December 01, 2015

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Beautiful Jordan!

Judge Thomas C. Warren (Ret.)
If you can’t read the alphabet—take a tour!

—Carolyn Martin, the author’s sister-in-law

The above is certainly advice you should follow. Over the years we have been relatively adventurous travelers and have driven in all sorts of places some might skip, such as South Africa, Chile, Ireland, and other countries where you might think twice about driving. We enjoy independent travel, but if you have problems with the written language, you might just want to join a tour. Jordan would be such a place. The Arabic signs and directions are a challenge, even when on occasion they are partially in English or have pictures to help.

The next question might be, why would you go to Jordan in the first place when considering the war in Syria, the unrest in Iraq, ISIS terrorism, and the Palestinian problems in Israel? Hmmm. I have been watching the affairs of Jordan for years and, except for some terrorist issues about 10 years ago, it has seemed a bastion of peace, even though geographically the northern border is Syria, the eastern border is Iraq, the southern border is Saudi Arabia, and the western border is Israel’s west shoreline of the Dead Sea.

Why do you suppose there is so little unrest in a country in the middle of so much political upheaval? Having studied the subject a bit and now having traveled there, I would suggest a few reasons. These would include that Jordan has absolutely no oil, so no neighbor or major power is coveting this mostly desert land; that a major supporter and ally since the modern Kingdom of Jordan was created in 1946 has been the United States; and, because of the lack of natural resources and the country being a landing for refugees for the last nearly 70 years, the country is very poor and in a lot of debt. Of the 10 million residents of Jordan, nearly 4 million are refugees, including the 750,000 coming in the past couple of years from the civil war in Syria.

Given all this background, why would you ever want to travel to Jordan? The reason is that one of the top modern seven wonders of the world is in Jordan, that being the lost city of Petra. This has been one of the places I have wanted to visit for several years, and there is never a better time than now. Mary Ann and I embarked with a relatively low-cost national tour company, but it gave us a really upscale trip. We flew on a direct flight from Seattle to Heathrow on British Airways and then immediately onto Amman, Jordan, with British Air. All of our accommodations were at four- or five-star Marriotts, and all of our entry fees to the places we visited were paid for and about half of the meals were covered. The total cost for the nine-day trip was $1,900 for each of us. We had about 32 travelers with the group, all of whom were from all over the United States and Canada. They were all experienced travelers, I suspect, because no inexperienced traveler starts his or her international travel off with a trip to Jordan, so there were no “tour” problems.

Our visit started off with three nights in Amman. Amman is the capital and has about 3 million residents. It has been known as the White City, as most of the architecture is built with limestone or just painted white. It was originally built on seven hills, like Rome, but now, with the population explosion, it is said to cover 20 hills. We visited the old parts, which included the original Citadel in the center of the city, and we walked the old downtown to experience the fruit souk, the Roman amphitheater, and the excitement of dodging the traffic when crossing streets. Amman was our base for traveling by coach to the north to visit Crusader forts, overlook the Golan Heights and Jordan River Valley, and pay a super visit to the Roman city ruins of Jerash. Jerash has great places to explore if you are a ruins fan. These include Hadrian’s Arch, the Hippodrome, the Oval Plaza Forum, the Nymphaeum, and the South Amphitheater. Jerash is a huge complex rivaling Ephesus in Turkey.

Leaving Amman we headed south to Petra with stops at Mt. Nebo, where Moses is said to have viewed the Promised Land, which is opposite Jericho on the opposite side of the Jordan River. From there, we traveled to the wonderfully preserved Orthodox mosaic at St. Georges Church in Madaba. We next arrived in Petra for two nights and spent a full day exploring the incredible capital city of the Nabateans, which was rediscovered in 1812. What an experience, to walk the trail through the siq, a very narrow canyon in the Petra Mountains, and then, coming upon the Treasury façade, the entry to the city. It was a five-mile walk (or you could do it by carriage, camel, horse, or mule) and an all-day visit with another “ah ha” moment around every corner. It reminded us of visiting the unique parts of Turkey and viewing Cappadocia.

The next major highlight was visiting Wadi Rum, in the very south near Aqaba, the southern port of Jordan. You will recall from your World War I history that this was the hangout of Lawrence of Arabia, who was advising the Arab revolt against the Ottomans with the help of the British. This is incredible mountain and desert territory, which is now, like Petra, one of four UNESCO World Heritage sites in Jordan and is really something to see and visit. We drove over the sand hills in open pickups, having the opportunity to ride on camels, had tea in a Bedouin camp, and became amazed at the mountains and rough country there. This was a real plus and as unique as Petra. A surprise of all the western parts of Jordan was the mountainous nature of the landscape, rather than the arid desert we expected.

We finished the trip with two nights at the Dead Sea, relaxing before our return home. It was a nice way to unwind at the end at the fantastic five-star Jordan Valley Marriott. I did a lot of reading there to catch up on what we had experienced, and I resisted the mud therapy of the Dead Sea!

And now you know why you should visit Jordan.

Judge Thomas C. Warren (Ret.)

Hon. Thomas C. Warren is retired from his judgeship on the Chelan County District Court in Wenatchee, Washington. Active in the ABA’s Senior Lawyers Division and Judicial Division, he can be found “in Chelan, Washington (or somewhere in the world)."