Friday, October 23, 2015


We spent one day in Jordan with the full tour group of 90 people on a trip to the famed and mysterious city of Petra. We left early because the drive was over 150 miles on narrow roads and would take over three hours. Amman is in northern Jordan and Petra is in south-central Jordan.
Thank you, Google Maps
That's a pretty long drive, especially since we were going to do it twice in a single day. Most people turn a trip to Petra into a two-day venture, but we had no time for that. We were going to do the speed version. No worries. We had an armed Jordanian police officer sitting in the front seat of our bus "keeping us safe."  
Unlike Egypt, the security in Jordan is usually less overt. We were to learn later that they have security cameras all over the place, a Big Brother system of security not that much unlike our own. Overall, we felt very safe traveling in Jordan. 

More helpful than the police escort was the nutritious snack I brought along on the bus: 
I ate it in honor of my mother, whose maiden name was "Frey." It wasn't too much of a sacrifice, let me tell you.

During the long drive we passed through three or four small towns, seeing lots of mosques and minarets and no cathedrals and spires. Jordan is 93% Muslim.
The green stripe on the top of this picture is the tinting on the bus window.

We also saw a lot of local entrepreneurial spirit:
 . . . as well as some American invasion. Our guide told us Pepsi is doing quite well in Jordan:
 We were happy to share the road with the locals:
 We enjoyed many pastoral scenes like this one:
 This little donkey was tethered to the ground so he could roam just a little but not walk away:
I have a lot of random notes from the two different guides we had in Jordan--the Muslim private guide Bob hired for the eight of us and the Christian guide hired by Fun-for-Less Tours for our group of 90. Since we were in the bus for so many hours on our Petra Day, I took a lot of notes. I thought this might be a good place to include some them:

* Although Jordan is only 100 years old, its history began in 35,000 BC and the country has 480 significant archaeological sites.

* The Greeks were here in 750 BC, and then the Romans from 69 BC to 324 AD.

* Constantine made Christianity the state religion in 313 AD.

* Islam ruled all of the Arab world in 640 AD.

* The Crusaders came in 1150 "to save Christianity" from Muslim tribes that arrived at about that time. The Crusaders killed about 500,000 people before they were defeated by the Mamluks, who were in turn defeated by the Ottomans in 1516, who were not known for being very nice rulers.

* Jordan has 289 Byzantine churches.

* The Arabs joined together to defeat the Ottomans in 1916. Prince Abdullah asked Britain for help. Britain sent troops, including Lawrence of Arabia. At the end of the war, France and England decided to stick around. They divided the Arab countries between them, and the English portion included Jordan, which was called "Transjordan," until 1946.

* Jordan was granted independence in 1946 and became "the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan." The Hashemites were--and still are--the ruling family of Jordan. The first king, Abdullah, was assassinated in 1952. He was followed by his son King Hussein, who died of cancer in 1999. His son Abdullah II, son of his second wife, is the current king.

* King Hussein used to go out in disguise among his people to see what was really going on. He was very popular.

* King Hussein divorced his first and second wives and the third was killed in a helicopter crash. His fourth wife, the beautiful Queen Noor, has an American mother and a Syrian father. She is still very active in social causes in Jordan and internationally.

* Queen Noor, wife of King Hussein, on left and Queen Rania, wife of the current King, on right in the photos below. Those Jordanian kings choose gorgeous women, don't they?
* King Abdullah dated Brooke Shields, but he married Rania, a Palestinian from Kuwait, who graduated from the American University in Cairo and worked briefly for Citibank and then Apple in Amman before marrying the king in 1993. They have two sons and two daughters. She is an advocate of education and women's rights and is very popular in Jordan.

* The US has the biggest army base and embassy in Jordan.

* More than 90% of the country is liberal Sunni Muslim. Isam said that for Sunnis, religion is "between me and God." There is no imam. They follow God, not a man. Isam said the Sunnis do not consider the Shi'ites to be Muslims.

* Covering one's face is against the law, and those with covered faces are not allowed to enter banks. Isam told us that head covering came from Christianity.

* Jordan is very poor in water. Isam said they are building a canal from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea. It will take three years to complete. Our other guide said that in 2007 they found a huge source of ground water in the south, enough for 100 years. They are paying Turkey $3.5 billion to put in 460 km of pipes to move the water.

* They get free power from the Aswan Dam in Egypt, but the Jordanian government charges citizens for it. They get their oil from Saudi Arabia.

*There is lots of undercover security in Jordan, and most of the staff is female. "They listen better," said Isam. He told us there are also hidden cameras everywhere, and he pointed out a few on the freeway. (I was recently surprised to learn that the city where I live has started to post hidden cameras in residential neighborhoods.) In a related story, during the last few weeks there have several attacks and ongoing violence on Jerusalem's Temple Mount. This week, US Secretary of State John Kerry, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas are in Jordan to discuss what can be done. King Abdullah of Jordan suggested that surveillance cameras be installed for round-the-clock video monitoring of the site. Netanyahu has agreed to try that out.  That is such a Jordanian solution! For more details, see this news story.

* Regular citizens cannot own weapons, even some kinds of knives.

* Motorcycles are banned in cities.

* Most of the farm workers are Bedouins.

* Jordanians say Obama talks too much, Bush likes war, and Netanyahu is too radical. They loved Rabin, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the Oslo Accords, which created the Palestinian Authority that made limited self-governance possible in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

* There are two million Syrian refugees in Jordan. The women lure the Jordanian men away from their wives.

* The Palestinian refugee camp has 140,000 people. They become Jordanian citizens and don't want to go back. No one has given citizenship to Palestinian refugees except Jordan. No other Arab country has stepped up.

* Tourism is down by 60% because of problems in Egypt and Syria and because of ISIS.

* 350,000 Egyptians work in Jordan.

* There is 27% unemployment.

* Iranians are Persians, not Arabs, but Iraqis are Arabs.

* Real estate is booming in Amman. US investors like Amman and see it as the safest and cleanest Middle Eastern country.

* The death penalty was banned twelve years ago, but crime has been rising, so three months ago it was reinstated, with hanging being the only option.

* The tribal system helps keep down the drug and gang problems more common in other countries.

* Jordan is the #5 country in the world for phosphate production.

* Tourism is 15% of the GDP. The guide we used for our trip to Petra (the big group) said his last tour group gig was in November 2014.

* The national dish is mansaf. It includes rice, lamb, yogurt, spices, and pita bread. They line a large plate with the pita, then mound the rice on top. Big pieces of lamb boiled with yogurt are spread over the rice. It is all topped with fried pine nuts, almonds, and hot yogurt sauce. Men surround the huge plate, and the oldest starts eating, then the others. They use their right hands while their left hands stay behind them. They pick up bread, rice, and meat and squeeze it into a small ball, then flip it into their mouths without letting it touch their lips. The host is not allowed to eat until all his guests are done eating. He pushes his guests to eat more. Everyone finishes together. It is impolite to be the last one eating.

*Women don't eat with their hands. They use spoons. A man feeding his wife is a sign of true love.

* This is what our guide Isam eats one hour before breakfast:
   Blend 1 Tbsp. olive oil, 1 Tbsp. honey, 1 apple, fresh grated ginger, and water.

* This is what he eats for breakfast itself:
   Olive oil and thyme spread on bread and warmed in the oven; a tomato

* More Jordanian women smoke water pipes than men. (We saw them everywhere. Tobacco is a huge business in Jordan and Egypt.)

We finally arrived in the city that supports the tourism in Petra. I'm not sure if it is also called Petra, or if it has another name.

There is that Pepsi again. Strange to see it instead of Coca-Cola:
It is a very densely populated city:

The one-way street that led to the ruins had bumper-to-bumper traffic and no defined lanes.
It got a little tight. Can you see the man in the white shirt in the pictures above and below directing the blue and white bus, helping it to squeeze through narrow passages?
Our group used two buses. The blue and white one is one of ours.
Too bad we couldn't stop at the "Take Way Resturant":
After some nail-biting moments, we arrived safe and sound at the Petra entrance:
We had a visual feast waiting for us.


  1. You always get some fun, random photos from the drive. Jordan felt much safer and cleaner to me than Egypt, even though it was in closer proximity to Syria and Iraq. I think I would travel in Jordan alone whereas I don't think I would in Egypt.

  2. That national dish sounds great and I enjoyed reading all your notes from the bus ride. BTW, did you know you keep switching the captions from below the photo to above the photo and back again? (Just wondering if you knew).

  3. Great notes! They bring back a lot of memories.