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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!