Monday, 14 January 2013


Cycling, hiking and erm eating in Jordan

I have to be completely honest – I never actually got to ride a bike at all in Jordan. Bike lovers, stay with me. (In fact you might want to go to the links at the bottom of the post.) It was a series of unfortunate events, namely stormy weather and the matter of a closed bike shop. I was supposed to do a ride to the Dead Sea with Cycling Jordan on the Friday, but even the hardiest of Brits would have hibernated from the rain that day. It was torrential.

The next day I tried a different shop called Bike Rush, but they weren’t open when I got there, which is a shame as they seem to be really promoting cycling in Jordan by giving cycling lessons. I was therefore keen to speak to them.

Nevermind, meant navigating this city on foot. Amman is one hilly place and if I have one observation, it's that I’ve never seen so many steps! It was to stand me in good stead though for my hiking trip in a couple of days time. So here are some steps for you to enjoy, as well as other Amman highlights.

(From top left: Steps, inside King Abdullah Mosque, the Citadel, view from the Darat Al Funun Art Gallery and a closed bike shop)

Now, when I travel, I’m a bit of a food tourist. I love to try out regional specialities, unless it has dead animal in it and then I’ll pass, but the Middle East has some great food - if you’re like me, of the veggie/pesci variety. I became rather obsessed with a salad dish called Fattoush and had the best version of this in a place called Sarah’s Fish Restaurant in Amman.

(LEFT: Fattah – pita marinated in tahini and houmous, with chickpeas and pine nuts. RIGHT: Fattoush, this recipe was made with pomegranate molasses)

Leaving Amman, I headed south to Madaba, famous for a part preserved mosaic map of the Holy land on the floor of St George’s church. Madaba has the highest Christian population in Jordan and although I don’t celebrate Christmas, it was lovely to see the Christmas trees and decorations hanging from the windows.

At last the evening came and my first introduction to the group of people I was going to be spending the next 6 days with. Together we were about to head in to the Wadi Rum for a 5 day trekking and camping trip.

To say the landscape of the Wadi Rum blew me away is an understatement. Not that I’ve been to outer space or anything, but it’s what I would imagine Mars to look like. Big mountains of sandstone jutting out of the desert floor that glowed red at sunrise. The area felt so vast. It’s what I had dreamed of – massive landscapes and big blue skies.

I love camping and camping in the desert is the ultimate. Clear nights, twinkling stars and toilets with a view. This was the view from my loo.

Our Bedouin and Jordanian guides were what helped make this trip. They are cheeky and friendly hosts, cooking us dishes such as Mlukhiyah, a green leafy vegetable cooked with rice which had a really earthy taste. And of course, at the end of each days trekking, we were served Bedouin whisky – a good cup of black sweet tea.

On our last day in the desert, I was genuinely sad to leave our new friends, but we were heading to the last part of our adventure – we were going to Petra.

With most tour groups that do hiking or biking, you’ll find that they only spend one day in Petra. I therefore made the decision to say goodbye to my group after that first day so I could spend two days there. I’m glad that I did, as the complex is massive and you really need to have two days to enjoy it properly. Currently a one day pass is about 50 dinars, a two day pass is 55 and a three day pass is 60, so it really is worth your while.

You will do a lot of walking in Petra, unless you want to use their taxi services – camels and donkeys. As I walked through the Siq, I was amazed at not only the little caves and tombs, but the natural grandness of it all – the rock faces twisting and weaving down a path which almost felt it led to no where. How Petra had been hidden from the rest of the world for so long was now becoming apparent to me. And with all that walking and climbing, I was sure to make time to have a cup of tea with Bdoul Mofleh, a resident of Petra. His little garden patio has a pretty good view!

It was then time to get back to some fattoush! A company called Petra Kitchen, based in Wadi Musa, the tourist town outside Petra, has a great gig. Each evening they teach groups of tourists how to cook a selection of Jordanian and Middle Eastern dishes. Whilst some of the ingredients have been pre-prepared to save time and you don't get to make every dish, the experience is really fun and sociable and what’s brilliant is that you get to eat what you’ve made at the end. See the link below.

I left Wadi Musa early the next morning. My taxi driver skidding in to the bus station, blocking my bus so it wouldn’t leave without me. I was heading for Aqaba and from there to the Jordan-Israeli border. From the bus to the border I had the most crazy taxi driver, insistent on looking at me as he spoke and jiggling his hands in the air to the music, when his eyes should have been on the road and his hands on the wheel. But I couldn’t help but be amused and infected by his friendliness and joie de vivre.

The time for leaving Jordan was finally here and I felt rather emotional. I had to pretend I had grit in my eyes when I entered Israeli passport control. It’s a beautiful country with lovely, friendly people and it's a shame, as tourism has been badly affected by the Arab spring and events in Syria. However, for me, it felt safe there. Do go and enjoy all that it has to offer, and remember to try some fattoush!


Cycling Jordan

Bike Rush, Jordan

Darat Al Funun

For great fish and delicious fattoush, go to:
Sarah’s Fish Restaurant

Well organised hiking tour through the Wadi Rum, booked in the UK but using local guides:

Petra Kitchen

Should any of the companies listed wish to be deleted from this list, please pop a polite comment in the comment box and I will remove.

All photographs © Mandy Norman 2013