JORDAN: Stunning old & new; not what we think!

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Teensy Jordan.

Starting this blog on our second day in Irbid Jordan, [link] the northern border town, and second biggest city after Amman. It's not really a tourist destination city, but a nice town, close to the Syrian border and suitable for run-outs to other sightseeing. A charming 3-star $50 hotel the Al Joud [link] [phone +962-2-7275515] a refreshing break, apparently the best in town with superb staff. High recommendation.
[Postscript, stayed a second time in Al Joud on way north in April and were greeted as old friends, liked it and the town just as much.]
Our Al-Joud friends.
A Phillipino, an Egyptian, a Vietnamese-Canadian, in Jordan.

We also graced a nearby Popeye's Fried Chicken with a second visit; Biker heathen that we may be, greasy crunchy chicken, biscuit and fries brings back semi-fond memories of eating on I-95, a cholesterol-indulgent back-home road-food break.

Immediate impression: it seems so clean here in Jordan, so well maintained. Jordanians immediately struck us as 'gentlemen' and 'ladies', slightly more reserved, less overt perhaps than Syrians.

As well, customs into Jordan was a well-organized, $100 breeze, couldn't be much better.


After ten very interesting days, we left Syria. Numerous excellent things to see, we were enjoying it and the people, but when you feel physically lousy somewhere, you just want to get out; we had become 'digestively challenged,' quite ill actually, and felt it was time to move on.

Seeking medical help in Jordan, the hotel's staff sent us to a gleaming temple to medicine – a hospital better looking, with superior service, to most in Canada or USA. And virtually free.

Perhaps you share(d) my ex-stereotype thinking that Middle East public services is lacking? Consider this one experience in the King Abdullah Hospital (named for Hussein's dad), evidently privately funded/owned:
- Superb service by a fine English-speaking MD, off to NYC soon.
- Zero wait, immediate service by a Doctor.
- Told the Doc of my challenge, he said: "So, you've experienced Syria!" Hmmm. The second Jordanian to say that today; Syrian food hygiene is local lore.
- $10 in total, two prescription drugs and an IV drip included.
- The Doctor gave me his personal cell number if I need any help.
- Spotless huge hospital designed by a Brit. Attached to equally good looking university. Pretty mosque next door too.
Most Jordanians think $10 is too much; they are insured. This wasn't a triple bypass so one cannot attest to the high-end, but hospital walk-in care simply does not get better/cheaper. Tip of iceberg, I usually figure.


Economy & 'refugee poverty': Jordan is a noticeable fiscal step upwards from Syria, even though in absolute terms, per capita GDP is only some 43% higher. Adjusted for purchasing power (PPP) it is only 10%-15% higher.

I do not comprehend why yet, perhaps readers have insights and objective links to offer – but it sure looks far better off. The cars, buildings, roads, people's dress/deportment, everything just looks and is better.

Meanwhile Jordan has no oil; modest industry; small arable land; it even lacks sufficient water.

So where did all those nice clean buildings, roads and modern cars come from? It far from reeks of poverty, anywhere we drove. Plus it has all those famed Palestinian and Iraqi refugees to look after ...

One plausible partial explanation: Iraqi refugees/immigrants brought considerable money with them.

Estimates are that Jordan's population of 6 million is 10-20% Iraqi, many of whom were wealthy. Many others were not, so much aid has poured in on top. Iraqi children for example, get free schooling in Jordan, no questions asked on immigration status – that's costly and foreign aid assists.

The Palestinian situation is too complex to discuss here, nor are we qualified experts. But as for the image of acres of tents and starving children – this simply was not visible, perhaps we missed it, but we went looking. We even asked Palestinians to direct us to hardship areas, finding none.

We have seen poverty; have toured most of Africa and the Middle East, even the far East. Latin America too. Poverty in Jordan is visibly absent. Not that everyone is rich of course, but it is simply nothing like the grinding hardship that some like to portray.

Or if it exists, it was well hidden from us who sought it out, even asked where it was. It just looked like normal Arab/Bedouin lifestyles to us, except on average better than in most places of the region.

Foreign earnings come from tourism, phosphates, potash and foreign aid. Arable land is only about 10% of a small country, water supply scarce, rainfall low. Not an easy economy to run, yet seems to do quite well with what it has. Better foreign relations and trading partners, may be another key factor.

There are some serious luxury cars in Jordan, saw them for the first time in a few months, Ferraris, Land Rovers, many BMWs and Benz's; Even the 'average' car was a more recent model Japanese or Korean one. Designer clothes on trophy wives, other conspicuous wealth. Stores offer a wide variety.

Amman indeed looks in parts like a well off, clean, modern city. In parts of Amman we rode, the rich folks houses are impressively beautiful, some stunning.

The whole city seems to be in good shape, what we saw of it anyhow after a few hours of driving around. Again we didn't see any slums.


Travels: After a couple days of recuperation in Irbid [map link] we drove south along the Dead Sea on the Jordan side, lovely driving, great roads! We wanted a resort room but could not even get a $200+ Movenpick or Marriott – everything on the heavily-policed tourist strip was booked solid. A good economy sign during low season, but disappointing to a couple bikers.

So we drove in the dark thru very twisty mountains for an hour or so to Al Karak [map link]; no other hotels exist nearby. With the unsolicited help of a taxi driver con-man we encountered en route – he tried to take a kick-back from the hotel, plus somehow imagined we owed him a few days of being our guide – we ended up in a fairly iffy room but with the most stunning view from the balcony, a $70 bed in the Tower Castle Hotel [link], run by a fun friendly Egyptian.

Sitting in his lobby eating a late-night dinner ordered from a restaurant next door, we befriended two great guys from Paris, Julien and Maxime (a lawyer and web marketing guy.) We also hooked up with them again in Petra and will likely do so again in Paris.

Here's what we saw from hotel window: there might be better deals in town, but no better views.

Nice town Al Karak, [map link] with a big old Crusader castle/fort we had a quick look at; from 1,000 meters elevation, it has superb views [link] of the Dead Sea and surrounding mountains. It is worthy of a visit once in the area.

Driving Jordan is great, it is so beautiful, in a rugged desert mountain way. Fine bike riding, superb scenery the whole way. You don't get to see much green: The rocks and sand tell an eloquent story of what Jordan must do – industry is their main hope.

From Al Karak [map link] to Tafila [map link] to Petra [map link] is a wonderful drive. Non-stop great views, Bedouin villages, stunning sandstone mountains – just superb. And the destination of Petra is a must-do for even the most jaded seen-it-all traveler.

No idea what the connection is/isn't between Jordanian desert dwellers and the Canadian Inuit, but we chanced upon this desert home with a large collection of Inukshuk-resembling stone piles outside, like dozens. Here's photos of the Canadian version [photos link]. Having seen thousands of them, not many in Canada actually have two legs resembling a man.


Petra is the star tourist item of Jordan: Indeed one of the world's stars. UNESCO [link] calls it "one of the most precious properties of man's cultural heritage." Machu Pichu, The Pyramids, Palmyra (above in Syria) ... in that elevated league.

It is really in the great colors below. Amazing rocks, multi-colored strata. City was just chiseled from rocks by the ancients, and evidently not by slave labor – instead by pre-BC Nabataean sculptors. Brilliant. Wonderful. Enormous.

And perfect natural defenses, a kilometer or more of narrow paths between huge cliffs, relatively easy to defend.

These were amazing artistic, enterprising people, and evidently even created the alphabet on which modern Arabic is based.

There's so much we just do not know...

The famous (Indiana Jones movie) Treasury is amazing, not just as a 'how'd they do that?' carved out of one rock. It is also beautiful in its own right, even were it made from assembled pieces. Beyond description. It has to be witnessed.

This was low season, yet still many tourists: We heard Russian, French, Hebrew, American English and Chinese.

Wheezy in red shirt, tiny in context of a made-made cave house.
Look at size of the man at bottom in scale.
A cute souvenir vendor kid in Petra, counting his take ...

Interestingly foolish ego-PR, is a photo poster of young Hussein flying along on a big motorbike; in the context of a land where motorbikes are basically forbidden? Rubbing your people's faces in it, no? We saw several motorbike photos of him – baaaad marketing.


Amman is a surprising Middle East city. It's so clean, mostly modern, attractive and safe. Traffic is sane, people obey laws and stay in lanes, don't honk so much. Cars are modern, almost no junkers. Buildings look clean and few if any look delapidated.

We also visited the 'Palestinian' part of town, as recommended by our great hotel concierge Mohammed Mushref, who is originally from there. It just looks like any other Arab city to us ... nicer than many parts of Cairo, it was déjà vu, we saw, we walked around, photo'd and left, nothing special. But let me say it did not tweak our heartstrings for its hardship. We saw none and had confirmation from one of them, that Palestinians are generally living reasonably well here, by Middle Eastern standards.

Of course it is mostly an Arab city, but has some modern stores and malls. City Mall is as modern as any at home. One day we went there to see Slum Dog Millionaire; bought riding gloves at an Nike store; got a small digital camera at Le Carrefour huge department store at Canadian prices; ate delicious pastry and café au lait at Paul the French upscale patisserie chain. How Arab is any of that? We even ate Chinese in the food court. Yet notably, we were the only white or yellow we saw in the large busy mall. Teens in sneakers/jeans hung out like the affectionately called 'mall rats' do at home.

Hotel in Amman: It took us 2 hours to find the right one as we planned a 1-2 week stay while getting a new passport on the way to Iran. If in Amman, we most highly recommend Abjar Hotel [link] +962-6-464-8813. Ask for room 225, it's a suite and has wi-fi in the room (otherwise just in the lobby), quiet, modern, well situated. About C$90/night and really worth it. If Mohammed Mushref is there, speak to him, he's the best, so helpful – and is a Palestinian who is most informative about the realities and sen t us to a Palestinian district which was highly uneventful.

Abjar Hotel, Mohammed, another staff member waves bye.
Thao, unthrilled to be packing Black Bike with a touch of flu.


Among the world's oldest sculptures below, in Amman's excellent Jordan Archeological Museum [link]. Ain Ghazal statue [superb photos/explanation link], Neolithic, from 6500 BC – that's 8,500 years old! The mind boggleth. Several of these pieces they have are simply beautiful, beautiful.

8500 year old remarkable art.
Neolithic = 6,500 years old skull!
Amman viewed from the great Citadel, where the above museum is.
That's a Roman Theatre, where shows are still put on.
In a Palestinian area of Amman, a woman sells live geese, rabbits, chickens.


Unlike in Tunis (see blog), the Canadian Embassy to Jordan was most face-to-face helpful; Thao needed a new passport as hers had just three months left. It took just a week to get one as opposed to two, accompanied by our explanatory letter of urgency. Passports Canada was great as they always have been in the past, truly an exemplary Canadian public service. Ron Messett the Consul actually came out from behind the security glass to sit, chat and advise us candidly; Mouna Ibrahim in charge of passports, worked after the 1 PM closing time to get ours expedited. Superb client-oriented service, thank you to some fine Embassy people.

Once we had our new passport, we tried the Pakistan Embassy for a visa, in vain – due to a current rash of suicide bombings ongoing, they told us to try for one in Tehran Iran, no discussion was even possible. We immediately took off north to Syria, crossing #2.

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