In late 2013  I received an email from The Giving Lens about an upcoming photography workshop trip they were holding in Jordan, for some reason I knew that I needed to go on this trip, so I put in my application and hoped for the best. My application was accepted and over the next few months I started putting together a few side trips on the way to and from Jordan. On my way to Jordan I had a 12 hour stop over in Dubai and then had a few days having some adventures in Egypt, this was my first time to the middle east (and Africa, Egypt is part of it) so it was quite the experience to see these cultures. I’ve done a write up about Egypt here: Adventures in Egypt

The Jordan trip was a pretty incredible trip and it was a bit different for me as I was part of a team and had my schedule, accommodation, transfers, meals etc.. all mapped out and organised for me, definitely a nice way to travel for a change. Egypt was its own crazy and there was a bit of a stuff up at the airport, so we got into Jordan a bit later than we expected, pretty much we arrived in Amman, the capital of Jordan, went to the hotel and crashed out!

My first day in Jordan was pretty busy, I met up with the rest of the team over breakfast and a desperately needed coffee, most of us had travelled a fair distance to get to Jordan and many were a bit jet lagged. I was pretty grateful that I’d had the time to adjust in Egypt. After breakfast we headed out to an area called Iraq Al-Amir, which means Caves of The Prince. It is an area that has history dating back at least to the 3rd century BC, with some artefacts dating back to the copper age.

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Iraq Al-Amir is also home to a women’s co-op that we were volunteering with, they teach skills to women and sell their products in various places. While we were visiting they were working on some plaques for the coming visit of the Pope, it was a contract that they applied for and won.

Iraq Al-Amir Pottery

Iraq Al-Amir Women's Co-op

Iraq Al-Amir Women's Co-op

From Iraq Al-Amir we headed over to the ruins of the  Greco-Roman city Gerasa in Jerash, it is north of the capital city Amman towards the Syrian border and the second most populated area of Jordan. The ruins are pretty incredible and very well preserved, it was great to wander through them and explore. While we were in The South Theatre some performers played music for us, the acoustics were absolutely incredible!

Jerash

The Arch of Hadrian

The Arch of Hadrian was built to honour the visit of emperor Hadrian to Jerash in 130AD

The Oval Forum

The Oval Forum

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We ended the day with a sunset shoot in the hills heading towards Madaba

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We stayed in Madaba for a few days and did day trips to the Dead Sea and to our next NGO, The Zikra Initiative. Zikra are located in Ghor al Mazra’a, one of the poorest areas of Jordan that face many significant challenges. Ghor al Mazra’a is situated right on the Dead Sea near the border with Israel.

Ghor al Mazra’a

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They operate with the philosophy of “exchange”, the act of giving one thing and receiving another in return, removing the the giver-receiver dynamic and placing both parties on equal footing. Zikra work with marginalised communities through many programs including “Exchange Tourism”, cultural experiences and youth development programs. While we were there we helped harvest Tomatoes and learned how to cook some of their local dishes  as well as learning some of their local crafts.

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The drive down to the Dead Sea is pretty incredible, definitely an area I’d love to explore much further, the road that winds through the hills is amazing.

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We photographed sunset over the Dead Sea, you can see Israel across the water. We didn’t realise that you aren’t allowed to be near the Dead Sea at sunset and after dark though, so we were a little shocked when armed soldiers turned up and very kindly asked us to move on!

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Madaba itself is quite picturesque as well, we wandered and interacted with the locals, doing some street photography as well as visiting some significant places such as the Greek Orthodox church that is home to the Madaba Map. The Madaba Map is part of a floor mosaic that is a map of the Middle East and was made between 542AD and 570AD, it is the oldest known geographic floor mosaic in art history.

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It was quite strange walking into the Greek Orthodox church as it brought back many memories of going to the Russian Orthodox church with my Grandmother as a child, the same feel, the smell of the melting candles and the layout of the church was all very familiar.

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The rest of our trip was spent in the two most famous areas of Jordan. Wadi Rum (Lawrence of Arabia country) and Petra. Wadi Rum was nothing short of inspiring, it is home to an area called the 7 pillars, I can’t remember if they were named after T.E. Lawrence’s book or if Lawrence’s book was named after them, either way the book’s final version was written while Lawrence was in Wadi Rum.

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One of the best things you can do to explore Wadi Rum, other than by 4×4 is to head out for a sunset experience on the back of a camel! I’ve now ridden Camels in Australia, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates!

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Star trails while staying in a bedouin camp in the desert of Wadi Rum, Jordan.

After Wadi Rum we headed north to the ancient city of Petra. I can’t say anything more than it was completely mind-blowing, it was far larger and more spread out than the photos give credit, this is one of those places you absolutely have to experience for yourself. If it hasn’t been on your “list” prior to now, have a look at the photos and jot it down on your list, it is incredible.

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Petra Jordan

Our final visit of our trip was back to the Dead Sea where I got to mark off an item that has been on my list for as long as I’ve had a list.. in fact it was one of the first things ever to make it on to my list and that was to “swim” in the Dead Sea. You really don’t swim in the Dead Sea so much as you float on top of it.. it is one of the more bizarre sensations and experiences I’ve ever had, one that I would love to repeat!

My trip through Jordan was an absolute life-changing experience, if you get a chance to visit, I highly recommend it, although the region is a little more unstable than usual at the moment with millions of refugees pouring in over the border from Syria. I also very highly recommend travelling with The Giving Lens, it is an incredible way to be introduced to a country, have some cultural experiences, do some good and meet some awesome people. I’ve made some life-long friends from that trip.