The Red Sea
Today was my last full day in Jordan, and I tried to take advantage of it to the fullest. I know that I’ll be in Nairobi for three months, without a beach in sight– and so I headed down to Aqaba, down in Southern Jordan, to relax by the Red Sea for a few blissful hours and snorkel. I went to the Royal Diving Club and spent a good amount of time cooling off in the deliciously cold water.
Jordan has been amazing. Incredible country, incredible people, so many fabulous sights to see, wondrous food to eat, and friends to make. I’m surprised at how much of the country I covered in a mere four days– I would love to come back here someday (if only to go back to the Zara Spa, or REALLY splurge on the Red Sea and stay at the Radisson Blu, which looks astounding and has jet skis, yachts, and all kinds of mind-boggling amenities). I’ve been talking it up to my parents because I know how much they would love it.
My post ends here- these past four days have been incredible but exhausting, and I have a full 25 hour travel day ahead of me to Ethiopia (one bus, two taxis, and three flights). I’m not quite sure what the internet situation is in Ethiopia, but I’ll try my best to update regularly.
Before I go, I’d like to give a huge thanks to Rick Wandoff, who sparked my interest to travel to Ethiopia in the first place. Rick has been to Ethiopia multiple times and adopted a daughter there. I am staying with a friend of his, Yoseph, in Addis Ababa for free, and he is taking me anywhere around the country I desire to go. I can’t imagine how exciting this next week will be! Thanks so much again Rick, and Yoseph, who is letting me stay with his family!
Sleep beckons. Dreaming of Ethiopia already. Or maybe that’s my lucid dreaming starting up from taking malaria pills. Either or, I’m happy.
Another Travel Goal notch on my belt- I visited Petra today, one of the seven wonders of the world. I went with my Australian friend Ben, who I met in Amman a few days earlier, and we spent a full five hours in the inexorable heat exploring the many caves and monuments. This is the fourth wonder of the world I’ve seen (well, arguably fifth, if you count The Pyramids), and I might be going out on a limb here by saying this, but I think it’s been my favorite so far. Maybe because it’s a smorgasbord of unbelievable snapshots (I went completely camera crazy today), or maybe it’s because all of Petra is a vast city with endless hours of exploring, or maybe because the 1,000 step hike up to The Monastery (Petra’s largest monument) is such an incredible journey, and then finally reaching the top to stare in awe at a massive building that has been carved out of a colossal boulder… Petra is quite the experience.
For a little bit of background information (I feel that Petra is not talked about nearly as much in relation to other wonders, at least in the United States, so up to even a few days ago I was still confused as to what it really was)- Petra is an immense city, built in the 6th century B.C. (a little over 2,500 years ago) and was the capital of the Nabataeans, an Arab tribe that controlled much of the trade routes around the area that is now Jordan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia today.
So as one of the seven wonders of the world, Petra is a never-ending expedition (kind of like the Great Wall of China, it stretches on for ages). I could spends days there and still not have unlocked many of it’s secrets- but Ben and I got in the two major sights there (the Treasury, which Petra is famously known for, and the Monastery), so we considered it a success!
I feel like so much of Petra is about how jaw-dropping beautiful everything is, and I know all of you can’t quite imagine what it looks like without pictures, and so I present to you, Petra in picture form!
Today was another incredible day in Jordan, even better than the last. I don’t know how that’s possible, but it is.
This morning I decided to take a trip to the Dead Sea, which is a salt lake in Jordan and the lowest point on earth. The sea is one of the saltiest bodies of water on earth, and it is aptly called the ‘Dead Sea’ because animals can’t live in it. It’s also incredibly difficult to swim in the Dead Sea, which makes floating on top of it incredibly easy.
So because there are no buses directly to the Dead Sea from Amman, I had to hire a private car to take me there. My two Aussie friends from yesterday (Ben and Jamie) didn’t come along because they were planning to go to the Dead Sea later in the week, so I ran into two other guests in the hostel who were looking to go to there as well, and we split the cab. The hour -ish drive along the Dead Sea Highway is amazing. Again, the pictures I have don’t do it justice.
Chris and Julie, a New Zealander and Australian, are absolutely lovely people and we had a pleasant talk the whole car ride. While we were driving, they told me they were headed to Zara Spa, which is supposed to be one of the best Spas in the Middle East. For 40 JD (about 50 dollars) you can use their Spa, Pools, and Beach Club (which is on the Dead Sea). Feeling a bit reckless (and as the regular beach cost 15 JD and I ended up paying way less for the cab fare since they came along, it almost evened out), I asked if I could tag along.
It was the BEST money I have EVER SPENT. The Zara Spa is AMAZING. The best spa I have EVER been to. I cannot begin to describe to you how pleasantly surprised I was to enter the most gorgeous resort/hotel I had ever seen and walk down twisted alleyways that looked right out of Italy, into the most unbelievable hydropools, Dead Sea pools, foot baths, saunas, laconians, caldariums, fog showers, the beach club, 8 totally different pool areas… I would have been completely satisfied if I had spent twice as much there.
We spent a full five hours lounging at the Mövenpick Resort at the Dead Sea (which has the Zara Spa), and I felt pampered beyond belief. Not only did I get to hang out with two really fun people and spend the day with them, not only did I get massaged by about 30 different jets and bubbles in the hydropool, not only did I get a foot bath and mud body mask followed by a sea salt scrub, not only did we have the most gorgeous view and stimulating conversation during our lunch of chicken wraps, salads, and iced mint teas– but I also got a sun tan, a wonderfully hot and amazing shower, and floated in the Dead Sea!
It was the most extraordinary day. I am now relaxing in my hostel back in Amman, with wonderfully soft skin and a huge smile plastered on my face. If you ever go to Jordan, have a bit of money to splurge, and want to visit the Dead Sea, GO TO THIS SPA. It is 100% worth it.
I met up with Ben and Jamie tonight, and we grabbed some dinner and walked all around the city buying vegetables, pita bread, falafel, hummus, sweets such as baklava, and LOTS of water for our big trek to Petra tomorrow. We will be getting up at 5:15 to take a 3 hour bus, and I’ll be seeing another wonder of the world!! I am so lucky. I absolutely love Jordan, and I am having an amazing time. It is a beautiful country with wonderful people. You must come here if you have the chance.
Check out the pictures below to see our Spa experience!
Today was one of the best traveling days I have ever experienced. Absolutely everything was perfect.
I entered Jordan today by plane, and happened to meet two Australians at the airport, who were coincidentally going to the same hostel that I was. Jamie and Ben, who are from Melbourne, had also just come from Egypt and were my companions during our romp around Amman (the capital of Jordan) today.
The drive from the airport to downtown Amman is about 45 minutes by taxi, and we all marveled at how different Jordan was than Egypt. Egypt is chaotic, the drivers are crazy, and there are dusty buildings covering every square inch of the city. Amman is COMPLETELY different. The outskirts of Amman have no high rises, but small shops, women in fashionable burqas and men in traditional Islamic thobes were strolling casually down the street, and there was an unhurried and relaxed atmosphere that we found very contrasting to the hustle and bustle of Cairo.
For awhile, we thought that Amman was merely a few shops, but suddenly we came to the top of a hill and Amman APPEARED, like a dazzling ray of sunshine- an endless valley littered with houses and buildings- it is an unbelievable and breathtaking sight to see.
We reached our hostel and decided to spend the rest of the day together exploring. First we wandered into a fruit market and ate our first falafel in Jordan- 30 cents, and absolutely delicious. We marveled at the ways that people approached us- everyone looked to us with huge smiles on their faces and choruses of ‘Welcome to Jordan!’ The entire vibe of Amman is very laid-back and much more authentic than Cairo, and it was such a nice change to leisurely stroll along the streets and take in the atmosphere. We headed over to the famous Roman Theatre, which is one of the only remains of Roman Philadelphia in Amman (I had no idea that Amman once had a Roman presence). It is essentially a huge necropolis (similar to the Athens Acropolis, except much smaller), and we climbed all the way to the top to get dizzying views of the city, which Jamie pointed out looks very much like Athens. On the way down, we stopped into a few shops, which boasted incredible jewelry. I ended up buying a jade bracelet, which I absolutely love. In Jordan it’s much less common to bargain, so there isn’t much of a worry of being gypped. Still, you can bargain down the price a small bit, which I successfully did to a price I was happy with.
We then decided to make our way to the Citadel, which is the highest hill in Amman that displays spectacular views of the entire city. This required about an hour long hike up winding roads and steep stairs to reach the top, which was actually a really fun experience. Some Jordanian men pointed out to us a shortcut and we ended up accidentally reaching the Citadel without paying the tourist fee– but the view was AMAZING. I have pictures of it, and it does not even begin to do justice of the feeling you have up there, taking in the entire city of Amman. We spent the rest of the afternoon there, enjoying the breeze, listening to Sufjan Stevens, and watching the sun set.
On the way down, we stopped into a sweets shop and were given FREE sweets by the kind men in the store- unbelievable! Such hospitality. We then spotted a shisha/dinner joint and decided to take our chances- we were not disappointed. The food was incredible, the licorice-tasting shisha was very relaxing, and we headed back to our hostel fully satisfied with our wonderful day.
I absolutely love Jordan. The people are so friendly and I feel very much at ease here. I’ve been able to let my guard down and not automatically be suspicious of people, which is a wonderful feeling after being in Cairo for the past five days, where you need to be suspicious of nearly everyone (I am not saying that Cairo is a terrible place, it’s wonderful! But it caters much more to tourism, which means many people trying to take your money by any means. Jordan is not as touristy, and much more authentic because of it).
I don’t feel that I can describe the amazing feeling we all had today- the day just kept getting better and better, it felt as if we all had such a stroke of never-ending luck. I am now relaxing in my wonderfully clean bedroom with a much-needed shower under my belt. Today was exactly what I needed. I love traveling. I love meeting new, wonderful people. I love completely unexpected days when amazing things happen.
I absolutely recommend coming to Jordan if you have the opportunity. Just being here gives me such an urge to experience so many other countries in the Middle East.
Tomorrow I head off to the Dead Sea for a day trip! I am very excited to experience more of what this beautiful country has to offer.
Check out the pictures below!
Dear faithful readers,
Sorry I haven’t updated in a few days. I am back home in lovely Florida, relaxing at my parents house. I’m not sure if you are all aware of this, but both of my parents have quite an unusual diet. You could say that they’re vegan, or raw foodists, or a combination of both (my mother has been this way for quite awhile, my father, more recently). My mom reads religiously on the benefits of raw nutrition and why they are so wonderful for your overall health.
So it’s wonderful to come home and reap the benefits, which means all kinds of delicious raw vegan cheeses, piles of fruit in the fridge for my sampling, salads galore, thai coconuts, and best of all, oranges and oranges for my parents’s pristine juicer. Whenever I come home it is paradise, and I am taking it all in and feeling so happy and healthy.
But this is not the point of this post, so I move on. I found out where I will be going for my Kiva fellowship! But before I get into the details, I wanted to explain a bit about what a Kiva fellowship is.
First off, for those that are unaware, Kiva is an online micro-lending platform, where people in developed countries can connect to entrepreneurs in developing countries, lending anywhere from $25 to an unlimited amount to these entrepreneurs. It’s a really fantastic and completely innovative concept to looking at development, and the best part is the lender gets back their money after usually a year’s time. Many people recycle their first loan right back into Kiva. It’s a wonderful system.
The way that Kiva does this, is by connecting with micro-finance institutions (MFIs) all over the world. Kiva currently has 100+ ‘field partners’ (MFIs) that submit Kiva entrepreneurs to the website to be lended to.
What a Kiva FELLOW does is work at one of these micro-finance institutions for about 4 months, overseeing the Kiva department and making sure that operations between Kiva and the micro-finance institution are running smoothly. And so with great excitement and pleasure, I’m really pleased to announce that I will be working with Faulu Kenya, the largest micro-finance organization in Kenya! They are a Christian organization originally founded by Food for the Hungry International, and they’ve recently started working with mobile banking, which I find fascinating (given my experience with mobile applications during my internship with Grameen Solutions, a software development company and subsidiary of Grameen Bank). While Faulu Kenya has branches all over the country, most of the Kiva borrowers are based in Nairobi, and so I will be stationed on the outskirts of Nairobi for the duration of my fellowship. I am incredibly excited to have such a wonderful opportunity, and I can’t wait to go!
But that’s just the beginning– I have a two week gap from the end of Kiva training (which is held in San Francisco) and the start of my fellowship- and so I will be going to Egypt for five days, followed by Jordan for four days! I plan to visit the pyramids and the Nile River in Egypt, and Petra (one of the seven wonders of the world) and the Dead Sea in Jordan! I am SO unbelievably excited to go to both of these places and have the opportunity to experience two countries I’ve been dying to see.
Moreover, after my fellowship ends, I have a month before I head home for Thanksgiving– and so I will be traveling to Uganda, Rwanda, and Tanzania, and maybe even stop by Malawi, or jet-set to Ethiopia.
So there you have it. My African adventures start on July 21st. At least six more countries in a duration of five months. Ready set go!