22nd September 2015
WF MD Jonny is currently visiting Jordan and discovering why now is a great time to go if you want to explore amazing sights without the crowds.
The first thing that strikes you as a tourist in Jordan, is that there are no other tourists. That is sad for many reasons of course, but most of all because, despite the horrors being perpetrated in neighbouring countries, here in Jordan you feel completely safe.
Having arrived late last night in Amman we transferred directly 30km south to Madaba. This morning we were the only tourists up on Mount Nebo – the point from which Moses showed his chosen people the promised land – and besides two young female Korean backpackers we were also the only foreigners at the town’s famous St George's Church, an ancient Byzantine building that houses the oldest map of the Holy Land in the form of a very impressive mosaic. Madaba is known as the city of mosaics and there are thousands of them – mostly dating back to the 6th century – dotted all over the town. They are beautifully made, using tiny pieces of different coloured rocks to form a picture, and are one of the country’s greatest treasures.
But on this whistle stop tour sadly we didn’t have time to hang around and examine many more, but instead pushed on south down the King's Highway, a road that has been ferrying travellers for at least three millennia. Stopping for a quick lunch at a typical roadside restaurant-cum-tourist shop – a place that had seating for 100 and a shop the size of a small department store – again we were the only diners. Needless to say the waiters swarmed around us as though we were royalty.
Even the tiny village of Dana, a place now known for its cluster of eco hotels offering a gateway to hikers and trekkers heading into the nearby Dana Biosphere Reserve – Jordan’s largest national park – was deserted. Although Dana is no stranger to isolation – it had been deserted for years before some forward-thinking locals turned it into a natural haven for nature lovers – but for the region's geo-political struggles, the place would be buzzing with foreigners and locals alike. Not today.
Of course none of this adversely affected our morning or afternoon as we walked through orchards, picking pomegranates, figs and walnuts from the trees, feasted our eyes on the stunning gorge on which the village sits and wowed at the departing sun burnishing the Cappadocia-style mushroom rocks wild pink and reds.
When we got back to our hotel we did find a few more guests had arrived, but hardly enough to keep the waiters busy. As we sat eating our dinner staring out at one of the most spectacular views the Middle East has ever offered me, it still felt rather sad.
I know I have only been here 24 hours and mustn’t rush to conclusions, but looking up at the peaceful sickle moon and the first stars staring to appear, whilst thinking about the fun we’d had with our two excellent guides, the problems of the countries nearby seemed a million miles away.
Tomorrow we’re heading to Petra; let's see how many visitors there are there…