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a personal guide

_[The Basics] [Amman] [Jerash] [Mt Nebo] [Madaba] [Karak] [Petra] [Aqaba/Red Sea] [Wadi Rum] [Dead Sea] [Bethany]

The basics

History

Jordan has been the site of some of the most ancient civilisations - among the places to visit listed in Jordan - a personal guide, are those inhabited by Nabateans, Jews, Christians and Romans some 2000 years ago, 12th century Crusaders, and Ottoman Turks from the 16th century. However, Jordan as a country has a relatively short history, having come into being after the 1916 Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire. It was then known as Trans-Jordan as it straddled the banks of the Jordan River. Nowadays, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (HKJ), as it is properly described, exists only on the Eastern side of the river.


People

The population is small at under six million, the majority of whom live in a few cities. Many Jordanian people are refugees, mostly Palestinian, but more recently the numbers have been swelled by Iraqis. In fact, the influx of wealthy Iraqis fleeing the conflict in their own country has led to a dramatic increase in house prices and other costs, adversely affecting the local population. Jordanians are mostly Palestinian or descended from the nomadic Bedouin tribes. Bedouin tents can be seen on farms, alongside western style housing, although relatively few Bedouins are really nomadic these days.


Travel

The only viable travel links are roads since the railway services are slow and rare. The Jordan river is not navigable. As far as the tourist is concerned, the main routes are the spectacular King's Highway and the fast Desert Highway which run south from Amman, and the road that follows the River Jordan from Amman to the Dead Sea. Driving can be dangerous - even worse than in Egypt - and this means of travel is not recommended. We travelled by coach and had no problems.

Religion

Most Jordanians are Moslem, though there are many Orthodox Christian churches. Saturday is the holy day of the islamic religion so banks, offices and shops are closed, though most tourist sites are fully open.

Safety and security

Provided a few simple rules are adhered to, you will be quite safe in Jordan, even at night. Take care of your valuables, especially in busy areas such as downtown Amman and Petra, and you will find Jordan much safer than any western country. Women should be careful of their safety when on their own (ie not with a man) as western women can be perceived as 'easy' and 'available; compared to Jordanian women. As with all Moslem countries, visitors - both men and women - should dress modestly. Because Jordan is close to Israel and the West Bank, military police are frequently seen, especially near the border, and there are occasional road blocks and police checks.

Money

The basic money unit is the Jordanian Dinar, JD or 'Jaydee' for short. The JD is divided into 1000 fils or 100 piastres and prices are often quoted in Dinars and fils (eg 7.500). The notes are JD1, 5, 10 and 20 with smaller amounts dealt with by a confusing array of coins. In practice, coins are only useful when tipping the lavatory attendant.

Language

Arabic is the national language and, although it differs from the arabic spoken in other countries (eg Egypt) most of the commonly used phrases are the same, or at least well understood. Basic English is widely understood in the tourist areas, but it is a friendly gesture if you learn a few arabic phrases, such as those below (shown as they sound):

"shukran" = "thank you"
"lah" = "no" (you will use "lah, shukran" a lot)
"aywa" = "yes"
"salaam alla aykum" = "hello" (the reply is "alla aykum es salaam")
"imshi!" = "go away!" (use only when absolutely necessary)

Weather

Don't go in the summer unless you like it really hot (up to 40 degrees Celcius). The basic rule is the summer is hot and dry, whilst the winter is cool and relatively wet. The northern, hilly areas, such as Amman and Jerash are the coolest, with Aqaba and the Dead Sea (by virtue of its low altitude) being the hottest. We went in early November and found Amman at about 20 degrees, Petra at 24, Aqaba 26 and the Dead Sea 25 degrees. It was sunny for most of the time, though we encountered a shower of rain (greeted by some enthusiasm by the locals) and fog on one morning. The desert at Wadi Rum was cool whilst we were travelling at speed in an open vehicle, though it warmed up by lunchtime.

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