Our taxi driver met us at Amman Airport with a sign saying ‘Welcome Big Ears and Wilbur.’ My little joke went down very well, even though we had arrived bleary eyed in the small hours of the day. It was September 2006 and we were paying our third visit to the holy lands.
We started our trip in Madaba, a city 30 km south of Amman, heading straight for bed as soon as check-in formalities were done with.
Madaba is close to Mount Nebo and the Dead Sea and is said to be the point where Moses first viewed the Promised Land of Canaan, a land that God decreed that Moses would never see.
Moses is also said to have been buried at Mount Nebo, a tomb that has never been discovered.
A metal sculpture called the ‘Brazen Serpent’ marks the spot where on a clear day you can see modern day Israel, that most disputed of nations ( (on a really clear day you can see Jericho, Bethlehem & Jerusalem). The sculpture combines the cross with the serpent, signs of Christ and Satan.
‘As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,
so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
that whoever believes in him may have eternal life’ (John 3.14-15)
It was possible to clamber down to the sea and float in the bromine saturated water whilst reading a periodical of some sort. We decided against all the faffing about that doing so would entail, contenting ourselves with the view across the lowest point on earth, some 420 metres below sea-level.
Madaba is also famous for amazing mosaics, both inside the Byzantine Church of St George and outside at a nearby excavated Umayyad site.
We took in both impressive sights, spending more time in the shade of the holy building than the scorching sun of the holy ruins.
The most impressive mosaic in the church depicts the map of the holy land. With two million pieces of vividly coloured local stone, it depicts hills and valleys, villages and towns as far as the Nile Delta.
Our first night was spent in a fabulous Arabic restaurant where we dined in the open on stuffed vine leaves, dates & almonds.
We were seated in the upper atrium above a courtyard and at some stage the recorded music stopped and a Jordanian comedian took centre stage below us.
We could not understand a word of course, but were royally entertained by the riotous laughter of our fellow diners and the animated antics of the comedian, who we immediately likened to Alexeï Sayle.
At the end of the comedy, a live music group took over and ladies abandoned their heels to dance with their handkerchief waving husbands.
This was a secular gathering and a chance for the revellers to let their hair down, with Ramadan just over a week away.
Caught by the amazing feel good buzz of the evening, we decided take the plunge with a hookah pipe.
Neither of us have ever been smokers and as we sucked the air up through the water and further through the sweet smelling apple tobacco, we were soon both as high as kites!
Somehow we managed to locate our hotel, spending the entire route giggling like naughty schoolboys!
Next day we awoke with sore heads, but had no time to dwell on the fact as we were taking a taxi to Jordan’s finest Roman City, Gerasa, now known as Jerash.
Jerash has fine examples of an amphitheatre, a nymphaeum, aqueduct and numerous Corinthian columns. Without doubt however, its finest preserved structure is the oval forum surrounded by stunning colonnade.
We stayed for over two hours and for me this was now my finest ever Roman ruins ever seen, eclipsing Baalbek in Lebanon.
On the way back, we stopped off at Ajloun Castle high above the Jordan Valley. The fortress was built by Izz al-Din Usama, a commander and nephew of Salah ad-Din al-Ayyubi (Saladin), in AD 1184-1185.
The visit topped off a marvellous day and feeling some effects from the previous evening, we decided upon an early night.
The next day we would be leaving for Jordan’s most famous site, Petra……….