Saturday, January 07, 2006

Jordan Jollies - Day Two

Jordan JolliesAfter breakfast at the hotel we had breakfast and checked out. In case you’re interested the triple room was 28 JD for the night. Our plan for the day was to head north to Jerash. Jerash is an old Roman town – lots and lots of ruins.

Jordan’s main road system is very easy to understand. It’s all north-south, and all to do with connecting Amman in the north and Aqaba in the south. There are three roads: the Desert Highway to the east is a modern, high-speed motorway. The westernmost road runs along the Dead Sea coast for most of its length.

Kings Highway

But the best road for tourists is the Kings Highway, also known as the Kings Road and the Kings Way. It follows an ancient trading route and it’s not a motorway. Some sections of it are dual-carriageway, but long stretches are two-lane blacktop and seriously wiggly.

We took the Kings Highway north, and had our first experience of Jordan’s extremely unflat landscape. For miles and miles we were heading down into the Jordan Valley. By the time the River Jordan hits the Dead Sea it is 800 meters below sea level. Add that to the mountains that are over 1000 meters above sea level and you have a recipe for some very picturesque sights.

Kings Highway

Charl at The Mariam Hotel in Madaba had recommended The Olive Branch Hotel in Jerash. Being stupid we assumed it would be in the middle of the town, but of course we were wrong. I bought a SIM card from FastLink, one of Jordan’s three mobile operators, and called the hotel. It is about 7 km outside the town, on top of a mountain.

The drive to the hotel was fairly hairy, especially the last couple of kilometers where we left the main road and went into almost vertical mode. I don't think I managed to get the car out of first gear all the way up. But of course, when you get up there you have an utterly mind-blowing view.
Having checked in we then went back down to Jerash to do the Roman stuff. There's a bunch of tourist shops clustered around the entrance and Offspring and I were both talked into buying keffiyahs (which turned out to be extremely useful in Jordan's winter climate - it's a hat, it's a scarf, it's a towel. Dip a corner into soup and it's a ready source of nutrients) .

The Roman city of Jerash is huge: we probably spent three or four hours exploring it. There are two amphitheatres, a racetrack, numerous temples and other things.

We had lunch at the Rest House in the Roman site, and then BetterArf announced she wanted to look at the (allegedly) nearby Dibbin National Park. No, I could not find it. But we did have a very exciting drive through the edge of the Suf Refugee Camp and then up, down and around a mountain.

Back at the hotel just after dusk, Offspring retired to bed and BetterArf and I went to see if there was any food or beer kicking about in the hotel. We found the dining room. It was cold, stark and initially unwelcoming. There was a log fire in one corner but there was a cluster of people around it so we had to huddle around a gas heater. After a while all but one of the cluster disappeared and the remaining guy invited us over. He was a social worker with UNWRA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) as were the rest of the cluster. They were in this hotel for a two-week training course. The rest of the gang began to drift back after a while and we began to learn a lot more about Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan than we had bargained for. Actually I never knew there were any such things.

Eventually the Director of the Agency turned up, and so did the food. She invited us to dine with them and was very keen to arrange for us to visit some of the larger camps. We declined.

Labels: ,