Jordan 2010

Crossing from the Sinai desert into Jordan, I had very few expectations of the land which I’d always rather thought of as Middle East Lite; indeed the two liquor stores, video shop and massage parlour (I’m sure it was all very proper and therapeutic) that surrounded our hotel in Aqaba did nothing to dispel the idea. I was just pleased to be out of Egypt and even more pleased to discover that Peregrine tour operators were clearly exercising much better quality control in this country.

A delightful, knowledgeable and oh-so-professional guide met us at the hotel and took us through the itinerary. How could we hope to do justice to so much ancient history and archaeology in a little under a week? By travelling up the ancient King’s Highway, of course. This route runs along a natural, geographical path from Aqaba in the South to Damascus (Syria) in the North, giving easy access to Biblical, Greco-Roman and Crusader sites all along the way. It would only be possible to see a representative selection but, even so, no time was wasted and the treasures just kept on coming.

It goes without saying that Petra was packed with visitors, as it has been since Queen Rania al Abdullah orchestrated the campaign that had it voted one of the New Wonders of the World, with more votes than there are people in Jordan, but if I was less than impressed I have only myself to blame. The heat and the crowds were a little bit overwhelming and, no, I didn’t want to buy a signed copy of “Married to a Bedouin” by a New Zealand woman who I felt might well come to regret this cross cultural venture in the fullness of time. Picking up a husband in the Wadi Rum is not quite the same thing as buying a couple of rugs, a brass coffee pot and a stuffed toy camel.

Actually, the Queen of Jordan has gone up in my estimation since my visit. Previously I had always thought of her as just another “stick thin socialite” hanging around in the glossies but, given the number of philanthropic and development projects she appears to have instituted, she may just be a stick thin socialite with a social conscience. However, one or two whiffy little corruption allegations are refusing to go away so we shall see what the clamour for reform in this part of the world brings out into the open.

If Petra did not really inspire me then Jeresh certainly did. The best preserved of the Decapolis (ten cities), it has been sensitively excavated and stretches for over a kilometre, allowing you to walk through a complete Roman city and see all the aspects of life therein. If you have time you can also enjoy a mock gladiator fight in the hippodrome; yes, it does sound corny but apparently a number of ex-soldiers are glad of the work. We were whisked off to a more scholarly destination and to my disappointment I didn’t get to make the thumbs up/down signal but it all looked great fun.

 I think that it was the realisation that the Romans built nine more cities like this one to stamp their identity, SPQR, across the Eastern frontier of their Empire that so impressed me. All but two were in Jordan and not all have been certainly identified. They kept the Greek name but built over much of the Greek architecture, a seemingly invincible machinery of conquest showing the barbarians who was in charge. There was one brief moment when all this might have been toppled had Nabatean pirates not scuppered Cleopatra’s attempt to escape to India and form a new empire after the death of Mark Anthony. It all sounds rather as if it was just the dream of a desperate woman but it does make you wonder.

Lest you think that it was all work, work, work I will be posting some pictures of me plastered with Dead Sea mud. That was certainly an experience and I also very much appreciated being taken to a one-stop gift shop to peruse the local handicrafts in contrast to our Egyptian guide’s attempts to drag around inumerable rip-off souvenir shops – actually most of us refused. In Jordan you are at least offered fixed price, genuinely hand made goods and no pressure is put upon you to buy. That was just as well as at this stage I still had another two countries to go.

Categories: Middle East

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