Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Day 39: Jerash and Ajloun

April 8: Today we had another zero day! So Karolina has provided another guest blog post for your reading pleasure....

Boarding the bus for Jersah


Today was a zero day for us – no hiking to be done on the Jordan Trail! A bunch of hikers decided to spend the day visiting the archaeological site of Jerash and the Ajloun castle.

Jerash was situated about an hour drive from our hotel and, the day before, the JTA guys helped us by organizing a mini-bus who would whisk us to the site. It was waiting in front of the hotel at 9:00 am.

The ride to Jerash was a pleasant experience on its own. The views were beautiful - we drove on roads winding through green rolling hills and valleys. We passed people selling agricultural produce along the road – stalls full of colorful fruit and vegetables. This made me think of my childhood times in post-communist Poland where it was usual for farmers and gatherers to stand along roads and sell apples, potatoes, berries, mushrooms and other things to passing cars. At several places, we also passed information boards pointing towards the Jordan Trail. This was a novelty – up until now, the trail had been unmarked.

The archaeological site of Jerash is one of the best preserved ancient Roman cities in the world. It is very impressive and huge – even though only 30% of the city is uncovered. The rest remains buried under the sand and dust. The city survived largely intact to our times because it remained covered under dirt protecting it from erosion. The excavated parts include a columnated street, theaters, temples, fountains and a chariot-racing stadium. At this time of the year, the site it was exceptionally beautiful due to an explosion of flowers.

The grand arrival into Jerash!
One of the JTA members who joined us for the trip to Jerash explained that the site wants to apply to be included on the UNESCO list of World Heritage. The main challenge with that is the modern city is situated right on top of the unexcavated parts of ancient Roman city. Before Jerash can be placed on the UNESCO list, parts of the modern city – and its inhabitants – would need to be relocated.

Like all tourist traps, Jerash included a large souvenir shop. I went in to buy a Bedouin scarf as a gift for my mom. There were many scarves in many colors, and I couldn’t decide which one my mom would like the most. I decided to ask Ryan for help – he had already bought several very beautiful scarves on this trip, and I was not the only one to notice that he had a very fine taste in choosing pretty combinations of colors. Ryan advised me to get a deep-green scarf with a golden pattern. He also got a scarf of his own. Ryan couldn’t resist buying new scarves - his collection continued to grow. How many did he have now, seven? One for each day of the week?

Back at the hotel, we had a quick lunch then headed to Ajloun castle. The castle was built as a protection against the Crusaders. I liked this castle more than the one in Karak – it was larger and better preserved. It was interesting to see the defense system of the castle and read about it on information boards. The castle was surrounded by a dry moat and, above the main gate, there was a slot used to dump boiling water and oil onto unwelcome visitors. All external walls were equipped with very narrow windows intended for archers. The windows were constructed at such an angle that the archer could easily see the surroundings of the castle and the potential enemy coming towards it but they were rather invisible from the outside. The location of the castle was strategic for defense purposes, too – on top of the highest hill in the area, with 360° view of the surroundings.

Ajloun Castle
From in the castle, we watched as Ernie (and friends) approached the entrance of the castle. Ryan, impressed by the castle’s defense system, joked that he wished he had some hot water or oil to pour on Ernie as he entered the castle.

“You have Simon (the rubber snake). You could drop that on Ernie,” I suggested.

“That’s brilliant!” he replied excitedly. “Yes! Let’s do that!”

So we went to the window with a view towards the entrance and waited for Ernie. We could see him in the distance, walking together with his wife and one more hiker from our group. They were looking around, reading information boards and slowly approaching the entrance gate. We stood at the boiling water/oil slot and, when the time was right, Ryan dropped Simon as Ernie walked about 10 feet below. Neither of us really believed that it would actually hit Ernie – the chance that Ryan timed the fall perfectly didn’t seem good. We were convinced that Simon would fall in front of or behind Ernie and we could only hope he would notice the snake at all.

Simon nailed Ernie perfectly! But Ernie wasn’t at all happy about it when we ran down the stairs to greet him. The impact turned out to be quite a bit harder and more painful than we expected. Ernie reported it felt as if someone hurled the rubber snake at him as hard as they could and didn’t find the stunt at all amusing.

Both Ryan and I felt very sorry to hear that and apologized. We had just meant to play an innocent joke… As it turned out, Ernie would keep on rebuking us for the snake incident until the end of the hike – just as we would keep on apologizing.

After the snake incident, we all continued to sight-see, walking around the castle’s chambers, staircases and towers. As a water specialist, I was fascinated by the castle’s elaborate water system. Outside of its walls, there was a cistern for collecting and storing water. It was connected to a series of pipes through which the water could be transported to various parts of the castle. This system was built in a smart way, so that the castle could still be supplied with water even if it was under siege. Then there was a small wastewater treatment unit and a system to reuse treated wastewater for irrigation purposes – a very modern approach in the old times! Nowadays we would call it circular economy.

Inside the castle
Once we had seen everything about the Ajloun castle, we returned to our hotel. I did laundry in the sink, spread the wet clothes to dry and was planning to spend the evening doing nothing – but my plans unexpectedly changed.

A few days earlier, Ernie suggested that we should all collect money to give tips to our guides and field managers at the end of the thru-hike. Ernie had participated in similar expeditions before and told us that such practice was common. The information was confirmed by Damian – who worked in the field of tourism management and used to be a guide himself. Ernie spent his evening making an elaborate plan of how much money we should collect, who should be given how much, etc. After dinner, he approached everyone and informed us about the results of his calculations.

As it turned out, I didn’t have enough cash on me for my contribution. Ajloun was the last city we were passing before reaching the trail’s end in Umm Qais and the last place where we could find an ATM. I had no choice – I needed to go downtown tonight and get cash! I was joined by two other people who needed to withdraw cash – Ryan and Femmy from the Netherlands who used to live in Jordan and spoke fluent Arabic.

Downtown Ajloun was located about 2 km (1.25 miles) from our hotel. It was located downhill of the hotel and to get there we followed a steep road down. It was already well after dark and I was glad to have company. It was useful to have someone speaking Arabic with us – once downtown we couldn’t find any ATM’s at first, so Femmy went into a vegetable store and asked for directions. The first ATM we went to didn’t work – or rather, our foreign bank cards wouldn’t work in it. Luckily, there was another ATM located just across the street and we managed to withdraw cash from it.

Next to the ATM, there was a store that I entered in search of nuts. I ate all the nuts I got back in As-Salt and wanted to get some more for the rest of the trail. The store seemed to specialize in selling water pipes and the equipment needed to smoke them. There were water pipes of various sizes everywhere! I have never seen so many water pipes in one place before! Fortunately, the store also sold snacks, so I grabbed two bags of nuts, paid and left.

We decided to return to the hotel by taxi – none of us felt like waking 2 km up a steep hill in the dark. Femmy talked to the driver of the first taxi we found and we all jumped in the car. As usual in Jordan, the driver was talking on his phone the whole time and he almost took a wrong turn a few hundred meters before our hotel. Femmy’s skills in Arabic proved useful once again – she reacted immediately and told the driver we wanted to go in a different direction.

It was 10 pm when we arrived back at the hotel – quite late by our standards. I went directly to bed – I needed good rest before another day of hiking tomorrow!

More photos of Jerash

Ernie admires the ruins

Sawsan knows how to dance! =)
I pretend like I'm going to knock these columns over like dominoes!
This seems like a pretty violent-themed mural at the entrance of Ajloun Castle!

View of the city of Ajloun from the castle


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