Seldom do I post an entry that is not laden with complimentary references about… me. Admittedly, in my incessant state of insecurity, I have occasionally dabbled in dramatizing and manipulating the descriptions of incidents to perpetuate a mythical imagery of the greatness of my character. Nevertheless, I do grievously endeavour to maintain the quality I regard as most honourable of all; honesty (this may surprise some of my loyal readers, though they should be aware that I believe “honestly lying” is possible). Consequently, for me it is imperative that I express honesty with my beloved followers, and thus I must reveal how diabolically difficult I have found establishing an introduction for this entry. It is essentially just a continuation of Southern Jordan, since my time in the country didn’t necessarily feel “divided”, but my ego dictates that an introduction must still be formed. Which it now has. Welcome to Northern Jordan.
I met a Korean couple and a mother and daughter pair from California in Petra and spent the next two days traveling with them to Madaba and surrounding sites. The mother and daughter were originally from El Salvador, which is where I am now apparently celebrating my (next) graduation. Although contemporary Madaba features a predominantly Muslim population, the quant old town is brimming with churches and religious institutions because of the Christian heritage. There are stunning Byzantine-era mosaics scattered throughout Madaba and they exhibit unblemished colourings and intricately detailed designs. Many of the mosaics were only rediscovered in the past two centuries and they are now protected within relatively new churches. The most iconic and certainly the most historically valuable mosaic in Madaba is the “mosaic map”, which is the oldest surviving cartographic representation of the Holy Land.
The Dead Sea is the world’s second saltiest body of water (there is a saltier lake in Djibouti, but who the hell goes there? Maybe next trip) and forms part of the border between Jordan and immorally occupied Palestine. I visited the Dead Sea as part of a tour from Madaba with the aforementioned group. Since no living organism can survive the high salinity, the clearness of the water is a rather futile idiosyncrasy of the Dead Sea. Intriguingly, the same phenomena seen when oil is mixed with water is evident in the Dead Sea (perhaps there’s oil in the water, I haven’t bothered checking). The buoyant sensations I anticipated from the water were not immediately forthcoming, as entering the water felt no different to entering normal sea water. However, once I allowed my feet to depart the ground, the water instantly bounced my body onto the surface of the water. I protruded all of my limbs out of the water, sat cross-legged in the water and exerted no energy while in the water and yet on every occasion the water unremittingly kept me afloat. Swimming was unnaturally difficult, because the water’s density is higher than that of a standard pool or the ocean. While the water visually appeared unassuming and harmless, just dabbing a wetted finger onto my tongue burned the affected area; and thus it was imperative to avoid my eyes or mouths from directly contacting the water. Some of the other members of my party covered themselves in mud before entering the water for therapeutic benefits. I considered this to be a feministic activity so I boycotted proceedings.
Quad-biking, white-water rafting, sand-boarding flat, sand-boarding standing, scuba-diving, skydiving (well, all most) and most impressively camelback riding… what’s next for everyone’s favourite action adventure hero? Climbing waterfalls! The Korean guy in the group (I have forgotten his name, though this should not be an issue since I don’t believe we are connected on facebook) coaxed me into accompanying him on a hike through a narrow canyon near the Dead Sea, known as the Wadi Mujib. I could not suffer the indignity of being the solitary male member of the group who waited at the car, so I begrudgingly opted to join him. My severe lack of enthusiasm derived from my expectation that it would be yet another arduous hike in mid-thirty degrees weather and under the unforgiving Jordanian sun. I was shocked to discover the reality of the Wadi Mujib and the experience became the highlight component of my trip through Jordan. The Wadi Mujib is a narrow canyon that is bordered by sheer cliffs of red ochre colour, and was thus reminiscent of the Siq passageway that leads to Petra. At the base of the canyon is a fast flowing stream of spring water and the entire hike requires waddling through these refreshing waters. The first half of the walk was extremely easy as the water was shallow and the surface retained consistent flatness. However, the second half of the hike involved us climbing up waterfalls with a variety of formations that were between one and four metres high. I was slightly apprehensive when confronted by the waterfalls, not so much because of the difficulty in climbing up but in the danger of climbing down. We ascended several waterfalls by climbing up a series of rocks and used connected ropes for balance. We climbed another waterfall by gradually ascending along its face. The most difficult waterfall to ascend was four metres high and completely smooth. We needed to pull a rope connected at the top, lean back and gradually “walk” up the face. It was a rather exercise descending that waterfall. The canyon, and thus the hike, concluded at a ten metre waterfall which rewarded our efforts with cool cascades of water. Unfortunately I was unable to photograph the magnificent scenery in the canyon, since it wasn’t an appropriate place for cameras.
Amman was my final sleeping destination in Jordan. The capital’s population has dramatically bloated in the past half century from the resettling of refugees, which has resulted in the previous backwater becoming a bona fide metropolis of three million people. Amman formed around seven hills (actually contemporary Amman sprawls across nineteen) and unlike Rome, the “hilly” topography is instantly identifiable. Despite being almost entirely composed of concrete-block buildings, I found Amman to be a visually stimulating city because of its unique appearance with steep slopes and deep valleys; from the lowest areas, it seems as though you are surrounded by walls of urbanity. The central area of Amman is relatively clean, developed, ordered and efficiently designed, so basically everything Arab North African cities are not. Within the modern city is an immense amphitheatre from the Roman era, which creates a beguiling sight from the citadel on the peak of a hill. Unfortunately I came to loathe Amman because of the city’s bizarre lack of functioning ATMs. I couldn’t understand how the commercial heart of the nation’s biggest city could seemingly be devoid of ATMs, more so than any city I went to in Africa.
I visited the Roman city of Jerash, another site horrendously excluded from the World Heritage list, as a daytrip from Amman. After passing through a monumental arch that celebrates some Roman victory and a huge hippodrome, the visitor enters the city through the primary gate. Immediately after the gate is the forum, which was unique in the Roman world for featuring an oval shaped layout. The forum is entirely surrounded by surviving columns. Overlooking the forum from a nearby hill is a temple dedicated to some pagan god and behind the temple is a magnificently preserved amphitheatre that is renowned for its acoustics. When I visited, patrons were treated to a spectacle of Jordanians dressed as Roman soldiers playing bagpipes. There was an American of the imbecilic variety that decided to test the acoustics by inconsiderately reciting verses from the Bible (because the Muslims and lapsed-Catholic really wanted to listen to that there). The main street of any conventionally planned Roman city is the Cardo Maximus. At Jerash, the Cardo Maximus is still impressively lined with columns along the entire thoroughfare. Personally, I thought that the ruins of Jerash were like the inverse of the Roman ruins of Dougga. At Dougga, there are very few surviving columns but essentially all the foundations of buildings remain; while at Jerash, columns are bountiful but there is almost no exposed trace of the basic structure of dwellings. Jerash was a pleasant site to visit and its intriguing to see Roman ruins in a assortment of landscapes throughout the Mediterranean.
Jordan continued to deliver in the culinary stakes with more delicious and generously proportioned platefuls of hummus, falafel and pickles. I have thoroughly enjoyed the cuisine in the Levant and I have had no qualms whatsoever with eating essentially the same dishes each day. In Amman, I had a delightful (not really an adjective that I would normally associate with beans) serve of fuul. The cooked beans were freshly mashed and drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice and mixed with garlic. The old proverb of “keep it simple” certainly paid dividends with this fuul. I drank freshly blended sugar cane juice, which reputedly provides a plethora of health benefits. The Palestinian influence in Jordan has resulted in the availability of numerous mouth-watering pastries. Kunufa is a Palestinian dessert that consists of cheese that is topped with a vermicelli noodle pastry and soaked in honey; it is artery-clogglingly addictive. I also particularly enjoyed a triangular pastry of cheese/custard (?) that is wrapped in filo, soaked in honey and finished with crushed nuts on top.
Although my stay in Jordan was somewhat brief, I still visited all of the country’s constituent attractions without ever feeling rushed. The natural landscapes of Jordan are intriguing, the historical sites are amazing, the people are warm and welcoming, the food is delicious, the infrastructure is relatively developed and everyone speaks English. Jordan is therefore perhaps the ideal country for a nerve-racked individual to visit if they wish to sample the Middle East.