Here are some general observations and notes about Jordan.
Much of the country is desert. This should not come as a surprise. The Jordanians are doing much with the water supplies available to them although harvesting water that previously would have ended up in the Dead Sea is resulting in the level of the Dead Sea dropping by almost a metre per year. This has serious consequences for this body of already very salty water.
A whole range of groups have populated and/or ruled the area known as Jordan. There is evidence that homo sapiens were in the area prior to the bronze age. Each group has left its mark on the landscape.
The country is significant to a number of religions: jewish, christain and muslim. Moses and his borther Aaron are believed to have been buried on the eastern side of the River Jordan, i.e. in Jordan, John the Baptist lived and died there and Jesus was baptised on the eastern (Jordan) side of the river.
Christains were evident from the 4th century and there is considerable archealogical evidence to support this. Of course they were followed by the muslims and 95% of Jordanians today are muslims, the rest are christains.
Although nearly all of the population are muslims the country is not ruled, from a constitutional perspective, by islamic law. This is a point of significant differnce with much of the Middle East. There is a freedom for the population to chose the form of dress that suits them and the society is very tolerant of others. Of course, members of the various sects do observe the restrictions placed on them. This is their choice and is not foisted upon them by the government or the general community. However, anyone who goes outside the acceptable mode of dress for their sect could be considered loose and be open to abuse.
The roads vary from excellent to goat tracks. This isn't surprising as much of the country is desert with very little traffic over some of the tracks. This is not dissimilar to outback Australia or, indeed, rural Australia.
Many of the roads have traffic calming features with speed dumps at regular intervals. This includes the highways.
The best road sign that I saw was a warning triangle with a camel. Reminded me of our kangaroo and wombat warning signs.
Jordan has been hit hard by the troubles in the Middle East. Normally they receive a signifcant boast of forgeign currency from tourism. This year there has been a dramatic drop in foreign tourists with only 5-10%, depending on who you talk to, of the normal number coming to Jordan. For people who normally make a living from the tourist trade this is a devastating situation. Our group always received a very warm welcome wherever we went as everyone of us was contributing to their economy.
English is the second language used throughout Jordan. I almost felt guilty that I did not have even the most basic of words and phrases of arabic but the Jordanians didn't seem to mind, at least to our faces, and always endeavoured to determine what it was that we wanted or needed.
Signs, both road and shops, as well as menus were often in both english and as well as the expected arabic. For english speaking visitors this certainly makes it a whole lot easier than would otherwise be the case.
A couple of times we encountered children as they were returning home after school. I'm not sure of the exact school times but it seems that they start quite early, at least by 8 o'clock. We came across children walking home along the roads from as early as 11:30. I'm not sure how far some of them walk to and from school but it wouild appear that some walk quite a way. There was no evidence of school buses although I could have missed them.
The cuisine is very similar to Turkish and Lebanese which is hardly surprising as the whole of the Middle East share so much history, were occupied by many of the same rulers and share similar climates.
All the hotels we stayed in were more than adeqaute. We had ensuites at all but the Wadi Rum camp. While the maintenance of some properties could be described as amateurish I suspect that this is mainly due to cutting costs. This is a pity as it detracts from the overall look and feel of places.
The prices in the few supermarkets we shopped at were very low. As we only went to a few random supermarkets, and these were actually quite small shops, I can but assume that this is case generally across Jordan.
In restaurants, the price of a main course was generally comparable to those we came across in English pubs. Starters, especially traditional mixed ones, were generally very reasonably priced.
Sami attempted to give us as wide a culinary experience as possible which was good. Only one night could be rated as disappointing and that was because the main course was rather bland and ordinary. The picnic beside the Kings Highway would have to be rated as an experience. The food was excellent however the location left much to be desired.
Jordan is rich in archeology and a real treasurehouse on antiquities. There are so many places that warrant attention and a visit that a week hardly scratches the surface. We were fortunate to be able to experience a wide range of activities that introduced us the many great sites that Jordan has to offer as well as either visiting or having pointed out to us places of special interest as they have historical significance whether biblical or of more recent history.
Being able to swim in both the Dead and Red Seas was a wonderful, unforgetable experience. Floating in the Dead Sea was a feeling that has to be experienced. Words cannot adequately convey just what it was like to float on the sea or the difficulty when attempting to get upright.
In Aqaba we saw just how close Jordan, Isreal, Egypt and Saudia Arabia are. A squabble between one would easy impact on the others.
The tourist industry in Jordan has been hit hard. Many of the tourists normally would come on to Jordan after going to Egypt. No one is going to Egypt so the follow on is not happening either.
The administration of our tour was excellent. Exodus were always quick in their response and nothing was too much trouble for them.
The bus we travelled on was modern, clean and comfortable. Our driver was excellent and negotiated a number of very tight spots with unbelievable skill. At times he did additional side trips for us such as ferrying us to the restaurant and back on the night of our first full tour day and again on our final night.
Our tour guide, Sami, was indeed an intersting bloke. He had a whakey sense of humour and we often had difficulty working out if he was joking or truly serious. He genuinely wanted us to have the broadest possible experience of Jordan and what it has to offer and, to this end, he provided us with opportunities to experience things over and above the listed optional activities.
There were times when I'm sure that Sami thought that he was herding a pack of cats. Keeping track of the 18 of us could not have been easy. And did we always stop and listen to what he was telling us? No. This must have made his life a triffle difficult at times but then he is a tour guide and these things happen all the time.
The 18 people on the tour blended very well and we all managed to get on pretty well. There was excellent support of people in the group by others when it was needed.
Overall, it has been a great trip and I would happily recommend it to anyone who has an open mind and does not mind roughing it a bit.
An my highlight? The seond day at Petra when we hiked in to look down on the Treasury. We traversed some stunning country before finally coming out on a ledge which oversaw the signature feature of Petra. getting back down to the base level took us through event more wonderful scenery.
For Trevor the highlight was walking down the canyon which lead to the space which contained the Treasury at Petra.