Jerash, Um Qais, and Amman (again) - All in a Day!

Trip Start Oct 18, 2006
Trip End Oct 27, 2006

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Saturday, October 21, 2006

On to Jerash, or, Our Encounter with Jordanian Youth Hawkers

Well, we made it to Amman and had good night's sleep. Whew! After taking in breakfast (included in the room price), we headed out to Jerash around 9:00. It was a nice day for a drive (honestly, there aren't many bad days in the Middle East at this time of year) and we made it within 50 minutes. Considering Jordan is only some 400 kilometers long, it wasn't hard!

From the outside, Jerash looked a bit disappointing, but considering that looks aren't everything, we moved into the craft stalls and tourist shopping area which led to the ticket booth. I was looking to buy a Hi-8 video tape as our only tape hit the end of the reel on the way to Jordan. "How much for the tape?" I asked. "15 JD ($27.00 cdn!!) OUCH! No, this guy wasn't out to make a quick buck off a desperate videographer. No no no. After a round of negotiation in which he reassured me over and over that it was a real "American video tape, not a fake made in Malaysia," I talked him down to 7 JD (about $11.00 Cdn) and continued on to find Dawn, James, Ann, Jessie, and the kids shopping. Colin ended up with some Arabic headgear which actually looked pretty good on him. He also bought a bottle of sand with his name on it. Marisa looked at stuff, but nothing caught her eye at that point so we continued to the ticket office.

Looking in my Lonely Planet(TM) Jordan guidebook, I saw that admission to Jerash was only JD 2.500. Wow, pretty cheap. As we came up to the entrance, I saw how things had changed. I guess in three years prices do rise, politicians do philander, and... but I digress (check out Baz Luhrman's hit song, Everybody's Free (to Wear Sunscreen)). It cost us not 10 JD (2.5 x 4) but THIRTY-TWO JD to get in. 32 JD! Holy smokes; that's over $50.00 Cdn! In the end, though, it was to prove well worth it.

After borrowing some money from the Bank of James (thanks for having the foresight to go get more money changed at the border so you could loan it to us!), I paid up and we were on our way. The first thing we saw was Hadrian's Arch, built in 106 to commemorate his visit to Jerash. That is the second time we have walked around something belonging to Hadrian, the first being his wall in England. From there, we walked beside the Hippodrome, where chariots used to race, gladiators used to fight, and ....but what was that noise?

There in front of us were three ticket agents, and inside the Hippodrome music was beginning to play as a few stray people filtered in. We walked over to check it out. The action turned out to be the Jerash Gladiator and Chariot show, where you saw the Roman Legionaries, experienced the thrill of gladiators fighting, and witnessed 3 chariots race around the sand track in a desperate battle to finish first. "Tickets are only 10 JD," the lady said. "10 JD? What about kids?" Dawn asked. "Your son is half price at 5 JD," was her response. We sat around hemming and hawing. I was tapped out after my James' Bank loan and didn't want to have to borrow more.

As we sat talking about how we didn't have money and how expensive it would be (35 JD for the four of us - or more than the entry to Jerash itself), the man stepped forward and eyed us suspiciously. "Are you from the JTB?" he queried? "JTB?" I foolishly echoed, looking very confused. "The Jordanian Tourist Bureau," was his response. A HA - they thought we were pricing spies or something, checking out their ticket touting! Too bad I had given us away. Still looking at us like we had gills or a third eye, the lady said, "We can make you a deal. 5 JD each, but for the boy the same price - no discount." Hallellujuah! For complaining about our lack of cash and waiting a few minutes after the show began we saved 50%. Not bad. Needless to say, James paid as we dashed inside to watch the show.

We sat on the sun-kissed stone seats as we watched a Roman "Legion" parade in drill, practice man oeuvres, and saw how they formed a "turtle" so that a sapper could mine under walls. After that came the gladiator fights - all of the above accompanied by a monologue from a Jordanian gent in a toga describing the action in a British accent. We were asked to give thumbs up or sideways on the gladiators as to whether or not they would live or die, which was kind of neat. The show finished with the chariot races which were sort of exciting too. At the end, we got to go down on the sand (unstained by any blood, etc) and take photos with the soldiers, charioteers and gladiators.

After that was over, we headed down to Jerash proper. We handed our tickets in at the entrance and began snapping photos. Right after that we went into the city plaza, ringed by columns the whole way around. Within 3 seconds we were besieged by a slew of sellers; kids who looked around 10 or 11, each beseeching us to buy their postcards of Jerash - "Only 1 JD Mister!". "Le le le shokran," was our common refrain as we walked around and took photos. The amphitheater acoustics were phenomenal. I watched a Quebecois lady stand on the ground and sing "Oh Canada" en Francais, and I heard every word from the very top of the amphitheater. From there we walked out, where we were once more accosted by a postcard seller.

Boy he was good. After showing us how he could plead with tourists to buy their postcards in eleven languages (sure to amuse his grandchildren one day), he took us to see how the stone columns in the Temple of Zeus rocked and moved a stick. From there he took us to the ruins of the cathedral and then on to the Temple of Artemis. Very cool. Walking away form the temple, I thought I would help the kid out. I waited until they had gone ahead and pulled of 5 JD from my wallet. After he showed us yet another moving stick and columns that made gonging sounds when you smacked them, I hauled out the 5 JD to give him. "Mr, that is not enough," he said, looking up at me with big dark sad eyes. "I need more." "Ummm...this is a gift. You know, a gift?"

"No mister, this isn't enough. You give me 10 dinars." I have to admit, the kids was good. He struck just the right tone as he tried to wheedle more money out of us. "I could have sold postcards, but I help you. 10 dinar." Ok, that was enough. As if the kid was going to sell a lot of postcards in the hot afternoon when everybody was going out of their way to AVOID the postcard kids. Besides, we had already paid him 1 JD for a set of postcards! "You know, we didn't have any kind of deal," I told the kid. "If you had said to me, "Mr. I'll show you around Jerash for 10 JD," I would have told you to get lost." "No Mr. no..."

"Ok. Just give me back the 5 JD and we'll be on our way then. There was NO deal. This was a gift. A GIFT." Then Dawn said, "But I have some riyals, dear. He can have some of them." LOL The kid looked like a starving dog given a big juicy bone. "Give me some riyals to remember you by mrs.," he said (as if the riyals would be in his hands longer than it took to give to the moneychanger or his parents). Finally, we gave him the 5 JD and 10 riyals and went off on our way. "I can see you owning your own business one day," I told him as we said goodbye. I think he liked hearing that. Then again, these guys bring in money that helps to feed their families. Jordan is not a rich country by any stretch of the imagination.

Right after that we departed Jerash, stopped to have a picnic beside the highway, and, thanks to the BoJ, a fill up on gas before heading to Um Qais, right next to the Jordan/Israel (formerly Syria) border. Right across from us in as we walked through Um Qais was the Golan Heights, the Yarmouk River, Syria, Israel, the mountains of Lebanon, and Jordan itself. Lit by glittering highlights a bit further away was Lake Tiberias, commonly called the Sea of Galilee. Way cool!

Um Qais itself was known as Gadara and is mentioned in The Bible. Apparently Jesus came to preach there, but the people were frightened and locked the gates, so he went away. It was hit by an earthquake in the 6th century and never recovered. It was interesting to walk around and see the excavations. One tree we stood by was about 7 feet above our heads - the bottom of the tree where it met the ground! This is because over time soil had accumulated and covered much of the Um Qais site.

From there we made our way back to Amman, had dinner and hit the hay, ready to drive to the Dead Sea the next morning.
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