Dead Sea

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At 430 metres below sea level, the Dead Sea is the lowest point on Earth. As the name implies, nothing lives here. The Dead Sea is ten times saltier than the ocean which prevents any plant or sea life from flourishing. The higher density also makes objects extremely buoyant. You can try to sink as hard as you want but the water just pushes you back up. It was a strange feeling to simply lay back and float, bobbing up and down with the waves.

On the Jordanian side, there is a stretch of resorts with direct entry to the Dead Sea. We visited the Marriott with a day pass which gave us access to their facilities. There was also Dead Sea mud available to slather on before washing off in the sea. The minerals in the mud are purported to be beneficial for the skin so we took huge slabs and covered ourselves from head to toe.

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We stayed south of the resorts and across from the Wadi Mujib at Mujib Chalets, another property run by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature in Jordan. The chalets are basic but have amazing views of the Dead Sea. It was also close to areas where we could walk down to the water to see the salt formations.

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We finished our trip in Jordan with a relaxing stay at the Ma’in Hot Springs. Located between Madaba and the Dead Sea, the road leading to the resort takes you up the mountains and into a valley. Upon arrival, we found a series of hot mineral springs and waterfalls. They were very hot but soothing after a week of long drives and hiking.

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STAY

Mujib Chalets
Ma’in Hot Springs

Wadi Rum

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We arrived at the entrance of Wadi Rum and left our vehicle at the car park for the next two days. We would be staying at a camp in the middle of the red desert valley that is still inhabited by some Bedouins. Our guide met us in his Jeep and we started a two-hour tour of the desert on our way to the camp.

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Our first stop was at Lawrence’s Spring, where T.E. Lawrence had once stayed. We did not climb up to the spring so we took a look at the inscriptions and went on our way to the next destination. We took off our shoes and climbed up a red sand dune to a rock cliff with incredible views over the desert. Nearby is the Khazali Canyon, where we saw many ancient inscriptions and drawings on the rocks.

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We finally arrived at our camp, consisting of six tents in the middle of Wadi Rum. We were greeted with Arabic coffee, a drink reserved for special occasions, and dates. Then we were shown our luxurious tent, complete with a shower and private bathroom. The best part of the camp was watching the sunset and having drinks and snacks from the couches and daybeds. The dinner on our first night was served in a traditional goat-hair tent with other guests. We had a Zarb, a traditional Bedouin barbecue consisting of trays layered with meats and vegetables that are steamed underground in the sand for hours.

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The next morning we enjoyed breakfast from a cliff overlooking the valley before heading back into the Jeep to explore more of the desert. We stopped at the Um Fruth rock bridge, which is 15 metres from the desert floor. It was a steep climb up to cross the bridge and see the red valley from above. Next our guide dropped us off at Abu Khashaba canyon. We hiked through the narrow gorge and met him on the other side. Lastly, we visited Lawrence’s House. Although there is little left of the building there are good views from the surrounding rocks.

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Next we visited a Bedouin family where we had lunch in their tent. They had prepared Mansaf, Jordan’s national dish which consists of steamed goat on rice served with bread and soup. Our final activity was a 4x4 motorbike tour through the desert at the edge of Wadi Rum.

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After another beautiful sunset, the camp had arranged a private dinner for us under the stars with fires and blankets to keep us warm. They had prepared a mixed grill of various meats and vegetables. We did some stargazing with Abedullah who pointed out many constellations.

It was an amazing two nights at the camp and we were sad to leave. Our guide came to pick us up in the morning and we left in the Jeep for our last ride through Wadi Rum.

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Petra

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Like most people, Petra was the reason we initially wanted to visit Jordan. The rose-coloured city that was built by the Nabateans some thousands of years ago is undoubtedly Jordan’s most iconic sight. Petra covers a large area and you could spend weeks exploring the city. Because of our setback in Dana, we had one less day in Petra than we had initially planned. It meant we had less time to explore and hike all the different trails but we were able to cover the most significant sites.

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We woke up before sunrise to be one of the first to enter the city. From the Visitor’s Centre, we walked through the valley which took us to the Siq, a long and narrow canyon that leads to the entrance of Petra. As we approached the end of the Siq, Petra’s most famous site, the Treasury (Al-Khazneh) is revealed. Carved out of sandstone, this structure was a mausoleum and crypt for one of the Nabatean kings.

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From the Treasury, we walked down the Colonnaded Street, passing the Theatre, Royal Tombs and the hike up to the High Place of Sacrifice. At the end of the street, we had reached the beginning of the hike up to the Monastery (Ad-Deir). It would take 850 steps to reach the monument. Like the Treasury, the facade is carved out of sandstone and only when we were there could we appreciate how large the structure was. We were able to find a quiet spot away from the crowds with an incredible view of the Monastery. At this point we realised we still had a two hour hike to the main gates, so we made our way back as the sun started to set.

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Dana Biosphere Reserve

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Dana Biosphere Reserve is the largest nature reserve in Jordan with several hiking trails that vary from a few hours to a few days. Located on the edge of the reserve is Dana, a stone village that was completely abandoned until recent development started to revitalise the local community. We stayed at Dana Guesthouse for the night, which had views overlooking the Wadi Dana below. Early the next morning we started our hike down this valley. It was quite steep and winding at the beginning but eventually flattened out. Along the way we stopped for tea with a Bedouin who was herding his goats through the wadi.

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Five hours and fourteen kilometres later, we had arrived at our destination. In the middle of the desert valley was the Feynan Ecolodge and we had planned to spend the night there before returning the next day by car. The lodge, like Dana Guesthouse, is part of the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature in Jordan and is operated by the local Bedouins. There is no electricity at the lodge except for the solar-powered reception and bathrooms. At night the lodge is lit only by candlelight and the food is strictly vegetarian as there is not sufficient energy to refrigerate meat. After dinner, all of the guests visited the rooftop to look at the stars.

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That night there was a huge storm and the next morning we woke up to find a stream flowing outside our balcony which had been dry the day before. As we were getting ready to leave, we were told our transfer would be delayed as the water levels were too high to cross the river on our way out of Feynan. A few hours later the water did not die down, but it seemed like we had a way out. A police tank was going to cross and take us over the river. We drove to the crossing to see the tank had made it over the gushing river safely; however it was determined to be too risky to drive everyone back over. The tank disappeared to try to find another crossing point. After waiting an hour for the tank (which we would later find out was stuck), the decision was made to turn back and stay another night at the lodge.

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While we were disappointed by the change in plans, this allowed us to experience some of the other activities available at Feynan. We did a cooking class and helped prepare our lunch consisting of falafel, tahini salad and manaeesh, a bread with halloumi cheese. We also saw how arbood is made, a bread eaten by the Bedouins often when they are herding their goats in the mountains. We walked over to a local’s tent, announcing ourselves with a clearing of the throat as we approached. We were welcomed in and sat cross-legged around the fire, making sure to not point the soles of our feet out in front. As always, we were served tea and then watched as they mixed flour, salt and water together and bury the dough in the ashes. As we broke off pieces of bread and ate, our guide explained to us about their way of life.

The Bedouins move their tents to higher ground in the summer to escape the heat. In the winter, they return to be close to their water source and the local school, which now binds the community together more so than before. They do not own the land but it is understood that the camps belong to each of the families and everything is as they left it. It seems like a tough life but one our guide says he prefers over the city.

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The next day we were relieved to see the stream had dried up. A local driver picked us up in his vehicle, an old truck that seemed luxurious compared to the van from the day before. There are no roads for the first eight kilometres and the ride is quite rough in some parts but at least we managed to get over the river. We sat back and enjoyed the views as we made the two-hour journey back to Dana.

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Jordan

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Bordering Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the West Bank, Jordan may not seem like the safest place to visit at the moment. However, it is a very peaceful country in an otherwise unstable region. We were there for eight days and drove from Amman down to Aqaba and back, stopping at the following places along the way:

Days 1-2: Dana Biosphere Reserve
Days 3-4: Petra
Days 5-6: Wadi Rum
Days 7-8: Dead Sea

King’s Highway

Rather than taking the Desert Highway from north to south, we opted for the slower but more scenic King’s Highway. An ancient trade route that was once used by merchants and crusaders, it passes through many of the country’s historically significant sights and ruins.

Mount Nebo: Our first stop is where Moses stood looking at the Promised Land. The hilltop overlooks the river valley and the Dead Sea. On a clear day, you can see as far as Jerusalem and Jericho.

Umm ar-Rasas: We made a small detour to an archeological site dating back to the Bronze Age. Of particular importance is the mosaic floor of the Church of St. Stephen. It is the largest mosaic in Jordan and very well-preserved.

Wadi Mujib: Back on the highway, the road runs along the ridge of Wadi Mujib, the Grand Canyon of Jordan. From above you see the highway going down the valley below and back up again. We would return at the end of the trip on the other side of the wadi along the Dead Sea coast.

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Kerak and Shobak Castles: There are quite a few crusader castles in Jordan. The largest one is Kerak Castle. There is another less excavated one, Shobak Castle, located after Dana and before Petra.

Dana: We finally reached Dana, a small stone village on the edge of the Dana Biosphere Reserve. We stayed here the first night and the next day did a five-hour hike down the valley along the Wadi Dana trail to Feynan.

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Petra: The King’s Highway ends shortly after Petra, an ancient city built by the Nabataeans. Once a thriving city thousands of years ago, it eventually fell into decline and was abandoned. Petra was lost to the rest of the world until it was rediscovered by a Swiss explorer in 1812.

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After the King’s Highway, we continued south on a more modern route towards Wadi Rum. It is a desert valley surrounded by sandstone and granite mountains. We passed Aqaba and took the Dead Sea highway to head back north along the coast. We ended our trip floating in the Dead Sea and relaxing in the Ma’in hot springs.

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