Sunday, 18 December 2011


To those of you who have, at some point, followed this blog and been patiently awaiting for a wrap up of my round-the-world adventures... I owe you a sincere apology. It has been just under 3 months since my last post on the time I spent in India and one could certainly find it amazing how it has taken me so long to conclude the narration of my last week-or-so of travels before moving to Chicago. Well you see, things here - believe it or not - have been very hectic since day 1... with one's agenda being filled by academic, social and (at times) professional responsibilities and commitments. Don't get me wrong, it's not the hectic as I remember from my investment banking days... but hectic in a different (and much more holistically fulfilling) way. So now that finals are over and I am back in Chicago after an amazing week of Ski in Aspen, Colorado with c. 200 fellow Chicago Booth students, I have a bit of time to fill you in on the last stages of my round-the-world trip... on the last stages of the most exciting and enriching experience I have lived to date and which I hope you have thus far enjoyed sharing with me via this humble blog.

So up next... Philadelphia. Most, if not all (I would have put myself in this group until this summer), are probably thinking of that city in the state of Pennsylvania famous for the Declaration of Independence, the (cracked) Liberty Bell, Old Town, Geno's/Pat's Steakhouse, Benjamin Franklin and that wonderful higher education institution he founded back in 1740 and which I feel privileged enough to have attended. Well... let me tell you that the title of this post actually refers to a very different city, for the name was given by Ptolemy II Philadelphus, Macedonian King of Egypt, in the 3rd century BC to the city of Amman, in what is today known as the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. After many centuries of divided and exchanged ruling, it came under Roman control and was later given its current name. This privileged position within the Roman Empire filled the region, and country as a whole, with a vast and incredibly rich legacy of temples, arches, forums, circuses, some of which can still be seen today (most notably in Jerash in the North of the country, on the border with Syria - where I spent a day) even if they are mostly in ruins. Over the centuries, Amman then began to lose importance with the vanishing of Roman influence in the region and lost its focal spot on the regional map to other more important cities such as Damascus and Baghdad., in part due to a series of natural disasters. It wasn't until the early 20th century when the city became the capital of the British-controlled Emirate of Transjordan that it began to exponentially flourish and grow once again. And to this day, Amman has maintained a very relevant position within the Middle East's geo-political landscape, given its unique position as an "axis" bordering country to Israel, Syria, Irak and Saudi Arabia. As one would say in Spanish: "casi nada..." given the history of the region in the last half century. For those non-Spanish speakers out there, guess it's kind of self-explanatory right?

So for the last week or so of my trip, I still had to cover Jordan and Turkey after what I could only describe as an epic journey through India for the previous 2.5 weeks. I got to Amman early in the morning on August 1st on a flight from Mumbai. I was aiming to stay there for a couple of days, then head south to Petra (mostly to visit the astonishing ruins) for a day, then return to Amman for another couple of days and finally spend one day visiting the ancient Roman city of Jerash - all of this itinerary obviously worked out on a preliminary basis on the plane and evolved slightly as my days went by in Jordan (I'm much more of an improviser than a planner when it comes to travelling!). Before getting into the details of my journey through Jordan, I feel I need to share with you that the day I arrived in the country was the first day of Ramadan, which is the fasting period for Muslims and lasts an entire month. Being an 97% Muslim-confessional country, this obviously applied to Jordan and, believe me, it was quite the experience to spend some time there at that precise time. As an explanatory note, during Ramadan, one is not entitled to eat (or drink!) between sunrise and sunset. This applies not only to Muslims but also to anyone visiting the country, especially in the more remote and isolated parts of the country, as restaurants are closed and, while stores are open, one is severely frowned upon if he is seen eating or drinking on the street and for not respecting local/religious tradition. The fact of being a tourist is generally not even an excuse, except in Petra, which would otherwise not have any visitors during Ramadan. Not that I am too in favour of such restrictive attitudes towards non-believers but I tried nonetheless to be mindful of these customs. In my 5 days in Jordan, I kept up with the eating part of Ramadan but could absolutely not deal without drinking any fluids... trust me, it's pretty damn hard! In my first day in Amman, I spent the morning and early afternoon in the hostel I was staying at downtown catching up on some emails and posting about... well, I don't exactly remember at the moment but given the lag I was carrying around that time, I guess it must have been Taiwan or Thailand. The rest of the day I set out to explore the city which, by the way, is not very big in terms of extension (even if it has a metropolitan population of c. 2.0m - or approximately the size of Barcelona). I visited the Citadel, the Gran Hussein Mosque, the Roman Amphitheatre and the local foodstuffs markets in the downtown area. I was quite tired from the flight from India so I called it a night rather early that day after grabbing a bite at a local restaurant near my hostel. I also had to take off the next morning at 6am to catch the bus to Petra, where I was planning to spend the following night.

So, the next morning I got on a 4-hour bus to Petra. There, I was hoping to visit one of the most beautiful and breathtaking archaeological findings of all time (or so I had been advised beforehand) and my 5th wonder of the world on this trip (after I had already visited Machu Picchu, Christ the Redeemer, The Great Wall and the Taj Mahal). I got to Petra in the early morning (c. 10am or so) and dropped of my stuff at the hostel. From there, I set to explore the old city. At the gate, I was immediately shocked with the entrance ticket price - - - 50JD for the day (or c. 55eur / 75usd)!!! Not cheap, especially for a budget traveller... but in hindsight totally worth it. I would end up spending a whopping 7 hours inside the archaeological complex, so the rate per hour wasn't excessive by any means. Also, I would say it was, alongside Machu Picchu, the most impressive sight I visited during my c. 6 months of travelling. During my visit, which took place under a bright sunshine and 35C+ temperatures, I trekked for most of it. As soon as I passed the Treasury (or that famous sight featured in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), I took a left and hiked all the way up the mountain, where I was able to witness truly breathtaking views, in complete peace! I was also quite impressed by The Monastery, which is quite possibly the second most notable sight in Petra and is also atop a mountain one takes c. 45mins to climb via a narrow and steep staircase carved along the mountain side. Overall it was, while exhausting, a memorable day which I hope you can share even if only visually thanks to the pics below. Upon returning to the hostel, I met some cool people with whom I shared a big Ramadan feast for dinner served at the hostel and an interesting conversation over a few Petra beers (which surprisingly resemble a Coors Light bottle! Check it out: before calling it a night.

The next day I returned to Amman nice and early and upon arriving at the hostel (it was the same one I was at the first day in Jordan), I met Randi, a Danish girl, and Rob (aka Foggy Travels:, a Canadian guy from BC, with whom I would enjoy the city for the next couple of days. Given that the three of us had spent some time in Amman beforehand and had visited most of the tourist attractions, we mostly spent our time chilling and enjoying Amman by day and by night. In the evenings, we had dinner at traditional spots recommended by our hostel staff and which were packed with locals anxious to devour in good company after fasting for an entire day. it was quite interesting to experience that first hand and chat with some of the locals about it. We also hit up a couple of bars which (miraculously!) served beer and had some drinks while sharing our past travel experiences and future plans - Randi was moving back to Denmark after spending the summer working on a field project in Jordan, Rob was moving to New Zealand and I... well, you all know where I ended up! :)

After those quality couple of days, I went to the city of Jerash on my own to visit what many describe as the Pompei of the Middle East, or one of the largest settlements of Roman ruins in the world. The town is c. 1.5 hours from Amman and I spent most of the the day visiting the area. I was surprised not to see too many tourists... but heck, I'd rather have that! I got there on a public bus from one of the main stations in Amman and got back in a private (slash illegal) taxi that charged me c. 7usd for the ride back - door to door. I had to revert to this option as buses in Amman (or I guess in Jordan and much of the Middle East in general) don't have a fixed schedule and do not depart until these are full. Given that it was already 5pm when I was about to head back and the "last" bus of the day back to Amman only had a couple of other passengers (out a total occupancy of c. 30), the driver dismissed us all and told us to find alternative means of travel. I guess this has to be quite common, especially during Ramadan, so there are the usual "hawks" or illegal cabs waiting near the bus station. Mine was a nice guy and very interested in hearing about my travels and my impressions on is country. We had a very interesting chat for the whole duration of the journey into Amman. He mentioned he had to drop me off a couple of blocks away from my hostel, though, as he could not be seen providing services / receiving money as he was not an officially licensed taxi. I understood his stance and we parted ways after and effusive goodbye. To this day I can't recall his name but he was the bomb! After a calm evening at the hostel and a couple of skype calls to some buddies in Madrid, I called it a night. The next morning I was due to board a Royal Jordanian flight from Queen Alia International Airport to Istanbul, where I was due to spend the last 2 days (!!) of my round-the-world trip.

I hope to be able to post about that amazing week-end over the next couple of weeks as I enjoy my winter break from school in Australia with the family. Until then, I hope you enjoy the pics from Jordan!