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Petra: Full Day

Treasury from Above, Petra

A full day in Petra is ahead of us. We picked up a boxed lunch prepared by hotel at 7am, with the goal of arriving before the tour buses. We hiked along the Royal Tombs, and climbed the series of stone steps to the overlook of the Treasury and the main road through Petra in the morning light.

We returned back down, refreshed ourselves with orange juice at the Why Not shop, then headed up the steps on the opposite side of the canyon to the Place of High Sacrifice, where we stopped for lunch.

With goats as occasional companions, there are far fewer people off the “main street.” Many visitors don’t devote this much time to this place: it deserves even more time than we spent – everywhere you look, you see signs of human history written in the stone.

And, this is the marvel of Petra: much of the monumental architecture has been carved out of the canyon walls. Even the pyramid-style pillars above were created by carving away the surrounding stone, rather than building a pillar with stone. And modern day Jordanians still make use of these ancient carved places.

Some only hike up to the Place of High Sacrifice, but we found more amazing places by continuing down the trail to the other side, into the valley with the Lion Monument, Garden Tomb, Roman Soldier’s Tomb, and Garden Triclinium – well worth the hike, and very few people are here.

Once we hiked out to rejoin the main thoroughfare, we stopped for a cold beer at the restaurant at the far end of the road. We still had time to poke around the “newer” Byzantine church and marvel at the mosaics and the blue granite pillars imported from Egypt.

We worked our way back to the siq, again reaching the entry gate at twilight.

Yes, we covered a lot of ground. My fitness app says that we covered 14.6 miles and climbed 123 floors the first half day (from our hotel to the Monastery and back to the entrance gate), and 10 miles and 79 floors the second day, a slightly more leisurely pace. We are happy with our visit. We did not hire a guide, so I’m sure that we missed some really interesting points and perspectives. For example, modern technology is revealing the robust water infrastructure that made Petra bloom.

There is plenty to see without quite so much effort, and still have an incredible experience. Our advice: go early, stay late, and avoid the weekends. Purchase the Jordan Pass. Plan your visit: decide what are the “must see” sites, and map out your route. Say “No, thank you,” if you are not interested in the vendors’ wares – they are fairly ubiquitous. Most are friendly, only a few are insistent. Enjoy this magnificent place: in the right light, you can still see the camel caravans that traveled the trade routes through Petra.

Little Petra and the Dead Sea Highway

After a day and a half hiking Petra, we weren’t quite ready to say farewell to the Nabateans, making a brief stop at Little Petra. Some might say, “More of the same, but smaller.” Indeed, there are the tombs and rooms carved in the stone, and remnants of a water system. But, after spending two days imagining the interior decorations of monuments, we were delighted to see a well-preserved fresco with grapes and birds and putti playing flutes and shooting an arrow from a bow. Totally worth the stop to us.

No trip to Jordan is complete without a dip in the Dead Sea. The experience is startlingly buoyant. For the equivalent of about $7, a gentleman sitting on the beach with a bucket of mud under his chair will happily allow you to slather up for a photo op, er…spa treatment.

Dead Sea “spa” treatment

One more stop on the road back to Madaba and the St. John Hotel for the night. Umm ar-Rasas, another UNESCO World Heritage site layered with history, has extensive ruins dating back to Roman, Byzantine and early Muslim occupation of the area.

Protected by a large roofed structure, the church of St. Stephen has extensive, well-preserved mosaics dating to about AD 785.

Tomorrow, we head north to Umm Qais, overlooking the Jordan River Valley, near the Syrian border.

Umm Qais – Gadara

Gadara Theater

Today we drive north to Umm Qais. Today’s drive takes us along the Jordan River valley. In sharp contrast to the days of rock and sand in Wadi Rum and Petra, we see trees and truckloads of bananas. And more sheep.

We make a stop at Pella, known as one of the cities of Rome’s Decapolis. Archeologists have unearthed evidence of habitation far earlier than the Romans, documenting 6,000 years of continuous human settlement.

Further north, we reach Umm Qais, on the border with Syria, a country very much at war with itself. Despite the active conflict about 100km away, the city seems unperturbed. Community based tourism is flourishing in Umm Quais, and we are looking forward to our time here. Arriving at our lodging, Beit al Baraka, we meet our host and guide, Ahmad Alomari, eco-tourist guide, and native of Gadara. Baraka Destinations aided in arranging our itinerary for the rest of the day. After the many hours of driving, we are looking forward to getting out to walk and learn a bit about the nature in the area.

We set out for Gadara, a city more than 2,400 years old, and occupied until about 30 years ago: our guide Ahmad was born and raised in Gadara. The old city is extensive, with striking black basalt rock used for construction.

We happened to have arrived at the same time as a Turkish television crew doing a story about tourism in Jordan. We happily accepted the invite to interview.

Our guide left us to further wander the old city, and find our way back to our lodging. On the way, we were invited to tea by three men standing at a small stand. Their English is good: they are paramedics in the UAE on holiday in Jordan. Umm Qais is the hometown of one of them. We have an animated conversation about Jordan and travel along with our cup of tea, and a memory that still makes me smile when I think of it.

Later in the afternoon, Ahmad leads us into one of the local nature parks. From the hillside, we are within sight of the Syrian border, Golan Heights, and Lake Tiberius (Sea of Galilee). Although late in the season, we found black iris, the national flower, still in bloom.

Our evening meal was hosted by a local family, served on a low table family style while was sat on floor cushions. There were numerous courses and plenty of food. Although our host did not speak English, Ahmad provided translation to help us learn about the local cuisine before us.

It was well after dark when we returned to Beit al Baraka. Music and lights were coming from next door – it was definitely a celebration!

The party did not go late into the night. We were greeted with breakfast the next morning with enough food for six. It was all very, very delicious!

Jerash

We’re headed to Jerash for our last full day of the trip. But first, that good strong cup of Jordanian coffee from a roadside stand. It’s the best.

Recently discovered archeological evidence has shown that the site has been occupied since the Neolithic Age. The ruins of the old Jerash lie in the center of the modern city. We are fortunate to have the place pretty much to ourselves.

Various school groups were on tour, various ages, and segregated by gender. We got just a little taste of celebrity when two groups of girls descended on us like we were Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Lots of smiling and nodding and selfies ensued, but little connection until the name of Salah emerged. The “hot” soccer player from Egypt, Mohamed Salah was the object of great enthusiasm with these girls.

The spectacular construction of the roads, temples, theater and nymphaeum were amazing. You could close your eyes and almost hear the sounds and voices from 2000 years ago.

The theater held one more surprise: bagpipes! Although we think of bagpipes covered in a plaid more commonly seen in the United Kingdom, bagpipes originated in Persia. Who knew?

The convergence of forms of dress and technology? Pure Jordan.

Hold Up at the Airport

Going home is never fun. This trip was rich in history and culture and person-to-person experiences. We had sailed through security on our way into Jordan, and expected to sail right back out. Well, not exactly.

An early morning departure put us at the airport well before dawn. The security line was short, and we were already scoping out coffee on the other side. The officers pulled my bag off the X-ray belt and asked about something in my bag with tubes: my pocket-size binoculars. They asked for my passport, and took both the binoculars and passport behind a wall. Gah! I could leave the binoculars behind if necessary, but I’m not going anywhere without my passport. There was much deliberation with several different important looking men. I sat and waited compliantly while Steve did his best to keep an eye on my passport. After several conversations, and more than 10 minutes, they returned both the binocs and passport, wrapped with a short apology. I don’t know why this happened, but I’m glad that things did not get more…uhm…complicated.

Despite this experience, with our hearts and spirits full of Jordanian hospitality, we boarded our flight towards home.