Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

I’m back safely from an adventurous holiday in Jordan! Since last week was Kurban Bayram in Turkey (roughly translating to the Sacrifice Holiday for Muslims), everything was closed and we had a weeklong work break. Friday night, Katy and I flew from Istanbul to Amman to begin our adventure vacation.

After sleeping late on Saturday, we woke up and carefully peered from our hotel window in Madaba- a town just outside Amman. We were hesitant about what we would find outside – how were the women dressed? Who was walking around? Did it look safe? Fortunately, all of our deep harbored and American fears about the Middle East turned out to be perfectly fine—the scene outside looked like any other city. People mulled around the dull desert streets, and shops looked open and friendly. Moreover, even though almost every woman we saw was covered, at least they were out and walking around the town.

We began our day by heading to St. Georges’ church where we viewed some amazing mosaics. Somehow, we ended up with an elderly French tour group. While this was not ideal (since the entire thing was in French), we ended up not having to buy a ticket because we apparently blended in so well with the old folks. Following the church, we viewed more mosaics at the Archeological museum.

Mosaic at the Archeological Museum in Madaba

In the afternoon, we decided to book a car through our hotel and tour multiple sites. We began with Mount Nebo- the memorial of Moses and a spectacular viewpoint of the surrounding area. While there isn’t that much to see there, it was nonetheless exciting to be at Moses’ old stomping ground. After Mt. Nebo, we headed out to the Jordan River to Bethany Beyond the Jordan where Jesus was supposedly baptized by John the Baptist. While I found the Jordan River, the view of Israel’s West Bank, and the tour interesting, I’m still not totally convinced of the historical accuracy that this exact spot was were Jesus was baptized. Finally, our driver headed us out to the Dead Sea. Since it was almost sunset, we didn’t buy a ticket to the public beach, we just stopped and climbed down a rocky embankment to the sea. Sans bathing suit, I just admired the view and the absurd amount of salt deposits on the bank while Katy buoyantly floated around for a little while.

View from Mount Nebo

John the Baptist Church at Jesus' Baptism site

River Jordan!

The Dead Sea at sunset

The following day, we were up early for our day long van ride down the scenic King’s Highway to Petra. The road is windy and long, but the views of Wadi Mujib, the canyons, and the dry Jordanian landscape was completely worth the trek. We stopped several times along our route- once at Wadi Mujib (the Grand Canyon of Jordan), once at the castle at Karak, and other various places for amazing photo opportunities.

We spent two days in Wadi Musa, the small town outside the gates of Petra. Petra was most definitely the highlight of my trip. The 3rd century BC Nabataean capital is amazing, and I highly suggest that everyone head to Wadi Musa immediately to see everything Petra has to offer. Katy and I bought a two day pass which was definitely necessary to see everything. The entrance to Petra begins at the Siq which is a couple kilometer walk through a narrow, winding canyon. At the end of the Siq, the Treasury (Indiana Jones, anyone?) comes into site through the rocks. The Treasury is stunning, and we spent quite awhile just staring at it. Like the rest of the city, the Treasury is just a façade- inside is merely a cave. It’s really interesting that the Natataeans spent that much time crafting their city of facades. They had a highly impressive network of roads, water systems, and trade routes, and the city reflects how innovative and exciting the city was at one time. The first day, we walked all over the city including hiking up to the Monastery – another incredibly impressive façade high up through the cliffs of the city. The second day, we explored another hiking route and climbed up to the High Place of Sacrifice from where we could see fabulous views of the entire city. It’s impossible to capture Petra in words or pictures- it is that amazing, and I think it might be the best place I’ve been so far in my sixteen months abroad.
The Siq

The Treasury

Eroding facades

Colonnaded Street

Our next stop was Wadi Rum. We had a mixup with our transportation out of Petra, and ended up having to take a bus headed South toward Aquaba. The driver assured us that he would drop us off at the “junction” that was the turning point for the Wadi Rum protected area in which we were headed. As promised, our driver tossed us out at the “junction” which was not a junction in any modern sense of the word—around us was only desolate desert. There weren’t cars zooming past us or many signs of life. After laughing at our misfortune, we crossed the road to where a minivan with two Arab men had stopped and were standing outside the car motioning us to get in. The van looked as if it was about to fall apart at any second, and the two men looked a little dirty and skeptical, but having no better option we grudgingly put our packs in the back and jumped in. After we began heading toward Wadi Rum, we noticed the van didn’t go faster than about 30mph which was a great discovery- that’s definitely slow enough to jump out if need be. We arrived without incident.

Wadi Rum was incredibly beautiful. I’ve never been to a desert before, and this exceeded my expectations. Our Bedouin guide- Obeid picked us up from the Wadi Rum visitors center, and we bounced around in his jeep heading toward his camp. Once there, we grabbed some pita before heading out on a camel trek. I don’t remember the last time I was on a camel/does the zoo count? Camels are kind of smelly, but at the same time they’re quite majestic at the same time. They have really large, human-like eyes with long lashes, and they are very friendly animals. After our camel adventure, we then headed out for our jeep trek through the desert. For four hours we careened around the sand and rock – occasionally stopping to view rock bridges and picturesque desert scenes.

Camel Trek

Under a Rock Bridge in the desert!

After returning to camp, we watched the desert sunset followed by tea around the campfire and a delicious dinner which was in large metal canisters and actually dug up from the sand outside the camp. We fell asleep in our tent early.

After leaving Wadi Rum, we had no idea how to get back to Amman where we hoped to spend our last few days. We thought about hitchhiking, but Obeid recommended that we take a taxi an hour south to Aquaba and then take a bus from there to Amman. We decided we would go to Aquaba in the morning and spend the afternoon on the beach lounging at the Red Sea. After we arrived and book late afternoon bus tickets, we unfortunately noticed that everyone (everyone meaning probably everyone in Aquaba- the place was packed!) at the Red Sea public beach in Aquaba was fully covered. The women were all fully covered women, and some splashed in the waves still fully clothed- headscarf and all. There was no way Katy or I was getting in that water wearing a bikini. No way. We settled for eating approximately three Happy Meals and two McFlurry’s each over a six hour span at a nearby McDonalds.

Back in Amman that evening (after a brief yet terrifying bus fight incident involving and elderly woman who got the best of a terrified teenager), we checked into a hostel that was only a slight step above sleeping on the street. We spent the next day at Jerash exploring the ancient and impressively preserved ruins there.

Our final day in Jordan was spent at a public beach on the Dead Sea alternating between sunbathing, floating, and battling the bajillion flies that bombarded us. We flew back to Istanbul on a red-eye flight, and even though I loved Jordan I was thrilled to be back in Turkey. I will tell you soon about the beginning of our holiday season here!

Merry Christmas!

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