I booked my trip to Jordan in a moment of impulsivity. The instigator was the realisation that crossing the threshold into my office each morning felt like walking the plank. I was shaky with vertigo, a sense of impending doom and a weird impulse to laugh hysterically.
A quick review of the previous night confirmed that no, I wasn’t hungover, I was just very very stressed. So I sat down at my computer and requested two weeks of annual leave for ASAP.
The circumstances meant that I had pretty specific holiday criteria:
- my dates were soon and non-flexible
- I wanted to be as far as possible (geographically, linguistically, spiritually) from my cursed office
- I needed to be engaged and distracted from the huge stress-monster sitting on my shoulders
- I didn’t want to have to make any decisions other than ‘yes please book me in’.
Intrepid’s Jordan Real Food Adventure suited my dates perfectly. The itinerary seemed to include all the things (though to be honest I didn’t do any research so couldn’t be sure). Finally, and most exciting of all – the food! The other day I heard a dog being described as ‘food driven’. What a great phrase! I strongly and proudly identify as food driven, and an itinerary built around the culinary highlights of Jordan sounded amazing.
And amazing it was. There was so much to take in; I’ll never be able to capture it all. Instead, here’s a sample with my top five highlights:
1. The Dead Sea
I’ve been weirdly fixated on visiting the Dead Sea ever since, as a kid, I learnt that the intense buoyancy of the water means that you can read a book AND swim (my two favourite things) AT THE SAME TIME. It turns out bobbing around in the Dead Sea is far too over-stimulating for reading to be viable, but it was nice to have the option.
2. Cooking class in Amman
Beit Sitti translates from Arabic to ‘my grandmother’s house’, and was established by three sisters who wanted to keep the memory of their grandmother alive. They’ve converted their grandmother’s beautiful terrace house into a cooking school, and there is a palpable sense of the glamourous, languorous and generous meals that would have been shared in that space.
Halfway through our class the owners’ mother whirled in and took us on a tour through the house and her family’s history. Perfectly permed and manicured, and oozing charisma, she shared dollops of sublime pomegranate molasses for us to taste and scolded us for chopping herbs without the requisite level of enthusiasm.
Our new friend departed suddenly and in a cloud of perfume and air kisses, leaving us to persevere with the serious business of the evening: chopping, grilling, mixing, kneading.
The centrepiece of our meal was maqluba, meaning ‘upside down’ in Arabic, and consisting of a delicious pile of vegetables, chicken and flavourful rice. We sat down to eat as dusk encroached and the call to prayer sounded from mosques across the city. It was one of those slightly surreal, magic hour moments that I’ll probably remember for the rest of my life.
Without attempting to write about things I don’t know much about (history, archaeology, engineering, all the important things about how the world works), there’s not much I can say about Petra other than HOW IS THIS REAL? I really struggle to get my head around the timelines we’re dealing with here (as early as 5th century BC), let alone how on earth these gorgeous structures were created and are still standing.
My memory is terrible so I can’t recall much of the fascinating history of the place, so I’m afraid my Intrepid reflections on Petra might tend more towards insipid. But it is very important to know, first and foremost, that Petra is home to many incredibly handsome and nimble goats.
Secondly, there are people employed to dress up in the garb of various civilisations that inhabited Petra over the centuries. You can see them everywhere, just chilling and adding to the vibe.
And finally, the donkeys in Petra are massive liars.
4. Wadi Rum
I had no idea what Wadi Rum was until I found myself zooming through the desert in the back of a jeep saying ‘wow’ repeatedly. The landscape was spectacular, dwarfing, unlike anything I’d ever experienced.
Our overnight set up in Wadi Rum was described as ‘camping out in Bedouin tents’. I would describe it as ‘glamping in the most unexpected level of comfort’, given our location in the middle of the desert.
Our dinner that night was unbelievable and seemed to materialise from nowhere. Everyone was very polite when I way overfilled my plate and slopped hummus on the beautiful carpets.
The moon was just a sliver that night, so the stargazing was unbelievable.
5. Jordanian hospitality
The highlight of the trip, and the factor that instilled every day I spent in Jordan with joy, was the hospitality. Jordanians seem to have charm, generosity and curiosity inbuilt into their DNA.
In Petra we visited a family’s house for a traditional dinner of mansaf – lamb or goat slow cooked in yoghurt and served with fatir (deliciously thin wholemeal flat bread), rice, nuts and herbs. We were gently pushed to eat more and more, and then even-more-it’s-fine-just-unbuckle-your-belt. All the while the whole family – mum, dad, uncle, grandfather, children and cousins – regaled us with fascinating and funny stories about their life in Jordan.
In Amman we visited Hashem, a 24-hour felafel joint frequented by royals, diplomats and celebrities. Again, the staff were incredibly patient and understanding as they ferried ten disoriented foreigners through the busy restaurant and to our table laden with hummus, ful medames, baba ganoush, fresh herbs and felafel stuffed with caramelised onion.
On a visit to a Bedouin shepherd family our two- and four-legged hosts showed incredible patience while we cooed at the baby animals and made clumsy attempts at milking a camel and herding goats.
In fact not only were we tolerated, we were also served one of the freshest, simplest and most delicious meals of my life. We ate our breakfast sitting on camel hair rugs, sheltering from the already intense sun in the shade of land rovers.
Through all of these encounters and feasts our tour leader Mohammed guided us deftly, patiently and knowledgeably. He has clearly given a lot of thought to what Intrepid’s responsible travel ethos means for him, his itinerary and his guests. While Mohammed wasn’t prescriptive about what we should do, he was always careful to share the full picture with us and help us negotiate the sorts of complexities that inevitably arise when you travel overseas.
On the Jordan Real Food Adventure our questions included: Is it OK to take the horse ride included with our ticket into Petra? Is it better to buy souvenirs from the children or avoid contributing to an economy that leads them to missing school? Is it OK to climb this rock formation and will my travel insurance cover me if I fall? Questions like these don’t always have straightforward answers, and Mohammed never pretended they did; he simply provided us with all the background we needed to make our own informed decision.
Mohammed was the perfect guide, and had clearly paved the way for all the hospitality we experienced from the broader community by treating everyone we encountered with kindness and generosity himself.
I’m not going to say that I came home refreshed. This is mainly due to the extremely cheap flights I booked (if you can afford it I’d definitely recommend paying a little extra for more comfortable and direct flights). Far from refreshed, I was jetlagged and disoriented, yet pleasingly covered in hundreds of dollars’ worth of face cream courtesy of several duty-free La Mer sample walls.
I was also inspired, engaged and much clearer on what I was willing to put up with at work, and what wasn’t worth my time and energy. In fact I stepped straight out of my 40-hour transit nightmare and into a job interview. I was propped up entirely with caffeine, and patched up with duty-free make up and really just hoping to stay upright for the duration.
Despite my low expectations, and in an outcome that is both true, and really helping me create a nice story arc, I got the job! So next time I book a last-minute Intrepid adventure to somewhere far far away it’ll be just because I want to, and not because I’m trying to avoid walking the plank.
Need to address some big life decisions? Be like Lucy and get some clarity on an Intrepid small group adventure now.
All images by Lucy Evans.