Earlier this year I visited Jordan at the kind invitation of the Jordan Tourism Board. Since then I’ve written a lot about my experiences there, and I still have more to write. But I thought it was an appropriate time to reflect on my trip and share with you all what it meant to me.
I say an ‘appropriate’ amount of time because I typically don’t put a lot of stock in opinions that are too fresh. For me at least, I need time to think about my adventure and to reconsider my initial impressions. Sometimes the effect is to temper negative reactions, but more often it’s to make sure my positive feelings can withstand the test of time.
As my plane touched down in Amman, I could barely contain my excitement. I had fallen in love with the region the year before and couldn’t wait to explore the width and breadth of Jordan. That excitement never went away. Every day I awoke in Jordan, I couldn’t believe I was actually there, exploring one of the most interesting and overlooked countries in the world.
Trips are comprised of many special moments. It is these moments which define for us our travels and gives us a unique impression that is specific to the individual. I call these travel snowflakes. Millions of people visit Petra, but no two people have the exact same experience, thus the snowflake. I had a lot of special snowflakes in Jordan.
More than anything, my moments revolved around people. One day I found myself and three others in the desert of Wadi Rum watching the sun set and ruminating about life. I hadn’t known my new Jordanian companions for very long, yet we had become fast friends and they felt comfortable enough to divulge secret fears and their most lofty dreams. You can’t arrange moments like those, they happen organically and without thought. But the people I met in Jordan were some of the kindest I have ever met, and because of them I had many moments of honest, meaningful interactions.
The history of Jordan is old and complex. It spans millennia, civilizations and has been at the crossroads of Western civilization for a very, very long time. I love history and antiquity and yet after a week, I felt like I had barely grazed the surface of the offerings in Jordan. I explored the Desert Castles, walked through the Siq to Petra and ascended Mt. Nebo to view for myself what Moses called the Promised Land. There are very few places in the world where you can witness such a dynamic and wide swath of history in such a compact place. It made every day an adventure and a promise that something new and totally different would be explored.
Not everything great about Jordan was a single, definable moment. The food was the not-so-hidden hero of the trip. I never knew Jordanian food was so good, and it added a dimension to the trip I had not expected. Endless quantities of hummus, bread and even knafeh made me seriously wonder if I would gain weight on the trip, an incredible feat given the amount of walking I had done. Food and even coffee are at the heart of the Jordanian soul, and enjoying them with friends is the best way to experience the real Jordan, much more so than tourist shops or must-see sites.
I talk about Jordan a lot to friends, and I usually have to catch myself from rambling on. I don’t do this about every destination I visit. I enjoy every trip, that’s without question, but not every trip makes a lasting impression on me personally. I may like a place, but that doesn’t mean it was a life changing event. Jordan was, and yet I can’t tell you why.
Maybe it’s because I had mixed expectations approaching the trip. Maybe it’s the fact that as an American, I receive strange messages relating to the Middle East from the media. Maybe. But more than anything, I think the fact that I can’t define why I enjoyed Jordan so much, why I know it was a significant event in my life, is the real reason it was so special. It’s an indefinable quality that can never be isolated, but which I know is there. Ultimately, this is why we travel. To learn, to grow and to explore but more than anything else, to catch that snowflake and enjoy it before it melts.