Mosaic art is one of the oldest and most intricate methods of human expression and storytelling. It’s legacy as a method to both document important historical events and as a system for decoration and expression stirs the imagination of both historians and artists alike.
The earliest example of mosaic art, discovered in an ancient Mesopotamian temple at Ubaid, is dated to the 2nd millennium BC. The piece is simple and consists of various coloured stones that have been juxtaposed with decorative shell and ivory to create intricate geometric patterns. The piece is commonly cited as the origin of tile art.
The creation process for mosaic art is both simple and unforgiving. The artist generally begins by assembling tiny pieces of stone or glass, known as tesserae, into a carefully planed pattern or image. The process, depending on the size of the image, can take an incredible amount of time and patience—and even the smallest of miscalculations in position can render an entire image distorted.
Imagine for a moment the frustration of realizing—after hours of work—that a single misplaced tesserae has caused your image to be warped. Certainly there is a lesson here about the importance of attention to detail, and the patience and focus of these ancient artists deserves the highest praise.
Nestled deep within the heart of Jordan is the archeological site of Umm Ar-Rasas which is home to some of the best preserved mosaics on earth. One of the most incredible archeological discoveries of this site is the mosaic floor of the Church of St Stephen. The perfectly preserved mosaic depicts various daily activities as well as some of the most important ancient cities of the region. These perfectly preserved mosaics offer visitors a rare opportunity to glimpse back in time to an ancient empire. And this is surely an opportunity that should not be missed by anyone who appreciates this incredible and unforgiving art form.
Update by Daniel Puiatti Photo by Routard05
Art in Amman
Jordan has a thriving art scene. This isn’t what people first associate with the country–they are more likely to think of its epic history, gorgeous ruins, and frequent opportunities for rugged desert adventure–but its swanky, artsy scene is only a stone’s throw away from all of that. To jump headfirst into Jordan's art pool, one needs look no father than its capital city, Amman.
Are you a fan of the classics? The Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts curates a robust collection of classical artists from the middle east and beyond.
Is quirky, modern art more your scene? Check out the Daratal Funun, Amman’s modern art museum, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. The Daratul Funun also exists under a mission statement of exploring world views and fostering critical discussion through art, so it is a fascinating visit for anybody interested in knowing what Jordan’s creative communities have to say.
Forget Variety; In Jordan, Za'atar is the Spice of Life
It’s not often that most people sit down and ponder condiments, but maybe they should start. Condiments say a lot about the cultures they are ingrained in: In France, pepper was popularized because it was considered the only spice that did not overpower food. In Morocco, cumin is considered as ubiquitous as salt.
In Jordan, the condiment to know is za’atar, a blend of herbs and spices that traditionally contains sesame, thyme, and oregano. Za’atar is common throughout the Middle East, but the exact recipe varies from country to country. In Jordan, za’atar is mixed with sumac, which gives it a reddish tint and a tangier flavour.
It is unclear exactly when za’atar was invented, but it came into common use as a spice blend for food in the medieval period. Today, it is often used to flavour cooked dishes, sprinkled on pita bread dipped in olive oil, or used as a tabletop seasoning.
Many have their own recipes for za’atar; among some this is considered a carefully guarded family secret. But whatever the variations, one thing can be agreed upon: Za’atar is an important part of Jordan’s national identity, and an exciting addition to almost any meal.
Jordan Brings Cinematic Adventure to Life
Jordan’s most iconic onscreen depiction is almost certainly Lawrence of Arabia.
The epic, 1962 adventure flick based on the life of T.E. Lawrence depicts Lawrence's experiences in Arabia during World War I, in particular his attacks on Aqaba and Damascus and his involvement in the Arab National Council. Lauded for it’s swashbuckling action and gorgeous, sweeping landscapes, Jordan could do worse than this comparison.
For any savvy adventure traveller looking for the most immersive Lawrence of Arabia experience, Jordan has you covered, and it is actually possible to trace Lawrence’s entire desert ride on a guided weeklong tour.
Best of all, it can be done on horseback, to perfectly capture the adventurous spirit of Lawrence.
A Lawrence of Arabia tour gives a great cross section of all the splendor that Jordan has to offer: From the endless dreamlike deserts, to the towering cliffs of Wadi Rum, to the ancient wonders of Petra and the Dead and Red seas this is most certainly a trek that curious and intrepid travellers should not miss!
Update by Mercedes Marks and Photo by Florian Seiffert
Roam if you want to
Outside of Italy, Jerash is considered one of the most well preserved examples of ancient history and Roman architecture on the planet. Baths, arches, and a hippodrome still stand in excellent condition in the city, which can trace its roots back more than 6,500 years.
Jerash, also known as the Gerasa of Antiquity, is the capital and largest city of the Jerash Governorate, which is situated in the north of Jordan, 48 kilometres north of the capital Amman. The city oozes ancient history from it's very essence.
The city of Jerash is extremely proud of its Roman ruins, and offers visitors a myriad of ways to immerse themselves in its ancient history. Twice daily, visitors to the ruins can visit an exciting recreation of authentic Roman chariot races. And of course there is the Jerash Festival of Culture and Arts which is held at the end of July every year.
Jerash is a must for anyone interested in culture, the middle east and ancient history. Nowhere else on earth will you find such exceptionally preserved examples of Roman architecture. The well preserved nature of these ancient structures is both a testament to the incredible craftsmanship of the Romans, and to the appreciation for history which Jordan exudes. See it—you won't regret it.
Update by Mercedes Marks Photo by Juriaan Persyn
Wadi Rum From Above
Wadi Rum is one of the most spectacular natural landscapes that Jordan has to offer. Nicknamed “The Valley of the Moon,” this UNESCO World Heritage site is the largest wadi in Jordan, cut into sandstone and granite rock.
It’s a popular tourist destination for intrepid travellers looking to conquer the wadi via hiking, climbing, camel, or horseback. Looking for a way to explore that’s a little bit more outside the box? Try looking at Wadi Rum from the sky. The Royal Aero Sports Club of Jordan organizes expeditions by hot air balloon, helicopter, and open aircraft that offer a unique and breathtaking experience from a bird’s eye view.
For more information, check out Visit Jordan and The Royal Aero Sports Club of Jordan’s official website.
Update by Mercedes Marks and photo by Jurriaan Persyn
Wadi Mujib, historically known as Arnon, is home to one of the lowest lying nature reserves on Earth, the Wadi Mujib Reserve. It is also packed with a spectacular variety of challenging hiking and trekking trails that cross rough terrain, canyons and water.
With over 300 species of plants, 10 species of carnivores and numerous species of permanent and migratory birds, Wadi Mujib and the Wadi Mujib Reserve has a magnificent level of biodiversity that is still being explored and documented today.
If you love a challenging trek that is packed with abundant wildlife viewing opportunities consider Wadi Mujib, and for more information about the area and Visitors' Facilities check out the Jordan Tourism Board's Eco and Nature section.
Photo by Yousef Omar
Throughout history Jordan has been renowned for its exotic wildlife. Ancient mosaics and stone engravings, scattered across Jordan’s landscape, depict an incredible diversity of life. Even now Jordan retains a rich diversity of animal and plant life that varies between the Jordan Valley, the Mountain Heights Plateau and the Badia Desert region. Pictured above is the Pseudotrapelus sinaitus, or Sinai Agama, which is one of the many incredible animals which call Jordan home. For more information check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pseudotrapelus_sinaitus
Photo: Ester Inbar
The Kings' Road
Photo by by Hendrik Dacquin
From our most recent opXpedition we discovered that Jordan is exceptional for the aqua-inclined adventurer. Aqaba, situated along the southern tip of Jordan, is perpetually warm, balmy, and enticing for divers. With facilities for speedboating, scuba diving, snorkelling, sailing, fishing, swimming, water skiing and wind surfing, it’s a key spot for any water oriented adventure enthusiast. Check out http://ow.ly/hRelM for more details about adventure diving opportunities in Jordan.
Photo by wanderlasss
Love climbing? Jordan has you covered. And with new climbing routes continually being discovered and bolted there is an incredible variety of climb challenges to meet any level of skill. Check out http://ow.ly/hEtC9 for more adventure opportunities in Jordan.
Photo by Sailing Nomad
The National Dish of Jordan
Mansaf, the national dish of Jordan, is comprised of a large tray of rice with chunks of stewed lamb and jameed, a yogurt sauce. And yes, it is absolutely delicious. Check out the recipe! Photo by E W
Through The Silence
“I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams...”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Photo by Paul Stocker
Making a splash!
Ever since arriving in Jordan we had been looking forward to canyoning…but early rains were threatening to wash away our chance. Finally, with just two days left in our opXpedition, we decided to give it a go any way, although sadly not in one of the truly epic chasms.
Canyoning is a relatively new activity for Jordan, but already they have more than 26 canyons suitable for a spot of adrenaline, complete with cascades down natural water chutes, abseils down waterfalls and jumping, swimming and splashing through the churning waterways. Although available in a number of countries around the world, Jordan’s canyons offer something that others don’t: ancient history and an exotic presence.
Within sight of the Dead Sea, we turned off the main road and bumped and bounced down a dirt track. We passed a Bedouin encampment and were carefully watched by a tethered donkey. Having driven as far as we could, we set off on foot into a spectacular maze of narrow gorges hemmed in by towering sandstone cliffs.
Wading through a knee-deep torrent that cascaded from the neighbouring hills, it didn’t take long before we had ventured beyond the last traces of human existence. We passed under an enormous rock bridge, listened to the haunting caws of crows echoing off the rocks and marvelled at the colours and striations in the arid overhanging cliffs. After a couple of hours, we headed back to the vehicle.
By canyoning standards, this was little more than an hors d’oeuvre, but it had whetted our appetites as thoroughly as it had wetted our feet…and we knew we’d be back!
Mohammed In The Mountain
One of the great pleasures of travel is the characters you meet.
We rounded a corner to find Mohammed, resplendent in white robes and white keffiyeh, resting on one elbow, his legs tucked in behind him sprawled on a carpet on a ledge with a panoramic view behind.
“Hello!” he welcomed us warmly. “Buy something in my shop. Something for your wife; your girlfriend; your secretary; your mistress. One each for all of them,” he added, gesturing us to a stall carved into the rock.
Then he noticed our cameras.
“Make me famous,” he pleaded. “And now! Put me on Facebook and Twitter and YouTube, but hurry. I want to be famous. I’m Mohammed in the mountain.”
He had a campy voice and manner. Part Austin Powers and part Dr. Bombay from Bewitched.
“You just want to see yourself on television,” I teased, holding back tears of laughter.
“I don’t have a TV,” explained Mohammed. “I am Mohammed in the mountain. Take a look in my shop. Buy something for your wife, your girlfriend, your secretary, your mistress.”
“And make me famous.”
“Was that you who shouted ‘Jump!’ at us when we were taking photographs from the ledge above here?” we asked, referencing an event of a few minutes earlier.
“No,” he answered. “Well, perhaps.”
“Make me famous. Put me on Facebook and Twitter and YouTube…but hurry. I want to be famous!”
His voice continued as we descended. Needless to say, we’ll never forget Mohammed in the mountain…and I strongly suspect that one day he will indeed be famous!
It had been hot and hazy for a few days, so an inability to see the horizon, or even much more than a few kilometres ahead, was not particularly alarming. However, as we drew closer we began to realize that it wasn’t just the distance that was obscured by sepia mists, but the entire road directly ahead.
We were driving north from Aqaba, Jordan’s port city on the Red Sea. The road wound its way past the mountains and straight through a stretch of desert wilderness so inhospitable and barren that during the Great Arab Revolt the Ottomans in Aqaba faced their defences only towards the sea, as they believed an attack from the north was impossible.
There was little to see once we left the city limits, except for the occasional camp of hardy Bedouin nomads. And then the sand storm was upon us.
The sand sidled across the hot highway like snow during a wind-blown blizzard. The sparse traffic began to slow and flashers were turned on as visibility dropped to a few metres. The granules of sand, whipped by a driving wind, sliced off the top of dunes and became horizontally suspended like sabre blades. Even with the windows closed, the dust swirled inside the vehicle, biting at the back of our throats. We closed the vents but the dryness persisted.
The air was a whirl of sepia and yellow, of brown and ochre. The sun was blocked-out and the headlights barely cut the arid maelstrom. Finally, and without notice, we emerged on the other side. The sky was clear blue, the tops of the neighbouring mountains crystal clear.
It was over so quickly that it immediately seemed like a dream.
If you’re lucky there are moments during your travels when history leaps from the page. When you find yourself amid names and places that belong to ancient history. When suddenly you realise that names which verged on the mythical were real flesh and blood people who walked the very steps that you tread.
Last night, I stayed in a hotel nestled in a narrow canyon not far from the Dead Sea. From my window I watched a small illuminated waterfall cascade from the rocks, dragged sideways by a strong wind howling through the narrow chasm. King Herod used to come to these falls to cure his ails. Not far away, Salome danced and John the Baptist was beheaded. Although I’ve always been a fan of the “Arnold Schwarzenegger Slept Here” type of plaques that hang on many buildings around the world, this sort of history just blows my mind.
Earlier today we headed down towards the River Jordan. We stopped by Elijah’s Hill and saw the remnants of a cave in which Jesus met John the Baptist. Further down the rough track we came to the spot that scholars, archaeologists and theologians have unanimously agreed was the site of Jesus’s baptism, Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan. The site was off-limits to civilians until the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan and international archaeologists have worked there tirelessly since 1998.
This afternoon it was Mount Nebo, the spot from which Moses saw the Promised Land and the place at which Moses died.
It’s all a bit overwhelming, to be honest. A bit of historical sensory overload, if you like…especially for someone who still tells the story of how he once saw Joan Rivers at an airport!
Of all the many wonderful things I will remember of Jordan, one of the most striking will unquestionably be the genuine warmth and hospitality of the people.
Unlike most other countries, not once have I felt hassled or harassed, never mind threatened. Whether the middle of the day or late at night, on a bustling city street, a barren desert or a mass tourist site, I have been welcomed but never bothered. If I had a Jordanian Dinar for each time someone has spontaneously offered a warm ‘Hello,” “Welcome” or a smile or a laugh, I’d be a very wealthy man.
On countless occasions I have been offered tea. Walking through a busy market, past a spice shop or a remote Bedouin tent, I have been handed a small glass of tea. There’s no catch. No effort to lure me into their shop. No obligation to buy, or even to look. And certainly no expectation of payment. It’s a genuine hospitality that is sadly rare in the world today.
Or at least rare in our world today.
Not all adventures go quite according to plan, but I guess that’s what makes them adventures.
Leaving the wonders of Petra behind, we drove away from the sleeping city shortly after 4 a.m. and headed up into the cloud-shrouded hills that surround. By the time we crested, visibility was practically nil, and we drove cautiously with our flashers on, feeling our way forward.
Wadi Rum was still dark when we arrived, with a faint hum of pink silhouetting distant peaks. We crossed the railway line that Lawrence had sabotaged during the Arab Revolt (in case you hadn’t guessed, I’m an unabashed fan of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’!) and came to a stop beside a truck carrying deflated balloon and enormous basket. Our first proper glimpse of Rum was going to come from a dawn balloon ride. Lawrence would have approved.
The basket was placed on the hard sand and turned onto its side. The balloon was rolled out and opened with giant fans before being inflated with hot air from the flame-spewing dragon-like burners. Slowly it grew until it loomed high above us, blocking the now pale-pink sky.
The basket was righted and in we clambered. The burners roared, our scalps sizzled and gradually the safety rope tied to the 4X4 became taut. We clenched the edge of the basket while Captain Khalid, our pilot, gave us the safety briefing. Finally, we lifted up, leaving the sand and gravel behind.
Our ascent stopped when the line was completely taut. Captain Khaled checked his gauges. The balloon began to twist, the cold morning wind slapped at our faces. The Captain stared downward with concern. I followed his gaze. The 4X4 was being pulled rolling and bouncing across the desert. Captain Khaled tutted, he opened the vent on the top of the balloon and we began to descend. We braced for the landing but settled gently.
“Sorry, but it’s too dangerous today,” he explained to a disappointed basketful of passengers. “The winds are just too strong.”
Lawrence would not have approved.
The smoke from the fire snaked and weaved its way skyward where it disappeared amid an ocean of stars while the drum, oud and song of two Bedouin musicians rose with it. Our campsite was located at the apex of a narrow canyon in Wadi Rum. The entrance to the site was protected by a curtain of heavy blankets which, when swept aside revealed a mosaic of carpets arrayed on the sandy floor around the fire and lines of candles and flickering lamps. Tents lined the canyon walls within the camp, each comprised of more heavy carpets hung over wooden frames.
The Bedouin warmly welcomed us and ushered us to an area where dinner was buried. Several hours earlier the food—chicken, lamb, potatoes and vegetables, known as zarbe—had been submerged between layers of hot embers and sand. From the ground emerged a feast of epic proportions.
We had arrived at Wadi Rum well before daylight. Judgement on Lawrence of Arabia’s description of it as ‘vast, echoing and God-like’ would have to wait until the sun had climbed sufficiently above the tall, craggy mountains. In the meantime, in the twilight we spied rolling dunes and wind-rippled sand running up to outcrops of sandstone rock: jagged, sharp, weather-worn and soaring.
This was the Wadi Rum—the protected area in the south where seemingly endless stark landscapes, rock art and natural formations compete for attention and where David Lean chose to film much of his own ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ fifty years ago.
With dinner over and the last notes of music drifting away like the embers of the fire, we turned in for the night. The silence was palpable and our ears rang. There was a bitter chill in the air, but in our Bedouin cocoons beneath a mountain of blankets, our lungs full of the freshest air, our stomachs replete with hospitality and our minds filled with Bedouin lore and natural history we soon slipped into a deep sleep.
The Runways of Wadi Rum are busy right now as the Fall 2012 Desert Collection is introduced to the local fashion press. The piece de resistance of the collection is the keffiyeh, or head scarf, so ubiquitous throughout the Middle East. Never one to commit a fashion faux pas, I simply had to add one to my wardrobe. I will confess that initially it was purely for vanity, but having sported one on most days of opXpeditions Jordan I am now an enthusiastic convert.
The keffiyeh has been worn for centuries and it’s not difficult to figure out why. Although merely a nicely patterned large square of cotton, it somehow manages to protect your head, face and neck from the blistering sun, and trap a cushion of cooler air next to your scalp on the hottest of hot desert days. On cold mornings it is likewise every bit as warming and comfortable. It keeps swarms of flies at bay, and keeps clouds of sand and dust from your nostrils, ears and mouth.
In short, it is the versatile Little Black Dress of desert garb.
And, if I am honest, it really does look rather cool.
Now, where’s my mirror?
It’s dusk here. The sun has dipped below distant Egyptian mountains. A crescent moon is rising in its place, dribbling its white light across the blackened waters of the Red Sea. The lights of Eilat, Israel are pulsating almost within touching distance on my right while the call to prayer from the mosque on my left fills the air.
Welcome to Aqaba.
For any fan of history, Aqaba was the city that Lawrence of Arabia (him again!) and the forces of Emir Faisal, Abdullah al-Hussein and Auda Abu Tayi succeeded in taking from the Ottoman Empire during the Arab Revolt of 1917. It is Jordan’s only port, an oasis after a hostile wilderness of mountains and desert, and an aqua-adventure junky’s paradise.
Tomorrow we’ll head off and try some snorkelling in the Red Sea…but for now, I’m just enjoying the sights and sounds.
Do you think I’m sexy?
I generally make it a practice not to wear make-up in the desert. I think it’s just a little bit over the top for the scenery, and besides, the blazing sun usually provides enough rouge to sate even a retired vaudevillian.
But, when invited into a Bedouin camp for a spot of eye-liner, who am I to refuse their noble hospitality?
For as long as anyone can remember, the Bedouin men have worn kaloul—a form of eye-liner when trying to impress people. Having been eyed by a few of them, I can confirm that it’s certainly quite striking. Although the entire opXpeditions Jordan team was supposed to partake, cameraman Andrew said it would damage the eye-piece of his Sony camera while David said it would clash with his socks. So, it was down to me. Of course.
The local children clustered around giggling. The women gathered in the background watching intently from a respectful distance. A small container of cotton cloth saturated in oil was brought out and lit before being placed on the ground and covered with a large metal wok-style pan with a small hole in the centre. While that was underway, we were given tea while seated barefooted on the floor cushions.
When ready, the pan was turned over and a match stick produced. Using the wooden end, the soot was diligently scraped from the pan. When a sufficient quantity had been gathered my head was held between firm, weathered hands, my eye pried open with all the tenderness of a night club bouncer and the match stick poked and prodded at my eye line...and occasionally in my eye.
I could tell I was ravishing by the reaction of the children who were laughing hysterically and pointing and one very little boy who boldly proclaimed that he would never wear make-up. Even the women were laughing, but I knew they were laughing with me and not at me and I felt, well, drop dead sexy.
Andrew and David wasted no time capturing my stunning image on their cameras, although for some reason when I asked to see what I looked like both suffered technical problems and were unable to show me their images.
I attribute it to jealousy.
The Original Flying Carpet
We had finished our rock climbing in Wadi Rum and were back at the vehicles packing up for the drive to camp. Mohammed—the local Bedouin guide—and his colleague and Italian guests loaded the ropes, helmets, carabineers and other gear into the back of their truck and then climbed in.
All except Mohammed.
Instead, he laid a hard mat covered with a quilted blanket onto the sand. He unspooled a rope and tied it to the back of the truck. Onto the mat he climbed and squatted on his feet and knees, his hands tightly gripped on the front of the contraption.
‘Yala’ he shouted, Arabic for “Let’s go!”
His colleague fired the engine and with spinning wheels and a cloud of dust, he shot across the desert with Mohammed dragged behind.
Wadi Rum is a place of silence. Even in the middle of the day the only sound you are likely to hear is the distant caw of a crow echoing off the rocks. Yet this day the canyons and mountains, dunes and flats were filled with Mohammed’s screams of terror as his conveyance raced across the rough ground.
He bumped and bounced, veered wildly from one side to another. His shouts continued…yet he was smiling. Wildly, smiling. This was clearly a new Bedouin adventure sport and Mohammed was its creator. His eyes were wide, whether with fear, agony or joy was hard to tell, but he never asked to stop.
Risking more serious injury he raised one arm in the air and waved at us before the vehicle and Mohammed disappeared in a cloud of billowing sand…although his screams echoed a little longer.
Petra Comes Alive
It is only once you’ve visited Petra in Jordan that you realize it is so much more than just the breathtaking facade of the Treasury Building. In fact, the entire site would take days to properly explore, contains more than 3,000 caves—many used as dwellings—not to mention countless tombs, a theatre, monastery and churches all carved from the rock and a vast Great Temple: the only free-standing structure on the site.
And, it has still only been perhaps 20 percent excavated.
Camels, donkeys and carriages transport visitors from one end of this ‘Rose-red city half as old as time’ to the other while guides point out the perfect right-angles in the chiselled-out rooms and the natural frescoes created by the rocks. They explain the city’s history from ancient Nabataean times through Roman, from its abandonment to its use by the Bedouin and its rediscovery by Europeans exactly 200 years ago. But it’s when you wander away from the groups and the guides that Petra comes to life.
Although visited by hundreds of thousands every year, it’s easy to find a slice of Petra for yourself. You can follow the trails and explore the time-worn steps. You can perch high atop its streets and drift back to an age when it bustled with 30,000 residents. You can find solitude in a former tomb—later used as residence—and watch dust clouds suddenly kicked up by a gust of wind whirling through, or listen to the crows wailing mournfully from cliff tops…and all completely alone.
By night we returned to the site. Several times a week they illuminate the Treasury and the narrow pathway or Siq that leads to it with hundreds of candles. Groups are kept small and once at that most-famous of Petra sites, you sit on mats in the darkness, respectfully serenaded by local musicians and simply drift in time and space.
The Smile of Jordan
The harmony and beauty of the Middle East is quite unique. Flavours, smells, the landscape and people are what make Jordan special. My first days here were simply incredible. After taking some stunning photos of the Grand Husseini Mosque in Amman, Mahmoud brought us to what has to be the best falafel shop in Jordan.
The place is so popular that even the king comes often. As I was putting down my equipment a little girl waved at me—she wants a photo, but is too shy to pose. I ask her mother if I can take a picture, and she agrees, but the girl is still too shy. Suddenly, her mother smiles right at me, and so I ask if I can take a picture of her instead. She agrees, and I quickly ready the camera, just as her face lights up like a thousand candles and the smile she wears spreads around her like a firefly’s glow. Here is the photo—what do you think?
Mint and Spices
Mint and spices are really strong here in Jordan, making each little thing special. This is the tea that the vendor in the market offered me. I thought that sharing with all you Outpost's followers was a kind thought. Cheers الهتافات
The Market; Its People
Not really that different from Italian markets. People looking, touching and tasting; and the vendors screaming and singing. The kindness and the smiles while I’m in the market wandering with Mahmoud, Janine, Andrew and our star, Simon Vaughan, make me feel comfortable, and I try to catch the vibe—but here is where I see something different from other markets that I’m used to.
More than a few boys carrying trays with coffee and tea. While putting up my tripod, a vendor taps my shoulder and smiles at me, and I think maybe I shouldn't be doing what I’m doing—the first thing that pops into my mind is to say sorry. But I’m wrong, the vendor has brought all of us tea, and was just handing me a cup! The scent of mint and the aroma of tea spreading in the air was just what I needed.
The City That Sings
Chants and sounds from a lost time merge in Amman, in an atmosphere I have never experienced before. The view is amazing—hundreds, millions maybe, of houses on the city’s famed seven hills, one attached to the other and with little paths that connect streets to rooftops to houses. And the streets, filled with kids playing, vendors and little shops.
The city is loud and chaotic but it works; the people wander in the tiny streets while cars and trucks rush their way through. The view from each hilltop is astonishing, each photo capturing the texture of houses and history mixed together. I’m here on the last roof of Amman, embracing its culture, its view, and the sound of the mosque that echoes over the seven hills...This is Amman, one way to enjoy it, one way to understand it...to visit it.
After three straight days of clear blue skies and endless sunshine, clouds began to roll in across the Dead Sea this morning. By early afternoon the straggling dark grey shapes were rolling malevolently and clawing at the tops of deep canyons.
It is late autumn in Jordan and therefore not totally unexpected, but we were hoping that opXpeditions would be able to escape before the change of seasons.
The heavens opened in mid-afternoon and there was a brief, refreshing downpour. As we descended the 1500-metre Fifa Canyon, we came across families out for a Friday drive gathered along the edge of the precipitous switchback road. We stopped to see what had caught their attention and found them watching cascading torrents of viscous brown water churning angrily through the narrow chasms.
Rain is an event in a parched desert environment and everywhere we found people watching dry riverbeds suddenly born anew. Snow is not uncommon here in the winter but we’ll settle for the first rains as we don’t really fancy making snow camels when we’re camping in the desert!
Cinematographers call it the ‘Magic Hour’, a time when the light gives off soft hues that paint pastel colours across the landscape. Throw in a constant, barely discernible dust haze hanging lazily over rolling hills of simple homes, wandering goats, gaggles of hand-holding school children and the occasional grazing camel and you end up with magic vistas of ageless beauty.
The only downside to all that glory are very early mornings, but that’s a small price to pay for the sensory rewards. This morning we were up well before dawn and headed south on the King’s Highway.
This is no freeway of service stations and burger stops, but instead one of the oldest travel routes in the world. In ancient times it connected the three kingdoms of Jordan; in biblical times it was a link between communities whose names form the backbone of the Holy Land; the Romans designated it as an important and strategic artery while Syrians and Turks used it as their thoroughfare on the way to the Haj in Mecca
For opXpeditions, it is the route to adventure.
Thursday Night In Amman
Thursday night in Amman is party night. The labyrinthine downtown streets were heaving with people happy that their week was over. From the green-lit tops of towering minarets came the call to prayer, drowning out even the constant honking of car horns and the shouts of vendors.
We weaved our way through the packed markets, gazing at massive assortments of fresh figs, olives and pomegranates. We passed stalls selling the black and red dog-checked shemagh head scarves and perfume shops whose mirror-backed shelves teemed with bottles of aromatic oils and spices as ancient as the Three Wise Men themselves.
Climbing a dark and dusty staircase we arrived at a small tea house overlooking a busy street. The air was thick with smoke from sheeshah pipes, while the occupants—all men—feverishly played cards around the stacks of glasses of amber tea and colourful fruit juices that littered the small table tops.
Roll on the weekend!
I must confess that I’ve never thought of the Middle East when it comes to wine, yet our visit to Zumot Wineries changed that.
Run by Omar Zumot, Zumot Wineries is merely continuing a tradition of Jordanian wine-making that stretches back to biblical times. However, unlike his predecessors, Omar’s vintages have won gold and silver awards at prestigious competitions worldwide.
A self-effacing and unassuming man, Omar led us on a tipple of some of his finest efforts and explained, with an infectious enthusiasm, the challenges that a winemaker faces in the desert: hard-soil, rocky-terrain and harsh weather. Yet his bold experiments—he modestly attributes his successes not to his own skill but to perseverance and good fortune—have won the acclaim of international connoisseurs, and one opXpeditioner who used to think Pinot Grigio was the author of Pinocchio!
In The Middle of It All
Earlier today we stood atop the battlements of medieval Ajlun Castle and gazed across the nearby rolling hills.
At this moment, it really did strike home just how much Jordan is—and always has been—at the crossroads of the Middle East.
Further south at Aqaba on the Dead Sea, where we’ll be next week, Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia are all within easy splashing distance—which all goes to show, Jordan literally is the crossroads of the Middle East.
Today we were invited into the house of Mohammed Dwekat for lunch as part of a pioneering program to open Jordanian homes as bed and breakfasts for accommodation or even just a meal.
We were greeted warmly and led to his living room where we sat on cushions, cross-legged.
Then the food began to appear: plates of black and green olives and pickled aubergine; rocket salad with goat’s cheese; babba ghanoush, mahshe and makhmoura. Before I knew it, I had before me a plate of food that rivalled one of Amman’s seven hills.
Eager to show appreciation for their wonderful hospitality and the incredible food, I laboured on—but no sooner had I cleared a spot on my plate than it was filled by more of Mohammed’s generosity.
When it came time to leave, I was immensely relieved when I found that my shoes still fit me…although I did have to open both of the double doors to get out rather than just the half I’d used when I’d arrived!
A Day To Get This Far
As the sun set on the Mediterranean we crossed the Israeli coast and continued over the West Bank before skimming across sun-reddened desert to Queen Alia International Airport.
The neon-lit trucks streaking along the Desert Highway were in deep contrast to the small clusters of camels and basic Bedouin encampments dissolving in the dusk. Soon however, the lights of Amman came into view. The City of Seven Hills looked like waves of diamonds undulating in a heavy tide with the illuminated Citadel glistening atop.
It had taken a day to get this far. No small step to Amman, but one giant leap for opXpeditions.
Falling In Love
At first site, a glimpse, a perfume, something that captures your senses and brings you away—Jordan.
Arriving in Jordan is an amazing experience, and our team is simply fantastic! Our schedule is continuously moving and evolving so that we get as much as we can from this extraordinary experience.
We just took a ride through Amman, and Janine, our local expert, assured us that this fantastic city is only the beginning. Upon our arrival, we enjoyed an incredible dinner—like we have never had before. And the view at the restaurant was unlike any other I have seen.
This was love at first sight.
Jordan, We Have Arrived
Team Outpost Jordan has arrived! Tonight we are heading out on an expedition with Jordan’s Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature—a non-profit dedicated to the protection of wildlife and nature.
Photos are on the way!
Team Outpost Jordan has officially departed, and in a few more hours they will be arriving at Queen Alia International Airport.
This expedition to Jordan is quickly shaping up to be epic, and Team Outpost Jordan will have no shortage of experiences to document: from rock climbing in Ajloun to rappelling down waterfalls in Wadi Hasa.
Sit tight folks, it’s almost go time.
Gearing Up for Jordan 2
Here he is, the man behind the pen—or keyboard, rather—Simon Vaughan, Senior Travel Editor for Team Outpost Jordan.
We snapped a shot of Simon with his snazzy new Pelican heavy-duty all-weather case, which he promptly filled with wit, adjectives and a keen sense of adventure.
And yes, this is the same Simon who writes some of the best feature stories for Outpost Magazine—not to mention the voice behind our Local Knowledge column! Simon’s iconic writing and ability to perfectly capture the essence of an adventure make him key to Team Outpost Jordan.
Stay tuned as Team Outpost Jordan gears up for an adventure of a lifetime. Jordan, here we come!
Gearing Up for Jordan
Our Pelican Cases have arrived: three heavy-duty all-weather transport cases in a range of easily identifiable colours.
As you can see, David, Outpost photographer-in-chief on Team Outpost Jordan, is pretty excited about this—the moment our cases arrived, he began educating the rest of us (very ecstatically!) about their practicality and durability.
We managed to snap this heat-of-the-moment picture as David enters into a Zen-like state, allowing him to become one with his gear. Apparently, photographers really like keeping their cameras safe. Who knew?
T-minus 5 days until Team Outpost heads to Jordan. Stay tuned!