Aloha everyone! It’s your girl Lyndsey with an update on my adventures…coming to you live from a hole-in-the-wall (but YUMMY) restaurant in Amman, Jordan. Why Jordan? Well that’s a good question, seven days ago, last Friday, I started getting feelings of homesickness. I miss my family, my dog, but above all else I miss adventuring. Waking up early without a plan, driving around the island until I found the perfect secluded beach or best freediving conditions. I love KAUST, don’t get me wrong, but this semester I have free time, which I’m so not used to, and it started getting to my head. Usually free time is a good thing, but at home I fill every waking second with outdoor walks, swims, hikes, etc. Here is a bit more isolating. This feeling was then replaced by sadness and I knew I needed a system reboot to get back to normal. This leads me to last Wednesday, exactly two days ago, when I hit up my favorite flight booking website (skyscanner.com) to see where I could fly to this weekend from Jeddah for the cheapest. My options were Dubai, Egypt, and Jordan, or Turkey. I’ve done Dubai, and I definitely know I want to do Egypt and Turkey, but I want to spend a week or more in each country because there is so much to see, so this left me with Jordan as my best option. I began to do some online research (might have stayed up to 1 AM googling) and vegan seriously considering booking a ticket. Jordan is most famous for a UNESCO heritage site, called Petra. It’s one of the 7 wonders of the world, so you know it’s got to be good. But there’s other things that Jordan has to offer. It’s also only a 1.5 hour flight from Jeddah. But, of course I was apprehensive. I’ve never traveled solo in the Middle East, and resources online had very mixed reviews on what it’s like to solo travel as a female. So I called up my family (their opinion matters so much to me) and they were supportive of me deciding to stay or go, so then it was down to me. It wasn’t a very hard decision, as traveling is such a central part of who I am. I want to go everywhere and see everything, so having this free weekend accompanied with my urge to travel, ended up with me clicking the “confirm tickets” button just 30 hours before the flight. I had class the next day, but spent most of my time continuing to research safety precautions, where to go (where not to go) top places to see, etc. I didn’t make a definitive plan but I booked a hostel, taxi, and that’s it. Literally 10 PM The night before my early morning flight, I went to the library to check out Jordan Travel guide books and print my boarding pass. I also ended up googling Visa fees and came across an awesome and helpful blog, https://notesontraveling.com/guide-visiting-petra-jordan/ who suggested buying the “Discover Jordan” pass. There are three different options, the least being $100 for four days in Jordan. The fee includes the Visa cost (otherwise $60) and Petra fees (also about $60 I believe) and also included visits to the countries most visited sites. So I last minute booked it, a little nervous if it was going to work at the airport, but confident that it would help me save a lot of money. I also had to book taxis to and from KAUST, which of course I was nervous would be already booked. Well, low and behold after my first request was denied, the company was booked. This is such a bummer because only certain taxi companies can actually come into KAUST and I obvs don’t want to get picked up and dropped off at the gate cause it’s like 3 miles from my house. So I desperately called the other taxi company, apologizing for it being so last minute, but they were super kind and ended up confirming. WOO, crisis averted. Important to note I called them at 11 PM the night before my flight, because their confirmation email was for November 13th, not November 3rd, which have me a low key panic attack but it all worked out in the end. My alarm blared at 3 AM, after only a few hours of sleep. But I got myself up and ready for my newest adventure. I just packed a carryon because I’ll only be in Jordan for three nights four days. The taxi man came right on time, and brought me to the correct airport (throwback to missing my Oman flight cause we went to the wrong terminal). I had three hours to check in, go through customs (did you know you need an exit visa to leave Saudi? Don’t worry, KAUST provides a multiple exit/reentry Visa so I can come and go as I please). A weird thing about Jeddah airport is that you take a bus to the plane, which leaves the airport an hour before scheduled departure, so I really need to make sure I get to the airport on time. I feel like my dad leaving for the airport 4 hours before my flight, but better be early than late! Thanks Keith!
I really only had a half hour wait in the terminal, so I perused my Jordan books, taking notes on what I wanted to do today. (Wow I can’t believe I have done so much in a single day, no wonder I’m so tired). The flight was only 1.5 hours and I slept literally the entire time takeoff touchdown. Going through the visa process was super easy, with the Jordan Pass. What I liked about it is that I payed online with a credit card so I didn’t have to deal with exchanging money right before customs which usually results with crazy fees. Getting my baggage was fine, but my difficulties arose once I was waiting for my driver, and trying to get money out of an ATM to pay him. Both of my debit cards kept on getting rejected at like 5 different ATMs. And most of you probably don’t know this but my debit cards have been hacked twice now. The most recent taking a fair chunk of my savings, leaving me in tears wondering if I would get it back (fortunately, I did), but it’s still so incriminating to know some jerk has thousands of dollars he hacked out of my bank account, so RUDE. Anyways, I hate using ATMs, but when traveling it’s the most sensible way to get local currency. I ended up at the info desk, trying to call my Saudia bank account to ask why it said my account was “offline”. The call wouldn’t go through, and guys I know this is pathetic, but I shed a few tears out of hopelessness. I know that’s super dramatic but I think I was just exhausted, nervous, and I’m the mindset that this was a premonition for a bad trip. But this kind kind man that worked at the airport helped me out so much, taking me to a bank employee (even though the bank was closed) and he ended up helping me get my money. I honestly don’t even know what he did but it worked and I’m extremely thankful for the kindness of a stranger, who didn’t expect anything back in return. He even used his cellphone to call my driver to help me find where he was. His kindness immediately changed my entire mindset and I was so happy and I know that Jordan was gonna be an amazing experience.
The driver who took me from the airport to the hostel was super kind. He gave me a water bottle, and let me use his cell phone as a hotspot so I could tell my parents I’m safe. We chatted the whole way, and he gave me a tour and pointed out the olive trees, buildings, landmarks, etc. I was blown away on how different the landscape was from anywhere else I’ve visited in the Middle East. There was greenery, and the climate!! In Saudi right now the temperature range from 80-95, here it’s more like 60-70s, maybe even 50s! I was worried I was going to be freezing and even brought along my fuzzy blanket, but with all the walking I did I was warm the whole day!
I got to the hostel and the owner sat me down in the office, and before I even paid or anything, was so kind and helpful. He wanted to help me plan my trip, and he did! He called the bus company to reserve a seat for me to get to Petra, he arranged a Taxi for me, and helped me figure out what to do. Okay looking back, I’m better at planning only one day at a time so I know what I’m doing today and tomorrow but no idea the day after that. But that’s ok! Oh I forgot to mention the best part of this hostel, it only cost me $9 a night! I bought a bed in the female down room, but he upgraded me to a single room (at least for the night) which was sooo nice and I appreciate that so much. I put my bags in my room, locked it up, and headed on my way to check out some historical Amman sites.
The journey started at the Citadel. Now I should mention the hotel manager told me exactly how to get there but hey I like to get lost and find new things so I (unintentionally ) took the very long way to get there. Amman was originally founded in seven major hills (like Rome) but Amman spread across more than 20. A straight flat road is super rare, so most my day was spent on very steep gradients or on stairs. The main hill is Jebel Amman, this is where my hotel is. Anyways, I got lost, went up crazy narrow stairs in between homes and then eventually had to have some little local boys (who didn’t speak English) guide me there after their hand gestures failed. I showed them a picture of where I wanted to go and they were kind enough to show me the way. The Citadel was super awesome, it actually took my breathe away. I wasn’t expecting much, but it was located on the highest hill in Amman, Jebel al’Qala’a and it’s the site of ancient Arab ath-Amman. Okay guys going to be honest with you I really am bad at history and memorizing facts so I’m using my handy guide book (Lonely Planet) to teach you all (and myself) the history. The main site at this Citadel is the Temple of Hercules, where two giant pillars remain. The temple was built during the rein of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius in AD 161-80. There’s also the Umayyad Palace, which is believed to have been built by Arabs around AD 720. There’s also a museum at this site but it was closed because they were filming a movie. Also… important side note is there was an entrance fee at this park but with my handy Jordan pass it was free! Woo, also it felt very safe Kent his area, as “tourist police” are almost everywhere, making sure no crime or harassment takes place. My next Store was all the way on the bottom of the hill, so I followed the map in my guidebook (looking like such a tourist) but I found a hidden set of stairs so I didn’t have to go all the way around the mountain.
The Roman theater is a very impressive site. It’s cut into a hillside and is massive, with a seating capacity of over 6,000. It is believed that the theater was built in the 2nd century AD during the rein of Antoninus Pius (AD138-61). It was built on three tiers, like sections. The first is where the rulers sat, closest to the action. The Middle was for military, and the top was for the general public. There’s also two museums right next to the theater, the folklore museum, and museum of popular traditions. It was nice to wander around and see traditional dress, jewelry, trinkets, and housewares. I didn’t spend a ton of time there, just enough to see everything. These museums and access to the theater were also included with the Jordan pass! It was such a cool view to walk the steps all the way to the top and see the whole theater. The architecture is amazing, imagine how beautiful this city would have looked back in Its hay day!
The rest of my afternoon was spent wandering around, shopping in local markets, and seeing some more historical buildings. The sites I visited were the forum (columns right in front of the theater) the Odeon which is a smaller theater that fits 500, for musical performances. And the nymphauem which they are still rebuilding, but once was an elaborate public fountain. My Lonely Planets guidebook gave me exact directions on where to go, so I literally followed the route and it was awesome. I found myself in so many different souks (little market/stores). Some aimed for tourists, other filled with bright colored fruits and veggies, gold, clothes, tech stuff, etc. I wish I took some picture or videos because it is so hard to describe. The touristy places weren’t super crowded, but these souks were insane. So many people, the store workers shouting and bidding (this was all in Arabic so I had no clue what they were saying). But it was definitely quite a sight, it reminded me a bit of Chinatown in New York City except not really. This downtown area, also known as Al Balad, is only about a mile from the hostel so I plan on returning.
By the time I got back to my hostel I was emotionally and physically exhausted. My feet were sore, and I was drained from all the crowds. I went back into my private little room and passed out for an hour, it was a lovely nap. When I woke up I got some WiFi and called this sister to fill each other in on life. My evening was spent wandering the artsy downtown area. I really liked the vibes there, and the highlight was the restaurant I ate at, called Hashem Restaurant. They didn’t have a menu or anything, I just sat down and next thing I knew there was a tub of hummus, pita, falafel, toppings, and hot tea in front of me! It was like heaven! Also- This was the restaurant I was referring to in the beginning of the blog (I’m now in bed). They were so kind, and I chilled there for like an hour blogging and just relaxing. It was fresh pita and everything was delicious, a must visit! My tourbook also recommended it so you know it must be legit. The rest of the night I wandered along shops, not buying anything but I really enjoy looking around. Today was an amazing day. I’m so happy and I know this trip was the right decision!