Let me ask you a question: How many times have you read about Jordan in the news? Thinking back, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Jordan making headlines. Now, what about the countries that surround it? Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. Can you remember a time when one of those countries made international news? Maybe once or twice?
Most people only know about the Kingdom of Jordan because of Petra, the ruins that played a part in the third Indiana Jones movie. To be honest, that’s about all I knew of it before we arrived, too.
We ended up sharing a cab ride, from Aqaba to Petra, with an Australian woman a short time after we cleared immigration. I asked our cab driver how, in such a volatile region, Jordan doesn’t make any waves. His answer? “We’re peaceful – the Switzerland of the Middle East!”
Maybe so, but I just did a Google search for “the Switzerland of the Middle East” and the tagline seems to belong to Lebanon. For some reason. Huh.
At any rate, Jordan was a very pleasant change from Egypt. We noticed many differences right away.
There’s a great story about our arrival in Jordan; I may tell it in more detail later. The short version is that we met an Australian woman on the ferry from Nuweiba to Aqaba. She was on a five-star tour of the Middle East and had everything pre-arranged. We were winging it every step of the way. While she was being picked up at the ferry terminal and whisked straight away to Petra, we were planning to spend the night in Aqaba and before trying to figure out the bus schedule first thing in the morning.
While we were waiting for immigration to hand our passports back, I summoned up the nerve to ask her if we could tag along in her cab. She said that it was fine with her, but we’d have to clear it with the driver first. I suspected that since the cab was already paid for, all he’d need was a little extra tip.
Funny thing was, the cab driver never showed! While our Australian friend was freaking out, wondering what to do next, we were already negotiating with an English-speaking cab driver at the ferry terminal. I told her not to worry. We wouldn’t leave without her. Her gratitude was almost as great as her relief.
We ended up sharing a taxi all the way to Petra, stopping first at the McDonald’s in Aqaba. Our cab driver’s English was excellent and we learned a bit about the country on the way.
Before we committed to riding with him, though, he did his best to help her find her original ride. Using his cell phone, he called every contact number she had, including the hotel she was staying at in Petra; however, we never did get a hold of the tour company that was supposed to pick her up.
After Egypt, it was refreshing to see him doing his best to help without working some angle. He even mentioned at one point that the tour agency is certain to lose business when the Australian woman complains to her friends and family.
That whole concept – that doing the right thing now will secure you more business in the future – is a concept completely lost on most Egyptian “businessmen.” I got the impression that, in Egypt, everything is now, now, now. Who cares about what people write about me on Trip Advisor tomorrow if I can con you out of some cash today?
Jordan’s wasn’t like that. Jordan gets it.
When we arrived at the gates to Petra, the prices and expectations for guides was posted right there on the wall, next to the park fees. This completely undermines the sort of behavior that goes on at the Egyptian sites. There’s simply no way for freelance guides – boy, that’s a disingenuously polite term for them, isn’t it? – to come in and rip off unsuspecting tourists with higher prices.
We didn’t actually pay for a guide in Petra, but we appreciated knowing exactly what we would have gotten for our money if we had.
The roads in Jordan were much nicer than in Egypt. Wide lanes, pavement in good repair. We made good time on our drive from Aqaba to Petra. Granted it was night when we drove there, but I also got the impression that it was much cleaner, too. We didn’t see any garbage along the sides of the road.
“Well, yeah,” our cab driver said to us. “Egypt has 81 million people. We have six.”
Even though the roads were wide and empty, that doesn’t mean they didn’t feel dangerous. We took two-long distance cab rides during our stay and both were harrowing. Our drivers didn’t like to slow down for curves, so they simply eased into the oncoming lane to make it slightly less sharp. Quite a few times, we had to skid back into our lane as oncoming cars appeared around blind curves.
After Egypt’s endless flat sands, Jordan seemed positively mountainous. When we drove from Petra to the Dead Sea, we climbed up and up until we had a panoramic view of the plains below and Israel beyond. The descent through the mountains reminded me of areas of Utah – dry and steep with roads winding back and forth. Beautiful, if a little dangerous without guardrails in some places.
Are Jordanians known for their height? Our sample size was small, but I both Oksana and I remarked on it after meeting a few very tall people. Could have just been a few outliers that we ran into, but we left with the impression that Jordanians could field a daunting basketball team.
After traveling through a good chunk of Africa, we’d all but given up on having napkins in restaurants. Oh, sure, you’d get nice cloth ones at the fancier places, but most every other restaurant gave you nothing at all. In Jordan, every table had a napkin dispenser, but one with a twist.
Instead of the white paper napkins, folded over like I’m used to, the napkins in Jordan were more like tissues in a box. Thinner, softer; you even pulled them out the same way. Every one yanked out the top left the next one ready for use.
Not the best thing in the world to wipe off your fingers after a greasy meal, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Was Jordan the first country we visited with a King? I think it might have been. To tell the truth, from the day to day life, I can’t tell you that I noticed any difference between a Kingdom, a dictatorship, or a democracy. Seems a little archaic to me, but that’s probably just because I didn’t grow up in one.
I suspect, but don’t really have any proof, that there’s an elected cabinet or congress or something to go along with the royalty in Jordan. Checks and balances, you know? Could a country in this day and age even survive in a true feudal society with fiefdoms and lords and such? Probably not.
Does Jordan have a queen? How are matters of succession managed? What powers does the king of Jordan have? If I’d spent more than three days in the country, I would have probably read up a little more on Google and Wikipedia.
I did notice a ton of signs and billboards throughout the country with the king’s portrait emblazoned on them. The king in camouflage fatigues. The king in military dress. The king wearing a turban. The king smiling and waving.
It’s hard to forget there’s a king in Jordan.
There’s a one-hour time change between Egypt and Jordan. I only mention this because we didn’t know about it… throughout our entire stay!
We had planned our last day carefully: A long drive from Petra to the Dead Sea, a quick swim, and then a rush to the border to cross into Israel before the border closed. We thought it a little strange when the cab driver showed up to our hotel at 5:30am, a full hour before we expected him.
We still didn’t connect the dots, so when we arrived at the border, we thought we had plenty of time to spare. In fact, it had closed just 10 minutes before. Fortunately, the immigration officers told us that there was another border crossing, still open, about an hour away by taxi. We had no choice but to pay a “captured audience fee” to the only taxi driver who was waiting around. We had no bargaining power; he knew he was our only option.
For three days, having our watches set wrong cost us nothing at all, but then caught up with us all at once just before we left the country. That cab cost us $25 USD and it took us at least three extra hours before we’d crossed the border into Israel. By the time we got through immigration and customs, we had to rush to catch the last buses of the day. We made it to Tel Aviv that evening, but just barely.