Jordan: Petra and donkeys; lots of donkeys.

Why Jordan?

We jump at any chance of overland travel, and were initially excited by the opportunity (and challenge!) of backpacking over the border and entering Jordan from Israel. That, and the potential for seeing Petra; one of the Wonders of the World that seems less publicised (at least where we’ve grown up). We were intrigued by the desert and the vibrant colours that stretch for miles… it really couldn’t feel much further than from New Zealand!


What we loved…

Donkeys!

It doesn’t take long to meet people here… The boys were up on the back of a donkey within 10 metres of our homestay! We loved the culture of donkeys and animals, that were respected and valued in their community because of what they contributed to the Bedouin society. It was amazing for us to see, having grown up riding horses in New Zealand, but knowing very little about donkeys. We fell in love! And especially in the village where the neighbours ended up giving us a donkey to walk home ourselves from Petra one day!


Wadi Rum

It’s enormous, so vast, and with colours that change from warm to red to orange in each direction we set out! We arranged two days in Wadi Rum with our AirBnB host and it was a great choice. It wasn’t like being with an organised tour, as we stopped whenever we saw something we wanted to explore, and Rizek was a great guide showing us his favourite places in Wadi Rum.

This area of desert is famous for the rich reds of the sand, and the unusual, never-ending sandstone mountains and arches that rise up out of the vast desert landscape. It is so unlike home that it never ceases to feel exciting and adventurous, and seeing the stars from the pitch black of the desert is so different, that it makes both daytime and nighttime beautiful and sort of eerily powerful at the same time. 

Waking up with a view out over the desert.

It’s incredible, and we haven’t even made it to Petra yet!


Bedouin village evenings

We love village life! Before we left, another item from the list of reasons ‘why NOT to go’ was about routine, and bedtimes. When you are caught up in that fast-moving wheel of routine life with work, school, and everything else, it is hard to imagine taking the risk to break routine or even make it flexible sometimes… [If we could tell our pre-travel selves that this would seriously not be something to worry about, I wonder if we would even have believed it?].

Somehow through travel and being together, we fall into routine that actually suits us, and works for US. We were always so conscious of bedtime at home, and worried what would await us the next day if we let the kids stay up, that we set off with that mindset. We imagined we wouldn’t be able to go out at night, but hadn’t thought we would miss much in doing so. 

BUT, if 7:00pm was always bedtime we would miss out on moments like last night, where the whole Bedouin village comes alive after dinner. There are donkeys walking around, and men and women sit on their doorsteps drinking tea and listening to music while the kids play in the street. 

We feel lucky to have time to figure our own routine out, because sometimes you have to throw caution to the wind and grab that opportunity, or you miss out on mint tea and new friends!


Petra; capital of the Nabatean Kingdom

We had heard that the walk up to the most famous monument in Petra, The Monastery, was made up of 900 steps. That is, if you go in the main entrance. We went with our Bedouin host who’s father dropped us at the back entrance, so that we could beat the crowds, and leave the 900 steps for the downward trek. 

It still took us an hour hiking in, and we clocked up 11km over the course of the day. But sunrise at The Monastery, with very few people around, was wonderful. The kids played in the sand, and we sat drinking Bedouin mint tea, trying our best to take in this Wonder of the World…

We sometimes talk about whether the sense of ‘wonderment’ changes with full-time travel… Can you really see too many temples? Or too many natural sights in a row to be wowed-out? [We hope we don’t ever find that out]. 

Petra had the WOW-FACTOR. 

We spent two days exploring the ancient Kingdom of Petra, and you could easily spend more! It was beautiful following the trail of the natural Siq canyon, and scrambling up the rocky paths to find tombs and caves we could go right in to. The Treasury monument is every bit as majestic as it looks; and although we didn’t think we could do it with the kids, we climbed right up to the lookout. 

It’s an unusual feeling to be surrounded so many tourists, after choosing a route that is off the beaten track. But even with the crowds (and even more so with the people-watching!), it is worth it, and truly wonderous.



One thing that challenged us in Jordan…

Making the ethical decision where donkeys were concerned; AND their child handlers.
Because seriously, how COOL are donkeys?! 

We ended up staying next door to a family with nine donkeys, and even though the boys played and rode every day, the highlight was definitely being given a donkey for the kids to ride home to the village after our first big day at Petra! [‘We’ve scored a donkey!’].

It was embarrassing to see so many overweight tourists riding around on tiny donkeys, taking selfies and having a grand old laugh. Perhaps a time will come when there will be no donkeys allowed at Petra for this very reason; which is confusing, and sad, because they fit the landscape so well, and truly are amazing little animals. 

For now, we enjoyed having days that started with donkeys braying and ended with drinking mint tea as they wandered by. 

It felt really special to have time to learn about them, and we enjoyed seeing the boys help wash them down after a hot day. They really are the perfect size for little donkey handlers, and thankfully as children have a naturally caring nature – exactly as they deserve.

Washing them down after a hot walk back up to the village!

We were happy to know that the kids from the family next door go to school, and help work with their donkeys on their days off and after school (confirmed – because we even saw the 9 year old boy studying at home and not allowed to come to Petra until after lunch on a Saturday!). This is one of the worries of encouraging young kids as donkey handlers in tourism around the world. Well that, and the seriously embarrassing moments we saw grossly overweight Western tourists riding donkeys up the steep steps towards the Monastery. [*Shudder]. Do your research, and make a good decision.


Where we stayed

  • Amman: Arabian Suites [apartment block with 2 and 3 bedroom apartments; close to supermarket].
  • Umm Sayhoun (Petra): Petra Family House [awesome Bedouin family apartment! Rizek the host took us to Wadi Rum for two days, and we spent days exploring Petra based in the village of Umm Sayhoun. For a real Jordan experience, we highly recommend Petra Family House!].
Chilling out at our Bedouin family house in Umm Sayhoun, Petra.
The kitchen at Arabian Suites, Amman. Gavin cooked spaghetti meatballs for us on the first night – a luxury to have a kitchen again1

Getting around

We hired a car through rentalcars.com and picked it up on arrival at Amman International Airport. We actually arrived in Jordan overland, via foot and bus from Israel, but ended up getting a taxi to the airport to pick up our rental car right away. Jordan is a huge country with a massive distance spanning between the major destinations, so a rental car is definitely the way to go!


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