Today is the day no 27 AJ (After Jordan), and I’ve somehow gotten used to the idea that I’m back in Finland. One of the biggest differences is the amount of light: in Northern Finland (in other words, Lapland) the sun doesn’t even set.
However, some things still feel a bit weird after getting used to my life in Amman. Here are my top 5:
1) Wait, you don’t eat all the food with a spoon? Or with bread? What is this thing called ‘fork’?
2) There are actual pedestrian crossings so you don’t have to jump into the current of cars and hope for the best. Not gonna miss you, Dakhliyya circle! So, while driving I also almost forget this rule… (Though I visited my hometown in Western Finland, where this rule does not apply)
3) Cucumbers and zucchinis are huge. Making kousa is gonna be tricky.
4) Oh, dear are those booty shorts? Is that tiny piece of fabric called a shirt? I can see more than I really want to. Sun’s out, buns out!
5) You have to do everything by yourself. Fill up the gas in your car? Out you go, even in the rain. Pack your groceries? Try not to make a line behind you. You can even pay your things without having to face a person. Finns have really used the concept of self-service to avoid human contacts.
Of course, there are similarities too. Everyone is listening to Despacito. And sunsets are pretty spectacular:
It was my time to leave. I am writing this post from Finland already, trying to get used to the thought that I have left Amman behind me.
I am so filled with words, smiles, and tears that I feel I cannot even move. There are so many things to say and hugs to give, that I find myself speechless, reactionless. So if it seems like I am not saying or doing the right things, please forgive me.
I never thought that I would get so attached to this place. I have talked about my love for Amman so many times that now it seems I have no more words. I strolled around the city for the last week thinking, whether it is the last time I’m seeing this or that place, and will I remember this wonderful building or this secret view towards the horizon of hills filled with lego-block houses.
But it is not the city itself that made this time so special, but the people in it.
Is this the last time I meet this friend who has become so dear to me? Where will I meet this person again? As our adventures have brought us together here, where will we end up? Will I remember these moments of shenanigans or these moments of silence in total comfort and trust?
Even if I don’t, I am reminded of them every time I see you or talk to you. So, thank you. You have taught me that wherever I go I will find a home because of people like you.
Even though I am sad to leave, I am facing new adventures in the vast unknown future, and hopefully will meet you guys again. I am happy to have this chance to miss you because it means that we shared something important.
I am eternally grateful for my time in Amman. I want to thank everyone who made this possible, most of all I want to thank every single person I have met: you have touched my heart and taught me more than I imagined. I wouldn’t be me I am today without you. So, thank you!
This is not the last time you hear from me.
Lots of love,
Eid al-Fitr is the celebration ending the month of Ramadan. After the month of fasting, this is the only day when Muslims are not even allowed to fast! The celebration lasts for three days, full of family activities and of course, eating. This year Eid was on 25th of June.
So basically you can spend your day visiting maybe up to 10 relatives, repeating this coffee drinking and cookie eating in every place. And you can never be too full to refuse what is being offered.
The visits continue to the second and third day of Eid, repeating same patterns. I was invited to visit the family of a friend, and this is the sight I faced:
Of course, we started with drinking coffee and eating some cookies, followed by fresh juice from the garden, followed by lunch with Saudi dish called Kabsa (rice, almonds, raisins and chicken), followed by tea and cookies, followed by fruits, followed by more coffee and chocolate… Needless to say, I was so honored by this hospitality!
I think you might have noticed how many times I describe the scenery in Jordan as out of this world? I’m not the only one! In fact, many movies have been filmed in Jordan, and some of them indeed depict a world outside our planet! Here are some examples:
The obvious ones
Friend of action?
Even though the movie is telling a story based in Iraq, The Hurt Locker (2008) was filmed in Jordan, though only couple of kilometers from the Iraqi border. Another action-thriller film shot in Jordan is Zero Dark Thirty (2012), in which Amman played the part of Islamabad (Pakistan).
Or how about scenes from other planets?
The Martian (2015) is not the first film where Wadi Rum is playing the part of Mars. And no wonder, the pinkish red sand and the rocky mountains really give you a feeling of being on a different planet. You can now also stay in a desert camp which was built to look like a space camp in Mars, with the domed tents and all. Pretty spectacular.
While the Force Awakens (2015) was filmed in Abu Dhabi, Rogue One (2016) had some scenes shot in Wadi Rum. And some might know Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009), which was filmed in Petra, as well as in Wadi Rum and Salt. And another sci-fi film Prometheus (2012), which was shot in Wadi Rum.
There are no words to describe it properly. If I would compare my experiences in Petra and Wadi Rum, I would say that Wadi Rum touched me more and I was more mesmerized by its beauty. Maybe because it combines both mountains, which I adored in Petra, and the vast emptiness of the desert. The blue hue of the far away mountains, red and yellow sands, sharp shadows cast by the rocks shaped like something out of this planet... Again, Jordan, you surprised me.
Driving South, from Amman to Wadi Rum, for over 350 km on Desert Highway was also an experience. We passed the city of Ma’an, which seems to rise up in the middle of nothing of the desert, stretching to the hills. I never realized that while driving on the highway we are on top of the mountains. So when we started descending down towards the Red Sea, the difference in altitude was great.
Arriving at Wadi Rum village, we met our hosts from the Wadi Rum Jordan Guide. We had booked a day tour of the Wadi Rum national park on pickup, visiting the most interesting natural sites of it. Many of the sights are named after T.E. Lawrence (also known as Lawrence of Arabia), even though they would date back thousands of years.
After the sunset, we had dinner (Bedouin style of course) and walked a bit away from the camp to lie down watching the stars. And there were so many of them! I don’t think I will ever have enough of watching the stars.
Next day we headed more South to the city of Aqaba to see the Red Sea, and then we took the Dead Sea road back to Amman. The Dead Sea road was smaller but offered interesting sights in the desert of Wadi Araba in the Dead Sea valley between the mountains. It was hard to believe that the mountains on our left-hand side, so close, belonged to another country.
This trip to Wadi Rum will definitely top my list of the most amazing places on earth. It sounds like a cliché, but again, what is life without a few clichés am I right? So here's another one. As I am unavoidably seeing this land and these places through the eyes of an outsider, I am quoting another traveler from decades past. How orientalist it might seem, he, too, was fascinated by the desert and touched by it.
“No man can live this life and emerge unchanged. He will carry, however faint, the imprint of the desert, the brand which marks the nomad; and he will have within him the yearning to return, weak or insistent according to his nature. For this cruel land can cast a spell which no temperate clime can match.”
And yes, between sunrise and sunset you can eat as much as you want. But usually, after the day of fasting, you might not want to fill yourself up too much. Also, if fasting would risk your health, you are advised not to do it, and kids and pregnant women (and women on their periods too) are exempted from fasting. So basically you do it only if you can, and with care.
Here are some bits of Ramadan so far…
If you haven't checked out my interview with Give it up 4 Ramadan campaign, check it our HERE!
Here are some photos from one evening walk in downtown Amman after iftar, before all the people started pouring out to the streets.
Petra. The rose-red city. One of the seven wonders of the world. Sounds grand, but the place is truly amazing and far more diverse than usually thought. It is a lot more than the al-Khazneh (the Treasury) that you have in your mind after seeing all the touristic ads or maybe even the classic Indiana Jones movie. But this is not all.
I’ve made two visits to Petra: one during the day and one during the night. I’ve also taken a look at the mountains surrounding Petra on horseback, and I have to say that the mountains themselves are already worth the visit.
Petra by night and horse riding in Wadi Musa
We walked the 2km-trail to the Treasury with only the stars giving us light from above, and candles placed in paper bags along the trail. Getting my first glimpse of the mountains and the narrow Siq (very narrow canyon through the mountains) in darkness was truly amazing. Highly recommended.
The next day we headed for one-day horse trekking trip to the mountains. The town near Petra is called Wadi Musa, as is the whole valley surrounding the ancient city. So don't get confused when I say I've been horse riding in Wadi Musa, instead of Petra.
I got a lovely grey horse called Safir, who was energetic but very soft and gentle at the same time. We rode up to see the amazing view over the mountains of Petra, and then descended towards the valley. The terrain was incredibly rocky, but our horses were amazing and sure-footed. Besides our own physical fitness, we were challenged by the kids enjoying Friday-picnic with their families, who thought throwing stones at the horses is a good idea… Nevertheless, our horses didn’t fear anything!
Petra, Jack Sparrow, and a donkey named Vodka
I was a bit skeptical about the mules since there is lots of criticism towards the treatment of animals in Petra. One can ride a horse from the visitor’s center to the beginning of the Siq, and go through the Siq in a horse carriage. These carriage horses are really a sad sight, as most of them look skinny, and their drivers make them run too fast through on the hard surface of the road. I would never get on these carriages for these reasons. However, our mules were the chubbiest and cutest ones ever and looked perfectly happy and well-treated. Also, can you imagine a mix of Arabian horse and a donkey? Yup, cuteness-overload.
As we were heading to the monastery, which lies on top of one of the highest mountains in Petra (and almost 900 steps), I couldn’t get myself to ride my little donkey there. The mules seemed to be fine enough to do that, but I preferred to use my own feet. I also felt sad for some donkeys I saw on the way, carrying way too heavy people in their backs up and down the stairs.
I know it’s not very easy to see if the animals are treated well or not if you’re not a horse person yourself, but here are some tips:
1) they look round, chubby, and their fur is shiny and clean (instead of looking thin with shabby fur), and they don’t have visible wounds or hairless spots
2) they move with ease and don’t need much encouragement from your guide. If your guide needs to push them, drag them or if he hits them, you should be worried
The area of Petra is huge, and I understand that people can need help to move around, but still one should pay attention to the treatment of the animals and if you see problems, report them. There are instructions at the visitor’s center for this.
Overall, I enjoyed the day in Petra, and our guide (I can’t remember his name, but he totally looked like Jack Sparrow) was pleasant. Even more than the building carved in rock, I enjoyed the view from the Monastery mountain. One can easily spend more than one day exploring the area and the tombs, temples, churches, caves, and paths. I would love to do the hike from Little Petra to the city itself one day.
More of the history of the main city of the Nabateans you can read for example here.
JETT bus from Amman to Petra daily at 6:30 am, returning at 5 pm, 10JD per way. You can book your tickets online, and pay them before getting on the bus.
Petra by Night ticket 16JD, you can buy it in Wadi Musa town.
Petra one-day ticket 50JD (two days 55JD, three days 60JD, you can either buy it from the visitor’s center or as part of the Jordan Pass. I will complain about the Jordan Pass on a later post, as it sounds amazing but doesn’t always work so well.
I am a bit ashamed to admit that I did not visit the citadel until over three months into my stay in Amman. Even though it’s right in the middle of the city, towering over other hills around it, and I would see it multiple times a week. I guess that if something is too close to you, you will never end up going there anyway.
I love the 360-degree view from the hill. You can get a pretty good picture of the main parts of central Amman: downtown, Jabal Lwebdeh, Jabal Amman, Ashrafiyeh, Jabal Hussein. You can see the contrasts of the city: high modern towers in Abdali and the old ruined houses around downtown. It’s all here.
The citadel hill itself is a hotspot of history, from the Romans to the Umayyads. The ruins of the Roman temple can be seen from far away, as well as the dome of the entrance hall of the Umayyad palace.
Part of the experience is going through the back trail through little alleys and behind old houses, that have been standing on the hill for ages. Not everyone knows this route, so you need to know someone to lead you through it.
- Spend a day horse riding in Wadi Musa. I will write a post about this visit next week when I will visit Petra in more depth, but you can check out some photos on my Instagram!
- Organized a Finnish-style First of May picnic with balloons and all.
- Tried slackline for the first time ever (I didn’t suck!)
- Practiced archery.
- Found an ice-cream factory on the outskirts of the city of Salt, and watched the sunset over the hills of Palestine.
- Went on a photographic assignment for an article for Finnish newspaper, written by a friend. Which means my photos will be hopefully published!
- Went to Lebanon, found snow, burned my skin, helped out a group of Iraqi grandmas, didn’t understand a word of the mountain village accent, and danced my ass off at film production wrap up party.
- Wrestled with finding good travel insurance. Not an easy job, but important. Never travel without an insurance!
- Explored an abandoned amusement park in the middle of Amman. In the dark. Didn’t find the ghost castle though. A short film will follow soon, maybe…
Though these things are not (yet!) on the blog, they are on my Instagram, check it out! I promise to be more active in following weeks. Here’s a sneak peak for the future:
- My favorite places in Amman
- Petra & Wadi Rum
- Thing or two about travel insurances
- Ramadan is coming!
- Dana Nature Reserve (this trip happened ages ago, but haven’t done editing yet)
- And more… Give me a tip, if you have a special topic in mind!
In late March, planning for a weekend trip:
“Where should we go?”
“Let’s go to Umm Qais, it’s very nice since it’s spring”
“You’re like the 100th person who says Umm Qais is nice during the spring!”
"Yes but it is true, yalla!"
Gadara is the name of the Greco-Roman city, whose ruins remain on mountaintop, one of the most glorious cities of the Decapolis. It is also the place where Jesus is said to have cast out the demons from a person to a herd of pigs. The city is partly made of black basalt stone, which makes it special.
And as you can see from the pictures, it was pretty spectacular with all the spring flowers.