Friday, October 23, 2015

JORDAN:ON THE ROAD FROM AMMAN TO PETRA, NOTES FROM OUR GUIDES

We spent one day in Jordan with the full tour group of 90 people on a trip to the famed and mysterious city of Petra. We left early because the drive was over 150 miles on narrow roads and would take over three hours. Amman is in northern Jordan and Petra is in south-central Jordan.
Thank you, Google Maps
That's a pretty long drive, especially since we were going to do it twice in a single day. Most people turn a trip to Petra into a two-day venture, but we had no time for that. We were going to do the speed version. No worries. We had an armed Jordanian police officer sitting in the front seat of our bus "keeping us safe."  
Unlike Egypt, the security in Jordan is usually less overt. We were to learn later that they have security cameras all over the place, a Big Brother system of security not that much unlike our own. Overall, we felt very safe traveling in Jordan. 

More helpful than the police escort was the nutritious snack I brought along on the bus: 
I ate it in honor of my mother, whose maiden name was "Frey." It wasn't too much of a sacrifice, let me tell you.

During the long drive we passed through three or four small towns, seeing lots of mosques and minarets and no cathedrals and spires. Jordan is 93% Muslim.
The green stripe on the top of this picture is the tinting on the bus window.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

JORDAN: THE ANCIENT CITY OF JERASH, "THE POMPEII OF THE EAST"

Jordan is not a very large country. I got perspective by superimposing it over my home state of Utah. Utah comprises 84,899 square miles to Jordan's 35,637, which means Utah is almost 2 1/2 times bigger than Jordan. Utah is surrounded by friendly neighbor states, but Jordan has Syria to the north, Iraq to the east, Saudi Arabia to the south, and the not-always-friendly Israel to the west. Wow! How does it survive?
Since returning home from our trip to Israel, Egypt, and Jordan, we have been asked many times if we felt safe, and our answer has always been yes. We felt safe even when we drove north from Amman to the ancient city of Jerash, located just 22 miles from the Syrian border. As I was looking for that distance on the internet, I ran across this website about travel safety in Jordan, which primarily focuses on their issues with Syria.
We were actually closer to Syria when we were traveling in Tel Dan National Park in the Golan Heights area.

In any case, Jerash may have been the place where we felt the most loved and wanted on this trip. Part of that was because of the teenage crowd there who treated us like celebrities. (More on them later.) In addition, it was clear that Jordanian merchants were anxious for tourists to come back. Of course, that was true everywhere we went.
The familiar shopping gauntlet. One preceded the entrance to just about every tourist venue we visited.
Jerash was inhabited as early as the Bronze Age (3200-1200 BC). In about the 4th century BC it became part of the Greco-Roman Empire and was later one of the cities of the Decapolis. It changed hands several times and was almost destroyed by earthquakes and war, but in 1806 a German archaeologist began excavation.
Its heyday was the second and third centuries AD, and many of the buildings date to that period. Jerash is called "the Pompeii of the East," not because it was destroyed by a volcano, but because of its excellent preservation.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

JORDAN: SLEEPING AND DINING IN AMMAN

Like any large city, Amman has a lot of interesting places to eat, places where Bob would love to wander in and point at tasty menu pictures labeled in Arabic: 
There are also lots of "interesting" places where tourists can sleep, such as the Seven Wonders Hotel.  Hopefully that name doesn't mean they'd be wondering seven times during the night why they were staying there.
Our tour company booked rooms at the Intercontinental Amman, a sister hotel to the Intercontinental we had in Cairo earlier in the trip and in Nairobi last year.
Photo from here
Similar to our other two experiences with Intercontinental, there was plenty of security:

The lobby was beautiful, with live piano music playing much of the time and fresh flowers everywhere (literally--on counters and hanging in vases from the ceiling):

Sunday, October 4, 2015

ISRAEL AND JORDAN: BAPTISMAL SITES

After stopping at the Dead Sea, our next destination was another famous body of water, the supposed "baptism of Christ site" on the Jordan side of the Jordan River.
But first, I want to go back to a different baptismal site on the Israel side of the Jordan River, which we had visited earlier in the trip.

The Israel site is called "Yardenit," which means "Little Jordan" in Hebrew.
It was a well-cared for site, really gussied up for tourists:
When we first arrived, there was some major action on the other side of the river--a group of young men catching an enormous fish. I didn't know a fish could grow that big in a river:
Yikes!

Yardenit has twelve separate baptismal pools, and visitors can be baptized there for free--with the rental ($10) or purchase ($25) of baptismal clothes and a towel. Many groups come here on pilgrimage, and I think that seems like a fair exchange. Their pastor or whomever they choose can perform the baptisms.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

JORDAN AND ISRAEL: THE DEAD SEA

We had split off from our Fun-for-Less Tour, booking our own earlier flight to Amman and hiring a private guide, so that we could cover more territory in Jordan on our first day there than what was on the schedule for the group. Our plan was to reunite with our tour in the evening at our hotel. However, the one thing the larger group did on our day apart that we didn't was go swimming in the Dead Sea, something I've always wanted to do. 

We had seen the Dead Sea from a distance from Masada and as we drove south through the Negev Desert toward the Red Sea:
View of the Dead Sea from Masada
There is something mysterious, almost eerie about the Dead Sea. Maybe it's the color, or perhaps it's the isolation, or it could be its utter barrenness. 

I grew up around another "dead sea," the Great Salt Lake, and I have gone swimming there. It is well known for its high salinity of 5% to 27% (50 to 270 parts per 1,000, depending on the year), which is 2 to 7 times saltier than the ocean. The Dead Sea, however, is almost constantly at about 35% salinity, or 9.6 times as salty as the ocean. I hear this greater salinity makes the water more bouyant than the Great Salt Lake. I guess I'll never know.

However, as the Dead Sea straddles the Israel/Jordan border, and as Mount Nebo is quite close to the Dead Sea, we were able to convince our guide Isam to take us down to the water for a quick toe-dip.
I may not have gone swimming, but I saw the Dead Sea from two different countries, and I did stick my feet in it. That's not too bad.
The Dead Sea is really dead--no plants or birds, just people. In contrast, the Great Salt Lake has a bird sanctuary, marshes, and brine shrimp. The Dead Sea is also 1,407 feet below sea level and 653 feet deep, compared to the Great Salt Lake at 4,200 feet above sea level and 33 feet deep. Even though the surface area of the Dead Sea is only 230 square miles and the surface area of the Great Salt Lake is 1,700 square miles, the Dead Sea contains 27 cubic miles of water, while the Great Salt Lake contains just 4.5 cubic miles of water.

And there is one other big difference: the Great Salt Lake doesn't usually have a camel in its parking lot:
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