Jordan has lots going for it; Moses found the Promised Land here, Jesus found John the Baptist and Indiana Jones found the Holy Grail. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has long been at the centre of human history, forming part of the world once known as 'the cradle of humanity'. Today it plays host to teams of excavators retracing our steps through stone cities and vast deserts across dead seas and extinct dynasties, yet is an oasis of political stability in this beleaguered but astonishing part of the world.
Levantine Arabic is the official language; more surprising is the prevalence of English amongst the educated classes, it being taught in all schools. Jordanians pride themselves on their hospitality- to reward help with a small gift is common practice, though women and men keep their distance, so try to approach the same gender if you need assistance. To open conversation use ya-tiki-afi meaning 'thank you for your kind help'.
Other useful words and phrases include:
Hello: as-salam alaykum Hello (response): wa alaykum e-salam Goodbye (person leaving): ma'a salama Goodbye (person staying): alla ysalmakYes: aiwa/na'am No: la Maybe: mumkin Please: min fadhlik Thank you: shukranYou're welcome: afwan Excuse me: lo tisma I understand: ana fahim I don't understand: la afhamHow are you?: kef Halak? Fine thanks: zein al-HamdulillahWhat's your name?: shismak? My name is: ismi Where is (the)?: wein (al-) ?Airport: al-matar Toilets (men): Hammam lirrijal Toilets (women): Hammam linnisa'aHospital: mustashfa Police: shurta
As ever, language is not the only form of communication, so be careful how you behave and dress. The country is 95% Muslim. Swimming clothes should be worn only where you could be swimming. Do not assume the right to take photos. Muslims bathe after sexual intercourse and the association is so strong that to appear in public with wet hair is deemed most inappropriate.
£1 - 1.35 Jordanian Dinars (JD). €1 - 0.90 JD. $1 - 0.70 JD.
Jordan is predominantly desert so expect an arid climate. There are wetter highlands towards the west, with a rainy season from November to April. The Gulf of Aqaba and the Dead Sea provide 16 miles of coastline. The Dead Sea is almost 500m below sea level and gets extremely cold during winter.
Jordan is well aware what its major attractions are; if you can't find a guide book, just use a Bible. While Amman is host to the major museums, just south at Madaba one finds the centre of religious tourism. The surrounding area is scattered with places of interest, such as Tell Hesban, which offers memorable views and the Iron Age reservoir immortalised in the Song of Solomon. However, more recent governments have developed over some older attractions, so you'll find third century Roman Temples are lost to sixth century Byzantine basilicas.
While Jordan's landscape testifies to its Judeo-Christian importance, from the River Jordan to Mount Nebo (where Moses is buried) there are areas of more particularly Islamic interest. Al Karak is the resting place of Islamic martyrs, including the leader Zaid bin Ali bin Al-Hussein, descendant of the Prophet Mohammad. Regardless what your religious interests might be, the famed city of Petra is bound to amaze, not because it has appeared in the works of Stephen Spielberg, Agatha Christie, Strabo or Pliny the Elder, but because it is genuinely astounding: comprised almost entirely of monolithic structures carved from the pink rock face, it is approachable only by the Siq- a slender crack in the mountain.
Jordan also offers a rare selection of sporting opportunities. The mountains of the Wadi Rum desert are riddled with rock-climbing terrains, while the Dead Sea is renowned for its unusual floating salts. Aqaba offers shopping centers, fine hotels, and water sports along its sea border.
Apart from Independence Day (25 May) the major festivals accord with the Islamic calendar. Ramadan ends with great feasts, although be considerate of the general fasting in the month beforehand.
Due to water shortages, Jordan has geared itself to targeting a niche market of wealthier, usually older travellers and provides the appropriate upscale services in the tourist hot-spots. Amman has moved with the times, and boats several large shopping centres.
The Free Trade Agreement made with the US will have removed duties on all goods and services by 2010.
The niche market has not, thus far, demanded a vibrant night scene. The best offer of the evening is taking in the day's best sights by moonlight, with calls to prayer wailing in the background. There is a Song Festival in the summer where you can hear the Bedouin heritage still zinging through the rural zajal songs on reed pipes and in the (frequently improvised) poetry.
Alcohol is rarely served except in the few bars for foreigners mainly found in the big hotels. In the upmarket clubs Western attitudes and dress codes prevail, but you'll have to get home at some point. Aqaba's beaches host lively socialising in to the evenings.
Christian and Islamic communities interact well. Homosexuality is frowned upon, but not illegal. Some bars will not welcome women as warmly as men, and certain behaviour in women, such as smoking, can meet with disapproval.
The speed limit is 60kph/38mph in cities, 80 kph/50 mph on country roads and 120 kph/75mph on motorways. Police are vigilant and violating the speed limit warrants fines as high as $140. While licensed drivers are obliged to have local third party insurance, a fire extinguisher and warning triangle, passports should also be at the ready, particularly along the Red Sea. For details on regulations, see Jordan Embassy Site
Most roads are paved, but the 145 accidents a day provide their own warning. Particular care is warranted during the rainy season (December to March) and in the poorly-lit areas. (The desert highway outside Aqaba is infamous). Keep an eye out for independently-minded livestock. Child car seats are hard to find. Traffic drives on the right, but this is sometimes forgotten by visitors from Gulf states over religious holidays. Going close to any borders (especially those with Iraq and Israel) is dangerous. Don't question the authority of signs with skulls and crossbones; land mines protect military zones and certain borders, especially the Dead Sea. Consult local knowledge and always carry water. The US state department post warnings on troublesome areas here. In case of emergency ring 199 or if broken down, contact the Automobile Association.
If you wish to stay beyond 29 days, you must register at a police station. For visits longer than six months, it is a requirement that AIDS tests are conducted at government medical facilities. Neglecting to do this will result in a fine of JD1.5 per day, calculated upon your departure.
If you are having trouble with your car, horse and camel hire can be cheap.
Food and Drink
A steamy mixture of Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian gastronmic influences combines to give Jordanian cuisine its bite. The West now knows the hallmarks of Jordanian kitchens - shish kebabs, shish taouks, hummous, Koubba, Fool Moudames; the typical mezze dishes that have made appetizers the new main course. What Western tongues will not know is how they taste in the hands of their natural chefs.
A particular traditional delicacy is Mansaf. Based in a rich broth derived from sour milk, mixed with Arabic rice embedding lamb, or sometimes chicken, this Bedouin dish marks a special occasion, uniting communities and symbolising generosity. Everyone eats from the same plate using their hands.
Jordanians socialise over Arabic coffee. To stem the continuous flow politely, tilt the cup as you return it.