Saturday, October 3, 2009

Day 20: Jeresh, Jordan

Day 20 - Jeresh, Jordan
Our group has now officially shrunk to 7, with the others catching their flights to go back home or to other destinations. It has been a great 3 weeks with a great crew...but we still had one more day to add to our itinerary! We had all choosen Jeresh - given that it is one of the "must see" sites for Jordan and it wasn't included on our tour.
What I love is when Vince gets excited about doing something that he doesn't even know what it is...I suggested Jeresh before we even left for the trip, and he agreed. He then proceeded to tell everyone that we are going to Jeresh, and that it would be great. The evening before the trip, he asks me what it is....but I digress...
We had hired two drivers for the day to take us to and from the site (the seven of us). It is about a 45 minute drive from Amman, but the time past fast given the sites to see on the road. Like the Roadside Coffee Stop that consists of a guy with a coffee percolator over a hot plate sitting under an overpass, the Syrian border being a few kilometers away, the Palestinian refugee camps.
Once at Jeresh, everyone was in awe. Jeresh is a onld Roman city first built during Alexander the Great time (ie 300 BC), but came to its peak at around the 3rd Century when it had a population of about 20,000 people. Most of the reconstructed sites are from about 100 AD, and they are very typically Roman in style.
The first thing that greets you is the large South Gate. We wandered through the other sites that include temples, theaters. We saw the crazy Jordanian Bagpipe crew that was demonstrating the acoustic qualities of the ancient theaters. It was amazing and great to just get out and wander.

Jeresh Colonade Street
Mini-Gap Group at Jeresh Theater
The day ended with our tickets to the Chariot Races. It was about a 1 hour performance where they walk you through the battle stances of the Legionaires, to the soundtrack of Gladiator (think Russell Crowe), which was a bit cheesy - but they did it with heart and it drew great response from the crowd. Then the Gladiators came out and gave a GREAT performance - the crowd got to do the thumbs up/down to kill the gladiator - all with fake blood and everything. Then the chariots came out and raced around the track - letting the white horses win the race (of course) was great. A bit creepy though was the one Gladiator that kept making his pecs dance and pointing at our group to come down for a photo op after...pretty sure we all avoided him...

Sherrill Killing Vince - Does my insurance cover this???
Legionaire Drills
Tonight is our last dinner as a mini-group, before we (ironically) board the same flight home tomorrow.
It has been a great vacation. Jordan has shown us many things, including all of its beautiful and ancient history, and it is always stunning to try and get a glimpse into another culture.
Again, a few things Jordan will leave us with as impression and memories:

1. I never want to see another buffet meal for as long as I live.
2. Floating in the Dead Sea is unlike any other experience or sensation.
3. Petra lives up to all of its allure...I can't wait to see more movies with it as its star.
4. Why do I have to cover my knees and shoulders when the Arabic music stars wear less clothes than Beyonce?
5. Pita does not qualify as a "bread" to Jordanians...despite repeated requests for "no more bread", pitas seemed to always transcend this...
6. Amman is a modern arabic city...except the men still whistle at the woman.
7. Jeresh is an enticing ancient establishment that will awe you

Friday, October 2, 2009

Day 19: Madaba and Amman, Jordan

Day 19 - Madaba and Amman, Jordan
Today started with a great snoozy sleep, I love sleep.
After we woke up and showered, it was off for breakfast. I am not sure why I comment on breakfast all the time - I think it is because it sucks so bad, that I am almost ready to snap when I see the same fricken' thing over and over.
Anyway, we set off for St. George's Church in Madaba. The church is from about 100 AD, and excavations have revealed beautiful mosaics, for which this area is known for. The most intricate mosaic is the map of the entire area, from Egypt to Syria. Obviously the map is from ancient times, but it was built with over 2.7 million mosaic stones and who knows how long it took to put together.
After Madaba, we got on the bus and headed for our final destination of Amman. In Amman, we visited the Citidel which houses the Temple built for Hercules and a museum that houses the Dead Sea Scrolls. The scrolls were interesting to see, especially since I had previously read a book that discusses the controversies associated with them.
Baby Camels Kissing in Pickup Truck
Hugh Jackman is hot...sorry just watching a movie with him...
The day was pretty uneventful - which was disappointing given that it was our last day. However, we all made a group decision that we were going to end it ourselves in style at a nice restaurant, and gave the thumbs down to the buffet that our tour leader suggested. So, the evening comprised of the group venturing into the streets for a 45 minute walk to a restaurant using only the Lonely Planet map (you know, the ones that show roads but no names...). We found it though! Houston - consisting of Tex Mex cuisine. There is something very odd about celebrating your last evening in the Middle East as a group with Tex Mex...but I did not hear one complaint!
Last Supper with Group at Houston - Tex Mex all the Way!
By the end of the evening, our group of 14 had shrunk to 12. And by the next morning, we knew it was going to shrink even further to 7...everything must come to an end...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Day 18: Dead Sea and Madaba, Jordan

Day 18 - Dead Sea & Madaba, Jordan

After walking for countless hours and kilometers the day before, I wanted to do nothing but sleep away today. However, not the case when you are on vacation.

After waking up and almost becoming manic depressive at the sight of another breakfast that has more bread....I realized that I am stuck in that movie called Ground hog Day - you know the one where Bill Murray does the same day over and over again? My god people - there are other things to eat in life!!!!

We boarded our bus for our main excursion today - the Dead Sea...

On the way, we visited a few castles that still remain in Jordan from the Crusader time, but really, or focus was on the Dead Sea...have I said that word enought yet?

Well we finally got there...and it was GREAT! I think it even exceeded my expectations!
First off, the Dead Sea is about 33% salt, so you are much more bouyant in it than your would be in a pool or ocean. This is good news for Vince, who sinks like a stone in all bodies of water. In fact, I couldn't wait for him to actually float without having to constantly tread water for once. The interesting thing about the Dead Sea is that with the increase in population of Jordan and Israel, the incoming water sources have been dammed. That combined with the lack of rain (Climate change?), has resulted in the Dead Sea dropping by about 1 meter every year. It is anticipated that if nothing is done, within 50 years, the Dead Sea will be just a salt crud on a sand bed. The Jordanian Government has a project coming online that costs $6 billion dollars to build a channel 250 km from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea to start replenishing the water...will see how that works out.

Anyway, we started by lubing our bodies up with "Dead Sea Mud" - essentially, salty mud taken from the depths of the Dead Sea...this stuff was BLACK! We lathered it on, and (after copious photo shoots) when the salt started burning our skin, we ran into the Dead Sea as one big group to wash it off. What a crazy experience! One of the girls on the tour described the feeling of floating in the Dead Sea as similar to an apple bobbing in water - and she is not far off. You are very bouyant, so you don't have to swim at all, you just bob and lie around. In fact, once you get to the point where your feet don't touch down with gravity, it is difficult to even force yourself to touch the ground due to the bouyancy. I can't describe the feeling - it was just surreal. After about 1 hour in the sea, all the little razor knicks, blisters, etc were flared up red and hurting, so we decided to wash off and head for the pools...

The evening ended with a trip to Madaba - home of some of the best mosaic art from about 400 to 600 AD. We visited a Mosaic Factory, and after seeing price tags of $10,000 for intricate and beautiful works of art, I decided my beer budget belongs back on the bus...much to Vince's delight...