By Padraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
* Fans of great songwriters will immediately recognize the reference to Paddy McAloon’s band, Prefab Sprout’s classic 80s album which was entitled “Jordan: the Comeback”
[PART 2 on Jordan]
The Wadi Rum desert valley where I meet Salem is enclosed by amorphous outcrops of sandstone that protect you from the blinding light and the scorching sun. Salem leads me through a narrow gorge between two such outcrops and casually points out some low relief designs and inscriptions that, he says, date from 8 century BC. You’re gobsmacked. He then takes you for tea in a traditional Bedouin tent, and you’re grateful for the cool solace from the burning early evening sun. Finally he brings you to the “camp” where you hook up with Fadi, Lana the team from Discover Bedu, your hosts for this rapid immersion in Destination Jordan.
“Camp” is in inverted commas advisedly as there is no correlation between any “camp” experience you may have had as a boy scout or festival camper and what you experience at Discovery Bedu. Discovery Bedu offers a truly unique experience of effortless luxury, aiming – and achieving – Four Seasons standards in product and service, in the midst of a hostile and arid desert. The guest room product is 40 sqm, furnished with fully dressed King sized beds, night stands with bedside lamps, full sized closet, comfortable lounge area and natural hard wood floors. There’s a large en suite bathroom with WC, copper wash hand basin and shower with both hand held apparatus and pizza head. Both hot and cold water flow liberally.
The 6 individual guest tents are laid out around a traditional Bedouin open front construction bedecked with colourful rugs and kilims. This is where evening dinner is served. You eat at low tables on banquettes and are encouraged to recline and stretch out like the ancient Romans did at decadent Bacchanalian feast. The table is laden with great, healthy food – raw vegetables, various dips, nuts – which you munch on while awaiting the piece de resistance, the Zarb. Lamb and chicken along with vegetables and a rich array of herbs and spices have been put in a pot and buried deep in the desert sands on a bed on glowing embers. You’re brought over to witness the ceremonial resurrection of the perfectly cooked food from its desert tomb. The feast continues and sweets are produced.
A Billion stars
Post dinner drinks are consumed at a seating area of soft couches which are surrounded by lighted torches which blow wildly in the strong desert breeze. But you’re focused now on the night sky. It appears to cap the entire desert with an immense, infinite dome. You’re caught in awesome wonder by an ever changing, natural kaleidoscope of diamond-like, twinkling little stars. It’s the night sky in full performance mode, liberated from the unnatural, artificial lights of civilization and cities. The night sky as seen by the Three Wise Men. The night sky that inspired Ptolmey to write:
Mortal as I am, I know that I am born for a day. But when I follow at my pleasure the serried multitude of the stars in their circular course, my feet no longer touch the earth.
And then it’s back because you’re a child of the twentieth century. That Eagles song again. That peaceful easy feeling.
You waken early and are shrouded in an effusive, gentle morning light. It’s cool in the tent, its double fabric walls and shaded position combining to keep the intense heat at bay. Breakfast is served high up on a shaded rocky outcrop. There’s a live station where a chef in whites prepares your choice of eggs. Four Seasons in the desert? It could be! Fadi and Lana describe the things you can do here when time permits: A dawn hot air balloon flight sounds breathtaking but so too does a microlight flight over the sand dunes and mountains of Wadi Rum or you may choose to stay on the ground and enjoy a desert safari, rock climbing, trekking and sand boarding. You can experience the Hijazi Railway, re-introduced by the Jordan Heritage Revival Company Guests are taken into the desert and experience a mock attack by Bedouins using fake weapons and fake explosives ending at a recently built castle in the desert.
Most impressively, behind the surprise and delight of the luxury experience, is the passionate vision and solid strategy that is driving Fadi Sayess and his team at Discovery. They’re pursuing a dream to create a truly sustainable luxury MICE experience that’s respectful of the delicate desert eco-system and supportive of the local Bedouin community that have made their home here for millennia.
My journey back to Amman includes visits to Madaba where I see a rare and precious sixth century mosaic depicting, with astonishing accuracy, the Holy Land; to Mont Nebo where Moses caught his first glimpse of the promised land; and to the site of Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan River. Each visit is a signature experience and merits a half day. But I only have a half hour. Amongst these unique highpoints it’s deeply disappointing to witness the appalling waste management protocols on the outskirts of Madaba and at Mount Nebo where discarded plastic bags and other detritus have been allowed to accumulate to the point of extreme, inexcusable filth.
I also visit the Dead Sea region where the Jordan tourism authorities have been encouraging investment in conference and meeting infrastructure over the past decade. Side by side along the Dead Sea’s shore-line are major resorts operated by Kempinski, Marriott and Movenpick amongst others, besides a purpose built convention centre for 2500 delegates operated by Hilton. With transfer times from Amman airport at less than an hour, the Dead Sea facilities present a rather compelling package where you can float in surreal suspended animation, cover yourself in rich, skin-cleansing mud while amassing your CPD points and relaxing at a 5 star resort.
And finally, Amman
There’s little time to explore Jordan’s capital beyond a quick visit to The Citadel with Asaad Hijazi but once again you’re astonished at the wealth of archaeological treasure there. Standing, Acropolis-like, on one of the city’s many hills, The Citadel offers access and insight into the rich layers of Amman’s cultural heritage as well as an interpretative key to contemporary Jordan as a tolerant society, respectful of diversity and supportive of the rights of all cultures and creeds.
Pádraic Gilligan was in Amman with his friend and Site colleague Fernando Compéan. Under the auspices of USAid and the JITOA, and with the precious assistance of Marie Claude Bouffard, they delivered the 2 day Certified Incentive Specialist (CIS) programme to 30 local incoming tour operators and DMC. Discovery, strategic partner in Jordan of Pádraic’s former company, Ovation Global DMC organized whistle stop visits to Petra, Wadi Rum, Ma’adaba, the Baptism Site, the Dead Sea and the Amman Citadel.