‘Taxi?’ the boy asks.
He is perhaps twelve years old, dressed in dusty western clothes with a traditional keffiyeh wrapped around his head and neck to protect from the blazing sun. He sits astride a donkey, saddled with brightly coloured woven blankets –his ‘taxi’. Next to him, ancient Roman pillars rise up from the desert sand. The boy and his donkey are framed by clusters of caves carved into the sandstone hills surrounding the dead city of Petra, one of the 7 ‘New’ Wonders of the World.
Welcome to Jordan, a historically rich and fascinating nation, generally regarded as the most stable and peaceful in the Middle East. Petra is the most famous of Jordan’s exceptional attractions – a complete city carved of rock over two thousand years ago by the Nabateans, including elaborate churches, a colosseum, playhouse, tombs and hundreds – no thousands – of cave homes decorated with elegant architraves and Roman columns. It is easily the most remarkable historical site I have ever seen and far more vast than I could have imagined. Petra (above) extends far beyond Al Khazneh, popularly known as the ‘Treasury’ that appeared in Indiana Jones’ Last Crusade. (I admit, I half expect to see Indy around every corner here.). We are about to climb eight hundred meandering carved steps through a mountain pass to a colossal stone monastery, our two year old toddler on my husband’s back.
A visit to Jordan is filled with memorable moments like these. The previous day we flew in jeeps over the dunes of Wadi Rum, where Lawrence of Arabia was filmed, and rode with Bedouins through the desert – our delighted daughter ‘talking’ in barks, thinking the camels were large dogs. Before that, we enjoyed culturally rich Amman, observing ancient ruins and incredible spreads of local cuisine in the same hour, and before that, donned our bathers to float in the Dead Sea and enjoy one of the famous mud wraps. This is country that must be experienced.
The Jordanian’s are known for their hospitality, and for good reason. They welcome foreigners, particularly families and children, as family life features strongly in their culture. Nearly every shop or café we stopped in offered a free trinket or treat for our daughter, along with cuddles or a playful game. Walking through the streets in Madaba, a local woman placed a hand on our daughter’s head and uttered a quick prayer, which our guide explained was a prayer for safety and good life. We have travelled the world as a family in the past two years – our daughter getting her first passport at 3 months – but never have encountered anything quite like this welcome.
After seeing some of the most striking and historically interesting spots in the world, meeting locals, being interviewed by a group of female students and hearing about their hopes for Jordan’s future (below), we were reticent to leave. This is a welcoming and fascinating place. We will be back. For longer.
– WHAT TO SEE: Allow a minimum of two days to see Petra. If you aren’t up for long walks, take advantage of the inexpensive camel and donkey rides through the vast site. Visit the citadel in Amman, see the ancient ruins at Jerash, and make sure you experience the Dead Sea and the wonders of Wadi Rum.
– WHAT TO WEAR: Jordanians – both men and women – dress more conservatively than Australians. Though many foreigners dressed in shorts, we were most comfortable wearing long pants and shirts that covered our chest and shoulders. There is no requirement for women to cover their hair and only about half of Jordanian women wear the traditional Hijab. Conservative western clothes were the most common form of dress.
– TRAVELLING WITH CHILDREN: Travelling with children in Jordan is a unique and highly recommended experience, but as with any foreign country, a sense of adventure is needed. Despite the love of family in Jordan, there were few if any public Parent Rooms available. If your kids are in nappies, some creative improvisation at change time will be needed. (Locals were always willing to let us use spare rooms or even their offices to help out!) Sanitation standards are also different in some areas, so keep hand sanitizer and bottled water handy to ward off bugs.
* Photographs copyright of Tara Moss & Berndt Sellheim, 2013.