Talia’s Guide to Getting Around Amman

 The public transportation system (and the private transportation system for that matter) is a complete disaster in Jordan, specifically Amman. The mess of traffic circles, cars, buses, taxis and trucks is enough to make anyone’s head spin. So here’s Talia’s short guide for getting around Amman.

Taxis:

So, taxis are probably the easiest and quickest way to get around, but unfortunately they are also the most expensive way. The taxi meter start at 25 piaster (cents) and goes up the farther you go. So a ride to the university from where I live is about 2.50 JD or to Rainbow Street is 1.20 JD. When you get a taxi, the custom is that men sit in the front seat and women sit in the backseat unless there are four women. Also forget about seatbelts because they don’t exist here. Also, forget about using street names because those don’t exist here either. Instead, try to figure out the nearest landmark to where you want to go and find out how to say it in Arabic first. But don’t be worried about your taxi ride, just remember to tell him where you want to go and to start the meter and you’ll be there in no time.

City Buses:

City buses are pretty convenient if you have any hour to spend trying to catch one. There are tons of buses, and each ride is 50 piaster, which makes it the logical choice of transportation. Buses are often crowded and theoretically if there are no empty seats, men will give their seat up for the women, but whether or not it happens is another story all together. The main two problems with the bus are as follows. 1) there is no bus schedule, so just plan on waiting 10-30 minutes for a bus to drive by and 2) there don’t really appear to be bus stops. Basically to catch the bus, you just got to hail it like a taxi cab.

Coasters:

Coasters are a certain type of privately owned buses that drive in a straight line from circle to circle or from highly populated areas (i.e. University of Jordan, downtown, etc). The coasters are about 35 piaster per ride and leave when they fill up, which seems to take less than 5 minutes. It seems like these buses are easier to take than the city buses because they fill up more quickly, the only problem is that you need to have change on you and the coasters are a lot smaller than the city buses, so don’t be late!

Services:

Services look like white taxis and they go straight from one location to another and just like the coasters, leave when they fill up. Services are super easy to use, the only problem is knowing where they go because unless you speak and read Arabic, it’s hard to say! These are super cheap as well, but the problem is they are nowhere near as common as coasters or buses and go a shorter distance than the other options for transportation.

SO there you have it, the easiest, cheapest and fastest ways to get away Amman as described by yours truly.

After our hike, we woke up bright and early to catch a bus to Jerusalem. Now, everyone knows somebody who has one or two israeli-palestinian border crossing stories to share, but luckily we had the smoothest border crossing ever. We left Amman at 8:30 and were in Jerusalem by 11:00, which is amazing because others in the program were at the same border days before for waits of 9+hours.

Jerusalem is a lovely city, both the new and old parts of Jerusalem. Marie, Paola and I stayed at Abraham’s Hostel (which, if you have Snapchat, you’ll know that their logo is “Stop Working, Start Traveling” hehehe), which is located in New Jerusalem. Our other friend, Tatiana, thought that she was staying at a friends house, but it turns out that she was staying in an Orthodox Jewish Women’s dorm for a seminary, which she ended up having plenty of good stories about.

The first day, we took a free walking tour of Old City and spent time shopping in the Arab Quarter. The Arab Quarter is definitely more fun than the Jewish Quarter for the pure fact that it never closes for holidays! (We were there for both Sukkot and Shabbat) Basically, as you will find out, our trip to Jerusalem was marked by shopping, shopping and more shopping. 

On day two, we awoke and headed down to Jaffa Gate to meet a tour guide who was going to take us to Bethlehem. Now let’s just talk about this tour for a moment. It cost 50 bucks, which is on par with other tour prices from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, but it was literally the worst tour ever. Our tour guide was this old homeless looking guy (turns out he sells bagels at a stand outside of old city) named Zaky, who literally just rode the bus with us and got another guy to do our tour. Oh well, we had a great time anyway. We walked through the Church of the Nativity and went to some store that sells hand-carved olive wood gifts. After that we went to the Blessings Olive Carving Factory, where we got a tour of the factory, some free olive-wood swag and a magnificent view of Bethlehem from the roof. Armed with our rosaries, we returned to the church to rub out rosary on the traditional birthing spot and manger spot of Jesus. (Okay, I know I’m a Methodist and all but that does not mean that I can’t appreciate the tradition of rosaries and holy places)

That afternoon, we headed back to Jerusalem and brought our rosaries to Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is where the cross was placed, where Jesus was rubbed with oil, the cave where Jesus was buried and also where Jesus recieved his 40 lashes. In the church, we got to see a Roman Catholic service with singing Franciscan monks. Afterward we ate dinner with some other kids from CIEE in the Armenian Quarter.

The next morning, we trekked out at 8a.m. to Yad Vashem, or to those who don’t speak Hebrew, the Holocaust Museum. We took a taxi to the museum and because we don’t speak any Hebrew, we were 90% sure we weren’t going to end up in the correct location. Now unlike the very disappointing Washington DC Museum, Yad Vashem is absolutely fantastic. I learned a lot more than I expected in the museum and the entire thing was filled with personal accounts, symbolism in the architechture and very factual information presented in engaging ways. Literally, this is a must-see if you ever go to Jerusalem. Not only is Yad Vashem a great museum, the memorials surrounding the museum, especially the Children’s Memorial, are very moving.

After Yad Vashem, we headed over to the Old City to finish up our shopping. We quickly found that almost all the shopkeepers knew us, which probably isn’t a good thing. While we waited for our silver arabic necklaces to be made (they say our names), Paola, Tatiana and I headed over to the Western Wall, to pray. Tatiana taught us about the traditions associated with the wall and we all washed our hands, wrote down a prayer, put it in the wall and said our prayers. This was one of the most amazing expiriences that I had in Jerusalem because not only was it very moving spiritually, it was also a chance to really connect with another person’s religion.

After that, we sat down near Jaffa Gate and did some people watching while eating date and banana ice cream. Tatiana answered our incessant questions about Judaism, we played “Hot or Not” with all the guys walking by and just had a really great time. That night a thunderstorm hit Jerusalem and the sky was lit with lovely lightning and the parched ground was given sweet water.

We got back to the hostel, and bought mugs with the Hostel slogan on them. That night, a guy who looked like santa tried to speak Hebrew with me, a girl gave me a free apple for picking up her bag and Paola and I got Jaffa Cakes and Snickers bars and ate them on the pancake shaped benches outside.

The next morning, we crawled out of bed and said goodbye to Jerusalem over coco puffs at our hostel. We finally got a taxi that would take us to the border for 400 shekels, but oh boy was that a ride. At a random checkpoint before the border, we got stopped for over an hour. They checked our passports multiple times, searched our bags, got a drug dog to search the car, patted us down and made us wait while they checked our drivers papers. They thought there was a mistake on the drivers papers, but in the end there wasn’t and we continued to the border with no problems. While waiting, one of the other taxi drivers going through the checkpoint said “It’s good to know what it feels like to be a Palestinian for a few minutes,” which was an interesting perspective on the situation.

Now, I don’t agree with a lot of Israel’s policies, but the trip was both enlightening and valuable for me as a person. I would defintely go back to Palestine and Jerusalem, if I could sometime in the future. Anyway, now it’s back to the daily grind of classes. A straight ten weeks of classes without any breaks, wish me luck!

Hiking, hiking, hiking. الحمد لله, we made it!

In just four days, we hiked over 50km, through valleys and over mountains, in both desert and forest terrain. This hike was honestly one of the most personally rewarding experiences of my life. Let me give you a quick play-by-play of the hike. First of all, many, many hundreds of thanks to our hiking guide Eissa for arranging everything for us and inviting us into his home. His four children were absolutely adorable and I think his wife is probably the best cook in the world (sorry mom). Not to mention they live on a fig farm, so long story short, I was in food heaven.

Day One: We left Amman around noon, getting to Aljoun about an hour later. We started our hike off with a pretty moderate day of both up and down hill, finishing the 12km hike ahead of schedule. We spent this day learning about the wild fruits of Jordan, picking wild pistachios and almonds, along with figs and grapes. At one point, we stopped at this old church from the Byzantium and this old man recognized us from ACOR and we stopped to talk to him, it is definitely a small world~!

Day Two: A German woman and a man we affectionately referred to ass “cardboard box man” joined us for this hike. This hike was by far the most difficult hiking day, starting off by scaling a huge mountain with an extremely steep incline, leading us to the side of a cliff, with some of the most fantastic views of the Wadi surrounding Orjan. When Eissa pointed at the cliff from his house that morning and said “we’re going to hike to the top of that today” I never thought it was possible, but I also have never felt more proud of myself than I did standing at the top of that cliff a few hours later. The hike continued through Wadi Zoobia, playing games with rocks, eating wild apples and having a lovely hikes. However, I did not emerge from this hike unscaved, but not to worry, all I got was a bee sting and and some scratches on my butt from sitting on a thistle plant during our lunch break. That night we went to a traditional soap making house, where local village woman showed us how soap was made, hurrah for women empowerment!

Day Three: We set out for a 10km hike to Pella, starting at the Jesus Cave. This was by far the easiest hiking day, with significant amounts of shade, a mostly downhill trail and lots of time for snacks. We stopped to eat some carob seed pods (they taste just like chocolate!) and we drank lots of tea and walked with walking sticks all day. Ending in Pella, we toured the large Roman, Canaanite and Umayyad ruins there, taking tons of pictures of us standing on top of old columns and running around the site.

Day Four: Disaster strikes and 6 of the 8 hikers get sick. Was it food poisoning? Dehydration? A stomach bug? The world will never know. Paola, Eissa and I remained unharmed and we headed out to do the scheduled hike. We started out by doing some sperlunking in a large cave near Pella. Now, if you know me, you can imagine that a dark, slippery cave is probably not the best place for me to be hanging out. After slipping and sliding on the “loosey goosey rocks” for an hour and Paola getting hit in the face with a bunch of bats, we headed out to start our hike. We hiked for four hours in the desert, climbing under a barbed wire fence at one point, eating pomegranates from a farm on the side of the road, and having Palestine pointed out to us innumerous times, we hitchhiked back to the car and started driving home. Before getting back to Eissa’s, we stopped to cook a delicious lunch of tomato stew. Yummy! Unfortunately when we got back, no one was better and Emma even had gotten worse.. Emma went to the hospital while we went to Pella to spend the night. (Don’t worry, there were no goats in the hospital and she got an IV and some medication and felt a ton better today.)

Day Five: We were *supposed* to hike 13km today, but because the other girls were so sick, Eissa arranged for a bus to take us to the Arab Dam, Um Qaise and Aljoun Castle. We learned a little bit about making olive oil from some local farmers, met some army men, saw the basalt ruins in Um Qaise, and toured the 900 year old castle in Aljoun. In Um Qaise, you can see Syria, Lebanon, and Israel/Palestine from the mountain that lies in Jordan. After a delcious dinner of Maqlooba, we headed back to Amman. Overall, it was a wonderful time!

If you ever need a hiking guide in Jordan, I highly recommend Eissa! There is no better guide out there. Anyway, I’m off to bed and tomorrow I’m heading over to Al-Quds/Jerusalem. I should have more internet there than I did in the wilderness of northern Jordan but that’s also not saying much. 

Fall Break Update!

Happy Eid!

Over the next ten days, I will be traveling in and around Jordan. For the first 5 days, I will be hiking in Northern Jordan, visiting Ajlnoun, Rasloun, Pelle an dWadi Sir and Um Quaise. During our hike, we’ll get to see the Jesus Cave, ancient roman ruins, a soap making factory, and of course lots and lots of nature. 

After the hike, I will be heading back to Amman for the night and then bright and early I’ll be heading to Jerusalem. In Israel, we plan on visiting Bethlehem and possibly Tel Aviv as well before heading back to Amman on Saturday.

I’m not sure about my internet situation for the next few days, so if you don’t hear from me don’t freak out! XOXO Talia

Throwback Thursday— This is the song that I listened to while applying to study abroad in Jordan! I can’t believe that I’m actually here. This song has very little to do with study abroad, but it is a really good song. Every time I hear it, I am reminded of all those 3am nights filling out paperwork, scholarship applications and overrides, where I listened to this song on repeat. So give your ears a listen!

Walking through the desolate and rocky terrain of Wadi Mukhaires, a large white بومة flies above us (بومة being the arabic word for owl). It’s silent wings cast a large shadow that can be seen moving along the ground. Then Paola tells us one simple fact: in Mexican culture, when you see an owl, it means someone is gonna die. Alright, but no need to worry, dear reader! No one died on our hike, but just remember that this is how we started.

The hike, organized by the hiking company Tropical Desert, was a 9km hike through a large water wadi, that included two repels down two 30m waterfalls. Now as you may or may not know, Talia  is not a huge fan of heights, so repelling down two 30km drops was not something that I was necessarily looking forward to. The hike started out very dry and after about a kilometer, we started seeing small springs popping up here and there. The hike was easy at first but slowly got harder. When we got to the first waterfall, we were all ready to cool down in the pools at the bottom. Abseiling down this waterfall was easy, almost two easy and at the bottom, we could swim and eat lunch. 

The walk to the second waterfall was a little more difficult, but not bad. We got to the second waterfall about an hour after leaving the first, but this abseil was significantly more difficult than the first (you couldn’t watch the people before you go, it had less footholds and there was 10m drop where you had to manually lower yourself down.) Nothing too bad though, until your hair gets stuck in the abseiling rope while you’re still 15 feet in the air. Panic swept over my body and although I could use neither fight nor flight, adrenaline started coursing through my veins. I had two options, go down the remaining 15 feet and hope the rope didn’t rip part of my scalp off or stay dangling 15 feet in the air with just a rope to hold me up, stuck. I managed to descend the final 15 feet (crying, of course) and Paola and Ana ran over, while Sisam got scissors out to cut my hair. By some miracle, they got it untangled and I walked away safely.

The last part of the hike, however, was the hardest. With piles of rocks, large boulders and several 7-5 foot drops, it was physically taxing. But we made it, no one died, despite the owl sighting. But I think next time I see an owl while I’m hiking, I’m just going to turn around and go home, just to be safe. 

Blogs on Blogs on Blogs.

Some of my friends in Amman are also blogging about their experiences here, so if you are thirsty for some more Amman tales, check these ladies out:

ALSO my friend Henry is doing a cross country bike ride back in the states for the charity No Limits, an organization supporting deaf children around the country. Here’s more information about Henry and his bike ride!

A picture says a 1000 words, but what happens when that’s not enough? That’s how I’m feeling about my experience in Petra. Imagine walking down a narrow canyon with the walls going up hundreds of feet around you. Every few meters there is a small carving or cave door, hinting at what you are about to come across. Everytime you turn a corner the anticipation grows until you are literally shaking. You know what’s coming but after half an hour walk, you know you’re almost there and it is slightly terrifying. And then all the sudden, you see it: the magnificently carved columns peaking out from the rocks, the red-orange stone reflecting the sunlight, the proof of an ancient civilizations power and splendor stands before you. Tears spring to your eyes as you take it all in, the carving is meticulous, the columns massive and the attention to detail is superb. Words cannot describe the pure and awe that is felt when one turns that corner and sees the Treasury at Petra for the first time.

Now Petra is not just the treasury by any means. Hundreds of tombs, several temples and ancient statues and ruins fill Petra Park to the brim. There is so much to see, that you could spend a week there and not see it all. This ancient city was lost to western civilization until the early 1800’s when a british explorer tricked his way into the city. Since then, Petra has been one of the most well known tourist sites in the Levant, if not the entire middle east. 

Our second stop in Petra was the Monastery. Now the Monastery is similar to the Treasury in looks and appearances, but it is at the top of a mountain. After climbing over 850 stairs to get to the top of the mountain in the desert heat, you start to question your sanity, until you turn the corner and see the 2000 year old Nabeateen monastery before. You can explore the inside of the monastery and can climb another hundred or so stairs and see one of the most amazing views in the world. The view and the monastery are definitely well worth the climb. 

After heading back to our hostel, we ate a huge dinner of maqlooba(my favorite!) and smoked some shisha, while watching the sunset and bonding on the roof. The next day we went to Little Petra, a mere 20 minute drive from Petra. This small town was where the major gold and silver trade of the Nabeetan dynasty was conducted. Here we climbed some high rocks and got to see ancient Roman frescos in the old Nabeetan temples.

Now, it wouldn’t be an adventure without a little danger. In typical Talia fashion, over the course of my two days in Petra/Little Petra, I managed to fall down twice on the way down from the Monastery, ripping two holes in my jeans and bruising my knee pretty bad and then also smacking my head on a cave door in Little Petra the next day. Then after getting back to Amman, I manage to walk straight into a glass wall because I thought it was the door of a store. So don’t worry Mom, I’m still as clumsy as ever!

Do you believe in magic? Because this weekend was absolutely amazing. Not only did I get to see some of the most amazing and beautiful sites in Jordan, but I also got to do it with some great friends. We left Amman bright and early and headed out first to the UNESCO Heritage site of Um Rasas. Um Rasas has one of the largest remaining mosaics in the middle east and used to be a city of high religious and trade significance. There are more than 15 Byzantine churches on the site and a large grouping of ruins from the Roman times. We scaled the piles of rocks and sneaked a peak at the mosaics and generally just romped around.

Then we headed on our way to the magnificent Wadi Rum. Wadi Rum. Wadi Rum looks exactly what the bottom of the moon looks like, and that is because it used to be the bottom of the ocean. The Wadi is filled with sand, strangely formed rock structures, sand, Bedouin camps and more sand. We were first given the opportunity to ride around on Jeeps and do some light hiking through the mountains, seeing the ancient carvings of the Nabatean merchants, and finally stopping in a valley to hop on some camels.

Now let me tell you something about camels. Camels are actually really easy to ride and they are totally not terrifying like horses are. They also make a ton of absolutely ridiculous noises. And finally be wary because if they bite your phone, they will puncture a hole in it (didn’t happen to me, but I was a witness). The camel ride was fantastic. Riding criss-cross applesauce will help you keep your balance and the camels like to grab clumps of plants to chew on as they walk.

Now, back to the magic thing. So we jumped off our camels and watched the sunset from the top of a high ridge in the middle of the desert and if that wasn’t magic enough after dinner we trudged back out into the middle of the desert to lay out and watch the stars. I have never seen so many stars in my entire life before. And not only that, but there was a meteor shower. Laying in the middle of the desert in complete silence watching the stars shoot across the sky is absolutely one of the most memorable and beautiful moments of my entire life. We talked about life, god and just the enormity of it all, while lying in the vast sands of the Jordanian desert. And if you don’t believe that that is magical, then I don’t know what to tell you.

We headed back to the campsite and dragged our beds out into the sand and under the stars. We slept until sunrise and rose to start our day and move on to Petra. I’ll post about my time in Petra and Little Petra soon, but for now, I hope you can all find some sweet stars to look up at.

Hello friends~ Today, Paola and I received haircuts from the ever wonderful Erin. Now you may be thinking “how does a hair salon in Jordan work?” Well, the answer to that would be “I have no idea.” This is because our friend Erin from CIEE actually went to Beauty School back in the day and she gave us a little snipping for a friend rate.
But the Jordanian haircut was nonetheless an expirience. While drinking apple smoothies, we set up the bathroom and back porch for the haircutting. Because of the water scarcity, Erin washed our hair in the sink of the bathroom using a bucket of water and a cup. After the washing, we went outside and sat in lawn chairs while the ever-lovely Erin worked her magic. I got about two inches off and Paola got like 3 inches. 
Now the really funny thing was that the across the street, this one woman started watching us from her apartment window a few floors up. When we waved at her, she left and came back a few minutes later, only now wearing a niqab, and she watched our outdoor haircuts for the rest of the time. Another (conservatively dressed) woman who was walking by, came over and told us that we looked good with our new haircuts. So clearly Erin did something right! 
Anyway, we’re heading to Petra and Wadi Rum bright and early tomorrow! Expect to hear about that trip in the next few days.  Unfortunately, I probably won’t have internet for the next few days, so if I don’t respond, I’m not dead! I promise(:

Hello friends~ Today, Paola and I received haircuts from the ever wonderful Erin. Now you may be thinking “how does a hair salon in Jordan work?” Well, the answer to that would be “I have no idea.” This is because our friend Erin from CIEE actually went to Beauty School back in the day and she gave us a little snipping for a friend rate.

But the Jordanian haircut was nonetheless an expirience. While drinking apple smoothies, we set up the bathroom and back porch for the haircutting. Because of the water scarcity, Erin washed our hair in the sink of the bathroom using a bucket of water and a cup. After the washing, we went outside and sat in lawn chairs while the ever-lovely Erin worked her magic. I got about two inches off and Paola got like 3 inches. 

Now the really funny thing was that the across the street, this one woman started watching us from her apartment window a few floors up. When we waved at her, she left and came back a few minutes later, only now wearing a niqab, and she watched our outdoor haircuts for the rest of the time. Another (conservatively dressed) woman who was walking by, came over and told us that we looked good with our new haircuts. So clearly Erin did something right! 

Anyway, we’re heading to Petra and Wadi Rum bright and early tomorrow! Expect to hear about that trip in the next few days.  Unfortunately, I probably won’t have internet for the next few days, so if I don’t respond, I’m not dead! I promise(:

Ten Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Jordan

  1. You have to wear shoes inside, but you can’t wear the same shoes you wear outside inside.
  2. There are no crosswalks, traffic lanes or speed limits in Amman. And even where there are, no one pays attention to them. Also there’s no sidewalks, so have fun with that.
  3. Jordan is the 3rd most water poor country in the world. (Welcome to 3 minute showers)
  4. Boys and Girls go to separate schools until college.
  5. 5% of the country is Christian (including my host fam!)
  6. Some of the largest Palestinian refugee camps are in Jordan, some have been here since 1948. Palestinian refugees are also allowed to hold a Jordanian Passport.
  7. Jordan has a King and a Queen, both of which are amazing people! Their son also goes to Georgetown University in the US.
  8. Although it’s really hot here now, in the winter it gets below freezing, with the occasional snow fall.
  9. Jordan has great political relations with the US, and the US Embassy in Jordan is the biggest embassy here, with thousands of people working in the embassy making it the biggest in Jordan.
  10. Amman has the tallest free-standing flagpole in the world at 430 feet (HEY Lehigh Engineers, think we can make a bigger one??)

So my first trip outside of Amman was this weekend (aka yesterday) to Kerak Castle. Now, for all you non-jordanians out there, Kerak Castle is the largest crusader castle in Jordan, but it originally started out as the King of Jerusalem’s castle and later was turned into a Mamluk palace. Long story short, it’s this huge castle on top of a mountain in the town of Kerak. From the castle, you can see the Dead Sea and the neighboring mountains from the top of the castle.

We spent the afternoon picnicking (I continued my fig addiction by eating a like eight figs for lunch) and exploring the castle. The castle had a bunch of underground tunnels and above ground ruins, and although we spent more than 4 hours at the castle, I don’t even think that we saw all of it. The tunnels are the old rooms of the palace. It was really interesting and the castle even had some nifty historical signs in English to tell us what was there.

The ride to and from Kerak was really easy, a 2 JD bus ride to Kerak and then a 50 piaster bus ride to the castle. That’s less than 10 JD for a wonderful day trip! Holllaa.

In cases anyone was unaware, Thursday is the new Friday for me! Basically our weekends are Friday and Saturday, instead of Saturday and Sunday. Super confusing, I know, but hopefully we all get used to it soon. 

Anyway so this Friday, a bunch of friends and I decided to go and get falafel at the most famous falafel place in Jordan, Hashims. 8 of us managed to get ourselves downtown to eat a delicious spread of hummus, falafel, pita, bean dip, french fries and tomatoes. It was super good and super yummy, and only 2 dinar a person!

After the falafel, we decided to go up to the citadel to watch the sunset, but after getting lost on the way there, we didn’t get to go into the citadel and had to watch from the parking lot near by. Word to the wise though, don’t go into a playground full of pre-teen boys because if I’ve learned anything while being abroad, it’s that tween boys are little jerks all around the world, not just in America (no offense to anyone).

After the citadel, we walked down the hill and went to Habebas to get Kenafeh and Baba Ganoush. The Kenafeh is an absolutely delicious cheese pastry soaked in a clear colored sweet syrup. Mmm! After munching on Kenafah, we did some light shopping and then disperesed! A perfect way to end the first week of classes,