There comes a time in every hobo backpacker’s life when the destination comes before wallet. The beaches of Seychelles, visiting the Vatican, and smuggling yourself into Pyeongyang are all off of the cheap asshole backpacking radar: yet they are tantalizing to the wanderlusting soul just as much as a dumpster full of sun-heated cinnamon buns is to a famished raccoon. My inner raccoon has more control over me than I care to admit, occasionally getting me in financial and gastrointestinal distress. I will indulge in the dumpster buns, and I will spend the pretty penny to see the Rose City in the desert.
Let’s be frank, Jordan is not a cheap country. It costs $50 just to get a visa, and any experiences on top of that will cost you. Trips to Petra can hit $50-60 just for a day pass, and a dip in the Dead Sea can set one back $20 (Rambler tip: get a Jordan Pass to save a bajillion dollars). The country relies on the Instagram girls, Indiana Jones nerds, and falafel craving Westerners to fuel its stable lifestyle in an ungentrified neighborhood. My Western ass was on the way to spend a pretty dinar, but as always I’ll try and make the trip as easy on the wallet as possible.
Ivana and I landed late at around 18:00, and we immediately went over to rent a car. Renting a car allows for an incredible amount of freedom, and on top of that, they’re not incredibly expensive to rent. For 4 days, we rented a perfect little car from Sixt for $70. The bus from Amman to Wadi Rum alone costs $15 one way, so after a few calculations we shrugged and doubled down for a rental. In retrospect, renting a car was absolutely the way to go.
We immediately avoided congested Amman at all costs and headed for Madaba, a small town near the main desert highway. The town is quiet and quaint, just enough for a stroll and a cheap shishah in the main square. If you’re coming from the airport and need to get South, spend the night in Madaba. It’s much closer to the airport, right off the highway, and you’ll see some genuine Jordanian life.
In the morning, we went in search of fruit for breakfast. We wandered into the first fruit stall we found, a dusty little shop with dirty potatoes and bright green apples cozy in a thick sandy suit coat. Two men sat. One, presumably the owner, and his companion, huddled around a table eating a plate of bean stew with a side of flat bubbly bread. The moment we walked in, they saw out foreign faces and, not speaking much English, said “Welcome,” gesturing for us to sit with an outstretched hand full of flatbread. We initially said no (not wanting to intrude), but after the second time, I kneeled down and took a solid handful of bean stew. We could not talk to each other, but the two men looked content in the knowledge that their foreign visitor would not go hungry this morning.
Months before, on a gray rainy Danish day, I found myself looking for a coffee to escape the cold. The nearest coffee shop was a little shack meant more for coffee on the go rather than a lingering espresso. They do, however, have outdoor seating, where I sat to watch the rain with my steamy Americano. Next to me was a Middle Eastern man, eating a sesame bagel filled to the brim with cream cheese. I sat and without a word, he looked at me and offered a bite of his bagel. “No” I gestured, and as we started talking he revealed his origin as a Palestinian living in Jordan. With that, he told me that it is a Jordanian custom to offer whatever you are eating to the person sitting next to you.
With this in mind, I sat in the dusty fruit stall in Madaba, wordlessly eating tomatoey bean stew with beautifully cooked flatbread. As I would soon learn, legitimate generosity from strangers would be the trend of this romp through the deserted martian landscapes of Jordan. Only genuine affection and open arms would come from the hearts of the Jordanians, and behind them, dramatic cliffs and stunning mountain vistas would sit covered in the fog of centuries of breath passing through these dusty valleys. Jordan is a tremendous country, and I had only begun to scratch the surface.