First Impressions of Jordan

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Greetings from Jordan!

I am four days into my trip here with the Jordan Tourism Board.  It’s been a whirlwind, almost nonstop trip and I feel like I should wait and let things coalesce before getting into any in-depth posts, but I wanted to share my thoughts on how my first trip to the Middle East is going so far.

I won’t lie — at first, it felt intimidating.  I’m always intimidated when visiting a new region, especially a region with a reputation like the Middle East’s.  But soon enough, I realized that Amman is a very comfortable city with a nice downtown area, cafes, coffeeshops, and lots of great markets (one of which had the biggest lettuces I have ever SEEN!).

Jordanians are incredibly friendly and so warm.  From the moment you meet someone, it feels like you’re immediately at a higher level of friendship than you would be with someone at home.  (I noticed this with Indonesians, too.)  And, by God, do they feed you!  Even after a few polite refusals, they’ll still be throwing food at you!

As for traveling as a solo female, I feel extremely comfortable.  (While I have a guide for the week, I’ve been spending time completely solo as well.)  I wasn’t sure how it would feel to travel solo in the Middle East, but the men have been no more forward, nor more creepy, than anywhere else in the world.  Jordan is very open to Western travelers, and even some local women dress in semi-revealing clothing.

I have been covering up — long sleeves and long pants or leggings.  Is that required in Jordan?  Absolutely not; it’s a choice for me, as it is for everyone.  I don’t consider it a sacrifice at all.

If you show up in short shorts and get creeped out by the men staring at you — whether in Jordan, Italy, or the United States — you have no one to blame but yourself.

I couldn’t be in better hands than with my hilarious guide, Ibrahim, and my sweet driver, Rami.  Early on, they started teaching me Arabic.  I’m up to around 40 words or so now, and they’re constantly quizzing me.  Speaking with everyone I meet is making me learn so much faster, and speaking Arabic has made me realize how much I’ve missed learning a language.

Ibrahim decided that I needed an Arabic name to go with my Arabic language, and chose “Basma” — it means “smiling.”  It’s perfect, since I automatically smile whenever anyone calls me that.

Beyond Arabic, I’m speaking more French here than I have in years!  There are lots of French tourists here, probably more from France than from any other country, and many guides, including Ibrahim, speak fluent French.

Everyone keeps telling me that I look Arabic.  Not to the point of passing as a local, but more like being the Western-born daughter of Egyptian or Lebanese parents.

Petra, Jordan’s most famous site, completely blew my mind.  I explored it all day today and was absolutely spellbound.  The most surprising thing?  There is way, WAY more to Petra than just the iconic shot of the Treasury building.

There are so many ruins, so many hikes, and the guides have been telling me that you can stay for a full week and see new things every day.  My favorite was the hike up to the Monastery, which I did on a donkey.  It was not an easy ride for me and hilarity ensued.  Yep, I got it on video.  Of course.

So far, I’ve seen Amman, a bit of nature reserve Ajloun, the ruins of Jerash, the Ma’in hot springs, and Petra.  Coming up next is camping overnight in Wadi Rum and floating in the Dead Sea before returning to Amman, from where I’ll fly to Istanbul.

Jordan is a very special place, and I’m thrilled to be experiencing this country.  Stay tuned for more in-depth posts in the coming weeks!

Many thanks to the Jordan Tourism Board for sponsoring my trip to Jordan.  All opinions, as always, are my own.

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23 thoughts on “First Impressions of Jordan”

  1. Jordan sounds like a wonderful destination. Interesting and awesome. Looking forward to all the great pictures and places to visit.

  2. Nice post! I’m really interested to hear that you haven’t gotten any more male attention other than what you get elsewhere in the world. I’ve actually experienced no greater attention in my Middle East travels either, and it’s nice to have someone back me up on this. Plus I love this very true sentence: “f you show up in short shorts and get creeped out by the men staring at you — whether in Jordan, Italy, or the United States — you have no one to blame but yourself.” It’s true! Also, it’s interesting to hear that some local women in Jordan wear somewhat revealing clothing. I haven’t been to Jordan yet and frankly can’t imagine this in an Arab country, although I believe you. Even in Egypt, which is very liberal compared to, say, the Persian Gulf countries, I don’t see local women dressed anything but modestly, including where I am in Dahab, which is party town. I hope to travel to Jordan soon, so I’ll see for myself 🙂

    1. Sabina, I’m really glad I’ve heard from you, as you’ve spent so much time in the Middle East!

      As for “somewhat revealing clothing,” I mean by Jordanian standards — if you go to Rainbow Street or the new town, you’ll see lower-cut but not super low-cut shirts, and everyone could be plunked anywhere into a Western city and look average.. Also, I saw a LOT of super-tight clothing — but no skin bared. Thought it was interesting.

  3. I love this post as I know absolutely nothing about Jordan but now feel somewhat schooled! Petra is gorgeous (I hope you have more pictures), I really never knew there were so many ruins there. I need to read up on Jordan-glad you are having a great/safe time!

  4. Looks incredible! My mom studied Arabic at the Defense Language Institute while in the FBI and was good friends with her language teachers there, so I’ve always been a little bit familiar with and intrigued by the Middle East. Arabic might just have to be the third language I learn–especially if my French would come in handy there! Glad you’re having such a brilliant time 🙂

  5. Great first Jordan post, Kate! It’s so good to keep hearing that Jordanians are friendly, and that you feel fine there as a solo female traveler. Very encouraging stuff for all those out there who label Jordan as just another “scary” Middle-Eastern country.

    Can’t wait for the rest of your Jordan posts!

  6. What happened to the impulsive, risk-taking, adventurous Kate?:( I’m happy you are taking advantage of Tourism Boards and what not, but I miss reading about your crazy and hilarious adventures!

    1. Wow, Kara. Maybe my adventures these days aren’t as crazy as getting shipwrecked off the coast of Komodo Island. Jetting off to the Middle East on my own, climbing the Alps, getting a wake-up call from a naked man in Liechtenstein, hunting for truffles with dogs — is that really not enough for you?

      The truth? I had a bit of a death wish when I first arrived in Southeast Asia. That’s why I didn’t hesitate to do stupid, stupid things like get into a Muay Thai ring, getting myself bloodied and bruised for weeks. I was desperate to feel something — anything — back then, and it backfired. And then I realized that I was going to get myself killed, and I calmed down. I’m so much happier these days. I’m still adventuring, but I’m no longer putting myself in danger.

      As for tourism boards? If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be able to afford to do a fraction of these things. And wait until you see what I have planned for 2012 so far — it’s INSANE.

      I know you probably didn’t mean to, but you ruined my entire week with that comment. You might want to do something nice for someone.

  7. great sneak peek into Jordan! Can’t wait to read about it in more detail and to see more pictures of Petra. Weird (but awesome) that so many people speak French there!

  8. I’m so excited for you to be in the Middle East, I was in Israel not Jordan but reading about it brings back memories, I’m interested to see how the traveling is different & can’t wait to read about the dead sea since I’ve been there before. Enjoy!

    1. Absolutely, Zablon — I think that not only should you dress like the local culture, you should dress a bit on the conservative side FOR that culture. Except in the touristy resort areas, I didn’t show any skin above my wrists all week (except in cooking class, of course!).

  9. Basma is a very ice ame for you…from the pictures I’ve seen of you on this blog I would’ve given you the same name 🙂 Glad you’re enjoying your first trip to the middle east and hopefully it wouldn’t be your last! Waiting for you in Egypt 😉

  10. Currently, I have no great pull to travel to the Middle East but your post on Jordan has enabled to look at the country in a different light. It’ll be interesting to see how I feel about the Middle East after your adventures there!

    What’s the weather like there? No sandstorms yet?

    1. Ed, I think Jordan is the ideal introduction to the Middle East. Weather was pretty good — winter can be rainy in Amman and Petra, and I had a bit of rain in those places, but other than that, around 15-20 degrees in most places and warmer in lowland areas.

  11. Hey,
    Really like the post, I’m planning on heading to Jordan on a trekking holiday in the Spring – five nights camping with Bedouin hosts should be interesting!
    Can’t wait to see Petra!

  12. Glad you’re enjoying Jordan so far. It’s one of the Middle Eastern nations I’ve always been more interested in and I’d love to visit someday.

    I hope the men wouldn’t ogle me in my short shorts though >_>

  13. Thanks for sharing such great insights, especially on what wear. I am also a solo female traveller and will be in Jordan Feb. 2012. Any other advice would be much appreciated.

  14. There is more to Jordan than you will ever experience through an invitation of the Jordan Tourism Board. And it isn’t as pretty as you described it…for female solo travellers.

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