The Middle East is an interesting sort of place. Chapter and verse is already written about it. I shan’t bore you with the geo-politics; it’s already pretty well documented. What I am going to do is take you on a journey to one of the regions better-hidden gems, an area of stability in the midst of chaos, rebellion and rancour. I am talking about Jordan.
It is a country that is bordered by Israel, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia. You can see why tourism is struggling. But I was lucky enough to take a trip there just last month. To get you up to speed on the lay of the land, King Abdullah II rules. A fairly pleasant chap all things considered, who has the utter devotion of the residents. Less can be said for the government who are blamed for the nations failing tourism sector. A friendly resident told me quite freely how his government owed it to the people to market the nation better abroad. This would, he believed help the faltering economy. The country has no oil, which when your neighbours are Saudi Arabia and Iraq must come as a bit of a kick in the teeth.
Arriving in the capital, Amman, I was thrilled to be leaving the wet British weather behind and ready to top up on a mid-winter tan. What was my surprise when I was greeted by snow? Amman is, as you would expect, a bustling capital city and prone to snowfall at this time of year. The city’s soundtrack is the bleating of car horns and the mystical call to prayer, which takes place five times a day. Standing atop a hill in the centre of the city and hearing the call erupt from Mosques all around is a haunting moment that will stay with me forever.
Amman was an interesting insight into the daily life of your average Jordanian but it really was nothing more than a stop over. Things really started to get interesting on leaving Amman. Driving south out of the capital our car was pointed towards one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. We still had a long way to go and our first stop was Mount Nebo. This is the location where Moses is supposed to have journeyed to die. He did this so he could view the whole of the Promised Land. And boy what a view it is. You can see Jerusalem, Jericho, the River Jordan and the Dead Sea. All spanning out beneath you.
From here we drove for a day to the real glory of Jordan, Petra. The once expansive capital city of the Nabataean people. The Rose City, as it is known, is carved into the mountain range and now unofficially houses the Bedouin tribesmen keen to make a quick buck out of passing tourist and their fleet of camels and donkeys.
To say Petra is beautiful is an injustice. Walking through from the modern town to the world heritage site takes you through a ravine into the city. The echo of footsteps from millennia past emanates gently from the walls. Nabataean, Roman and modern day visitors have all walked through here, quietly unsure of exactly when the city starts.
When you reach the city itself the ravine opens up to the Treasury, a building that takes your breath away as it is indelibly scorched in your mind’s eye. It is a gruelling hike up to the mountainous peak of the city and the ‘high point of sacrifice’ as it is know. It is understandable why this was an extremely holy place for the pagan Nabataeans, who understood this as the meeting point between our world and that of their gods.
Two days in Petra really isn’t enough and I would recommend anyone that goes there to spend as long as you possibly can there. But progress marches on and too soon the day came when we had to leave.
We were then driven down to Aqaba, a city made famous by Lawrence of Arabia. It is of great strategic importance to the people of Jordan as it is their only port. This thin sliver of coast is the only thing that saves them from being landlocked. It is not far from the Suez Canal and serves as a door into the Mediterranean and the wealth of European trade that comes with it.
Having travelled the length of the country it was high time to stop and take stock of all I had seen. What better than the temperate climates and palm trees of a beach resort. In the six days I had been travelling I had dropped a good a kilometre to sea level and the temperature had raised accordingly. Relaxing on the beach and in the sea I knew that what I had seen was truly mesmerising and wouldn’t be forgotten in a hurry.
An unexpected gem and one that I can’t recommend highly enough. Oh and just so as you know. EasyJet are cancelling the route sometime in the summer of 2014 so if you want to discover it, it’s well worth doing sooner rather than later.