Monthly Archives: November 2011

jerash, ajloun, umm quais and a couple of italians thrown in for good measure

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“Jordan has a strange, haunting beauty and a sense of timelessness. Dotted with the ruins of empires once great, it is the last resort of yesterday in the world of tomorrow. I love every inch of it.” ~ King Hussein I

Me at Hadrian's Arch at Jerash

Me at Hadrian’s Arch at Jerash

Thursday, November 10: This morning I meet my two traveling companions in the breakfast room at the Jordan Tower Hotel.  Andrea and Guido, two Italian men from Genoa who are about my age, will be taking the trip with me to the north of Jordan. Guido speaks English quickly and with a thick Italian accent.  He even sprinkles Italian words into the conversation randomly, so I’m never quite sure what language he’s speaking or what he’s saying.  Andrea, barely speaks any English at all.  No matter.  We will probably go our own ways once we get to our destinations.  It won’t really matter if the two of them are speaking in Italian to each other all day long.  I am used to this situation from living in Korea for a year, and now in Oman.

Guido and Khalid at Hadrian's Arch

Guido and Khalid at Hadrian’s Arch

Our driver today is Khalid, a handsome Jordanian who smokes heavily and whose teeth are quite rotten. We drive out of Amman and are in the car for about an hour, 51 km.  In the car, Andrea tells me in his limited English that I am “bella,” that my face is very beautiful.  Andrea is apparently a lifeguard and an artist, a photographer, and has exhibits in Genoa.  Guido works at a marina keeping it maintained and cleaned.  Guido tells about all his travels and his frequent trips to Mexico, where apparently he had a long-time girlfriend who got pregnant from another man.  Guido apparently helped support her during and after this pregnancy, but he says he’s not “with her” now.  He says he’s never been married.  I’m not really sure I understand his whole story with all the convolutions and the mangled English.

the Oval Plaza (Forum) at Jerash

the Oval Plaza (Forum) at Jerash

Soon we arrive at Jerash, some beautifully preserved Roman ruins.  Though excavations have been ongoing for 85 years, it’s estimated that 90% of the city is still unexcavated. The city was at one time known as Gerasa and once was a thriving metropolis of 15,000 people.  The city rose to prominence from the time of Alexander the Great (333 BC) and reached its peak at the beginning of the 3rd century AD, when it was ranked a Colony.  It began to decline as trade routes shifted.

Jerash

Jerash

Jerash

Jerash

Jerash

Jerash

By the middle of the 5th century AD, Christianity was the region’s major religion and churches were being built right and left.  After the Sassanian invasion from Persia in 614, the Muslim conquest in 636, and a crushing earthquake in 747, Jerash’s population dwindled to about a fourth of its former size.

Jerash

Jerash

Ruins at Jerash

Ruins at Jerash

Doorway at Jerash

Doorway at Jerash

Musicians in the theater at Jerash

Musicians in the theater at Jerash

the road through Jerash

the road through Jerash

Jerash

Jerash

ruins at Jerash

ruins at Jerash

ruins at Jerash

ruins at Jerash

the Temple of Zeus at Jerash

the Temple of Zeus at Jerash

Immediately when we get inside of Jerash, Andrea takes off on his own and is snapping photos with his fancy camera right and left.  Guido says Andrea does this a lot when they travel together.  Since Andrea has taken off, Guido sticks close by me as we explore the ruins.  He’s especially interested in these Roman ruins as he loves history and he’s Italian.  He talks nonstop and half the time I only catch bits and pieces.  But he’s boyishly enthusiastic, and I can’t help but find him charming and cute.

We pass first by the Hippodrome where chariot races took place in bygone days.  Then we come to the lovely Oval Plaza (Forum), unusual because of its oval shape and huge size (90 m long and 80 m wide).  Historians think the Romans hoped to gracefully link the main north-south axis with the Temple of Zeus.  The paved limestone plaza is surrounded by 56 Ionic columns.  The Temple of Zeus sits on the south side of the Forum, and is currently being restored.  We climb around here for a while until we enter the South Theater, built to seat 5,000 spectators in the 1st century.  Here some Jordanians are playing bagpipes and I get caught up in the festive mood and do a little dance.  Guido and I climb around on the theater seats and take pictures.

me with the Oval Plaza below

me with the Oval Plaza below

We then take the long walk along the cardo maximus, the city’s main thoroughfare, also known as the colonnaded street.  It stretches for 800 meters from the Forum to the North Gate and is still paved with the original stones.  The stones were placed on the diagonal so chariots could easily negotiate them and you can still see the ruts worn by thousands of these vehicles using this road.

cardo maximus, the city's main thoroughfare

cardo maximus, the city’s main thoroughfare

We walk up to the Temple of Artemis though a monumental gateway and a staircase.  Up in the temple a young Jordanian guy is selling tea and we help ourselves.  Guido is still sticking with me and we have totally lost sight of Andrea in the last hour.  After we make our way back to the south end and the entrance, we meet Khalid who tells us that Andrea wants to cut his trip short and return to Amman by taxi.  Guido shrugs and says Andrea does stuff like this every other day when they travel together.  He says it’s no big deal; he’s a little persnickety and they often just go their separate ways every other day or so.

the columns at the Temple of Artemis

the columns at the Temple of Artemis

So Andrea takes off and Khalid, Guido and I continue on our way to see Our Lady of the Mount Shrine in Ajloun.  Apparently, someone came upon this statue of Mary one day and the blessed lady was shedding tears of blood that was later analyzed to be human.  We also see the colorfully painted church at the site.

Our Lady of the Mount Shrine in Ajlous

Our Lady of the Mount Shrine in Ajloun

inside the church at Ajloun

inside the church at Ajloun

church at Ajloun

church at Ajloun

We then head to Qala-at ar-Rabad, also known as Ajloun Castle, an Islamic military fort built in AD 1184-88 by the Arabs as protection against the Crusaders.  The castle has fine views of the Jordan Valley and was one in a chain of beacons and pigeon posts that allowed messages to be transmitted from Damascus to Cairo in a single day.  Mongol invaders destroyed it in 1260 and then it was rebuilt almost immediately by the Mamluks.  In the 17th century, the Ottomans were stationed here, and then the locals used it.  Earthquakes in 1837 and 1927 badly damaged the castle, but a slow restoration is progressing to bring the castle back to life.

During all of our travels, Guido is talking and talking and I’m really straining to understand.  I’m trying to sit back and not concentrate on every word, but to get the general gist of what he’s saying.  He’s talking about the history of all these places.  He loves it all, with infectious enthusiasm which I find appealing.

the view of the Jordan Valley from Ajloun Castle

the view of the Jordan Valley from Ajloun Castle

Ajloun Castle

Ajloun Castle

Ajloun Castle

Ajloun Castle

inside the castle

inside the castle

inside Ajloun Castle

inside Ajloun Castle

the castle looms over the Jordan Valley

the castle looms over the Jordan Valley

Inside Ajloun Castle

Inside Ajloun Castle

Ajloun

Ajloun

Ajloun with the Jordan Valley below

Ajloun with the Jordan Valley below

Inside Ajloun Castle

Inside Ajloun Castle

Inside Ajloun Castle

Inside Ajloun Castle

Outside Ajloun Castle

Outside Ajloun Castle

Finally we take the long drive to Umm Qais, at the far northwest corner of Jordan.  There are ruins of the ancient Roman city of Gadara and an Ottoman-era village.  At the edge of a hill, we can see amazing views of the Golan Heights in Syria, the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberius) in Israel, the Palestinian Territories to the north, and the Jordan Valley to the south.  Khalid has done an amazing job of bringing us here right as the sun is setting and it’s gorgeous really.  It brings tears to my eyes to see these places that the Arabs and Israelis have been fighting over for years and years.  The history here in Jordan blows me away, between the Romans, the Crusaders, the Biblical sites, and the present day struggles between Israel and Palestine.

Umm Qais

Umm Qais

Umm Qais

Umm Qais

People smoking shisha at Umm Qais

People smoking shisha at Umm Qais

Umm Qais

Umm Qais

the view from Umm Qais ~ the Golan Heights, Sea of Galilee, and Palestine

the view from Umm Qais ~ the Golan Heights, Sea of Galilee, and Palestine

At the top of the hill, at the Umm Qais Resthouse, we sit at a table and drink glasses of red wine and enjoy the views and a relaxing conversation.  I am feeling comfortable with both Khalid and Guido, who are very laid-back guys.  It is really a lovely evening and the views are enough to make it all very romantic.  It’s too bad at this point that no one is actually being romantic, but we are all sharing a lovely companionship.

On the long drive back to Amman, Guido is talking again non-stop and at this time I am too tired to even try to decipher what he is saying.  At one point he asks me, “How is my English?”  I tell him I have a hard time sometimes understanding his accent.  I don’t mention that if he slowed down, it would be better for me.  I don’t know why I don’t mention this.  At one point during our ride back he puts his arm around me and pulls me to him to put my head on his shoulder.  He has stuck by my side all day long but he hasn’t been particularly flirtatious, so I’m surprised by this move.  I think we just feel very comfortable with each other.

Guido and Khaled at the Umm Qais Restaurant

Guido and Khaled at the Umm Qais Restaurant

Back at the hotel, he asks if I’d like to have some tea in the common room.  I am due to fly out at 1 a.m. Friday morning, so must be at the airport by 11 pm tonight.  He’s flying out at 3 a.m., two hours after me.  We sit and talk and show each other our pictures and relive the day.  He asks if we could maybe consider prolonging our stay in romantic Jordan for a couple more days and I say I would love to but I have to be back at work on Saturday.

Later, after several cups of tea, he asks if I’d like to go out to the rooftop terrace for a bit.  There he kisses me and at this point I’m no longer surprised.  It’s really a lovely way to end our day.

At around 10:15, he walks with me down a couple of blocks to the Arab Tower Hotel, where I meet my colleagues David and Mario.  We will share a taxi to the airport.   When Guido and I get to the hotel, I text David to let him know I’m there, and he texts me to come up to his room.  I tell Guido I’ll be back shortly and I go up to their room, where both of them are sprawled out on their beds passing the time.  By the time I get back to the lobby, I find Guido buying me some bath salts from a little Dead Sea-related display.  I catch him in the middle of buying this and he says, disappointed, “I wanted it to be a surprise!”  He’s very cute.

me with Guido drinking wine at Umm Qais

me with Guido drinking wine at Umm Qais

David and Mario appear, our taxi driver is here, and suddenly we are all piling our suitcases into the taxi.  I barely get to say goodbye to poor Guido, everything happens so fast.  I give him a hug and we take off to the airport, to return back to Muscat, and back to work.

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a brief & blessedly quiet return to petra

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Wednesday, November 9:  This morning I lounge in my warm bed at the Rocky Mountain Hotel and think about what to do with my day.  On my first day in Petra, I had to make a decision, without even knowing how much time it would take to see the place, whether to buy the one- , two- , or three-day pass.  It was 50 dinar (~$70) to buy the ticket for one day, 55 dinar (~$77) for two days, and 60 (~$84) for three.  EXPENSIVE, right?? Since I knew I’d be in Wadi Musa, the town next to Petra, for 3 days, I went ahead and got the ticket for 3 days, just in case.  Yesterday, I went to Wadi Rum so I didn’t use my 2nd day pass.

Looking up at Petra

Looking up at Petra

entering Petra

entering Petra

a return trip through As-Siq

a return trip through As-Siq

Since I sleep in this morning and miss the early bus back to Amman, I now have to wait till 4:00 to catch the next bus.  So, I feel I should take advantage and at least use my third day pass that I already paid for.

me with the Treasury behind....again

me with the Treasury behind….again

This time, Matt will not be along as he headed back to Madaba, home of Byzantine-era mosaics.  So, this time I can go alone, soak in the ambiance and beauty that is Petra in peace and quiet, and make the long climb up to the High Place of Sacrifice.

I pack my bag, get a ride with a couple from the hotel down to Petra, ride the horse to the entrance, walk through As-Siq again.  This time, as it is later in the morning, the light is gorgeous, richer, the walls of the canyon more of a deep terra-cotta.  I take my time, watch the people, absorb nature’s striated paintings of color on the vertical rock faces.  I look up at the blue sky coming through the crevasses, the sunlight streaming in.  I step aside to let the horse buggies clatter past.  I take pictures in a different light and in fact I see the place all afresh, silently, without incessant chatter about sports to mar my experience.

mules waiting patiently for riders

mules waiting patiently for riders

taking the donkey up to the High Place of Sacrifice

taking the donkey up to the High Place of Sacrifice

Again, by the time I get to the Treasury and then to the place where you start the climb to the High Place of Sacrifice, my legs are already tired so I take another donkey to the top.  These steps are much steeper but not as far distance-wise, so I’m at the top in no time flat.  Yes, call me lazy if you like…

At the top of the High Place of Sacrifice, all I see are some good views, but not as good as the views I saw near the other sacrifice lookout near the Monastery on Monday.  There is a good view of Petra down below.  The High Place was the venue for important religious ceremonies honoring Nabataean gods.  It was perhaps also used for funeral rites.

the view from the High Place of Sacrifice

the view from the High Place of Sacrifice

the view of Petra from the High Place of Sacrifice

the view of Petra from the High Place of Sacrifice

playful mules at the High Place of Sacrifice

playful mules at the High Place of Sacrifice

After wandering around a bit at the top, I walk back down the steep steps back to the Street of Facades, where I begin the long walk back out of Petra, past the Treasury again, and down As-Siq and then take the horse again from the entrance to the main gate.

the Street of Facades

the Street of Facades

looking up at Petra

looking up at Petra

My last view of the Treasury in the best light

My last view of the Treasury in the best light

My favorite picture of the Treasury ~ a parting shot :-)

My favorite picture of the Treasury ~ a parting shot 🙂

At that point I take a walk in the streets looking for the Red Cave Restaurant so I can have some lunch.  The restaurant has walls of smooth stones and is spacious and cool and has local Bedouin specialties.  I order some beef keftah with vegetables which is excellent.

inside the Red Cave Restaurant in Wadi Musa

inside the Red Cave Restaurant in Wadi Musa

my lunch at the Red Cave

my lunch at the Red Cave

After lunch I look briefly into the little gift shops and come away empty-handed.  I catch a taxi back to the hotel, where I soon catch another taxi with a young lady from the hotel to the bus station.  We get on the bus to Amman and ride for 3-4 hours until we reach the center of the city again.  Luckily the Eid holiday is winding down and the noise level has subsided greatly.  Thank goodness.

At least this time it isn’t raining in Amman, and so I venture out, at the hotel staff’s suggestion, to a restaurant called Hashem about a 10-minute walk away.  There, in a dirty little alley, is a dirty little restaurant with plastic tables.  The owner, noting that I am alone, sticks me at a table with a young couple from Spain. The Spanish couple is teaching in Palestine; he teaches Spanish and she teaches English.  They are also in Jordan for the Eid.  I order Jordanian foul:  Fava beans, salt, garlic, green peppers, lemon.  It is absolutely delectable.  I eat it all, every last bite, soaking it up with my pita bread.  For such a dive of a restaurant, the food was out of this world!!

When I arrive back at the hotel, I ask whether the staff was able to find anyone going to Jerash and the north tomorrow.  In fact, he says, two Italian men are going to Jerash and I can accompany them.  Fun times!

little petra and the seven wonders bedouin camp

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Tuesday, November 8: Back at the Rocky Mountain Hotel, I’m feeling hungry and am ready to go down to the Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp where I will meet two of my colleagues David and Mario for dinner.  Hussein drives me to a little restaurant where I buy a delicious chicken schwarma and then he takes me to see Little Petra, a short distance north of Petra.   Wild and beautiful outcrops of rock, the color of pale honey, form what is called al-Beidha in Arabic, ‘the white one’.  It’s beautiful but I don’t have much time here as the sun is ready to set and I want to get to the Bedouin camp by sunset.

Little Petra

Little Petra

Little Petra

Little Petra

more of Little Petra

more of Little Petra

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through the canyons of Little Petra

through the canyons of Little Petra

sunset over Little Petra

moonrise over Little Petra

At the Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp, the Bedouin boys, including Atef from the Rocky Mountain Hotel, have built a toasty fire.  I meet a bunch of fellow travelers, Frenchmen, Germans, and one German family who is working in Saudi Arabia.  Hussein tells us we should climb up a giant rock that overlooks the camp and so Hussein and the two German kids, a boy and a girl, and I climb precariously up and up until we reach the top and look out over the beautiful camp with its white lights, its Bedouin communal tents, its little tent-huts, and the glowing desert beyond.  I feel a real sense of accomplishment climbing this, and then, oh dear, I have to go back down.  Much of my downhill journey consists of me sitting on my butt and sliding down.

The Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp

The Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp

the two German kids who climb up the rock overlooking the Bedouin camp

the two German kids who climb up the rock overlooking the Bedouin camp

I sit around the campfire then with the other travelers, then go inside a partially enclosed tent with a toasty campfire.  There the Bedouin boys sing and dance and finally David and Mario arrive and we all sit and enjoy the music.  We have dinner then in the communal tent where David tells his story that is every traveler’s nightmare, how he got to the airport in Muscat and tried to use the ATM, only to have the ATM eat his card, his only source of money for his trip!! Luckily he had his friend Mario along who was able to lend him money along the way.

Atef stokes the fire

Atef stokes the fire

the Bedouin boys playing music at Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp

the Bedouin boys playing music at Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp

keeping warm by the fire

keeping warm by the fire

Later Mohammed Gabaah texts me and tells me to come to Petra Kitchen, which his family owns and operates, when I’m finished at the Bedouin Camp with my friends.  I hang out a bit longer, then go outside to ask Atef about a ride back into Wadi Musa.  Atef says, “I see you and Mohammed.  I see love in your eyes!”  I say, “No! I don’t love him!  It takes me a long time to fall in love.”  He says, “Yes, but if you have love, you should change your life.  You could come here and make it work.”  We talk about Mohammed and the general consensus is that he doesn’t have women in his life, he works a lot, he needs a woman.  But I hardly know him and don’t really think, actually, that he would ever be the one for me.  Atef keeps at it though, telling me I should try to make it work.  He points to himself and Jane as an example of a couple who rearranged their lives to make things work.

me at Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp

me at Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp

Atef tells me to follow him and he takes me into one of the tents at the camp.  “Look, I have Arab clothing, an abaya, scarves.  You should wear one of these tonight when you go to see Mohammed.”  I say, “No, that is not me and I would never change for anyone.”  He says, “Mohammed would be so surprised!  He would like it!” I stand my ground. “No, I won’t do it.”

Finally I get a ride back into Wadi Musa with one of the boys.  I go into Petra Kitchen where Mohammed is sitting at a tall table around which six men are sitting on stools eating a feast.  They invite me to join them and they start passing food my way.  I protest, say I already ate dinner at the Bedouin camp, but they insist on me trying the food.  I try some and it is delicious.  Mohammed’s brother is the owner of this place; he is impeccably dressed in a business suit and tie.  He keeps staring at me unabashedly and then asks me if I would like to smoke shisha.  I say sure, but instead of him bringing it to the table where I’m sitting with Mohammed, he invites me to another table.  The whole time Mohammed barely speaks to me, engrossed as he is by a story one of the men is telling in Arabic.  I go to join the brother to smoke shisha, but ultimately I feel uncomfortable with him.  I don’t understand why he is so focused on me when I’m here with his brother!  I finally excuse myself from the brother with the excuse that I have to use the toilet.  When I come out I walk up to Mohammed.  I say “Are you going to even talk to me tonight?”  I’m baffled by his total disinterest.  He says, “I’m sorry. I’m listening to his story,” pointing to the man who has been telling this story for about 30 minutes now.

the fire in the Bedouin tent

the fire in the Bedouin tent

Mohammed gets up and takes me upstairs to his family’s very expensive shop that sells handcrafts made by local Petra craftsmen or women.  The things are beautiful but way out of my price range.  I see several delicate hand-woven rugs which sell for 300 dinar ($422 USD)!  I don’t know if he’s just showing me these things because he’s proud of his shop or if he really expects me to buy something.  He ends up buying me a small hand-woven bookmark as a token of something, who knows what!

Mohammed has no car tonight and has to borrow his brother’s car to drive me back to my hotel.  The first night he met me, he came in a huge brand new SUV, but it belonged to the Jordanian government and he returned it the next day.  The second night, he came in an old run-down car he borrowed from his cousin.  This last night, he must borrow his brother’s car but I can tell he’s afraid of his brother and is worried about driving it far or doing damage to it.  His brother is obviously the successful one in the family and Mohammed seems to live in his shadow.

I say goodnight to Mohammed and I know when I leave him that there will be no future at all with him, in any way, shape or form.

a day in the red desert of wadi rum

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Tuesday, November 8:  Yesterday while we were at Petra, my colleague Matt asked if I’d like to share a trip to Wadi Rum today.  Since it costs 90 dinar (~$127) to take a car there alone, we agree to share the trip and split the cost.  He desperately wants to go to Aqaba as well, in southern Jordan, but I have no interest in Aqaba nor do I have any interest in paying the extra 30 dinar to go there.   So, around 9 a.m., Atef’s brother Hussein comes to pick us up and we’re on our way.

Our guide at Wadi Rum and his Nissan pickup truck

Our guide at Wadi Rum and his Nissan pickup truck

It takes about 1 1/2 hours each way to get there.  When we arrive, after stopping several times to let herds of sheep cross the road, we climb into the back of an ancient Nissan pick-up truck and begin our drive around Wadi Rum. Our driver is Najas, and that’s all he turns out to be, just a driver.  Not a guide of any kind. It’s quite cold as we head out into the desert, and I’m bundled up in a sweater and my down vest.  The sun is beating down on us and with the cool air combined with the sun, the weather is really spectacular.

a wandering camel in wadi rum

a wandering camel in wadi rum

The desert and mountain landscape of Wadi Rum were immortalized in TE Lawrence’s book Seven Pillars of Wisdom in the early 20th century.  The film Lawrence of Arabia was partially filmed here and contributed not only to the legend of the man who took part in the Arab revolt but also shone a spotlight on Wadi Rum itself.

We begin our exploration at Lawrence’s Spring, where Lawrence of Arabia reputedly washed during the Arab Revolt.  The Arab Revolt took place from 1916-1918 and was initiated with the aim of securing independence from the ruling Ottoman Turks and creating a single unified Arab state spanning from Aleppo in Syria to Aden in Yemen.  Young officer Captain T.E. Lawrence was sent by the British government in Egypt to work with the Hashemite forces in the Hejaz in October 1916.  The British historian David Murphy wrote that through Lawrence was just one of out many British and French officers serving in Arabia, historians often write like it was Lawrence alone who represented the Allied cause in Arabia.

Lawrence's Spring

Lawrence’s Spring

We stop here and look up at the small mountain from which the spring supposedly flows, but we don’t climb up to actually see it.  My legs are way too sore from Petra yesterday and I have no desire to do any climbing today.  We wander around in the desert and see a Bedouin camp set up in the shadow of the mountain.  A Bedouin boy sits under the shade of a tree with his camels.  We also see some Alameleh inscriptions on the rocks at the bottom. These are ancient rock drawings showing camels and wildlife.

the red desert of Wadi Rum

the red desert of Wadi Rum

Our ancient Nissan pickup truck

Our ancient Nissan pickup truck

me at wadi rum

me at wadi rum

camels resting in the shade

camels resting in the shade

camels marching across the desert

camels marching across the desert

We hop back in our crusty Nissan and head to the Red Sand Dunes, where families are sitting and children are running and rolling down the hills. These deep red sand dunes seem to catch fire on the slopes of Jebel Umm Ulaydiyya.

riding in the Nissan across the desert

riding in the Nissan across the desert

the broad expanse of wadi rum

the broad expanse of wadi rum

the red wadi rum

the red wadi rum

the red sand dunes at wadi rum

the red sand dunes at wadi rum

Next we go to Khazali Canyon, a deep narrow fissure in the mountainside, containing more rock inscriptions.  One of the inscriptions here says “I miss my GMC car,” and I snap a photo of it, since right before I left for Jordan I put a 100 rial deposit down on a 2008 GMC Terrain.  This canyon is beautiful with its red rocks and its walls that aspire to touch the sky.

the entrance to Khazali canyon

the entrance to Khazali canyon

"I miss my GMC car"

“I miss my GMC car”

Khazili Canyon

Khazili Canyon

me in front of Khazali Canyon

me in front of Khazali Canyon

We drive all over the sand in our Nissan, bouncing along in the breezy sunlight.  This desert is lovely with its red sand, its looming sculpted and weathered rocks, and the slant of light throughout the day.  We spend 3 hours driving around and stopping at the various sights.   Before returning, we make a stop at the ruins of the Nabatean Temple, used by the Nabateans to worship ALLAT (Goddess).  This temple was built on the ruins of Allat Temple of the AAD Tribe.

Nabataean Temple ruins

Nabatean Temple ruins

me at the Nabatean Temple ruins, of which there aren't many!

me at the Nabatean Temple ruins, of which there aren’t many!

Back toward the Visitor’s Center, we see the large rock formation with its seven fluted turrets, named the Seven Pillars of Wisdom by TE Lawrence.

The famous Seven Pillars of Wisdom that TE Lawrence wrote about

The famous Seven Pillars of Wisdom that TE Lawrence wrote about

It’s all beautiful and I halfway wish I had arranged to spend the night in one of the Bedouin encampments.  However, it’s freezing cold at night in Jordan and I already cancelled my other Bedouin camp-out for tonight at the Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp in Petra just for this reason.

On our way back Matt starts talking again about going to Aqaba.  I wondered if he would do this once he had me captive in the car.  I finally relent and say I’ll go along if he wants to pay the 30 dinar difference.  I have no desire to go and I’m not keen on it but if he really wants to go there, I won’t stop him.  He waffles back and forth and when we look at the time and how late it’s getting, he finally decides, thank goodness, to forgo Aqaba.

We head back toward Wadi Musa near Petra and Hussein stops at the Petra overlook where we can see the folds of red stone that make up the Petra canyons below.  It’s amazing to see it from above and I’m surprised it all looks so small from this height.  From the canyon floor it’s so overwhelming that it swallows you up.  But from above, you can’t even make out more than just wrinkled folds of red rocks.

The view of Petra from above

The view of Petra from above

Petra Overlook

Petra Overlook

Hussen, Atef's brother and our driver to Wadi Rum, and my colleague Matt on the overlook to Petra

Hussen, Atef’s brother and our driver to Wadi Rum, and my colleague Matt on the overlook to Petra

the Petra overlook

the Petra overlook

 

the ancient rose-red city of petra

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Monday, November 7:  Petra is more awesome than I could have ever imagined.  I have traveled extensively in the last two years, and often I’ve found that national treasures are a bit of a letdown because their “tourist attraction” aspect is so blatantly inescapable.  I felt especially this way about the Taj Mahal. But Petra, even though tourists abound, does not disappoint.  Its natural beauty is so unreal and fantastical and its man-made imprints so classic and imposing that even pictures don’t do it justice.  Just the magnitude of the sheer terra-cotta painted walls on the path leading to the surprising Treasury takes your breath away.   There is no easy way in and out of this hidden treasure, and the exertion is definitely worth every hard-earned step.  I love this place.

I start my morning with breakfast at the Rocky Mountain Hotel and in the lobby I meet, purely by accident, a colleague from the university, Matt.  He has come alone to Jordan for the Eid, as I have, and he is planning to go back to Petra today to climb to the High Place of Sacrifice.  He says he can accompany me until he has to turn off to make his climb.

I am going for the first time and so am looking forward to taking it all in by myself.  I love going to a place like this on my own, with no one to distract me with chatter.  I take my time, soak it in, move at my pace and in my way.  I am finding that I mostly prefer to travel this way, alone.  I do enjoy meeting fellow travelers along the way, and I love time with them if they have a certain zest for life and an adventurous outlook.  The nice thing about traveling this way is that I’m never tied to anyone and if I find someone difficult, boring or not to my liking, I can take off in my own direction and be done with them.

But this is awkward.  Matt is a nice guy but he talks nonstop. And he’s a colleague so I don’t want to be rude.  The worst part of his talk is that a great deal of it is about sports.  Anyone who knows me knows I have ABSOLUTELY NO INTEREST IN SPORTS!!  When Matt starts talking about the Redskins and the Bills and God knows who else, I tell him the same thing I say above: I HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO INTEREST IN SPORTS!  Does that stop him?  NO!  Funny thing, this.  I find honestly that most sports fanatics, even if you tell them you have NO INTEREST IN SPORTS, will keep talking about them ad infinitum as if you never said such  a thing.  Maybe they just don’t believe such a thing is possible, for a person not to care about sports.

Soon after the main gate to Petra, we come upon some men offering horse rides down a long path to As-Siq, the ancient main entrance.  It’s quite a long walk to As-Siq and I love to ride horses, so I take one up on his offer.  Matt doesn’t want to do this, so he walks on.  I ride the little horse for a leisurely walk down the trail for about 3 dinar.  I hop off, and there is Matt waiting for me.

me on a horse to As-Siq

me on a horse to As-Siq

We walk into As-Siq, which is an impressive and breathtaking 1200 meter long, deep and narrow sandstone gorge. It towers over us up to 80 meters.  This is apparently not really a canyon, though it looks like one.  It’s really a rock landmass that was ripped apart by tectonic forces. We see colorful rocks, bizarre-looking geological formations, agricultural terraces, and water channels cut into the cliffs (what we call aflaj in Oman).  We see tombs, facades, theaters and stairways carved into the rocky cliffs. The sunlight spills like shimmery liquid into the gorge and highlights parts of the high cliff faces, artfully gilding the already painted walls.  It’s stunning.

As-Siq ~ the ancient main entrance to Petra

As-Siq ~ the ancient main entrance to Petra

horse-drawn carriages clatter through As-Siq

horse-drawn carriages clatter through As-Siq

A carriage barrels through As Siq

A carriage barrels through As Siq

This early in the morning there aren’t many tourists.  If only Matt would stop talking.  I want to be silent, to soak it in, but there is this chatter, non-stop.  I wish so much I was all alone.  To contemplate, to linger, to appreciate the natural beauty and the history.

And oh, what a history. Petra is the ancient rose-red city of the Nabataeans, ancient Arab tribes who controlled the region’s trade routes, levying tolls and protecting caravans filled with Arabian frankincense and myrrh, Indian spices and silks, African ivory and animal hides.  Profits from their caravan business enabled them to establish a powerful kingdom that stretched to Damascus and included parts of the Sinai and Negev deserts, effectively ruling the greater part of Arabia.  This wasn’t an easy task as the region at the time was dominated by rival Greek factions, the Hasmonaeans and later the Romans. The city itself was built in the 3rd century BC by these enterprising people who carved palaces, temples, storerooms, tombs and stables from the cliffs.

The canyon walls of Petra

The canyon walls of Petra

continuing along through As-Siq

continuing along through As-Siq

Despite fierce battles to protect their independence, the Roman Empire annexed the Nabataean kingdom in 106 AD.  Petra and the Nabataean kingdom managed to prosper for many more years until trade routes shifted and demand for frankincense declined as Christianity replaced pagan religions.  Archeologists  believe that several earthquakes, including a massive one in AD 555, forced the inhabitants to abandon the city. A Swiss traveler named Johann Ludwing Burckhardt rediscovered it in 1812.

I honestly didn’t know about the Nabataeans before I came here, but I’m impressed by their architectural and artistic sensibility.  What they managed to add to an already beautiful and impenetrable landscape is of fairy-tale quality and explains why movie-makers picked this place as the setting for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  It’s simply unreal, unimaginable, what they created here.  Yet.  They did indeed imagine it.  And then they ran with this vision to chisel the towering rock facades into a city that lasted, and flourished, for hundreds of years.

As Siq

As Siq

As Siq and another horse-drawn carriage

As Siq and another horse-drawn carriage

We meander along through the curvaceous As-Siq and I’m waiting for the surprise of the Treasury.  I can imagine it from pictures.  And then, around a bend, there it is, looming before us, through a sliver in the gorge, yes, there is a slice.  Al-Khazneh, the Treasury, with its Alexandrian Hellenistic columns, its unique Nabataean facade.  I feel dwarfed by its height, its immensity, and struck by its proportions, by its elaborate carvings. It was carved in the 1st century BC as a tomb of an important Nabataean King.  Some scholars believe it was later used as a temple. Locals believed, mistakenly, that an Egyptian pharaoh hid his treasure in the top urn, thus the misnomer “The Treasury.”

my first view of the Treasury

my first view of the Treasury

the Treasury

the Treasury

The Treasury

The Treasury

A camel at the Treasury

A camel at the Treasury

Matt gets excited by the "Bills" blanket on this camel

Matt gets excited by the “Bills” blanket on this camel

Camel at the Treasury

Camel at the Treasury

At the Treasury, I can’t pass up the opportunity to get on a camel and have my picture taken.  Part of the problem with traveling alone is that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to get pictures of yourself.  I ask Matt if he would mind taking a picture of me on the camel, and he grudgingly does so.  I’m thinking it’s pretty darn selfish that he is so put off by my request.  I’m always offering to take pictures for solitary travelers or for couples who can only take pictures of each other but none together.   So I don’t understand why it should be such an imposition.

on a camel in front of the Treasury

on a camel in front of the Treasury

After the camel photo shoot, we continue and the way broadens into the Outer Siq.   This is the Street of Facades, with over 40 tombs.

the Street of Facades

the Street of Facades

Street of Facades

Street of Facades

Then we come upon a 7,000-seat Theatre.  To the left of that are the steps that lead to the High Place of Sacrifice, a hill-top altar, where Matt plans to climb.  We part ways, saying we will meet for lunch later, and I head further back into the depths of Petra.

the Theatre

the Theatre

Across from the Theatre are the Royal Tombs, a set of tomb facades cut into the cliffs.

The Royal Tombs

The Royal Tombs

Camels and the Royal Tombs

Camels and the Royal Tombs

I continue to walk along a colonnaded street that used to be lined with shops.  I head toward the Great Temple and the Temple of the Winged Lions.  At the end of the street, on the left, is the Nabataean temple known as Qasr al-Bint.

The Royal Tombs

Strolling down the colonnaded street to the Great Temple and the Temple of the Winged Lions

Steps to one of the temples

Steps to one of the temples

colonnaded street

colonnaded street

I keep walking until I come to an area where boys are offering donkey rides up to the Monastery.  Despite the fact that I took a short horse ride, and sat on a camel, I’m game to pay the boy 7 dinar to take me on his donkey up the 800-step rock-cut staircase.  I think of this as a kind of adventure, just to ride the donkey upstairs.  There are magnificent views of the mountains as we climb.  Once he drops me off, there is still plenty of walking to be done.

taking the donkey up the 800+ steps to the Monastery

taking the donkey up the 800+ steps to the Monastery

Heading up to the Monastery

Heading up to the Monastery

path to the Monastery

path to the Monastery

views as I climb up to the Monastery

views as I climb up to the Monastery

At the top is Petra’s second most famous attraction, Ad-Deir, or the Monastery. The proportions of this are much bulkier and gargantuan than the Treasury, whose columns are much more delicate and intricately carved. The architectural embellishment is much simpler than the Treasury.  But it’s overpowering in its sheer magnitude.

the Monastery at the top of an 800 step climb

the Monastery at the top of an 800 step climb

the Monastery, up close and personal

the Monastery, up close and personal

After reaching the Monastery, I sit at an outdoor coffee shop, sip some tea and take in the view.

having tea across from the Monastery

having tea across from the Monastery

me dwarfed by the Monastery

me dwarfed by the Monastery

The Monastery

The Monastery

After, I walk up to one of the viewpoints on a cliff top, where I can see the rock formations of Petra from above, Jebel Haroun, and even Wadi Araba.  A Jordanian guy is sitting at the top playing some kind of guitar-like musical instrument.  He does double-duty as a shopkeeper, selling jewelry made by local artisans.

The Sacrifice View at the cliff top near the Monastery

The Sacrifice View at the cliff top near the Monastery

Guitar player doubling as jewelry salesman at the High Sacrifice

Guitar player doubling as jewelry salesman at the Sacrifice View

On the way down from the Sacrifice View, I pass by the Monastery again.

the Monastery on the way down

the Monastery on the way down

Finally, I must walk down and this is the worst of all.  Down the 800 steps is hard on my knees, one of which is bad anyway, but also surprisingly  on my toes.  I am wearing these Keds tennis shoes today, and going down my toes are jamming up against the end of these shoes.  By about halfway down, with all the walking I did just to get to the area near the Theatre, plus the difficult walk down, my legs and toes are killing me.  I’m actually thinking someone may have to come and carry me out of here.

Back at the bottom after a long hike down

Back at the bottom after a long hike down

on the way out of Petra, camels galore.... wish I had one to give my poor legs a rest.. :-)

on the way out of Petra, camels galore…. wish I had one to give my poor legs a rest.. 🙂

By the time I get to the bottom, I am starving and dead tired.  I go into the only restaurant around which happens to charge an exorbitant 10 dinar for a buffet lunch.  At the lunch counter, who do I find but Matt, who has haphazardly just arrived here himself.  We sit at an outdoor table and eat lunch.  I am hesitant to get up and walk again, because I know the way out is still a long one.

Finally, after eating, we wander into the museum and there I buy two rings, one with amethyst and one in turquoise and coral.  A little further on, Matt decides to go explore the Royal Tombs, and I continue on by myself.  He’s disappointed I won’t go to the tombs with him because he wants to share a taxi back to the hotel, but I don’t care about the cost of the taxi.  I’m ready to go and I want some peace and solitude.  I say it’s best that we part ways.  I continue the long journey out, which seems to take another hour at least.

a local family I pass on the way out of As-Siq

a local family I pass on the way out of As-Siq

Finally, I hobble out the entrance and look for a taxi which I take to the Rocky Mountain Hotel.  I can hardly move my legs.  They are throbbing with pain.  Misery.  I can’t remember when my legs have known such agony.

After a warm shower and a nice nap, Mohammed Gabaah arranges to pick me up at 7:00.  He comes in hiking shoes, khaki pants and a red fleece jacket ~ his work attire I presume.  He takes me to the Mövenpick Resort Petra near the entrance to Petra and buys me a couple of glasses of wine.  I actually enjoy his company here. We sit at the bar for a while and talk and talk.  Everyone in the hotel knows him.  Then he takes me to the Oriental Restaurant, where we share a veggie pizza.  Here, more people know him, come up to him and hug him, pat him on the back.  It’s clear that everyone knows him and respects him.  Seeing how other people treat him makes me warm to him.

I’m too tired to stay out late and the wine has made me sleepy.  I ask him to take me back to the hotel so I can rest for my trip tomorrow to Wadi Rum.  Parting ways, I find I feel a new appreciation for him.  Funny.  I had been so determined to brush him off.  Now, he appears in a new light.  Still not a bright light, but a new one just the same.

the king’s highway to the bedouin camp at petra

Standard

Sunday, November 6:  I wake up at 2 a.m. to the same loudspeaker I heard when I went to sleep.  Blah blah blah, blablablablabla. Blah blah blah, blablablablabla. Blah blah blah, blablablablabla. Blah blah blah, blablablablabla. Blah blah blah, blablablablabla.  Unbelievable!  Somehow I do manage to go back to sleep, but I’m wondering how on earth the owners of this shop, selling whatever “enticing” goods they are selling for whatever bargain price, can even stand this repeating announcement themselves.  And I can’t imagine this sound actually lures shoppers to buy anything!

Later I awake around 4-4:30 to hear that the loudspeaker has stopped. Sweet heavenly relief!  FINALLY that damn thing has quit its bellowing.  I was beginning to think I was in some episode of the Twilight Zone. There is still a buzz of activity on the street below but it’s a gentle buzz now, like static.  I roll over and drift off again….only to be awakened a half hour later by the call to prayer from the mosque!  It never ends, this noise in Amman!

In the morning, I eat an omelet, cucumbers and tomatoes, bread and cheese, followed by hot coffee in the lobby. Our driver for today, Aboud, brings his tiny sedan, already carrying a Turkish couple, to the Jordan Tower Hotel.  The plan is to drive from Amman back to the Dead Sea where we will pick up Minako from the Mövenpick Resort & Spa Dead Sea.  Then, all four of us tourists plus Aboud will take a long meandering drive along the King’s Highway.  This drive will take about 11 hours, including numerous stops along the way, with the destination being Petra.   The actual direct drive from Amman to Petra is really only 3 hours, but we all want to stop and see the sights along the way.

The Turkish couple, Emre and Zeynap, are friendly but Emre’s English is rudimentary.  Zeynap’s is very good.  Of course I have to tell them how much I adore Turkey, how it is my favorite country ever, how I love Cappadocia and Istanbul.  They live in Taksim, not the beautiful hill in Sultanahmet graced by the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.

The car is very small and it is only slightly comfortable with me, Emre and Zeynap.  When we stop at the Movenpick by the Dead Sea to pick up Minako, even though she is tiny, it suddenly becomes miserably tight.  Minako sits in the middle between Zeynap and me; Emre gets to stretch out in the front seat with Aboud.  I’m so happy to see Minako again, I’m distracted from the discomfort.

the grounds of the Movenpick where we pick up Minako

the grounds of the Movenpick where we pick up Minako

At the Movenpick I run in to find Minako and she takes me out back to the magnificent view.  She tells how she spent all yesterday afternoon relaxing by the pool and swimming in the Dead Sea.  I ask her how she put up with the flies.  She said, “Flies?  What flies?”  She apparently didn’t have any problem with flies at the Movenpick.  All I can say is that hotel must do something right with regard to the flies, because I never had a moment’s relief from them at the O Beach Hotel.

Then I ask her if she had a nice massage or any kind of spa treatments.  “I didn’t have time!” she said.  “I was only there one afternoon and overnight.”  I say, “I was only at the O Beach Hotel for 2 1/2 hours and I had a massage!”  She finds that hilarious, that I managed to squeeze in a massage in my short time at the Dead Sea, while she was at her hotel overnight and “didn’t have time.”  I guess it all boils down to priorities.  The rest of the day, she jokes about this ridiculous situation.

another view of the Movenpick

another view of the Movenpick

Our route today is along the King’s Highway, a trade route of vital importance to the ancient Middle East. It began in Egypt, and stretched across the Sinai Peninsula to Aqaba. From there it turned northward across Jordan, leading to Damascus and the Euphrates River.  The Nabataeans used this road as a trade route for luxury goods such as frankincense and spices from southern Arabia.  The Highway has also been used as an important pilgrimage route for Christians as it passed numerous sites important in Christianity, including Mount Nebo and “the Baptism Site” at the Jordan River, where Jesus is believed to have been baptized by John the Baptist.

Aboud tells us this road is the oldest road in Jordan, going back thousands of years.  I don’t know the fact about this road’s longevity, but no matter.  We do know it is old.  Ancient.

Our first stop is at the Wadi Mujib Nature Reserve which was established for the captive breeding of the Nubian ibex, a desert-dwelling goat species found in the mountainous areas of Jordan, among other places.  These goats are even found in Oman! We are told that the reserve is closed and we can only stand at an overlook area near the entrance.  We protest, “But we can’t see anything!!” The keeper of the reserve relents slightly, “Ok, you can walk just around the corner.” We go around the corner and find another couple meandering from quite a distance down the canyon, or the Siq Trail, a gorge with a river that flows into the Dead Sea.  We figure since those other people are allowed to walk down there, so are we, so off we go.  Minako takes off her sandals and wades into the water.  I have on tennis shoes so don’t wade, but I cross over some rocks to the central gravel island.  It’s really quite beautiful and refreshing.  Guides call this place “Petra with Water.”

Mujib Nature Preserve ~ "Petra with water"

Mujib Nature Preserve ~ “Petra with water”

Me in the Wadi Mujib Nature Reserve

Me in the Wadi Mujib Nature Reserve

Emre and Zeynap from Turkey in Wadi Mujib Nature Reserve

Emre and Zeynap from Turkey in Wadi Mujib Nature Reserve

At one point I ask the Turkish couple their opinion of Prime Minister Erdoğan, who is slowly unraveling Ataturk’s progressive achievement of making Turkey a more secular state. From what I’ve read, Erdoğan is trying to take Turkey backwards to its pre-Ataturk, more Muslim roots.  I am curious about this couple’s opinion.  Emre goes on and on in  barely intelligible English.  All I hear are things about Gaddafi and Libya and some other unintelligible stuff about oil and America and blah blah blah.  I just nod as he speaks and say, “Mmm. Yes. Right. Yep. Yes….”  Later I tell Minako I don’t think Emre can really speak English.  She says, “I couldn’t understand a word he was saying, but you seemed to know what he was talking about.”  I laugh, tell her I was just faking it, pretending to understand.  She laughs out loud at this and says I sure had her fooled.

Me at Mujib Nature Preserve

Me at Mujib Nature Preserve

Minako in Wadi Mujib

Minako in Wadi Mujib

Zeynap and Emre climb the ladder out of Mujib Nature Preserve

Zeynap and Emre climb the ladder out of Mujib Nature Preserve

our tiny group and our tinier car

our tiny group and our tinier car

After we explore the canyon for a bit, we climb back up a metal ladder and walk back to our tiny box of a car and squeeze in again.  Our next stop is Lot’s Cave.  In the hills east of Ghor as-Safi (ancient Zoar) a cave was found in 1991 with Early and Middle Bronze Age pottery inside. Speculation linked the finds with Abraham’s nephew Lot who, according to the Bible, moved to a cave in the hills above Zoar after Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed.

me at the entrance to Lot's Cave

me at the entrance to Lot’s Cave

We all know the story of Sodom and Gomorrah: Sodom and Gomorrah were two of the wickedest cities in the world. God therefore decided to destroy them both, but  there was just one good family in the city, so God decided to save them. Lot and his family were told to flee the city, but not to look back. Unfortunately his wife looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt.  After escaping,  Lot and his daughters hid in a cave where they watched the awesome destruction of the wicked cities.   This is apparently that cave.

me with Minako at Lot's Cave

me with Minako at Lot’s Cave

We climb and climb to the top of a small mountain overlooking the Dead Sea, where we find the aforementioned cave.  We enjoy an amazing view of the Dead Sea and the valley below.  Breathless and tired, we climb back into the car for a long drive to Karak.

Our guide Aboud

Our guide Aboud

The ancient Crusader castle of Karak (or Kerak) was the setting for 12th century battles between the Crusaders and the Muslim armies of Salah-ad-Din (Saladin). Karak is only one in a long line of castles built by the Crusaders stretching from Aqaba in southern Jordan to Turkey in the north.

random Jordanian and me at Karak

random Jordanian and me at Karak

entering the ancient Crusader castle of Karak

entering the ancient Crusader castle of Karak

steps at Karak Castle

steps at Karak Castle

A particularly evil Crusader, Renauld de Chatillon, arrived from France in 1148 to take part in the Crusades.  He took delight in torturing prisoners and throwing them off the walls into the valley 450 meters below.  It is said he fastened wooden boxes over his victims’ heads so they wouldn’t lose consciousness before hitting the ground.

one of the few walls left standing at Karak

one of the few walls left standing at Karak

We enter through the Ottoman Gate and cross a bridge over a dry moat.  Karak sits impressively at the top of a large cliff and the views are phenomenal, especially the golden valley below dotted with farmhouses and bushes and cloud shadows.

another beautiful view from Karak

another beautiful view from Karak

view from Karak

view from Karak

the stunning view from Karak

the stunning view from Karak

The castle itself is not that impressive, considering that only parts of walls are still standing, but the view is amazing.  At one point Minako climbs to the top of the only full wall left standing of Karak, following in the footsteps of some Jordanian boys.  At the top she is buffeted about by the wind and I fear as tiny as she is, she will blow right off that wall.  Like one of Chatillon’s victims.  But she slowly makes her way back down, clinging for dear life to each stone so she won’t topple over.

Minako celebrates making it down alive from the wall at Karak

Minako celebrates making it down alive from the wall at Karak

Jordanian boys at Karak

Jordanian boys at Karak

Karak

Karak

After we explore the rest of the castle grounds, where the most notable thing is the view all around, we meet Aboud at a local restaurant called Al-Fid’a, where we have the most delicious food I’ve had in Jordan so far.  I have a Spanish omelet and lemon with mint and some lentil soup.  Minako has a mixed grill with lamb and chicken.  It’s all delicious and the sun is amber-glowing and the air is as cool and crisp as a cucumber.  An utterly perfect day.

me at Al-Fida for lunch

me at Al-Fida for lunch

Al-Fida

Al-Fida

lunch time

lunch time

Lemon with mint.... my favorite drink throughout Jordan

Lemon with mint…. my favorite drink throughout Jordan

Our next stop is Jafar Bin Abi Taleb Shrine.  Aboud tells us the story of this shrine which revolves around the Battle of Mu’tah in 629, where (according to Aboud) the Byzantines outnumbered the Muslims by about 10 to 1. Apparently the prophet Muhammad mobilized an army to confront Byzantine forces in the Levant (Jordan), because a Byzantine governor had treacherously killed one of his emissaries. He appointed Zayd ibn Harithah as commander of the army and gave the following instructions: “If Zayd is wounded or killed, Ja’far ibn Abu Talib would take over the command. If Jafar ibn Abu Talib is killed or wounded, then your commander would be Abdullah ibn Rawahah. If Abdullah ibn Rawahah is killed, then let the Muslims choose for themselves a commander.”  All three commanders were killed and replaced successively as Muhammed instructed.  This shrine we see today is where the second commander in that battle, Ja’far ibn Abu Talib, is enshrined.

Apparently the battle ended in a draw and the safe retreat of both sides, according to Muslim sources,but it’s recorded as a Byzantine victory by Christian sources.  Some have claimed that this battle, far from being a defeat, was a strategic success; the Muslims had challenged the Byzantines and had made their presence felt amongst the Arab Bedouin tribes in the region.

Ja'far ibn Abi Talib Shrine

Ja’far ibn Abi Talib Shrine

the courtyard at Jafar Bin Abi Taleb Shrine

the courtyard at Jafar Bin Abi Taleb Shrine

Aboud tells Zeynap, Minako and me that we need to wear headscarves into the mosque, so we put some on.  He tells Minako, since she is wearing only shorts and tights, that she should put on an abaya, but she never seems to find her way into one. She’s so funny when Aboud tells her to hurry out of the mosque so the Iman doesn’t get angry.  She does a hilarious high-step tiptoe out of the mosque.

Minako at the Jafar Bin Abi Taleb Shrine

Minako at the Jafar Bin Abi Taleb Shrine

As we wander around, a nice man offers to take pictures of Minako and me next to the shrine;  After, he promptly extorts one dinar from us for taking the picture.

Minako and me in headscarves next to the enshrined martyr ~ before the 1 dinar extortion

Minako and me in headscarves next to the enshrined martyr ~ before the 1 dinar extortion

in the courtyard at the shrine

in the courtyard at the shrine

Later, we take a drive further along the King’s Highway, where trees are permanently leaning in an easterly direction, due to the continual winds from the west.  It’s strange to see every single tree along this road leaning at 45 degree angles.

Our last stop is at a lookout point in the Dana Nature Reserve.  This is the largest reserve in Jordan, with landscapes ranging from sandstone cliffs to the below-sea-level Wadi Araba.  Of course, we don’t have time for any hiking in this reserve, sadly, because I’m sure it would be beautiful.  The view alone is breathtaking.  It looks like a fantasy landscape, otherworldly.

Dana Nature Reserve

Dana Nature Reserve

me at Dana Nature Reserve along the King's Highway in Jordan

me at Dana Nature Reserve along the King’s Highway in Jordan

We finally arrive in Wadi Musa as the sun is setting.  Wadi Musa (Moses’ Valley) is the village that has sprung up around Petra.  Aboud drops Minako and me off at the Rocky Mountain Hotel, run by Jane and Atef.  Jane is a pretty blonde New Zealander and Atef is her younger, and gorgeous, Bedouin boyfriend.  They also own the Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp, where I’m due to stay on Tuesday night.  My colleague from the university has sent three gift packages of Omani dates with me to give to the staff at Rocky Mountain, so I unload my bag and hand them over to Jane upon my arrival.  Jane is a little stressed because she says there is currently no hot water in the hotel and she’s trying to get the situation resolved.  She thanks me for the dates and I say I’ll tell Willem she likes them.  Then she mentions to me that she doesn’t know why she got involved with someone ridiculously younger than her.  “I would have been happy to just be business partners; I don’t need all these problems with a younger man.”

I settle in to my room to relax a bit while the staff gives Minako a ride to the Bedouin camp, where she plans to stay tonight.  I tell her I’ll join her for dinner at the camp, making a stop along the way to buy a bottle of wine, around 7 p.m.  A young and skinny Jordanian guy named Sammy comes to pick me up and makes a stop to pick up a friend.  He is busy yapping on his cell phone and sending messages the whole time he is driving.  He picks up the friend and sends that friend into some hotel to buy the wine, instructing him numerous times that it should be red wine.  The guy comes back with a bottle of wine, but I can see it’s clear.  I protest. “No, no, that’s white wine!  I want red!” As much as I’m paying, 20 dinar, I insist on getting what I want.  Then they have to go on a circuitous route to find the red wine.  Finally, they find me two half-liter bottles for 13 dinar each and I agree that it’s fine.  We don’t arrive at the camp until 8:30, and I fear Minako has given up on me!

the lobby at the Rocky Mountain Hotel in Petra

the lobby at the Rocky Mountain Hotel in Petra

At the Bedouin camp, I meet Minako already halfway through her dinner.  It is quite cold in the dining tent.  I am so happy I bought a winter vest and heavy sweater in Muscat before I left!  It is freezing.  We shiver and huddle over our food, which is mostly cold salads, with some lukewarm chicken and rice and lukewarm lentil soup served buffet-style.  Luckily the wine adds some warmth to the meal, and we down that quite heartily.

After dinner we go into another long rectangular tent where there is a nice fire in a kind of metal grill.  We bring the rest of our wine with us and order some shisha.  Some Bedouin guys play a stringed musical instrument somewhat like a guitar and sing songs in Arabic.  We smoke our apple-flavored shisha and drink our wine and warm ourselves by the fire.

atef and minako in the bedouin tent

atef and minako in the bedouin tent

While there I get a call from a guy named Mohammed Gabaah who I met online though a website called TravelBuddy over nine months ago.  He added me on Facebook soon after and then we spoke by Skype various times.  I actually was quite put off by him because he, like many Arab men I’ve met, was so sex-obsessed that I didn’t feel comfortable talking to him.  I deleted him from Skype but not from Facebook because the work he does in film-making in Jordan is quite interesting.

me smoking shisha in the bedouin camp

me smoking shisha in the bedouin camp

So when I post on my Facebook status my plans to travel to Jordan, he messages me numerous times, asking me to call him when I arrive in Jordan.  I do so reluctantly when I arrive in Petra. I figure it can’t hurt to meet him since I had spoken to him in the past.

When Mohammed calls, he asks if he can come meet me at the Bedouin camp, as he knows Atef and the other Bedouins who run it.  I tell him he is welcome to come and meet me but I’m with my Japanese friend and I am enjoying my time here.  In the meantime, I ask Atef if he knows Mohammed and he says yes, he knows him.  I ask if he’s a good guy, and respectfully Atef says yes, he’s a good guy.

me with Mohammed Gabaah

me with Mohammed Gabaah

Mohammed shows up and sits for a while with us, listening to the music and we are mellow and all enjoying ourselves in the warm tent. I introduce Mohammed to Minako and I say, “I’m so happy I met her.  She’s so much fun!”  Minako says, “No!  You’re so much fun!!”  I say “You’re the one who’s fun!”  This goes back and forth for several more rounds and I don’t remember now which one of us ended up on top.  At one point Minako tells me she’s not happy with her “room;” her tent is very small, unheated, with no bathroom.  We walk over so she can show it to me, and it is in fact all of these things she describes.  In the center of the camp is one public bathroom, with two toilets and two showers, unheated.  Much like a bathroom in an American campground.  It is so cold, I decide then and there that I will cancel my reservation for the camp Tuesday night and just stay my third night in the Rocky Mountain Hotel.

my warm and cozy room at the Rocky Mountain Hotel

my warm and cozy room at the Rocky Mountain Hotel

Later Mohammed says he will drive me back to the hotel, and of course he has to stop along the way and show me the beautiful landscape of Wadi Musa under the stars.  I tell him nothing is going to happen between him and me and, after he can see I’m serious, he takes me back to my cozy room at the Rocky Mountain Hotel.

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the dead sea and fun-loving minako

Standard

Saturday, November 5:  I arrive in Amman at 9 a.m. after only a 3 1/2 hour flight from Muscat. Standing in line to buy the 20 Jordanian dinar tourist visa, I meet a man about my age who looks Middle Eastern but is carrying an American passport.  He has longish black hair and is dressed in all black: black suit with a black shirt.  He introduces himself as Alqam and says he grew up in Jordan but is originally from Chechnya, and some of his five children and one granddaughter now live in the country.  He’s going to visit them for the Eid.  He tells me a lot as we wait in line, how his wife died of cancer in 2004, how he’s working in Muscat now trying to get a business off the ground exporting air-conditioners to Oman, how he’s lived in Houston, Texas for many years. He gives me his number in Jordan and tells me to please call him if I need anything at all.  I give him my Oman number and tell him if he wants to have coffee or something when he returns to Muscat, he can feel free to call.  I don’t ever call him in Jordan, but I text him my Jordanian number and he bids me welcome: “you welcome to Jordan. hope you like it, alqam.”

the lobby of the cozy Jordan Tower Hotel

the lobby of the cozy Jordan Tower Hotel

Nihad from the Jordan Tower Hotel picks me up from Queen Alia Airport, cigarette in hand.  He’s got a face with grayish stubble and a mustache. I find out throughout my trip that Jordanians love to smoke, and he’s no exception. We drive through the quiet outer streets, through the sharp cliffs and hills topped with old and decaying granite houses, into the city center, where utter chaos reigns.  Everyone is shopping for the Eid.  I realize after having been in Muscat all day Friday and now being in Jordan on Saturday, that Eid is like America’s Christmas.  It seems that most of the shoppers are men, and they are shopping and shopping for new clothes, food, electronics, you name it… I’m not even sure what they could be buying with such enthusiasm.  These streets have a similar holiday vibe to our Christmas season:  crowds and utter frenzy reign. Male mannequins display western clothing in shop entryways, which are not behind windows but open to the street. Weathered men sell used and broken furniture on the asphalt streets.  A huge traffic jam knots the center of the city and no police are present to sort it out.  Some enterprising young men get out of their cars and direct the traffic to clear up the tangled jam, while drivers honk and holler in frustration.

the dining area of the Jordan Tower Hotel

the dining area of the Jordan Tower Hotel

At the hotel, my room isn’t ready yet.  However,  I’m anxious to get started on exploring Jordan so I ask the advice of the hotel staff.  They tell me a Japanese girl is going to the Dead Sea so if I’d like to share a ride with her, the cost will be 25 JD.  She will be staying the night in the Movenpick, but I can go to another resort where they charge 15 dinar to use their facilities and swim in the Dead Sea.  It sounds like as good a way as any to begin my time in Jordan.

me with Minako in the hotel lobby before our trip to the Dead Sea

me with Minako in the hotel lobby before our trip to the Dead Sea

Minako checks out her Japanese guidebook

Minako checks out her Japanese guidebook

Minako and me on the edge of a great view... Jordan is so amazing

Minako and me on the edge of a great view… Jordan is so amazing

Minako is a 30-year-old Japanese girl who now lives in Tokyo but is originally from Okinawa.  She finished her university studies and has worked at Accenture for 8 years.  Now she’s decided to study medicine and is trying to find the right university.  She had a boyfriend, but they broke up 3 months ago.  I’m sure that in Japanese culture, she’s probably a bit of an anomaly, being 30 years old and not married.  Minako is happy and upbeat and her mood is infectious.  Right away she grabs me and pulls me to the lobby couch for photos.  After all, we’re heading to the Dead Sea together; we’ll be great friends.  I love this kind of person who is not at all shy and just befriends everyone.  I so wish I was like this myself, but I’m always more reticent and wait for other people to reach out in friendship.

Minako and Nihad

Minako and Nihad

She asks me all about my situation and finds it quite amusing and “coo….” Though her English is excellent, she has the typical Asian problem with pronunciation of “l” and “r,” so every time she says “cool,” which is A LOT, she says “coo…”  It’s very endearing. She finds my marital situation especially interesting and says “I think your husband still loves you if he accepts what you’re doing.” I say I don’t know about that.   We both take an immediate liking to each other.

The Dead Sea is at the lowest point on earth, about 1300 feet below sea level,  and has such high salt content (over 33%) that nothing but the most microscopic life forms can survive in it. It’s 42 miles long and 11 miles wide and lies in the Jordan Rift Valley.  It’s main tributary is the Jordan River; it borders Jordan to the east and Israel and the West Bank to the west.  From the Hebrew Bible, it’s likely that Jericho was just north of the Dead Sea.  Somewhere, perhaps on the southeast shore, would be the cities mentioned in the Book of Genesis which were said to have been destroyed in the time of Abraham: Sodom and Gomorra (Genesis 18).  The rich Biblical heritage of this area in Jordan literally takes my breath away, even though I’m not a particularly religious person.

first view of the Dead Sea

first view of the Dead Sea

me and minako in front of the Dead Sea

me and minako in front of the Dead Sea

We share the ride with Nihad to the Dead Sea, and make him stop at a number of spots along the way to take pictures of the views.  We drop Minako at the top-notch Mövenpick Resort & Spa Dead Sea.

Minako says goodbye at the Mövenpick Resort & Spa Dead Sea

Minako says goodbye at the Mövenpick Resort & Spa Dead Sea

Nihad takes me down the road a bit to the O Beach Hotel, which is nice in its own right.  I pay my 15 dinar to go in and I change into my bathing suit.  I walk around admiring the views, the infinity pool stretching into the Dead Sea, the bar sunk into the infinity pool, the cushioned lounge chairs and umbrellas and cabanas.

the bar at the O Beach Hotel

the bar at the O Beach Hotel

Down on the beach below a small group of young people are swimming in the Dead Sea.  It’s a little chilly, so I’m not too anxious to jump right in.  Feeling rather hungry, I order a glass of red wine and a turkey sandwich and lie on a lounge chair waiting for them to bring it to me.  The only annoying detraction are the flies.  Flies are swarming all over the bar, all over me as I try to relax on my lounge chair, all over my glass of wine and my turkey and pickle sandwich.  Luckily the flies don’t seem to bite, but they’re hugely annoying.

the infinity pool at the O Beach Hotel stretching into the Dead Sea

the infinity pool at the O Beach Hotel stretching into the Dead Sea

Chairs at the O Beach Hotel

Chairs at the O Beach Hotel

palms at the O Beach Hotel with the Dead Sea behind

palms at the O Beach Hotel with the Dead Sea behind

a little covered patio at the O Beach Hotel

a little covered patio at the O Beach Hotel

I love watching the families and tourists at the hotel while swatting at the flies to keep from swallowing one.  I check out a good-looking Richard Gere-look-alike and his wife and children and grandchildren.  I walk down to the edge of the sea and watch some Europeans floating.

people floating in the Dead Sea

people floating in the Dead Sea

Finally, with some trepidation, I climb in over the rocks and hardened calcified salt and dip into the sea.  It’s very strange, the sensation of floating in this salt-dense sea.  There is no need to tread water or to make any motion at all to stay afloat.  My body immediately moves into a “sitting in a chair” position, and it’s next-to-impossible to move out of this position.  It’s like the sea is an armchair and all you do is sink into it.  No movement is required at all.

I make an attempt to swim a modified crawl, with my head above the water, but it’s very difficult to swim because my legs pop out of the water behind me.  It’s rather difficult to kick underwater if your legs are jutting out of the water!  In addition, the water is a little choppy and I swallow a mouthful of salt water, which is so thick with salt it’s like a salt-water gargle.  I also have a cut on my lip which burns from the salt-on-a-wound effect.

The Dead Sea in Jordan

The Dead Sea in Jordan

the Dead Sea

the Dead Sea

I don’t stay in long because it just feels too bizarre.  When I get out, I have this slimy film all over my skin and I dip into the downright cold infinity pool to wash off the salt water.  It doesn’t come off and actually the beads of water don’t dry up in the sun.  An exotic woman approaches me and tells me she does massages.  She’s Iraqi and her name is Tonya.  Always a sucker for a massage, I succumb to the temptation for a half-body mud massage for 33 dinar.  We go into an open air room with mats hanging over the opening for semi-privacy.  When I lie face-down on the massage table, there is a mirror below that lets me see the Dead Sea as I get my massage.  Lovely really.

Tonya, the masseuse who gives me a mud massage

Tonya, the masseuse who gives me a mud massage

the massage room looking out at the Dead Sea

the massage room looking out at the Dead Sea

After the massage I take a cold shower (there is no hot water in this massage room), and go outside to meet Nihad for my ride back to Amman.  It takes about an hour to get back.

blossoms swept into a corner

blossoms swept into a corner

I love the Jordan Tower Hotel in Amman’s city center, with its super-friendly and helpful staff and its cozy lobby area. But I have some issues when I finally return to the hotel to check in. First, I had reserved a single room with a private bathroom.  When I finally check in, the hotel manager apologizes profusely, saying my intended room has a problematic bathroom.  So he must give me a room with 3 single beds and no bathroom.  He tells me that the bathroom in the hall will be all mine, because the other three rooms all have their own bathrooms. When he takes me to my room, he struggles mightily with the door handle, and seems to be unable for some time to get it open. Finally, he lets me in and I settle in with my stuff.  I’m not happy about not having a private bathroom when I specifically booked such, but the guy feels so bad about it, I let him off the hook and don’t complain.

my bathroom-less room at the Jordan Tower Hotel

my bathroom-less room at the Jordan Tower Hotel

Outside in Amman, the weather is cold and rainy, a total switch from the Dead Sea. I opt to eat a light snack of mushroom soup, bread and mint tea in the hotel tonight and to sit in the common room writing notes about my day.   I feel chilled and so get cozy early in my room, where I crank up the heat to toasty, toastier, toastiest.  Outside my window, on the busy streets below, is a cacophony of noise that grates on my senses.  Again, it is people enthusiastically shopping for Eid.  People are shouting, cars are honking, loud Arabic music is blaring.  But worst of all there is a loudspeaker right below my window that repeats a sales pitch in Arabic that sounds like this: Blah blah blah, blablablablabla. Blah blah blah, blablablablabla. Blah blah blah, blablablablabla. Blah blah blah, blablablablabla. Blah blah blah, blablablablabla. Blah blah blah, blablablablabla. Blah blah blah, blablablablabla. Blah blah blah, blablablablabla.

All freaking night long.

Before Minako and I took off this morning, she warned me, laughing her infectious laugh:  “You’ll probably get my room.  It was so noisy!  I’ve never heard anything like it.”  Without a doubt.