NOTE: I'm writing out this post while I have the chance, but my internet connection isn't fast enough to upload photos yet. I'll add these as soon as I can. Sorry everyone!
It's been a whirlwind lately - I can't believe I've only been here five days. On Thursday Joe and I went to Madaba, a town just outside of Amman that's famous for its mosaics and its proximity to Mt. Nebo. In case I haven't explained who Joe is, he's a good friend of mine from work who is also going to Saudi Arabia, just a different town. He has a twisted sense of humor and lots of experience in the region, because he lived in Amman for about 3 years. Here he is overlooking the Dead Sea.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Madaba. We saw Mt. Nebo (too hazy to see the Promised Land, and it's pretty desertified anyway - I would have passed on it and asked God for the Land behind door 2). I managed to wheedle my way for free in to the ruins of a big mosaic in Madaba, with my mad Arabic skills and stunning charm (or the guy was just lazy). Some rudimentary Arabic later, he just walks out onto the floor and invites me down off the scaffolding to show me some of the details of the artwork. Archaeology is more of a suggestion than a discipline here....
I also got to see Madaba's most famous mosaic, one from the 6th century showing a map of religious sites in the Levant. It's the first known map of Christian Jerusalem, and I studied it in my Jerusalem class in 2006. History nerds, be alert! (My foot is included for perspective. It's amusing how in the books no one mentions that the map is actually pretty small.)
We stayed the night there and then the next day drove down to Petra on the Kings' Highway, a twisting snake of an ancient road that follows the top of the mountains in west Jordan. Well, except for where it doesn't follow the mountains and has to cross Wadi Mujib. Traffic was kind of heavy at one point.
One of Joe's friends, a Fulbright student here in Jordan, has been living in a village outside of Petra since January, and she arranged a homestay for us there. This is a Bedouin village, populated by the group of Bedouins who used to live in the caves in Petra but were forced out by the Jordanian government to make it into a more efficient tourist trap. The amusing part is that we had to tell the family we stayed with that Joe and I were a married couple in order for them not to freak out. This led to a number of near-mistakes when talking about my "brother" Mark and Joe's "friend" Maria, but I think we managed to avoid any horrid offenses. Unfortunately, Joe and I divorced each other the next day, largely because of the noises he makes when he sleeps (which sound suspiciously like several donkeys tied up about ten feet away from the open window to the guest bedroom).
This is a photo of us with one of the children who seemed to be connected to our family, although I missed out on the exact relationship. No one there locks their doors, and people just breeze in and out to say hello. I think I OD'd on sweet tea while I was there.
We also met a New Zealander who married a Bedouin man 30 years ago and has lived in the caves and the village ever since. She recently published a book about it, which Joe and I picked up, even at the inflated price of twenty Jordanian dinars (about $28). She told us a lot of stories about how life has changed in Petra and Wadi Musa (the town nearby, now saturated with fat American tourists and European backpackers) since they were forced into the village outside Petra in 1985. Plus, seriously, a hippy New Zealander in a conservative Bedouin village? You can't make this up.
After our divorce and leaving the Bedouin family's house, I struck out for Petra while Joe went his own way - he's seen it several times already. Petra was amazing - what else can you say? Here's two obligatory photos of the Treasury, the building at the entrance of the city that everyone recognizes. [Update one week later: he tells me now that he wishes he'd gone with me, because evidently, due to my unexpected detour, I only saw about 10% of what the average tourist sees. Sucker!]
These pink flowers, whatever they are, were in bloom anywhere there was a hint of water. (This is relevant later on - keep in mind that the bushes are about six to ten feet tall.) Here's another photo, in an attempt to be artsy.
Above all of this is the High Place of Sacrifice, which is a not-too-challenging hike above the wadi. This photo looks down onto the wadi floor where the previous photo was taken. For perspective, click on this photo so it opens up full size in a new window and find the "buildings" carved into the rock face. Those are probably three stories high.
I have been to the mountain top! That valley floor below me is roughly 10 or 20 meters below the level of the buildings in the above photo. Ie, watch your step, because there are no guard rails.
I hiked for about an hour with some Americans that I met on top of that mountain, then I headed out on my own off the beaten path. I was trying to get here...
...but the wadi I was following actually led me here.
I ended up following a goat trail up the side of the ravine, so you can see how high up I was, compared to those flowering bushes at the bottom of the wadi in the last photo. It was beautiful - I even got to see the stereotypical wheeling hawk in the canyon. Gorgeous. On my way into this particular wadi, I ran across a Bedouin woman and her two kids, and she invited me into a little cave to have tea with her. Her Arabic was incomprehensible to me, and her English was really bad (no verbs, just nouns), so communication was rather rough, but it was an experience to remember.
After that, I made my way back to the main part of Petra, to meet up with Joe and head back into Amman. We took the Dead Sea highway back to Amman, and stopped off for dinner at a hotel on the sea to watch the sunset. Before that, however, we had to get from Petra to the highway, which involved driving this road through 4000 feet of elevation change. Be sure to note the sign in the second photo.
Obligatory desert photos, once we'd finally come out of the mountains. My attempts to replicate Liza's awesome photo were an epic failure. In my defense, I'd been hiking all day.
The Dead Sea highway. Not quite the same as the 101, but hey, we're in Jordan, not California.
Me in the Dead Sea - I'm standing on sand bags, because the actual staircase down from the beach ends about five feet above the water level. The Dead Sea is going down by about a half a meter to a meter each year due to the amount of water (about 90% of the natural flow) Israel, Syria, and Jordan pull out of the Jordan River, which is the main source of replenishment for the sea. At the point where I'm standing, I was about 415 meters below sea level - the lowest point on earth!
And, one final photo. It's poor quality, but the sign says it all.
That's it for now - we're off to Damascus tomorrow. I hope you're all well!