Saturday, October 29, 2011

10/27/11: The Country That Shares My Name (Part 1): Jerrash and Amman

The gorgeous Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has been a place that I have always wanted to visit. From its stunning ancient cities, to it's vibrant modern feel, Jordan was top on my list of Arab countries to see on my so-called "Tour De Middle East".  On Thursday, October 27th, I was able to accomplish this visit and I was off on yet another adventure with some students from my Master's program. My excitement was overwhelming, and I was FINALLY about to get a stamp in my passport from a place other than Israel :-)

At 7:30am the group and I were off to the Arlozorov buss station where we were going to meet our Israeli guide who would take us to the King Hussein border crossing near Jerusalem. We all made it to the station, found our little sherut like bus, packed everything up, and headed off on our 2 hour journey to the Jordanian-Isreali border. 

Banchi and Me On The Bus To The Border Crossing 

When we were fairly close to the Jordanian border it was time for us to say goodbye to our Israeli driver and guide. They would not be coming with us across to the other side. We were then transferred to another bus that drove a mile or so over the Jordan River to the Jordanian checkpoint that we would have to cross in order to get into the country. At this point my excitement was at it's peak. I was finally getting to an Arab country and I couldn't wait another minute! But alas, as with all checkpoints, these things take time. We made it through the scanners, walked through a little room, and then met with our Jordanian tour guide, bus driver, and police officer on the other side before going into passport control. 

Driving Over The River Jordan 

I Finally Made It To My Arab Country! 

One Day I Will Use The Diplomatic Entry Gate! Insha'allah

Jordan, Jordana Has Arrived! 

After everything was settled with the passports, we packed up our little tour bus, met our Jordanian guides more formally, and were off to the ancient city of Jerrash. We learned very quickly that our tour guide, Iyad Abu Zaid, was not only extremely knowledgable about his homeland, but an amazing, passionate, funny, warm, and welcoming guide. It makes sense that over the three days we all spent together he became known to us all as "Abu" (father), and we were his Habibis (sweethearts). As we were driving through the country I was instantly struck by it's simplistic beauty. Many places in Jordan, aside from the big cities, are not very built up which means you can really appreciate the beauty of the natural desert landscape. I, being from the California desert, felt so at home here and realized that I truly am a desert dweller through and through. 

The Beautiful Hashemite Kingdom

After about an hour or so of driving we were almost at our first destination; the city of Jerash. An enchanting place where ancient meets modern in the most beautiful of ways. The first thing that struck me about Jerash were the gorgeous ruins and the almost perfect preservation of the intricate architecture. I have been to a fair amount of ruins since I have been in the Middle East but have never seen any as well preserved as the ruins at Jerash. As we exited our bus a gigantic Roman archway stood between us and the ancient city. Abu explained that it was named for one of the Roman emperors at the time and was called the Arch of Haedron. The tan rock the Archway was constructed from against the blue Jordanian sky was truly a breathtaking image. 

The Arch Of Haedron 

Can't Miss A Photo Op 

Simply Breathtaking 

We entered through the Archway, walked a little ways into the city, and found ourselves in a place that housed a "horse circus". There were stables, a very large arena, and stands where people would sit and watch chariot races, horse races, and so on. It was a very typical Roman arena adorned with columns, stone holding chambers, and a priceless view of the city in the background.

View Of The City From The Arena 

Horse Holding Cell 

The Arena Columns 
When we had exhausted every possible photograph of this area, we were off to the Oval Tower and Whispering Walls of Jerrash. The preservation of the details in the ruins of this city was almost unreal. Every detail, down to the smallest carving of Olive Tree leaves, looked as if they were new or recently restored. If you are seeking an experience where you can truly get an adequate feel for what it was like to live in the city during the time of the Romans, Jerash is the best place to visit (in my humble opinion).  From the beautifully constructed Roman columns to the stunning ancient theaters, this city enchants you from the moment you step foot inside. When we entered one of the theaters I wanted so badly to jump on the stage (where they still have concerts by the way) and start singing my favorite Arabic song (maybe Habbeit Delwat or Ya donya), but my nerves got the best of me and I refrained from putting on a show 
:-). Luckily there were performers on hand and we were all very entertained by drums and bagpipes! 

Another Ancient Archway 

Beautiful Roman Columns 

My Future Venue?? :-) 

Always Felt At Home In The Theater

A Fantastic Show :-) 

After we had finished in the theater, which had some of the best natural acoustics I have ever heard, we were off to our final stop in Jerash; the Temple of the Nymphs, and the area that served as the main water supply for the city. It was in this spot that I witnessed the astounding contrast between an ancient city and a modern one. Against a 21st century backdrop lay a city from the depths of history. In one particular spot there was a bridge that I can only describe as a bridge between the past and present; between ancient and modern, history and present life, and here we were in the middle of both worlds completely mystified by their contrasts. We also had the pleasure of being able to see the intricately detailed beauty of this city, a thing that is often eroded by time. The details in the architecture, the intricate carvings and mosaics, were so overwhelmingly beautiful, and we were so fortunate to be able to see such astonishing artifacts from a fascinating time in human history. 

Ancient Arena In Front Of The Modern City  
Standing In Front Of Two Worlds 

The Bridge Between Ancient And Modern 

Beautiful Mosaic Flooring 

Intricately Carved Columns 

A Stunning Contrast Between Past And Present 

Once we settled down from the excitement of the beauty that was before us, Abu taught us a bit more about the city, the water supply, and the daily life of the people who lived there. We were even lucky enough to be given a demonstration on how the water was collected, and why the columns around the area were constantly rocking and moving (something to do with surviving earthquakes). Unfortunately for Abu, and despite the immensely interesting content of what he was saying, his speech was interrupted by us girls focusing on an adorable local dog that was running around the ruins. She belonged to the men selling necklaces and postcards, and we all discovered that if you put a bunch of young women around any kind of dog, nothing else in the world matters no matter how interesting it might be! 

Near The Rocking Columns 

The Water Supply 

The Reason We Don't Know More About The Water Supply :-)

After our puppy distraction it was evident that it was time to leave and move on to our next destination. We had seen so many amazing things here, learned a great deal about the city thanks to Abu, and were now off to experience the modern, capital city of Amman! Maybe it is because I love feeling like I am in the middle of everything, or maybe it is because I was in an Arab country and for me that entails that I love anything and everything found there, but I fell completely in love with Amman. The modern, yet still very Middle Eastern, city was full of life from the moment we arrived to the moment we left the next morning. When we entered Amman we made our way to a gorgeous Hotel (unfortunately I can't remember the name), got our rooms, unpacked, showered, and got ready for our first Jordanian dinner. 

Our Beautiful Hotel In Amman 

Big Beds!!!! 

When we were all ready to go, we met outside of our hotel and were taken, by our amazing bus driver Sammi, to our restaurant. This place (again I forgot the name) was probably one of the most fantastic restaurants I have ever been to. The service was incredible, the waiters were so friendly and welcoming, the food was phenomenal, and we were given hookah to smoke wile we were enjoying our leisurely meal (I kept thinking how much my friend Susanna would have loved all the hookah we smoked while in Jordan). Everything from the traditional Humus, to the Labne, to the meat dishes, to the fruit dessert, was so fresh and tasy (zaki iktir as I say in Arabic), I don't know how I will ever go back to eating the food I have been living on here in Israel. I especially loved this particular restaurant because they were playing amazing Arabic music and I had the chance to practice my Arabic speaking with the waiters. At one point I was even teaching one of the other students some common Arabic words and phrases and having her practice them on the waiters. I think they were very entertained by us, but something must have rubbed off because the waiter came back to me asking if everyone wanted to order coffee and tea. I guess I was more interesting to talk to in Arabic than our Arab tour guide who was eating with us. I think, however, he just wanted to help me practice a little more, and could see I loved the language and loved speaking it to anyone who cared to listen :-). 

Food AND Hookah?!? I'm Never Leaving! 

Our Delicious Dishes 

Enjoying Our Hookah And Limon Na'ana Drink 

When each and every one of us had a substantial food baby due to overeating, we decided to catch a few cabs, head down to First Circle (an area downtown), and explore the town. We were all pretty tired from the day so we knew we didn't want to do anything too crazy, but we definitely weren't ready to go home. Our cab ride down to First Circle was an experience unlike any other. I thought cab rides in Israel were crazy, but they were nothing compared to taxi rides in Jordan. Luckily this cab ride was crazy in all the right ways! We began by introducing ourselves to the cab driver (who didn't speak very good english), explaining where we wanted to go, and then we all headed out. Since I was the only one in the cab who knew any Arabic it was up to me to do a lot of the communication. Luckily I could understand a pretty significant portion of what he was saying, but there were some differences that made for some awkward silences. Luckily between his broken English and my broken Arabic we were able to get to where we needed to go. However, we didn't get there before having a pretty rocking music party in our cab. There was heavy traffic on the roads which meant that we were stalled for a fairly long time. Our driver decided this would be a perfect time to draw some more attention to the cab with the three American girls in it. He put on an Arabic song about the Jordanian Army (I could make out that much), turned up the volume full blast, and had every car around looking at us like we were insane. We didn't mind though and spent most of the time dancing in our seats to the upbeat sound of the song! 

When we got to First Circle we met up with the rest of our group, went to a bar that was overwhelmingly touristy and American, had one drink, and decided we wanted something a bit more authentic. As we were walking down Rainbow Street we stumbled upon a cafe and hookah lounge that looked extremely promising. We went inside, found a very comfortable couch-like booth, ordered our drinks and hookah (I was very adventurous and ordered a hot chocolate :-p), and had a very relaxing rest of the evening. The atmosphere in the lounge was perfect for the kind of night we wanted, and they were playing Arabic music which meant I could have stayed there forever. Our hookah was different and quite interesting because we were smoking out of an actual fruit (which I had never seen before). It was quite an experience, but the company was amazing, and it was a fantastic first night in the capital of Amman! 

Yup... Smoking Out Of A Watermelon  

After a few hours at the bar exhaustion was starting to take it's toll on all of us, so we decided to head back to the hotel. After nearly not surviving the cab ride back due to crazy driving, we were home safe and sound, ready to put day 1 behind us, and hopeful that a good night sleep would come easy to us. I can't begin to explain how amazing my first day was here in Jordan, and I can only say that day 2 and 3 were even better. If it wasn't almost 2 in the morning I would write the posts on Petra and Madaba tonight, however, I think I would do them more justice after some sleep. 

Stay tuned tomorrow for two amazing posts on my time in Petra and Madaba :-)

Tisba7 3la khier ya chaverim! 
Jordana Simone

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