(Wow, look at that title! Such descriptions!)
I sometimes seem like a man much older than I am. I don’t mean to say I am mature and wise, but more that I am likely to shake my fist and yell at clouds, or tell kids to get off my lawn. So when we planned to go on a Top Deck Tour I wasn’t sure how it would go - aren’t Top Deck Tours just full of 19-year-olds getting wasted, being dicks, and staying out late every night? (not that I don’t do the same sometimes, it’s just that I get tired at 10pm these days). That generalisation might be true for European Top Deck Tours (I have no way to back that up), but a tour in the Middle East attracts a much more refined and sedate group (not really), which is why we were doing it. Being as Jordan is a Muslim country, and the trip was also during Ramadan the drinking probably had to be toned down a little? (right?)
So, what do you need to know to do this specific tour like a pro?
Step 1. Know the tour
We did this “10 day” tour and the first thing you need to know about tours is that the number of days advertised is a scam. 10 days? Pfft, the first day is “arrive and go to sleep”, and the last day is “wake up and leave”. Man, really leaning into that old man attitude already… let’s move on. (This is the same with all tours)
Step 2. Pay for the tour
But don’t pay the full price! For all tours (probably) you can always find significant discounts, either look online or go to a travel expo. Think of tours like Briscoes, if you are paying full price you are doing something wrong. Frankly you should almost always aim for at least 50% off. Sure, if you always want a discount it might mean going somewhere you don’t want to, or at a time that is totally inconvenient, but think of the savings!
(Related, at some travel expo a guy selling a tour told us that they always have between 30% and 75% off, which seems to indicate that 30% off is actually the real price and not a discount at all. It can be a little confusing)
Step 3. Go on the tour
Hmmm… maybe I have gone a bit too high level for this step-by-step guide… Here is a day-by-day breakdown instead
Tour day 1, 2, 6, 7 - Amman
Don’t get too excited on your first stop in Jordan, you are basically just here to sleep for now. Don’t worry you will be back to Amman later and there is at least one good bar to go to (even in Ramadan, when it is allegedly illegal to sell alcohol?). There are also some fun optional activities (more optional than the drinking) like ill advised urban climbing of abandoned buildings, or visiting the hospital.
While you are here I would suggest buying some water the night you arrive as it will be very helpful to hold off dehydration when the tour begins proper. When you come back you will do a city tour and see some ruins of when Romans (I think) used to own this part of the world too, crazy Romans (more about them later?).
Tour Day 3 - Petra
This is really the star of the Jordan tour, which I guess is to be expected from one of the seven new wonders of the world (because that is something we needed? Bloody Millennial's?). You will do some driving to get there, but Jordan isn’t actually all that big (not like Turkey), there are also a couple of stops on the way to see things that aren’t Petra.
To really see Petra you probably need more than one day as it is a big place with loads of tracks you can walk and things you can see. But you only have one day so enjoy being in the hot sun for hours! You can buy water all over the place in Petra and you will need to as there is a lot of walking and climbing of stairs to do if you want to see as much as you can in the time you have available. There are also lots of places to buy crappy souvenirs too, if that is something you are after (but don’t worry because the tour guide will also take you to tourist shops he thinks are the best and you can buy the same stuff everywhere in the country).
The worst thing about Petra (other than all the people getting in the way of photos, sigh) is the donkeys and camels. They smell bad, and don’t look like they are really enjoying themselves either. You can pay to ride up some of the climbs on these animals, but you really shouldn’t (as it just encourages them to be there), but also you don’t need to ride a camel anyway, as you did that in Cairo already. If you really think you need to ride one of these to make it up the climbs, maybe don’t go? (There is also a footnote below about donkeys that is too good not to share, but a little.. Ah… blue?)
After a long day in the sun you will want to get a beer somewhere, unfortunately they seem to take the no alcohol thing seriously in this town and the only place we could find selling beers was Cave Bar (a bar, in a cave, sort of).
Tour Day 4 - Wadi Rum
After Petra you will head further South to Wadi Rum, which is a big patch of desert (actually, probably a small patch of desert in the global scheme of things?). Here you will have another opportunity to ride camels (again, we have established you don’t need to do that) or stay in the 4x4s and drive around for a while. Once you get to camp you can climb a hill to watch sunset, and then you can have dinner and start drinking (vodka counts as hydration, right?). After a while you might have two of the people on your tour have a weird marriage ceremony (or that won’t happen, I don’t know how it works). Don’t drink too much because you are back on the bus early the next morning (just kidding, drink as much as you want)
Tour Day 5 - Aqaba
In Aqaba you have the option of going on a boat trip on the Red Sea - you should do this. The reason you should do it (other than it being fun) is that there isn’t really an alternative - if you don't I think you just stay at the hotel or something? Before you head out on the boat you will have to sign some kind of waiver. I am not very specific here because they don’t actually have a waiver, they just wanted us to all sign our names on a blank piece of paper. Because we are a smart group of not-19-year-olds, and one of us was a lawyer, we drafted a legitimate legal document which read:
"The hearafter named members of the June 2018 top deck tour of Israel and Jordan agree all risks and rewards of the boat trip are our own."
We are still waiting on the rewards, but I know by signing that I gave up my rights to sue over my sunburn.
Anyway, the key to a boat trip (that you can’t take beers on) is sunscreen. Don’t be me (I am an idiot, I really thought the ozone layer was better at protecting me). Another key is taking everything with you when you leave the boat, otherwise you will no longer have a hat (idiot).
If you are after a drink I suggest going to Rovers Return, by far the best Coronation Street themed pub in Aqaba.
Tour Day 6 - The Dead Sea
This is probably the other highlight of the Jordan side of the tour because it is such a strange and unique experience. In saying that you can go to the Dead Sea from the Israel side (not on this tour) and apparently that is better (even more floaty on that side, for some reason?). You will arrive at some Dead Sea resort type place a while after leaving Aqaba; once you have gotten changed you can go and experience what it is like to float! A totally unique experience you won’t have ever had before! (I understand this sounds like sarcasm, but it really is a weird experience that is hard to explain. Other than the pain it is lots of fun to play in).
Dead Sea Pro-tip 1 - Start thinking about swimming in the Dead Sea days before you arrive. You don’t want to have shaved the day before/of arriving, and you don’t want any cuts or scratches either as the salt finds every little exposed wound and makes them sting.
Dead Sea Pro-tip 2 - They say don’t put your head under the water, but one of the guys on the tour totally did, and he didn’t even go blind! It did take quite a while before he was willing to open his eyes afterwards though.
Tour Day 7 - Jerash and the border crossing
After leaving Amman (again) you will go to Jerash which has a massive site of Roman ruins. A very different set of ruins to those you saw in Petra. These are really cool as well as they have been taken care of, and they cover a pretty large area so you can walk all around the ancient Roman town.
After that you will be taken off to the border where you will clear the Jordan side (easy) and then get on a special bus that will take you to Israel where… well… you just wait for Part 2!
Footnotes to Jordan
- What other subtitles could I have had for this? The two I had were:
My time in the Holy Land, and how you can too!
Sweat and a lot of Churches
- When we arrived in Amman we had a very unusual driver(maybe just friendly) take us to our hotel. First we were met before customs and a guy helped us get through there with no problem, he then saw us to a car with a driver and some other guy in it. We drove out of the airport in silence and then pulled over to the side of the road (on a roundabout) and the other passenger got out without saying anything. We then started to drive again and finally the driver said hi, and asked if we had any questions (Yeah, I had one, who was that other guy and why did he just get out on the side of a highway?).
Then it got weird and into a big discussion about religion and how Muslims weren’t bad people (to be clear, we never said, or believed they were - we actually haven’t said anything at all). I say it was a discussion but really we just sat there while he yelled at us for 25 minutes.
When we got to the hotel he came in with us, and then used the phone at reception to ring two other girls he had dropped off earlier and asked them if they wanted to come down and meet us (they didn’t. Also, we didn’t ask him to, or want him to do this).
- There were 16 people on this tour, so we had a van that just fit us all in. That was fine, and almost a good thing as it meant we all quickly became friendly with each other. It was 12 Australians, 1 Irishman(?), 1 American, and 2 Kiwis(us). Shocking, right?
- While wandering around Petra one of the girls of the group was slightly separated from everyone else and while she was catching up she passed a young boy and a donkey. The donkey was, ah, happy, and the little boy did the honourable thing (??) and gave it a hand to relieve itself… while he was making direct eye contact with the now traumatised girl.
(Follow up, I discussed with this some friends once back in London and they had a similar story of this happening to people they knew… so apparently kids in Petra jerk off donkeys all the time?)
- Speaking of donkeys, one followed us home from a bar. As noted there was just one bar in Petra, and one night when walking home from it a donkey walked out of the bushes behind us as we came past. We carried on walking and it followed us for a bit until we came to the end of a car park with a barrier for cars - we walked through and the donkey turned around, seemed like the end of it.
Then a couple of minutes later while walking up a hill I looked around and the donkey had found another way around and was still following us, it almost came right to our hotel.
- There are kids everywhere trying to sell shit in Petra, it is kind of annoying. There are also stray dogs everywhere (which is only just less annoying, but more potentially rabid). At one point our guide was talking to us and a kid and a dog walked into the middle of the group. The tour guide continued to talk while the kid offered around shit no one wanted to buy. The dog then barked slightly and the kid turned around the slapped the dog right across the face. It might not seem like much of an event, but, it was a full on open handed slap. It was a slap straight out of one of those housewife shows. It was amazing (and terrible, don’t hit dogs).