Exploring The Sights of Jordan with LeBackpacker


This story appears in “Global Generation” Volume 01

In 2015, Belgian photographer Johan Lolos spent one week in Jordan to capture the raw beauty in the desert dunes, canyons and ancient wonders of the Arab nation. Bordered by Israel, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iraq, Jordan is located at the crossroads of the Middle East. It strikes the balance of preserving a traditional way of life while becoming one of the Arab world’s most cosmopolitan and liberal countries. The nation’s moderate, non-ideological and revolution-averse political culture has meant that it has maintained stability and security amid the Middle Eastern conflict that engulfs its neighbors. Despite a sharp decline in tourist numbers in recent years, Jordan remains one of the safest countries in the Middle East.

Jordan has seen a dramatic decline in visitors ever since the situation in Syria has escalated, but Johan feels safe here. “What people don’t know is that Jordan is one of the safest countries in the Middle East… It’s sad that people are now scared of visiting Jordan,” he says. Jordanians have a reputation for their warm hospitality and generosity, eager to welcome foreigners to marvel at their country’s natural and historical wonders, as Johan discovered during his stay.

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Wadi Rum. Wadi Rum, or the “Valley of the Moon,” is the largest valley in Jordan. The otherworldly landscape has inspired writers, photographers and filmmakers for centuries. Johan peppers our conversation with references to films set in Wadi Rum, from Lawrence of Arabia to The MartianHe spends the evening sharing stories around the campfire at Mitlag Wadi Rum, a luxury campsite in the valley. Private tents line the sandy campsite, which is lit by candlelight. Away from the bright lights of the city, the wide, open sky is teeming with stars and the charm of the desert begins to work its magic. The following morning, he is up before daybreak for a hot air balloon ride over the desert. He admits, “Before visiting Jordan, I would never have even thought that such a dry and hot country could be a source of inspiration for my photography work.”

The Dead Sea & Surrounds. More surprises wait for Johan in the canyons around the Dead Sea, some 1,300 feet below sea level. He meets his local guide, who will lead him on long hikes through the dramatic, red rock canyons. Usually, he finds inspiration in lush, mountainous landscapes, like in New Zealand. He looks for mountains wherever he goes, but now, at the lowest point on earth, he starts to notice that the sharp canyons are just as captivating as the mountains. His hotel on the shores of the Dead Sea is his favorite of the three luxury resorts he visits. The five-star resort is on the shores of the Dead Sea and seems to spring out of the surrounding desert, mimicking an oasis.

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Petra by candlelight. Jordan’s most important historical site, Petra, is the ancient capital of the Nabatean Kingdom, which dates back to 300 BC. Many buildings, such as the Greek-style Treasury, are carved into the red rock face, earning the city the nickname “The Rose City.” Three nights a week, Petra is illuminated by thousands of candles. It’s an evening show for tourists, rather than a religious or cultural ceremony, but it’s an evening that will be etched into Johan’s memory forever. The ceremony begins with a candlelit walk along the narrow pathway between the Siq and the Treasury. As Johan is led through the valley, there’s complete silence. Mobile phones and talking are forbidden. “Leaving the lights of Wadi Musa behind to enter the dark valley in silence is magical,” he says. Emerging from the darkness of the valley, he finds Treasury Plaza illuminated by 1,800 candles, throwing dramatic shadows onto the ancient stone façade. A Bedouin musician plays the pipe, as participants are momentarily transported back centuries in time. After the ceremony, he experiences traditional Jordanian hospitality over a cup of tea, while he listens to a local storyteller.

Wading through Wadi Mujib. It’s only when they reach a flooded valley that Johan finds out his guide is afraid of water, while they are hiking through Wadi Mujib, a narrow valley near the Dead Sea. Johan decides to push through without his guide and wades through the water on his own. It’s not recommended to hike through the canyons alone, but his guide promises him that he’ll run into other tourists. As he scrambles over rocks and climbs over powerful waterfalls, the water level rises from around his knees to around his chin. Fortunately, he runs into a different guide in Wadi Mujib, who leads him through the rest of the hike.

Left in awe of the country’s landscapes, ancient history and culture, the warmth of the Jordanian people is what left the most impact. “I arrived in Jordan with a prejudice about the country and the culture, but it happened to be a false one. People are so charming and welcoming; they truly want to share their culture with you. I think every single country has something unique to offer, and I want to see all of that, all around the globe.”

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Photography by: Johan Lolos | johanlolos.com

The Wanderlist with G Adventures

This story appears in “Global Generation” Volume 01

You don’t have to quit your job to see the world, but you also don’t have to spend your vacation days in a blur of frantic border-hopping. Discerning travelers are taking it slow and diving deeper into destinations for more memorable journeys. Travel is the perfect time to remind yourself of how enormous the world is and how small we are, while walking through the treetops of a Costa Rican cloud forest or from the top tier of a seven-tier waterfall in Thailand. It’s the perfect time to witness devotion in the temples and shrines of Southeast Asia, in the legacies of Moorish conquerors in Spain or in the eyes and feet of passionate tango dancers in Buenos Aires, who have spent years perfecting their craft. It’s time to swallow your pride and practice your rusty Spanish or speak your first few, tentative words in Thai.

If you can find the time, National Geographic Journeys with G Adventures can find the place. Tour offerings with an immersive, regional focus are meeting the demands of the time-pressed traveler who wants to travel deeply, rather than racing across countries. Slow, focused travel rewards travelers with a more intimate knowledge of a region, more opportunities to observe and participate in the local culture and more time to venture to the unsung heroes of the region, leaving more room for surprise and novelty.

National Geographic Journeys with G Adventures are designed to seamlessly blend the best of both worlds, allowing travelers to dive deeper into a destination. You can still enjoy the freedom to roam and stray from the group, but with a focus on genuine insider access and National Geographic’s trademark passion for exploration, you probably won’t want to. These journeys are all less than two weeks in length, so you can satisfy your wanderlust while reassuring your boss that you’ll be back before too long.

 

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Natural Highlights of Costa Rica – 9 days

Nine days is all you need to find Costa Rica’s famed pura vida. From coffee cooperatives to heart-stopping adventure activities, to making homemade tortillas and meeting researchers at the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, this journey blends wildlife experiences with adventure, culture and relaxation. Meet the sloth of your wildest meme dreams in Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge, one of the world’s most important wetlands. Adrenaline junkies can literally take the plunge by rappelling down the face of rushing waterfalls. Canyoneering, as the extreme sport is known, is an addictive combination of fun and fear as you launch into nature – and the spray of a Costa Rican waterfall.

Make like a monkey and hit the treetops. Hike along two miles of hanging bridges through the rainforest and spot birds, frogs, howler monkeys and more. Hike through the misty Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve to the Monteverde Institute, the base for numerous National Geographic- funded explorers and researchers. Meet with researchers to dig a little deeper into the institute’s work. Bravery is rewarded on the zip line. As you glide above the cloud forest canopy, keep an eye out for toucans and other exotic native animals. If you prefer a slower pace, take in the pristine wilderness by horseback and spot monkeys, sloths, parrots and macaws. 



Explore Bali & Java – 12 days

Leave the modern world behind in Bali & Java, Indonesia’s most enticing regions. Dive into Yogyarkarta’s long tradition of the arts by visiting a batik workshop, Wayang puppet show or traditional dance performance expressing the Ramayana story, and the chance to shop for artisan silverwork at the Kota Gede silver market. Explore the city by cycle-rickshaw to find the Javanese Sultan’s temple and take a horse-and-cart tour of the World Heritage-listed Borobudur Buddhist temple complex, which was only excavated in 1815 after years of being buried under volcanic ash.

After three days exploring Yogyakarta, head to Prambaran to see the largest Hindu temple complex in Java, followed by the Mangkunegaran Palace,  an active royal residence. Drive up the slopes of the volcano Mt. Lawu and visit two temples on the mountain while enjoying the magnificent view. After a couple of days of visiting temples, return to city life with a few days in the colonial city of Malang before heading to Ubud, Bali’s artistic and cultural heart. In Ubud, take a Balinese cooking class, stroll through rice fields and spend the evening around the buzzing Gianyar Night Market while settling into town.

Experience spiritual Bali by venturing into the jungle to visit the Trita Empul Temple, with an onsite bubbling spring said to hold curative powers. Spend the rest of the day visiting the Gunung Kawi temple complex and Kintamini, a charming village perched on the edge of a crater overlooking Lake Batur.

Thailand Journey – 8 days

Rather than running yourself ragged by hostel-hopping along the “banana pancake trail” with thousands of other boozy backpackers, recharge in northern Thailand and discover the region’s vibrant culture and overwhelming natural beauty. Many popular elements of Thai culture originated in Northern Thailand, which makes it the perfect place to engage with Thailand’s culture through food, history and spirituality. In Chiang Mai, trail a local chef through a market and collect fresh produce for an afternoon of Thai cooking. At the golden Doi Suthep Temple, stop to listen to the mesmerizing chanting of local Buddhist monks. Afterwards, chat with the monks as they discuss their beliefs and answer any questions you have about Buddhism. They’re happy to practice their English and share their wisdom!

Spend an evening in the countryside with a local family and share an authentic khantok meal. Visit the ancient capital of Siam at the UNESCO World Heritage site Ayutthaya Historical Park. Despite losing its political status as capital in the 18th Century, its elegant prayer towers and enormous monasteries have been preserved to give visitors a sense of how magnificent this city was in its heyday. Climb the seven tiers of the Erawan Waterfalls. The unique view from each tier of the falls is reward enough, but taking a relaxing dip in the turquoise pools below is the perfect way to celebrate the end of your hike.

See a new side of bustling Bangkok from a long-tail boat as you glide up the Chao Phraya River. Against a backdrop of skyscrapers and temples, you’ll get a closeup of the waterfront settlements along the canals. At Wat Po, the famous temple of the Reclining Buddha, check out the mother-of-pearl engravings before treating yourself to a traditional Thai massage, which originates from this region.

Discover Moorish Spain – 8 days

For much of Spain’s tumultuous history, the country was divided into Christian and Islamic, or Moorish, kingdoms. Andalucía was a Moorish stronghold, and despite the departure of Moorish rulers in the 15th Century, the southern region is fiercely protective of its legacy. After a few days exploring the Spanish capital and nearby Toledo, venture south into Andalucía. The local cuisine in Cordoba reflects the city’s Roman, Moorish, Christian and Jewish influences, with plenty of regional specialties to try.

The mesmerizing rows of stone pillars and bright archways fill the Mezquita de Córdoba, a mosque built within a cathedral–an architectural feat rivaled only by the Alhambra in Granada. Head to Granada next to see that 14th-Century fortress and castle, considered one of the finest examples of Islamic architecture and the poster child of Moorish Spain. The Andalusian escape ends in the energetic city of Seville, founded 3,000 years ago, by Hercules, according to local legend. As the birthplace of flamenco, Seville is the perfect place to release your inhibitions and notions that you “can’t dance” as you learn from the masters.

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Explore Chile & Argentina – 8 days

Travel to the ends of the earth to witness the wild beauty of Patagonia. Get your heart racing for more reasons than one in a steamy tango session in Buenos Aires, and discover the Chilean wine regions shaking up the old guard in the wine world. After arriving in Santiago, meet a local wine expert on the outskirts of the city. Tour the winery from vineyard to cellar, and after a blind tasting, make your own blends.

A few days later, head south to Puerto Varas, a scenic town in the Chilean Lake District. This region is a breath of fresh air after busy Santiago, with deep blue lakes, snow-capped mountains, smoking volcanoes, pristine forests and glaciers. Visit the fish market for a taste of local life and learn how to make regional dishes with a local family, before sharing the meal with them in their home. From Puerto Varas, the enchanting Chiloe Island is only a short ferry ride away. Arrive to find a small brightly colored fishing village perched on stilts over emerald-green water and a nearby penguin colony, home to more than 5,000 Humboldt and Magellanic penguins.

Crossing into Argentina, check out the gorgeous green Petrohue Waterfalls, which cascade over black basalt. Spend the day on the water and take one of the world’s most scenic journeys, which includes sailing across the magnificent Lake Todos to Peulla, taking a ferry from Puerto Frias to Puerto Alegre and sailing across Lake Nahuel Huapi. The trip ends with a few days in the sizzling Argentinean capital, Buenos Aires. Known as the “Paris of the South,” the vibrant city is alive with sidewalk cafes, bars and passionate tango demonstrations around town.


To learn more about National Geographic Journeys with G Adventures and to discover all of the itineraries available, visit gadventures.com/journeys.

Dive in with Surf Photographer Ray Collins

This story appears in “Global Generation” Volume 01

Water. It is one of the most powerful and relatable elements on our planet. It’s changeability from soothing, reflective glass to waves that roar and crash – loud and angry – mirror our own range of human emotions. Celebrated ocean photographer Ray Collins recognized this early on in his life and now devotes his time to capturing the ever-changing face of this emblematic element. His work has been featured in National Geographic and in brand campaigns, including Nikon, Apple and Patagonia. Having recently published a coffee-table book of his astounding seascapes, Ray Collins is quickly gathering a large following.

Collins leads his life with poetic contrast, alternating work as a coal miner deep under the Earth’s surface, to floating in expansive saltwater with his camera professionally. He is also colorblind, adding another layer of interest to his impressive work. Photography found Ray Collins by way of a serious knee injury in the mines. Having been recommended by a doctor to swim as a form of rehabilitation, Collins ended up spending much of his time cohabitating with the ocean; their alliance in the form of art developed organically from there. Here, Ray Collins discusses the important lessons he’s learned from working with the ocean, in contrast to life as a miner, and his technique as a colorblind photographer.

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There’s such an incredible juxtaposition between working in a mine and photographing the ocean. What is it about the contrast you enjoy? What have you learned from it?

They are so far removed from each other; it’s like I lead a double life. As far as environmental contrasts go, in a coal mine you’re almost a mile under the earth, then you’re 10 miles in a tunnel as a part of your commute. It can be claustrophobic; it’s hot, dark, dirty and dangerous. The ocean is at a polar opposite – fresh air, freedom and open space as far as you can see, bathing in natural light. It’s black and white.

From a coal mine to massive ocean waves, you seem to work in fairly dangerous conditions. Do you have a fancy for danger?

In calculated measures I think danger is healthy, and what one person considers dangerous, someone else may not. Hazards are assessed and practices are modified in mining until the danger is an “acceptable” risk. In saying that though, sometimes it is out of your control. I’ve seen some crazy things, people buried under cave-ins and serious injuries from mobile machinery. Just like the ocean, you can’t ever really turn your back, or relax, as the danger (great or small) is always constant.

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Some of your images, like “Oil,” capture moments of unparalleled fear. Are you fearful out there in the moment caught in these waves trying to shoot them?

Certainly! Although, I try and turn fear into excitement; that way, it’s not crippling and overwhelming. I think visualization of possible situations and scenarios certainly helps. Prepare for the worst; expect the best. Going there mentally before you’re in the moment is a good way to acclimatize to the fearful situations before they actually happen. One thing you have to ask yourself when it’s a large and angry sea is, “Am I prepared for one of these waves to land directly on me?” Because that does happen.

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What lessons has fear taught you?

It has taught me respect, courage and patience. It has shown me my own limits – how to weigh risk versus reward and how to incrementally inch my personal levels of comfort further.

Art is often used as a form of self-expression and self-reflection. Do you see reflections of yourself in the images you take?

I see a lot of nature imitating nature in my images, like faces, or birds or animals. Also mountains. I like to freeze the liquid ephemeral moments to resemble the peak of a mountain.  I think art should be engaging and that people should take away something personal from viewing it. It should provoke emotion, and because we are all individuals, we should all have our own interpretations.

I cannot believe you’re colorblind! Color is such a powerful part of the images you capture. How does it affect your work? Has it changed your approach to photography at all?

It’s hard to say, as there was no before and after with colorblindness. I can’t compare what you see to what I see. I think it has helped more than anything, though, as I shoot and process as to what I feel is right. I’m just stoked it resonates with others. I mainly concentrate on composures, textures and contrasts. Color is often secondary.

Where are some of your favorite locations to shoot?

The most memorable places I’ve shot have been ones that test me and help my consciousness expand.  The freezing waters of Iceland were such a place. Swimming to surf breaks while it’s snowing around you with no visible sight of anything man-made is a sure way to make lifelong memories.  The tranquil and lush waters of Tahiti and Hawaii – you are surrounded by another kind of beauty, but it is as dangerous as it is beautiful.