A couple of days before we arrived in Jordan, we watched the BBC News coverage of the chemical bombing in Syria, on our cabin TV. Considering how close we were heading to Syria, I have to admit I felt a bit nervous about what would happen next. Not that any unease was palpable among the cruise ship passengers. In the snippets of dining room conversation I caught, there was no talk about Syria. Still, I noted that on the information sheet we were given about our next port of call, the map conspicuously left out labelling Jordan’s troubled neighbour. The ‘helpful phrases’ section, which would tell you how to order strawberry gelato in Italy, simply provided the Arabic for “take me back to the ship”. When we arrived at the port in Aqaba, Jordan, I opened the curtains to see a small city set back from a palm tree covered beach. But people don’t come here to lie on a beach.
Aqaba is one hour’s drive to the Wadi Rum desert, where Laurence of Arabia led the rebellion against the Ottoman Empire. Our tour took us to the desert, but not before a quick drive around Aqaba. With its broken footpaths and rubbish littered streets, Aqaba starkly contrasts the manicured appearance of Dubai. On every block there was a large empty plot of sand. Our guide told us that Jordan is severely short of water and, as a result, cannot irrigate and develop land. It also felt like a bit of a ghost town. There was a noticeable lack of people on the streets.
Our bus left the city, continuing on the single road that wound through the desert. It wasn’t all flat endless sand like I’d been expecting. The scenery was framed by high orange rocks in all directions. Most importantly – there were camels!
After a few stops at checkpoints (for exiting customs zones, apparently) we arrived in Wadi Rum. There we saw the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, a formation of 7 rocks – although I realised later I only took a photo of 6 of them. After wandering around for a while, we went and had lunch in a Bedouin tent. ‘Tent’ doesn’t really do their set up justice – a huge canvas covered room with bench seating for 200 people. They had traditional live music for the whole 2 hours we were there. It was met with mixed reviews from the cruise ship pax (seemed to be the same song over and over). The food was good – kebabs authentically cooked over hot coals with pita, hummus, baklava etc.
We only spent a few hours in Jordan, however it was enough time to get a sense of their difficulties. From the lack of infrastructure to the presence of a police officer on our tour, to our guide’s personal stories about access (lack of) to education. As a tourist, it is confronting but an interesting place to visit.