Meet Jolanda Koopman, In2Jordan’s expert on the birds and the bees – bird watching and macro photography that is.

Birdwatching in the Jordan Valley
Birdwatching in the Jordan Valley

International travellers often find themselves discussing the birds and the bees with Jolanda Koopman. Strange for some but we would expect nothing less from In2Jordan’s resident hiking and bird watching expert.

Positioned on the crossroads of three continents – Europe, Asia and Africa – Jordan is located at the heart of a magnificent bird migration path. Each year, its vast and varied landscapes become home to over 434 bird species, making the country a fantastic bird watching destination. Equipping travellers with this valuable information and exposing them to this unforgettable natural phenomenon first-hand is what Jolanda is all about.

“I fell in love with this country – Wadi Rum and Petra in particular – and  my love for Jordan keeps growing.”

Jolanda Koopman
Jolanda Koopman

“Bird watching has been a growing passion since a friend took me to watch birds in my study time,” explains Jolanda. “When I first joined In2Jordan in 2014, I led all kinds of tours and helped with bookings and guest services. I started organizing bird watching tours for this same friend who has a birding and nature travel agency now!”

Jolanda’s love affair with Jordan’s flora and fauna blossomed in 2007 while undertaking a short volunteer project. “During my stay, I visited the cultural highlights and fell in love with the country – Wadi Rum and Petra in particular,” she explains. “and my love for Jordan keeps growing.”

Today, Jolanda is based near Petra, dividing her time between operating her B&B homestay in Wadi Musa, and organizing tours for In2Jordan. While In2Jordan was Jolanda’s first foray in the tourism industry, her expertise has grown quickly based on her passion for the local sites.

“To me, the ancient city of Petra feels like magic. Simply being in its vicinity renews my energy.”

 

Hiking in Petra
Hiking in Petra

“To me, the ancient city of Petra feels like magic. Simply being in its vicinity renews my energy; it’s no wonder the Nabateans choose this location among the mountain ridges,” she says.

“Beyond Petra, there is so much beauty in Jordan to share with the world. From the antiquities in Jerash, the stunning green mountains in the Jordan Valley with great hiking trail, to the Neolithic village in Beidha and the deafening silence of the Wadi Rum,” says Jolanda. “I simply want everybody to have a great experience here, and to be part of a guest’s experience, as their B&B host, is really special.”

With her camera in hand and a flare for macro photography, Jolanda keeps narrowing her focus on furthering nature-based tours in Jordan. “I am interested in both its’ big and small natural wonders,” she explains. “From capturing the lives of the bees in my garden each day, to supporting government initiatives that improve the Jordan Trail for future generations. There are natural wonders to interest every traveller in Jordan.”

“It will be a big joy when people join our newest 13-day bird watching tour this coming autumn!”

Credit: Carpenter bee in the garden of B&B Petra Fig Tree Villa, Kolanda Koopman

In the meantime, the bird migration is around the corner and Jolanda continues to focus on her goal: “For me it will be a big joy when there’ll be enough people to join our newest 13-day bird watching tour this coming autumn!” she concludes.

For more information or to book your place on the bird watching excursion, visit: https://in2jordan.com/tours/emerging-birding-destination-jordan/ 

Patricia Enkels, In2Jordan travel consultant and horse riding guide, says she is living a dream. Read on to discover how you too can fall in love with Jordan from horse back, just as Patricia did.

When Belgium-born traveler, Patricia Enkels booked her holiday to Jordan in 2004, she fully expected to fall in love with the beauty of Wadi Rum from a-top her horse. As a passionate rider, horseback was her favourite mode to explore the many countries she’d visited before – why would Jordan be any different?

What Patricia didn’t count on was falling in love with her Bedouin horse tour guide, Eid. “From the moment we met, it was love,” laughs Patricia. “We shared a passion for horses, wanting to uncover the hidden treasures of the desert, and for guiding people through truly rewarding experiences. How could I resist!”

“A horseback adventure is a trip of a lifetime.”

Today Patricia says she is living a dream come true. Together with her now husband, Eid, Patricia leads In2Jordan’s horse tours, guiding guests on four and six day riding trips through the Jordanian desert.

“Eid started guiding horse tours a few years before we met and I started working in the tourism industry in 2007,” says Patricia. “Being able to organize horse rides with our own horses, and helping guests to uncover the magic of the desert every day is truly something special.”

Whether completing a desert loop across incredible rock formations and natural springs, or trekking from Petra to Wadi Rum; Patricia says a horseback adventure is a trip of a lifetime.

“We journey through mountainous areas, over vast sand plains and along steep rock formations.”

“Riding through the south of Jordan where the natural environment is ruggedly beautiful is really impressive. We journey through mountainous areas, over vast sand plains and along steep rock formations. The feeling of the breeze on your skin while listening to the silence of the desert as you tread past red sand dunes, really is like no other.”

For Patricia, it is the response she gets from her guests that keeps her passionate about her work. “Someone telling you they just had the nicest ride they’d ever experienced or just seen the most beautiful desert in their life, is so rewarding.”

For those interested in booking a horseback tour in Jordan, Patricia is happy to answer any questions. She does have one tip in advance though: “Pack wet wipes! After a long day riding through the dusty desert, a packet of wet wipes is your best friend.”

To find out more about In2Jordan’s horse back tours, or to contact Patricia and Eid, visit https://in2jordan.com/intineraries/

While in Jordan, why stay on the beaten track when you can make your own? Introducing Eid, In2Jordan’s horse riding guide who can show you how.

Age: 38 years

Occupation: Guide for horse riding treks and tours

Languages spoken: Fluent Arabic, fluent English.

Q. How long have you been working with In2Jordan?

A. I’ve been guiding horse tours for over 15 years and its been 3 years since I hosted my first horse guided trek for In2Jordan.

Q. What is your cultural heritage?

A. I’m Jordanian, born and raised in Wadi Musa – the town next to Petra.

Q. Have you always had a passion for horses?

A. Yes, my father used to have a horse when I was a child and I worked in Petra with his horse when I was younger.

Q. What do you enjoy most about working with tourists in Jordan?

A. Showing people around our country and showing them the true Jordanian hospitality.

Q. Can you tell me what people love most about their experience with you?

A. They feel as if they are with friends. They are not just our customers.

Q. Why are horse riding tours of Jordan perfect for both beginner riders as well as proficient riders?

A. We have different trek options to match the riding experience of our customers.

The short 1.5 hour horse ‘walking’ tour for example, is suitable for beginners. When we have groups (two or more people),  each horse is given a personal guide who leads the horse via a rope. This means any assistance they might need isn’t far away and the guest gets to focus on enjoying the view.

Our longer ride options better suit intermediate or experienced riders because you need to be able to control your horse. These longer rides can span from three-hour tours to full day, two day, four day or 6 day rides.

No matter which tour you choose, horse riding treks give guests the chance to see a whole different side of Jordan. We take roads that other tourists don’t get to go down and, we get the chance to meet some locals along the way.

Q. Where is your favorite place to visit in Jordan and why?

A. Wadi Rum because of the wide open spaces and the silence.

Q. If you weren’t operating horse tours in Jordan, what other job might you be doing now?

A. Absolutely no idea. I can’t imagine a better life.

Click the following link to find out how you can join Eid on his next trek from Petra to Wadi Rum on horseback.

Photo by @army.arch

One thing is clear: Za’atar seems to be many things, and everyone has a different opinion on what Za’atar actually is.

Having talked to a local chef, we settled on the fact that Za’atar can refer to a herb mix, as well as the herb itself (which is very similar or even the same as oregano).

What do you use it for?

Za’atar is very popular in the Middle East and definitely not one of the things you should miss while in Jordan! It is often used as a dip, on bread, for seasoning meat and vegetables or some even sprinkle it into hummus or yoghurt.

Where does it come from?

The Za’atar spice grows in the north of Jordan and in the Mediterranean Middle East. It has to be cleaned, dried and ground before it is mixed with other spices. Once it’s mixed, that is the Za’atar you can buy in the shops and on the markets. Ingredients and taste of Za’atar tend to vary slightly depending on the region, but you can always ask for the ingredients or to try it first.

Recipe for Manakish Za’atar

We asked the local chef for the most popular recipe with Za’atar: It’s Manakish Za’atar! It’s easily done, and every bloody beginner can do it: Simply mix the Za’atar spice (or oregano, whatever you have at hand) with sesame seeds and lemon salt, then add some oil to make it into a paste. Spread the mixture (Za’atar) on flat bread and chuck it into the oven for 10 minutes. Done.

If you feel like this is not enough, you can also add grated cheese into the mix (Gibna Manakish), or meat with onions and tomato (Lachma Manakish)!

Photo by: @Phil Oglesby

 

Meet Jolinda Cath, In2Jordan’s travel consultant for spiritual, holistic, and wellbeing trips.

If you were to ask In2Jordan’s Yoga & Spiritual Retreat Consultant, Jolinda Cath, where her favourite place is in Jordan, she wouldn’t be able to tell you. After six years living in the small coastal town of Aqaba, choosing just one to top the list is still a challenge.

“Wadi Rum is amazing and has a special energy,” explains Jolinda. “But the Dana Nature Reserve is breathtaking and perfect for hiking. The canyons of Wadi Mujib with its stunning walls and waterfall that you can abseil down is such a thrill. Then again, Aqaba is so close to the desert and at the Red Sea. See, picking just one place is impossible!” she laughs.

Credit: Jolinda Cath

Jolinda says it was an opportunity to work in Jordan that lured her from her native Holland in 2010.

“My story in Jordan began 10 years ago while I was working as a worldwide tour-leader for a Dutch travel company. I had a degree in social cultural development and a degree in activity therapy under my belt and I was running my own photography company at the same time,” says Jolinda. “I liked that my job as a travel guide allowed me to combine my two vocations and introduce photography trips in Jordan.”

A few years later the opportunity to join a new tourism company in Aqaba arose and Jolinda settled in for a desert sea-change.

“We wanted to provide holistic wellbeing and mindfulness retreats that were not yet offered in Jordan.”

Over the next few years, Jolinda recognized the demand for spiritual-based trips growing as a global tourism trend. Aligning to her expertise and passion for yoga, Jolinda joined In2Jordan as a travel consultant and worked to develop a broad offering of wellbeing and mindfulness trips in Jordan.

Credit: Jolinda Cath

“Our aim was two-fold,” explains Jolinda. “We wanted to provide holistic wellbeing and mindfulness retreats that were not yet offered in Jordan. We also wanted to create a platform whereby we could tap into the expertise of local yoga and meditation coaches.”

Today, Jolinda leads In2Jordan’s meditation, mindfulness and yoga retreats for travellers as well as offering reiki and massage experiences.

“After all these years I am still so passionate about introducing guests to the variety of landscapes this country has to offer, and exposing them to the kind nature of the local people. It is a blessing to be part of someone’s journey and extra special that I get to guide spiritual journeys, as well as physical ones,” concludes Jolinda.

Credit: Jolinda Cath

To find out more about Jolinda’s private and multi-day yoga, mindfulness and meditation retreats, visit https://in2jordan.com/weekend-trips/

Meet Sandra Jelly, travel consultant, yoga teacher, and equine-assisted coach at In2Jordan.

When most people ready their bags for a holiday to a foreign country, paintbrushes and horse riding boots are rarely essential items to pack. But Sandra Jelly is not most people.

As a yoga teacher, equine-assisted coach, social entrepreneur, chakra & crystal lover, and artist, Sandra believes in seizing the moment; but such is the life of a true adventurer.

“I was born in the Netherlands, but home for me was always where my heart is,” says Sandra. “One day I saw an article in a magazine that read: “To Petra on horseback”. It inspired me to go and explore this magical desert land.”

In 2009, Sandra exchanged advertising in Amsterdam for a world of Bedouin horses. Her plan: to undertake a sabbatical in Jordan to paint and ride the endurance race in Wadi Rum. “It was a dream of mine to fully dedicate myself to my passions of art and horses. What better backdrop than the vastness, peace and light of the desert?”

When Sandra’s horse, Gamar (meaning Full Moon) became pregnant, she decided to settle in Jordan permanently for a new desert lifestyle.

Using her powerful intuitive skills, Sandra is passionate about guiding clients on a voyage of self-discovery and transformation.

Today, Sandra and her four horses are based in the ancient valley of Little Petra. Here she leads In2Jordan’s yoga retreats and offers equine-assisted coaching with her own Arabian horses. Using her powerful intuitive skills, Sandra is passionate about guiding clients on a voyage of self-discovery and transformation.

“I really enjoy hosting visitors from foreign countries in Little Petra because I get to introduce them to the incredible beauty of the landscape, and help them tap into the power that can be drawn from the silence found here.”

Through the practice of Vinyasa Flow yoga, Sandra invites guests to develop a deep relationship within themselves where listening is cultivated, the body is honored, and playful, creative exploration is welcomed.

“Just like life, if you let your yoga practice flow and be fully absorbed in the breath; you will discover the beautiful gifts of the present moment,” says Sandra.

According to Sandra, any traveler who wants to be captivated by the beauty of Little Petra; explore beautiful desert trails; immerse themselves in the culture of the Bedouins; and, connect with their true-self; there is no better place than Jordan.

For more information on the yoga or equine coaching tours led by Sandra, visit  https://in2jordan.com/intineraries

As In2Jordan’s driver and local guide for the south of Jordan, Bukr is the man on the ground who will help unlock the magic of Petra & Wadi Rum during your visit.

Name: Bukr
Age: 28 years
Occupation: Southern driver and guide for In2Jordan
Languages spoken: Fluent in Arabic, fluent in English. Learning Italian and Japanese

 

Q. How long have you been working with In2Jordan?

A. I hosted my first driving tour for In2Jordan three years ago.

Q. What does ‘Southern Driver’ mean?

A. It means my expertise is in the southern regions of Jordan. I mainly take guests from Madaba to the Dead Sea, Petra, Wadi Rum and Aqaba. Jordan is not a big country but there is a lot of history and locations are spread out. By driving the south, I can share more information with guests because I know these places very well.

Q. What’s the best part of your job?

A. Being a driver is a nice job. Every day I get to travel to different places so it is not a boring job. I also really like meeting new people. If I didn’t meet new people I would go crazy.

Q. Which parts of Jordan do your guests get most excited about?

A. There is a back road through the desert behind Little Petra that I take my guests down to get to the Dead Sea. It is an hour drive through different desert landscapes and is really beautiful. It means the guests get off the highway and get to see Wadi Araba which other tourists miss. It is a really exciting road.

Q. Describe what it is like being in your car?

A. Relaxing and informative. As I drive, I explain to my guests about the history of certain roads like the Kings Highway or old Bedouin routes. I also tell them about the mood or feeling they can expect from sites we will go to. Petra for example, I like to give my guests the history of how people came to the place and how it was built. Then I show them special views that only locals know that are more beautiful than others. Petra is my home and I want to help my guests feel welcome and enjoy it.

Q. Where is your favourite place in Jordan?

A. I was born and still live in Petra, but I really love visiting Aqaba. It has the desert and the Red Sea. It is beautiful there but too hot for me to live.

Q. What is the hardest part of your job?

A. Actually, it is leaving my guests. Many guests ask me to continue north with them but my job is in the south. I keep guests happy because I give them water, juice, Wi-Fi and good information. And I am an honest man. I am so happy when I do my job well and my guests are happy too.

For more information on private tours in Jordan, click here: https://in2jordan.com/intineraries/

Meet Carmen Scholten, In2Jordan’s Co-founder and General Manager. Or as the locals in Aqaba know her, the blonde with the bull.

 

At In2Jordan, Carmen Scholten is known as the boss. But in the small southern town of Aqaba where she lives with her husband, son and her British Bulldog, Carmen is simply known as ‘the blonde with the bull.’

It’s a rather unassuming profile for the woman who drove from Amsterdam to Jordan in a 500 Euro car just to complete a university assignment. This also being the woman who then identified a need for high quality tours in Jordan and launched In2Jordan as the ideal solution two years later.

But that’s the way Carmen likes it. “Always over deliver,” she says.

“Running your own business is fun, especially when you love and believe in what you do.”

From her home office – which also doubles as the reception area of her husband’s PADI dive center – Carmen juggles client service, team leadership, and business development with a smile.

“Running your own business is fun, especially when you love and believe in what you do,” says Carmen. “No two days are the same and I enjoy the diversity that comes with managing financial budgets, motivating the team, developing strategic planning, and translating these elements into practical outcomes for my team and clients.”

According to Carmen, her passion to offer clients high-quality customized experiences in Jordan stems from her own unforgettable first impressions. “I was meant to visit Jordan for a few days but I fell in love with the country. Within six months of graduating university I’d moved here,” she says.

“I studied cross cultural management and sustainable entrepreneurship at university. Pairing that with a passion for travel, a career in the tourism industry was the perfect fit.”

“I believe there is a place for responsible tourism in every destination across the world.”

Since the official launch of In2Jordan in January 2013, Carmen’s team has grown to include five local guides and drivers, and six travel consultants. Each with specialist knowledge in cultural sites, horse tours and yoga and meditation retreats. A partnership with Amani Tours in Amman and travel agents across the Middle East also offers clients a wide range of customized packages and experiences.

“One of my greatest achievements is knowing that I’ve surrounded myself with a team of dedicated and loyal experts at In2Jordan,” says Carmen.

“I’m also proud of how we have tapped into the expertise of local guides and drivers. Not only does their grassroots knowledge add value for our clients; the money they earn directly supports small entrepreneurs and local communities. I believe there is a place for this kind of responsible tourism in every destination across the world.”

It is this kind of thinking that earned Carmen and her off-sider, Gail Reid the title of 2017’s Best New Destination Expert Worldwide on Trip.me.

“I could roam the ancient architectures of As Salt and lush areas of Ajloun all day.”

Carmen also has the gift of the gab with her international clients thanks to her expertise as a destination expert in Jordan, and her ability to speak four languages. “I speak Dutch, English, German and Arabic,” says Carmen. She laughs before adding, “so I guess so does my dog, Hendrix.”

So how does the woman who organizes tours travel herself? “I love walking the numerous beautiful routes in Petra, and climbing the hills of Wadi Araba to enjoy the stillness of the desert,” she says. “Next to that, I could roam the ancient architectures of As Salt and lush areas of Ajloun all day.”

Is there anything the blonde with the bull can’t do? “Well, I’m trying to grow veggies in the desert. We’ll see how that goes,” she concludes.

For more information on In2Jordan’s itineraries, excursions and retreats, visit https://in2jordan.com/tours/

The Rea Sea is truly an aquatic wonderland that is enjoyed by beginners and advanced divers of all ages. The best place to immerse yourself in the heart of the Red Sea is via the small coastal town of Aqaba. Identified by its expansive white, stony coastline and crystal clear waters; Aqaba is the gateway to a multitude of breathtaking dive spots and snorkel sites. You reach them right from the shore which leaves you with unforgettable memories of your time in Jordan.

What to expect in Aqaba?

Dive Center South beach
Dive instructors at South Beach Resort

Located in Jordan’s south, Aqaba is a 3,5hr drive from Amman. It is dotted with over 20 various resorts and dive centers that offer SCUBA and snorkelling services. Starting from downtown Aqaba and stretching to South Beach and Tala Bay, your opportunities for dive certifications, wreck, shore and boat dives, and discovery adventures are endless. The rule in Jordan however is simple: you get what you pay for. This means you pay a large sum for a 5 star PADI dive resort experience, or a lower price for a standard service. But be warned: not all dive centers in Aqaba operate according to international dive standards.

Signs of a reputable and safe dive center

Open Water dive course Aqaba PADI
Audience during a open water course

Key signs of a safe and reputable dive operation include:

  • Always providing an official dive instructor or divemaster to go in the water with you
  • Equipment is not less than two years old and is free of damage and holes
  • The dive package is inclusive off all essential gear, such as a wetsuit, boots, fins, a sealed mask, a regulator, BCD, and a full tank of oxygen
  • Investigation of your medical disclosure statement to insure that you are fit and safe to dive

Dive sites in Aqaba

Cedar Pride Wreck diving Aqaba
Cedar Pride Wreck Diving Aqaba

Aqaba has only recently caught the attention of international tourists so the diving sites are relatively quiet and open to explore. With the position of Aqaba nestled in the north-east corner of the Red Sea, the waters are calm and shallow all year around. It makes of the dive sites accessible from the shore. This makes Aqaba an ideal haven for beginners and kids keen to take their first dive down under!

The Seven Sisters and Japanese Gardens sites are two shore dives that comprise of beautiful reefs where coral and fish are in abundance. For experienced divers, the Cedar Pride Wreck is one of the most popular sites in Aqaba. Resting 26 meters below the surface, the old 78 meter long Lebanese freighter is still largely intact. Its deck is  now colonised by various hard and soft corals and smothered by urchins, shrimps, crabs and fish. For a drop off, the Power Station has a very lively coral plateau sloping from 12 to 20 meters. Here you see moray eels and coral pinnacles.

Coral reefs

Diver in Aqaba
Diver in Aqaba

Because of the geographic location in the Gulf of Aqaba and the shallow waters, coral reefs tend to grow fast in Jordan. A great place to visit is the Marine Park for a different ‘underwater garden’ experience. Corals from the harbor are relocated in the Japanese Gardens. Here you recognize the pieces on the tags that are still on there.

A place to relax and rejuvenate

Excursion to Petra during dive holiday Jordan
Camel at the Monastery Jordan

So what if Aqaba’s 20 underwater sites appeal to your family but diving is not your thing? Next to relaxing at the beach or swimming pool, there is a good amount of excursions to make from Aqaba, including sites like the World Wonder Petra, and UNESCO heritage Wadi Rum desert.

There really is something for everyone in Jordan!

Do you want more information? Feel free to contact me with questions or to get you an offer for a diving holiday at the Red Sea.

In 2017, In2Jordan was thrilled to host National Geographic Traveller writer, Emma Thomson, at our Horse Wisdom Retreat in Little Petra. Now, Emma has shared her experience, led by In2Jordan’s resident equine coach, Sandra Jelly. 

Enjoy her article, which was originally published on National Geographic Traveller: http://www.natgeotraveller.co.uk/destinations/middle-east/jordan/petra-horse-meditation/ 

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Petra: Horse meditation Horse wisdom

Getting up close and personal with horses proves emotional in Little Petra, as they deliver a dose of equine enlightenment

When I was told we’d be trying horse meditation, I immediately thought of the film, The Horse Whisperer, and conjured up images of me cantering across the desert, hair flowing in the breeze, accompanied by a denim-shirted Robert Redford. Luckily for us, Sandra Jelly — described as ‘the horse whisperer of Petra’ — is far prettier, with a pair of cobalt-blue eyes, wide white smile and the jangle of rings and bracelets. Horse Wisdom

She gave up her advertising career in Amsterdam after she saw an advert in a magazine about horseback riding in Petra, Jordan. “I thought — that’s my call! So, I took a sabbatical and, with the last of my money, I bought Gamar (a brown mare), some riding boots and a set of paintbrushes.” Eight years on and Sandra now resides here, offering yoga and horse meditation classes to travellers to help them reconnect with nature and themselves.

A small group of us sit cross-legged on the floor of a Bedouin tent, nestled near the Wadi Baad’ja mountain range, behind Little Petra. We’re in a rich farming valley, surrounded by fields of alfalfa, barley and olive trees. The gentle wind flaps the fabric walls, as flies dance around the rim of the teapot. Three horses are corralled in a simple sandy paddock in front of us. “The grey gelding is Nour, he’s a bossy little man,” remarks Sandra, rather proudly. “Then there are the two mares, Gamar and Remaz, and the foal Zahir over in the corner.”

“Pick a horse you feel you resonate with and approach it without the purpose of interacting — just sense their energy.” We all look a bit confused. “It’s just like observing a candle, you focus the mind but don’t touch it,” she explains. So, I hop over the simple fence and stand with my eyes closed. Nour moseys over and starts nipping at my sleeve and arm. “Ah, that’s a sign you’re emanating masculine energy,” comments Sandra. “The horses reflect your inner feelings. For example, they’ll rear if we’re holding anger.” It’s starting to make sense: I always wear my ‘in charge’ hat when travelling on my own.

About 10 minutes later, we form a meditation circle in the paddock. “Leave room so the horses can weave in and out,” instructs Sandra. Immediately, Nour comes over and starts nibbling my trousers and playfully chomping my arm. I close my eyes and try to let go of my ‘masculine’ feelings and embrace my nurturing side. I feel something unlock inside me and the minute I do, Remaz — one of the mares — wanders straight up and starts nuzzling me affectionately. I’m so shocked by the immediacy of her reaction and sense of sisterly caring that, quite out of the blue, my eyes brim with tears.

“Horses are in their true nature, whereas we get separated from it. They guide us back to our authentic bodies and help us to become fully present,” whispers Sandra. She’s taught me more than Robert Redford ever could.

pinkspiritjordan.com

in2jordan.com

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