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January 2011 -- The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan boasts, above all, magnificent desert and mountain scenery. The Middle East metropolis of Amman seems very cosmopolitan but rather boring. Many Jordanians give a very friendly, open and business-minded impression. Travelling in Jordan is easy, convenient and comfortable.At the time of writing, like in other Arabic states, political unrest is spreading in Jordan. Demonstrators mainly rally seeking greater political influence and lower costs of living. After King Abdullah announced reforms it still remains unclear whether the people will be satisfied.

Jordans population of about 6.2 million is distributed very unevenly across the land. Almost everybody lives in the fertile lowlands, 2.6 million alone in greater Amman.The country is significantly more capitalist than its northern neighbour Syria. You can buy everything but you rarely get anything for free. Prices are quite high, raising the question of how locals can afford a full tank or food shopping. While the traditional Arab Souks remain the core trading place, there are about ten European-American style supermarkets with European-American prices.Jordans press is freer than anywhere else in the Middle East, which is good even if only put in a relative perspective.With tourism being run as a professional business, most locals are used to foreigners. At least most young urban Jordanians speak English.

Bedouins roam the deserts in the South and towards Iraq and Saudi Arabia. More and more of them tend to settle down, so that their children can go to school.One should not be misled by their tents, cattle and dromedaries: No way are they primitive hillbillies. Rather they seem very helpful, friendly and, again, business-minded. Almost always there is a 4WD pickup parked next to the dromedaries, and most of them probably know more about the team formation of Bayern Munich than I do.Last but not least I am thankful that one of them pulled my van out of the desert sand - without asking for anything in return or at least an accusing look. Insight of the day: The van is too heavy and lacks the power for soft sand. But: I carry the best tow rope in the world. Not me saying that, but the Bedouin. And he's got to know, right?

AmmanThe capital is the central hub of the Middle East. The war in Iraq drove hundreds of thousands of refugees across the border. Apart from that, Palestinians make up 60 percent of the population. After 30 years in exile, many have come to terms with the situation, while others still live in camps looking like regular suburbs, and are ready to go home every day.Jordan is also the only Arab country with diplomatic ties to Israel - requiring a thick skin in foreign politics. Jerusalem is only 80 kilometres away.Apart from its Citadel and some Roman ruins, from a tourists point of view, Amman is not too interesting. The city is nicely located on several rolling hills, but the cityscape is characterized mostly by simple blocks.

AqabaThe town on the Red Sea coast is Jordans only port, a free trade zone and a sunny all-inclusive tourism destination. The main sights of the region include the worlds highest flagpole (and that tells you something) and the under water world of the Red Sea (corals, exotic fish).Between container terminals and colourfully smoking industrial chimneys there is a long sandy beach stretching towards the Saudi border. Due to the lack of vegetation it feels a bit more like a construction site rather than like a holiday paradise. With your feet in the sea you can look across to four countries from here: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel and Jordan.

The Dead SeaIn the west of the country this big salt lake (salt content 33%) causes a strange atmosphere: No plant, no tree, no singing birds, no boats. Thick crusts of salt line its shores. At the lowest point of the earth (on land) the environment is absolutely dead, too. Awesome. Neither do you step on slimy carpets of algae nor on any other kind of creature. Only the flies survive.And: its true. You really cannot sink. Now I do not want to claim to be able to walk on water (like someone else), but the buoyancy is so strong that even when sitting cross-legged, you always stay afloat. But as the salt leaves a white layer and rapidly dries out your skin, you should wash off the salt right after the bath - with fresh water of course.Thanks to its location about 400 metres below sea level, temperatures, even in winter, never fall below 20 degrees. Only 50 kilometres away, in the capital Amman, it might be freezing. I used the warm winds to dry my laundry. Also the thicker atmospheric layers add more colour to the Dead Sea sunsets. At night you can see the flickering lights of Jerusalem and Jericho on the horizon.As Israel takes water from the Jordan River, only a tiny creek reaches the Dead Sea. Because of that the water level drops currently by a rate of one metre per year.

Wadi ArabaThe southern extension of the Jordan Rift Valley stretches from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea. Highways follow this wide valley on both sides of the Israeli-Jordan border.What looks like 200 boring kilometres across sparse emptiness on the map, turns out to be a sequence of various shapes of desert: alluvial fans flush gravel out of the mountain canyons. Virtually endless rocky plains and golden dunes take turns, and every now and then are crossed by dromedaries.Due to the proximity of the Israeli border, there is one military checkpoint after another, where you mostly see a fat Hummer with a respectable gun, parked under a shady roof.Procedures are almost always the same: 'Where from?' - 'Germany.' - 'Ah! Beckenbauer! Ha!' - 'Ha! Jaja.' - 'Da Kaisa!' - 'Der Kaiser! Ha!' - 'Where going?' - Name the next town here - 'Okay, go. Welcome to Jordan.' Instead of Beckenbauer it is often also referred to Schweinsteiger or Hitler. Like it or not, Goethe and Schiller just have not achieved this kind of widespread impact across the world.

Wadi RumThe perfect desert scenery: One of several sandy valleys, surrounded by gigantic sandstone gobbets. For a miniature imitation of the landscape you take a chocolate cookie, then scrape off a bit of the cookie between the chocolate chunks. Hold it against the sun. There you go.

PetraWithin a breathtaking mountain landscape a people called the Nabataeans built an extended city about 2300 years ago: Theatres, caves, homes, temples, graves, all still visible in huge sizes and good condition.The perfect symbiosis of nature and civilization makes every pile of Roman ruins look pale. Stunning vistas complete the Petra experience.

The impressive dimensions, the width of space and the absolute silence make you feel very small at Wadi Rum. The night sky resembles a huge twinkling wallpaper.Here you can find stone carvings of early Islamic times, lonely canyons and bizarre rock formations. Or you take the car and race across the huge sandpit.

Most locals here (mostly Bedouins) live off tourism (camping, guided tours on foot, by donkey, jeep, dromedary), and off their animals (sheep, dromedaries) or off industrial phosphate mining.

It lets you almost forget the shameless rip off at the ticket counter: Foreigners pay 60 Euro (day trippers 110 Euro), Jordanians only one.From Jordan I went north again, through the eastern desert of Syria and wintery South East of Turkey to Iran.

National Flag (Petra)

Bedouin (Wadi Rum)

The Kings Highway takes you through some impressive canyons. (Wadi Mujib)

Bedouine tents(Wadi Mujib)

Dead but happy: These Jordanians are no misery guts. (Amman)

View of the amphi theatre (Amman)

Buddies (Amman)

Downtown (Amman)

Citadel (Amman)

Jordan-Saudi border on the Red Sea coast (near Aqaba)

Camper colony by the sea (near Aqaba)

Having a batha (near Aqaba)

View across the bay to Israel's Ibiza: Eilat (near Aqaba)

Desert Highway (near En Naab)

The Dead Sea is drying out rapidly.

Salt crust in the moon light, with the lights of Jericho/Israel in the background (Dead Sea)

You can't sink any lower... (Dead Sea)

Deadly silence at the Dead Sea's salty beaches (northeast shore)

Parked by the Dead Sea (Amman Tourist Beach)

View across Wadi Araba (Petra)

Jordan Valley (as seen from Mt. Nebo)

From here God supposedly showed Moses the Holy Land (Mt. Nebo)

The enemy is everywhere. His name: Speed Breaker (Feifa)

Travelling across Wadi Araba

Wadi Rum

The 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom' (Wadi Rum)

Wadi Rum

Sandy track (Wadi Rum)

Wadi Rum in the evening sun

The last stretch of tarmac... (Wadi Rum)

Full Moon (Wadi Rum)

Rush hour (Wadi Rum)

Wadi Rum

The Kings Wall (Petra)

Royal Tomb (Petra)

Ed-Deir Monastery (Petra)

The Treasury in Siq canyon (Petra)

The Treasury (Petra)

Donkey (Petra)

Parked at Sodom and Gomorrha (Safi)

Additional Information

JORDAN (updated 01/2001)RouteAr Ramtha (from Syria) - Amman - Dead Sea - Wadi Rum - Aqaba - Amman - Jaber (to Syria)Entering via Deraa/Ar Ramtha crossing (from Syria)Fees: customs EUR 21, visa (30 days) EUR 21, car insurance (small vehicle) EUR 40. When entering with a diesel vehicle (limited stay only) a substantial fee is to be paid.Exiting via Jaber motorway crossing (motorway, to Syria)Fees: exit tax EUR 9 per car and EUR 6 per person. Corruption and hassle on the Syrian side (see Syria), I'd recommend to take Deraa/Ar Ramtha crossing.FuelDiesel and petrol (90 and 95 octane) always available, leaded or unleaded. Petrol (95) costs EUR 0.90/L. Modern stations along the main highways accept credit cards.RoadsGeneral condition is good, in town sometimes bumpy. Many drive without lights at night. Cruel speed breakers.CampingNo problem. You can find some nice spots in my Camp Site List. MiscellaneousFrequent radar speed checks (laser gun). Carnet de Passages is sometimes required when entering with passenger car. Entering with Israeli stamp is possible, continuing to other Arab neighbours with an Israeli stamp is not. Restaurants are quite affordable, supermarkets quite expensive. Wifi networks are mostly password protected, with narrow bandwidths.All information subject to change (note time of writing).


A big thanks to Rowan Fookes for proofreading this translation!

fabian pickel