19. September 2011 22:58
I took a moment to catch my breath. The gigantic sand dune kept going straight up into the air and down below me the people were already looking like Polly Pocket dolls. But it was the challenge of the Wadi Rum desert that kept me climbing the sand dune. I figured Lawrence of Arabia hadn’t given up when he had crossed this desert to attack Aquaba for the Arab Revolt, so I wouldn’t stop climbing.
Once I reached the top, the view was worth it. The towering rock cliffs and wavy sand seemed to go on forever. With no vegetation or signs of civilization, it really made me wonder how Bedouins have lived in Wadi Rum for centuries. The preservation of water surely took on a new meaning here in the middle of the harsh, but magnificent desert. As I listened to my voice bounce around the desert canyons, I realized T. E. Lawrence had summed the place up well by calling it "vast, echoing and godlike."
When it was time to descend, the few who had made it to the overlook decided it was best to run back down the vertical sand dune. After seeing someone wipeout halfway down in a cloud of sand, I tempered my speed to a gentle gallop and enjoyed the freedom of the sand on my feet and the feeling of letting gravity do most of the work to get me back to the desert floor.
That evening at the Bedouin-style camp was truly remarkable and unforgettable. At the camp, I wasn’t just learning about Bedouin tradition, but living it. I watched as the camp staff dug up our dinner that had been cooking deep in the sand’s heat. The cuisine enjoyed in front of the campfire tasted better than many meals I’ve had in fancy restaurants. As the evening went on, the camp staff sang traditional Arabic songs and invited our group to dance around the fire with them in light-hearted fellowship. I wound down my evening by admiring the billions of stars visible in the middle of the desert.
After this memorable experience, I spent the last days of my tour enjoying Jordan’s Red Sea and Dead Sea beaches. In the Red Sea, the focus was on the colorful marine life that lived below the bright blue water. So many fish of every shape, size and color made it seem like God had been playing with crayons when he created this coral reef.
My last day at the Dead Sea focused on the water itself, since the 27% salt content of the Dead Sea makes it impossible to sink. I bobbed up and down in the water like a cork before trying out the skin-softening mud bath. The great variety of sites I saw in just these last days more than proved Jordan’s marvelous variety of top quality attractions. Already, I’m looking forward to returning one day to the peaceful and welcoming country.
17. September 2011 19:12
After a walk through a shadowy, narrow gorge in the desert, a light appears through the sandstone mountain slits. There is where I got my first glimpse of the iconic Treasury. The elaborate tomb’s façade was carved by the mysterious Nabateans between 100 B.C. and 200 A.D. This iconic structure is reason enough for many people to journey to Jordan.
I tried to imagine Swiss explorer, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt’s glee when he beheld the towering tomb for the first time in 1812. Prior to his discovery, Petra lay unknown to Europeans, since it was guarded by the locals who believed the place held a legendary treasure. This myth that the Treasury building was anything more than a tomb proved to be untrue. However, what the locals eventually came to realize after Burckhardt spread the word about a lost city carved into sandstone was that the treasure was there all along. People began traveling in droves to see the expansive ruins of Petra, which helped out the local economy more than anything else.
But the Treasury is just one of hundreds of decorative tombs influenced by Greek architecture. The Nabateans valued the afterlife over the current life, so even those not wealthy could sometimes afford a carved tomb into the mountains.
The ruins of Petra seemed to keep going on and on as I toured the UNESCO World Heritage Site. I could easily see why this incredible city was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Swirls of vivid red, yellow and orange stone decorated the ruins better than any paint could have.
After lunch in Petra, I climbed up 800 or so steps to see the Monastery. This elaborate tomb impressed me even more than the others from its remoteness at the top of a mountain with views of Petra all around.
That evening, I sat down to a traditional Jordanian dinner that I had cooked myself (with a little help of course) at Petra Kitchen. Even now, I’m looking forward to attempting that meal’s delicious recipes for my husband. I’ll consider it a success if the food is even half as good.
14. September 2011 00:48
Almost 2,000 years ago, John the Baptist baptized a man in the Jordan River who would change the world. I got to walk on the hallowed ground where this miracle occurred at Bethany-Beyond-Jordan. It is easy to picture this event, since the area has the same desert look that it had during the time of Jesus.
I basked in the peacefulness and authenticity of the site as I walked from John the Baptist's cave to Byzantine church ruins to the actual spot where archeologists have determined Jesus was baptized. It felt like I might see John the Baptist in his desert garbs and wild hair around any corner. Even the wild berries he lived on were hanging from bushes all over the site.
A little down river where baptisms often take place, I had the song “As I went down to the river to pray” playing in my head. I stood for a few moments and soaked up the quiet movement of the wind through the river’s reeds. It almost seemed like the plants were quietly whispering long-remembered secrets.
Later that day, I visited another Biblical site at Mount Nebo. The story of Moses looking over the promised land, but being unable to go because of one mistake always seemed unfair to me. It’s not as if his followers' faith remained solid as a rock throughout their 40 years in the desert. However, when I actually beheld the view from the top of Mount Nebo, the spectacular site of the Dead Sea and surrounding mountains felt more hopeful and inspiring than anything else.
Mount Nebo where Moses died
St. George Greek Orthodox Church
12. September 2011 09:10
You might not think of Hercules when you think of Jordan. However, Hercules once stood atop the Citadel Hill in Jordan’s capital, Amman, during the Roman times. All that’s left of the once giant statue is little more than a piece of the hand, but that is enough to imagine the statue‘s former grandeur. Walking through the Stone Age, Roman, Byzantine and Muslim ruins, it is easy to see why this hill was occupied throughout Jordan’s history. The fantastic view reveals the seven hills of Amman and all its sprawling glory.
This city was my first introduction into Jordanian culture. Already, I have been amazed by the amount of archeological ruins that have survived the centuries. In Umm Qais (located in northern Jordan), the Roman city had been so well-preserved that the chariot dents into the stone streets were still present. This preserved archeological site featured rows of standing columns, shops from Roman streets and a view of Syria and Israel. The Golan Heights glowed next to the Sea of Galilee located in the valley below Umm Qais.
Nearby, Jerash is another Roman city which has even more remarkable remains, including a chariot racing arena, main street, Temple of Artemis and a large theater with seats so high, it almost made me dizzy to look straight down at the stage.
Even more moving is learning about the modern Jordanian life. Religion plays a huge part of the culture, which I have explored with a Baptist service, Melkite Catholic mass and a tour of a enormous Mosque whose dome covered the entire interior of the structure. The most inspiring part is the religious peace and tolerance that Jordan has maintained despite it’s location in a sometimes violent Middle East. One can only hope that other Middle Eastern countries can learn by their example in interfaith coexistence.
Umm Qais with the Golon Heights in the backdrop
Mosque in Amman