My girlfriend Margaret invited me to travel with her to Jordan. The timing worked well. In between my two training sessions in Annapolis, and before the winter term classes begin. I had hoped to travel to New Zealand for my 50th birthday in January, but at the time when I needed to begin making reservations for that trip, I still did not know when my retirement checks would begin, so I had no money. Margaret said she’d cover my Jordan expenses until I was paid, so that helped me decide. I guess I’ll go to New Zealand for my 51st birthday.
So here we are! We met in San Francisco on October 17th and then took the same flights from there to Amman, which arrived October 19th. In addition to the 12-hour flight, we had a terribly long six-hour layover in Frankfurt which included a 2-hour delay at security. All people disembarking from one plane and planning to go to a different terminal to get on a another plane had to be screened through security again. Not only was it redundant security effort, but they were not equipped to deal with the number of people coming through. It was painfully slow (the workers moved like molasses) and we watched distress turn to tears and anger in the people around us while people one after another missed their planes while waiting in line. People began shouting at the security people, and shouting at each other. One man phoned the airport police to try and demand that another line be opened. It was so bad that a Canadian man near us expressed out loud, “This makes me upset!” I had to laugh at that, despite it all. Margaret and I agreed that we did not expect such inefficiency in Germany.
The Amman airport was a model of organization and efficiency. The visa line was super quick. The security check was super quick. Margaret and I were waived through the customs line because we had barely any luggage. Around 3am we left the baggage claim and met our tour guide who took us to our hotel, an hour’s drive, and we finally got to lie down. Alarms went off at 8:30 am and we hopped up to start our day!
Nashat is our driver, not an actual tour guide. We didn’t know the difference before this trip. A driver does not have certification or authority to provide tours that might take away business from a licensed guide. So Nashat drives us to our destinations, looks after us, and helps us find the information boards posted at the sites. When he does want to tell us specific site information, he just makes sure no security guards are watching. He has personal experience and knowledge that he can share, and we have been asking tons of questions about the economy and exports and employment situation here in Jordan. I was really surprised to find out that Nashat is Mormon, but he has lived here his whole life and can answer our questions about Islam.
The first place we visited was a Roman site that Nashat called The Citadel. It’s the acropolis of a large city complex that predates Amman. The city was called Philadelphia. The Nabatean people lived here before then, so the location of modern-day Amman has been a city for about 4000 years. From the top of the hill we could look down to the city below, and see the beautiful theatre, and remaining ancient city walls here and there. The Citadel also holds a church, a museum, multiple cisterns, and a palace.
The most eye-catching part of the hilltop is the ruins of the Temple of Hercules, built from 161-166 CE, named for remains of giant arms from a marble statue found nearby. From there we explored a wonderful museum filled with artifacts of ancient communities: their clay pots, figurines, burial pots, and glass vessels.
The Byzantine Church was built about 550 CE. Part of the materials of the church were taken from the Temple of Hercules, such as the Corinthian Columns that are now standing at the site. At the northern end of the acropolis are the remains of a palace built in the 8th century. The wooden domed roof is new, to protect the building, but is assumed to have been domed originally. There is evidence of early Islamic art on the inner walls.
Next we drove down the hill and visited the theatre. It has fabulous steeply pitched seats that I immediately climbed. While I was up at the top, I thought I heard a voice that called my name, and I looked down to Nashat and Margaret looking up at me. Nashat asked, “Can you hear me?” The words were quiet and I wasn’t sure he was really speaking to me. But I shook my head “no” to make a joke. I took a bunch of photos then gulped and swayed a little when I looked down the steps. I got to the bottom alive! I asked Nashat if he was speaking to me, and he was! What great acoustics.
The museum at the theatre site was mainly for fashion. There were many examples of clothing, headpieces, and jewelry from the different ancient people who lived in the area. A room to the side of the museum displayed stunning samples of mosaic tiles.
We wanted to exchange money next, so we walked into the city and I finally got my hands on some Jordanian Dinar. The exchange rate right now is about .71 dinar to one US dollar. On the way back Margaret spotted a market and insisted we walk through it. Nashat explained some of the things we were seeing in the stalls, and Margaret bought some seasonings and some spiced peanuts.
Our next stop was an hour out of town at some caves. They were about 15 natural caves originally, but then people moved in and carved the walls to make them more useful. Settlement is estimated to have been in the second century BCE. The largest cave looked as though it was meant for horses, because there were troughs that could hold food, and holes in the rock that could be used to tie an animal. The caves all had black ceilings from years of fires burning inside.
Around the caves we saw many olive trees, with green and black olives. And many fig trees. I had never tasted a fresh fig in my life, which Margaret thought was crazy. When we drove past a tree with a ripe fig on it, Nashat stopped the car and Margaret hopped out to pick it. I tasted it, and figs are ok. I ate half the fig and gave the rest to my friend, who clearly loves fresh figs.
Our last stop was another second century CE castle called Qasr al-‘Abd. This one was apparently never completed, but the parts that were built were rather extravagant. It was situated on an island in an artificial lake. The water for the lake was brought in underground, and it gushed out through two fountains in the shape of leopards. The palace was demolished in a 5th century earthquake.
We were totally wiped out at this point, and proud of ourselves for all we accomplished on so little sleep. Nashat took us back to the hotel, we walked to a nearby restaurant, and then we were soon out cold.