- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 27, 2002

The Travel Channel is inviting Westerners to take a royal tour of Jordan on Monday, with King Abdullah II as the guide. After the images of destruction wrought by men in the name of their religion, it is reassuring to visit an Arab country, a Muslim country, and meet rational and welcoming people in a land that traces its roots back at least 5,000 years.

Abdullah, son and successor to the late King Hussein, resembles a little boy finding he has an unexpected week of vacation from school as he guides us through a land he knows intimately.

Abdullah was not raised to be a king; that duty was to have gone to his uncle, Hussein's brother Hassan. Abdullah was educated in the United States and England to be a soldier. He commanded Jordan's special forces and apparently reveled in the physical challenges of the training.

Then, just days before his death in 1999, King Hussein named Abdullah as his heir.

For a week, his majesty shucks off his royal persona and acts as gracious host and guide to a respected journalist he has known for many years, Peter Greenberg.

Jordan is a stark and beautiful land. The visit begins in Amman, a modern city that differs little from dozens of other modern cities. The pleasure begins when Abdullah and Mr. Greenberg climb aboard the king's Blackhawk helicopter which he pilots himself with obvious pleasure for a trip across the harsh landscape and back countless years to Wadi Rum. With its red sand and cliffs that look like layers of melted red wax, Wadi Rum is difficult to describe but spectacular to see.

The helicopter is swapped for camels as the men set off with members of the desert patrol who police the forbidding area in search of smugglers and sheep thieves. (Having used a camel as transportation on several occasions, I feel great sympathy for Mr. Greenberg when he has to be lifted off his mount at the end of the trip.)

Their travels take them to Petra, the lost city hidden in the heart of a mountain, which is worthy of a travel adventure on its own. Fans of Indiana Jones movies have seen part of Petra, the city carved in the rock.

The king also takes us scuba diving in the Red Sea, a destination second only to Australia's Great Barrier Reef for the variety of marine life to be seen. Abdullah is not permitted to sky-dive (whatever happened to the divine right of kings to risk their necks as they royally please?) but that does not stop other male members of the royal family from hurling themselves into the wild blue yonder.

The trip takes a splash into the Dead Sea and finally ends up in a remote and hidden canyon where those in search of extreme trekking find a worthy hunk of real estate to test themselves. Could it also be the canyon where the blimp got into trouble in the second "Mummy" movie? With a little help from special effects, of course.

All in all, "Jordan: The Royal Tour" is an entertaining, educational look at an ancient country rich in history and tradition and a people who have made hospitality an art form as well as a religious obligation. It is a welcome reminder of a shared humanity and an antidote to free-floating hatred generated by the hideous acts of a few deranged minds.


***

WHAT: "Jordan: The Royal Tour"

WHERE: The Travel Channel

WHEN: 10 p.m. Monday, 7 p.m. May 4

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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