It officially happened. We visited the Middle East!
Our visit began in Jordan. Initially, the trip was meant to be all about visiting Palestine, but the more we actually talked about our first real foray into the Middle East, Jordan kept popping up. First of all, Petra is an ultimate bucket list item for me-between seeing Indian Jones about a million times growing up and the fact that the New World Wonder is basically a photographer’s dream, it seemed silly to not take advantage of being so close. Secondly, my husband’s lab partner from his time in engineering school at CU, Yazen, is Jordanian. Since leaving the states Yazen opened the only microbrewery in Jordan, and since my husband and I are both suckers for beer-especially beer with a unique story-Jordan was an easy addition to our itinerary. Jordan’s unique position as an incredibly stable oasis among the hostility of its’ neighbors did not hurt things either. We somehow managed to convince our dear friends living in Amsterdam to join us on this adventure, and we set off for what I knew would be a trip like none other.
I fell for Jordan quickly, and I fell hard.
I love to plan my travel like crazy, but I also love to not over plan. So upon arrival at the airport, we did not have set transportation to our hotel. I like to do this when I feel comfortable, because I like to be pushed out of my comfort zone right away. It payed off this time; the tourism desk set us up with the sweetest driver with impeccable English and for less than I had budgeted. The ride was full of his stories of Jordan and how safe and welcomed we were in his home country. We drove through the “nicest” part of Amman, a huge mall with Louis Vuitton signs and Starbucks dominating the area, past the Saudi Embassy and its heavily guarded gates complete with armed soldiers and machine guns on top of a truck, to the fourth circle of Amman and our hotel where more warm welcomes awaited us.
We quickly set off in search of a beer after a long day of travel. This would prove to be harder than we expected. Knowing Jordan is predominately Muslim, we knew that alcohol would not be everywhere. Our hotel, for example, did not have a bar. But I had read about Rainbow Street which is known for it’s tourist spots, and as it was after dark and we were not looking to explore too much at that moment, we figured that we would easily find something there. When we arrived, we found a beautiful street on a hill, but it was not the lively area I had read about before arrival. Jordan’s tourism industry has been killed by Daesh (known as ISIL or ISIS by the majority of the Western world. The Jordanian and Palestinian Muslims we met refuse to use these names as they do not believe that Daesh truly represents an Islamic state, which I agree with, and as such I will therefore refer to them as Daesh well) despite the fact that Jordan is stable, the royal family is well respected and loved, and they have a military supplied and completely supported by the US. But Jordan is also surrounded by instability and Westerners are scared, so their once thriving tourism industry has all but been destroyed, as was illustrated by Rainbow Street. Never the less, we wandered looking for a restaurant that served beer. One after another, the only beers to be found were non-alcoholic. Finally, near the end of the road we saw a sign for Carakale, Yazen’s brewery. We entered, grabbed a table with a view of the soccer match and settled in excited to try the Colorado-inspired-Jordanian beer. When we tried to order two beers though, we were quickly told no and that we would have to head upstairs to get a beer. Strange, but we complied and were rewarded with cold blonde ales, an exciting game, and our first taste of Jordanian hospitality.
The next day, before our travel companions joined us, we took off to see Amman. We started at the top of the most ancient hill (Amman is a city built on hills, originally seven but many more today) at the Roman Citadel. We saw the Roman theater, beautiful mosques, and the main souqs at the market. We got a little lost and we stuck out like a sore thumb; we were the only white people in the area it seemed. Despite this, I never felt scared; Jordanians are such welcoming people. Everyone shared a friendly smile, and eventually we found a cab driver who spoke English to take us in search of our ultimate goal-the best shwarma in Amman. The driver explained that he recently began learning English while teaching his American boss Arabic. They were learning from each other. He also told us that he believed we would have 5 or 6 children, which we both found very amusing given our ages. The food was cheap and tasty (not as good as Istanbul though, my husband told me many times), the people were lovely, and the delicious falafel shops’ walls were adorned with pictures of the King and Queen eating standing up just like everyone else.
Next up was a visit to the brewery, Carakale. Unfortunately, Yazen was in Belgium during our visit, but he set us up with a tour none-the-less. The brewery is just outside of Amman, in a 100% Christian village. Yazen has overcome all kinds of hardships in bringing a microbrewery to Jordan. We learned that alcohol can not be drank anywhere than can be seen by the public (thus why we could only have a beer on the second floor), that Christians must own any establishment that sells alcohol, and that despite setting up the brewery in a Christian village, the municipality has still made life very difficult for him (shutting off his water and poising his dog, among other things). But the beer was delicious (I especially loved the Hefe) and the story was inspiring. We look forward to having a Carakale with Yazen next time we are in Amman!
Finally our travel companions arrived and we shared a meal of tea, hummus, falafel, and a whole bunch of unlimited goodness, all for what ended up being 5 Dinars a person! We were told that Jordan does not have a lot of its own culture, the food music and dress are heavily influenced by Lebanon and Palestine or Syria and Iraq, but all of the food we had was all delicious and very cheap in the city! With full bellies we all settled in for the night and the early morning trip to Petra the next day.