Our journey through Jordan (borders are in green, our journey is in red)

Into Jordan : feeling at home !
The day Christian's parents left for Belgium, we headed straight to the Jordanian border as we didn't wish to pay for another week's worth of Syrian diesel tax at US$ 100 a go. Leaving Syria went smoothly and entering Jordan even more so. Recognising a uniform of British origin worn by the Jordan border officers (as in Hong Kong !) somehow made us feel at home. Our first stop was the northern city of Irbid where we headed almost straight to the local McDonalds. The next day we were in for a surprise, guess what. After 2 weeks of uninterrupted sun with Christian's parents, it's started to rain and fog set in ! 


Foggy in Jordan (centre), looking across the Jordan river into civil war-thorn Israel was a strange and unpleasant feeling (right). 


In North Jordan we headed for the vast Roman ruins of Umm Qais, one of the cities of the Decapolis. The Romans introduced this association of cities both to unite Roman possessions and to enhance commerce. "The cities were linked by paved roads that allowed wagons to circulate rapidly. At Umm Qais and Jerash, the ruts carved by these wagons can still be seen in the stones of the city streets" (LP). In Jordan, the main Decapolis cities were Philadelphia (Amman), Gadara (Umm Qais) and Gerasa (Jerash).  About 30 km south of the Golan Heights, the views over Israel, the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan Valley were meant to be breathtaking ! That day visibility was down to less than 100 meters ! We slept in front of Ajlun Castle that night. The castle used to be a stopping point for pigeons commuting between Cairo and Baghdad several centuries ago. That night it rained so hard that our tent was drenched and we decided to head for Amman where Christian's friend Kais had welcomed us.


The paved streets of Umm Qais are made of stunning black basalt stone 


In Amman, Kais gave us a set of keys to his home and a funny thing happened. I took us no time to get used to the little habits (and luxuries) of living in a house : warm water and a shower every day, being able to get up at night without making a fuss, preparing food, washing clothes and being able to connect to the internet. This last point was particularly useful as we updated our web page with both Lebanon and Syria (the last update was done with Christian spending 2 hours in a Beirut shop selling buttons) and we started to write around to inquire about how to obtain a Libyan visa. As I write this one month later, we have still not obtained these and there is a chance we'll never get them. From Amman, we did a day trip North to the Decapolis city of Jerash.


Jerash : The graceful Oval Plaza is 90 by 80 meters big (left), a fallen fronton (right)


Sights of Amman : coffee is sold everywhere using (left), the splendid Umayyad Palace on Amman's citadel (centre), Amman by night (right)


With sisters Josephine who is from Lebanon (centre) and Annie from Belgium (right). They have been helping the poor in the region for more than 15 years.


Amman is a city that has grown so fast in the last 50 years it has very little character. The original Jordanians are Bedouins who are nomads. Since the 1967 war with Israel, Jordan has seen a massive influx of Palestinians that were offered the Jordanian nationality. Bedouins now only account for 40% of the population. Amman has no old souqs as other large cities in the region (Damascus, Cairo ore even Aleppo). From Amman, we also took a trip out into the Eastern desert. The wetland of Azraq. Only some 50 years ago, this wetland was more than 12,000 sq km and some 350,000 migratory birds would stop here each year on their way between Europe, Asia and Africa.


 Some people say the "V" shaped border of Jordan and Saudi Arabia was "Winston's hiccup" : Winston Churchill drawing the boundary of Transjordan in 1920 after a "more than satisfactory lunch in Jerusalem" (LP). The real reason is less interesting and involves territory staying in Saudi Arabia...



Unfortunately, the wetlands are an ecological disaster. Since the 60ies, the Jordanians have been pumping water from the wetlands to irrigate fields and supply Amman to such an extent that only 10% of the original area remains. Some of the water was "fossil water", perhaps 10,000 years old, that was only being replaced half as quickly as it was being pumped away. A generation ago, there was still surface water. In the 90ies, the level dropped to 10 meters below ground and salt water seeped into the wetlands making the water unpalatable for wildlife. 95% of the birds have not returned.


Buildings in the Jordanian desert : Qasr al-Azraq (left) is made of stunning black basalt stone and is where Lawrence of Arabia stayed for 4 weeks before his final assault on Damascus, Qusayr Amra (centre), the most intact of the desert castles, was a hunting lodge cum bath and has some 350 sq m of frescoes ! Qasr Kharana, beautifully isolated in a treeless desert plain.


After another few days "at home" in Amman (thanks Kais !), we left for Madaba and the Dead Sea which, at -409 meters below sea level, is the lowest depression on earth. Troopie will have gone from the highest point accessible by car (more than 5600 meters in  Ladakh) to the lowest. The Dead Sea is called like this because of its high level of salt (30% or between 6 and 7 times higher than ordinary sea water) that doesn't allow for any marine life. The concentration of salt has nothing to do with the fact that the sea lies below sea level. It is caused by the fact that only the Jordan River flows into the Sea (none flows out) and its flow is not sufficient to combat evaporation. This phenomenon has been exacerbated by diversion for irrigation by both Israel and Jordan. For the last 20 years, the level of the Dead Sea has gone down by 5 meters per year ! 


The mandatory dip in the Dead Sea (left), white salt formation (centre)


Driving down to the port of Aqaba (left), taking time at the Royal Jordanian Diving Club (centre) and bordering a ferry for Egypt !


Not a single woman in sight (and literally hundreds of men) on the deck of the Sainte Catherine sailing to the port of Nuweiba, Egypt


Here is the first of our extra pages on Jordan : Mosaics and biblical Jordan

Mosaics and biblical Jordan

We are doing well !

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