This spring, I spent eight days traveling up and down Jordan with ten other travel writers. Our itinerary had been set by the tourism board there and was packed with adventures — which meant we spent hours each day zipping around the highways of the Hashemite Kingdom on a bright blue bus.
Here are five things I learned by staring out the window:
1. Quality Family Time, Roadside
One of the things I noticed right off the bat on the 50-minute ride from Queen Alia International Airport to downtown Amman was people picnicking…everywhere — in fields, on hills, even on small patches of grass astride major highways. It was a lovely Friday afternoon (part of the weekend in much of the Arab world) and I admired how everyone was savoring it. Men flew kites with children while women lounged and poured tea from metal kettles. And even though dust from cars and trucks was swirling around them, no one seemed to notice or mind.
2. Limestone, As Far As the Eye Can See
Amman is a city of limestone buildings, around four to six stories each. You would think that that much of one color would become tedious to look at, but au contraire! Just like the fields of golden wheat you’ll find on the American prairie, the sight was quite stunning. And the trees, decked out as they were in springtime green, only heightened the effect. The thing was, my pictures didn’t come close to doing the Jordanian skyline justice (I described it as regal to my bus mates).
3. King Fever
I was impressed with how few billboards and other roadside advertisements there were in Jordan. But there was one face I saw everywhere: that of King Abdullah II. I saw it on store fronts, car windows, gas stations, bridges, and at Customs stops. In just over a week’s time, I grew to know the face of Abdullah — and that of his deceased father, the much-loved King Hussein, and eldest son and future king, Prince Hussein — as well as I know a family member’s.
4. Manifold Minarets
No matter how small the town, you could be sure of seeing one thing: a minaret. And no matter how elaborate or simple, they were all beautiful. The minarets poked through the rectangular rooftops and desert rock formations (which looked like the drip mud castles I made at the beach when I was a kid) and made the whole skyline come alive.
5. The Color of the Seas
For waters that are (mostly) dead, the Dead Sea is a dazzling shade of green. The bands of salt residue along its edges look almost like glaciers, and offer a lovely contrast to the tan, rocky cliffs that surround the sea. There were no boats on the water, just people floating on their backs (to avoid the sting of very salty water in their eyes). Farther south, the Red Sea’s deep blues offered a refreshing hello after a night spent camping in the Wadi Rum desert. If I could find a gem stone in this color, I would snap it up without a second thought and wear it around my neck.
Carolyn P. Fox is senior producer for digital at National Geographic Traveler. Follow her story on Twitter @SeaFox4.