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Monday, 21 March 2016

Project Jordan & Israel



Day 1:
Flight from Bucharest to Amman [return flight: EUR 99 each, Marcel and I, that is] – checked.
Taxi ride from the airport to Arab Tower Hotel [JOD 20; double room, en-suite, breakfast included] – JOD 20, checked. Amman was starting to shape.

Day 2:
After breakfast and the glorious view over Old Amman, we were off to the Dead Sea. JOD 3 for a taxi ride to the bus stop and then JOD 15 [the two of us] for an hour-and-a-half ride in a minibus to the Dead Sea, alongside locals, certainly one of the most authentic experiences throughout the dusty, hot, and poor villages on the coast.
The Dead Sea
It is obvious that we did not reach Amman Beach, as we intended, but Oh Resort, with which our bus driver had some business going on. We were in luck, though: the JOD 40 entrance fee had been reduced to half due to refurbishment works in the resort. It was nice, in the end, we got salt and mud [tip-based], a bit of tan and relaxed for the first time in a long while.
Oh Resort
Naturally, no bus was to be found to Madaba, so we took a taxi [JOD 20] and enjoyed some pink and dusty views along the winding road. We stayed at Moab Land Hotel [JOD 21; double room, en-suite, breakfast included], centrally situated. After a walk and a search for Jordanian bananas, we had dinner with a wonderful German man [with whom I shared my birth date] and then had a perfect knafeh at Abu Jaber Sweets. Talk about sweet dreams for a change…  

Day 3:
Probably the most authentic of all towns -as a whole- unveiled after breakfast, as we played with sand bottles and wool and colours. We had come across a good option [a JOD 45 taxi ride to Wadi Musa, including the worthwhile visit to Shoubak Castle]. The very kind Mohammad had thrown in a detour to Dana Nature Reserve and a magnificent view, while camels in the wild and traffic controls dotted the way. The Desert Highway. Shoubak was extraordinary, one of the most beautiful sights of the trip through Jordan.
Our evening was spent in-between the bakery, dinner, ‘Petra by night’ [which was cancelled because of some local anti-government riots… there seems to be a lot of drama in Jordan… things very difficult to believe and to digest, yet true], and the local beznessmen. To me, almost all youngsters met in Wadi Musa seemed high and very-very slick; I tried my best to reduce interactions with them, although that meant an early night in a cold place – Saba’a Hotel [JOD 24; double room, en-suite, breakfast included], which I don’t recommend.      

Day 4:
The elephants in Petra, one of the few nice moments
We went to Petra in the morning, by foot [I highly recommend the purchase of Jordan Pass; we did (and got the first visa to Jordan free of charge); consequently, the attraction entrance fees are not specified in this article]. We were amongst the only early visitors, so going through the pink canyon felt nice. However, we were in for an unpleasant surprise, one of the most traumatising days on the road for me and my love for donkeys pounding.
High heels on horseback?!... [Again, Petra]
I left Petra with a terrible headache and –in the end– accepted the offer of our host and one of her employees took us to Wadi Rum village [we were nearly scammed to pay the entrance fee to Wadi Rum once again, so pay attention! it is included in the pass if you have one], where our Bedouin host picked us up and took us to his Bedouin Meditation Camp [JOD 30; tent for 2, breakfast included, 2 nights]. The sunset was grand. Dinner [JOD 10, even for vegetarians] – not so. But the people we met on that first night were a sight for sore eyes.
Sunset time, Wadi Rum

Day 5:
The second day in Wadi Rum was not that joyful. It started ok, with a camel ride [it should’ve taken an hour and a half, but took an hour, more or less, and the animals gave off good energy]. But then came a purely commercial endeavour I didn’t enjoy even a minute of – off-roading through the desert, in bad company [I should specify that]. In my defence, I would have liked to walk, but Marcel wanted to see a bridge that was practically close to our camp, yet we were lied to that it wasn’t [with the promise of a ‘great deal’]. Boy, these people lie a lot!
I also got sunstroke, so the only thing left after dinner was going to bed, in that frightening wind.

Day 6:
My days in Jordan were pretty much the same as far as the mornings were concerned: the eternal optimist in me woke up with the same goal in mind ‘This is going to be the day for that truly amazing wow, this is going to be the day you expected to find here!’.
Never was. :)
A taxi was hired to Aqaba [JOD 25], because our following host did not pick up his phone or arrange the ride, as we had previously discussed. Due to the lack of earnestness, we also ‘forgot’ to mention that we had a dive planned and went snorkelling instead. The good thing with Bedouin Garden Village [JOD 30; double room, en-suite, breakfast included] is that it is unbelievably close to the beach; otherwise, I wouldn’t recommend it.
The scenery is lovely, so is the sea, and so are the animals living in it… but you are continuously harassed; it’s how I felt, at least. Took a break [our hotel didn’t serve any food that day, so we had to visit the neighbouring establishment to grab a bite] and returned to snorkel. Of course, one of the nosy guys on the beach wanted to show us something; I got out of the water, got really pissed and – instead of enjoying the sunset – had a huge fight with my significant other.
All cried out, I reached the hotel and asked our receptionist to help me with the apparent ISIS threat on neighbouring Eilat. It was the start of an interesting story in my life, to be portrayed in one of the chapters of my first book – ‘Addicted to Butterflies’ – that I am currently working on.  

Day 7:
The driver was there on time [or possibly earlier; punctuality is a trait to appreciate in Jordan] and for the JOD 12 negotiated a day earlier with his colleague, he took us to the Israeli border.
Getting out of Jordan was easy.
Getting into Israel was hard.
[Especially when you’ve travelled to Iran and when your boyfriend doesn’t exactly remember dates.]
In the end, he was also allowed in and we took a taxi [NIS 55] to the lush Motel Sunset [NIS 422; double room, 2 nights], but it was so late and close to Shabbat, that we only had time for some quick essential shopping [@The Family Bakery], lunch at the wonderful Café Café, and some snorkelling on a public beach in downtown Eilat.

Day 8:
We decided to spend half of our day at the Coral Beach Reserve [NIS 35] and we didn’t regret our choice. Not a single minute of it. Because the fish and the colours I’ve come across while snorkelling there… well, I haven’t seen them anywhere else!
When closing time got near, we took the bus [NIS 5.9] and headed back to our room. We didn’t have to wait long until Shabbat was over and we could finally go out to buy food and snacks for the following day [we were running low on supplies], and enjoy a walk in the beautiful town that had gotten so much under my skin.

Day 9:
It was a day on the road, which started fantastically [with two ibexes spotted minutes out of Eilat] and ended bitterly.
Our route?
Bus from Eilat to Beer Sheva [NIS 60] [we also went through Mitzpe Ramon and the scenery was a treat], lunch at Aroma Café [my favourite Israeli coffee chain], bus from Beer Sheva to Afula [NIS 39.50], bus from Afula to Ginosar Branching [NIS 25]… where our lovely bus no. 48 didn’t stop after 1h30’ of waiting, so we were obliged to head towards our accommodation, Flenner’s Zimmer – a very nice en-suite, provided free of charge [but charged 14 EUR symbolically on AirBnb] – by foot. Only the 20th car stopped after we had already walked 6 of the 9 km to Livnim.

Day 10:
Breakfast @Tibi's
Luckily, our host offered to drop us off to Vered Hagalil; here, we had a spectacular breakfast at Tibi’s [Israel has rightfully gained a spot in my Countries for Vegetarians Top 5!]. The horses [both of them Mustangs] were already waiting for us to ride them. We enjoyed the bright views over the Sea of Galilee a lot and it remained one of the best memories of our trip, enhanced by the fact that the animals are so well cared for and trained. Thank you, Yonderbound, for arranging our activity and for making everything possible.
Out riding
Off to the border with Jordan we were! Bus to Tiberias [NIS 11.70] and then another one to Beit She’an [NIS 16.30]. The taxi drivers charged a ridiculous NIS 55 for the 4 km to the border crossing. In the end, we hitchhiked and took a taxi for NIS 40 and for the remaining distance.
Of course, getting out of Israel was again difficult.
[You will pay the exit tax NIS 101 + NIS 5 (processing fee; if you travel in a group, only once) and the bus ride to neighbouring Jordan [5 NIS].]
And there’s a lot of waiting in Jordan for the visa to be issued [JOD 40].
Of course, Jerash had closed, so we headed by taxi [JOD 40] to Amman and again to Arab Tower Hotel [JOD 25]. We arrived in the rain, after having witnessed one of the best sunsets ever close to As Salt. And we ate in Amman… that’s what we did. As mentioned in a previous post, ‘this is where they kept the food!’.  

Day 11:
Our day [post-breakfast, of course] was a full one: the Roman Amphitheatre, the Citadel, knafeh at Habibah Sweets, falafel on the go from Hashem’s, a lot of shopping [spices and clothes and accessories and perfumes and souvenirs] in Old Amman and then a disappointing visit to Bakdash in West Amman. It was time to say goodbye.

Day 12:
Thanks to TAROM, our flight got cancelled, we had to pay extra for our hotel room [JOD 20] and for our taxi ride [JOD 20] to the airport.
I got my backpack cut by a clumsy luggage packer and we had to wait for almost an hour for our flight to take off due to allegedly too thick a fog.
Luckily, we flew Turkish Arlines to Istanbul and were highly impressed by their professionalism, services, and general vibe on board.
We were only a plane ride away from home.  

P.S. And if you ask me, I would tell you that it was my first and last trip to Jordan and by far the worst travelling experience of my life [until now, that is]. Time will tell.

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