately. Because of this, and the costs of a hotel shuttle, I booked a rental car at the airport with the money I saved. The journey from Queen Alia airport to Petra would take over two and a half hours by car. In preparation, I downloaded Jordan onto the 'offline maps' on my phone feeling confident the journey would be a breeze.
The Jordanian journey begins
Excited realisation hit when I landed at Queen Alia airport just after midnight and picked up the hire car. Not only was I sitting in a left-hand drive car, I would be driving on the right-hand side of the road. Neither of which I had experienced before and was completely unprepared for. Determined to master my fear, I set off on the desert highway—an 8-lane road running through Jordan South to North. Having taken a few wrong turns, I finally arrived at my hotel exhausted around 3.15am. After I had a good nights sleep I woke to the most amazing view.
My Jordanian Journey Facebook post that morning read "Nearly cried when I opened my curtains this morning... yep, i'm really here!!!" I was filled with wonder, not only at the difference in my surroundings, but also at the difference I felt inside. Being alone, in a strange new land gave me such a rush of adrenaline I felt like a child again.
Standing outside the hotel on my first morning in Petra, I was greeted by a friendly local guide. Not having booked any excursions, I was happy to engage his services for the duration of my stay. We stood and chatted about the best places to visit in the limited time I had. After much discussion, we settled on visiting Wadi Rum that day.
The drive to the desert was breathtaking with its sandstone and granite mountains reaching heights of 1700 metres and more. Wadi Rum is a protected area covering 720 square kilometres of dramatic desert wilderness in the south of Jordan. Known as the Valley of the Moon, it is set on a high plateau at the western edge of the Arabian desert.
This spectacular place has played the part of Mars and distant planets in countless movies. Amongst others, the backdrop was used in the 2015 Matt Damon film, The Martian.
Gaining fresh perspective
Throughout my life, especially in childhood, I had regularly been made to feel small and completely insignificant. Yet standing in this majestic expanse brought a feeling of insignificance that was incredibly humbling. For as far as my eyes could see were red sands and sheer rock faces. The vastness of which shrank my existence into nothing more than a tiny speck within the landscape. My mind travelled back to the importance I had placed upon my past trauma, allowing it's enormity to swallow me.
Here, standing in this desert oasis of mother natures making, all of that trauma melted away. It was like looking at myself for the very first time, with fresh eyes and new perspective. As I consciously connected with that feeling a profound shift moved me into a space of understanding and healing. This feeling accompanied me as my guide introduced me to Laurence of Arabia's meeting hole. We concluding our expedition with a jeep ride through some more of the most awe-inspiring scenery I have ever witnessed.
Completely done in, and ready for bed after a full day in the desert, the guide returned me back to my hotel. As I fell asleep I began to understand that my Jordanian Journey was becoming more than exploring the country. It had begun an internal exploration from which I would gain greater understanding of my self.
Little Petra and a journey to the smallest Jordanian hotel
The following morning I rose late to find my guide waiting for me. He had intended to take me to the city of Petra that morning, but insisted I attend at sunrise for the best viewing. As it was now quite late he opted to take me for a tour of Little Petra, with a stop at the smallest hotel in Jordan.
The journey out to Little Petra saw us driving through stunning scenery. I visited Jordan in February and the temperatures were perfect for exploring at around 21°. This meant we could drive comfortably with the windows down to admire the view. Little Petra, also known as Siq Al-Barid is an archaeological site located north of Petra and the town of Wadi Musa. Like Petra, it is a Nabataean site, with buildings carved into the walls of the sandstone canyons. As its name suggests, it is much smaller than the lost city. Because of this, it is free to tourists and a much quieter place to visit.
My guide described Little Petra as a 'taster' of what was to come on my visit to the lost city the following day. I was mesmerised at the beauty of the place.
While out and about my guide took great delight in showing me the smallest hotel in Jordan. The hotel, located in the tiny Jordanian village of Al Jaya, is a stripped out Volkswagen Beetle. This novelty spot sits just in front of Shobak Castle, an enchanting building built in 1115 under the rule of King Baldwin I
Traditional food with a local family
The Jordanian people are unbelievably friendly and passionate about sharing their culture with tourists. At the end of this incredible sightseeing day my guide invited me to his home for dinner. I was welcomed into the family home and enjoyed a delicious traditional meal of Maqluba. Maqluba, 'upside down' in English, is a meal of chicken, herbs, roasted vegetables, and rice, all cooked in one pot. When ready the pot is turned out onto one plate, hence the 'upside down' name, for the family to share.
I sat on the floor around the plate with the family and engaged in 'communitas' as I've never experienced it before. As an anthropologist, communitas encapsulates the very spirit of community. It is the definition of feeling social equality, solidarity and togetherness. I was honoured to participate in this special and intimate experience, and found our language difference didn't present a barrier. We talked and laughed as though they had completely forgotten I didn't speak a word of Arabic.
After dinner we shared herb infused tea and I showed the family reflexology points and techniques to aid with specific ailments. This family welcomed me with open arms into their home and to their table. Before I left for the evening the ladies chatted away excitedly, laughing with me as the younger girls braided my hair. This was a truly remarkable and welcoming experience I would never have had if I'd booked an all inclusive package. The warmth and love of this family stayed with me for the rest of my Jordanian journey, and beyond.
The main event on my Jordanian journey
Having woken late on two consecutive mornings, and missed the sunrise at Petra, I was determined to rise on time. Just before dawn I walked out of the hotel to be greeted by my enthusiastic guide. The build-up to this day had been immense, after all, I had travelled over 2500 miles for this moment.
I began to feel my Jordanian journey was complete as I glimpsed the treasury at the end of the Siq. Little did I know this was only the beginning of Petra's beautiful lost city, with so much more to see. As I stood watching the sun rise I felt a reverent awe for the structure in front of me.
Steeped in history, as the first shards of daylight lit the facade, I was drawn back into ancient times. The ornate carvings in the stone took on mysterious shadows and my breath was taken away by its enormity.
It is difficult to describe the feelings that descend when in the presence of such architectural mastery. But it is safe to stay, the vision of Al Khazneh materialising from the confined walls of the Siq will stay with me forever.
The remainder of my day was made up of a series of 'oohs' and 'ahhs' as I traversed the main part of the city. The city, carved entirely out of red rock, has over 800 tombs, houses, temples, obelisks, and alters. There is a 3000 person theatre which gives an idea of how many people once lived here.
The city itself shows remarkable resilience, having withstood the test of time. Everywhere you look there are friendly locals making a living selling local wares and horseback or donkey rides. As the day wore on, more and more tourists filed through the Siq to enjoy the view. My guide and I plotted ourselves up at his Uncles drinking spot about halfway through the city. Sipping on fresh mint sweet tea we relaxed in the sunshine watching the hustle and bustle of daily life.
There are no pets in Petra, yet the city is swarming with friendly strays. Cats and dogs are almost as numerous as the tourists, they are literally everywhere you turn. As I sat back sipping my tea I wondered what it would be like to survive in this modern day tourist space. My guide informed me all the merchants within the city walls were genuinely authentic compared so some outside. He explained that all stalls are licensed by the government, with documents given out to ensure fair trade. Regardless of this I encountered school age children selling tissues and batches of postcards to help their families.