This multi-part series will document my time spent in Jordan while a participant on a Fulbright-Hays Groups Project Abroad (GPA) program. I was selected along with 11 fellow teachers from North Texas to spend 4-weeks traveling in and around Amman, Jordan where we will study the country, politics, religion, education and culture. With this information we will develop curriculum to share with teachers and students once we return to the United States.
I won't be able to update this blog with my professional images while I am traveling due to technology limitations; therefore, my phone images will have to suffice. After I return in August I will post my favorite images from the trip in a separate blog post.
This past weekend I experienced some of the most incredible sights, but the process pushed my body through extreme conditions. In the end, it was worth all the blisters, bloodied toes, dehydration, sleep deprivation, and lack of food.
After a week of meetings, our group was excited to leave Amman and see some of the most famous sites in Jordan. Our first stop was in Madaba to visit St. George Greek Orthodox Church which was built in 1896 on the ruins of a 6th century Byzantine church. The floor of the church houses the remnants of the original Byzantine mosaic. Unfortunately, only a quarter of the mosaic has been preserved. The mosaic is a map of the area from Sidon and Tyre in the north to the delta of the Nile in the south and from the Mediterranean to the eastern deserts. It is a remarkable historic document.
We then drove to Mount Nebo and enjoyed the stunning views of the valley in which God allowed Moses to see into the Promised Land. Although the day was a bit hazy, we could see the Dead Sea, Jericho and Jerusalem in the far distance.
Our next visit was a surprise trip to the Jordan River to see the baptismal site of Jesus Christ. The river itself was a horrid brown shade that looked filthy. Across the river from where we were allowed to dip our toes (not pictured) was Israel--it made me want to wade through the river to step into Israel.
I was really concerned with how rapidly my body reacted to the extreme heat at the site. It was a relatively short walk (20 minutes), mostly under shade, from the bus down to the river, but the heat was so intense I was sure that if I'd stayed there another 10 minutes I would have collapsed from heat exhaustion. I have no idea how hot it was outside, but it must have been at least 110 degrees. I lived in the desert of Las Vegas for 13 years and I have plenty of previous experience in extreme heat, but I'd never felt anything like that before. I wasn't the only one who felt the same way, almost everyone in our group felt it was the hottest they've ever been. I was really concerned because on Saturday we were going to Petra for several hours and I was terrified that I would have a similar experience. I said a lot of prayers that night.
Fortunately, our last stop of the day was to the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea was a fun experience. The water felt oily and I had a blast bouncing around in the water. I only stayed in the water for about 10 minutes before I headed to a nearby resort where I sat in the pool for a couple of hours drinking water and trying to rehydrate and recuperate from the trip to the Jordan River.
Saturday, we awoke early so that we could enjoy Petra before the oppressive heat set in later in the day. Petra was the number one reason why I've wanted to see Jordan and the site does not disappoint. However, I naively didn't complete any research on the site prior to our visit, and therefore I was wholly unprepared for the intense physical demands of the day. My advice for anyone who plans to see Petra is to visit the site over two days--especially if you're visiting in the heat of the summer. Bring good hiking shoes, a hat, plenty of sunscreen and water.
The ruins of Petra cover more than 260 square kilometers and include numerous hiking trails--which means it is almost impossible to see everything in one day. My favorite surprise was that the walk to the famous Treasury lead us through a stunning cavern. I couldn't get enough of the play of light against the sandstone rock walls and I took entirely too many pictures (pictures will be coming soon).
Petra is the ancient capital of the Nabatean civilization founded in 168 B.C.E. The Nabateans were a nomadic Arab group that ended up establishing a trading empire which facilitated trade with the Romans and other groups--especially in Frankincense. At its height, more than 30,000 people lived in Petra. Today there are still Bedouins that live in the caves within the site.
The ruins of Petra include tombs, an amphitheater, evidence of water engineering and irrigation, roads and churches; however, they're no remaining houses or government buildings. The most celebrated structure in Petra is the Treasury (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). The Treasury was not a bank, but was a funerary monument. It is cut deeply into the sandstone and therefore the elements have not destroyed it yet. What I loved about the building was that the facade of the monument has Greek, Roman and Egyptian references which show the influence of other cultures on the Nabateans.
Due to my lack of preparation, I had worn simple boat shoes with no socks. The walk to the Treasury was wonderful, but I hadn't realized that the site stretched on for miles. As you can see below, I ended up hiking more than 10 miles, tore up my toes with blisters and more than once I thought I would die--either from sheer exhaustion and dehydration or from the wild mule ride I took up the mountain.
One of our group members is Jordanian and she recommended that we rent mules to take us to the Monastery. Under cooler temperatures I would have not considered the option, but we'd already been outside for more than two hours and I knew I was starting to get dehydrated. Three of us opted to ride the mules. The mule ride took us up a cliff with over 950 steps (66 floors) and most of it was spent with the mule walking on the very edge of the cliff. It was terrifying and I spent most of the time praying the mule would be surefooted and that I would topple off the side of the cliff. I tried taking a couple of pictures, but I quickly abandoned my camera to hold on for dear life. The view of the Monastery was gorgeous, but I'm still on the fence about whether it was worth it. It took me another hour to climb down (I didn't even consider trying to go back down with the mule...watching one person try that was more than enough for me) because the heat had gotten so oppressive it was hard to breathe and get enough liquids. By the time I dragged my beaten body back to the Treasury I was on the verge of tears. I decided to pay the fee to take a horse and cart back to the visitor center because there was nothing left in my tank to walk the additional mile back to the bus.
Sunday we returned to the Petra visitors center to meet with the director and learn more about Petra and about the preservation techniques. One interesting fact is that 80% of the visitors to Petra only visit the Treasury and never seen any of the additional ruins. Following his presentation, we headed for a ride through the Wadi Rum desert.
By any standard Wadi Rum is spectacular--our guide described it as Jordan's Grand Canyon. The majestic mountains with their craggy edges and shapes surround a fairly barren landscape. Bedouin tents dot the landscape and there are a few small Bedouin villages in the area as well. Wadi Rum was used in the filming of Lawrence of Arabia, The Martian and Queen of the Desert.
After driving through the red sand we headed to our campsite for the evening. My expectations were dashed when I saw the rather western style tents. I had hoped for Bedouin style tents covered in various woven textiles.
The remaining part of the afternoon was spent sitting around or hiking the nearby cliffs. Dinner was a Zerb. This is where they cook the food in deep pits in the ground (lamb, chicken, potatoes rice and veggies) for several hours. We had a very similar dinner the night before at our resort outside of Petra. I preferred the meal we'd enjoyed the previous evening to the one at the campsite. My favorite part of the evening was the after dinner entertainment of dancing and a reenactment of a Bedouin wedding. Two of our party acted as proxies for the wedding. It was a lot of fun to dance and celebrate their fake wedding. Given that we'd seen so many different types of weddings at our hotel in Amman it was fun to compare the similarities and differences between the ceremonies.
Monday took us to Aqaba. Aqaba is located on the coast of the Red Sea and from the city you can see Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel. Due to its strategic location the city acts as a special economic zone to help draw in foreign investment and businesses. I loved Aqaba and definitely would love to return. The closest comparison I could make would be that it's the Miami of Jordan (with only 150,000 people and few nightclubs).
We had a few more meetings on Monday, and by mid-afternoon after eating very little over the previous few days, sleeping poorly at the campsite and the general annoyance from spending so much time with the same people--our little group fractured. As I stated in my previous post, travel strips a person down, and can often lead to conflict. After a quick meal at McDonald's apologies were made and we got back on track. We also established a few norms to help prevent further conflict.
A small group of us then headed down to the coast to spend a couple of hours enjoying the Red Sea. The water was cool, a gorgeous shade of royal blue and the perfect way to unwind from a rough couple of days. For dinner we were invited by His Excellency (CEO of the Aqaba Development Corporation) to the yacht club for a huge meal. Some of our group went out for a private tour of the city with His Excellency, but I opted for my bed because I was still exhausted.
Some additional observations about the country:
- Jordan has incredibly attractive people--both men and women. From the Bedouin tribal people that live in the caves near Petra to the office workers, they have lots of gorgeous people. We all think that our bus driver is the Arab Gorge Clooney and I enjoyed a presentation by a gentleman yesterday that looked like the Arab Jude Law.
- Jordanians are incredibly hospitable from running into the street to rescue my hat to giving us directions, serving us in restaurants or just talking to people on the street, they are wonderful.
- Jordan has delicious desserts. I normally don't like sweets in foreign countries, but I have really liked all the varieties. Lots of honey, pistachios and dates.
The rest of this week has us returning to Amman for more meetings. It has become the running joke of our group that I am very accident prone. My toes look gnarly from their journey in Petra and a run-in with my luggage that sliced open my baby toe, my legs and arms are riddled with bruises and this morning I took a slice out of one of my knuckles while digging around my toiletries bag and encountering my razor blade. Fortunately one of my travel mates has emergency supplies for all needs and has doctored my injuries. Here's to hoping that I don't keep adding to the injury list.