Yala in Arabic means “Let’s Go!” It was a favorite phrase of Osama, our tour guide on our 7-day Jordan Escape tour by Globus. It was a phrase I soon grew to love for it’s curt push towards yet another extraordinary Jordan experience.
This Middle Eastern country has been on my list of places to visit in the world for many years. I’ve heard nothing but glowing praise from the many friends I know who have visited.
They all said the same thing, “the people are so lovely.”
I fell in love with the people on my first transfer ride from the airport with Khalid. During our 40-minute drive he taught me a lot about the history and culture of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (through a fun game format) You can read more about that here.
The same warm interactions continued throughout the Jordan trip, even with the two young men in the shawarma shop, who attempted to understand the ineffective Google translate for “I can’t eat gluten”.
Through a game of charades and many smiles, we reached an understanding to leave the bread off my plate, even though one continued to offer it to me, bewildered as to why I’d say no.
From the people to the food, to the stunning landscapes, and big-ticket attractions, my visit to Jordan was incredible and has inspired me to explore more of the Middle East.
In this post, I’ll share my most favorite memories – it might not be the exact top attraction or thing to do in Jordan, but the story within it.
As our tagline says “Travel More. Create Better Memories.”
Be present, seek out moments, small and large, that make you laugh, and give you stories to share around the campfire for years to come.
Your travels are less about what to see and do, but more about how you feel, connect, and embrace.
In my next post, I share the best things to do in Jordan in a 7-day itinerary outline.
I joined this Jordan tour as part of a paid campaign and traveled without Craig and the girls.
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Several of the experiences below were organized by Visit Jordan and not part of the Globus tour.
- The Baptismal Site of Jesus at Bethany Beyond the Jordan
- Taking a 9-Mile Hike Through Petra
- A Sunset Float in the Dead Sea
- The Hilarious Frothing Camel Ride through Wadi Rum
- Meeting Maya and the Scent for Color Program
- Riding through the streets of Amman in a royal vehicle
- Eating Delicious Jordanian Food
- The Jordanian bagpipes playing in the Jerash Theater
- Beit Sitti: A Group Cooking Class in Amman
- Dinner with a Jordanian Family in Petra
- Pin for Later
The Baptismal Site of Jesus at Bethany Beyond the Jordan
I didn’t think too much about visiting Bethany Beyond the Jordan, the place where Jesus was baptized by John over 2,000 years ago.
Not only was I raised Catholic and attended Catholic schools, but I also got my teaching degree at the Catholic University and taught in Catholic schools.
But since I’m no longer practicing, I wasn’t in the “this is a big deal” kind of thinking. In fact, I thought it was going to be the most uninteresting part of our Jordan tour.
Well, the sacred energy of this place immediately snuck into my nonchalant perspective and grounded me down into a spiritual experience.
That was in part due to the enthusiasm of our guide Rustom Mkhjian, the Director General of Bethany Beyond the Jordan, who shared poof that this was the exact place where John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River.
As we were there early before the crowds and on a private tour arranged by Globus, Rustom allowed us to go down to the water and bless ourselves with it.
Being at the front of the line, I was stressed I was going to mess this up, but thankfully, I remembered to make the sign of the cross. My years of church attendance not completely lost on me.
It was only later that it hit me how monumental it was to be at the place where one of the most well-known, influential, and historically significant figures of all human history was baptized.
Even an atheist would respect the magnitude of a moment like that.
I wish I spent less time grappling with my phone to capture the essence and more time standing silently to soak it all up.
You can see my video Reel of the experience below:
Taking a 9-Mile Hike Through Petra
Wonders of the World (new and old) are high on the bucket list of any traveler.
Walking out of the Siq – the curving red and orange canyon path into Petra – and gazing upon the Treasury – the most iconic view of Petra – is a remarkable sight worthy of the New World Wonder label. (See more in this Reel)
Through my years of travel, I’ve found that it’s not those iconic snapshots that stay with you forever, but more how you approach them, or what you do that lies beyond.
For example, it’s not the 15 minute “I was here” photo of the average Grand Canyon visitor that has been in my bag of travel stories for 15 years, but the 11-mile hike Craig and I did into its depths.
In Petra, it’s the 9-mile hike we took to approach this ancient Rock City via the back door. It was several miles before we even reached the back door!
This trail (best with a guide) took us through a stunning desert landscape with breathtaking views of the mountains and across the wide basin of Wadi Araba.
It gave a sense of what it must have looked and felt like riding in and out of Petra thousands of years ago in your trading caravan.
You will climb several stairs through out the hike, but apart from that, it’s not too strenuous.
Doing it with a guide means you won’t get lost (easy to do) and will give you a deeper insight into Petra’s history, and the desert mountain world. Our private guide, Abdullah pointed out details that would otherwise be overlooked, like the wine vats, water tanks, and areas of the Holy Land stretched out across the views in front of us.
Our first glimpse of this UNESCO Heritage Site was of The Monastery. This unknown structure – possibly a church or tomb – is similar to the Treasury in style and grandiose, but bigger and more unexpected.
To be honest, before visiting Petra on our Globus tour, I wasn’t even really aware that much existed beyond the Treasury.
I’m grateful we experienced it on this hike with Abdullah, who shared so much about the society and city the Nabataean people created way back in the 4th Century BC.
As we discovered on our hike through a small part of the 263 square kilometres (roughly 50,000 football fields) region of Petra, this place is massive with so many tombs and buildings to explore.
Perspective: It takes about 20-30 minutes just to walk down the 1.2km Siq to reach the Treasury. They have only uncovered about 18% of Petra so far. No wonder it’s one of the best things to do in Jordan!
It’s mind boggling to contemplate how they carved out these massive structures, tombs, theaters and complex irrigation systems made from clay pipes that delivered an abundance of fresh, clean drinking water to the desert dwellers.
Without Abudullah, I may never have seen beyond its impressive physical realm.
I learned so much more about the Nabadeans and how they created a wealthy society that revered women, forbade prostitution and slavery, paid people what they were worth, and engineered a world that existed in harmony with mother Nature.
How did we go wrong and stray so far from this ideal path?
We extended our nine miles of hiking by walking back in to experience Petra by Night. Even though our legs protested, it was fun walking down the dark Siq, only lit by lanterns on either side of the path and the starry sky above, to arrive at the Treasury.
The only light was from the evenly spaced candles laid out on the desert ground in front of the shadowy outline of the Treasury.
A desert dweller stood amongst the candles playing an Jordanian tune on a flute, bringing harmony to the quiet, dark stillness. After a bit of storytelling about Petra and the Nabateans, colored lights illuminated the Treasury.
I took this moment to completely forget all my photography skills and not turn up my ISO to capture the beautiful Petra by night. At least I got the thousands of candles in front okay!
Please spend longer than a quick “I was here photo” in front of the Treasury in Petra. An abundance of riches lies a little further down the path.
I will have a full post on Petra coming soon.
A Sunset Float in the Dead Sea
Before this trip to Jordan, I thought floating in the Dead Sea was something you did in Israel. Middle Eastern Geography was obviously not my strong suit, as the Dead Sea is the border between Jordan and Israel.
In fact, you can see Israel from the Jordan side, which is especially beautiful when the sun sets behind the Israeli mountains.
We were staying at the gorgeous Movenpick Resort & Spa on the Dead Sea, which had private beach access to the water.
The Dead Sea is 35% salt and packed full of wonderful minerals for your body.
At 420 meters below sea level, it is also the lowest point on earth. Because of the high barometric pressure at this point, the air around the Dead Sea is up to eight percent richer in oxygen than that at sea level.
So now all you have to do is mud up, breathe deep, and sit back and float. Get ready to walk out looking ten years longer.
You’ll find clay pots on the rocky shore filled with thick black mud to spread over your body before getting into the water.
It feels quite awkward floating on the Dead Sea. First because you have to resist the natural urge to dive headfirst into the water, and second because you have to learn how to let go and trust your body will just float.
You can trust the science on this one, the Dead Sea will hold you afloat.
It was a little choppy when we visited, so we did have to use our body a little more to ensure we didn’t roll over, or let the water get in our eyes or mouth. I can assure you it tastes pretty disgusting. (Spitting during COVID times is pretty awkward!)
This was a fun way to end a great Jordan trip with friends. We had a lot of laughs filming each other caked in mud and floating in the Dead Sea. See more in the Reel here.
I’ll share more about this resort and the amazing massage I had in the Spa before my float in my next post. I definitely want to bring Craig and the girls back here!
The Hilarious Frothing Camel Ride through Wadi Rum
My entire experience in Wadi Rum was exceptional, from bouncing around on the back of a 4×4 pickup and laughing with my blogging friends, to sipping tea in a Bedouin camp, having a Bedouin family cook traditional bread over a fire, and gazing in awe at the spectacular desert scenery of red rock sandstone and granite formations and sand dunes.
You may recognize it from movie scenes like Martian and Lawrence of Arabia (who once roamed through the area we were exploring.)
My greatest memory though – one that I’m still giggling over– was our short 20-minute camel ride across the sand to the Bedouin camp.
I hesitated on saying yes, but how could you not ride a camel through a Middle Eastern desert?
This ancient form of transportation is a central part of the Bedouins’ life as a source of food, sign of wealth, and means of getting around.
If you’ve ever hopped on top of a camel – or alighted from one – you know it’s an awkward experience that upends your brain’s perception of what a safe animal mounting is.
There is only one heightened sense – “Oh My God, I’m going over the camel’s head to face-plant in the sand.”
After surviving the mount, I was threatened with falling off again – through no fault of my calm and steady dromedary, but by the uncontrollable laughter trembling through my body giving me the ultimate core workout.
We were short a couple of camels for our large group, so our Bedouin guide ran off to retrieve more. He returned trailing behind him a camel that looked as if rabies and COVID had just had a party on his face.
White foam was frothing out of its nose and mouth like someone had put too many suds in the washing machine. Every now and then his tongue lagged out of his mouth, which only ramped up the intensity of our screeching laughter.
Michael from Helene in Between did not look perturbed at all, ignoring our suggestions (interrupted by roars of laughter) that it wasn’t a good idea to ride it as something was obviously wrong.
But he got the inside scoop from the guide and jumped on and rode like a King. I could barely look over for fear of falling off the camel again.
Michael told us after the ride that the male camel was actually frothing at the mouth because there was a girl camel in the pack that was on heat.
I cannot begin to tell you the gratitude I felt in that moment to be part of the human species and not the camel kind! I’m pretty sure that would be the end of humankind.
Meeting Maya and the Scent for Color Program
Maya is possibly the most extraordinary young woman I’ve ever met. She was born with macular degeneration and can see only blurred images and can’t distinguish between faces or hues of colors.
Distinguish is a word she used.
Maya had flawless English, self-taught through YouTube channels. She could also speak Spanish, French, and of course Arabic, although she says English is more her first language now.
She could also mimic the different accents in our traveling group, even the very difficult Australian accent.
Maya is only 18. She’s studying at university with high honors, she can paint, and sings like Camillo Cabello’s protégé.
She had a spirit that outshone the entire room, a confidence like no other, and she radiated joy and kindness as she engaged with everyone in the room.
We met her while visiting the Darat Suhail for Art center in Amman and learning about their Scent of Color program.
The founder, Suhail Baqueen, had taken us on a tour of the Jordan Gallery of Fine Arts in the morning, and was now sharing his own art space and gallery dedicated to teaching children with visual impairments to express themselves through art.
Using essential oils, they add scent to paints and markers, so the budding arts can identify color, and then turn what they see in their imaginations into a piece of art. For example, lemon is yellow, mint is green, and bubblegum is blue.
Suhail travels the country conducting workshops to help those who are visually impaired create their own canvas masterpieces.
We also met the quieter Ella and Yusuf, who also beamed when talking in their limited English about the program.
Maya showed me that with a strength of spirit, there is no challenge that can’t somehow be turned into a blessing and gift.
All of us continued to speak about her for the rest of the day and beyond. It sparked great conversations, curious questions, and awe and wonder at what humans are capable of – creating beautiful pieces of art in perfect color without ever having seen the image in real form.
I’m so thankful for this experience in Amman provided to us by Globus and Visit Jordan. I love to experience the warm, inspiring spirit of the local people and see how communities are making a difference.
These are the real stories of the countries you visit, and it’s worth digging a little deeper beyond the tourist attractions and media stories to find them.
Here is Maya’s Tik Tok account if you want to get to know her: maya5alid_99 Yet another thing she is rocking!
Riding through the streets of Amman in a royal vehicle
Unfortunately, driving through the streets of Amman in a vehicle fit for a King is not an experience you can arrange.
But I want to include it here as this is my travel blog with personal experiences AND I love to help you see the magic of possibilities and unexpected surprises. Life is full of them.
As any travel writer, travel blogger, or travel influencer will tell you, our jobs are pretty special and allow us to explore the world in such a unique way. (Even though it’s demanding work that’s made to look effortless).
Somehow this weirdly wonderful path led me inside a navy-blue Mercedes Benz owned by the King of Jordan. In full character, we administered Royal waves to the fascinated spectators smiling, waving, and taking our photos as we cruised around Jordan’s capital city, Amman.
If only they knew who was really sitting begin those bullet proof windows.
We knew the windows were bullet proof because our driver cocked his finger at the window demonstrating we were well protected.
David, Lina and I switched from solving the world’s problems to giddy conversations, giggles and exclamations at “how did we end up here?” driving around a Royal procession of BMWs, Mercedes Benz, and even a NYC yellow cab with a pilot car and Royal drivers.
We’re convinced our Royal driver could speak English but was keeping it on the quiet – and possibly laughing so hard on the inside at our silly banter to “Know your Status” and wondering when the King would invite us around for dinner. (probably our next trip to Jordan.) See the Reel here.
Just where did we get these Royal cars? Here’s where an Amman attraction you can do comes in.
The Royal Automobile Museum, Amman
Since I can’t really tell the difference between a Lamborghini and a Porsche and I’m only interested in a car that can take me on fun road trip adventures, I wasn’t so thrilled at the idea of walking through this museum looking at cars.
But, I actually found it to be a fascinating insight into the history of modern Jordan and the late King Hussein’s extensive private collection of the world’s finest vintage motor vehicles.
The automobile collection includes armored vehicles, sports cars, motorcycles, and rally cars. It shares the stories behind several of them including famous people who rode in them.
You can even see Matt Damon’s Mars exploration vehicle from The Martian movie, which was shot in Wadi Rum in 2014.
King Hussein’s son, King Abdullah II of Jordan, (also an expert racer and lover of cars) created the museum as a tribute to the story of his much-loved father’s life.
Eating Delicious Jordanian Food
I’m now almost weeping each morning into my boring bowl of porridge dreaming of a warm bowl of Foul Mudammas (fava beans) covered in spices and tahini, followed by labneh drizzled with local honey and topped with dried apricots, figs, and nuts; and finishing with halawa, a sweet filling treat made of sesame seed paste and flavored with nuts.
And this was just in the hotel breakfast buffets. How can a buffet breakfast be so good? Definitely not like the over sugary cereal and toasted bagels you’ll find in most hotels in the USA.
Normally, I’d be running straight for the local breakfast cafe. I was thrilled that we had such great quality hotels (and buffets) on this busy tour. Another benefit was it gave us more time to explore the Jordan attractions as we could easily grab a quick breakfast.
In Jordan, I was delighted to discover a cuisine that catered to my gluten-free requirements.
Even though I missed a few sticky sweets and warm pita straight from the oven to dip in oil and za’atar, I still felt compensated by the mouthwatering beef stews, lamb mansaf, upside-down chicken and rice, and fresh-from-the-garden salads. And pomegranate on everything!
None of us on the tour can forget the refreshing, and freshly squeezed, lemon mint juices we all requested whenever we could to parch our desert thirst.
One of my favorite memories is drinking lemon mint juice, on a break at the Monastery on our Petra hike (see below) and chatting with Abdullah, our guide.
Another is chatting with our Globus tour guide, Osama, about Australia over a delicious lunch. He lived on the Sunshine Coast for a short time. Strangely, he did not feel any kind of love for vegemite, but did for our weird lingo!
These conversations were interspersed with Osama stopping to tell me about each new Jordanian dish served. Having these exchanges with him warmed my heart.
And the dates were so good, that Kalyra demolished half the pack I bought home as a treat for Craig. I don’t think our teen has even eaten a date before!
The Jordanian bagpipes playing in the Jerash Theater
Jerash is an ancient, crumbling Roman city located just 50km from Amman. It is known to be one of the best-preserved Roman-era cities in the world.
Actually, Alexander the great originally founded Jerash (or Gerasa) as a Greek City in the 4th Century BC. You can still see the Greek inscriptions in the crumbling remains of the façade that once faced the city.
About three hundred years later, the Romans took control where it grew to be one of the most impressive Roman cities to ever exist.
Unlike other ancient Roman cities, you will see little restoration; all buildings are as it was during the Roman days (or how it has crumbled since). Spend a few hours here contemplating that as you walk around exploring what’s left of cultural centers like temples, theaters, and hippodromes.
My favorite memory of Jerash is sitting on the limestone carved seats of the South Theater of Jerash listening to a Jordanian bagpipe band.
Built between 90-92AD, this well preserved theater was made to seat more than 3,000 spectators. The center of the state has remarkable acoustics, projecting sound throughout the entire orchestra floor without needing amplification.
A trio of robed Jordanian musicians in red keffiyehs (Bedouin headdress) serenaded us with tunes such as “Amazing Grace?” “Yankee Doodle?” and finishing with an upbeat conga line.
Confused about the bagpipes? They do no not originate from Scotland, but have ancient roots in the Middle East, which slowly evolved into European culture. Early writings also depict Roman Emperor Nero as a player of the bagpipes.
What made this moment more special was the stunning backdrop of ancient and modern Jerash behind the elaborately carved stage. It gave you quite a sense of the scale and beauty of Jerash and what it must have been like to sit here and watch a show in ancient Roman times.
In this moment, I felt incredibly grateful to be living in a modern world that has granted me a window to an ancient world.
I wanted to forever remember this privilege and so paid a small donation to have a photo with the bagpipe player.
A young Jordanian man grabbed my camera to take the picture. For the next couple of minutes, he spun me around the theater directing me through a series of panoramic shots.
It was a funny memory and now I have photos of my (slightly distorted) face posing around the theater.
As soon as I walked out of the theater, I was approached by no less than five other people wanting to panoramic me! And I thought it was just my special treat!
Beit Sitti: A Group Cooking Class in Amman
What I loved about our cooking experience at Beit Sitti was that it truly felt like we were cooking with Grandmother.
Beit Sitti means “Grandmother’s house” in Arabic, and that’s exactly where we found ourselves for this Jordanian cooking class.
The house has a homely feel with its antique furniture, bold colors, family pictures hanging on the walls, and little Grandmotherly trinkets and knick-knacks. I instantly felt wrapped up in the warmth of a generation of stories.
Beit Sitti is a cooking school now owned and operated by Grandmother’s three granddaughters who wanted to keep her memory alive by opening her home to guests.
When they were young would teach them how to cook Arabic food and they now share those recipes with visitors to Amman.
One of the sisters, Chef Maria was our instructor for the evening’s cooking class and meal. She and her assistants were warm, friendly and encouraging, giving us a true sense of what it was like to be a guest in a Jordanian home.
Our kitchen was set up on the outside terrace and was beautiully draped with hanging plants, lemon trees and mewing kittens. It overlooked the pleasantly hilly neighborhood of Jabal al Weibdeh, one of the oldest in Amman.
Maria was full of life and laughter, yet quick to give instructions. She hurried us along when we needed and offered straight to the point feedback wrapped up in the love of a grandmother.
Her beautiful assistant helped me fry up the eggplant in the small inside kitchen. She would warmly pat my arm, and smile words of encouragement. In a few stilted words of English, she told me she was originally from Egypt and has lived here happily for many years.
Maria is focused not just on providing a warm, cultural, cooking experience, but works to empower women living in Amman. Beit Sitti employs local women to help with the classes, providing them with an income to sustain their families, and sometimes inspiring them to start their own businesses.
I loved how, instead of each of us creating an individual meal, we prepared a meal together, just like you would at home.
We all had specific tasks thrown at us by Maria, either chopping vegetables, folding dough, massaging spices into the chicken, and stirring dips.
As we prepared each dish, she would share more about the local ingredients, allowing us to taste some of them like freshly pressed olive oil and delicious homemade spice mixes as we went.
Somehow through all of that, and many laughs, we managed to create a feast of Chicken freekeh, mouttabal (smoky eggplant dip), farmers salad, eggplant fatteh, and a coconut cake for dessert.
A cooking class at Beit Sitti is an incredible introduction to learning about Arabic food and culture. And if you’re not visiting Jordan soon, you can cook some of these delicious Jordanian dishes at home as Maria shares recipes on her blog.
Dinner with a Jordanian Family in Petra
After a long day of travel and exploring Wadi Rum, we arrived for dinner at Ameena’s family home in Petra quite tired.
Thank goodness I pulled myself away from the lure of my comfortable bed to this incredible cultural experience with Ameena’s family, which included her brother, daughters, nieces, and nephews.
Our dinner began with Ameena’s brother, Sohaeb pouring shots of coffee while sharing the coffee customs of the Bedouin (desert nomads).
In Jordanian culture, drinking coffee has more meaning and ritual than drinking tea, which is just like having a beer in the pub with friends and easy conversation.
After three shots of coffee, it’s customary to stop drinking, otherwise you’re telling the host her coffee is too weak. You can stop after one or two shots with a simple shake of your coffee glass.
If you push your coffee glass in front of you, it’s a sign you are asking for a request – this is usually done for serious business and conflict resolution. For the host, it means you have to do whatever is possible to fulfill the request of the person asking!
The family then took us into the kitchen to show how they dish up goat mansaf, a traditional Jordanian dish cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt. It’s traditionally made with lamb, but Ameena much prefers fresh goat. (mansaf recipe here)
Amena’s secret for the most tender meat is to use fresh meat – like right-from-the-fields fresh. In order for it to be its most tender, it must be under 20kg.
She then does all the cleaning and preparation herself. She refuses to use anything other than fresh food in her cooking – nothing frozen has ever passed her lips.
By now we were salivating and ready to move to the dining room to a feast of mansaf, roast chicken, salad, and eggplant fatteh.
Amena and Sohaeb sat with us and shared more about their family, their traditions, and customs like weddings that host up to 1,500 people for a week of celebrations and how the community pulls together when there is a death to help the grieving families.
Amena beamed with pride and love when she spoke of her children and how successful they are. Her eldest daughter, Subrina was due to fly out at 4:30am the next morning to Chicago to begin an internship with a doctor.
Instead of spending these last precious moments together, they chose to spend it with us. (We only later found out that all her children were deaf, and apart from a slight speech impediment, you never would have known.)
Throughout the meal, my eyes kept pricking with tears, so overcome I was by their warmth and hospitality. They welcomed 11 strangers into their home to “share from their heart, their happiness and gratitude that we would sit with them and get to know the Bedouin and Jordanian people. And then share it with you.”
Would my own culture do the same, especially with people who are so different?
Those tears threatened to spill over when Subrina walked over to sit behind her mother and lovingly embrace. The love between a mother and daughter is a universal bond. My tears came from sadness at missing my girls, but happiness that I too have this bond with my two precious daughters.
We moved to the living room for sage tea and dessert to further share our cultures. Subrina (amongst her packing) had cooked a mouth-watering gluten free carrot cake especially for me. I was overwhelmed by her consideration and kindness.
I took a bite, my eyes widening in surprise at how moist and delicious it was, and turned to my friend Michael to tell him he needed to “go get a slice”.
I spied Subrina watching for my reaction, and I shouted, “this is absolutely delicious,” She sighed and broke into a broad grin.
These are the moments I live for and seek out when I travel.
These are the moments I most want to share with you – the warmth, goodness, and love that is present in all people around the world. We often forget, or refuse to see it, because of negative (sometimes false) narratives spilling out through our digital monitors.
In my travels spanning 24 years over 50 countries and cultures, I’ve rarely experienced a reality that strays too far from what we experienced in this Muslim home in Petra.
From people, who like you and me, just want to be seen and heard for their unique stories and the love and joy that emanates from within their hearts and homes.
These are the stories that will live in my heart the longest from our trip to Jordan. You can learn more about the Jordan Escape by Globus tour here.
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Share in the comments some of your favorite Jordan, or Middle East experiences. Plus any tips you have for future readers, or questions I can answer!
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