Jet-lag has set in hard and we start the move from Amman to Petra. The nice thing about working with an agency is that you can work out stops along the way that you might not have thought of if you were doing your travel planning independently. Using guide books can be great, but sometimes you want someone to correspond with who can suggest things you might have otherwise skimmed over in the guidebook. We’ve done independent travel, too, and it’s wonderful – take things at your own pace, see what you want, stay longer at one place over another, change things around as you go. However, with this trip we decided that we wanted to see as many of the highlights as we could in short space of time that we had to be away. So, jet-lag is in full swing and we’ve repacked our bags and are ready for the next adventure in Jordan. Well, at least two out of three were ready. Let’s just say that the shortest member of our group was not wanting to go anywhere or do anything and just wanted to hunker down and go nowhere and see nothing. Being the “terrible” mum that I am, I made her get up and get out the door and be ready. Our driver picked us up and off we went. AEB was asleep in the back of the van faster that you could say, “next stop, Madaba!”
Madaba is best known for it’s large mosaics placed there in Byzantine times. The map mosaic is housed in the church of St. George since it was discovered during its construction. The one nice thing about travelling in the off-season is that there are often fewer travellers to worry about pushing your way past to get to see and linger over the things that make you want to stop and linger. The map is certainly one of those things that you want to linger over. The size and detail are astounding. When you think about how many tesserae (the individual tile pieces – I know this because I watch Time Team online!) went into creating the large map, the artistry, the labour! Amazing.
The rest of the church is worth a look around, even Miss Grouchy rousted herself and appreciated the beauty and artistry.
Following Madaba we headed to Mt. Nebo, the site where several religious texts tells us that Moses was given a glimpse of the “Promised Land”. This is where things got ugly. I will say that were things working against our girl and things could have been worse. Travelling as a family can be tons of fun, but who ever talks about the temper flareups, or the ugly bits when exhaustion and heat mix together to turn your sweet adorable child into Mr. Hyde? I will be honest, it took a lot to move forward and not let the mean attitude of one in our group set the tone for the visit to Mt. Nebo. AEB was hot, she was feeling jet-lagged, she was not caring one whit about Moses, the Old Testament connections, or any of that bunch of rubbish. Fortunately, we found puppies sleeping in the shade of a tree which went a long way in making attitude adjustments. However, the moving experience that might have been was rather squashed by the dose of meanness added to the majesty of the view. But as a parent, one gets good at filtering out stuff and trying to enjoy things in spite of the ugly thing at one’s feet. We did not get to go into the church that houses another gorgeous mosaic and other pieces of historical relics since it was closed for renovations – a let down, but there was a tent set up on a lower level of the path up to the view that housed another mosaic.
After our cranky visit to Mt. Nebo we stopped off at the Madaba Handicraft Centre where we saw them creating huge mosaic tables, floor pieces, and smaller items. They are supported through the Noor al Hussein Foundation that works to help those in under-privilaged areas. In this case the creation of an industry to support families. The foundation does much more, but that’s the simple version of what all the foundation does for this particular business in Madaba. One could purchase large pieces and have them shipped. They also created pottery that looked as if it were created with mosaic tiles and there were there incredible ostrich eggs that were painted in the pointillist style to create the illusion of mosaic. There are lots of opinions of such places where tourist are taken to support local work. There are those that get cranky at the tour company for foisting these sorts of stops on them when all they want to do is be taken from site to site. Some think they are tourist traps that are “switch and bait” places that send you the wrong thing and are not honest places of business. Others are eager to support those working and helping to better their situations in life. As seasoned travellers we know and can appreciate all sides of a situation – most of the time. And since Jordan is having a hard time with bringing in tourists at the moment due to some extremely noisy neighbours, we understand the need to support many of the aspects of the tourism industry within the county. Besides, to see the handiwork of these people is impressive, if you let yourself enjoy such a stop. We were happy to buy a couple of small items, but were not going to be buying any large items that needed shipping! We already have an over abundance of furnishings in our comfortable home.
After our shopping stop, we headed off to Kerak Castle to explore the ancient ruin of the crusader’s castle. It’s history as a crusader stronghold is pretty gruesome, but then the crusades were a pretty gruesome endeavour all in the name of God. I don’t think God was much approving of the whole thing, but then people often get confused with Political Gain vs. God’s Will. Considering the devastation of a culture that did so much to promote peace, co-exisistance, learning, medicine and so on the West did one heck of a job trying to destroy much of it. Sigh. We had a guide take us through the place and tell us the history of the castle and shared information about the rooms and their uses – barracks, kitchen, dining hall for the soldiers, entrance for the horses, and the dungeon. Kerak was important strategically since it’s set along the crossroads into Egypt, Syria, and those bound for Mecca. The trade route and the pilgrimage route were crucial to life in the region – holding onto the castle meant power. It’s an imposing site to tour.
Our girl enjoyed the tour, poking her head down corridors, through doorways and looking out small windows or old archery slots. She was so thrilled to be out of the sun, feel the cool breezes through the long passageways of the castle that we actually had a really nice visit. The other factor was the cats, or rather kittens, that found AEB. She has a knack for bringing the animals to her and it was a running theme throughout our trip! The views and the building were stunning.
Next it was time to stop for lunch and another break from the heat. Our driver took us to this little stop that had a dining hall and Jordanian items for sale. It was a step up from most roadside eats and tourist trinkets. Again, our driver knew everyone in the place and was greeted warmly and helped us order traditional Jordanian lamb and rice – SO good! AEB opted for the buffet thinking she might be better off with the selection there. The food is so flavourful! It’s rich in spices, but not heat spice which makes it easier on a pallet that’s not as geared for burn-the-tastebuds-off-your-mouth spiced foods.
After Kerak our original itinerary said we would go straight to Petra, but as we talked though the schedule with our driver we decided that we wanted to stop off at Shawbak Castle before making it to Petra. We decided not to bother with a guide, but just enjoy exploring and poking around for a while. In some ways it’s a bit like exploring castles in the UK – you’ve seen one castle, you’ve seen them all! Well, not really. Each castle has its own distinct take on being a castle and each has its own interesting history. But we were content to enjoy the day as it began to cool off and the breezes began to pick up a bit so that we were able to enjoy a nice time together. It was a good choice as it would allow us a more relaxed time leaving from Petra to head to Wadi Rum – we would discover that this was a very good choice to make!