Friday, July 20, 2018

Secret Asian Man- Which State Would That Be?

A remarkably diverse trio of public servants at the ready.

I will reach out through the internet and bop you on the nose, if you thank me for my service.

Mrs. S.A.M and I ventured down the Bourbon Trail recently, which is a very scenic and fun thing to do, even if you don’t prefer bourbon.  You learn a lot and taste just enough that you can drive between stills safely. 

There are 13 distilleries strung out like kernels of corn between Louisville and Lexington.  We ticked off 7. All were unique, but to a one, they all asked if we were current or former military, offering discounts to those who were.  

We aren’t, so I declined.

Mrs. S.A.M, the smartest and wisest person in the household and comfortable, over-sharer always replied, “We’re with the State Department.”

Responses ranged from a shrug to a “Oh? Which State?”  while clicking the full price admission button.

Once in awhile, people would enquire more, and she would give a brief blurb. Probably in response to my eyeroll, she would later say, “No one has any idea what goes on at an Embassy.  We need better PR!”

She’s right, of course. The military gets all the press.  Ultimately, for them it’s more binary. Attack or defend.  Kill or be killed. It’s easy to understand.

But what happens at an Embassy? Here in the Midwest, we’ve repeatedly encountered the comment. “I don’t really know what you all do. It doesn’t affect me, so I guess I don’t pay much attention.”

But, it does affect you. Even in the heartland, what happens in Moscow or Beijing affects all of us.

Here’s how.

When a foreign government wants to talk with the United States, the Ambassador is the voice. The meet with government figures at the highest levels to discuss and formulate policy.

Political offices monitor a foreign government. They inform our government about who’s in charge, how they view the U.S and how they view others. If a government changes or is going to change, these folks are the first to know it and how we should respond. The diplomatic work keeps kids out of war. It can also open up channels for military communication.

And all the talk of peace and a peace process would not occur without hundreds of people laying groundwork and feeling out the other side.  Exploring and discussing and making things happen.  This is where the trust is built.

A country’s economic climate is closely monitored by Economic Officers. Watching prices and industrial output may seem mundane, but so much can hinge on a few numbers.  Our folks model what is going to happen when a government raises fuel prices or the price of bread and what is going to happen to the country’s neediest or wealthiest. Will they tolerate it?  Will there be riots in the street?  How can the U.S. help?

They help promote U.S. products, putting U.S. companies in touch with buyers. How are we going to push those 66 million barrels of Kentucky bourbon overseas? Who wants all these Ohio soybeans?

Building trade affects all of us, especially those who work in industries where products are manufactured. Maybe you are one of the many Americans who work in the supply chain. Know any truckers, warehousemen or sales people? Or maybe you just want a new Toyota or Adidas or T-Shirt from Target or Walmart. After tariffs are imposed, they talk about why and how trade ties can be improved and work toward that goal.

The security and law enforcement offices keeps everyone safe, from the Ambassador to the janitor.  They watch over us. They work with local law enforcement with training and improving law enforcement and enhancing the rule of law. If you’re not sure if that matters, try making a police report to a cop who won’t start working until you give them some “cigarette money”, or who botches the evidence collection. That may seem like it doesn’t affect you, but remember that on your next trip to Cancun or Jamaica.

There are tons of people who help keep the lights on.  Paying bills and signing the contracts. Shipping and logistics. When the Embassy has an event for the host country, these folks make your country look good. Putting our best foot forward for the world

Medical personnel make sure all these Americans who are living in this foreign country with diseases like Dengue and Malaria stay healthy. They also monitor for outbreaks and work to counter pending epidemics

Consular Officers wear several hats. If an American is in need, they are the main contact. If your son or daughter is overseas, say on an exchange program or mission trip, and gets in trouble, they won’t bail him out of jail or pay her medical bills, but they will put him in contact with someone who can help.  They’ll visit them in jail and make sure they being treated humanely. A working legal system isn’t a guarantee in many countries and saying “But, I’m an American” doesn’t make it happen. These people will watch out for you.

If you lose your passport, they are the ones that will help you get home.  

More importantly they are the decision makers at the tail-end of an extreme vetting process that’s been going on for years. Denying and granting visas. Human lie detectors. They are the real wall. A dynamic barrier. Finding a balance between safety and sense.

The Public Affairs Office is the public face of America.  They supervise the social media and speak with the press.  They keep track of how America is perceived overseas. They also help in distributing American culture and values. Keeping the beacon shining had been a huge goal. Promoting education of the world’s youth and getting them to study in the U.S. The more positive someone's experience is with our country the less likely they are to want to do harm to us. They are also more likely to stand up for us in the future.

Aid and development allows another important way to promote the U.S. It is often reported that country ‘X’ receives billions in aid. And, I think, the perception is that we just dump a bunch of money into some bank account somewhere.  But, a vast majority of aid comes with the requirement that it be spent on US products. So, more aid means buying more American.  It is not a zero-sum game where, if they get more, we get less. In reality, if they get more, we get more. It is a win-win.

There are initiatives that help create jobs or keep the environment clean or empower women.  These are, or have been until recently, global priorities. Created with the idea that stronger, more stable nations are better trading partners.  Safer countries send us less people in distress. 

The primary mission is to advance the interests of the United States and its people. Putting America first has always been the mission. It is nothing new.  But, we also all do well when we all do well.

So, that’s the PR spiel. A little plug about what goes on in an Embassy and how it factors in back home. We do this because we love our country and our jobs. Even if we don’t get discounted bourbon, we are happy to serve, so that America can reap the benefits.  

Friday, July 13, 2018

Secret Asian Man- Art in America

Took a walk the other day.  Searching for seeds of optimism.  Not surprisingly, I found some within a few blocks.  Tucked away in artwork displayed on the curb.

Found these outside a house. Maybe this was a summer project.  Maybe a summer parent, a month into summer, trying to keep her kids away from the screen. But it was a nice little display. A sign that the kids are watching. The kids are hopeful. They’re making plans.


Then I found another artist.

This is Malvin.  He makes art.  And he’s made art since he was 9 after he saw a Vincent Van Gogh exhibit.  His family couldn’t afford to get him any oil paints, but he had a job sweeping out a general store for a holocaust survivor. That Christmas he found a box of paints under the tree. Without any training, he’s been painting ever since.  

He was planning on going to college, but got called away to Vietnam at age 18. He didn’t think he was going see 19.  Three days after he returned his dad was killed in car accident.  So it was up to he and his brothers to care for his mother.  

He met a caucasian woman and fell in love. They were disowned by parts of both sides of their families, but got married anyway.  He planted a tree in the front yard of his house and has stayed there for 40 years.  

After 29 years with a local bank, his job was outsourced to India.  He retired 2 months ago.  

“You know, I could probably be angry about a lot, but with guidance from friends and God, I’ve mellowed out. People ask me if I’m religious and I tell them, ‘Well, I believe there’s something guiding us. I’ve spoken to the angels and I think that God and I are pretty close. None of us own anything thing in life.  We’re just renting this space. So, I watch my grandkids, I tend my garden and I sit on my porch and I paint what comes out of my head. I got a whole basement full of stuff. I think the best way to sell it is just put it out in the yard and see what sells.  I’ve met the most interesting people just walking by!”

Also, he’s sumo wrestling fan. “It’s the championship today!  I’m gonna knock off early and catch it on NHK TV!”

You can find more of his art on the corner of Indianola and Milford in Columbus, Ohio  or at…

Friday, July 6, 2018

Secret Asian Man- Safety-Saurus

Safety in America as a thing.  I’m trying to decide if it is a great thing.

Living for several years in an environment where one is searched on every entrance to the mall or large event, or with heavily armed guards outside the workplace or roaming the streets, One gets tuned into the potential of threats that could arise. It is an awakening to come home to America with so few safeguards.

There are far fewer cameras covertly or overtly placed. A much smaller security footprint is remarkable. It is breath of fresh air really to feel so un-oppressed by safety measures.

Until one's breath is taken away looking around at all the potential gaps that could allow something bad to happen.

The whole safety net seems to have a lot of holes. For example, thanks to Nice, France, roads are no longer barricaded with wooden barriers. Now city buses or dump trucks are parked to block major roads. Don’t want any deranged person to commandeer a truck and go for a death ride through the crowd.

At the same time, large public events are often totally unscreened.

 Spawn of S.A.M. has taken to dressing up in a dinosaur outfit. This is not a time to ask why. It is just something they like to do.  I suggested that the local fireworks display may make for some interesting fun.

And so onward we went. Dressing up in the car. We waddled on into the venue and were largely unchallenged. We even asked a guarding cop if we could pass.  

“Sure!  Just stay cool in that thing!”

 And off we went spreading Jurassic joy.

This is my paranoia peeping through, but really, what better to disguise a suicide vest than inside an 7 foot inflatable dinosaur?  Have we learned nothing from the Trojans?

Mind you inflatable dinos aren’t the only way. Coolers, wagons, bikes, picnic baskets are all potential vectors. It’s a deadly nightmare. And folks may say that controlling things couldn’t be done here, but many places do it with leagues of portable fencing and thousands of guards searching each individual box or bag coming in.

But it’s pleasing to find an America that is largely safe and in between firework explosions and when one stops thinking about it, it is relaxing and fun. And America in the Heartland is, these days, white and brown and yellow. 

We were heartened to see Syrians, Somalis, Hispanics flocking to celebrate America’s birthday along with everyone else. Somali children like inflatable dinosaurs just as much as American children, and just as much as they crave a safe place to grow up.

And under the rockets red glare, everyone’s “oooos” and “aaaahs” sound exactly the same.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Secret Asian Man- Boobs and Pot

Boobs and pot are only cursorily related to this post. I’m seeking mastery in click-baiting in an effort to boost readers.  

Democracy is a great thing. Or it used to be. Everyone gets a say in how their world should operate. I wonder sometimes, where it all went off into the weeds. You might say it’s gone to pot. 

After being away for years, I was able to attend the Community Festival or Comfest in Columbus, Ohio.  It is the largest volunteer run festival in something, something, something.  It’s been going on for, darn near, 30 years and is a pretty big event. Here are their principles

Multiple music stages, food, art, merchandise. For a weekend in June they transform a city park into a Love-in. Some of you dear readers would call it a libtard, freak show. There are bare-breasted women’s and lots of partaking.

It’s also a hotbed for community activism. It’s a great place for upcoming candidates to meet with those they wouldn’t ordinarily meet. Where else can a potential judge shake hands with men in kilts and hello kitty purses. 

There are a number of organizations trying to start ballot initiatives. Health care reform.  Environmental protection. Cannabis legalization. For the most part attendees are pretty community oriented. What better place to practice democracy? This is what makes America great. 

Until one totally abdicates one’s right and privilege. 

I was stopped by an activist and asked to sign a petition to support legalization of marijuana. I’m not totally convinced this is a great idea, but I wasn’t opposed to seeing it on the ballot. While completing my form I heard another conversation.

“Would you like to sign our petition?”

A young woman with a selfie- imager affixed to her hand replied, “Oh, I’m sorry.  I’m not even registered to vote.” She was young and pretty and dressed for summer. 

“That’s okay”, replied the activist, “you can register here, too!”  And he offered her a different clipboard with a voter registration form on it. The cannabis people are really prepared. 

“Oh, no, thank you!” She smiled.

I just wanted to bite her little head off!!  But instead, I gently cajoled, “hey, c’mon.  It’s a privilege. This is what makes America great!”

She just looked at me with her pale blue eyes and shrugged and then looked down at her phone and walked off to seek solace in her own vanity. 

And I sulked off to drown my sorrows in a 7 dollar beer

Friday, June 22, 2018

Secret Asian Man- I Smell Greatness

I was going to offer some travel tips this week, but then I realized that I’m taking home leave and there should be lots of other things to write about. Home leave is required for us.  We have to return to the US so we don’t lose sight of how great America is.  If one is away for too long, one may lose sight of that.

So, we landed this week amid the news explosion of asylum seekers and border crossers having children taken from their parents. This was, as I understand, supposed to be a deterrent to illegal immigration.

This has, as with most things, polarized the country, between those who wish to live in a totally lawless society and those who believe parent-separation could be an effective tool to make America great, and keep that greatness for themselves.

I mean, it’s human nature to want to get to great. If my family is being threatened or murdered and I can’t make my way in the world where I am located, I’m going to go where it’s safer or better.  It’s a huge commitment of effort, but if my life is bad enough, I’m taking the plunge. I have to believe that most of us would.

America is a great country, but there is only so much of it to spread around. There is an underlying idea that there is a limited amount of the good stuff to go around and we have to sway others from wanting to take it. We have a big carrot we have, and we need a bigger stick to beat off all the hungry mouths that want a bite.

I wonder what things would look like if we all looked at it life from a perspective of abundance rather than scarcity.

Speaking of abundance, within a day of hitting the ground, we made our first visit to Target. This is like a pilgrimage to Mecca. The angels sing in my head as the doors slide open.

I noted two disturbing items for sale that made me question America’s greatness.

The first was Green Sour-Apple Jolly Rancher flavoured Pop Tarts. Yes, Pop Tarts, the breakfast pastry. Just because one can slather Jolly Rancher Jelly between two bits of bread doesn’t mean that one must. There are some things that just shouldn’t be.

The second item was, Scratch n Sniff pre-teen girl t-shirts. I don’t think I’m over reacting  when I ask, What in Holy Hell are people thinking?. Did anyone in the legal department clear this?  Was this put through a focus group?  Didn’t this strike anyone in the design process as kind of a flipping, creepy path toward sexual assault?

I had a thought then that maybe this was a kind of conspiracy to shrink the carrot. A way to make America less attractive.  Maybe even act as a deterrent. A different way to give desirous immigrants a choice.

Stay where you are and risk your life in the streets of your home or come to America where creepy Uncle Sam may lure your kid onto the sofa with a polluted pastry and ask for a little scratch n sniff.


That’s my initial jet-lagged thoughts. I promise this coming week I’m looking for real greatness. Stay tuned.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Secret Asian Man - Hallas

When things are complete in Jordan, ‘hallas’  is the word they use. Finished, complete, done.  

The house has been cleaned, the bags are packed and stuffed to the weight limit. We rattled around our apartment for a few days and enjoyed the last minute dinners and farewells.

And now, after all that, somewhere over the Atlantic and with Amman below and behind us, we are ‘hallas’ and say ‘masselammah’  to Jordan and her people. May they thrive and prevail peacefully over the obstacles before them.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Secret Asian Man's Ultimate Guide to Jordan

This is the last Friday in this fascinating country. We’ve enjoyed the pleasure of its people, culture, and beauty. Jordan is a great country for lots of reasons, but perhaps mostly because it is so compact and achievable. We’ve had the great opportunity to share with guests as well.  Even though you may have missed your chance to visit with us, We thought we could leave you with our ideal itinerary for a visit of 7 to 14 days to help you or your guests get the maximum out of your stay. You should definitely consider tackling some of this list.

First, get travel insurance.  The world is a dangerous and unpredictable place, and getting to care or safety can be super expensive anywhere. One crazy driver and you can bankrupt yourself. It could be well worth the hundred bucks or so. 

Next, get the Jordan Pass. You can only get this online before you arrive. It will cover your entry visa and entry to most of the sites below. If you go to Petra, the price will pay for itself. The visa you receive does allow you to enter Israel and return within a two week period.

Once you arrive, make your way to your hotel in Amman. Plan to stay here for few days.  Stretch your legs.  Sleep off the jet lag.  There are most major hotel chains. All are nice, though the Marriott is a little far away from stuff.  

Do you like gladiator movies? If you’re coming from the States, you’ll be up early from jet lag anyway. Start early on your first day.  Hire a driver and/or guide, we have used Go Jordan Tours for ourselves and our guests and been very happy, and head to Jerash. It’s about an hour north of Amman and contains some of the most complete Roman ruins to be found anywhere.  Your guide should be able to give you some history since the dawn of recorded time and lots of good basic knowledge about how and why the Romans did what they did. Count on about 2-3 hours depending on how fast you walk and how many questions you have.

If you time it right, it’ll be close to lunch time.  Hop back on the car and head to Lebanese House for lunch.  Nearly all their food looks good, but some highlights include Makdous, Moutabal, and shish Tawouk.  Don’t eat the falafel  though, you’ll be having this for dinner. 

After lunch have your driver take you to Ajloun Castle.
Show your Jordan Pass and get your ticket at the bottom of the hill and walk or drive up to the castle. This being the land of crusaders, you’re never more than a camel’s spitting distance away from a castle of some sort. I like Ajloun because it’s seems to be the most intact and the best curated and labeled, so things are in context. Wander clear to the top for some impressive views. Let your kids climb and roam a bit.

If you’re staying in Jordan for a couple weeks, consider booking nearby into Umm Qais B & B . A Nice little project with an amazing breakfast.  If you pre-schedule it they can send you down the road to a home cooked family meal that is quite lovely.  Get up the next morning and see Umm Qais, another Roman ruin with good views of the Sea of Galilee, Israel and Syria. Plan to have lunch at the Umm Qais Rest House for good food and a great view.

If you don’t have the time, head back from Ajloun to Amman.  After a brief rest, head to Hashem for dinner. It’s not much to look at but has been around for years and is billed as the oldest restaurant in Jordan, serving a simple falafel meal to anyone 24/7. It is the Waffle House of Arabic food. It will be, without a doubt the cheapest meal you’ll have in Jordan. They speak reasonable English. There isn’t really a menu, just nod to whatever they say, you’ll be satisfied. It will open your mind to what falafel should be along with moutabal , hummous, foul, fresh pita and scalding hot mint tea. Try and ask for some of the big (kibear) falafel you will thank us later.

After dinner, walk out of Hashem and turn left. Walk a block or two down the main street. This is the Souk area, so there is lots of activity here. Lots of people watching and souvenir opportunities. You’re looking on the left hand side for an alley. There is a book kiosk on the corner. Just find the line. This is Habiba Sweets.  Stand in line. When you get to the window, ask for a 100 gram slice of knafe. Pay your money and go gather your little plate. Eat it there in the alley before it gets cold. It’s not as good when it’s cold.

Head home it’s been a long day.

If you’ve got some time in Amman, The Jordan Museum is a great collection and explains more about the area. They also have some of the Dead Sea scrolls which you should see since you came all this way.

The Citadel is also nice. Interesting mosque and ruins as well as a museum, and a great view of the city. A guide can be helpful and should run about 20jd. It’ll take an hour or two to see it all.  Once finished, wind your way down to the Roman Amphitheater. There are signs, but just keep, heading down hill you’ll run into it. It’s still in use for concerts and performances.  If you’re in town during one, catch it. Just like the Romans did way back when.

In the evening wander down Rainbow Street, Amman’s main tourist street. Compared to others in the world, it is not much, but it’s theirs and there are some shisha joints and restaurants to try and an amazing view of the city and the The Citadel . For a nice meal try Soufra or Cantaloupe. If you’re there on a Friday in the summer, Souk Jara is a nice street market that goes until late.  Don’t be up too late, you’ve got a busy day ahead!

After a good breakfast, grab your car or guide and head to Mt Nebo in near by Madaba.

It's about a 45 minutes drive. Read up on your Moses before you come especially about all the wandering he did. Mt Nebo is where it all ended for old Mo. He came, he saw, he died. There is a great set of mosaics inside the church there. They just finished restoring them and it’s well worth a look. Allow an hour or two.

You can head into Madaba proper if you’ve the time.  The St. George’s church has the oldest map of Jerusalem in its mosaic floor. There is a small presentation.  You can eat lunch in town and shop for mosaics and other things. Haret Jdouna it right down the street from St. George's and has great food if you are looking for a relaxing meal.  

Back in the car.  You’re descending around 4000 feet to the Dead Sea. One of the lowest points on earth, the totally dead body of water is disappearing, so take it in while you can. For the tourists, check into one of the hotels, all have spas and beach access. We can recommend both the Marriott and the Movenpick. Head down to the water, slather yourselves in mud, grab a newspaper and your camera for the prototypical, floating on the Dead Sea pic. Instagram that sucker and then go rinse off. Go relax in the regular pools or have a spa treatment. Mrs. S.A.M can vouch for the spas at both of the above hotels.

If you’re in a time crunch, most of the hotels have day passes that allow use of the pool and beach and may include a meal. Ammon Beach is just down the road and is the beach the locals use. It is cheaper and is definitely a cultural experience.
If you’ve got time, I’d stay in the Dead Sea hotel for two nights.  If it’s between April and December, go hike Wadi Mujib. There are lots of hikes along the Dead Sea, but Mujib is the coolest. It will cost you around 25JD.  Prepare to be wet and prepare to work. It is less a hike than a salmon spawn.  You and some placed guides will haul your carcass up and over several waterfalls to the end. The whole hike is about 2 hours, but you’ll think you’ve hiked 4.  This will be a high point!

If you’re more sedate and spiritually inclined, you can also try The Baptism Site. You need cash here, as your Jordan pass won’t work. You are also required to take the bus and the guide, because you’re getting dangerously close to Israel here. You can see where The Son of God was baptized according to the Greeks and the Catholics who so deem it. You can see Israel about 12 feet away. If you want, you can even baptize yourself. Holy water is for sale on site, to take home to your friends. If this story has meaning for you, you will enjoy. If not, you will think it looks like a reedy puddle and will wonder about all the fuss.

From the Dead Sea, you’ve got a two or three hour drive ahead of you, so plan for that. As always in Jordan, it’s best to stay off the roads after dark. Your next step is the town of Dana in the Dana Biosphere Reserve. This place is situated at the top of several canyons. There are a couple of camps ranging from spartan to a little less spartan and a lodge. They all include dinner and breakfast. You can ask for a room with lights or just a tent. You can even sleep under the stars. The meals are ample and Arab and largely free of choice. We like it. Eat, sing, play games by candlelight or go stargazing. But don’t be up too late. Tomorrow is a big day.

Today you’re headed to the Feynan Ecolodge. There are a couple ways to get there. The Wadi Dana hike is the less strenuous 6-hours. The Wadi Gweheir hike is 8-10 hours and is beautiful. The latter requires a guide and some physical ability as there is some scrambling and minor rappelling. If you’re able, this is highly recommended. A guide will help point out some of the animals and history. Bonus points if you find a blue headed lizard. Your camp can provide a box lunch. Take plenty of water. They should also be able to provide that, unfortunately it’ll be in single use plastic bottles.

If you’re self driving, you can pay a Bedouin to drive the car down to Feynan for you. If it’s not a high clearance vehicle, you’ll need to carry some clothes and toiletries for your night at the lodge, as they’ll need to leave your car in the town. You can catch a ride in the morning. Otherwise, just leave your bags in the car, it will be parked right at the lodge. Oh yeah...Start the day early.

Feynan Ecolodge is a super cool destination and a great place to relax after your long hike. There is minimal electricity, and the place is largely cell signal-free.  Dinner is served at 7 by candlelight. Indeed the whole place is via candlelight at night except your bathroom. BYOB if you want. If you still want to walk or stay the next day they can take you for a sunset hike or over to a Bedouin tent for a bread making lesson. Later in the evening they pull out some mattresses on the roof along with a telescope for some stargazing. I always fall asleep. It is the best!  Breakfast starts at 7 AM. And includes the finest falafels you will eat your entire trip. Mrs. S.A.M. has been known to go back for seconds and thirds.

After breakfast, load up the car.  It is onward to Petra! This will take an hour or two over some pretty nice roads and views. You have to climb all the way back up to where you hiked from.

In the town of Petra, we like to stay at one of three places. The Movenpick is right across the street from the entrance and is pretty posh. Nice breakfast included and nice rooftop lounge that is open in the warmer months.

The Petra Guest House is right at the entrance. It is Holiday Inn Express level. Comfortable with a mediocre breakfast. Location is the best thing it has to offer.

The Marriott is really nice with awesome sunset views. The downside is that you’re trapped outside of town requiring a drive and parking to get into Petra proper. Not a dealbreaker, but factor it in.

If you can spend a couple days in Petra, do it. There is lots to see. If I had to choose, I would hike in from the back entrance at Little Petra. This way you can see Little Petra, hike up to the Monastery and out the front.  It is pretty spectacular. It’s a long day if you walk the whole thing. Some guide companies can drive you part of the way.

On your way out stop at The Cave Bar, ostensibly the oldest bar in the world. They have good and cold drinks. The food is decidedly average. Eat elsewhere. We recommend The Oriental Restaurant. It is not Chinese food.

The following day you can enter through the front entrance and see the dramatic entrance to the Treasury just like Indiana Jones did way back when. Then see the royal tombs or hike up to the place of high sacrifice or other hikes.

If you only have one day in Petra, enter via the front.  Aim to make it all the way to the Monastery. You can walk the 850 steps up or pay for a donkey for the hard part.  Negotiate  it. It should be between 5 and 10JD. Both walking or donkey have their drawbacks.

A word about Petra By Night.  Three nights a week they light up the path and the whole Treasury with thousands of candles. The photos look cool.  It costs extra and is not covered by your Jordan Pass. If you can get in early, it is amazingly magical.

How do you get in early?  We used the guides at Go Jordan to hike with us during the day. They have connections.  Through them they walk you in early while they’re still lighting the candles. They sit you off to the side and you have the place entirely to yourself. It is quiet and calm and oh, so cool. 45 minutes later your party is crashed by 1000 strangers jostling for a place on the ground. There is some music and a small speech and then everyone gets up and trounces back. Children are lost, babies are crying. The entertainment is cheesy, but buying the time by yourself is spectacular. I wouldn’t do it again unless I could get there first. But if you go with Go Jordan Tours, the night experience is worth the guide price you pay for the rest of your Petra visit.

Onward then, to Wadi Rum.

In preparation, it’s good to watch Lawrence of Arabia. Probably good to watch it anyway before your trip. There are lots of ways to do this place. Here is our favourite. We book in with Bedouin Lifestyle Camps. These guys are great. Super flexible, accommodating and good cooks to boot. Plan to get there by 9, but 10 is okay if there is summer lighting. You can do a short camel ride into the desert and then a Jeep tour for the rest of the day. Lunch is included.

In the evening, you can choose to stay at their desert camp with dinner and a music show, or pay a little extra and sleep under the stars. Do yourselves a favor, sleep under the stars. The guys will find a secluded site that is all yours. They throw some mattresses and some blankets down on a mat, start a fire, light some candles and your guide prepares a feast from scratch in an hour or two. You can explore or relax.  Then as it gets dark you can count the stars until you fall asleep. Wake in the night and watch the constellations twirl overhead all night. People may worry about wildlife, but don’t worry. Nothing will bother you.

In the morning they drive you to the camp to clean up and eat breakfast. Then they drive you back to your car. Another option is the hour long camel ride. It is beautiful for the first 30 minutes. The the wooden saddle will greatly degrade your sense of wonder.

There are a number of camps in Wadi Rum. You’ll see photos of glass domes and air conditioning and comfy beds. Those are a different kind of experience. You’ll pay more and get less.

Hit the southernmost point on this trip in Aqaba. We like the Movenpick at Tala Bay. It is out of town and you’re trapped at the resort, but it’s a very nice resort with good food and great staff.  It’s a relaxing way to wind down after all the hiking and dust you’ve been through. There’s a nice spa. And a dive shop on site. Sign up for a dive with Sinai Divers or rent some snorkel equipment and go explore the Red Sea, some of the best diving in the world. Stay for a couple days. You earned it!

It’s about a 5 hour drive back to the airport, so your flight time will determine your last day. If you want to wind your way back slowly, you can stop at Shobak Castle or Karak Castle or both!  Karak is the more famous, Shobak, I think, is the more imposing.

If you’ve followed this itinerary to the letter, you’ve already ticked off a number of World Heritage Sites. If you want one more, Umm Al Rasas is on the way. Roman and earlier ruins, with some great mosaics. There are also some ascetic pillars nearby.

There is the usual duty free shopping at the airport, but don’t dawdle. If you’re headed directly back to the U.S., there is an extra screening where they rifle through all your belongings. This takes time. They line up early, so plan accordingly. Flights through Europe are less strict.

And there you have it! Mr and Mrs. S.A.M’s ultimate trip to Jordan. Do it all or do it in part, but buy travel insurance and do this trip!!