Forget What You Think You Know, and Follow Your Senses
When we told family and friends we were planning to visit Jordan, the reaction was mixed. “That sounds amazing!” “Are you sure?” ”Muslims think dogs are unclean, so you will have trouble with cabs, restaurants and accommodations.” And last, but not least, “Are you crazy?” Yes, Jordan is amazing, of that we are sure. So far, we haven’t starved or slept in our rental car because of Otto. And of course we’re crazy, but not because we chose to travel to Jordan.
Jordan has been on our travel radar since 2015. That was the year we first met two of the country’s charming tourism representatives at TBEX (Travel Bloggers Expo) North America in Fort Lauderdale. When we met them again in 2017 at TBEX Europe in Stockholm, and learned TBEX International would be held in Jerusalem in 2017, traveling to Jordan became a reality.
We just spent our first three days in Amman, and I feel comfortable enough to share some first impressions with you. Of course, there will be plenty of detailed posts on many aspects of our visit, but here’s what my senses have picked up so far.
Our first view of Amman was from the airplane window. Night had fallen over the city, which was illuminated by yellow lights that emphasized how large Jordan’s capital was. Corinne, our AirBnB hostess insisted on picking us up from the airport. She drove us to her homey apartment in a quiet neighborhood, where we promptly collapsed from our 17-hour journey.
The following morning, we dragged our jet lagged selves out to explore the city.
As we bungled our way through unfamiliar streets, we saw trees growing in the middle of sidewalks, imaginative topiaries, ubiquitous buildings some seriously crazy driving and smiling people everywhere.
On the second day, we, thanks to a recommendation from Corinne, employed the services of Ahmed. This man was a taxi driver sent from heaven, arriving on time, not driving like a lunatic, and there was no problem with Otto.
Ahmed drove us to the Citadel, a brilliantly reconstructed open-air museum encompassing ruins from Iron Age as well as Roman, Byzantine and Muslim periods. We then walked down to the beautifully preserved Roman Theater.
Traffic and birdsong punctuated the late morning. Noting a pair of westerners in their midst, strangers called out, “Welcome,” as they passed us in the street.
The only intelligible sound we were able to make in Arabic was, “shokran,” meaning “thank you”. If you plan to visit Jordan, I suggest you learn it, too. You’ll be using it a lot.
But the sound that riveted my attention was the call to prayer resonating throughout the city from Amman’s main mosque. The disembodied voice was so hauntingly beautiful, I stopped to listen, and do so every time I hear it.
Five times daily, the call to prayer is transmitted, and for Muslims, an ancient ritual begins. I’ve heard this call before, but never listened. In Amman, I couldn’t help but listen. The reverence in that voice had me, a self-proclaimed agnostic, under it’s spell.
Considering the litter scattered everywhere in Amman – one of the few disappointments – the city didn’t have a foul odor to go along with it. Most of the time the smell was neutral, until, that is, we were in an area where food was sold and/or prepared.
Soft, subtle fragrances wafted into the street from shops selling spices. Baking bread beckoned us from bakeries and grilling and frying falafel switched on the hunger pangs to the point where resistance was futile.
My olfactory memories of Amman will forever make me want to reach for a skillet and start cooking.
We were told by several people that you can’t get a bad meal in Jordan. Although I can’t give you scientific proof, our dining experiences in Amman lead me to believe there may be truth in what they said.
We have indulged ourselves in some of the best humus, falafel, shawarma and substances whose identity was unclear. Baked goods consisting of seeds, nuts, dates, figs, honey and sometimes herbs made us realize chocolate isn’t all that big a deal.
One of our best finds was a sandwich from Saladin Bakery. There’s only one item on the menu: a hot freshly baked roll that you use as a base for your own delectable masterpiece.
Once you split open the long seeded roll, you place cheese on the steaming interior, top it with baked eggs that you peel and chop yourself and hot sauce to taste.
And finally copious amounts of the Middle Eastern herb mix, zatar. Place the top on, and prepare to be wowed. These simple sandwiches were not only delicious, but our breakfast set us back the equivalent of a whopping four dollars, and held us until dinner.
The touch we’ve experienced most since our arrival has been the handshake. Fellow bloggers have written about how friendly and welcoming Jordanians are, and we have found this to be true. I’m not talking about the limp, “I don’t really want to do this, but I have to,” kind of handshake. These greetings are firm, warm and genuine.
Then there were the sensations of my fingers tracing patterns on ancient stone, my arm brushing against clothing on racks lining narrow crowded sidewalks and my face caressed by low-hanging leaves and fronds.
What I have experienced through my skin has shown me the history and heart of Jordan.
The Sixth Sense
Countries like Spain, Panama and England have taken on a comfortable familiarity as a result of our frequent visits. But Jordan was totally unfamiliar to us. The culture and traditions of Jordan were brand new.
Jordan’s position on the map leads many to draw conclusions that are misguided at best, and mean-spirited at worst. This is where those wonderful travel bloggers have been invaluable when it came to having some idea of what to expect. Nonetheless, nothing prepared us for actually being here.
We have felt safer in Jordan than in some cities in the U.S. Jordan’s military is well trained and competent. Also the Tourist Police seem to have a strong presence at all the locations we visited. The safety of its people and visitors is given high priority.
I sense that Jordanians in general are deeply committed to religious and family values. They welcome those who want to share the diverse beauty and fascinating cultures that exist in Jordan.
Jordan has no oil or mineral wealth. The country relies heavily on tourists drawn by its rich history and stunning landscapes. The actions of neighboring countries and raving radical lunatics have caused many to inaccurately put this small but proud nation into the same sorry stew as Syria and ISIS.
I’ve always thought of Jordan as a peaceful country with peace-loving people. I still believe this, only more strongly. Although we still have several more days in Jordan, I’m comfortable in saying that you actually have to visit Jordan to understand and appreciate its people and culture. So, turn off the talking heads, put aside your prejudices about this part of the world and let the intriguing, generous, safe nation of Jordan win you over.