Pella and another detour in the Jordan valley.
I liked Jerash a lot. Leave it early afternoon. The mountain area (up at 1000m) here is densely populated all the way north of Amman to Jerash, Ajlun/Ajloun and Irbid. One little town closes in on the next. I chose another detour to the Jordan valley, to Pella, another Roman site. Another of the decapolis Pella does not compare to the grandeur of Jerash, youngsters play football on what may await excavating, a bit further uphill, up the ravine, a church, a theater, some love birds meet under the ruins, some kiss (oh devil!)
Further north I follow the Jordan at 400m below sea level. Weather turns drizzly, in summer the heat here is unbearable, so I take it I am lucky. The valley has this important affiliation for Jews, Christians, Muslims, John baptised Jesus here, today bridges lead over the Jordan into what should be the Palestinian controlled West Bank, but in reality all is managed by the Israelis. Not all crossings are useable for everyone, as a traveller or tourist you should not use any if you want to continue travelling Arab countries with the same passport, well yes Jordan and Egypt are the exceptions.
Security is tight, even tighter in the North towards the Israeli border, towards Lake of Gennesaret/Sea of Galilee. I am not getting even a glimpse of the lake as it starts raining, really pouring cats and dogs and it doesn’t stop till next morning. I am right in the season. It is lush green wilderness here, spooky; I am the only car, and I pass one checkpoint after the other. Due to the heavy rains I give Umm Qeis (Roman) a miss and drive to Irbid, largest town here. I have a falafel, later a chicken shawarma sandwich, the pouring never stops. Am sick, sleep with strange dreams, my own wedding then another one. Rain till morning.
Back to Amman via the eastern desert.
But morning is different. Up early, the rising sun reflects on the wet roads' surface as I drive east. In Marfaq fighter jets keep landing while I fill up with diesel, the land is so flat only 40kms away from the mountains. Umm Al-Jimal is shortly after, another Roman settlement, interesting to see how stone houses where constructed 2000 to 1500 years ago, but also confusing to find one’s way through a field of black basalt rubble. In search for the Jordanian desert I drive further east, nothing can grow here, stony surface called hamada stretches as far as the eye can see through the now more misty morning and midday. I only turn around in As-Safawi, which is nearly half-way to Iraq.
Back to Amman through Azraq, still Lawrance of Arabia used the castle when he led the insurgent Arabs against the Ottomans during WW1. After such a sunny day more rains await me in Amman, and is cold. I now really look forward to the southern sun.
Why were religions born in the desert? Or is the land forsaken?
Dead Sea coast.
Out of Amman the next morning; around the 7 hills as they say, it feels more like 77, was always an endless up and down and around, now it is straightened by the highway constructions of past years that link the hills; hardly any congestion these days when getting in and out. I again drop down by 1000m and more to the Jordan valley just 30km away. The Sinus infection still sits inside my ear. But is much warmer here, I turn right, south, and soon I smell the salty Dead Sea breeze, breath it in, feels like balsam to my sinuses.
A bit further south I turn land-inwards again, up mountain to Karak castle, which does not inspire so much (it did many years ago though). When evening comes down I drive south the Kings Highway, in and out of broad canyons, sun stands already low, at Petra at 1600m altitude I arrive after darkness.
16 Dec 2009 - Petra.
Petra (wiki) and up at 7, makes sense to go before everyone else goes. The Siq at 7.30, have it totally for me and the quiet engulfs, no rush, no one behind, no one in front, I can even spend time looking up. A flock of pigeons shriek and change sides between the tops of the canyon. The Siq makes it all more magical then it already is, it is this slowly approaching to the unknown, mystical that builds expectations. The approach is paved with huge stones; it has been the Nabateans and later the Romans that paved it, cart traces can be seen.
And then the orange, reddish light becomes stronger. Finally a glimpse onto what is called the Treasure. Still it is early in the day, it lies in the shade.
There is maybe a bit more infrastructure than 12 years ago. A generator disturbs the peace. Still I feel extremely lucky all alone here.
I wonder on and have a Turkish coffee for 50 cents of a JD (Jordanian Dinar) opposite the Roman theatre, carved out of the rock. Further on along the Roman colonnaded, paved street. "No thanks" I say to a donkey; I had one 12 years ago. "960 steps to the monastery" shouts the Bedouin, the command of English language among the Bedouin population is strikingly good. "La shukran", no thanks I say in Arabic, my Arabic is still so poor.
On my way to the monastery, a Bedouin girl vendor is talkative. "Come and have tea here, is ready."
"Come have a look at my shop, everything at half price as I have not started business yet."
"Take that Arafat shawl, I exchange it for your blue one for free."
"Is Marrakchee." I explain surprised by her offer.
"I know. French people have given me that before. I give you a necklace for free on top."
I am even more surprised but continue my "La shukran."
"For your wife?"
"Don’t have a wife."
"For your girlfriend?"
"Don’t have a girlfriend."
"Lucky you." She laughs now. Well – I am startled about her language skills. I mean this is real conversation.
I reach Al-Dayr, called the monastery because of the alleged use as a Byzantine church. Still all is quiet and I am stunned by the view. While I have my second tea right in front of the monument the tourists slowly catch up. I wonder why prices have just gone up dramatically to 1.50 JD for one tea, since my morning coffee.
Higher I go to the top or the end of the world how they named it with a view onto the surrounding desert mounts. I accept an invitation for tea, so does an Israeli and his son, we stretch out on the mats on the floor, the Bedouin of the souvenir shop on top of the world explains, among many things (he basically talks all the time). "Religion is between you and God, the only thing I care is respect." How true. What a modern view of things.
I try to find a way and descent to Little Petra, but give it a miss, guides don’t fit my budget. 2 in afternoon on the way back I am now fully immersed in the groups of tourists and more and more generators buzz or rattle away in every other cave. But I had my nice and calm all morning experience. And still it is nothing what I had feared. Petra in high season sees 4000 visitors a day.
Somewhere a Bedouin plays on a flute, the reverb is carried over, echoed by the cliffs; canyons have the acoustics of churches. Somewhere they craft a wooden vendor’s shag together, the knocks are multiplied and I wonder what the sound must have been like when hundreds of masons chiselled out these magnificent sculptures 2000 years ago, on and on for days and months.
4 o’clock happy back in the Cave Bar, it says years old. I have a large Amstel, nothing eaten all day, my wet sweaty shirt feels cold. I am happy with my tour, have another Amstel and another one. And now I realise that Christmas tree in the corner.
Lots MORE donkeys.