Because of our extremely long day driving to Petra I was unable get a post finished yesterday. We arrived at 8pm, so by the time we had some dinner, it was far to late. In addition, I have been fighting a cold most of the trip. For whatever reason it chose to settle in my sinuses, so I tried to get a good night sleep. Thanks to Whitney’s traveling pharmacy I was able to get through the day. (It turns out the girls on this trip have about half the pharmacy section of Walgreens with them…which is good since the guys did not bring anything with them!)
Our long travel day began with crossing the border in Jordan. This went very smoothly since the tour company provides me with the proper paper work. We were almost the only people crossing at the Tiberias crossing, which helped. We met our Jordanian guide, Mohammed, who walked us through the Jordan side of the crossing. Again, we were the only people entering at the time, so it went fast.
Mohammed took us to the bus where we met out driver, Said, and the travel security agent also called Mohammed. We are assigned a security agent mostly for our peace of mind, there is really no danger in Jordan, especially where we travel. Our bus was more of a van with delusions of grandeur, but the air was cool (mostly).
We had about an hour drive to the first stop, Jerash. Mohammed did a decent job with he usual tour guide chatter, saying the word “agriculture” in some form several dozen times. Jeresh is an important city excavated to the Roman period for the most part. There is a large gate dedicated to Hadrian, although a smaller version of the gate is the actual entrance to the city. A major highlight is the column-lined oval plaza which connects the Cardo to the Temple of Zeus. While we were listening to Mohammed explain how the plaza we discovered, we were surrounded by elementary school girls who wanted to talk to us. Hillary’s long blonde hair was a huge hit with the girls, who were probably sixth grade, all wearing school uniforms, playing with cell phones and giggling a lot. So pretty much like an American elementary school field trip.
From this plaza we walked up to the Roman theater. This one of the best preserved I have seen. The acoustics are repaired and work perfectly. If you stand in the center spot and speak in a normal voice, you an be heard throughout the theater. Unfortunately the school girls were already there and climbing everywhere. As usual, a pair of men dressed as Jordanian soldiers came out and played bagpipe and drum. This is a tradition that dates back to Lawrence of Arabia, although our guide insisted bagpipes were invented in the Middle East. The school girls linked arms and began to dance (while still giggling and screaming, which I would not have thought possible). If ever asked to define “cacophony” I will describe this scene.
We retreated from the theater and briefly visited a Byzantine church with a fascinating collection of mosaics. Unfortunately we are not permitted to get close to the, but the viewpoint makes for some good pictures and was mercifully not on the school girl’s tour for the day.
The temple of Artemis dominates Jerash, as it would have in the mid second century when it was built. The huge pillars are designed to sway with the wind or small earthquakes. If you place a stick or spoon in one of the crack, it will show how much sway the pillar has. I suppose you could use you fingers, but that might be an unfortunate end to your tour.
We walked down the sacred steps leading up to the Temple of Artemis (seven sets of seven steps, which is either mystical numerology or just a nice pace for people). This long stairway opens on to the Cardo, the main road through a Roman city. Mohammed took us into one of the Roman shopping area where several “bell” stones are house. These were originally set on pillars along the Cardo, and if struck, a bell inside sounds. We banged on the top with a rock (Ben Stout actually laid down a funky beat). It is thought this was some kind of warning system in case of an earthquake, but that may not be the case.
We wandered the length of the Cardo and returned to the bus. We had ordered ahead “box lunch” so we could eat quickly and get back on the road. I had a lamb kabob, in fresh pita. This was one of the best lunches I have had on this trip. Very tasty indeed, with French fries, some veggies and a coke, $10.
From Jeresh we drove through Amman, the modern Capitol on Jordan, taking its name from the Ammonites of the Old Testament. Our next stop was an hour and a half south, Mount Nebo. This is the place where Moses viewed the whole land just before the died. There are a number of interesting mosaics there, although the church at Mount Nebo is still being restored, so we cannot see them all. We also saw the Madaba Map at St, George’s church in Madaba. This is a large mosaic dating to the sixth century AD which locates sacred sites in the Holy Land for pilgrims. Think of it as an early Tourist Information center.
From Madaba to Petra (Wadi Musa) is a long, three and a half hour drive though quite boring desert. This is an area where Israel crossed before entering the land in Joshua, but the Desert Road does not offer much variety of scenery. About half way we made a “bathroom break.” There are several of these places about an hour and a half from Petra. They are clean bathrooms (please tip the man who has the paper towels) and a wide selection of Jordanian souvenirs. The marked prices are very high, so negotiations are required. Ben Stout had a thousand dinar ($1500) sword in his hand, but I doubt he was really going to buy it.
The Marriott at Wadi Musa is very nice, the college students are usually thrilled with the big rooms and great food, not to mention the free wifi in the lounge. Like most Arab countries smoking is permitted (encouraged?), so this is not the most pleasant place to sit in the evenings.
Tomorrow we are up early for a long hike to Petra, one of the highlights of the trip.