Disclaimer: The opinions in this piece are our own because no one thought we were important enough to be offered free trips in return for our endorsement.
There has been a little bit of criticism lately regarding the Jordan Tourism Board’s current marketing campaign. The flak is not so much aimed at the tourism board itself but towards the passengers on board the gravy train that has been trundling around the country this past year.
Though we are a working abroad as much as a travel site and, more than most web publishers, entitled to cover subjects around the travel blogging industry I don’t want to do that here. For those that are interested I recommend reading DW1‘s amusing piece on blogger spotting tours around Jordan, his fearful follow up, Jeremy Head’s Endemic corruption or just a travel press trip? and Matthew Teller’s Power and responsibility.
Right now I want to write a different article from those that have been coming from the keyboards of the freebie travellers. I’m going to give Jordan a slagging.
I’m doing so not because I dislike Jordan but to be contrary and because all the many nice things I could write about the country will merely join the multitude of enthusiastic posts being written elsewhere.
Despite the differing opinions regarding whether press trips should be taken by travel bloggers at all, and whether the iambassador set up has crossed a journalistic line, I am in no doubt the positive press the country is getting from those that have visited at the invitation of the JTB is genuine.
For a small country Jordan does have a lot to offer. Despite the semi fraudulence of the new seven wonders list, Petra deserves its place as a genuinely world class set piece tourist attraction. And there is much, much more to the country than just Petra.
Nonetheless, here are some reasons not to like the place:
Wadi Musa is Jordan’s gringo central and while rip offs are tame compared to other countries, they do exist. Prices are much higher than elsewhere in the country and there is a tendency to try it on by inflating them higher through less legitimate means. We had a few arguments after dinner when agreements and special offers that swayed us to visit a particular place over another were reneged on upon presentation of the bill. Whenever we crossed paths with these people again the aftermath was generally heavy sarcasm on each side rather than the downright hostility that may have resulted in other countries.
The entrance fee to Petra
Petra is expensive. Prices to enter the site had recently been put up despite objections by some local tourist agencies. They know people are still going to go though we did meet one fella in Dahab who said he’d visit Petra virtually on the net.
Trying it on
This happens everywhere there are tourists and Jordan is no different. What is different is how shockingly bad Jordanians are at scams, cons and overcharging. With more practice they may get the hang of it but I doubt they’ll ever be as competent as their neighbours in Egypt. In every instance the overcharging was small.
With a few exceptions even the taxi drivers struggled to really screw tourists. We let a lot of things slide that we may have clamped down harder in other countries because it was rather like watching a new born calf trying to stand for the first time and we thought: ‘bless’.
Booze is expensive and often difficult to find
If your experience of travelling in the Muslim world is confined to the Red Sea resorts and Turkey then the price of alcohol in Jordan will come as a shock. A bottle of the mediocre local brew (I have forgotten the name – I only had one), is around £5. Wine? Forget about it. Jordan was a largely dry month that made the already good wines in Lebanon all the more welcome.
The Amman city fathers were shifting the transportation system around when we were there making getting around the city a little confusing at times. Ultimately this will sort itself out but our first two hours in the city were spent wandering around the streets near the bus station wondering why none of the roads seemed to match our map. The reason: we had arrived at a different bus station to the one we expected.
The bus network is also backpacker unfriendly. Luggage space on the intercity buses is pitiful. We crossed almost the whole of the country peering over the luggage on our knees and were sometimes expected to pay double.
Lèse majesté laws
I would not be so discourteous to insult the head of the state I’m currently visiting but a sign of a healthy democracy is that its citizens can do so without fear of reprisal.
King Abdullah II has responded quickly and cleverly to the protests that have spread across the Middle East. One story we heard was that during a protest demonstration the King sent water to the protesters. Other Middle Eastern leaders have done the same but this water was distributed by the cup rather than by the cannon. I do not know if this is true but is typical of the respect mostly shown to the monarchy.
The protests we saw in Amman were small and most political complaints we heard were made against the King’s appointed ministers, not the King himself. Nonetheless lèse majesté laws remain on the statute books to intimidate the not quite free press.
Okay, I’m being really picky here, but to a Londoner welcoming strangers in the street, let alone tourists just ain’t natural. Hopefully, all the people that said ‘welcome’ to us and offered their help and guidance went home to the wife and kids and complained heartedly about ‘bloody tourists’.