There are two border crossings from Syria into Jordan. The biggest and busiest is the Jabir crossing, but the road from there leads to the capital Amman and we just didn't feel like having to cope with another huge city. The Ramtha crossing further west is smaller and from there we can easily get to Jerash where there are famous Roman ruins. Trouble is that the Ramtha crossing is used by the Syrians to transport fruit and vegetables into Jordan and there are literally hundreds of cars and pickups loaded with produce waiting to get through the border. The Jordanians are sticklers for security and each vehicle is thoroughly unloaded and searched for contraband (drugs). This means there is a very long queue to get through the border.
What to do? Well sometimes it pays to be ignorant and we just rode past all the waiting vehicles and up to the immigration and customs offices and presented our papers. The officials were somewhat surprised to see tourists at this crossing, but after a short discussion processed us quickly and without searching the bike. Less than an hour and we were in Jordan on our way to Jerash and being greeted enthusiastically by the locals chanting 'Welcome to Jordan'.
Jordan has three major geographic regions. The Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea, the East Bank Plateau, which is the fertile strip running the length of the country and where 70% of the population live, and the desert, which covers 80% of the country.We plan to ride through all three regions.
This well preserved Roman city is one of Jordan's major tourist attractions and as you know, Dianne is a frustrated archeologist, so there was no way we were going to miss Jerash. In it's heyday the city had a population of about 15 000 and even though an estimated 90% of the city is still unexcavated, there are still many well preserved buildings.
By the beginning of the 3rd century, Jerash reached it's peak and was bestowed the rank of Colony. Shortly after though, the trade routes moved and it began a slow decline.
Cardo Maximus or Colonnaded Street was the cities' main thoroughfare. 800 meters long, it is still paved with the original pavings which are worn by the wheels of thousands of chariots.
Even though much of the citadel has been repaired after several earthquakes, the result is still very impressive and we left Jerash feeling quite recharged. Back on Jack we made our way through rolling baron hills past the castle of Ajlun, perched high on a hill and built to protect the muslim Arabs against the Crusaders. From here we descended towards the Dead Sea and even though it was late afternoon the temperatures were nudging 40 degrees. A bit of a 'scrappy' ride to the Dead Sea itself passing through many small towns and with quite a bit of traffic. From the Dead Sea though we turned east and headed up into the hills towards Mount Nebo, where Moses sighted the 'Promised Land' and passed by Bethany, where Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist. How's that for a bit of name dropping? This area is Jordan's Holy Land and is rich in religious history. It is also where the first five apostles met and where the prophet Elijah is said to have ascended to heaven in a chariot. Wow.
Our destination for the night is the Salome hotel in Madaba. While more expensive than the hotels in Syria, it is is clean, comfortable, has A/C and the staff are very helpful.
We didn't have the time yesterday to swim in the Dead Sea, so today we got up early to beat the heat and headed back down the hills to the lowest place on earth at 399m below sea level.
Proof. Yes we were there.Through the hot and arid Holy lands, over Mt Nebo...
It's really hot down here and after a shower to rinse off the salt we hopped on Jack for a ride back up into the hills on the Panorama Highway. This good road winds up and over several baron hills offering fantastic views over the Dead Sea and surrounds, leading us back to Madaba and our air conditioned room, feeling totally rejuvenated.
There are virtually no motorcycles here in Jordan. Apparently until recently they were banned, evidently after an assasination attempt by radicals on a motorcycle. The King now has a Harley and there are some police motorcycles but that's about it. At our hotel the owner's wife was admiring Jack and indicated she would like to go for a ride. 'Hop on and let's go then' I said, but she declined saying that the other women in the city would think badly of her for doing such a thing. Seems the women here are still quite conservative and Dianne has had several stars from the women when she gets on or off Jack.
Madaba is famous for it's Byzantine era mosaics and Dianne spent some time in the Archaeological Park enjoying the many mosaics. It is also the most important Christian centre in Jordan and the 19th century Greek Orthodox Church houses a famous Mosaic Map.
Even so, further down the road we couldn't resist a small detour to at least ride past Shawbak Castle.
This ride along the Kings Highway goes into our book of 'all time great roads', with stunning scenery around every bend as we weave our way up and down and around the hills and valleys of Wadi al Hasa and Wadi Dana. (Wadi means seasonal river bed).
Arriving in Wadi Musa (just outside Petra) late afternoon after such a fantastic ride, we felt totally rejuvenated.
This ancient city dates back to the Nabatean times, 6 BC and expanded and prospered until AD 106 when it was annexed into the Roman empire. The Nabateans were Arabs who controlled the frankincense trade routes of the region between Egypt through to China and India in pre Roman times and build this city, hidden in a valley of strange and colourful rock formations. At the time this Kingdom was widely admired for its refined culture, influenced by the Greeks, with it's massive architecture and water management. When it fell to the Romans it was not on their "silk route" so was completely lost to the west for 300 years and known only to the bedouin until a Swiss traveler discovered this lost city in 1812.
Petra has been described as 'a rose red city as old as time', and we took 2 days to visit this wonder of the ancient world. It is definitely one of the highlights of all our travels and it's hard to find the words to express the unique beauty of this ancient world carved into the sheer rock face.
The first day we arrived at 6.30am to miss the masses of tourists on organised tours and walked the 1.2km through a narrow canyon know as the Siq. This in itself is impressive but then suddenly we came face to face with Al Kazhneh, or the Treasury. It got it's name apparently because of a myth that an Egyptian Pharaoh hid his treasure there. To be suddenly confronted with the Treasury is a real gob smacker and we sat in wonder for perhaps 30 minutes trying to take it all in.
After the Monastery, we sat back and tried to take it all in then wandered down to the valley floor to marvel at the many massive tombs carved and cut into the rock face.
Day two and we explored the southwest area and climbed up to the High Place of Sacrifice. It was a pretty steep climb and Dianne's knees were taking the strain so she elected to take a donkey ride while I walked. It was worth the effort though as from the top we were afforded magnificent views of the surrounding valley floor and most of Petra.
The deserts in the south of Jordan are calling to us. We leave Wadi Musa and head to Wadi Rum regarded as having some of the most spectacular desert scenery in the world, and remember we are desert lovers.
Described by Lawrence of Arabia as 'Vast and Echoing'. Our brochure went on to say 'Wadi Rum is an outstanding desert landscape. Sheer sided mountains of sandstone and granite emerge from open valleys to reach heights of over 1700m and narrow canyons cut deep into the mountains often concealing ancient rock drawings'.
Sometimes after an introduction like that we are disappointed with the reality, but not here. This is a land of unusual colours ranging from deep yellow to dark red and where natural wind erosion, not man, has created amazing landscapes.
We had met Matt for the first time in India. We were both discussing whether the entry fee to see yet another Indian castle was worth it. We met him and his wife Nicole, again by chance at the Turkey/Syrian border crossing and then again purely by chance at Petra. Sometimes it just works out that way. Anyway, with sandy desert roads here at Wadi Rum, we decided to give Jack the day off and we organise a 4x4 and driver with the visiter centre at the gate of the park and shared the cost with Matt and Nichole.
Our driver roamed about in the desert for about 6 hours, taking us to some amazing sights before dropping us off at a Bedouin camp where we had planned to stay the night. This gave us an opportunity to make the most of the incredible sunset and also the sunrise and enjoy the silence of the desert. We also got to sample traditional Bedouin food cooked in a huge pot, placed on top of coals and buried in the sand until done.
If you've seen the film 'Lawrence of Arabia', then you will recall that this is where TE Lawrence fought with the Arabs against the Ottomans in the 1st. World War. As a consequence of their success 3 Arab princes were awarded land and thus the borders of Iraq, Syria and Jordan were drawn. Isn't history amazing and probably no more so than in this region. Over time it has been fought over by the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Ottomans and the Arabs.
Our final port of call in Jordan is Aqaba, located on the Red Sea. It's a short 70km ride from Wadi Rum but as we neared the coast the temperatures climbed to over 40 degrees.
Aqaba is a 'free trade zone' and big port city. It also has all the well known fast food chains and we 'treated' ourselves at a Burger King for lunch. Not quite as good as we recall in Oz.
It's just so hot here and humid too that after finding a comfortable hotel with A/C we sat out the afternoon heat, only emerging in the evening for a walk about the Yacht marina.
We were determined to swim in the Red Sea so the next day it was up at sunrise and off down the coast to the public beaches. In Aqaba itself, there are only a couple of beaches and they are controlled by expensive hotels. Finding a deserted beach, we stripped to our togs, leaving our gear and camera about 15m from the waters edge and waded into the surprisingly cold water. This area is famous for diving and snorkeling and the water is crystal clear. It's also a deep blue in contrast to it's name which apparently refers to the colour it takes on with the setting sun.
The beaches here are deserted and Dianne and I enjoyed our swim in the calm waters and after a while decided to go for a short walk along the beach. As we did the waves began to build up for no apparent reason, gentle at first but becoming stronger and stronger. I glanced back to where we had left our gear (and camera) now about 300m back and panic set in. The waves were only a few meters away. Amazing what adrenalin can do. After feeling completely relaxed and strolling along the beach I seem to metamorphosis into a 300m sprinter and after what seemed an eternity, snatched up the camera literally just as the biggest wave of them all reached our gear. It didn't matter that our clothes got wet, somehow, miraculously I had managed to save the camera. Whew.
After that reality check it was time to return to the sanctuary of our hotel room and finalise arrangements for tomorrow and our proposed entry into Israel.
The BIG thing with entering Israel is that if one plans to return to Syria, as we must to get back to Turkey, then there must be NO evidence of us having entered Israel or left Jordan in our passports. We've been told that we can get the Jordanians and the Israelis to stamp a piece of paper instead of stamping the passport, but we need to confirm this before we enter. An over zealous immigration official could inadvertently stamp our passports leaving us stranded in this region.
Anyway, after discussing our needs with the border officials, there appears to be no problem on the Jordanian side, and we decide to go ahead. It will be great to visit another country, especially one as controversial and steeped in history as Israel and also to meet up again with friends we have met on our travels and who have invited us to stay.
So it's farewell to Jordan, we were at a stage where we needed a 'shot in the arm' and Jordan has provided it. We're now feeling totally rejuvenated. and looking forward to our next challenge.
Click Next page to continue our journey in Israel