Posts Tagged ‘Jordan’

Reflections on the Middle East

My Middle East includes Egypt, Jordan and Syria because those are the countries we went through. Turkey doesn’t really make this list for reasons I’ll describe in my next post.

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Sinking denied

sublimely tranquil

We slept in a nearby town called Madaba, an ancient town with a large Christian population and an impressive collection of Byzantine mosaics. The following morning we wandered around Madaba exploring and purchasing snacks for our afternoon to come at the beach. We were prepared as we hopped into the van and began the descent down to the Dead Sea, starting at 1,800 feet in Madaba and ending at 1,300 feet below sea level.

We had our first glimpse of the Dead Sea the previous day as we drove along the Dead Sea Highway to visit Wadi Mujib. It is surreal. You can actually see the water evaporating as it leaves a hazy glow, blurring the line between Sea and sky. There’s barely a whisper of wind rippling the surface and there are no signs of life, neither in the turquoise waters nor along its shores. The Dead Sea is, in fact, dead.

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Crusader castles

The view from Shobak Castle

We stopped to visit to ancient Crusader castles while in Jordan: Shobak Castle on the way to Dana, and Karak Castle on the way to Madaba. These castles were kind of like appetizers, as we look forward to visiting Krak des Chevaliers in Syria. The castles were built about 2000 years ago during the Crusades, and they are built in some fantastic settings. Shobak Castle sits alone atop a hill, with commanding views of the landscape in all directions. Karak Castle’s site is equally impressive, and it sits at an important ancient cross-road along trade routes and holy sites.

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Desert gem: Wadi Mujib

wedgie

After leaving Dana, our next destination in Jordan was the Dead Sea. En route we passed another nature reserve, Wadi Mujib. Not to be missed, we pulled over and decided to hike what must be the most expensive hike, per kilometre, in the world, costing us a whopping 12 JD ($18 CAD) for what was only about 2 km. It was one of those times where you justify the cost by saying, “when else are we going to be here?”. We forked up the cash to start the hike at around 3:45 pm, only to be told that the office closes at 4, meaning we probably could have hiked for free. (cue the sad wah wah trumpet sound). Hakuna matata. As soon as we started the hike there were no regrets.

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Desert gem: Dana

Dana panorama

Jordan is full of natural wonders as well as archaeological wonders. It’s nice to see that Jordan is making an effort to preserve and conserve both. Desert ecosystem spans the country. We’ve seen many deserts now and it still never ceases to amaze me how diverse each desert can be. It’s not all just sand and rocks. Having exhausted ourselves in the ancient lost city of Petra, we wanted to get back to nature by visiting the less-frequented nature reserve of Dana.

Dana is a hidden gem, tucked away in a spectacular valley just off of the King’s Highway. The town itself is tiny: one narrow street lined with old, half-deserted rock homes and a few relatively modernized guest houses. Families of hee-hawing donkeys and stray dogs rule the street. We found a great little guesthouse, Tower Hotel, with, oddly enough, lovely Filipino staff and a Jordinian manager who knew but one phrase: “Welcome to Jordan.” Tired and weary as our legs were from walking 20+ km around Petra the day before, we couldn’t resist the allure of the valley staring back at us from the guesthouse rooftop. We had to get out and hike it.

With the remaining hours of the day quickly fading away, we limited our hike to a small loop around a Bedouin campsite on the other side of the valley. I am at a loss for words on how to describe this hike and this valley. It was like a cross between Meteora, in Greece, and the Sierra Nevada, in Spain. I inadvertently found myself continuously saying ‘wow’ out loud as I was dumbfounded by the scenery of the walk which was further enhanced with every passing moment by the setting sun. Here are some photos. I hope they do an adequate job describing the ‘wow’.

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Petra: a how-to guide

The Treasury all to ourselves

My previous post was dedicated to gushing about Petra, a tourist attraction that simply blew me away. But as you can imagine, I’m not alone — over 400,000 tourists visit Petra annually, and if you’ve ever met “tourists”, you’ll know that they are at their worst in big groups. Crowding, shouting, and a general lack of consideration for others is often the rule rather than the exception in these situations. It was the one thing about visiting Petra that I most dreaded, because nothing can ruin your day quite as quickly as being surrounded by a hoard of loud, ignorant, disrespectful people, all vying for the same photographs, the cheapest Coca-Cola, or the cutest sand bottle. But the most amazing thing happened on our visit to Petra: this dreadful hoard simply didn’t appear. We enjoyed a very long, very relaxing day, in relative peace and quiet. Obviously this had a large impact on how wonderful our day at Petra was. How did this happen? Are we just the luckiest travelers around? Or did we do something right? Let me tell you how we “did” Petra, in the hopes that other travelers might have equally wonderful experiences.

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The Ancient City of Petra

The Monastery at Petra

Our first stop in Jordan after meeting up with Toon was Wadi Mousa, a small town nestled in one of Jordan’s many fantastic valleys. This valley is special, however, because hidden deep within the sandstone formations at its bottom is the ancient city of Petra. Many of you will be most familiar with Petra from its starring role in the film “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”, where it was used as the setting for the final resting place of the Holy Grail. But let me preface this post by saying this: even if you thought Petra was impressive in that movie, it can’t even hold a candle to the wonder of this place in real life. Petra is more impressive by an order of some magnitude than nearly everything we’ve seen so far in our travels, and that’s saying something. It makes the Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela look like the work of amateurs. It even humbles the great Temples of Angkor Wat, and shifts the ruins of Rome and the Great Pyramids of Giza down the list to make room at the top. Petra is, to put it bluntly, awesome. I hope I can do it justice here…

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