Tuesday, July 13, 2010

2010 Vacation: Jordan - Day Two - Um Qais, Pella, Dead Sea

On day two we joined up with MSD and headed north.  We left Amman passing reforested areas, cities, towns, and Palestinian refugee "camps" (They were more like towns and cities).  The northern part of Jordan is the agricultural area of the country and is the 'greenest' area of the country.  It reminded me a lot of parts of southern California in the summer - hints of green amongst very dry browns.

We arrived at our first stop and our guide pointed toward some vendors who had some cards for digital cameras.  This wasn't exactly the camera store I'd envisioned.  The largest card available was 2 GB which was less than what I photographed the first day (over 3 GB).  The card was also rather expensive so I passed.  I gambled that my camera card would work and it did ... for a few days anyway.

Our first stop of the day was Umm Qais, location of Gadara, one of the decapolis cities.  Here we walked through Greek, Roman, and Byzantine ruins.  Like most ancient cities in the area, the main part of the city was built on a hill to take advantage of the cooler, breezier conditions.  The heights also had strategic advantage as trade routes ran through here and those who controlled the heights controlled the trade.  In the main thoroughfare you could see the worn wagon wheel ruts of years - hundreds of years? - of trading caravans.

Northern Border - Syria
From a nearby view point we had a sweeping view of the Jordan/Syria border and the Sea of Galilee.  There was a dusty haze this time of year in most of Jordan, the dry season, so our view of the distant hills, especially the Golan Heights, were just barely visible in the distance.  It reminded you where you were and the issues that still plague this region.

Byzantine Church Of Gadara.
As we explored the site, a young boy in a window overlooking the ruins yelled Hello down to us.  He made sure we heard him by repeating himself ... 10,000 times.  It was funny for the first 100 times or so.  I exaggerate, of course, but the boy was insistent.

Back on the minibus we headed for our next stop, Pella.  Along the way we passed through several military checkpoints where bored soldiers watched you warily over large caliber automatic weapons.  Something you don't see in the United States except, maybe, Arizona.  I have to say that I never felt safer than in Jordan.  To enter the lobby of our hotels you had to put your bags through x-rays and walk through metal detectors.  Cars were inspected on the way in using mirrors.  Unfortunately they also used bomb detecting wands which, as far as I could tell, were just a radio antenna attached to a small metal handle.  Similar bomb detectors have been deemed fraudulent.  It looked like they were dowsing for water or something.

We stopped at a rest house which, in Jordan is a combination rest area, hotel, and restaurant.  The rest house overlooked the Roman ruins of another decapolis city, the city of Pella.  This is also near where Jesus supposedly went out into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights.  The building of the rest area and some of the initial excavations of Pella were done with help from USAID.  Unfortunately funding has dried up and only a little excavation is done now.

Pella.
We ate lunch here overlooking the ruins.  The owner/manager of the rest stop asked us where we were from.  He got excited when he found out that we were familiar with Iowa.  Apparently he has been trying to contact the Iowa governor so that they could set up a sister city relationship with Pella, Iowa.  The Wife promised to try to contact someone from Pella.  We left with Mr. M.G. Deeb Hussein's card.

The call to prayer was heard and we sat down to eat an okay meal while surrounded by some of the skinniest cats I've ever seen.  The Wife and MSD fed some of the cats from their plates.  Not sure what I would have thought if I was the owner.  Feeding pets is very American.  Not sure how Islamic cultures interpret that.

We were given glasses of mint-lemonade.  The past couple of mornings I'd had bitter orange juice for breakfast and the lemonade continued the trend.  I think sweet juices are not the norm in Jordan.  I discovered that adding one part pineapple juice to three parts bitter orange juice made it much more palatable to my American sweet tooth.

There was a geocache some 500 feet away from the road house but I never had the opportunity to search for it.

After lunch we drove further south to the Dead Sea.  Here we stopped at a resort/spa where we were given the opportunity to swim at the lowest point on Earth.  The Wife and I changed into our swimsuits and headed to the beach. I waded in.  They recommend that you not get water on your face or in you eyes and I discovered why very quickly.  The salt water made every little cut, scratch, and nick burn.  I now understand the phrase "Rub salt in the wound."  The water is one third salt and feels very oily to the touch.   As I walked out into deeper water my feet came out from under me and I found my self floating on my back and bobbing like a cork.  I never could float very well before but in the Dead Sea I had more difficulty trying not to float.  No need for a floaty in this lake.  The Wife discovered this as well.  I've now been in the lowest lake and the highest navigable lake in the world.

The Dead Sea and a couple of umbrellas.
On shore there was free mud that was supposed to help your skin.  We did not partake but I saw other people smear it all over before getting in the water.  Dead Sea Spa products were on sale all over the country.

Sadly, the Dead Sea is dying.  Its main source of water - the river Jordan and two smaller rivers - have all been dammed up and diverted to support agriculture and to provide drinking water.  The lake has dropped 50 ft in some ten to twenty years and may be completely gone in less than thirty years if something is not done.  Fortunately the Governments in the area are looking into bringing water from either the Red Sea or the Mediterranean.  The new construction, mostly resorts, indicate that there is some optimism for the lake being kept alive.

The sun was hot, in the upper 90s, so I got out before I burned.  We rinsed off the saltwater under the showers and changed back before heading back into the spa.  By the time we got back with our driver and guide I was sweating buckets.

The place where Jesus was baptized was not far away but was not on our itinerary.  Our guide says, due to the diversion of the Jordan river, the water is very narrow at the site and is not very impressive.  I think the Wife was a little disappointed that she didn't get to baptize me.

We headed back to Amman and the Wife and I crashed early.  We rarely went to bed later than 9:30 PM this vacation.

I've added more pictures to the 2010-07 Jordan Google Photos album.

3 comments:

  1. Cool post... so much interesting stuff I have no idea what to comment on! LOL

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  2. I keep looking at Pella and wondering when Indiana Jones is going to show up! :)

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  3. GH: LOL I did pack in a lot.

    Miss McC: Just wait for Petra.

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