Monday, September 16, 2019

Day 44: The End of the Jordan Trail....

April 13: During the night, I heard a zipper shortly followed by the sound of puking. It's not a pleasant sound, but it was distinctive and there was no doubt about where it was coming from: Karolina. Then it happened again perhaps an hour later. I felt bad her for but helpless to do anything.

By morning, a strong wind had picked up and several tents started blowing away the minute people left them. I had left the rainfly off of my tent which seemed to help since the rainfly seemed to catch the wind like a sail. A couple of tents rolled like tumbleweeds across the campsite as a hiker or two chased after it.

The support crew usually broke down the tents after we started our day's hike, but today hikers and support crew alike were breaking down the tents as soon as people packed all of their stuff up. They had to to make sure the tents didn't blow away.

Although the wind was inconvenient at the time, I was glad for it. Today's temperatures were expected to soar to over 90°F (32°C). A stiff breeze would be nice in such conditions.

 
Karolina was still feeling ill. It wasn't a shock--sickness had been spreading through our camp for the last week and now, apparently, it was Karolina's turn. She skipped breakfast because she had no appetite and wouldn't have been able to keep it down anyhow. When I got breakfast, I told Lama about Karolina being sick. She still wanted to hike--it was the last day of the trail, after all! But I warned her that Karolina might be hiking a bit slower than normal.

Even in the morning, temperatures were warm despite the breeze, but as soon as we left camp, the wind died down to basically nothing and the landscape started to bake.

The trail started more-or-less flat before reaching a big valley that we'd have to descend then climb back up the other side. From the ridge before we descended, we could clearly see the Sea of Galilee not far away, surrounded by Syria and Israel. The state department had travel warnings in place for Jordan suggesting that Americans should stay at least 10 miles away from the Syrian border. (We should also stay at least 10 miles away from the Iraqi border and not enter refugee camps, but those weren't anywhere on my itinerary.)

The end of the Jordan Trail was in Umm Qais, however, and located--as the crow flies--about 2 miles from the Syrian border--way closer to the border than the state department recommends. But! It actually made an exception for Umm Quai which they deemed safe to travel to. So strictly speaking, I was still staying within the state department recommendations. =)

But considering that Syria has been a war zone recently, I found it oddly strange that I'd be approaching within a couple of miles of the Syrian border. I don't usually get so close to actual war zones.

From our viewpoint in Jordan, though, there was nothing obviously different about the terrain in Israel or Syria. There was no obviously marked border that could be seen. In the distance, we could faintly see some snow-covered mountains that were located in Lebanon. Snow?! In Lebanon?! Yes, you better believe it. The Middle East is a lot more varied than one might imagine.

Barely visible through the haze, we could see the snow-covered mountains in Lebanon!

Our group took a short break before the long descent, and Karolina threw up again. She was definitely struggling. We all were struggling with the heat, but Karolina was struggling considerably more. I pulled out my camera and took photos as she vomited. I was sympathetic, but after she threw up during our John Muir Trail hike, we had agreed that if she should ever throw up on the trail again, I should document the event with photos. So I did--but don't worry, I won't post the photos here. =)

We continued onward, down a steep hill, eventually taking another short break next to a small shop where we could buy cold drinks and snacks. Cold drinks really hit the spot!

Local kids were selling necklaces made out of flowers, and Karolina said she wanted one and asked me to go fetch one because she was too tired to stand up and do it herself.  I caught up with one of the kids and bought one for a buck or so.

We continued onward, passing a large reservoir at the bottom of the valley where we took another break in the shade of olive trees. As the day progressed, Karolina seemed to slow down more and more. She hadn't thrown up since that first break, but the hike was clearly wearing her down.

The weekend hiker from yesterday who seemed on the verge of suffering heat stroke was also struggling, but so far during the day, we had mostly covered flat ground and downhill. We hadn't really gone uphill much at all... but from this point on, it was all uphill. It was hotter than ever as temperatures had continued creeping upwards.

The woman with the potential heat stroke issues and agreed to be picked up by George in the truck and driven the rest of the way up the trail. She was done, and I was glad for that. I really didn't want to see her suffer a serious medical issue. While George was there with the truck, he also offered to take Karolina's pack ahead so she wouldn't have to carry it.

That seemed like a brilliant idea and Karolina gave up her pack.


Then we continued onward and upward! Despite the lack of a pack, however, Karolina continued to struggle and moved slower than ever and fell far behind the rest of the group. I hung out with her to help. Our group was on a schedule, though. There were end of trail ceremonies planned and we were supposed to arrive at the end of the trail at 3:00. Not before, not later. At 3:00. Normally our day's hiking schedule isn't so rigid, but today was a special day.

She'd take a couple of hundred steps, then have to stop for a minute for a rest. It was agonizingly slow and we continued falling further and further behind the rest of the group. The pace seemed unsustainable.

The group took another rest at another olive grove, and Karolina laid down in the shade. She put her legs up on a tree to get a little extra blood in her head and Lama came by to check up on Karolina. She suggested that George should drive her a few kilometers up the trail. There wasn't really much of anything noteworthy that she would miss, but by now it was clear that Karolina couldn't keep up with the group anymore. She could rejoin the group and walk the last kilometer or two to the end of the trail.
Karolina takes a break under an olive tree as Lama and Mohammad discuss her plight.
We all agreed that that was a splendid idea. At the end of the rest break, Karolina piled into the JTA Batmobile--which I think Karolina was a little excited about since it was her first ride in the Jordan Trail truck. "Don't get too excited," I warned her. "It was in this truck with George driving that made me sick!" =)

The truck was air-conditioned which, I think, helped Karolina immensely.

I waved goodbye to Karolina and started walking quickly to catch up with the bulk of our hiking group.

The terrain was unremarkable except for the continued wildflower bloom. I'd never seen so many wildflowers as I had in Jordan!

I had been walking pretty slow the whole day, hanging back with Karolina, but now I leaped ahead on the trail passing people left and right. The heat was brutal without any shade for protection, and when the trail left the gravel road, it became a lot more steep and rugged.

About an hour later, I arrived at a natural spring where a few buses were parked and our group was gathering, and Karolina had arrived in the Jordan Trail truck. She was still in the truck which was idling with the air-conditioning.

Our large group was divided into two smaller groups at the spring. The weekend and regional hikers were sent ahead while the thru-hikers were told to hang back. The thru-hikers were all given Jordan Trail shirts--they wanted us all wearing the official Jordan Trail paraphernalia for the ending ceremonies. If I realized we would receive a free Jordan Trail t-shirt at the end of the trail, I wouldn't have bothered buying on earlier on the trip! Oh, well. Now I had two! =)

I headed down to the spring to change my shirt. The spring poured down like a waterfall from a cement wall, and I soaked my shirt and hat in the cold water. It felt awesome! But given the heat and lack of humidity, it didn't take long for the clothes to dry and 10 minutes later, I was basically dry again.
We had a lot of fun getting wet in the cold spring water!
The weekend and regional hikers got maybe a 15 minute head start on the thru-hikers, but we weren't far behind! Karolina rejoined us for the last push to the end--but still without her pack. I carried her water. "I'm her donkey," I joked with the other hikers. "I'm her Basha." (Lest you've forgotten, we still had our donkey, Basha, hiking with us and carrying extra water.)

The trail led upwards and onward, and Karolina started off strong but slowed down quickly.

From there, it maybe took a half hour to reach the official end of the Jordan Trail. The official end is at the end of a steep, paved road where it intersects another road in Umm Qais. When the end was in sight, most of our group started running to the top of the road, hollering with excitement. I hate running--with a passion--and felt absolutely no need to do that. I was perfectly happy to walk to the finish line just like I walked the rest of the trail. Karolina might have been inclined to run across the finish line, but she was too hot and exhausted to do so. And Helena, an older woman who was never interested in killing herself by moving quickly also decided that running wasn't for her.

Helena reaches the official end of the Jordan Trail. Congrats!

So we were the last three people to reach the finish line. But it was kind of anti-climatic. There's nothing particularly noteworthy about the intersection. There's a little bit of a view, but nothing someone would rave about. There's a beautiful archeological site in Umm Qais that I thought would be a more fitting end to the trail, and apparently the Jordan Trail Association thought so too because that's where the end of trail ceremonies were located.

After hugs and congratulating each other, we were led toward a back entrance for the archeological site. A drone started following us, sounding like a bee buzzing over us.

The walk was a lot longer than I expected. We had finished the trail and were tired and exhausted, but we still had more to walk. Ugh!

We entered the site through a back road, and that's when I first realized how elaborate that the end-of-trail ceremonies would be. We were greeted with a column of Roman soldiers dressed in period costumes. Horses pranced and ancient musical trumpets or something were sounded, and we paraded into the park like conquering heroes.

We were escorted into the Umm Qais archeological park by Roman soldiers like conquering heroes!

Girls passed out flower necklaces and flower rings to be worn on the head. Since Karolina already had a flower necklace from earlier, I took the one she was given and gave her the head ring I had been given.

On the sidelines, the day hikers, weekenders and region hikers cheered our arrival. The girls who first gave us the flower necklaces and head rings somehow got ahead of us and this time threw rice on us.

We watched a couple of gladiators fight to the death before we were herded to a stage where speeches would be given. This was a terrible time for us thru-hikers. The seats we had were in the sun and the brutal heat bore down on us during the ceremonies. We had been given a small bottle of cold water upon our arrival, but I wanted shade more than anything.

Speeches were given. They were mostly in Arabic that most of us couldn't understand, but they planned ahead with headphones that provided instant English translations. Kind of cool! I'd never used one of these devices before.
Speeches at the end-of-the-trail ceremony
At the end of the speeches, we were called up one at time to hand over our rock from the Red Sea at the start of the trail for a certificate of completion. And I thought, "Oh, crap!" I had left my rock in my pack, which I left by the Jordan Trail truck behind the chairs we were sitting in. I quickly got up, ran around to my pack and retrieved my rock. I wish I had planned ahead for this!

We all got our certificates and the ceremony ended. We were told that buses back to Amman would leave at 5:00 which gave me about an hour to explore to the ruins of Umm Qais. Karolina, being sick and tired, said she just wanted to sit there and do nothing. Totally understandable. She offered to watch my gear as I went off to explore.

I ran around the place, taking pictures and reading informative displays quickly. I only had an hour, after all, so I rushed a bit. About a half hour later, though, I saw members of our group walking off and was told they were heading to the buses to leave. "But it's not 5:00 yet! Crap!"

I rushed back to where the ceremony was and found Karolina, who seemed a little distraught. Everyone was leaving and she had no idea where I was! She was glad when I showed up, but Karolina was still missing her own backpack after George picked it up earlier on the hike. We tried looking for George to figure out where the missing pack was, but he was nowhere to be seen. Ali, our resident photographer, knew where it was located and pulled it out of the back of the truck. Then we rushed to catch up with the rest of the group before the bus took off without us.



We arrived at the official park entrance and regrouped, but there were no buses and nobody seemed to know anything about where our buses were. Tired and hot, I sat down in the shade of a nearby bus to wait and see what happened. Our checked bags were also MIA--the bags we packed back in camp that we didn't carry on our backs all day.

It seemed like we sat around for an hour for someone--anyone!--who knew anything about what was going on. Someone really dropped the ball after the end of the ceremonies. We were a ship without a captain.

While waiting around, I played around with Simon, my rubber snake. Ernie wanted to bite the head off of it and snap it in two, but that seemed like a a total waste of a perfectly good rubber snake and I had a better idea. There were kids trying to sell flower necklaces and I waved one over to me and gave him the snake. He seemed confused at first. "For me?" Yeah, enjoy! He offered me a flower necklace in return, but I already had one and passed on it. Not necessary.

Ernie seemed glad that the snake was gone. Simon had been fun, but I had no use for him anymore. Ten minutes later, I saw the same kid running across the parking lot with the rubber snake but he no longer had any flower necklaces.

Eventually, a truck with our checked bags arrived so we got all of our gear back, and we finally learned that the bus we were sitting in the shade of was actually our bus back to Amman.

We boarded the bus, although there was some confusion about if we were missing people. Damian, Thomas, Sarah and I don't know who all else had made other arrangements, and Gary--the last time I saw him--had said it was good to meet me like it was the last time he'd ever see me which made me think that he, also, had made other arrangements.

But as far as we knew, everyone who was supposed to be there was there and the bus started moving.

We had a long, boring ride back to the capital city of Amman, taking about 3.5 hours in all.

We arrived back at the parking lot we had left from 44 days ago. It was dark now, but still warm. And dry! When we left 44 days ago, there was a terrible rain storm and extensive flooding was happening throughout the city. Quite a change!

The Jordan Trail hike was officially over, and I got the certificate to prove it!

We all got off the bus and there was practically an Uber convention that descended onto the parking log. A dozen Uber cars had been called and pulled up picking up passengers. I took an Uber with Karolina and Femmy who was heading in our direction. She was dropped off along the way and we arrived at our hotel at the same time as Ernie, Jan and Margaret who had arrived in a separate Uber.

By the time we arrived at the hotel, it was maybe 9:00 in the evening. We never got any dinner which disappointed me immensely. I had thought they would feed us dinner given how late we would get back to Amman. I had eaten snacks that I carried, but nothing substantial and I was starving. But being so late, I didn't really want to go out for food either.

I'm not sure who thought of it, but the guy manning the front desk of the hotel said that we could order pizza and have it delivered and I thought, "YES! That's brilliant!"

I never order delivery for anything. It's just not something I do. I prefer going out and getting out of the house if I'm going to eat, so it's something that almost never happens and therefore an option that I tend to completely forget unless someone brings it to my attention.

A pizza delivery sounded perfect!

There was also a market next to the hotel.

I asked if any rooms had opened up since I called the day before, but the hotel was still full so I crashed in Margaret's room.

I hauled all of my stuff to Margaret's room. And I went back down to the lobby to inquire about ordering a pizza. Where could I order a pizza?

The guy at the front desk said I could pick Pizza Hut or Dominoes.

Really? Those are my only two choices? Not that I had a problem with it, but I was surprised that there wasn't something a bit more local to choose from.

I picked Pizza Hut--primarily because I used to work at one and was more familiar with their menu. It might have been 20 years ago when I worked there an in another country, but a lot of terminology and options haven't changed.

The clerk dialed the necessary number and I ordered a pizza.

Then I headed next door to the market where I picked up an orange for Margaret (she requested it), nuts for Karolina (she requested it), and a Coke for myself (I requested it!)

Back in the room, Karolina had finished taking a shower so I took the next shower and it felt wonderful getting all the dirt and grime off of me. Even better, when I finished and stepped out of the shower, the pizza was already there! Yes!

The pizza was absolutely delicious and we scarfed it down. In hindsight, I should have ordered a larger pizza--or more of them. I felt like I could have eaten an entire pizza all by myself!

It had been a long day, though, and it was time to hit the sack.

Helena grabs some food for breakfast.
The first part of the day was largely flat and easy, but there was little shade and temperatures were high!


Taking a break in front of a small market


While Karolina was laid out resting under an olive tree, this grasshopper decided to take a rest of its own on her. "Don't move, Karolina! I have to get a photo of your chest!" (Were words I never thought I'd utter.)



I don't know how the driver can even see out of this vehicle!
This is the back of the same vehicle as it drove by.
That's the Sea of Galilee in the distance. On the right side is Syria and on the left side is Israel.

Sawsan was the first person from Lebanon to complete the Jordan Trail. Congrats! =)
Umm Qais archeological site




Friday, September 13, 2019

Day 43: The beginning of the end of the Jordan Trail

March 12: Today was our shortest day of the entire trail (excluding the zero days, of course). We had to complete a measly 12 kilometers--or about 7.5 miles. Being such a short day, we were allowed to sleep in late. Breakfast wasn't served until 7:30am and we didn't leave camp until 9:00am.

But, all things considered, I'd have preferred our normal 7:00am breakfast and 8:00am departure because while our hiking distance was short, the daytime temperatures would soar to about 30°C (86°F). And I'm kind of a baby in hot temperatures. I don't like them! I'd have been thrilled with a 6:00am departure and finish the day's hike by 9:00am! =) An earlier start means cooler hiking temperatures.

A couple of our guides spent the night in the van that made up the slides! (See them in the sleeping bags?)
The other thing that did not excite me was that a whopping 18 new weekend hikers joined our group nearly doubling its size. It was a group size that I didn't feel comfortable with, but it is what it is. Oh, well.

As we were about to leave camp, Maria came up to me and asked if I wanted her Snickers bar. We were provided sack lunches and snacks which included a Snickers bar and--unbelievably--some people didn't want them and I was always happy to "offer" my services of gobbling them down. So cool! I got an extra Snickers bar! Yes! =)

Several hikers from our group had been getting sick--this past week or so, it seemed like it was being passed around from person to person. Today, Sarah seemed especially put out and was feeling ill.

Other problems developed as the heat of the day warmed up--one of the weekend hikers that joined us struggled and seemed on the verge of heat stroke. She eventually made it.... slowly but surely. Tomorrow's weather forecast was supposed to be even hotter, though, and I had concerns about whether she could make it. We'll see, I guess.

During our lunch break, we stopped by an olive grove and everyone huddled under olive trees for the sparse shade they provided. George and some of the crew drove out and provided us a hot meal. The meal was good, but given how hot it was, I was okay with a cold meal. Ice cream sounded much better! Realistically, I knew ice cream had the problematic tendency of melting, so I'd have been quite happy with cold drinks, but we didn't get that either. I've gotten soft on this trail!

At one rest break without any shade, Ernie and I beat the heat under my umbrella. =)

I may not have gotten any cold drinks, but Helena offered me up her Snickers bar. Karolina was nearby to witness that and seemed stunned. "What?! You get an extra Snickers bar?!"

I laughed. "Actually, I got two extras," I admitted. "Maria gave me hers as well."

Karolina seemed stunned at the admission, and I thought maybe I shouldn't mention the extra Snickers bar I got the day before. But I offered to give one of the spare Snickers to Karolina. I was willing to share. *nodding*

We finally arrived into camp, and I pretty much just laid out in the shade and didn't want to do anything. It was so freakin' hot!

The end of the trail was imminent, and the fact weighed on all of us. Tomorrow was our last day on the trail. As much as we enjoyed the trail, many people from our group seemed happy to see it winding down. They were tired or homesick or just plain sick. But there was also an air of sadness. Our adventures were winding down. New friends would be flying back home all over the world. The band of 20 or so people I'd been hiking with every day for 43 days now was coming to an end. We were thru-hikers in all but name only. Tomorrow, it would be official.


Thru-hikers were offered the opportunity to spend the night at a farm in Umm Qais at the trail's end, but only four of us took up the offer. I guess it was a disappointing turnout, however, because we were informed today that the farmstay had been canceled.

Which meant that I now had nowhere to stay tomorrow night. I had made a reservation on our last zero day for a hotel in Amman, but that was for the night after tomorrow night. I tried calling the hotel with Karolina's phone to see if I could extend my reservation to start a day earlier, but they reported being full.

The hotel was the same one that Ernie, Jan and Margaret were staying, however, and I asked Margaret if it would be okay for us to sleep in her room tomorrow night. We had sleeping bags and everything! We'd make no fuss at all, then be out of her hair the next night when our own reservation kicked in.

She didn't have a problem with this idea so we had a plan for tomorrow night. Camping in a hotel with Margaret. =)

Later in the afternoon, the thru-hikers gathered for some group photos and in the evening, we had a small 'ceremony' for the guides and staff that supported our hike for the past several weeks to show our appreciation and thank them.

Even later in the evening, I would later find out, Sarah decided to get a ride to the hospital where she got IV fluids pumped through her. That must have been an adventure! And she reported that she felt a lot better after that. It seemed like an extreme action for a bout of illness, but I was a little jealous. I kind of wanted to brag about "my time in a Jordanian hospital."

But... I can live just hearing other people's stories.

The end of the trail was near.... It was a time for somber reflection.

I wasn't sure what they were doing here. It kind of looks like compost piles, though?
The wildflowers continued to amaze and delight us!






There is some solar power in Jordan, but it's not as big as you might think....



Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Day 42: Flora and fauna of the Jordan Trail

April 11: Not a lot actually happened today. It was a long day of hiking--our first 20+ kilometer day since Madaba 10 days earlier. It was also unpleasantly hot and unlike yesterday, we didn't have much tree cover providing shade. Basically, it was a long, hot and exhausting day of hiking.

The wildflowers, however, continued to be absolutely stunning! Entire hillsides and views burst with a superbloom the likes of which I'd never been before. In Jordan! Who could have guessed?

Wildflowers were everywhere!

We stopped for a sizeable rest near Pella, another impressive ancient Roman city that had fallen into ruins. I was sitting in the shade of one of the beautiful columns resting when Karolina rushed up to me. "Get your camera! Get your camera! There's an owl over here!"

She was, of course, referring to my fancy camera with the 300mm zoom lens because animals like owls don't typically let you get very close to get a photo. Her camera phone was not up to the challenge like my fancy camera.

I pulled out my camera quickly think, an owl? Surely that can't be right. Owls like trees! At night! And while there were certainly trees in the north of Jordan, they weren't located at these ruins and it was certainly wasn't dark out! It was the middle of the day!

But sure enough, it was definitely an owl. I took a photo from a distance with my zoom lens, then slowly approached closer and closer to get even more detailed photos. The photos, I knew, were absolutely stunning and I was excited to get them.  I took a lot of photos and was surprised at how close the owl allowed me to get before flying off. He didn't fly far, though, landing on the top of one of the ancient Roman columns. But he hung out there for just a minute or two before flying off for good.

What a beautiful creature!

What absolutely awesome photos, though. Definitely my best owl photos ever!

Along the way, we also passed several bee hives. Which, with this wildflower bloom, the bees must have felt like they were in heaven. At least one of the hikers got stung by a bee during a snack break.

The end of the day left us at the Sharhabil Bin Hasnah Eco Park. We were camped in tents but had access to flush toilets and a swingset and slide that kids usually used but we were happy to test out as well. =)


A particular rough section of trail
I still can't figure out how Mohammad got up this column at Pella.
Ruins of Pella, an ancient Roman city
This was the last photo I got of the owl just as it turned to jump and fly off!
This is Connie from New York.
Grasshopper! On a poppy! How cute! =)

Wildflowers... as far as the eye can see!
Erosion on the trail
Apparently, nobody is certain if this tunnel is natural or man-made! It looks so natural... but so man-made as well! I can't decide! Even experts apparently disagree on the subject.




Frog in a spring
Bees! Bees! Everywhere are bees!



This beehive was actively being managed when we were there.

This was a particularly steep section of trail!
Qussai often like to "live off the land." I'm not sure what he planned to do with this harvest, though!
The slide at our camp was made from the shell of an old van. What fun! (But be careful not to hit your head while going through the van. I did.)
Tonight, once again, we had kanafeh for dessert! Which was cooked over our campfire. =)