Grand Tour of Jordan: Petra, Wadi Rum, Aqaba, and More

Sunday, September 18, 2005 | Petra, Jordan

My friend Molly and I, along with two cuddly camels, in Petra.
At midnight last night, the whole group of 27 Americans and one very tired Jordanian chaperone improbably made our triumphant return to Amman after a three-day whirlwind tour of southern Jordan that tested many a nerve, mine included. Despite my fears—and the best efforts of some knuckleheads in the group—the trip turned out to be quite fun. Having my iPod with me sure helped; al-hamdulillah ("thank god") for that.

In three days we managed to see most of what Jordan has to offer, apart from a few northern sites that we'll see later this month. This trip included:

Mt. Nebo view.
  • The summit of Mount Nebo (جبل نيبو), from where Moses and the Israelites first laid eyes on the Promised Land, across the River Jordan, after their Exodus from Egypt and crossing of the Red Sea. This was pretty powerful for some of the more religious members of the group.
Remarkably preserved Roman mosaic at Madaba.
  • Museum of ancient Roman mosaics and modern mosaic workshop at Madaba (مادبا), and more Roman ruins at Um Er-Rasas (أم الرصاص ; a UNESCO World Heritage Site.)
Karak Castle, from afar.
  • Karak Castle (قلعة الكرك), which was unfortunately almost overtaken by the nearby town and was thus far less picturesque than many of the Crusader castles in Syria. Saladin's siege of this castle, however, was the historical basis for the recent film "Kingdom of Heaven".
Moonrise in Dana Nature Reserve
  • A night of camping in Dana Biosphere Reserve (محمية ضانا الطبيعية ; pronounced DAH-nah), a beautiful site with rugged terrain and steep cliffs. We spotted no animals on our hikes, unfortunately.
  • The renowned stone city of Petra, including the famous Treasury, which every Indiana Jones fan should recognize from "The Last Crusade". Hacked into the red stone cliffs thousands of years ago with nothing more than hand tools by the Nabateans—an ancient people about whom relatively little is known—Petra is an absolute treasure. UNESCO World Heritage Site, duh. Petra's awe-inspiring scale is hard to convey. It's also a long walk; luckily, I rode a rented horse out of the long canyon—at a gallop!
If Petra's scale is hard to convey, Wadi Rum's is impossible.
With Tom and Sami, showing the camels who is boss.
  • What's a study abroad trip to the desert without a camel trek?
Running into a huge piece of coral in the Gulf of Aqaba, a branch of the Red Sea.
  • After three months of anticipation, at Aqaba, on Jordan's Red Sea coast, I finally got a chance to use the snorkel and underwater disposable cameras that I had lugged all the way from the US. Our group took an awesome boat ride, checking out shipwrecks and amazing coral reefs in the surprisingly clear waters. As the ship cruised around the Gulf of Aqaba, our cell phones kept hopping from Jordanian to Saudi to Israeli networks.
Not bad, Jordan. Not bad.

Full albums of my photos are available here, divided into land and sea halves:

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