Jordan: Greatest Hits

Over a decade ago, I began to pull together a collection of stories to be shared with family and friends as I took off on that big trip, an idea that had simmered away inside my brain for such a long time.

With time in abundance, I found enjoyment in documenting and sharing these tales, and the creative process that went with it, taking photos, editing them, and wrapping a set of words around the photos that attempted to convey my thoughts and feelings of the time.

In many ways, my last blog post felt like a fitting final chapter, a gentle nudge to myself to refocus and press on with other parts of my life.

With each passing year, the hands of time seem to accelerate, and seven years after my return from South America, life feels fuller and more complete with the addition of Mariella in my life.

As if coming full circle, I now find myself following others embarking on their own journeys who have found inspiration in the words and stories I’ve shared, and as our journeys interconnect, I’ve found myself returning here to reflect on the words and pictures I wrote comparing our journeys to see how the world has changed.


After several years of COVID travel restrictions, a new house, and a desire to make up for lost time with family in Italy, Mariella and I find ourselves longing for a different type of holiday to the ones we’ve had over recent years.

As winter draws in, we find ourselves settling on an experience that can fit into a week’s holiday, something culturally different that takes us away from the well-trodden paths of Europe, with enough cultural interest and warm weather to recharge our vitamin D.

Although the Middle East may not spring to mind as an ideal tourist destination, eventually we settle on Jordan which ticks all our boxes, culturally diverse enough, with enough heritage and history, and compact enough to fit into a week’s holiday.

As Christmas comes and goes and the English winter seems to drag on we relish our trip to somewhere warmer, as previous travelers regale us with tales of warmth and hospitality from the Jordanians.

As the airplane begins its descent to Aqaba airport, we look down on the Red Sea and eventually the red sands of Wadi Rum come into focus, and so too does that familiar feeling of travel a heady blend of trepidation, anticipation, and excitement of the places we’ll see, the people we’ll meet and the memories we’ll take away with us.

The next morning, we take a walk along Aqaba’s beachfront. Families sit and gaze out at the Red Sea, with Egypt and Israel visible beyond. Local boatmen try to entice us onto their glass-bottomed boats, using warm and friendly patter, always followed by a proud “Welcome to Jordan.”

On our way back to the hotel, we stumble upon the ruins of Ayla. Established in the early 7th century as one of the first Islamic cities outside of Arabia, it was described as the gateway to Palestine for pilgrims making their way to the Holy Cities and Mecca.

Just as my writing has waned, so too has my photography. Much like riding a bike, once behind a camera, it feels like everything comes flooding back.

Wadi Rum

Leaving tarmac roads behind, we transfer into a 4×4 and head out into the Wadi Rum desert for an overnight adventure.

At over 280 square miles, Wadi Rum is Jordan’s largest valley.  Through its interconnecting valleys,  jeeps crisscross as we gaze up at red sandstone towers, linking together landmarks made famous by T.E. Lawrence, a British archaeologist, writer, and military officer.

As the hours go by, our eyes adjust to the high-contrast views as friable, pockmarked rock morphs into clean, imposing faces. It’s these rock towers that burned their way into my consciousness all those years ago as a young climber hoovering up the latest climbing magazine with pictures of remote destinations with lycra clad climbers.

The softening of the sun’s rays give the rock a soft orange glow.

With low tyre pressures, our 4×4 slithers through the softest sand imaginable. Every so often, the back end slips out or we race down the steepest dunes. Tracks shift from finely groomed to good old-fashioned washboard.

Early in the morning, a Bedouin leading two camels slowly appears across the horizon as if a mirage. After a quick check of his mobile phone, we set off across the desert.

As the light swiftly begins to change, it almost feels like a futile attempt to catch the sunrise. But sure enough, on cue, the camels deposit us on the ground as the sun peeks over the horizon.

As the blue light begins to stream across the sand, I find myself thinking about the kindness and hospitality our hosts have shown us the night before.

Overflowing plates with salads, hummus, flatbreads, and incredible pit-roasted meat dishes, it’s the previous night’s conversations with Suleman an articulate Bedouin trekking guide that sticks with us as he describes his family, his studies, and his passion for the natural world.


When people think of Jordan, they often associate it with Petra. The classic photo of the Treasury through a narrow slither of rock showcases one of the seven wonders of the world. However, this single recognizable image fails to capture the sheer theater of the place. Visitors embark on a long walk through a narrow rift valley that slowly narrows and constricts along its 1.2-kilometer length.

As visitors approach the main entrance to the complex structure, the intensity of the experience increases. Horsemen give way to Bedouins, who are traditionally dressed with long flowing locks and heavy eye makeup that remind me more of the cast of Pirates of the Caribbean than Lawrence of Arabia.

Tourists are omnipresent as they clamber around and pose awkwardly for their bucket list photos and Instagram selfies.

While the Treasury may be the iconic photo that draws people to Petra, the sheer scale of the complex is mind-blowing, the tremendous effort required to hard carve every nook and cranny of this red sandstone city.

As we climb and clamber across the site, the scale and significance of this city to the Nabataean, Byzantine, and Romans become more and more apparent. A strategic trading post on the ‘Incense route’ would have seen thousand-strong camel caravans passing through transporting frankincense and spices between the Arab world and the Mediterranean.

Each burial chamber reveals the Nabataean people’s craftsmanship and belief in the afterlife, an investment in the future, and the aspiration of reincarnation with future wealth.

As the veneers slowly decay, many of the chambers at the edges of the complex now become a resting place of animals and livestock.

After more than ten kilometers of walking, we find ourselves enjoying the coolness offered inside the burial chambers. The afternoon sun picks out the rock’s sedimentation amidst the columns which sit in front of the chambers.


After the empty, desolate expanse of Jordan’s desert highway, the battered Mitsubishi pickups and Land Cruisers favored by the Bedouins begin to give way to the urbane class of Amman favoring BMW and Audis drivers, as modern culture’s surgical attachment to our mobile phones become more apparent.

Amman is everything you’d expect from the Levant’s largest city. With over four million people, it’s noisy, busy, and vibrant compared to the small towns we’ve recently passed through.

In the afternoon, we hop between coffee shops, sipping on Turkish coffee while listening to a soundtrack of 1960s and 1970s French and Spanish love songs before the sunsets.

From Amman’s Citadel, we peer across the city’s seven mountains that make up its geographic boundary.

The half-moon crescent of the city’s mosques rises high above the neighboring buildings dotted across the hills.

Standing above the streets below, the citadel serves as an oasis of calm amidst Amman’s traffic and perpetual car horns used to say everything from hello, goodbye, danger, and anything in between.

Jordan River Valley

North of Amman, the green fertile hills provide a stark contrast against the empty spaces of the desert highway as we make our way north. The hills become stepped and orderly as olive trees come into focus, and almond trees with purple buds punctuate the landscape with colour and depth.

Ajlou Castle offers stunning views of the Jordan River Valley to the north.


As modern Jerash encroaches upon the historic city that flourished during the Greek, Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine periods until the mid-eighth century CE, the Greco-Roman ruins provide a glimpse of the importance of the Roman Empire’s most northerly outpost.

Regarded as the ‘Pompeii of the Middle East,’ only thirty-five percent of Jerash’s ancient city is currently exposed. The city was built on top of the old ruined city, with more yet to be uncovered.

Standing centre stage in the amphitheater, we marvel at the mosaic floor and find the acoustic point used by performers and entertainers to entertain the baying crowds during the spectacles that took place.

Details pop out everywhere we look, the heat of the afternoon radiating warmth from the stone used to build these structures.

Gazing toward the northern gate of this ancient city, I can’t help but imagine the countless travellers that have passed through here over the centuries bound for Syria and the bustling city of Damascus.

My eyes are drawn to the arrow-straight road, flanked by majestic Corinthian columns, as I gaze down toward the road it bears is scars of the passage of thousands of horsecarts and feet worn smooth from centuries of use.

Madaba & Mount Nebo

As we travel toward the Dead Sea, we make a stop in the small town of Madaba. Here, a small Christian orthodox church houses the Madaba mosaic map, one of the earliest cartographic representations of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, thought to have been constructed during biblical times.

From atop Mount Nebo, Moses cast his gaze over the promised land, described as a place of milk and honey, a land of fertile soil and ample space for all.

Tourists from different nationalities mingle here. Americans stand quietly as an excerpt from the Bible is read, while evangelical Christians from Nigeria break into song. For a brief moment in time, there feels to be a common unity amongst us all standing here, united under the banner of religion in some shape or form.

As the passages are recited it gives pause for reflection, and some of the central themes of the Bible such as grace, love, self-improvement, and service that we’ve witnessed during our time in Jordan.

Dead Sea

We descend from Mount Nebo to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth. Like pilgrims, we bathe in the mineral-rich Dead Sea and cover ourselves in its mud to purify our skin. As the sun sets, we look west to see it setting over Palestine.



Aqaba -> Wadi Rum -> Petra -> Amman*-> Madaba & Mount Nebo -> Dead Sea -> Amman

*From Amman we made day trips to Jerash and the Jordan River Valley


  1. Nic

    Top pics and a great write up, good to see you polishing up the lense and you pen once again x

    • Mike

      Thanks bro! Good to finally hit publish on something after so long.

      Big love x

  2. Jamie Smith

    Once again Mike your words and pictures move to me tears because of our deep connection forged over years of kinship,love,understanding on forays into the vertical world and free of our life ties of relationships and work however meaningful they were to us.
    Blessed to able to call you my soul brother and friend who’s words and photos never fail to inspire, capture my imagination and will help me reset!
    The infamous ‘Halifax variation’ will live forever in our bond ???? ????

    • Mike

      Lovely words brother!

      The Halifax Variation lives forever, any wrong turn or misadventure should most definitely be considered a ‘Halifax Variation’.

      You’re always on the right path until you’re not. Half the work is recognising when you’re lost or off course and correcting.

      I guess the above holds true on a practical and philosophical level.

      Here’s to many more years of love, respect, looking out for each other through thick and thin.

      Keep it real!

  3. Rick McCharles

    Excellent photos, Mike. Thanks.

    • Mike

      Thanks Rick.

      The Jordan Trail should definitely be on your list.

      Hope life is treating you well!

  4. Cass

    Wonderful stuff, Mike!

    I wonder if travelling by camel is a bit like riding a fat bike?!

    I’m petitioning for a post about your Highlands bike trip!

    • Mike

      Travel by camel, is probably as slow as a fat bike.

      That said camels are far more cantankerous than a fat bike, they demand frequent stops to chew on any signs of vegetation.

      A full day of camel travel would
      Have you walking like John Wayne.

  5. Cass

    Yes! I like the imagery of two ponderous land crawlers! One grumpier and more prone to farting…


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