Thursday, April 8, 2010


If there's one thing we took away from our time in Jordan, it's that the most pleasurable and enduring moments experienced while traveling are seldomly the ones you planned or anticipated. As we pored over travel guides and websites the day before our departure, meticulously ensuring that every stage of our trip would be time well spent, there was no way to know that our trip would come to resemble our itinerary in only the faintest way. Our logistical masterpiece of a plan included visits to the Citadel and Roman ampitheater in Amman, the famed ancient city of Petra, and the luxurious coastal oasis of Aqaba. We had less than three days to complete our tour so of course all transportation to and from these places had to be precisely executed in military fashion. Well, in the end, it didn't quite work out this way. Here's what happened –

Upon arrival at the airport in Amman, the driver we reserved to take us to our hotel was no where to be found, so, la moshkalla ("no problem," in Arabic), we just hailed the first cab we saw. But as it turns out, we hired not only a cabbie but an 8-year old boy (relation to cabbie unknown) who just so happened to be fighting off one heck of a cold. Sam rode in the front seat with the driver trying to communicate to him the destination of our hotel (he had never heard of it, but that didn't seem to concern him in the least) while Shannon sat in the company of the sniffling, sneezing, but otherwise completely silent, boy in the back seat.

We finally found the hotel, dropped our luggage in the room and immediately left for the Citadel, which sits on the highest of Amman's seven hills and is covered with architectural residue and historical artifacts ranging from an ancient Roman temple (ca. 161-181 AD) to the ruins of an Umayyad palace (ca. 8th century AD). Pretty cool huh? It would have been a lot cooler if Sam hadn't forgotten to bring the camera! Yes, that's right; Sam left it in the hotel room even after Shannon asked him if he had it and he responded that he did (she'll have fun with that one for a LONG time).

The next day came as our biggest surprise. Because of our time limitations, we asked the hotel to arrange a driver to take us straight to Petra in the morning (about a 3-hour drive) so we could have the afternoon and the following morning to soak in all of its world-renowned beauty and mystique before heading off to Aqaba. Enter Imad, our driver. Initially, we felt some anxiety about him because he had quoted an unusually high price for the trip when we first spoke on the phone. When we met him in the morning we brought up the price again, indicating that it seemed a bit steep (we were also beginning to get a feel for the value of Jordanian currency). He interrupted and said he was certain we would be willing to pay the quoted price once we experienced the drive to Petra, but that he would accept whatever amount we thought was fair at the end of the journey. His philosophy was simple: how can I take money if my customer isn't satisfied? His confidence put us at ease, and we agreed not to talk about money until we arrived in Petra.

Once in the car, Imad suggested an entirely different agenda for the day, which was considerably more ambitious and left us even less time in Petra than we had originally planned, but would allow us to see more of the country. We could sense that it was primarily national pride, a real desire to share his country's treasures with us, that drove Imad to suggest this course of action. So we put ourselves in his hands, and he proceeded to unveil a veritable feast of Jordan, showing us sights as beautiful as they were varied. We went to Madaban to see the oldest extant map of the Middle East which is a mosaic in the floor of a Byzantine church, Mt. Nebo where Moses viewed the Promised Land on to which he was never to set foot, the east bank of the Jordan river in Bethany (reputed site of Christ's baptism), the Dead Sea where we enjoyed a nice float (you don't swim just bob up and down like human buoys), and the famous Crusader castle in Al-Karak. We arrived in Wadi Mousa (the Jordanian city where Petra is located) exhausted and later than expected, but conceding that Imad had earned his quoted price and then some. (If you are planning on visiting Jordan in the near future, let us know and we'll be happy to pass his contact info along).

At a mosaic warehouse near Madaba -- Shannon holding our newly purchased mosaic egg (an intense bargaining experience - ask Sam to tell you about it some time) after being accosted by the salesman who insisted he wrap her head with a male headdress. We are still not sure why...

Jordan River in Bethany
View from Mount Nebo

The Dead Sea

Shannon having a mud bath and Sam having a float

Al Karak Castle

With Imad at the end of our very full day

Although we were left with only one morning to see Petra, it proved to be sufficient. We arrived at the gates by 6:30am and proceeded to explore this amazingly well preserved and myth-like ancient city...words cannot describe what you feel as stumble upon the Treasury after having hiked the 1.2 kms through the narrow canyon gorge or the triumph of hiking to the top and discovering the Monastery hewn into the rocks. Moreover, we nearly had the place to ourselves because of our early start (large tour groups begin to mob the place by 9:30am). I hope our pictures are able to relay half the beauty of what we saw.

The Treasury (made famous by Indiana Jones)

Roman ampitheatre

Royal tombs

Climbing to the top - Shannon having a moment with a donkey

At the top - The Monastery & "View of the End of the World"

On our way out - what we missed out on by getting an early start - an anthill of tourists!

After powering through Petra, we returned to the hotel for lunch and hired a taxi for the 90 minute drive to Aqaba. Tired and sore from our hike we desperately wanted some beach time so we were in a bit of a hurry to get there while the sun was still high. Remember Driving Miss Daisy? Well, imagine Miss Daisy doing the driving and you'd be close to understanding the painstaking care with which our driver delivered us to Aqaba. And this was all the more surprising because cabbies in this region (from any region for that matter) are renowned for applying one of Euclid's geometric postulates to driving: the shortest path between two points is a straight line. They will do every thing in their power, short of taking another human life, to take the most direct route to the destination, and they will do it with great speed. But not our driver - he anticipated speed bumps a mile off and began to slow down, maintained a steady pace at 10 mph below the speed limit, and even made an unsolicited and rather unwelcomed stop for a soda. But we did finally arrive at the hotel, practically jumping from the cab while it was still moving, and rushed to check in, change into swimsuits, and make it down to the beach to enjoy a couple relaxing hours reading in the sun and swimming in the cool waters of the Red Sea. A little over 12 hours later, we were back on a plane to Dubai. It was a sprint of a vacation, but richer in experiences than we imagined was possible in 3 days.


  1. I loved reading about yet another adventure filled with serendipity. Good job, Sam!

    Great pics, too. Love the hat, Shannon!

  2. AMAZING!!!
    I love Shannon's expression in the pic with the headdress. And the donkey? :)
    The pictures are truly fantastic. I don't have any creative or brilliant words...just wow!
    I was worried at the beginning that since things didn't go how you planned that it wasn't good, but am glad that it was the other way!

  3. I never cease to be amazed at the writing skills you two have. I feel like I'm reading a professional travel brochure. Both of you have squeezed more into your short lives than most people can even dream of, but we certainly are enriched living vicariously through you. The lives you're living now are so foreign to anything I've ever experienced that, at times, reading your blog feels almost surreal.I'm learning so much! Mom