Monday, 23 April 2012

... Jordan: Diamonds In The Rough

After a moderately good nights sleep, save for a likely travel-related migraine and waking at 345am, I was raring to go. I was saying goodbye to Amman and basically heading south albeit in a kind of zig-zag. A landscape filled with olive groves whizzed by.

Moses is said to have seen the Promised Land and later died reportedly aged 120 at the top of Mt. Nebo. Hence the huge religious significance of this location. He is believed to have been later buried in the area, although the exact location of his tomb is subject to huge discussion. There is a church in his memory, however for my visit it was under significant restoration and is expected to be fished later this year.  Having trekked 19341 ft of Mt. Kilimanjaro, to call this a mountain is a bit confusing. It's more a hill in my mind. Still, the sweeping views of the ancient lands of Gilead, Judah, Jericho & Negev made it well worth a visit plus some rather magnificent mosaics incredibly well preserved.

A 9km drive from Mt. Nebo took me to the market town of Madaba, famous for a collection of Byzantine mosaics. The most famous mosaic is housed on the floor of St. George's Church, a Greek Orthodox church.  The church itself only dates back to the 19th Century, but the builders came across a mosaic dating back to AD 560 that represents the oldest map in Palestine found to date and provided a plethora of historical insights into the region. Despite much of the original having been lost (believed to have been around 2 million pieces) enough remains for you to sense the wonder and grandeur of this piece.

Madaba itself is easily explored on foot and has lots of churches with beautiful mosqics and lively shops to browse. I still firmly believe I could have done without seeing the skinned goat right before lunch. I had a very non-Arabic yet incredibly good cappuccino in a nice little coffee shop whilst the barista taught me the various ways I could wear my newly acquired head scarf.

Known as the "Grand Canyon of Jordan" , Wadi Mujib stretches over 70km across Jordan from the Desert Highway to the Dead Sea. It measures 1km deep and 4km wide yet it took 18km driving along the King's Highway to switchback down one wall, across a dam at the bottom and then back up the other side. At one point on the road down there is a fantastic lookout. Some clever soul decided to set up a tea stall with a kind of traditional tent. It was a good place to stop and eat my not-very-Arabic-lunch bought from Safeway, a banana sandwich before continuing on to Karak.

Karak (also known as Kerak) is home to one of the most famous Crusader castles. The fortified castle that dominates this old city was a site of the battles between the Crusaders and the Islamic armies of Saladin. Saladin's armies took the castle after an epic siege in 1183. Throughout the castle there are plenty of details information boards to explain the story and function of what you're looking at. Have a torch handy for the darker parts - especially if, unlike me, you are not vertically challenged. It pays to be able to see when you might be about to crack your head. It is a fascinating place to explore especially seeing the defences: some walls are 6.5m thick and there are arrow slits galore.

By now it was almost 4pm and a potential 3-hr drive to Wadi Musa awaited. As you travel south the volcanic hillside becomes the arid Wadi Hasa. Apparently there have been attempts to grow tomatoes here yet all I could see were wind-strewn strips of plastic - a common sight sadly so far through much of my Jordanian travels.

Wadi Musa (Valley of Moses) is situated a few km from the main entrance to Petra. It took about 2.5hrs to get there from Karak and I dozed much of the way. My hotel is called Petra Diamond and would probably fit in well in Vegas, the front is done up just like the Treasury at Petra. There was just enough time to grab a quick bite to eat then I was heading out the door yet again.

Even though my trip to see the amazing wonder that is Petra is tomorrow, I decided that I would join about 200 other people and partake in "seeing" Petra by night. Here you can capture the spirit of Petra by candlelight... Oh and of course camera flashing. You are asked to make your way down the Siq "in silence". Yeah, good luck with that one. This is public entertainment Middle Eastern style! If you want silence might I suggest you come by yourself late in the afternoon, may be when it's winter!?! Silence & solitude is definitely not what this tour is about, however this truly was an incredibly exceptional & memorable experience and well worth the 12JOD. Despite the fact I couldn't really see what was around me, I soon got an idea of what is there thanks to the paper bag candle lanterns and the night sky creating ominous shapes and shadows. After a while you give up complaining about how none of your photos are turning out no matter what you do to the ISO & shutter speeds and truly enjoy this for what it is, the sheer ambience of being there. Even if that does include a little ginger tabby cat that liked to scare the bejesus out of everyone along the way.

As I came to the end of the Siq (took about 45min to walk the 1.2km what with farting about with my cameras & lens) and saw the Treasury in all it's candlelit glory I couldn't help but get goosebumps. Here was one of the most sublime spectacles on the planet that had been forever on my bucket list and as I was ushered into the clearing I was directed to take a seat... Right in front of it. I was in awe. We were served sweetened tea whilst we listened to a presentation followed by music.  I didn't care that I couldn't truly make out what was being said, due in part to the fact that the presenter had his back to me but also because I was absolutely wiped, I was caught up in the excitement of just being there.

I can't wait to truly see it in all it's glory tomorrow in daylight! Unfortunately that for me means a 5am wake up call..... My bag is already packed with camera gear.

- Posted using BlogPress from Nic's iPad

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