A Travellerspoint blog

Jordan

Northern Jordan

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.

Tutulu,

Liam

Posted by Liamps 05:55 Archived in Jordan Comments (0)

Southern Jordan

Jordan was the first country in Asia that I visited on this trip and probably the last Arab state. My time in Jordan seemed to flash before my eyes, especially after the frustratingly delayed journey to get there from Egypt. Nevertheless, I maximised my six full days in the country and achieved everything that I intended to do. I stayed at a Bedouin campsite in the beguiling desert landscape of the Wadi Rum. I devoted two days to exploring one of the new 7 Wonders of the World, the ancient Nabataean city of Petra. I floated in the Dead Sea, climbed waterfalls in Wadi Mujib, admired some of Eastern Orthodoxy’s most historically significant mosaics in Madaba, perused the capital of Amman and ambled through the Roman ruins of Jerash. And finally, finally, I was able to eat HUMMUS!!!

There are divergent arguments about what constitutes the geographical definition of the Middle East, but in Jordan it was for the first time indisputable that I was within this fabled region. Interestingly, the ruling House of Hashemite is one of only two royal families in the world that have bestowed their House name upon the official title of their country (the other being the House of Saud). The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is squished between larger and often more troubled countries of Iraq, Syria, Israel and Palestine. Since Jordan is a relatively stable country in the region, it has been inundated with refugees during the past six decades. Consequently, the native Jordanian population is now outnumbered by people who have fled their war-torn lands. Australians, among the richest people in the world, relentlessly complain about a few boats arriving on our shores from Indonesia, but spare a thought for Jordan’s situation. Jordan is the fourth driest country on Earth, its territory is smaller than Tasmania’s, only 10% of its land is considered arable, it is completely energy dependent on foreign exports and there are no mineral resources to drive economic growth. Yet Jordan has been forced to absorb an estimated one million Iraqis in the past decade and its fourth largest city is a Syrian refugee camp. Somehow in spite of these difficulties, Jordan appeared to be considerably more developed and ordered than any country I visited in Arab North Africa; and the people were substantially friendlier.

After staying overnight in Jordan’s only coastal city of Aqaba, I travelled to the Wadi Rum. It felt like I was becoming a desert junkie because this was my sixth desert excursion of the trip. I have found deserts to be a substantially more intriguing landscape typology than I anticipated. While deserts generally exude a sense of endless nothingness, the appearance of nothingness is often radically different. The World Heritage listed cultural landscape of the Wadi Rum is certainly testimony to that. The unique scenery consists of a bizarre blend of continual red flatness that is interspersed by black and jagged mountains. I explored the area by joining a four-wheel drive tour and visited the constituent sites and lookouts. I hiked up a small mountain to a particular look-out and was surprised to see the number of lazy tourists who opted to remain at the bottom and miss the breath-taking view of the desert. We drove to a huge red dune that had formed against the cliff of one of the black mountains. Against my will, the guide forced me to sand-board (using something similar to a snowboard- unless it was a snowboard) down the dune with virtually no instruction as to how to perform the activity. I still struggle to comprehend how it was possible, but I successfully sand-boarded down the entire slope without stopping or crashing. Bravo, Liam!

I spent the night at an “isolated” Bedouin camp within the Wadi Rum landscape. It was actually the least isolated desert camp I had stayed at because there was (temporarily) electricity, phone reception and most astonishingly, clean Western toilets. The Bedouins are hardly isolated themselves as many of them are university educated, they operate their businesses in a professional Western manner, they use smart phones and I even contacted the manager via Skype! The primary structure in the campsite was a cavernous communal pavilion, where the guests lounged around and ate meals. I met Australian Sully and we had a great time trying to decipher the identities of other people there. Sully has lived in London for eight years after initially planning to stay for only eighteen months; although perhaps her prolonged absence from Australia is understandable since her home town is Sydney. The campsite was dramatically situated below ochre-coloured cliff faces and surrounding rocky ledges provided spectacular vantages points from where to view the sun setting on the landscape. In the evening, the Bedouins removed the food from an oven they had buried in soil and invited us to share a bountiful buffet. In the morning, most of the guests departed the Wadi Rum by camelback, but one agonising stint on a camel (Morocco) was enough for me so I chose to return by vehicle with the old people.

The ancient city of Petra is undoubtedly among the most extraordinary sites in the world. Petra was constructed by an ancient Arab society, the Nabataeans, who controlled vital trade routes that linked the East to the West. The Nabataeans successfully prevented Roman conquest until 106 AD, when their glorious city became the capital of the new Arabia province. Petra’s isolated location within the narrow valleys of a mountain range resulted in the Western world losing knowledge of the city’s existence after the fall of Rome and through to its rediscovery by a Swiss explorer in 1812. The approach to the city involves passing through the “Siq”, which is like a narrow canyon (although it technically isn’t) with walls of rock on either side that are at least fifty metres high. This is where the visitor can first appreciate the collage of reds and oranges that are quintessential of Petra’s rocky landscape. After walking through the winding passage for ten minutes, the astonishing sight of the Treasury building can suddenly be glimpsed through the final section of the Siq. The Siq terminates at a large opening that is surrounded by steep mountains on each side with the iconic Treasury building carved from the cliff face opposite. I am surprised that the Swiss explorer managed to survive the initial shock of stumbling upon this immaculately preserved and incredibly ornate façade in this inhospitable and remote area. I was astonished by how the Nabataeans achieved such intricacy and precision since the monumental façade is entirely carved from rock. Continuing onward from the Treasury building, the visitor passes through a miniature Siq to arrive in the constituent area of Petra. Rather than developing a conventional concentric layout, the town was formed in a wide valley with structures built along the “Street of the Façades” (the natural valley floor). Almost all of surviving structures of the town are embedded into the mountains, including rudimentary dwellings and royal tombs with elaborate façades. There is also a Roman amphitheatre that could accommodate 7,000 spectators and was entirely carved from the natural slope. Some of the carved rooms and tombs exhibit incredibly vivid and contrasting patterns of ochre red and silvery grey. Petra also featured freestanding buildings, but most of them were destroyed by earthquakes in the region.

After visiting most of the principal attractions at Petra on the first day, I returned to hike up the surrounding mountains for views over the city. British Roderick (remarkably similar to British Dave, from earlier in the trip) was my hiking partner for the day and together we scaled three mountains in nine hours of trekking, with the temperature protruding past the 35 degrees mark. We ascended a path, almost entirely composed of steps, to the Place of High Sacrifice. We passed a Bedouin tour leader along the way, who questioned where we were heading. Since I suspected she was eager to add us to her tour group, I sarcastically responded, “This way!!!” She then asked us what we were doing and Roderick announced that “we are going for a walk!” It turned out that we were approaching a rather treacherous path and eventually accepted her advice to take the correct route. The view from the summit was spectacular, as we could see the dramatic red ochre mountain range that Petra is secretly embedded within. The surreal landscape featured many bizarre rock formations and crevices in the mountain sides, which made it quite difficult to discern what was natural and what was artificial. We were most bemused by the attire of all the Bedouin men in Petra, as they appeared to be mimicking Captain Jack Sparrow. From the end of the Street of Façades, we hiked the trail to the “Monastery” (which wasn’t actually used as a monastery). The arduous climb up our second mountain culminated at the larger, though less intricate, façade reminiscent of the Treasury Building. The final mountain conquered provided breath-taking views of the amphitheatre and the Treasury Building. The latter was dwarfed by the cliff it was carved from and appears miniature from a height. Roderick bemoaned the absence of a beer to celebrate the occasion, although he sufficiently compensated for that in the evening.

The Jordanians certainly know how to cook and serve generously proportioned dishes. The arduous journey to reach Jordan compelled me to splurge and feast in Aqaba, although this was also to partly compensate for skipping three meals. I ordered three mezze plates to precede the main, as I had become accustomed to the small servings of Egypt. Each plate was individually substantial enough for a filling lunch. I had a huge bowl of HUMMUS!, a plate of labneh (a yoghurt like cheese) with mint and a monster bowl of amazing fattoush, which is a Levantine salad of crunchy fresh vegetables, crispy pita pieces and a dressing featuring pomegranate molasses. I also had a succulent mixed grill and instantly determined that Jordanian cuisine puts the Egyptians to shame. The following morning, I went to a small local establishment and had hummus, a dozen falafel (better than Egypt’s), pita and pickles for only $2. The Jordanians, Israelis and Palestinians serve a pile of delicious pickles with any savoury dish. At the campsite in the Wadi Rum, the Bedouins cooked chicken and a variety of vegetables in an earthen oven. These were served with rice, a delicious meatball stew, a not-so-delicious stew with okra (a slimy green vegetable), mash potato with olive oil and an assortment of salads. Breakfast was equally impressive the following morning, as we were served hummus, yoghurt, fuul (cooked and mashed fava beans that is a ubiquitous Middle Eastern breakfast dish) and sesame “bread-stickk” like things I snacked on frequently in Jordan. At the hostel I stayed at in Petra (Valentine Inn), I was one of several guests irritated by the dubious and deceitful staff but they did at least provide a phenomenal buffet. The signature dish was maqlubbeh, which consists of piles of steamed and spiced rice garnished with meat, onions, nuts and vegetables. This was accompanied by hummus, babganouj, falafel, several hot vegetable dishes and at least twenty different salads (including half a dozen versions of tabouleh).

I had an epic three days at Wadi Rum and Petra in the utterly desolate South of Jordan. I spent the rest of my time in the country in the slightly less dry North. You’ll just have to wait until the next instalment to find out what happened there!

Liam

Vote 1 Kennett for AFL President!

Posted by Liamps 10:53 Archived in Jordan Comments (0)

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