Jordan, famed as the home of the magnificent ancient city of Petra, the wild desert beauty of Wadi Rum, endless photos of people floating in the buoyant waters of the Dead Sea and countless sites of importance to three major religions, is a country of superlatives. Despite perceptions, it’s also a country as welcoming as it is safe, with a wealth of culture and history.
In many ways it seems miraculous that it’s still possible to visit Jordan given that to the north a vicious war rages in Syria; to the east a vicious war rages in Iraq; to the west an a deeply unequal but equally vicious conflict regularly engulfs Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories; and to the south lies the unwelcoming religious-totalitarianism of Saudi Arabia.
Jordan is a beacon of tolerance and stability in a region that unfortunately lacks both. It currently hosts over 1.5 million refugees from Iraq and Syria, a burden many Jordanians bear with pride. Jordanians are supremely conscious of their situation, regularly asking visitors whether they are having a good time and feel safe in their country.
To these questions I answered truthfully, I was having a good time and I always felt safe. Sadly for Jordan perceptions seem to have outweighed reality for a lot of people. The number of visitors to the country has nosedived in the last few years, and the tens of thousands of Jordanians who rely upon tourism for their livelihoods have suffered in equal measure.
This is a tragedy, Jordanians go out of their way to help visitors. Numerous times when I stopped by the side of a road to work out which direction I should be going, cars would stop and the passengers ask if I needed help. In some of the more out of the way places I visited I gave lifts to people, all of whom were delighted to have a tourist to chat to.
I’d been working in Jordan and had some vacation afterwards but didn’t really have a plan of where to go and what to see. I knew I’d be visiting Petra but beyond that I decided to play it by ear. Jordan is relatively small, making it easy to see a lot in a short time.
I almost went south to the Red Sea, but on a whim decided to head north into the desert of eastern Jordan. On the way I visited Crusader fortresses, ancient deserted villages, vibrant towns, Biblical sites, abandoned desert castles and pleasure palaces, the ruins of Roman and Byzantine cities, and I ate delicious food washed down with Jordan Valley wines that have been cultivated since Roman times.
Jordan is a country that welcomes exploration and it is a country well worth exploring.