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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.