Written by: Greg Ellifritz
I got back home last week after a whirlwind seven-day tour of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
That’s not on most people’s travel bucket list. Why go to Jordan?
When Lauren and I met, we both had independent travel goals. My goal was to visit 50 countries before I turned 50 years old. Her goal was to visit all seven continents before turning 40 years old. In the six years we have been together we’ve traveled quite a bit. We both accomplished our travel goals last year.
Still loving travel, we needed some new goals. Lauren decided our new goal should be to see the new Seven Wonders of the Modern World. One of those wonders is the lost city of Petra (located in Jordan). That’s why we went there.
We had some fun adventures and really enjoyed our trip. After every international trip, I write up a brief trip report discussing the country, the endemic criminal or terrorist strategies employed there, and a bit about the “gun culture” of the places I visit. If you would like to see similar travel reports click HERE. This is my latest installment.
We arrived in Amman a day before our trip was set to begin. We spent the day walking around the city checking out several museums and the 1800 year-old Roman Theater.
While out walking, one of the more stark reminders that someone is traveling in a majority Muslim country is the call to prayer that is broadcast via large speakers at every mosque. The call to prayer happens five times a day.
If you haven’t experienced it, take a look at this 15-second video from the sundown call to prayer in Amman. It’s disturbingly loud in many locations. We are walking along a road about a mile from the mosque emitting the call that you’ll hear below.
I always find the sounds to be ominous. They don’t seem to be friendly or inviting to me. When discussing it, Lauren brought up a good point. In every war movie made in the last 20 years we hear something similar to this call to prayer in the soundtrack right before the “bad guys” attack.
That may be negatively affecting my perception, but the sounds still give me chills every time I hear them.
Interestingly enough, the Jordanian society (while 95% Islamic) is remarkably secular. Most of the residents seem to ignore the calls, going about their business as if the calls didn’t matter. When I was in Egypt, I found things were quite different. When the calls went out there, you could see people visibly moving towards the mosques or toward places where they could pray.
Not the same reaction in Jordan. According to the guide we hired, the population of Jordan is increasingly becoming less religious. The younger folks there are not embracing the Muslim faith in the same way their parents and grandparents did. Jordan seems to be a country very tolerant of differing religions (unlike many other countries in the region). I didn’t see any overt signs of discrimination directed to the five percent of the country who are Christians.
How would I know if a Jordanian is either Christian or Muslim? In women, it’s very easy to tell. The women who are walking around in public without a head scarf do not practice the Muslim faith.
Almost all the women here wear a head scarf (hijab) to conform to the Islamic standards of modesty. I saw very few women wearing full black burqas. According to our tour guide, the burqa is something that Jordanian women do not embrace. Our guide said that the few women we saw wearing full burqas were Saudi tourists.
In addition to the hijab, almost every Jordanian woman we saw was rearing a sort of dress or “house coat” over their clothes. This garment is like a long jacket or dress that extends to the woman’s ankles. It zips up the front and tends to be in a solid dark color with some embroidery or decoration around the cuffs and collar. It almost looks like a longer version of the 1960s smoking jacket.
Women generally wear pants and a t-shirt and then cover those clothes with the “house coat” whenever in public. Lauren made an interesting observation. The dress looks like a house coat, but is only designed to promote modesty when outside of the home. For lack of a better name, we started calling this piece of attire the “out-of-the-house coat.” Almost every woman we saw in Jordan was wearing one.
This outer dress serves the purpose of completely obscuring the woman’s general body shape. You really couldn’t tell if the woman was fat or slim, muscular or weak. Almost every woman looked like they were wearing some type of an amorphous, loose fitting potato sack in dark colors.
It seemed obvious that most men on the street were not used to seeing “Western” females who aren’t wearing the popular housecoat dress. Lauren dressed very modestly in jeans and a T-shirt on most days. She wasn’t showing off any skin, but I caught a lot of the men we passed openly staring in a leering fashion as she walked by.
Unlike many of the countries in South and Central America, Jordanian men didn’t whistle, cat call, yell suggestive comments, or molest women dressing less modestly than the residents in their home country. They just stared a lot. We didn’t have any problems with the leering men, but they gave off an incredible air of desperation.
All of the Jordanian people with whom we interacted were universally friendly and incredibly willing to help in any way they could. Tourists call Thailand the “land of smiles,” but I would say the Jordanians looked even more happy than the people I encountered in Thailand.
Besides the friendly locals, another advantage to traveling in Jordan is that most people speak at least passable English. It made communications go far more smoothly than what I have experienced in many other countries that don’t use the same alphabet. Jordan was a British protectorate from the end of WWI until a few years after WWII. As they were protected by the British crown, the Jordanians embraced the English language for many years. The trend of learning both Arabic and English as a child has remained strong even after the Jordanian independence..
On day two we spent quite a bit of time touring the ruins of Jerash, the oldest Roman ruin site outside of Italy. The city was occupied from Roman times until around 800 AD when it was destroyed by an earthquake. The ruins were rediscovered in the early 1800s and have been slowly excavated by archeologists. While only about 20% of the site has been excavated, it was a tremendous experience to walk on roads that were built in the time before Christ.
If you ever make it to Jordan, it’s worth the drive to see the ruins.
Following Jaresh, we visited the Moorish Ajloun Castle. The current castle contains only the bottom two floors of what once was a five-floor architectural wonder from the 12th century. It was one of the few Muslim-held castles in the area that was never overrun by the Christian Crusaders.
Ajloun is a 12th century Moorish castle. It’s a fabulous piece of architectural design with multiple redundant mechanisms designed to repel a crusader attack. It didn’t take very long to explore the castle, but both Lauren and I were glad we made the effort to see it.
The next day we woke up early to take a trip to Mt. Nebo. Mt. Nebo was mentioned in the bible as the location where Moses first viewed the “Holy lands.” It is also recorded as the area where he died.
Mt. Nebo provided a very pretty view of the Israeli territory around the city of Jericho. On the top of the mountain, archeologists uncovered what was once a fifth-century Byzantine church. The church floors were made up of stunning hand carved mosaic tiles. They were found almost completely intact after having been abandoned for nearly 1500 years. I can’t even describe the feeling of wonder that those ornate mosaic tiles created in my brain.
Following Mt. Nebo, we drove down to the Dead Sea to spend dome time in the salt water. The sea has so much salt that floating requires absolutely zero effort. Floating easily was a really cool feeling for a dense guy like me who tends to quickly sink to the bottom of the pool as soon as I enter the water.
The only real downside is that the salt water will really irritate any cuts, abrasions, or razor burn anywhere on your body. When I waded out into the sea, I quickly felt a previously unnoticed scratch on my hand. The salt water irritated the cut for several hours, even after I got back on shore. If you are visiting, I would suggest that you avoid shaving on the day of your swim.
Following our dip in the water, we took the long drive down the length of the Dead Sea to Wadi Rum. Wadi Rum is a Bedouin area that is far away from civilization. The views of the shining stars and harsh desert landscapes are quite impressive. We stayed the night in a Bedouin camp and then got up early to go for a sunrise 4X4 tour of the nearby desert.
I am the farthest thing possible from a morning person. Despite my usual habit of sleeping in, the 0500 wake up call to go check out the sunrise didn’t seem so bad. I really enjoyed watching the sun rise over the stillness of the desert early in the morning.
We then drove to the lost city of Petra. We spent the day touring the ruins. The city is so large that it would probably take a week to see everything. We were there about 10 hours and walked the main road through the city. We hiked to the highest peak (called the Monastery). It was a 7.2 mile hike with more than 800 steps up the mountain and an equal number of steps down.
Did I mention that it was 97 degrees and there was virtually zero shade along the trail? That trek kicked both of our asses, but we survived and saw some really cool things while doing so.
We spent one more day in Amman and then flew home. Below is some additional commentary about our trip…
As usual when we are traveling, we try to eat as much local food as possible. For our first dinner in Amman, we went to a local restaurant and had a traditional Jordanian meal. I had Jordan’s national dish (mansef, pictured above). It’s lamb that has been boiled in fermented yogurt. It was completely edible, but not my favorite. I tried the dish twice when I was there. It tasted OK each time. I came to realize that I’m just really not a big fan of lamb meat in general.
Lauren had lamb and chicken kabobs (very good) and a vegetable plate. Universally, the kabobs (meat on a stick) were amazing. We also enjoyed the Babaganoush, the hummus, the shawerma, and the falafel that was incredibly cheap in every restaurant. Before this trip, I wasn’t really up to speed on middle eastern food. Now, I’m ready to try every little middle eastern hole in the wall I can find here at home.
Check out the picture below of the restaurant menu to see what’s available if we really choose to get adventurous. We chose not to consume the lamb brains or sheep testicles.
As a majority Muslim country, most restaurants did not serve alcohol. In the week we spent in the country, only one restaurant we visited served beer. I’m a big beer drinker and almost went into alcoholic withdrawals, but I managed to survive. Most restaurants had some amazing fruit juices that we drank instead of alcohol. We both liked the lemon/mint homemade juices the best. They were very refreshing after engaging in physical effort all day in the hot desert.
Besides the juices, I also tried lots of non-alcoholic beers. Check out the one below. It tasted like Sprite, but had a malty beer aftertaste. Very weird, but I still drank a few at one of our stops.
Guns in Jordan
Lots of American gun owners erroneously believe that residents of other countries cannot own guns. That’s not true. There may be more hoops to jump through than in America, but many other countries allow firearms ownership.
I stopped in a few gun shops in Amman. According to the gun store sales staff, Jordanians can own handguns, shotguns, and rimfire rifles. No magazine limits, caliber restrictions or barrel length restrictions on shotguns.
To purchase a gun, they must be 21 years old, Jordanian citizens, and pass a police background check. They are allowed to posses four total firearms, but may get more with a special collector’s permit. People with valid gun licenses are not allowed to carry their weapons in public buildings, universities and other educational institutions, and during official and public occasions, conferences, meetings or demonstrations. They can get an additional carry permit to carry in circumstances other than the ones listed above.
Gun stores had shotguns and rifles in stock. Handguns must be special ordered.
A stock Mossberg 500 12 gauge pump with riot and hunting barrel cost $750 US.
The gun store owner spoke good English and joked with me “In USA, it probably costs $150 and you can probably buy it at Target.” Not far off.
Winchester white box ball ammo in 9mm was $19 a box.
Weapons and escape tools I carried.
When traveling in most of the third world countries I visit, I usually carry a couple blades and some pepper spray. I feel relatively free to do so, despite any local laws prohibiting the carry of weapons because I am reasonably confident that, should I get caught with an illegal weapon, I could bribe the cop to change his mind about arresting me.
Jordan’s police have a general reputation of being less corrupt than most. There are also a lot of metal detectors in the country. Every hotel, museum, and historical site required that visitors walk through a metal detector. Many sites had bag X-rays as well. Because I was going through so many detectors, I chose to keep my weaponry low profile.
I carried the following:
– A Ka-Bar LDK along with a handcuff key and handcuff shim attached to my rear pants belt loop.
– My Fenix PD-35 flashlight as an impact weapon
– Oscar Delta GTFO wrist strap. See it in action here below:
– Oscar Delta Technora Escape necklace.
In Jordan, I was less worried about street crime and more concerned with terrorist kidnapping attempts. I made sure I had numerous counter-custody options available. They turned out to be completely unnecessary. I found Jordan to be a tremendously safe country and I probably didn’t need to be as prepared as I was,
The Jordanian cops carried Caracal F pistols. They were carried in cheap nylon belt holsters or local plastic Serpa knock off designs. The cops only carried the pistol. No cuffs, extra magazines, or less lethal weapons. Some of the sources with whom I spoke told me that most of the cops carried empty guns.
Some of the local cops on guard at major tourist sites carried short barreled “Commando” style AR-15 rifles. The guns were all immaculately clean and polished. They had iron sights and no optics. They also lacked a magazine.
The cops carrying the rifles didn’t even have loaded magazines on their belt. It seems like the majority of cops were carrying unloaded and useless weapons. I did see one unit of the national police guarding the airport that was armed with HK MP-7 sub guns with what appeared to be loaded magazines.
Overall, I felt that the risk for crime in the country was very low. We had no problems with either the police or the criminals while we were there.
Jordan was a great place to visit and I’m glad we went. If you ever get a chance to visit the country, make sure you take advantage of it. You’ll be glad you did.