Friday, September 20, 2019

Day 46: Museums and Shaving

April 15: Karolina was gone, but my flight out of the country didn't leave until tomorrow so I still had one last day to explore this remarkable country. And since Karolina was no longer around, it is up to me to provide the day's commentary even though it wasn't an official hiking day. I think she left the country early to get out of writing this blog post. *nodding*

I met up for breakfast with Ernie, Jan and Margaret who would also have one more day before their flight left the country. They asked about Karolina, and I told them she made it off to the airport late last night without any trouble. Hopefully she didn't throw up on the ride to the airport!

Ernie is looking a bit scruffy--but nothing a barber can't fix!
The first thing we did after breakfast was to look for a place where Ernie could get a shave and a haircut. He had told us that earlier in the trip, he'd gone to a barber who shaved him with a straight edge razor and to sanitize it, they sprayed it with alcohol then burned it off in a small fireball--which sounded really cool to me and I made Ernie promise not to get anymore shaves without me around to film the experience. =)

Now that the hike was over, he planned clean up. So we walked down the street looking for a barber that was open so early in the morning eventually finding one that would shave the beard and hair he'd grown since the last shave.

And.... well, it turned out to be immensely fun and entertaining! =) There are some unexpected twists and turns we did not anticipate, but I got it all on film and I'll let you watch the video. I will warn you, however, it's a 17 minute video. It's totally worth watching the whole thing, though! Also, the video starts quite blurry--I didn't realize it was so blurry on the small screen of my camera--but it does improve later in the video.

Ernie is a brave, brave man....

The new and cleaned-up Ernie! He's look perfect if only he shaved off those eyebrows. ;o)
Then the four of us piled into a taxi and headed into downtown Amman to explore the Jordan Museum. I'm usually not terribly excited by museums, but I had kind of run out of other things in Amman that I really wanted to see and Ernie implied that my Jordan Pass would get me in for free.

I'd been teasing Ernie about how the Jordan Pass was the gift that kept on giving. It paid for all sorts of entrance fees: Wadi Rum, Petra, Karak, Jerash, Aljoun Castle, the Citadel, and more. The small print on the page said it was good for two weeks from the first time you used it to enter a place, but nobody ever seemed to be checking that so a month later, I'd still been using it. Wadi Rum was the first place I used it, and the JTA crew looked at it but didn't seem to ever show it to anyone at Wadi Rum so I figured the clock on it hadn't started ticking. At Petra, they definitely stamped and scanned it at which point I thought the clock had started ticking. By the time we reached Jerash, I was wondering if the time had run out--it had definitely been more than two weeks since the pass was first scanned--but I figured it didn't hurt to try using it anyhow. If it didn't work, I'd just pay the entrance fee. But no, they took it--and it covered my entrance into Aljoun Castle later that day. And almost every other entrance fee since then.

In all, the Jordan Pass cost 80 JD (about 112 USD), which paid for itself with the visit to Petra by itself. It covered the 40 JD tourist visa I'd otherwise have had to pay entering the country, and a 3-day Petra ticket normally costs 60 JD. So we saved 20 JD already.

Everything else.... Wadi Rum, Jerash, Aljoun Castle, Karak, the Citadel, etc.... were basically all free. It was an amazing bargain! If you're planning to go to Petra, get the Jordan Pass. It's a no brainer! If you aren't visiting Petra, it's a tougher call whether you'd save money or not.

Jordanian flags in front of the Jordan Museum

Anyhow, Ernie (and friends) hadn't gotten the Jordan Pass and continued paying entrance fees all over the place, and I teased Ernie a lot about it. He suggested that the Jordan Museum was included, but I didn't check ahead of time so when we arrived and we saw the sign posted that the Jordan Pass was not accepted, Ernie got a little vindictive. "Ha!" he exclaimed.

Oh, well... I knew the Jordan Pass wasn't good for everything. It's good for a few dozen different attractions, but there are exceptions! I paid the entrance fee--I think it was 10 JD or something--and we entered the museum.

The lower level was your typical museum experience, looking at displays and artifacts hidden behind glass that you couldn't touch. I took photos of all of the water-related information for Karolina. Part of her agreement with her work when she extended her trip included doing a presentation about Jordan's water and I knew she could probably use some of that information. The displays talked about Petra's waterproof plaster, technology to pull water directly from the air, the Red Sea to Dead Sea pipeline, etc.

The upper level of the museum, though, is where I really started enjoying the experience. It was an interactive museum where we could do stuff! My favorite exhibit was where you could color in an animal then watch it come to life on a big screen. =)

My favorite exhibit! =)

After we finished at the museum, we headed back to the hotel. Like yesterday, we had trouble finding a taxi who was willing to go back there. Why?! Eventually, with the help of an employee at the museum who flagged a taxi down for us, we made it back to the hotel.

We all headed to our own rooms then met up again a couple of hours later to go out for dinner. Ernie got a recommendation from the hotel desk clerk of a cheap, nearby place that kind of had a fast-food vibe to it, but the food was really good. Mostly, I went to hang out rather than get something to eat. I was low on money. I knew I needed 20 JD to get a ride to the airport tomorrow, and I had something like 22 JD left and I hated the idea of hitting up an ATM just to get a couple of dinars. The fee it charged would probably be more than the amount of money I needed!

But eventually I worked out a deal with Ernie who had a little extra Jordanian cash he wanted to get rid of. I bought 5 JD off of him which I paid for through PayPal, and now I had enough cash to pay for a little bit of food which I split with Margaret.

Then we headed back to our individual rooms at the hotel... it was the last time I would ever see Ernie, Jan and Margaret again. (They did not die or anything, though. They just left for the airport at 4:00 or some ungodly hour of the morning and I slept through it.)

The next day would be my last in Jordan, but there's not really much of anything for me to write about. My flight didn't leave until about 1:00 in the afternoon so I was able to sleep in until a respectable hour and took a short walk around the neighborhood of the hotel. It was uneventful, though, and I went back to the hotel where I packed my bags and checked out. They ordered me a ride to the airport, and I headed through the necessary lines and security checkpoints to the gates. I arrived with 2 JDs in my pocket which I used to buy a bottle of water (1 JD) and a can of Coke (another 1JD). I officially had no more Jordanian currency! Well, I had a few coins that were a fraction of a JD, but there was nothing I could buy for that little money, and I was okay keeping a few coins as souvenirs. =)

The plane boarded and took off.... and Jordan was officially done. Oh, I'd still wear one of my many scarves while walking around on a cool, overcast day for old times sake. I still walk around proudly wearing one of my two Jordan Trail t-shirts. And memories to last a lifetime. What a wonderful country! Jordan surprised me in so many ways, and there's definitely a lot more to the country than Petra!

I ♥ Jordan! =)

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Day 45: Back in Amman!

April 14: The Jordan Trail was done, but my flight wouldn't leave Jordan for another couple of days and Karolina would have to leave for the airport late tonight (around midnight) so we both had the whole day to explore the capital city of Amman. And since it's not a hiking day.... Karolina provided today's guest blog post! =)


Finishing the trail wasn’t fun. Not at all.

Early in the morning, I woke up in the hotel room in Amman feeling nauseous. For a moment, I was hoping that I can fight this sensation, but no, I started feeling a wave of vomit coming from my stomach. I jumped out of bed with a speed of a rocket (not too bad for an ill person) and ran to the bathroom. So much for last night’s pizza.

I searched my luggage for a bag of electrolytes and prepared a drink to make up for the minerals and water lost into the toilet. After that I returned to bed for some more sleep. It must have been around 4 or 5 am, because I could hear singing from a nearby mosque.

I woke up again a few hours later, feeling weak but not nauseous. I didn’t feel like getting up – I could spend the entire day lying in bed and resting. I knew, however, that Ryan and the Canadians – Ernie, Jen and Margaret – were planning to go to the Old Town in Amman and do some sightseeing. I was tempted to ignore my poor condition and join them – after all, when will be next time I visit Amman? That’s what I did in the end. Got up, got dressed, drank some sweet tea for breakfast (I couldn’t really eat anything) and ventured into the capital of Jordan.

To get to the Old Town, we had the guy at the hotel’s reception desk call an Uber for us. All five of us crammed into one car – we were squeezed like sardines in a can!

The Uber took us to the Citadel. We agreed with our little group that everyone would walk around the premises at their own pace and we would meet at the entrance in an hour. I decided to not sightsee alone and join Ryan instead – I felt too weak to think and make decisions and told him that today he needed to do that for me.

The Citadel offered a beautiful view on the city of Amman. Lots and lots of brown buildings, streets bustled with traffic and a lot of dust in the air. In spite of all the dust, far in the distance we could see a giant flag of Jordan waving in the wind. On an information board placed at one of the viewpoints we read that in the year it was constructed (2003), it was the tallest free-standing flagpole in the world at 126.8 meters (416 feet) tall and could carry flags with a size of up to 80 square meters (861 square feet). Even if it wasn’t the tallest anymore, it surely was very impressive!

From the other side of the Citadel we could see a well-preserved Roman theatre – the next stop on our sightseeing route for today. To reach the theatre we had to cross a very busy street – Ernie’s guidebook advised to cross it ‘gingerly’ – a new English word for me, the meaning of which I could immediately test in practice! ;-)

The Roman theater in Amman seats 6000 people and was built
in the 2nd century when Amman was called Philadelphia.
The Roman theatre in Amman was larger than the one we visited in Jerash. We sat on the benches for a while, admiring thousands years of history. We also visited a small museum which displayed traditional Jordanian and Bedouin dresses and jewelry.

Margaret wanted to visit Books@Cafe - a bookstore-café recommended to her by Faiza, a Jordan Trail hiker from Amman, so once we were done with the Roman theatre, Ernie and Ryan pulled out their smartphones and checked Google Maps directions to get there. It turned out we once again had to cross the busy street, which none of us was too enthusiastic about.

On our way to the café, we passed many interesting-looking stores with herbs, spices, clothing, shoes and miscellaneous items. I requested a quick stop at a herbal store where I got myself a bag of sage and a bag of hibiscus. I also bought an iPhone charger from one of the street vendors – I needed a replacement for my charger that broke down a few days before.

The books at Books@Cafe weren’t particularly good or interesting, but the café part was very nice. We sat down on a cozy terrace with a mosaic wall, a fountain, many flowers and views towards the streets of Amman. Ryan and the Canadians ordered hamburgers and nachos. I was jealous – my taste buds would love to take a bite of those things but stomach wasn’t ready to do that yet. Instead, I ordered a vitamin cocktail.

As we were sitting and resting, I felt visibly better. Less nausea, more energy. As soon as we left the café, unpleasant symptoms resumed. I couldn’t walk too fast and felt generally weak and ill.

The last two places we wanted to visit before returning to our hotel were the natural medicine shops and the local market. In his guidebook, Ernie read that some of those natural medicine shops still sell items such as powdered lizards. He joked we should buy some and test on me to see whether it would help with the nausea. Fortunately, for me we didn’t find any powdered lizard, only herbs, spices, nuts, seeds natural soaps, oils and sponges. All very interesting!

The market was busy and noisy – like the rest of Amman. It was full of colorful fruits and vegetables. Lots of Jordanian sweets, too – the Canadians bought some as gifts for their family, friends and co-workers. Due to my nausea, I was a little disturbed by all the smells – and even the sight of sweets that normally I’d find quite attractive. The most interesting thing I spotted at the market were giant cinnamon sticks – I have never seen them so big!

Giant cinnamon sticks!
I was feeling worse and worse, and everyone else was getting tired as well so we decided to go back to the hotel. Ernie tried to flag down a taxi, but they either wouldn’t stop or the drivers would refuse to take us to our destination saying it was too far away in a rarely-frequented part of the city. What the heck?! Usually taxis would honk at us every few minutes offering rides when we didn’t need them and that one time we actually needed a ride it was difficult to get one! I don’t get it….

After a number of unsuccessful trials with taxis, Ernie decided to walk into a nearby Western Union office and ask the employee to call an Uber for us. The Uber that picked us up was smaller than the one which tool us to the Old Town and we squeezed inside even more tightly. It was a Toyota Prius and I couldn’t help noticing that this type of car seemed to be a very popular car in Jordan. I swear I saw many Priuses - and even more Toyotas - everywhere in Jordan. Even our Jordan Trail support truck was a Toyota!

Our Uber driver spoke English, so we chatted with him during the ride. He was a 24 year old university graduate who couldn’t find a job and became an Uber driver. He lived in Madaba with his parents and worked 7 days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day to make his living. Three-quarters of the money passengers paid for each ride went into his pocket, the remainder were fees and taxes. The car he bought with a bank loan. After paying taxes, loan installments and costs of living, a mere 100 JOD (ca. $140) is left. All of this didn’t sound like an easy or enjoyable life. It made me sad to be reminded that the world is often an unfair place full of inequalities - so many people struggle to make ends meet while others live a luxurious life only because they happened to be born in a richer part of the world.

Colorful markets of Amman
Back at the hotel,  I checked into the room I reserved earlier and moved out of Margaret’s room. She probably enjoyed the extra space, but I’m sure she missed me. (Maybe not the vomiting, though!) Then I went straight to bed where I planned to spend the rest of the afternoon and the evening. Around midnight I would need to leave for the airport – my flight back to Amsterdam would leave around 4 am. I wasn’t going to get much sleep the next night, so I wanted to rest as much as possible beforehand.

In the evening, Ryan and the Canadians went out for dinner to an Iraqi restaurant. They said the food was delicious. I was a little jealous but felt too sick to join.

At midnight, I went down to the lobby and the men behind the reception desk called a taxi for me. The driver spoke good English and we chattered on the way. He used to live in the United States. A few hours before he returned from a ride to Wadi Rum and was quite tired, so he went to bed and intended to sleep until the morning – but then around midnight the hotel called and he had to get dressed get into his taxi again. He had no choice – business is business.

At the airport, I went through security twice – the first time before even entering the airport and the second time before going to the gates. I have never before experienced this double security check! The moment I got an exit stamp into my passport it became official – I was leaving Jordan. I felt a little sad… I had had such great time in this country, much better than I had expected! This trip had definitely been among one of the best in my life!

Regarding my flight back to Amsterdam, it was quite challenging due to my stomach problems. I had to use the restroom several times on the plane and at the Athens Airport where I had a layover. I made a mistake of eating the breakfast I was served on my flight to Athens – my stomach didn’t appreciate it. I learnt my lesson, though, and on the flight to Amsterdam I didn’t eat anything – just drank water and electrolytes.
Ruins of the Citadel

Ernie thought a "hate free zone" during lunch would prevent me from playing pranks on him... *shaking head*
It's not a prank-free zone, buddy! =)
My first hamburger in 45 days! And it was delicious!

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....