Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Jordan:The Blog -- Day Eight Redux

Today started with a border crossing – the Allenby bridge between Israel and Jordan. We arrived at the bridge well before the 8 a.m. but still weren’t allowed to cross the first checkpoint until after 9 a.m. There was a definite pecking order: first the trucks went, and there were many of them, then the empty taxis and vans to pick people up crossing from Jordan, and there were many of them, and then yellow Palestinian shared taxis started to go, and there were many of them. And of course each vehicle had to be searched, the drivers had to show their papers, and everything had to be inspected. Fortunately, Shuki’s smile and pleas (“I have another job to pick up in Jerusalem – what will I do?”) got us through. Did I mention how much I liked Shuki?

At the Israeli side of the border, we were passed through rather quickly, but no one offered the slightest bit of help or explanation to the few of us travelers who clearly had not done this before. “Where do we go now?” “Why are you taking our luggage?” Eventually, we figured out that we had to take another shuttle bus to the Jordanian border crossing, a bus that didn’t leave for 45 minutes. Once on the bus, we were stopped twice for document checks and at the last our passports were taken.

Arriving in Jordan was a welcome sight. Mansur, our driver for the day, was there waiting for us and now we weren’t lost at all. He made sure our luggage got to the car, our passports were returned to us and all was right with the world.

We then began the drive down the Kings Highway, passing Bedouin camps and small villages, eventually arriving at our first stop, Mt. Nebo. Mr. Nebo is thought to be the place were Moses saw Israel before dying and like all other religious sites here in the Middle East, there were layers upon layers of the people who had come since – the Romans, the Byzantines, the Crusaders, the Muslims. There were some Roman excavations going on, and some beautiful Byzantine mosaics on display.

From Mt. Nebo we drove to the nearby town of Mandaba for lunch and a quick stop at St. George’s Church, known for its 6th Century mosaic of the Middle East. Not all of it remains but from what is there, you can tell that this was an extraordinary work.

We followed the Kings Highway further to Mujib, a most impressive canyon, nearly the equal of the Grand Canyon. My pictures simply do not do it justice (which is why I haven’t posted any).

Then it was on to the fort at Karak, a magnificent, imposing structure. Unlike the various sites in Israel, Karak seemed to be a living presence – there were Bedouins with their camels and horses inside the castle, and very little to get in the way between the history and the place itself. We wandered for quite a bit through the underground tunnels and the high walls, taking it all in.

Finally we arrived in Wadi Musa, the town just outside of Petra. After a brief stop at the tour office to make arrangements for the balance of our trip in Jordan, we settled into our hotel, the Taybet Zaman, built in a reconstructed old Turkish settlement, where the stone houses had been converted to rooms, and the entire place had the feel of history.

Yet, it was clear that Wadi Musa (and the hotel) have felt the difficulties of the last 5 years – things are looking a bit ragged, a bit tired, a bit empty. The Iraq War has not been kind to places like this, or the people who live here. According to Ali, who arranged our trip, not so long ago Wadi Musa was full of life, with people from all over the world coming in droves, filling the hotels, crowding into the cafes and restaurants, and buying souvenirs from the shops. And while there were plenty of visitors to Petra, Wadi Musa seems to have become a very sleepy little town.