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Paul & Tracey's Travels
19th Feb 2015 - Jordan
Road trip north, ancient city, and apocalyptic weather

Getting the hell out of Dodge....

Got woken by the call to prayer at 5am this morning. Just as well I had an early start planned.....

Well, our guide is concerned about the condition of the roads around Petra if we stay another day, as planned, and the predicted snows arrive, so at 7am we set off North again. This will take us towards the weather front, but eventually into lower lands, and wider and more main roads. The Jordanians over react even more to a fall of snow than we do in the UK....last night at about 8am the king called a public holiday for the impending snow. All schools, universities, post offices and other public sector institutions will be closed today, and it is likely that the private sector will follow suit. And that is just the threat of snow....
The last time it snowed, which is very rare, there were over 300 car accidents in one day.

The long (and not very winding) road

We climbed out of Petra up the steep roads and were soon enveloped in mist. As we got on to the main road this eventually cleared, and after an hour's travelling the sun came out ! We are on a different road to the one we drove south on a few days ago. This one had almost no traffic on it, we saw a car maybe every 10 minutes. It had a good surface though and we made good time. We travelled through a long stretch of totally flat brown arid land, with nothing to see except the horizon. We eventually re-joined the main North/south highway.....the desert highway, and started to see all the trucks again.

The highway is the main North South road from Syria in the north to Saudi Arabia in the south. The border with Syria is currently closed due to the current war. There is only one crossing into Syria, and one into Kuwait. There are 3 crossings into Israel, the main one being the one near Jordan. The main crossing for trucks is into Saudi, which is Jordan's main trading partner.

Karak Castle

There are a lot of castles in this part of Jordan, and we were headed for karak Castle, the biggest castle in the Middle East. The city of Al Karak has a population of 80,000 and is the place where the Jordanian pilot recently murdered by ISIS came from. It is situated in the mountains about 100km south of the capital Amman. The castle is perched on the edge of a mountain top 1000m above sea level, built in about 1143. Unfortunately, it had started to rain when we arrived, so we could not get a good view as we approached. Only a fraction of the castle is available to walk around, and there would have been some great views if there was less cloud.

Further north to Jerash

We set off again to go further north to the city of Jerash which is about one hour's drive from the Syrian border. After a couple of hours drive, we reached the capital Amman - the main highway goes through the centre. We stopped here to get some food to take away, (I had a large Pitta covered with sesame and cheese called a zateer), and then we  continued on North. By this time there was a lot of rain but no sight of the promised snow.
As we drove through the capital, I did see a couple of familiar names - IKEA, and unfortunately McDonalds. I also saw the first foreign vehicles I had seen in Jordan - one from Syria, and one from Dubai.

On the outskirts of the city, we passed a huge Palestinian refugee camp. This has been there since the Arab/Israeli war of 1967. It started as a temporary area with tents, but as it became clear that the refugees were not going to be able to return home anytime soon, small houses started to be built. The area is still administered jointly between the United Nations and Jordan. The occupants have Jordanian citizenship, but choose to stay at the camp as they then retain refugee status.

The road plunged downwards as we left the city and we had to drive through huge rivers of muddy water that was rushing down the hill from the rains. The landscape North of Amman was quite green, as this area does have a fair bit of rain. I keep getting surprised as we drive along how mountainous the country is, and how high up we have been. The road goes down hill for miles and then flattens out and you think you are out of the mountains, then to one side of the road a deep valley suddenly appears. We drove north for about 4 hours today and never left the mountains.

Ancient Roman city

We arrived at Jerash early afternoon to visit the ruins of a huge Roman city. This is the second most visited tourist attraction in Jordan behind Petra, and was discovered in 1806. The site is right in the centre of the modern city of Jerash, which is built up the mountain side. There are two theatres surviving here. We took turns in standing at the exact centre of the stage area and speaking to feel the strange sensation of the echo of your own voice coming back to you. It is like wearing headphones and hearing your own voice in them. A really strange sensation, but this effect is what helped the watching audience hear what actors were saying. Like Petra the site was buried under tons of earth and had been abandoned following destruction caused by earthquakes.

The weather hits

As we walked around the site we were caught in a tropical style downpour, and got drenched. At the same time our guide got word that it had started snowing in Amman. We then returned to the bus for the hour and a half drive back through Amman and on back to the Dead Sea. Our guide arranged a change to where we're going to stay originally when it became clear that Amman was going to have extreme weather. The forecast for tomorrow is 0C in Amman and 17C at the Dead Sea just 40 minutes away (and a couple of thousand feet lower). 

As we drove through Amman the rain turned to hail and from tropical to apocalyptic. The roads were completely awash as there are no drains, just gulleys at the side of the roads. Because the roads are continually going steeply up or down, there were rivers of water cascading down, and large floods at the lowest points. As we left Amman it did start snowing and settling in small patches. At the outskirts of the town we passed a huge fleet of snow ploughs, which for a country that rarely has snow below the very highest peaks was an amazing sight.

As we climbed higher out of Amman, the visibility became only a few yards, and cars were pulling over and stopping because of the hazardous conditions, or driving slowly with hazard lights on. The start of the long descent down to the Dead Sea was a bit hairy as we drove through the slush on the road, and we saw one car who had smashed into something and was limping on. Suddenly we were out of the storm and could continue safely down once again to the lowest point on earth.

Next: Cut off at the Dead Sea, and a visit to the Jordan/Israeli border
Previous: Exploring ancient Petra

Diary Photos

Ancient city of Jerash, Jordan

Truckers on the Desert Highway, Jordan

View from Karak Castle, Jordan

Jerash ancient Roman City, Jordan

Modern city of Jerash, taken from the ancient Roman City, Jordan

Jerash ancient Roman City, Jordan

Jerash ancient Roman City, Jordan

Jerash ancient Roman City, Jordan

Jerash ancient Roman City, Jordan

Jerash ancient Roman City, Jordan

Jerash ancient Roman City, Jordan

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