Adventureland we can call it, for if you are into climbing, hiking, camping, hitching, ancient civilizations, ancient ruins, kind people, and surging energy, you’ll likely fit in nicely.
Jordan is a small country with one main highway; this highway, running from the border at Aqaba and Israel to Amman, is your connection to this land of open desert and unbelievable canyons. There are tiny roads running off this motorway and some of them get very, very remote, but have no fear, these people will not hesitate to pick you up.
1. All the tourists are in Petra!
Though Petra has made the list, of course, the fact is, everyone comes from either Egypt or Israel for a couple days to visit this Ankor Wat of the Middle-East and then fuck off back to where they came from on buses. That is top news for us! who want to avoid the crowds; we couldn’t be more thrilled by that. And that means that, for the most part, local mentality has not been corrupted by the constant strain of tourism ignorance and crankiness. Outside of very few examples I had no interaction with the common toute (tourist salesmen worldwide).
At Wadi (Canyon) Dana I saw a couple tourists come to the ridge -and then leave because its 25 kilometres before a hotel and drink. At Wadi Rum I met mostly climbers from Israel (it was Easter Holiday) and those are not tourists. At the other Wadis that I ventured into I met none, and other than at Petra/Wadi Musa you’ll have all your time to yourself -I can guarantee this. Not bad if you ask me!
2. Hitching (or walking) is the only way
You can take the buses to get from one point to the next if you are in a massive hurry; though in a massive hurry you’ve sold yourself short darling. But if you hit the road with a little time, and a little sign (or even without) you’ll catch a lift quite quickly, anywhere and everywhere. The thing is, unlike in the west, they will ask for money (up to you to negotiate). The fee -75 % of the time- is a reasonable one and the company is also very chill. In Egypt, hitching means, like everything there, complications and arguments; for they will act like you are getting a free ride (in my experience) then the price comes and its extortion. In Jordan people are less interested in turning the profit from a pilgrim -I think they realise the difference though I could be wrong.
Trekking means risk of course, because the trekking is in very remote, desolate -and fucking beautiful- desert canyons. Therefore the common option is taking a guide, but for those of us who are poor fucks on a 15-20 dollar-a-day budget having followed my Budget Tips at Bang for your Bucks we cannot afford to take a guide for 25-30 a day. Get a guidebook before arriving, if its hiking then this Guide for Hiking would do but if its climbing there are a couple of very, very good and thorough books out there. I didn’t have a guidebook and I tried to copy notes for the trails I thought would be best for me, I ended up getting lost in Wadi Mujib trying to reach the Dead Sea. I got very lucky to find three men on a little camping trip away from their village nearby, to put me up on the high terrain back to civilisation. I got very lucky.
*Trekking dangers can be very serious in these canyons, flash floods especially in the narrowest canyons. Also, getting lost is no joke. And climbing alone into the huge walls of Wadi Rum is about the stupidest thing you can do. And depending on season, remember that in deserts, the day it can be very hot, but in the evening temperatures drop ridiculously.
3. Wadi Rum
80 kilometres from the border -they hassled me and almost arrested me for trying to hitch from the border directly, instead of taking a tourist taxi (I eventually talked them down and shared a taxi with a few others crossing the border).
This place is unbelievable! Huge, massive, big pillars of old sandstone rise up from the desert floor, heading upwards 1200-1500 meters. Inside they are full of snake trails (that are very dangerous and not recommended without guide for sure) and between have the greatest little courses (that are quite easy to get lost into, but can be very fun!). The area is massive and there are all types of different rock formations -and climbing routes (but the ancient, dry, arid rock is very crumbly so not for the first time climbers).
The red sand is unlike the desert of western Egypt, or southern Israel. If you are like me, and are uninterested in visiting Saudi -or paying the extorted price for a visa- this would be the best taste of true red desert outside of the Great Sandy in OZ, Arizona of the US, or Namibia, Africa. If you get lucky and stumble upon a couple other travelers then a jeep tour around the region –Burdah Bridge, Lawrence Well, Jebel Rum, Barrah Canyon- can be very cheap -and fucking gorgeous. Also, the accommodation in the Wadi Rum camp is hella cheap at a couple bucks for your tent (or free if you just leave quietly). There is a little grocers next to the camp, which is not super cheap or offering much; but for the time you are in Jordan get used to eating simply.
In each canyon I went, i was happily, very happily invited for tea. They waved from kilometres away, seeing me coming. They insisted on my company for a moment even if they spoke not a word of English. If I needed food, they were there for me with goat’s milk and flat bread. I’m not saying: ‘take advantage of their hospitality’; all I am saying is, if you run out of food in the desert -like I did a few times stupidly- then you can count on these people to help, unconditionally.
Unlike my experiences in Sinai with the modern bedouins there, the hospitality is warm; different than in eastern Egypt, in the Siwa region, the bedouins (desert dwellers) of Sinai were/are horrendous. But in Jordan, I hadn’t a single feeling of resentment, prejudice or greed.
Other than one experience with an asshole in a van late at night, not one of the local hands took me for granted, or expected anything more than what was fair. And the best advice I can give with this: if someone is treating you unjustly, and you disagree, and they threaten to call the police, have no fear. The tourist police are there, and they are there to help -that’s what I found out anyhow.
Even though it is in a part of the world where westerners might fear the worst from the authorities, in this country they are there to get your back.
5. You need little cash to get by
I had one beer in two and half weeks. I stayed in one hostel for two nights at Wadi Musa, Valentine’s Inn, at about 3 bucks with breakfast! I got a simple dorm. The place was excellent actually. But other than those two days I spent it all in my tent. I ate with my little stove and pot, and I took one bus at the end, from my secluded, little village area to Amman to catch my flight out to Morocco (via Gatwick after the Syrian spark flew off as I arrived to the border in 2012).
The food is scarce, though I had a decent meal a couple of times (especially at Valentine’s Inn) and if you are trekking into these fabulous, random, and isolated canyons you gotta bring cooking supplies and food. You have to be prepared with water also. And you have to be ready to sleep outside. At Wadi Dana there is a hotel at the end of day 1. You could stay there and pay whatever ridiculous amount, or spend it under the stars!!
The hitching is not free, therefore you’ll pay a couple bucks per ride, but you’ll need little more than 15 or 20 bucks a day.
6. There is camping everywhere!!
Like I said, I camped for two weeks across the country. The key thing is that there are no restrictions on where you can put your tent, because there are no frigging land locks. And where there was a hostel or some shit, and it was late, I paid one dollar to put my tent outside on the roof. As well, if your pack is full of shit, you can count on locals to hold on to your stuff -for the most part of course- if you are going into the canyons for one or two days then returning. But the fewers items you have and the more prepared you are, the further you can take your steps! Think about that one.
7. Little infastructure
So, like the fact we can camp everywhere, and that we have few buses available to the more remote areas, you can expect then, that there are few places to eat, to find hotels, or to even find people living. The roads are built well enough -where they exist- and the pipeline is, of course, in tact. From what I understand -and it is little actually- is that the simple folks are happy being simple. They are happy under their shanty roof huts, in the desert, with their couple of goats. There is no hungry desire to reach riches and become an American citizen, or to get educated and become doctors in the U.K i.e there is little ‘struggle’.
8. Unbelieveable canyons, endless canyons
Seriously, this place is like a maze of deep gorges spreading west to the Dead Sea and east into Saudi. There are, what seems like, an endless amount of gorges to follow and inside of them, depending on the season of course, you can find water -even if its warm. You will be climbing, and making ridiculous ascents; you will be pushing through knee high water -or higher; you will have to counter huge thistle and weed and barage over massive rocks. And it will be tough. But it will also be like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. And a few of them will shine, from their turquoise waters, like Wadi Hasa. The best way to get through these relentless mazes is to take a guide, a bedouin who grew up in these trails and knows the Way, for the Way is very hard to follow. But if you are like me and insistant to save your bucks for another day -the few you have- and you don’t want to join a gang of strangers through something you can manage yourself -aside from the directions- then you’ll have fun trying, even if that means you don’t make it to the ‘end’.
Trying to get to the Dead Sea through Wadi Hamman to Wadi Mujib and getting stuck in water over my head -with a backpack full of shit- I had to turn around. Only I had descended a couple thousand meteres, with the help of a couple donkey riding bedouins. Problem is, when you have to turn back, how do you? It was terrifying. But I got lucky and a couple of kilometres back had seen three men. When I ran back to find them, I was already about 20 hours without food -and hiking- and collapsed at their feet.
These were some of my favourite days in nearly seven years, because I had done it alone. Each day was about 25 km of hiking, into these fantastic and arid mystery lands, passing the smiling desert people full of warmth and curiosity. Each day was a tough one, full of hard saddling, for I was over-packed and unaware of what I was really heading into, in this country. But every night I lay under the stars and the whole thing made sense. There were a trillion-thousand stars to remind me of what I was doing. There was a long sandy trail in the morning to remind me of what I was doing, and there was a rewarding, gratifying, satisfied pilgrim beaming with high-octane energy the whole way.
The desert energy is little different than that of a high mountain, or an open sea. There is little different inside of us that reacts to it, than to a wide-open forest of nothing but bush and river streams. When I look at the sea, I see, something that goes on and on and I want to find out what is on the other side. I want to find out how it feels to pass the course and then, ultimately make it to the other side. I am so curious to know what lay in store. What it could be, 100 or 1000 kilometres away. Though it may seem like nothing but sand to you, for me, these deserts; these bedouins; remind me of something more than nostalgia, they remind me of our eternal existance; something more than globalization and modernization and facism and radicalism. They remind me of our truest existance -our roots. Of our endless hearts running with the wind and the water’s way, as long as a piece of string.
Well, if you haven’t yet heard of Petra, maybe you’ve heard of Indiana Jones. There is a famous scene where Indy and others are riding out of two high and narrow canyon walls, and then faced with a golden-amber building face carved out of, what seems like sand. It seems mythical and out of the imagination of science fiction, but it actually exists.
Established a few hundred years before Christ, the heart of Nabataeans civilisation, Petra linked the silk and spice trades of China, India, and southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome. These were the guides even then, taking people across the vast, unfathomable sea of arid gorges.
It was about 45 bucks for one day or 70 for two. My 15-20 a day doesn’t match that, so I took the trail from Little Petra, hoping to find my way in. At one point after ascending down fifty meters from L.P, I reached a very high cliff, surely 1500 meters high, with the Holyland in front. There was only one course to go from there -and it wasn’t backwards. There were many little goat trails, up very narrow paths, but eventually I made it -and then had to run for dear life from the local ‘authority’ on a donkey.
My idea of paradise…. embrace the ‘little things’.