Dune-dressed deserts, Bedouin-run biomes and therapeutic seas make Jordan a chest of sensory treasures, writes Marie Barbieri.
Aveil of ochre-hued dust glitters the perspiration beading our brows as we shave the crests from the dunes. Tube scarves save our nostrils from the sandblasting, as we joyride the sinuous folds of Wadi Rum, Jordan’s lunar-like desert. Bouncing on the 4WD’s cushioned benches, we journey across the otherworldly land until nearing the sandstone arch of Um Fruth.
Our guides – besuited in tunics and kaffiyeh – hop onto the sand where summer heat sears time to a halt. A portable stereo delivers Middle Eastern beats, propelling our Bedouin friends into improvised, yet synchronised dance. Clicking their fingers at the parched air and thwacking their leather sandals on the scorched sand, their entrancing, melodic lyrics quaver on an earwigging breeze.
That was just one of the sensory cultural experiences I treasured while travelling through Jordan. The country’s onetime nomadic people, relying on their trusted goats, today oversee much of the tourist operations in Wadi Rum. Together, we traced canyons storied in ancient inscriptions, and left camel tracks in the sand as we trudged into sunsets, swaying on our regal dromedaries.
Dreams came true at Bubble Luxotel Wadi Rum, fit for discerning Martians. Tucked into luxuriously appointed spheres, our sleep was happily delayed while stargazing through transparent walls. Within my intimate amphitheatre, I watched Mother Nature’s celestial performers project their spotlights back to Earth.
Other elemental moments took place within Jordan’s Dana Biosphere Reserve. From solar-powered, candle-lit Feynan Ecolodge, Bedouin guides led culture-rich wilderness walks.
I viewed pink oleander flowers, tasted wild fig, smelled Phoenician juniper and spotted the Sinai agama lizard that turns turquoise when breeding. A Bedouin family then invited me into their woven goat hair-tent to witness coffee beans being ground with a wooden mehbash (similar to a mortar and pestle). The action creates an entrancing rhythmic beat. My urge to dance to it was real.
Cities through time
Hiking back into time at the lost city of Petra was bewitching. Emerging from its snaking siq to face the towering Treasury steals your breath. Petra’s ancient scroll is a storybook of sandstone hand-chiselled into cave houses, honeycombed facades and tombs – complete with staircases to ‘heaven’. Solitary climbs along the canyon’s ramparts, where the quietude is tangible, pacifies your soul. And statues of musicians excavated at Little Petra suggest there may have been quite the soirée during caravanserai rest stops.
Over in Jordan’s vibrant capital, Amman, a tumbling sea of limestone houses on one side of the city juxtaposes with stately villas on the other. Downtown’s bustling food markets zing spice-seeking palates, while minarets of mosques pierce the sky.
On Amman’s Abdali Boulevard, a winetasting room chills between basalt walls for JR The Wine Experience. Nibbling from a platter at their giant olive-wood table, I learned about the estate’s dry farming from Jordan’s volcanic terroir, while chinking to their award-winning pinot noir.
Heading north from Amman leads to Jerash, dubbed the ‘Pompeii of the East’. The excavated city reveals 2,000-yearold amphitheatres, Byzantine churches, frescoed fountains and colonnaded thoroughfares, which once rumbled with chariot races and drama performances until cataclysmic earthquakes silenced it. Thriving, however, is Jerash’s food scene. Traditional chicken and lamb mansaf (a Bedouin upside-down dish) marinates in many Jerash restaurants. But a café in the hills puts the luxury into their recipes.
An initiative of the Princess Alia Foundation, Beit Khairat Souf is a kitchen, shop and garden run by the women of Souf village, in an area bountiful in organic produce. Most impressive is that of the herbs that are disappearing from Jordan. These resourceful ladies use tissue culture to grow new varieties, to plant, use and sell alongside their homemade jams.
Joining the alfresco banquet here was like dining within a painting, between loquat trees fronting an 1881-built church. Dishes included warak enab (stuffed vine leaves) and loubieh (green beans with tomato, garlic and onion). Then came the cups of caffeine-free acorn coffee, sourced from the oak tree that shaded us.
A dash of salt
Dipping in the Dead Sea for the first time induces squeals (it’s slimy!). This landlocked ‘sea’ glistens 430.5 metres below sea level – the lowest, most oxygen-rich spot on the planet.
I enjoyed it from Marriott Resort & Spa, which may well be the prettiest of the hotels flanking the saline shores. Beyond its opulent rooms, the grounds come bedecked in vivid flowerbeds, labyrinthine pathways and seductive pools. After skipping down a weaving cliff path, I basted myself from head to toe in therapeutic mud, before floating like a water lily on nature’s buoyant spa.
Tip: Don’t shave before you dip. And bring a magazine – it’s a photographic rite of passage when in Jordan.