In the Beginning, There
Africa And Middle East
Typically, the best way to prepare for a journey is to delve into books about a destination, something I made a point of doing once I knew I would be travelling to Jordan.
I read the epic Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence ( the titular Lawrence of Arabia), Burkhard’s adventurous diaries on how he rediscovered Petra 200 years ago, and My Life With a Bedouin, which gave me the day to day picture. I even read the tales of One Thousand and One Nights. And so I arrived in Amman, excited and feeling prepared for my journey ahead. I couldn’t have been more wrong!
Grabbed and Shaken
It did not take me long to realize that Jordan would be different, for its beauty is not of the kind that lingers peacefully in the imagination. Rather, it literally grabs you and shakes you from your consciousness. There is Jerash, for example, one of the most well preserved Roman cities with its Cardio, the 5th avenue of antiquity, and its towering columns. The Greek temples of Zeus, Hadrian’s arch facing east towards Persia, Rome’s arch-nemesis, as well as the rising sun. Close your eyes and you hear the footsteps on the large stones around the Agora. In short, Jerash makes Pompeii look like a suburb of Chicago.
Then there is Mount Nebo, the place where Moses saw the Promised Land and, indeed, the place where he died. What a view! On the Dead Sea, the laws of gravity are rewritten. Over to El Maghtas, the lush green arm of the river Jordan where Saint John baptized Jesus. Further along is Mukawir, the lonely hill perched in a cloud where King Herod’s castle resided and where St. John lost his head after Salomé did her infamous dance. In nearby Saint George’s church, in Madaba, resides the oldest known map in the world.
The Diversity of Dana
From antiquity to natural beauty, Jordan has it all. The next stop, Dana Nature Reserve, should have been called Eden as its diversity reflects a perfect world. Its wide canyons gradually narrow and lead down to the Dead Sea, complete with a Crusader Castle.
And here the geography changes dramatically. Enormous ochre-coloured boulders now rise from the ground and like immense mushrooms they grow in groupings of two, three and sometimes four. We approach Petra, once home of the Nabateans, a well-developed civilization, which died out 1,600 years ago. This ancient city attracted skilled craftsmen and artists who transformed the golden limestone into the most formidable temples and graves of which the treasury and the monastery are just the tip of the iceberg.
From Petra to Wadi Rum, also known as the Valley of the Moon—how fitting a name for this magical place. Majestic cliffs touch the skies while small canyons hide 3,000 year-old rock paintings. The fading sun tinges the quiet Wadi with golden colours, but as night falls, we are not enveloped in darkness, for the stars here shine brighter than anywhere else in the world. Is this Ali Baba’s cavern?
Our journey ends with white sand underfoot in the quiet port of Aqaba, where we have to time to digest the countless images and sensations that this trip through Jordan has bestowed.