Road Trip Kicks Bus Trip's Butt

Trip Start Mar 22, 2009
Trip End Mar 21, 2010

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Flag of Jordan  ,
Sunday, May 3, 2009

We decided to hire a car to explore the north and eastS of Jordan for the next few days, so we set out early and bid goodbye to Nijmah, Louis and Marcos from Abassi Palace. First stop was to buy a map; no easy feat it seemed. We found two very ordinary tourist maps, and decided to make do. Heading east first, we drove out to visit some ruins called Iraq al Amir. The terrible maps and intermittent street signage made finding our destination a real challenge, but the scenery was beautiful, with rolling hills covered in trees and wildflowers. I made Danny pull over so I could take photos of a hill dotted with poppies. We reached Iraq al Amir, parked the car on the side of the road and walked down through long grass and green stalks of wheat to the ruin in the middle of a green valley. Poppies sprang from between the ancient stones, and we marvelled at this fairytale castle in the middle of nowhere. An ancient local who spoke no English unlocked the gate for us, then when we were done, he showed us a video in French which seemed to be demonstrating what archaeologists believe the castle would have looked like in its day. My favourite part was discovering what looked like a huge stone table in the middle of the ruins that looked like the stone table in Narnia!

We wound our way north, past a monastery carved into a distant cliff, and the remains of a roman aqueduct on the side of the highway, towards the castle at Ajloun. Hungry, we pulled over in a town for a quick kebab, only to pass through a few minutes later the charming town of Salt, with lovely cafes along the main road. Pressed for time now, we lamented our impatience and continued on our way. We made it to Ajloun castle just minutes after closing time so, disappointed, we decided to just keep going to Jerash, a town which the lonely planet warned us had no accommodation, but nevertheless we took our chances. Upon driving into Jerash, on our left was Hadrian's Gate, lit up with dramatically placed theatre lights, and on our right the Hadrian’s Gate Hotel. We booked in and dumped our bags, then asked the man at the front desk if he knew of anywhere cheap to eat in town. He said yes, then began leading us outside. "I take you" he said to us, gesturing to his beaten up car. We jump in, and he took us the 1 minute drive into town to a local shish kebab joint, where he helped us order some cheap kebabs, some bread for Ben, who was still feeling worse for wear, and a bag of the best felafels I have ever eaten!

The next morning we were up early and across the road to explore the ruins of Jerash. Through Hadrian’s Gate, which marks the entrance to the site (and is covered in scaff), we walked past the reconstructed hippodrome, where a re-enacted chariot race and gladiator fight was taking place. We caught the last few minutes by sneaking around to the side of the audience bank, so didn’t feel as if we’d missed too much by skipping the show (and the extra entrance fee). We wondered whether the charioteer who lost loses every time, or if they take it in turns...

Jerash contained the ruins of the Greco-Roman city of Gerasa, built around the first century AD, and a large part of the city could still be explored. There was a roman theatre as we entered, as well as the odion. In the middle of the site is a huge oval shaped forum, which is a paved marketplace, surrounded by columns, and leading off to a number of column-lined streets. The main street of Jerash was flanked by huge columns and walls, and temples to such gods as Zeus and Artemis. We spent the better part of the afternoon wandering  through the city, admiring the views and imagining the city as the bustling hub it once was.

For the first time (but not the last on this trip) I had a sudden appreciation for history, as all of the half-remembered year seven facts came floating back to me now that they had an actual context. The strange, distant civilizations we had studied in school were all at once very real and very imaginable.
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