I spent eight days in “Barricade City”, a.k.a. Riyadh, a.k.a. “Oasis”, a.k.a. the capital city (and birthplace) of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). In March 2019 Saudi was on the cusp of progressive transition via the “2030 Challenge”. My visit was on a government Visa as a Design / UX Mentor through the 500 Startups accelerator for MENA (Middle East and North Africa). The Country was not perfect, there wasn’t an abundance of things to do, but I really surprised myself how much I enjoyed my time here.
Jerusalem is home to the 3rd most holy site to Islam, the holiest site for Judaism and most of the holiest sites for Christianity. It is no surprise the history in Jerusalem was amazing. Outside the Old City, Jerusalem feels like a modern, clean, pedestrian city. While quite expensive for the Middle East (3x Jordan, 5x Egypt, 1x EU), it is worth the visit. Israel was setting a tourist record while I was there so I needed to book at least a couple days in advance to have any choice in accommodation and something less than $40 a night. Below I describe the most important religious sites everyone must visit.
I wanted to visit Palestine to see life on the other side of a news camera. To challenge my American pro-israel beliefs and look for another perspective. I expected my trip to the West Bank would be like visiting another country. One deteriorating from the conflict and Israeli control of goods and people. Instead a 5 shekel bus dropped me at Bethlehem Checkpoint 300 where I simply walked through a few long passageways and several metal turnstiles. In the ease of access I felt like I missed security some how.
Wadi Rum looks like a desert landscape on another world, like the setting of a Star Wars scene. Across an orange sand desert, a dozen blocks or spikes of tan and black striped mountains rose 1500m out of the otherwise flat vista. It looks like horns piercing a placid surface from the back of some enormous sand monster.
I found Petra a strange combination of a UNESCO heritage site, a circus and Yosemite Valley. It is truly a special place with dozens of impressively constructed stone entrances, beautiful rock, hundreds of abandoned carved homes and great views. This co-mingling with the loud Arabic shouts of men managing donkeys, tourists boasting excited screams as they rise on camels, kids asking me to buy trinkets or post cards and clopping donkey carts pushing through a barely wide enough canyon. In reality, I understand this my own perpetual conflict between popular tourist attraction environments and my own pristine wilderness ethics. Local people are simply trying to make a living and give the average tourist the experience they expect. I try hard to push past this so it doesn’t hamper my enjoyment of these really unique and amazing places of the world.
Jordan may be known for Petra, but within an hour of the country’s capital of Amman sits many fantastic archeological sites stretching back thousands of years. A few desert castles to the east, a massive Roman settlement to the north and even an ancient citadel and Roman theatre in the city center.
Each destination worthy of a couple hours walk with plentiful guides and historical description placards in both Arabic and English (the second official language). Better even with the great deal from the Jordan Pass which provides access to all these sites, waives the traveler’s visa fee and includes entrance to Petra. Let me take you on a tour.