Madaba, Petra and Wadi Rum, Jordan
I got about 4 hours sleep in my hotel in Madaba before getting up and heading out for a walk. Madaba is at the beginning of the King’s Highway. The King’s Highway is one of three highways in Jordan and has been in use for over 3,000 years by Israelites traveling to Jerusalem and the Promised Land, by Christians enroute to Mt. Nebo, by the Crusaders during the Crusades, by Muslims traveling to Mecca, by the Nabateans traveling to Petra and of course by traders throughout the centuries.
Madaba is a unique city in a predominantly Muslim nation in that approximately one third of the population is Christian. Madaba has become famous over the years because of countless discoveries of Byzantine mosaics depicting Christian events. The most famous mosaic was discovered at St. George’s Church in the early 1800s when the Greek Orthodox Church was under construction. The mosaic that was discovered was a map of Palestine dating to the 6th century and represents the oldest map ever discovered. The map contains 157 sites depicting the most significant biblical sites in the Middle East. The Church was only 3 blocks from my hotel so I wandered down the street to have a look.
The town was just waking up as I made my way to the Church and as I approached I suddenly realized it was Sunday. (I frequently forget what day it is since it really carries no significance for me while I am on sabbatical and often have to stop and think about it for a minute.) Anyway, the Sunday thing was bad news for me since the Church would only be open for worship and not visitors. This meant I could not see the mosaic until later in the day. Damn! By now I already found myself in front of the Church and it appeared that the service had just begun. I heard the priests’ voices and then I heard a choir singing. It was quite lovely so I figured what the heck. I would peek in through the doorway. I watched the mass for a few minutes before heading to the ticket office where I was able to see a replica of the mosaic. Not as good as the real deal, but better than nothing.
As I left the ticket office I noticed a sign on the door. “Wanted. Person to assist with English lessons for the school year. Room and board plus daily Arabic lessons.” Mmmmm … for a few minutes I stood there and contemplated ditching my law practice and taking up residence for a year in Madaba. What the heck… it would be interesting to say the least, and I could become somewhat proficient in Arabic. After daydreaming about the possibilities for a few minutes, common sense and my mortgage payment brought me back to reality. Crap. If it wasn’t for that damn house….
Anyway, I wandered back to my hotel and had just enough time to have some breakfast before Monsour met me for the drive to Petra. Poor man had even less sleep than me since after he dropped me off he had to drive 40 minutes back to Amman and then turn around and drive right back to Madaba for our 3 hour drive to Petra.
Monsour was right on time and we set off to Petra around 10:00 a.m. We drove along the King’s Highway on a very windy road through little villages and past farm land with sheep and goats tended to by Bedouins (a nomadic, ethnic group who inhabit desert areas in the middle east). The landscape was very dry and desert like. And I really couldn’t figure out what the heck the sheep and goats were grazing on since the entire landscape appeared to be sand.
After an hour an a half, we made a rest stop at a restaurant that also contained a small shop. I wandered around as Monsour had tea and what should I find … yep a basket of Christmas ornaments! Unfreakinbelievable. After doing a happy dance while a young Jordanian fellow looked on with a combination of disgust (I think at my lousy dancing skills) and amusement, I started looking through the basket. I selected two lovely ornaments and then added a third ornament hand painted with the words Allah in Arabic on it (at least according to the young Jordanian man who was helping me … it may actually say something like “Christmas Sucks” in Arabic for all I know….)
After paying for my treasures, I found Monsour and off we set for the final hour and a half to Petra. As we drove, the terrain became more hilly, but the remained very much a desert. Talk turned to politics, and Monsour and I had a fascinating discussion about Israel, the Middle East and American policies in the region. I won’t go into opinions (mine or Monsour’s), but suffice is to see that he and I both agreed on how the issues in the Middle East could be resolved so that peace could be brought to the region and both a Palestinian state and Israeli state could co-exist.
My fascinating discussion with Monour made the time pass very quickly. We reached the turnoff for Petra (and the town adjacent to Petra – Wadi Musa) in what seemed to me to be a very short period of time. We drove down the twisty road through Wadi Musa and to my hotel at the entrance to Petra, the Crown Plaza. Normally I do not stay in large touristy hotels when I travel, but the Crown Plaza is one of two hotels at the entrance to Petra and so the location was the only reason I was staying at the hotel. Fortunately, the hotel provided me with a lovely room overlooking the Petra hills and the pool area.
After getting settled, I grabbed my map of Petra and headed for the entrance. Now a little bit about Petra. The area around the present site of Petra was settled by the Nabateans around 600 BC. The Nabateans then built Petra over the next 500 years by carving the buildings out of the mammoth red rocks common to the area. The city became an important stop on the trading route and made the Nabateans wealthy. Over the years, the city was conquered by the Romans and during the Byzantine era some of the buildings in Petra were converted to churches. Much of the city was destroyed by earthquakes and by the time the Muslims conquered the area in the 7th century, Petra had lost its treasured status and was considered a minor outpost. From the 13th century until the 19th century, Petra was a lost city, all but forgotten except to the local resident Bedouins. In 1812, Swiss explorer JL Burckhardt disguised himself as a Muslim holy man and brought Petra out of isolation. Since 1812, the secrets of Petra have slowly revealed themselves, but much is still undiscovered. (The most recent significant discovery occurred in 2003, when archeologists discovered tombs underneath the Treasury.) Petra is now on the list as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
The ancient city is spread over a very large area, but there is only one way in and one way out. Walking into Petra is easy as it is downhill, but coming back as I soon learned, after a some long hours hiking around the sites was a bitch. Anyway, my plan was to spend the late afternoon walking from the entrance to the Siq, then through the Siq to the Treasury. From the Treasury I would walk through the Street of Facades to the stairway leading to the High Place of Sacrifice and end the day climbing to the High Place of Sacrifice. (I would have a guide on Monday for 3 hours to provide a basic history and layout of the sites, but was spending Sunday afternoon on my own). So with a game plan in mind, I set off from my hotel at about 2:30 p.m.
As I passed through the entrance and began my trek, the first monuments I passed were the Djinn blocks: three large stones that were carved by the Nabateans in the first century. No one knows what the blocks mean or what purpose they served. Next up was the Obelisk Tomb and Bab As-Siq Triclinium. The tomb was quite impressive with the area over the top of the tomb covered by, yep, obelisks. The Bab As-Siq Triclinium was underneath the Obelisk Tomb and was used a dining room.
As I walked, I soon came to the entrance to the Siq, a naturally carved gorge that extends 1.2 km to the Treasury (the most famous building in Petra). The Siq is absolutely amazing with enormous 200m high walls. Throughout the Siq, the Nabateans carved images into the stones (including a camel caravan). As I walked through the enormous gorge, the walls closed in at points and then opened up into wide alleys. The trail was paved by the Romans and in spots the cobblestones still survive. Because I was walking into Petra late in the day, there were few walking through the Siq with me. It was peaceful and beautiful and surreal all the the same time. Then there it was! As I turned the corner I got my first glimpse of the Treasury peaking through the opening between the walls at the end of the Siq. I was so surprised by the suddenness of the sight of the Treasury, I let out a gasp. It was all I could do to keep my excitement in check and not run the last couple hundred yards to the end.
And then finally there it was: the Treasury in all it magnificent and stunning glory carved out of the beautiful red rocks. (The Treasury is THE most famous site at Petra.) It literally took my breath away as a stared at this 2,000 year old architectural wonder. The intricate and detailed carving was unlike anything I had seen, and I was literally awe struck. The place was filled with tourists and as much as I wanted to stay there and stare at the Treasury, I decided that I would continue on and spend more time at the Treasury on my way back out of the site when there would be far fewer people.
So it was on to the Street of Facades, which is comprised of numerous tombs with a variety of styles and designs (hence the name) lining the passageway beyond the Treasury. I spent a bit of time exploring the tombs before reaching the staircase to begin my climb to the High Place of Sacrifice, which was the official sacrificial site of the Nabateans.
The climb to the High Place was a series of stone steps straight up. Fortunately, the steps were in the shade, which made the climb a little (and I do mean “a little”) easier, but it was still damn hot. Why these folks always built the most attractive sites high up is beyond me, but I was sure getting my workouts in on this trip.
After 45 minutes of climbing straight up, I was finally rewarded with my first peak at the two obelisks marking the High Place of Sacrifice. I collapsed at the top, downed a bottle of water and caught my breath. After a few minutes, I finally got to my feet and wandered over to the view point… uh what the heck is that! I was staring out at a HUGE brown cloud coming straight for me and the other four gals at the top with me. Unfortunately, I already knew the answer … sandstorm. Great! I am at one of the highest points in Petra at 4:30 in the afternoon with only two hours of sunlight remaining, and I am about to be stuck in a sandstorm.
Minutes later, some Bedouins arrived and we followed them to a lookout point where we took cover while the winds and sand washed over us. Fortunately, after about 15 minutes there was a lull and we took the opportunity to look down from the lookout point on Petra and the Royal Tombs below to see people heading for the Siq to get out of the storm. The worst of the storm appeared to have passed so me and two of the other girls at the top decided to head down. Twenty-five minutes later we were back at the bottom with sand and dust swirling around. I decided at this point it would be wise to call it a day. As I walked back towards the Treasury, there were very few people left in the site and when I got the Treasury I could count the people on one hand. SWEET! This meant I could get a picture of the Treasury without anyone in front of it to ruin my shot. And so me and a handful of others took advantage of the moment and snapped away. I could not believe my good luck.
As I hiked back to the hotel, one of the horse drawn carriages stopped and a woman named Eve asked me if I wanted to share her carriage back to the entrance. (There are carriage rides and horse that can take you back to the entrance if you do not want to walk the 2 km back from the Treasury.) So never one to pass up a good offer, I hopped in. I immediately offered to pay half the fare, but Eve assured me she was there for fact finding for a tour she was putting together and her company would be picking up the bill. Even better! Turns out Eve was Canadian and was born and raised in Vancouver, just across the water from my home town of Victoria. Unbelievable!
Anyway, about the carriage ride. Turns out those cobblestones are entirely uncomfortable when riding across them in a carriage. My God! I thought my teeth were going to fall out and my back would never be the same. We bounced and jarred our way back to the entrance, but I was wonderful to avoid the walk back up the hill after a long afternoon of walking around.
I got back to my hotel room and it was all I could do to keep my eyes open. It had been a long night and a very long day. I called it good and crawled into bed.
Next morning I was up at 6:30 to meet my guide at 7:00. Immad and I hit it off and we immediately retraced my steps from the day before reaching the Treasury before most folks. In fact the area was pretty much deserted. Immad told me that the Treasury had been built as a tomb for Nabatean King Aretas III, but the name Treasury was coined because legend had it that an Egyptian pharaoh had buried his treasure here. Locals even went so far as to shoot up the Treasury with gunshots in an attempt to find the treasure, which does not exist.
After taking the requisite pictures, Immad and I moved on through the site, visiting the Street of Facades, the Theatre, the Royal Tombs, Colonnaded Street (which reminded me of the colonnaded street in Ephesus) and the Great Temple. As we walked, Immad told me all about the sites as well as life in Jordan. In fact, Immad shared with me he was new daddy. His wife apparently gave birth to a son only three days before. He told me that in accordance with Jordanian (and Muslim) customs, he was going to see a Bedouin farmer that afternoon to buy two goats to sacrifice in his son’s honor. The meat would be given to the poor. In addition, he would be shaving his son’s head as part of the ritual. (Apparently, if his wife had given birth to a daughter only one goat would be sacrificed. Mmmm… and no he did not provide an explanation for the difference despite my questioning.)
At the Great Temple, Immad left me and I continued on to the stairs leading to the other great monument at Petra: the Monastery. Now I was still a little tired from my hike to the High Place the day before, but I was determined to make the 45 minute hike up the mountain to the Monastery. (The 45 minute hike was actually about an hour straight up, and I just about passed out from exhaustion and heat.)
Anyway, the Monastery has a design similar to the Treasury, but it is much bigger and much less visited. The Monastery was built as tomb, but its name is derived from the myriad of crosses that appear on the inside walls (probably carved there during Byzantine times). And I was determined to see the damn thing if it killed me.
So up I hiked, stair after agonizing stair. Around corners and up crumbling steps. Past Bedouin stands where women were selling jewelry and trinkets. I finally reached a rest area where I about collapsed on a chair. I drank a bottle of water and some fresh squeezed orange juice before continuing on the path for what I was told was the last 15 minutes of the trail. I passed yet another Bedouin jewelery stand and the woman told me 5 more minutes. In my grateful state I told the woman that I would buy something from her on my way back to celebrate that good news. And sure enough, 5 minutes later I was at the crest of the mountain looking down at the opening that was the courtyard of the Monastery.
I would have high fived myself if I had the energy to lift my arms, but it was all I could do to drag my weary butt down the short flight of stairs and walk to the front of the Monastery. I collapsed on the ground and just stared at it for about ten minutes. Was it worth the hike… you betcha. And there were very few people there.
Then I looked around and realized that there was a view point behind me in what appeared to be a two story climb to the top. Aw crap! Well I hadn’t climbed all this way to wimp out at the end so I dragged myself up the stairs to the top of the view point and sat down to take in the view of the Monastery in front of and below me and of the valley behind me. It was spectacular.
I spent about an hour relaxing and staring at the view and the Monastery before mustering the energy for the hike down. I was dreading this, but figured it would not be as bad as hiking up. I no sooner started the trek back down when I heard a woman’s voice say “I’ve been waiting for you.” Gack! I had promised the Bedouin woman I would buy something from her. All I really wanted to do was give the lady some money and let me get on my way. However, she seemed nice enough so I obliged her. We chatted for a bit (her English was fair) and she invited me to sit with her and her friend for some Bedouin tea. Never one to pass up a generous offer from a local I thanked her and joined them on the ground behind her stand. (And no dammit I don’t have I picture. I was so tired I forgot to pull out my camera.)
Anyway, I sat there with Rosalie and her friend and chatted over tea made on an open fire. Rosalie had 8 children ranging in age from 19 to 1 ½ years of age. She climbs the hill to the Monastery every day to sell her jewelry. (Holy crap!) So after drinking my tea, I went back to the front of the stand and Rosalie showed me a couple very nice necklaces. I bought two (which I am sure made her day, week and perhaps her month), thanked her for her hospitality and bid her goodbye. I was hot, dusty and tired and wanted to get back down before the sun got too hot (it was already noon).
I made it down the mountain and was close to collapsing (seriously). I found a bathroom and doused my head with water (and yes, there was squat toilet… which brings the count to 5 out of 6 countries… damn Greece screwed up the count) and decided I was done for the day. I found a guy who was offering donkey rides back to the Treasury and for 20 JD, it was worth the price. I climbed on the donkey (feeling more like an ass than the animal I was riding), but knew there was just no way I could make it back the 4 km or so to the hotel. Once at the Treasury, I hailed a carriage and was taken on another bone jarring ride back to the entrance. I hauled my tired self up a couple flights of stairs and along a slight incline to the hotel where I grabbed the elevator to my hotel and literally collapsed on my bed. I managed to undress, jump in the shower to cool off and clean up and then crawled into bed.
Four hours later I finally woke up and debated whether I should make the walk back to the Treasury for Petra by Night, which is a candlelit walk through the Siq to the Treasury where a very short musical presentation is put on by the Bedouins. After some debate, I finally decided to suck it up and do it. It turned out to be a good decision. The walk was really nice (although some of the folks interrupted the spirit of the event by blabbering as they walked). It was amazing to see all the lanterns along the path and I would like to thank the pour souls who had to light the lanterns and lay them out in a very even pattern along the route to the Treasury.
The front of the Treasury was lit up with hundreds of lanterns and it looked magical in the dark. I took a seat on a mat on the ground directly in front of the Treasury (despite the fact that one of the ushers at the event was trying to shove me off to the side – buzz off fella, I came 10,000 miles and I am sitting directly in front of this baby). A short while later, a fellow came around and served each of us a cup of tea in the tiniest cup I have ever seen.
Finally, the music began. First, a gentleman came out playing a rabab (it resembles a fiddle) followed by a gentleman playing a flute. As the music played, I laid on my back and stared at the sky. It was awash in stars. In fact, there were more stars in the sky than I can ever remember seeing. It was another out of body experience as the music played and I gazed overhead. (I surmised that the fellow playing the rabab was playing a folk song about his people, but nooooo, I later learned the guy was playing a song about coffee! WTF? However, I soon learned that Bedouins and Jordanians solve their problems over coffee so a cup o joe is revered in these parts. I guess that means old Howard Schultz would their demi-god!)
Once the music was finished, I made my way back the long 2km trek to the hotel. I was done and really needed to get a good night’s sleep so I went to bed as soon as I got back to the hotel.
I slept in the next morning and relaxed a bit since my driver was not coming to take me to Wadi Rum until noon. (BTW – “wadi” means valley.) Unfortunately, I would not have Monsour for my driver, but I was lucky enough to have an equally charming and hard working man named Bayan. He arrived on time and we began the 1 ½ hour drive to Wadi Rum through the windy, desert roads.
For those not familiar, Wadi Rum is magnificent desert filled with towering red rock mountains, springs, and sand dunes. The area stretches all the way from Jordan to the Saudi border. I was planning to meet up with my Bedouin guide and spend the night with 10 others in a Bedouin camp in the desert. Yep sports fans that’s right… this woman who loathes camping and refuses to even consider the thought was voluntarily spending the night sleeping on the ground in the desert. (Not sure why I wanted to, but I just felt the need to have the whole desert experience.)
Anyway, as we approached Wadi Rum, the enormous red rock pillars seemed to take over the desert area. It was jaw dropping to catch my first glimpse of these beautiful nature made marvels. It is impossible to describe the raw physical beauty of the mountains against the stark desert. I was so happy to be here.
My driver dropped me off at a restaurant in the town of Wadi Rum where I waited for my guide, Ali, to meet me. While I waited, the proprietor brought me out lunch: one plate of hummus, salad, spicy tzatziki and rice and one plate of grilled chicken, flat bread and more salad. There was enough food to feed ten of me. I ate what I could and felt horrible for leaving so much delicious food behind. I apologized profusely to the proprietor who agreed that it was a lot of food. I am certain, however, that I convinced him how good the food was (and it was stupendous).
Ali arrived at 2:30 and we headed off to the desert. The plan was a 3 hour tour and then stop to watch the sunset over the desert before heading to camp. What Ali did not tell me, however, is that the 3 hour tour involved A LOT of climbing. My leg muscles were so stiff. Nevertheless, I sucked it up and did it. First up was the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, a large rock formation with seven fluted turrets. A beautiful natural creation.
Then it was on to the ruins of the Nabateen Temple, discovered in 1933. This was interesting, but given the ruins I had seen to date, not that impressive. Next was the first of a number of climbs. This one was to Al Shallaleh, a spring that feeds into Lawrence Springs. I made the 25 minute trek up the mountain and soon found myself in front of a beautiful green oasis in the desert. It had been a hot climb, but well worth it.
Once back down, we made a quick stop at Lawrence Springs and then it was on to the Little Bridge, a hike up a huge rock formation with an arch connecting one rock formation with another. There were larger rock bridges, but I figured this was a tough as I could handle, and boy was I right. It was really high up and with my fear of heights (surprising, I know, given everything I have done on this trip, but you have to push yourself to overcome fears), I figured it was as high as I could venture.
It turned out to be a blast. I made it all the way to the top of the bridge and while I stayed at the top and admired the views, Ali hiked back down and took a couple pictures of me. Thank God for the pictures as I don’t think I would have ever believed I made up there.
Next up was the Al-Hasany Sand Dunes where Ali dropped me off and told me I could hike to the top. I figured it would be fun coming down so up I went. Mother of God was it tough. Imagine tipping a very soft sandy beach on its side and then walking through the sand to the top. That is what it was like hiking up the dunes. Tough going, but a helluva lot of fun coming down. It was actually like skiing!
Our last stop was the Khaz’ali Canyon, but just as I was getting back in the car, Ali told me to take the wheel of the jeep. Uh isn’t this what I’m paying you for dude? Ali assured me it would be fun so off we set and… holy crap. It was like driving in huge snow drifts only much tougher. If you veered the slightest off the tire tracks in the sand the jeep almost immediately began to lose traction and spin out. After 10 minutes of driving, Ali told me to stop and he took over. (Later Ali told our camp that I was a very good driver … and coming from Ali who is from male dominated Bedouin culture where few women drive – in fact I did not see a single female driver the whole time I was in Jordan – this was a huge compliment.)
We reached the Canyon with Ali at the wheel and I walked around for about half an hour before tracking Ali down in a tent drinking tea. At first he indicated to me that we would be too late for the sun set and we should just sit and drink tea. I advised Ali I wanted to see the sunset and would risk missing the tea … so after a hard stare from me, we were off. We got to the area where the viewing is best and Ali dropped me off with directions to climb the rocks for the best view. Then the surprise. Ali advised me that he had to get to the camp (which we had passed about a mile away) and that I would have to walk back after sunset. Huh? However, rather than argue and lose precious time as the sun was setting, I jumped out and figured I could find my way before it was dark. (At this point, I wasn’t entirely sure where the camp was except it was just past the corner camp that I could see in the distance. – I called it the corner camp because it was a camp set up at the corner of a square faced mountain.)
Ali left me standing there so I figured I’d deal with the hike back issue after seeing the sun set. I climbed yet another set of rocks, got to the top and watched the spectacular setting sun. Once the sun was below the sky line, I hiked back down the right side of the rocky hill and figured I had about 30 minutes of twilight before dark. I needed to hustle. Once I reached the bottom, I trudged straight ahead through the deep sand, sweating in the heat. This was f’ing ridiculous. I passed the corner camp and continued through the dunes. But now I realized I was in trouble. I did not see the camp anywhere and it was getting dark fast. I stopped for a minute and tried not to panic glancing behind me to see how far it was back to the corner camp. (I had no idea what camp it was, but figured they could help me if worse came to worse.) As I was about to turn back and head to the corner camp, I saw headlights in the distance disappear over a dune. I figured that had to be the direction of my camp, so I made a beeline for where I saw the headlights and walked up and over the dunes to the wonderful sight of tents. I walked into the camp and confirmed I was in the right place. Then I hunted down Ali. After a quick once around in virtual darkness, I couldn’t find him so figured I just needed to grab my pack from the gear piled in the corner and locate my flashlight.
I found my gear easily and asked one of my fellow campers if we were to just grab a tent and set up shop and she nodded. I turned on my flashlight and opened the flap of a tent only to see a giant beetle crawling across what was to be my mattress. Uh oh. This was what I loathe about camping, and what I was fearing most about my venture into an overnight camp. I quickly pulled my pack out of Tent #1 and moved next door to Tent #2. I did a sweep of the tent with my flashlight, came up all clear and left my stuff in the tent before joining my fellow campers on mats on the ground. There were 10 of us in total: 3 Italians (who turned out to be incredibly obnoxious), 2 Americans, 1 Brit, 1 Frenchman and 2 from Holland. Two of the Italians then proceeded to start talking in very loud voices (in Italian) and never shut up (even when we were eating).
We all exchanged stories about our day in the desert and the others were incredulous about my sunset story. However, as it turned out, I was the only one who actually saw the sunset. The others were told that there was no time and were brought back to the camp at dusk. (Glad I put up a fight!)
Anyway, as we sat there and chatted, I finally spotted Ali and shouted at him. “Hey Ali. I made it back in case you were wondering.” “Yea they told me. I wasn’t concerned. I knew you’d make it.” Good grief. Nice to know I was in such good hands. I guess it was no big deal to this Bedouin if they lost a white female tourist in the desert. There would still be others to take my place.
So after an hour or so of sitting around, Ali announced that dinner was ready. We all got up and wandered over to where he was standing and watched as he dug around in the sand. Minutes later he uncovered the top of what appeared to be a metal can. The lid was pulled off and Ali and another fellow each grabbed a handle and lifted a double rack of food out of this metal drum in the ground. (Apparently, a fire was built under the drum and the food was placed in the drum, sealed and covered with sand to cook.)
The food on the racks looked delicious. Chicken, tomatoes, onions and potatoes. Along with the food pulled out of the drum, Ali and the others brought out rice, yogurt, salad and flat bread. The meal was incredibly delicious. After dinner, (through which the obnoxious Italians continued to babble at the top of their lungs), Ali lit a candle with a little parachute and let it float off into the sky. It was lovely as we watched it float high into the sky to meld with the stars. Then it was time for bed. This is what I was dreading. I wandered over to my tent with my flashlight and made a sweeping motion with my flashlight and … HOLY ****. Scorpion in my tent!! I grabbed my backpack and made a run for it. Back at the mat area, I made the executive decision to sleep outside without a tent. It turned out the others were reaching the same conclusion. (Apparently bugs were rampant in the tents.)
Ali and the others brought foam mattresses outside for everyone to sleep on and then gave us blankets to stay warm. Fortunately it was dark and it was not until morning when I could really look at the blankets to see how grimy they were. (Oh well, this is what I signed up for. Sleeping for the night in a Bedouin camp.)
Next up was the bathroom. Me and the three other girls wandered over to the bathroom area and all I can say is ick, ick ick. While the bathroom was clean enough, the smell was brutal. It was the one time I wished I had a cold on this trip.
Anyway, with teeth brushed (using bottled water) we wandered back, wrapped our heads with scarfs to shield against the bugs and dirt and laid down on the mattresses to go to sleep. I kept thinking about bugs and realized I would have very little sleep. The obnoxious Italians continued to babble until someone finally said “Shut up.” (They really were destroying the wonderful outdoor ambiance with the stars overhead.) Once the quiet set in, I stared overhead at the stars. It was magical and worth the discomfort lying on the hard ground under grimy blankets.
I was awake as the sun came up and got up to snap some photos of the sun reflecting off the rocks. It was lovely. We had a light breakfast of flatbread, jam, juice and fruit and then it was time to go. Bayan picked me up at 9:45 and we set off for Aman. We would be stopping at Karak Castle, the Dead Sea and Mt. Nebo before he delivered me to the airport for my flight to Johannesburg. As my bags were loaded into the car, Ali asked me if I had enjoyed myself. “Yes Ali. It was a very interesting two days.” “Your welcome.” Ali responded to me. This response made me chuckle because I had come to learn that the Jordanians say “Your welcome” in response to virtually any answer you may give to a question. “Was it a tough climb for you?” “Yes it was.” “Your welcome.” “Did you enjoy your stay in Jordan?” “Yes I did.” “You’re welcome.” Cracks me up every time.
So Bayan and I headed up the freeway and 3 hours later we pulled into Karak for a quick visit to the Karak Castle. Karak was on the old trade route, but came into prominence when the Crusaders invaded the Middle East and King Baldwin I built the castle in 1142 to control the trade routes and defend the Crusaders’ positions in the Middle East. The Crusaders were ultimately overthrown by the Islamic armies who took control of the castle until it was virtually abandoned following a devastating earthquake.
The castle is easy to spot, but incredibly difficult to access. There is only one way in and one way out and the narrow road is choked with local traffic (foot and car) so it can often take 30 minutes or more to drive up the hill to the castle. I planned to spend about an hour wandering the ruins.
I walked through the entrance and stared at the broken remnants of a rock wall with narrow “window” openings permitting the occupants of the castle magnificent views to the valley below as well as easy pickings against invaders. I stopped by the very small museum and looked at relics recovered from the site including weapons and pottery. I then walked up a cobblestone staircase to the second level of the castle past the arched Crusader Halls and through the kitchens and bakery to the dining room. Then I walked outside the main building along the eastern wall (again with spectacular views) and down a staircase to the Church – a spectacular arched building. Then it was down another set of stairs to the Confession Room (I did not feel the need to confess anything). I walked back up the stairs and past the Church and then down another staircase to the prison and the Rosettes Gallery and past the Flower Bath (named for the lovely carved flowers in the bath). My last stop was the Mosque. An underground room with a tiny opening that let just a sliver of light into the room.
I exited the castle, found Bayan and we were off to the Dead Sea. We drove down the hill from the castle to the windy, hilly road leading to the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth. And then suddenly I spotted the Dead Sea in the distance. The color of the water was an intense deep blue. It was gorgeous and stark against the brown desert landscape. As we drove along paralleling the Dead Sea I looked at Israel lying only a few miles from Jordan. I was rather surprised at how close the two countries were to one another.
We finally reached Amman Beach where I was going to spend a couple hours relaxing and floating in the Dead Sea. I quickly changed, grabbed a towel and ran down to the edge of the Dead Sea and waded in. I got in about as far as my knees before I leaned back and let the VERY buoyant salt water take me away. Then I made a huge mistake of leaning my head back a little too far and the water rushed across my face. ACK! Not only was the salt water awful to taste, but the water got in my eyes and OH MY GOD. I immediately shut my eyes and could not reopen them. The burn was unimaginable. I got to my feet and stumbled to the shore, opening my eyes periodically to make sure I was still on course to reach the chair where my towel lay. Every time I opened my eyes, the burn intensified. I finally made it back and wiped the salt and water from my face and eyes. I would not make that mistake again.
I then figured it was time to coat myself in the famous Dead Sea mud. This was easy and a whole lot of fun. It was like being a kid playing in the mud again. I grabbed handfuls of mud from the sea bottom and coated my body with the therapeutic mud. I wandered around for a while while the mud dried and then wandered back into the Dead Sea, sat down in the water and washed the mud off my body. My skin felt like silk. It was lovely and warm and relaxing. By now it was time to get ready to leave so I walked over to one of the showers and rinsed the salt water off my body. Then it was back to the indoor showers for a quick rinse and we were off again to my last stop in Jordan, Mt. Nebo.
Mt. Nebo is the site where Moses is supposed to have seen the Promised Land. The views from Mt. Nebo are magnificent encompassing Gilead, Judah, Jericho and Israel (the Promised Land). In addition to the religious significance, (including the Moses Memorial Church, which was closed for renovations when I visited), the site is home to beautiful mosaics that were found in the the Church. One of the security guards at the gate acted as my guide for the half hour tour around the site, and he was incredibly helpful pointing out the significant historical points on the horizon (including the six eucalyptus trees marking the spot where Moses was said to have found water as well as providing me with a wonderful history of Mt. Nebo).
And just like that, my time in Jordan had come to an end and it was time to head to the airport. Bayan delivered me to the airport in plenty of time and it was a good thing… as I passed through the womens’ only security checkpoint, I was flagged to the side. They wanted to search my carry on bag. No problem. I opened the locks and waited patiently as the four security guards began to go through each and every item in my bag.
While this was going on, two Americans to my left were outraged that they had to open their bag. There was a fair amount of shouting, demands to see their superiors and then suddenly, the officer who was in charged motioned to two fellows who walked over and asked the couple to follow them. “Why do we need to follow you?” “Sir we are going to search all of your bags and your persons…” Jackassess! All the couple had to do was relax, open their bags and let the guys do their job. Serves them right.
I laughed and the guards going through my bag looked at me. “They should have been nicer to you” I said with a smile. You are only doing your job.” (It NEVER pays to piss of security when they ware going through your bags.) I continued to smile and waited patiently as they looked at my medications. “Kidney transplant patient”, I explained and produced my letter from my doctor. They nodded and put the meds back in my bag. “Are you Canadian?” one of the guards asked me. “Why yes I am.” The guard nodded. Then one of the guard going through my things held up my binoculars. Rapid fire Arabic between the guards, who held out the binoculars and asked what they were. I quickly explained that I was going on a safari and needed my binoculars to see the animals. More nods. They continued to hold on to the binoculars. Then I got the high sign from the head guy. “She is ok” the head guard told the other fellows and with that my bag was repacked, and I was told I could go. The head guard then walked over and asked me if I would put the binoculars in my checked baggage so I would not be stopped again at the next security check point. (Not sure why my binoculars were an issue, but what the heck.) “No problem” I said. “Your welcome,” the guard told me.