MY EXTRAORDINARY JORDAN JOURNEY: Part 2
After warm goodbyes, we proceeded on to the Dead Sea, where the tourism conference was to be held, with local industry leaders and government officials. We stayed at the Marriott Dead Sea, which has a beautiful setting and provided outstanding service, warmth and charisma. Their leader, Philip Papadopoulos, is a very enigmatic, personable hotelier, with a huge personality and who charmed and entertained us both days we were there. Unfortunately, like elsewhere in the world affected by climate change and other factors, the Jordan river is dying and so is the Dead Sea, as it keeps evaporating.
The Dead Sea is around 425 meters below sea level, the lowest point on earth and so has much better oxygen levels. Being water is scarce (I learnt that Jordan is the third poorest country for fresh water), farming in the area is mostly vegetables that consume less water, such as cabbage, zucchini and eggplant. There is little vegetation, though I saw many Acacia trees along the Rift Valley there, which reminded me of my birth continent, Africa. This area is also a major migration route for birds in March and September, as they travel between Africa and Europe, especially huge flocks of white flamingoes.
While there, we also visited Bethany Beyond, the site where it is believed John the Baptist met Jesus Christ and baptized him in the Jordan river. Russians have been providing funding for current excavation projects and we viewed two recently completed Russian Orthodox churches. At the baptism site, one could also see Jericho in the distance, 8km away. We stopped and looked at ancient churches on the site and spent a few minutes on the bank of the Jordan river, looking across at the Israeli side, literally five feet away.
The rest of the day was filled with industry discussions and panels talking about the power and potential of tourism, with a keynote from Sebastien Marot, founder of the award-winning “https://friends-international.org/” Friends Internationalsocial enterprise, started in Southeast Asia to help protect young children in orphanages and on the streets, and give them a hand up to find work and keep them out of harm’s way. Other discussions included how the North American travel industry could help further support and grow sustainable inbound tourism to Jordan and share best practices around CSR.
His story was published in National Geographic Traveler magazine’s “Best of the World 2018” article this past January. I highly recommend you read it, to become inspired, as I am now, to return to Jordan and walk a part of the Jordan Trail, with my family: “https://blog.myjordanjourney.com/andrew-evans-blog/author/andrew-evans“.
Before we left the Dead Sea, JTB and Tourism Cares together also launched the first ever Meaningful Travel Map of Jordan, having researched and documented 12 experiences that are both powerful and positive for both travelers and local communities. They help highlight that Jordan today is a destination for everyone and serves today’s travelers looking for authentic, sustainable experiences that make a difference, while harnessing the power of travel to help local people and places thrive.
These 12 experiences are offered by either a non-profit organization or social enterprise that provide quality cultural experiences for travelers and in turn, directly benefit a disadvantaged local population. To learn about them, please visit “http://myjordanjourney.com/” and “http://golocaljordan.com/” – more are planned as well, so keep coming back to see and learn more, and then hopefully book a trip to Jordan please, in the near future.
- The Jordan Trail Association – hike any stretch of the 650 unique kilometers and drive communities forward with every step.
- Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature – explore, and shop, with Jordan’s environmental champion, with things to do and impact everywhere.
- Summaga Cafe – take a break from one’s visit to archeological site Ajloun Castle to dine on 100% organic fare from a women-led farmers’ cooperative. (Others from our delegation went there and said it was fantastic.)
- Bait Khayrat Souf – a tranquil kitchen and garden serves up local breakfast, goods and cooking lessons while providing training and jobs for local women.
- Al Numeira Environment Association – one can bike, snack and get dirty in their gardens and other projects, learning with one of the Rift Valley’s newest social startups.
- Feynan Ecolodge – go green and local at this award-winning lodge at the Dana Biosphere – and build local jobs and conservation. (we visited here the next day and got to spend time with a local Bedouin family, being served coffee and tea and learning a little about their local customs, and dining on a vegetarian lunch, to highlight that so much CO2 is generated by breeding cattle and other livestock. A powerful, educational visit, and I enjoyed getting to know the founder and managing director of the property, the charming Nabil Tarazi.
- Montreal Hotel – re-enact the battles of Saladin and the Crusaders, and support the veterans of today.
- Ammarin Bedouin Camp – any stay at this camp founded and owned by the local Bedouin promised living heritage and impact in the shadow of Petra.
- Baraka Destinations – the perfect detour for the social traveler – experience the cluster of local tourism experiences and businesses in villages off the beaten path – founded by my friend, Muna Haddad. (We met some time ago in Berlin, when she attended National Geographic’s now defunct World Legacy Awards as a finalist. I think she should have won, having been here now. (Treadright used to sponsor these awards before they ended last year.)
- Syrian Jasmine House – celebrate multicultural Jordan by learning soap-making and crochet, helping the newest residents and women entrepreneurs.
- Iraq al Amir Women’s Cooperative – learn traditional papermaking, pottery and more with your family at this renowned center for local training and knowledge.
- Bani Hamida Women’s Weaving Project – try one’s hand at traditional weaving, boosting women’s rights and livelihoods.
Aren’t these some amazing experiences, all of which directly benefit local, disadvantaged locals? I was so impressed and WOW’d by the people we met, what we saw, tasted and learnt. There are 32 ethnic and religious groups in Jordan, which makes for a phenomenal cultural diversity.
After we left the Dead Sea, I changed to the Environment and Community group and we drove towards the “https://ecohotels.me/Feynan” Feynan Ecolodge. Near the property, we disembarked our coach and got into small, local SUV’s to drive overland to the lodge. These beaten up SUV’s are owned by 45 different locals, and the lodge uses them so as to support each local, rather than offering their own shuttle service, which is a brilliant idea to support locals and part of their social enterprise ethos.
We were warmly welcomed by Nabil, who led us on a show round of the different guestrooms, facilities and activities, and then gave us a 15 minute presentation to orientate us to the local area and Bedouin tribe who have lived there a long time, the history of the area and the many Roman ruins in the areas (mostly destroyed in several powerful earthquakes over the past several centuries) and then we had a delicious vegetarian lunch. (I enjoyed the best hummus I’ve ever tasted and some wonderful local veg.) this property is also entirely off the grid, self-sufficient and employing directly and indirectly many families in the area.
Then we walked to a large tent where the head of the Bedouin tribe honored us by hand roasting and then grinding coffee beans and cardamom together to serve us coffee, while explaining some traditions and history. We sat cross legged (without showing the soles of our shoes, which is an insult in this area too), enjoying this lull in the afternoon, with bleating goats and chicken walking around. A wonderful moment in time to really appreciate some of the locals and their history and culture.
After goodbyes at the lodge, we drove to a nearby local bike shop, funded by Wheels for Change, A&K Philanthropy and the Bob Whitley Foundation. Some months back, they sent over a shipping container from the US with 400 refurbished bikes, which a local was given responsibility for to run and make his own business, supporting his family and others. The container was converted into the bike shop, and he rents out the bikes to guests at the lodge and locals, and has also sold some – it is a self-sustaining business today. It was impeccably clean and maintained. I was so impressive and inspired again to see how new social enterprises are changing Jordanians lives for the better.
We then proceeded to Petra, where I had the opportunity to spend a couple of hours walking through one of the Seven Wonders of the World – certainly my favorite of the ones I’ve visited so far. I very much look forward to returning with my family, to walk and climb these phenomenal ruins, over a couple of days. I also had the honor and pleasure of meeting a young Bedouin Raami, who lives there, whose mother Marguerite van Geldermalsen, came from New Zealand in 1978 to visit Petra, met and married a local Bedouin Mohammed, and still lives nearby with her son. She recently wrote a book about her experiences living among them – “Married to a Bedouin”. I bought a couple of copies from Raami, gave one to my sister Vicki who lived in Morocco for many years, and look forward to reading it with my wife and kids.
Many, sincere and warm thanks to everyone I met on this journey to Jordan. Each of you touched my heart, inspired me and taught me so much about your amazing country, history and culture. A big thank you also to Tourism Cares for being a beacon of good and a leading example of how our industry can be a better contributor to local communities we bring travelers to, and to do it all with great CSR.
I have so many new friends now I plan to stay in contact with, and I am committed to helping create new itineraries and experiences to Jordan for a number of our companies, to help bring more travelers there, which in turn will directly benefit the local communities. I am also eager to return with my family to spend an extended stay here, revisiting places with them I experienced on this trip, walking part of the Jordan Trail and exploring new wonders of Jordan together.
I highly recommend a visit to Jordan to anyone and everyone, NOW. Please don’t wait. Jordanians want to meet and greet you, in their country and their home.
All the best, and happy trails,