Difference between revisions of "Jordan"
Revision as of 21:08, 29 January 2007
Jordan (الأردنّ al-Urdunn ) is a country in the Middle East. Almost completely land-locked (save for a small outlet on the Red Sea in the Gulf of Aqaba and a frontage on the Dead Sea), Jordan is bordered by Israel and the West Bank Palestinian territory to the west, by Syria to the north, by Iraq to the east and by Saudi Arabia to the south.
For most of its history since independence from British administration in 1946, Jordan was ruled by King Hussein (1953-99). A pragmatic ruler, he successfully navigated competing pressures from the major powers (US, USSR, and UK), various Arab states, Israel, and a large internal Palestinian population, through several wars and coup attempts. In 1989 he resumed parliamentary elections and gradually permitted political liberalization; in 1994 a formal peace treaty was signed with Israel. King Abdullah II - the eldest son of King Hussein and Princess Muna - assumed the throne following his father's death in February 1999. Since then, he has consolidated his power and established his domestic priorities, including an aggressive economic reform program. Jordan acceded to the World Trade Organization in January 2000, and signed free trade agreements with the United States in 2000, and with the European Free Trade Association in 2001.
Visitors to Jordan from non-Arab countries will need a visa, easily obtainable on arrival at most border points. One key exception is the crossing from the West Bank at the King Hussein ("Allenby") Bridge. Visas are available at all other land crossings into Jordan, including the two crossings from Israel at Eilat/Aqaba and the Sheik Hussein Bridge near Irbid. Previously notoriously complex (and expensive), visa prices have finally been standardized for non-Arabs at JD 10 for single entry, JD 20 for multiple entry, though you can recieve a free, one month, ASEZA visa if you arrive in Aqaba with no visa. If you recieve an ASEZA visa, you will still theoretically have to pay the visa fee if you leave the Aqaba economic zone, paid either with your departure tax, or on reentry to the Aqaba zone. This is the Middle East though, it does not always happen.
If you stay longer than one month (previously two weeks) you will have to register your passport at a police station. Most 4/5 star hotels will take care of this formality on behalf of their guests, but the process is generally quick and painless. If you fail to register, you will have to pay a 1 JD/day penalty for each day over 30 on your departure. Not expensive, but allow an extra half hour at the airport to complete the process, which will involve standing in a number of different queues.
Airline tickets for foreigners now usually include the 5 JD departure tax in the ticket price.
Check with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the latest situation.
Jordan has its own national carrier - Royal Jordanian Airlines. In addition, Jordan is served by a number of foreign carriers including British Airways, Air France, Lufthansa and Egyptair.
Queen Alia International Airport is the country's main airport. It is 35km south of Amman (on the main route to Aqaba). You should allow 45 minutes to reach the airport from the downtown Amman, approximately 30 minutes from West Amman. Transport into Amman is provided by the Royal Jordanian bus service to the city terminal near the 7th circle, or by taxi (15 JD).
In addition to Queen Alia, Jordan has two other international airports:
There are trains twice a week from Damascus (Syria) to Amman. Trains arrive from Damascus at the Mahatta junction just northeast of the downtown area and quite close to Marka Airport. It is straightforward to get a taxi to the downtown area from here.
The trip takes a very leisurely 9 hours (considerably slower than driving), and there is both 1st and 2nd class carriages available.
You can cross into Jordan by car from Israel, but the border formalities are time-consuming and expensive as Jordanian insurance is required and you will even have to change your license plates. The main crossings are at King Hussein Bridge (if coming from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv) and Aqaba (if coming from Eilat). There is another crossing at the Sheikh Hussein Bridge for those coming from Northern Israel.
Long distance taxis operate the route from Damascus to Amman.
The drive between Amman and Syria is not as you might be used to in the USA or Europe, and the standard of driving and vehicle maintenance in both countries is poor (but generally worse in Syria). Don't be afraid to ask your driver to slow down and take extra care when overtaking. It's worth hiring a taxi just for yourself or your party and paying a little extra money to ensure the driver isn't tempted to race the journey to make more money.
It is theoretically possible to enter Jordan from Iraq depending on your nationality. Flights from and into Iraq involve a high speed high altitude cork-screwing dive down to the capital Baghdad, to reduce the likelihood of missile or rocket damage. Given the ever present threat from insurgents and the ongoing military operations in Iraq it is strongly recommended that you not attempt this journey from Baghdad or anywhere else in the country.
From Saudi Arabia
Entry from Saudi Arabia is by bus. Jordan-bound buses can be taken from almost any point in Saudi Arabia or the Gulf. Most of these are used by Arabs. The border crossing, called Al-Haditha on the Saudi side, and Al-Omari on the Jordanian side, has been recently rebuilt. Waiting time at customs and passport control is not too long by Middle Eastern standards, but allow for up to 5 hours on the Saudi side. As the crossing is the middle of the desert, be absolutely sure that all paper work is in order before attempting the journey, otherwise you might be lost in a maze of Arab bureaucracy. The trip from the border to Amman is 3 hours and up to 20 hours to the either Dammam, Riyadh of Jedda on the Saudi side. The trip can be uncomfortable but is cheap.
Long distance services operate from a number of Middle Eastern destinations including Tel Aviv and Damascus.
Jordan can be entered at the port of Aqaba via the Egyptian port of Nuweiba. There are two services, ferry and speedboat. Expect to pay around $30 for the ferry or around $60 for the speedboat (both one way) if you are a non-Egyptian national (Egyptians are not required to pay the prices inflated by the authorities). The slow ferry might take up to 8 hours, and can be a nightmare in bad weather. The speedboat consistently makes the crossing in about an hour, though boarding and dissembarking delays can add another hour or two.
The JETT bus company has services connecting Amman to Aqaba, the King Hussein Bridge (to cross into Israel), and Hammamat Ma'in. Private buses (mainly operated by the Hijazi company) run from Amman to Irbid and Aqaba. Minibus services connect smaller towns on a much more irregular service basis - usually they leave once they're full.
The Abdali transport station near Downtown Amman serves as a bus/taxi hub to locations throughout Jordan. Here you can find buses into Israel and a 1.5JD bus to Queen Alia airport.
By service taxi
Service taxis (servees) cover much the same routes as buses. Service taxis are definitely more expensive than minibuses, but a lot faster and more convenient.
Service taxis are generally white or creme in colour. They can sometimes be persuaded to deviate from their standard route if they are not already carrying passengers. It is quite likely that you would be asked to wait for a yellow taxi though.
By regular taxi
Regular taxis are abundant in most cities. They are bright yellow (Similar to New York yellow-cabs) and are generally in good condition. A 10km trip should cost around 2-3 JD.
All yellow taxis should be metered, however most do not use them therefore you should agree on a price before departing. If you do get picked up by an unmetered taxi, make sure you agree on the price before driving away. If you do not agree on a price you will most likely pay double the going rate.
Day rates for taxis can be negotiated. These are usually through specific taxi drivers that have offered the service to friends or colleagues before. If you are staying at a hotel, the reception desk should be able to find you a reliable driver.
A full day taxi fare should cost around 25 JD. An afternoon taxi fare would be around 15 JD. For this price the taxi driver will drop you off at local shopping areas and wait for you to return. You can then go to the next shopping location. You can leave your recently purchased items in the vehicle as the driver will remain in the taxi at all times, but it is not recommended to do so.
If you are planning a trip outside of Amman, the day rates will increase to offset the fuel costs. For day trips within 1-3 hours of Amman, a taxi is by far the easiest method of transport. A trip to Petra in a taxi would cost approxiamtely 75 JD for 3 people. This would get you there and back with about 6 hours to look around and see the sights.
Jordan's highways are generally in very good shape, but the same cannot be said about its drivers or it vehicles. Many trucks and buses drive with worn or defective tyres and brakes and in the southern and more rural parts of the country there is the tendency for some people to drive at night without headlights (in the belief that they can see better and that this is therefore safer!). Avoid driving outside the capital, Amman, after dark.
Renting a car should be inexpensive and not too time-consuming. Fuel prices are all fixed by the state-owned company, so don't bother looking for cheaper gas stations. Expect to pay around 70 cents per liter, although prices may change in time.
One particular stretch of this, where the road rapidly descends from the highlands of Amman to the valley that leads into Aqaba through a series of steep hairpin curves, is infamous for the number of badly maintained oil trucks that lose their brakes and careen off the road into the ravine, plowing through all in their path. This stretch of the road has been made into a dual carriageway and is now a little safer - however exercise caution on this stretch of the road.
The other route of interest to travellers is the King's Highway, a meandering track to the west of the Desert Highway that starts south of Amman and links Kerak, Madaba, Wadi Mujib and Petra before joining the Desert Highway south of Ma'an.
The national language of Jordan is Arabic. Most people speak some English, especially in urban area such as Amman. French and German are the second and third most popular languages after English.
The currency is the Jordanian dinar (JD), divided into 1000 fils. The currency rate is effectively fixed at 0.71 JD per dollar, an unnaturally high rate that makes Jordan poorer value than it would otherwise be.
A subsistence budget would be around JD 10 per day, but this means you'll be eating falafel every day. JD 20 will allow slightly better accommodations, restaurant meals and even the occasional beer. JD 15 gets you average accommodation.
Jordanian cuisine is quite similar to fare served elsewhere in the region. The daily staple being khobez, a large, flat bread sold in bakeries across the country for a few hundred fils. Delicious when freshly baked, it very quickly loses all flavor as it dries.
For breakfast, the average Jordanian usually eats Falafel and Homos. This is the most popular breakfast. Manousheh and pastries come in as the second most popular breakfast item. As of recently, more and more restaurant are starting to offer American style breakfast with omelettes and so on.
The national dish of Jordan is the mansaf. Prepared with jameed, a sun-dried yogurt. Grumpygourmet.com describes the mansaf as "an enormous platter layered with crêpe-like traditional "shraak" bread, mounds of glistening rice and chunks of lamb that have been cooked in a unique sauce made from reconstituted jameed and spices, sprinkled with golden pine nuts." In actuality more people use fried almonds instead of pine nuts because of the cheaper price tag. While mansaf is the national dish, most people in urban areas eat it on special occasions and not every day. Other popular dishes include Maklouba, stuffed vegetables, freekeh.
Levantie style mezza are served in "Lebanese style" restaurants around the country, and you can easily find international fast food chains including McDonalds, Pizza Hut and Burger King. In addition to chains well-known in Europe and North America, there are some local businesses such as:
As for forgeign style restaurants, there is no shortage of them. The best ones are usually found in 5 star hotels, but the price tag is high. Italian restaurants and pizza places are somewhat abundant in Amman, Madaba, and Aqaba, but are very hard to find in other cities.
While Jordan is a Muslim country, locally brewed Amstel beer is available at better restaurants throughout the country. Guinness and Heineken can also be found in most western style restaurants. Jordanian wine is also very high quality. It is not too hard to find liquor stores in the western parts of Amman and in the Christian areas. Some of these liquor stores have a rather large selection of hardcore drinks. Taxes on imported alcohol are very high, so anything other than Jordanian wine (much of it quite decent) and the locally brewed Amstel is typically 1,5x to 2x more expensive than European prices. Visitors may purchase very reasonably priced duty free beer, wine and spirits on arrival at the airport, at most land crossings into Jordan, in the Aqaba Free Zone, and within two weeks of arrival at the duty free shop between 3rd and 4th circles in Amman.
Work opportunities for the casual foreign visitor are somewhat limited in Jordan. The majority of foreigners working in Jordan are on contract work with foreign multinationals and development organisations (Amman is the 'gateway to Iraq' and a key base for the continuing efforts to rebuild its neighbour).
There is the possibility of picking up casual English teaching work if you hunt around hard for opportunities.
Fluent Arabic speakers might have more success, though the process of obtaining a work permit is not particularly straightforward. Engage a knowledgeable local to assist you.
Jordan is generally safe. However, the extra bit of caution is advised on the wake of three bombs exploding in three Amman hotels in 2005, killing more than 60 people. Taking note of the political situation anywhere you go is generally a good idea, but rest assured, it is quite safe.
The biggest risk to your health in Jordan is being involved in a road traffic accident.
Other health risks:
Standing in Lines : Jordanians have a notable issue with standing in line-ups for service. Often those near the rear of a line will try to sidle forwards and pass those in front of them. The line members being passed, rather than object to this tactic, will often instead start to employ this same trick themselves, on the line members in front of them. The end result is often a raucous crowd jostling for service at the kiosk in question.
No one, including the person manning the kiosk, is happy when this situation develops and often tensions in the jostling crowd seem high enough that violent disagreements feel moments away. However, this commentator never witnessed any violence and the sense was that Jordanians recognized common distinct limits as to what was reasonable in line jostling.
Nonetheless, due to this common Jordanian phenomenon, several strategies are suggested.