Wednesday, December 5, 2018

All the things we didn’t see in Jordan

48 hours after Petra we were sitting in our hotel room at the Olive Branch Hotel, just outside Jerash, just over one hour from the border with Israel. The preceding 2 days had been a surreal experience!

We left Petra after breakfast and stopped in the shopping part of town to get some bread to prepare our own picnic lunch for the journey through to the Dead Sea. Some freshly baked unleavened bread and cakes from the local baker seemed a very convenient mid-day meal. Andrew needed another coffee so we stopped for that before hitting the road.

We visited Little Petra, about 15 minutes outside Petra. It too was built by the Nabateans and later abandoned, some think it was a suburb of Petra and used as part of the trading routes. There were almost no tourists there and we had a nice visit.


Back on the road we went to Shobak Castle, another crusader era edifice. It looked nice from a distance. I have to admit we got the the carpark, saw the distance needed downhill walk to get the castle (read and the required uphill to return), and decided to rest our weary legs and simply admire it from a distance.

We couldn’t take the dead sea road to go to Wadi Mujib, where we were booked for the night. A flash flood event two weeks ago had washed out an access bridge and we were advised to take the desert highway. It was fast and the scenery constantly large desert plains and empty, empty, empty. Desert plains don’t provide much shade, so instead of finding a nice shaded spot for lunch we eventually pulled off the road and had lunch at a gravel pit.

The scenery started to change from desert to more arable land, and much more population density. We checked into the eco-chalets which we had chosen because 1. They were part of eco-tourist endeavors and 2. They were away from the big 5 star hotels and masses of guests who would be staying on Friday night, being the weekend. It was really windy and we were advised not to swim today as it was not great. Yes, we said, we will swim tomorrow. We did go down to the water and I put my hand in the water to confirm it was salty and it did have a viscous quality. Little did we know that one hand dipping would be the full extent of our dead sea swimming plans.

Dinner was at six and we joined 5 or 6 other couples partaking in the canteen. A nice buffet meal consumed it was back to the chalets and an early night. We had plans to float the next morning after sunrise in the calm waters seen in every tourist postcard. 11pm fast asleep for hours …
[from outside] knock knock…
[me]  yes???
[from outside] You have to pack up now, water coming
[me] Now?
[from outside] Yes, you must hurry!!
[me] looks around outside … sees the next chalet walking out with bags
Andrew despite looking completely bewildered, packed quickly and we gathered with the others in the canteen. Everyone else looked bewildered also, and there were 8 or 10 policemen and staff. A warning had been issued that there was serious flash flooding risk, we were below the Wadi Mujib irrigation dam. We hadn't seen a drop of rain but the internet was telling us that earlier in the day nearly 4000 people had been evacuated from Petra where actual flood waters had flowed through. In our area 2 weeks early rains had caused flash flooding near where we were and a bus with 20 schoolchildren on a day trip had died.

View of the Dead Sea at night, during an evacuation

All the tourists got in their cars and we were driven from the southern end of the Dead Sea on closed roads to a spot on the highway “where we were safe”. There the police spent a long time trying to find us other places to stay. Eventually a 1:30am, we were taken to a local 5* hotel they had arranged a special price with about 30 km away from the dead sea. Our entire view of the dead sea was in the dark, travelling in a police convoy.

The following day we flagged the Dead Sea due to access issues and drove directly to Jerash via the city of Salt. So we didnt really see the Dea Sea.

In Salt it was market day and we planned to have lunch and wander about. Only when we got there parking was chronic, we walked up the wrong valley and were not motivated to retrace our steps and correct. So we really didn’t see the city of Salt either.

Onward to Jerash at one point it was a little disconcerting to see our direction was Syria, not Jerash, but Syria was at least 100km away, so we didn’t see Syria.

We navigated well and parked in the car park in front of the ruins. To one side was a tourist restaurant ‘Roman Ruins’ and we took the easy option of eating there. It was a pleasant meal.

Fed and watered we headed into the Jerash site. I had been really looking forward to these expansive Roman ruins, considered to be some of the best preserved outside Europe. The Hippodrome was large (chariot track) and before the tourist downturn there had been daily re-enactments of chariot races. Sadly not on our watch but it was a foretaste of the roman city we were about to visit. We wandered up to the main gates, and wondered why they were closed. Only to find out Jerash was closed for the day. All monuments had been closed in Jordan following the flooding alarms. Again it was a blue sky day and I read in the newspaper many tourists were frustrated by this over-cautious attitude. I also read people were being evacuated from areas less than 50km from where we were due to real danger of imminent rains.So we didn’t see the Roman ruins either. 

But we purchased some Baklava and bread for our dinner and we started to contemplate the next day and entering Israel.

Despite the challenges of final 48 hours we had an excellent time in Jordan and totally recommend it – just maybe not in November when rains are forecast.























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