Last Thursday I and another colleague from The Holiday Place had the privilege of being invited to a private screening of one the latest Hollywood films to be released recently: The Martian.
We received our invites from Jordan Tourist Board's Head of Marketing, Stephen Hurp, who warmly us and greeted us once there before having to dash off to another work-related commitment. Still, he left us in the very capable hands of the lady that introduced us to the film and its links to Jordan seconds before it was finally shown.
Why Jordan and why The Martian?
You may very well be asking yourself that question now as would I had I not been told from the start that a great part of the film was actually shot in Jordan using real footage of the surreal-looking Wadi Rum; a breathtaking red desert landscape in Jordan that truly looks out of this planet!
No wonder then that Ridley Scott and his crew headed there to shoot some of the film’s most dramatic-looking scenes with a real wild and lonely, yet earthly desert depicting Mars’ vast and isolated terrains. It makes you gasps in awe to think that such an out-of-this-world scene can actually be found in terrestrial grounds.
And the best part? You don’t have to travel light-years to get there either…Jordan is a convenient medium-haul flight from the UK and it has so much more to offer than vast desert landscapes…those are just the beginning.
But going back to the movie itself and the screening which took place at London’s 20th Century Fox’s Studions in Soho Square; there was a lot to be gained from watching The Martian, and not just from the perspective of admiring a real travel destination I had never been to but had always been fascinated about.
As it turned out, the actual movie was brilliant and a great production at all levels. Matt Damon was outstanding in his starring role, the film has received top marks in reviews and is even tipped for an Oscar – so the evening turned out a real treat for myself and Product Team Manager at The Holiday Place, Parul Jadav (I haven’t stopped reading about NASA’s future plans to land on Mars ever since or about getting myself to dream-like Jordan sometime soon – hopefully very soon).
Travelling to Mars without getting on a spaceship (or ever leaving Earth)
Up for a rocket launch anyone? Space training in order? Although extremely exciting, none of these requirements are necessary to land your feet on Martian-looking sands with red rock formations and dunes that extend for miles.
And all you’ll need to get there is a ticket to board a pleasant five-hour flight and accommodation to rest comfortably after some pretty intensive sightseeing (yes, there's a lot to see in Jordan).
Jordan, why not now?
If you think now is not a particularly great time to visit Jordan, think again. Jordan has recently been the victim of negative tourism backlash due the ongoing conflict in neighbouring country, Syria. Although no bombings have actually affected Jordanian territory, many people fear travelling there just because the idea of being next door to Syria is a rather unsettling thought (to put it mildly).
Now I can’t blame anyone for this, it’s more than reasonable for travellers to want to stay out of harm’s way and ensure their safety above all things when going abroad, but it’s also true that the Jordanian government takes enormous steps to ensure their country’s the least possible affected and strong security measures are in place to safeguard visitors as much as locals.
As a matter of fact, the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) only advises against travel to within 3 km of the Syrian border from the Sad Al-Wihdeh Dam up to (but not including) the Jabr crossing. This is, according to what’s published at the FCO website, to avoid the risk of small arms fire and stray mortars but the area is not under direct attack.
The FCO also states that:
“Around 73,500 British nationals visited Jordan in 2014. Most visits are trouble free.”
As with everything there are some common sense rules precautions you’re advised to take such as avoiding large crowds, political gatherings and demonstrations, but most of the sightseeing and exploring to be done in Jordan is nowhere near possible conflict zones. Even when there has been widespread strikes in Petra and Wadi Musa, access to the magical, must-see ancient city of Petra continues to remain unaffected.
Before the screening, a lady speaking on behalf of Jordan’s Tourism Board gave a brief speech regarding the safety of travel to Jordan, explaining that she herself had been recently there with her two children and that they all had the most amazing time.
Seconds before the film started we were also shown a small making-of video where film director Ridley Scott and Matt Damon both spoke of Jordan’s breathtaking beauty and Martian-looking landscapes.
Matt Damon started off by saying:
"I was in awe of that place. It was really, really special, one of the most spectacular and beautiful places I’ve ever seen and like nothing I’ve ever seen anywhere else on earth, "
"It’s pristine, you know, ‘cos it’s protected, it’s a national park but not a lot is shot there surprisingly. I mean Lawrence of Arabia was shot there quite famously..."
Damon goes on to highlight Jordan's heritage treasures beyond that of Wadi Rum and explains how he used his free time in between shoots to do a bit of touring and sightseeing around magical Petra.
"It’s a wonderful country and actually right near there it’s Petra, so on one of my days off I went and saw Petra which is a wonder of the world, a really spectacular thing everyone should see."
On his part, director Ridley Scott had much praise about his chosen location for the film, which, according to his words, needed very little make-up to be turned into a realistic-looking Mars:
"Those rocks are all real, but other than that then I added dust, dust devils and skies. Otherwise it was all just real thing. That’s it!"
Top 10 attractions to see in Jordan
Beyond Wadi Rum there are many things to explore in Jordan that not only capture your imagination but allow you to immerse into unique, authentic experiences - from ancient Roman theatres, to protected natural reserves of remarkable beauty, unearthly landscapes and entire cities of countless wonder here are my top 10 suggestions of things to see in Jordan that could easily be identified as the 10 reasons you should visit it:
- Roman theatre in Amman
- Dead Sea
- Wadi Rum
- Azraq & Shawmari in Jerash
- Ma’in Hot Springs in Aqaba
- Umm Al-Rasas in Karak
- Umm Al-Jimal in Pella
- Dana Biosphere Reserve in Madaba
- Desert Castles in Ajlun