Jordan

Sean’s Top Ten Countries of the Middle East

*disclaimer #1 – All photos were taken by myself or Kim on our travels.

*disclaimer #2 – This is a (rare) blog post by Sean. Kim’s top ten could indeed be very different, and she does not take responsibility for any potential repercussions from my rankings.

*disclaimer #3 – These 10 countries are countries I have actually been to (or seen) in the Middle East. There are many other countries that are in the middle east that I am sure are fantastic, I just haven’t been to them…

*disclaimer #4 – I wanted to get to “10” countries, so I kind of cheated with 3 countries… I have never been in Iran, Iraq or Saudi Arabia, but I have seen them, in person, with my own eyes, so that counts right?

More accurate title for this blog post:

Top Ten Countries in the Middle East (that I have been to…or seen…or been 20 feet away from…)

Ok, enough with the disclaimers.

I felt like I needed some kind of closure after our 2 years of teaching in Kuwait. We have seen and done a great many things these past couple of years, sometimes amazing, sometimes horrifying, and sometimes just plain mundane. But I wanted to conclude our stay in the middle east with a look back on some of my favorite memories and reminisce with you about the good, the bad, and the ugly (but mostly the good 😉

So, for your reading pleasure, here is “Sean’s Top Ten Countries of the Middle East” ranked by my personal experiences.

#10 – Saudi Arabia (or rather the border of Kuwait/Saudi…)

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I never actually got the chance to go to Saudi Arabia, but the picture you see above is indeed Saudi Arabia in the background – I promise! This is a photo of Kim and a friend at the border of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. It is rather difficult for a westerner to get a visa into Saudi Arabia. For a long time we talked about getting a 24hr visa (which would be much easier to get for us in Kuwait) in order to drive through Saudi to get to Bahrain. I hear the drive there is quite scenic with a 365 view of sand, sand, and more sand…

#9 – Iran (or rather, as seen from a boat in the Strait of Hormuz…)

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The photo above is the Strait of Hormuz and one of the 14 behemoth oil tankers that passes through there each day. Twenty percent of the worlds petroleum passes through this narrow stretch of sea from the oil rich countries of Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi, Iraq, and UAE out to the rest of the world. On one side is Musandam, which we were visiting at the time, and on the other side is Iran. You can see the rocky cliffs between the strait leading to the “fjords of the middle east”.

We were told by local Omani fishers that the smuggling between Iran and Oman/UAE is quite frequent. We even saw some Iranian smugglers when local Omanis clued us in on how to spot them. “Look for the mustaches” they said. When we asked what they were smuggling they told us that the Iranians wanted “American Cigarettes” and what did the Omanis get in return? Goats. Lots and lots of Goats. The middle east is full of them…

#8 – Iraq (or rather the border of Kuwait/Iraq)

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I ranked this number 8 because the experience I had was so surreal and strange compared to the other “border” or “view from afar” countries.

We drove out to Mutla Ridge in Kuwait (highest point in Kuwait), and decided to keep on driving to the Iraq border, you know, to see what it was like. Maybe we’d see a tank, or fire, or explosions, or lots and lots of guns!

Nope. It was a pretty ordinary border crossing with a lot of trucks of supplies and local people going through. There was only one point of entry and only a few cars in the 30 minutes we were there.

We pulled up and parked in a flat, desert-like parking lot next to the crossing. And we just started…walking up to the gate. You know. To see how far we could get before they….I don’t know….gunned us down?

When we got to the 1 car entry point the guard you see above in the full camo smiled and waved us over. Surprisingly he knew little English (most people in Kuwait know English quite well). We asked him basic questions like “Is that Iraq?” and “Can we go?” and “Can we take picture?” Note that there were giant signs on the way up saying “NO VIDEO OR PHOTOGRAPHY ALLOWED”. He smiled when we pulled out the camera, grabbed our friends shoulder and offered to be in the picture. Meanwhile, the Kuwaiti man in the car (who wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon) got out and decided he was going to be in the picture too, just, because… (he is on the phone on the left). The guard in the camo then called over the other guard to come join us in the picture too (man in blue with gold shoulders). My friends and I then pose for what was the most surreal photo experience of my life – on the border of Kuwait and Iraq.

#7 – Kuwait

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Kim and I lived in Kuwait for two years. By the first week we had seen pretty much everything Kuwait had to offer. Unfortunately, the outdoor activities that Kim and I truly enjoy are really nonexistent in Kuwait. And Kuwait is not what you’d call a “tourist country”.

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Kuwait does have a long path along the Persian Gulf (or “Arab” Gulf as we were forced to write in our textbooks over the word “Persian”). It is really quite pretty most days. On Eid al-Adha, however, you might want to avoid this area if you are squeamish (or any area really). On Eid al-Adha, Muslims celebrate the day Abraham was going to sacrifice his son for God, until God said, “just kidding”, and so Abraham sacrificed a lamb instead. In celebration of this day Muslims kill their own sheep, and when your whole country is pretty much Muslim, that’s a lot of sheep…and blood…

So what happens to all these sheep carcasses? Well, some are thrown into the ocean and eventually wash up on shore. Then they get buried in the sand and are pulled up by middle school children during a community and service “beach cleaning” event…

…to the horror of everyone.

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A common theme in the middle east is the sometimes stark contrast of hyper-conservative tradition paralleled with more liberal western influences. The gulf countries especially are going through a clash of middle-east meets west and different countries are dealing with it in sometimes comical, sometimes depressing ways.

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The first week that Kim and I arrived in Kuwait we were taken to a bookstore to get school supplies. The only way to get to this book store, however, was to walk through an amusement park with rides and mini-roller coasters. As we walked through, there were Kuwaiti mothers completely covered in black burqas, dishdasha-ed man, and western dressed children speaking English to the Indian, Sri-Lankan, and Pilipino ride operators. As we walked through this confluence of cultures our ears were blasted by, get this, hardcore rap music. This ultra-conservative society was basting F-bombs by Jay-Z and 50 cent in a children’s amusement park. These blatant contradictions turned out to be a common theme throughout the middle east.

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Mutla Ridge, the highest point in Kuwait at a staggering “nosebleed” level of 475 feet, is one place in Kuwait that I quite enjoyed the view. At the end of our hike along the ridge which has the occasional Kuwaiti “desert camping” (see Kim’s previous blog entries for what that really means), we reached a protruding peninsula that provides one of the coolest views of the Kuwait skyline (as seen above in the picture).

Lastly, Failaka island was a very unnerving and surreal experience. Failaka is an island in the Gulf that is part of Kuwait. In the 1980s Kuwaitis lived on the island, had homes there, had cars there, mosques, banks, etc. But in 1990 Iraq attacked Kuwait, invaded the island, and drove all the Kuwaitis off of it. It was never rebuilt and remains frozen in time to 1990. It was fascinating, humbling, and horrifying to walk through people’s homes and see bullet holes in the walls, bullet shells on the ground, and see people’s clothes, books, and dishes still lying around the home.

#6 – Qatar

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Kim and I went to Qatar our first year in the middle east. We had a long weekend over thanksgiving and decided to go to Qatar because, well, when else would we ever probably be in Qatar? Qatar, although it is building up, is not exactly know as a vacation destination. In fact, when we arrived in the Doha airport, an American family that was on the same flight from Kuwait asked us why we came to Qatar. We told them vacation, they looked at us, as if we were joking, then realizing we were not, laughed and asked why, insisting there was nothing to do in Qatar. In many ways, they were correct.

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One of my favorite places in all of the middle east, however, is in Qatar. It is the beautiful and unique building you see behind us in the picture above. It is the Museum of Islamic Art. Designed by famed architect I. M. Pei, it is a spectacular building sitting on a peninsula opposite Doha city proper across the bay. Inside the museum is a collection of the most brilliantly preserved, priceless, and unique items of Islamic history and art from the 6th century to modern day. Much of the art focuses on the Medieval era, or the golden age of Islam. Most of my favorite works were from Iran. The Persian art is more relaxed when it comes to showing living things, where as most Islamic sects forbid it.

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On the top level was a modern Arabic calligraphy artist that took lines from famous Arab, Turkish, and Persian poems and wrote them in the most delicate and beautiful script. I found a quote that really jumped out at me, and had great meaning for myself. It gave me a connection to this museum I won’t long forget. My favorite quote was from a poem in Ottoman Turkish by Hami-i Amidi, translated it said,

“Some among the sensitive and cultured people come to live where they find their heart’s desire. To some, strange places will become home, and sometimes some will stay home but find it strange.”

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Souq Waqif is one of my favorite souqs in the middle east (a “souq” is a marketplace). It has a rather modern main streets but the side streets will bring you back hundreds of years to the time of pearl diving and camel caravans. You’ll find everything from Qatari daggers, to jewelry, to spices and perfume. We eventually accidentally walked into a “hawk shop”. In the picture above Kim is holding a real, and very living, falcon. The man in the shop could tell we obviously weren’t here to buy a falcon (which many Qatari’s do, and walk around with on their arm because, why not?), but he was so eager to show us his birds. So, we put on the glove, pet, and even fed the falcon. When he took the sleep mask off the falcon, and you looked into her large and beautiful eyes, you felt like she was peering deep into your soul and judging everything you had ever done. Like no animal I have ever encountered, nothing past or present gets by a falcon.

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As I said, Qatar is growing, and although it is not currently a major tourist destination, they are the up and coming in the gulf region. Walking through the streets they are ecstatic about, and make it well know to you, that they are hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2022. The photo above is from the area of Doha know as “The Pearl”. When the construction is finished (whenever that might be…), it will be pretty spectacular and will rival the Dubai Palm in most ways.

#5 – UAE (Dubai)

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Dubai, as you may notice in the picture above, has some rather unique architecture. When Kim and I first visited Dubai we were blown away by the modernity of the place. My friend described Dubai by saying, “It’s architecture is so modern, you might not be surprised to see George Jetson fly across the sky in a spaceship.”

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Dubai is a perfect example of the middle-east meets west clash and contradictions. We would walk around the Dubai Mall (the largest mall in the world by area), and see Emirati Women, dressed in a fully covered Burqa, walk into Victoria’s Secret, with mannequins and posters of half naked women. Or we would see Emirati Men (and all Gulf coast men), drive around wearing ghutras on their head that completely block their peripheral vision. It seems rather dangerous to us.

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In an attempt by the Emirati to hold on to their traditions, they still have a traditional souq (which is mainly run by expats such as Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, or Filipinos), and they have dhows (boats) to take you across the Dubai Creek. It was pretty cool having someone take a raw coconut, chop it up, stick a straw in it, and then jump on a boat to take you across the creek. All the while being surrounded by buildings of architecture of the future.

Dubai - Burj Khalifa

You may have noticed the rather tall building in these pictures. It is the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. Kim and I did take the elevator up a staggering 124 floors to the (open air!) observation deck. We watched the sun set across the desert in the distance. You can truly see for miles and miles with nothing to hinder you view (except the occasional dust storm).

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I do have a lot of respect for the people of Dubai economically. They have the foresight to realize that one day their oil money will run out. So instead of saying, “Well, let’s just live large and ride this gravy train until it derails”, (like Kuwait), they said lets use this money to invest in a tourist economy that will last long after the oil has run dry. In that regard, they have preserved the few physical cultural heritage sites that they have.

The photo above shows some of the arrowslits of a fort that was built in Dubai in 1787. They have preserved it and turned it into a museum. It was one of the most informative places I have been to in the middle east in terms of showing daily life of the Arabs long ago. The fact that it was built of rock, and mud, and even ocean coral, makes it even more impressive that it still exists today.

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(If you click on the picture above, it will open in a new page so you can view the panorama in greater detail.)

Dubai is the epitome of a city in constant contradiction. Check the news, everyday the Emiritis are struggling with the balance between, or the blatant contradictions of, the progressive nature of modernity and the western culture that comes with it, and their hyper-conservative Islamic traditions and laws. For all of its faults, Dubai has become a major player in not only the middle east, but now safely holds its own on the world’s stage.

#4 – Musandam (Oman)

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Ok, I cheated again. Musandam isn’t its own country. It is “technically” part of Oman, but it is cut off from Oman culturally, linguistically, geographically, and even physically! Musandam is a peninsula, jutting out into the Strait of Hormuz, and it is not connected to Greater Oman. The only way to get to Musandam from Greater Oman is to either drive through the UAE, fly there, or take a boat around the UAE coast. So that is why I made it my #4 country, deal with it : )

The picture above is one of my favorite photos that I have taken in the middle east. This inlet of water surrounded by the rocky fjords of Musandam is called Khor Al Najd (which possibly means “hidden place”, but I wouldn’t go throwing that around with any certainty). Kim and I flew into Dubai and rented a car. We then drove across the UAE and crossed the border into Musandam. From that point the scenery became spectacular. Giant rocky cliffs falling straight into the crystal blue-green ocean. We climbed the extremely steep dirt road from the inland side in our rented two wheel drive car and when we reached the zenith the view before us was jaw-droppingly beautiful. We stayed there for hours taking in the view and walking around the little paths from the viewpoint.

MusandamTentRockKimWe brought our tent on the plane and just lived out of our car for the weekend. In all of Oman you can camp pretty much wherever you like. In the picture above we set up camp on a rocky cliff that dropped over the ocean and watched the sun set reflect on the mountains in the background changing them from the most brilliant red, to pink, to purple.

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The next day we chartered a dhow cruise through the fjords. The best, and only real way, to truly experience Musandam is by boat. Weaving in and out of the inlets of water you dive deeper into the heart of Musandam. We explored an island with the ruins of a colonial fort, brightly colored fish swimming through coral, and small Omani fishing villages living on the edge of existence. We were able to snorkel and swim in a few places. When we got back on the boat, we had a few marine friends following us.

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At least 5 times we had dolphins skimming along next to our boat. They would go under us, behind us, jump out of the water, and squeak at us. There was a particular family with a baby that kept following us. It was a really cool experience, and the first time I have seen dolphins in the wild.

MusandamKimTentBeachThat night we asked the boat driver to drop us off at a secluded beach only accessible by boat so we could camp for the night (a common request). He dropped us off, gave us some firewood (a rarity in the middle east), we set up camp, and hoped he would remember to pick us up the next day. It was the most picturesque beach cove – I could have sworn I was on a movie set. It was called “Seebel Kareeb” – a perfect half circle of soft sand completely hidden by the surrounding mountains. We swam, cooked dinner on the fire, and slept under the shooting stars. It was unreal.

Musandam_3355The last day in Musandam we followed the one road through the peninsula as far as it goes. To our great surprise it dead ends into a forest. Now, if you know anything about deserts…there’s not a lot of forests. We got out and followed the many herds of goats through the forest, around trees, and sometimes up into the trees. Yes, these goats climbed trees. There were plenty of places to camp but we had to get to Dubai that night and so our Musandam journey had come to an end.

Musandam is quite unknown, even within expat communities in the middle east. This makes it an infrequently traveled, untouched enclave among the major tourist destinations in the Gulf.

#3 – Egypt

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Number three was a difficult choice. I was torn between number two and three. In the end, Egypt has the population factor and the stress that comes with it that pushed it to my number three.

Egypt is fantastic. Don’t let the current political situation dissuade you from any thought other than the fact that Egypt is fantastic. From north to south it has over 6000 layers of history that sometimes you literally see “layered” in the ground. Egypt contains remnants of human existence from the pharaohs, the biblical Jews, the Hittites, the Nubians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Persians, the Nabataeans, the Seleucids, the Romans, the Arabs, the Mamluks, the Ottomans, the French, the British, and I’m sure there are more I’m forgetting. Can any other country in the world claim that kind of diverse history. It is astounding and visible.

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When I was in middle school I went to South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore. I had seen many pictures of it and expected it to be huge. When I got there, it was rather incredible, but it was smaller than what I was expecting. With the pyramids, I think I’ve seen thousands of images of them in my life and expected them to be huge again. When I got there, they were BIGGER and grander than I could have ever imagined – and they are so numerous that they stretch along the Nile for miles and miles. Seeing these gargantuan stones, over 4500 years old, piled up on top of one another in perfect mathematical alignment, and then being able to actually go inside them… to me, it was like a kid in a candy store, if the store was also made of candy, and the candy could be inserted directly into your veins. I was high on history.


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In our trip we visited no less than 7 temples (I lost track). I was given free range to meander through these structures, witness the great artistic skill in carving the hieroglyphs, listen to the echos in the inner chambers bounce off Isis, Horus, and Seth, and feel the eternity of the stones…oh, if walls could talk…

In the valley of the kings there were no temples, but tombs where the pharaohs were buried. As the quality of the wall carvings and paintings got better (more preserved), I couldn’t help but realize how alike these ancient people of the past were to us today. Especially in the necropolis of the wealthy and workers tombs where they depicted scenes from everyday life on their walls. A son helping his father carry baskets of wheat, a man sleeping on the shore of the Nile while his friends fished, a wedding with man and wife holding hands surrounded by beautiful riverbed flowers. In these 4000 years, our relationships and the emotions of our human interactions haven’t changed much.

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The way that Egypt can transition so flawlessly from 4000 years ago, to 2000 years ago, to modern day, all on the same block is a uniqueness all its own. Cairo is a mega-city. It is the most populated city in Africa with streets and city planning created over 1000 years ago. Cairo hustles, it churns, it  spits, it screeches, and it does it well into the night. The streets have shops, in front of shops, in front of shops, in front of other shops and you wonder where people walk, and where they actually drive. Some parts of Cairo are a fluid of people. But then you’ll turn down a side street where cars can’t go, and you’ll find a thousand year old mosque. You wander inside and see the most beautiful stone insets, geometric shapes, and delicately drawn Arabic calligraphy. This is where the Fatimid Caliphs, the Mamluk kings, and the Ottoman Sultans prayed and meditated on their next conquest.

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Turn the next corner and you’re smack in the middle of Tahrir Square, the heart of the Egyptian revolution, where effigies hang from light poles. We talked to a lot of people throughout Egypt about the revolution and they all knew, without hesitation, that turmoil, and uncertainty, and even bloodshed were likely repercussions for the revolution, but they wanted it so badly, they  were willing to accept it. That was the sentiment when we were there in January of 2013 – now I don’t know if they would say so much. I think now they are more angry and divisive than they ever were with Mubarak. As one Egyptian dhow sailor told us in Luxor, “The Revolution is like giving birth to a new born, a new nation. It’s exciting, it’s emotional, and it’s messy!”

When I think of the revolution, I always have to put things in perspective and think, it took the United States 13 years, and essentially a civil war to get rid of a Monarch. Egypt does not appear to need all that. Inshallah.

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Visiting Egypt made me glad that Kim and I included a reading of an ancient Egyptian poem in our wedding. The following are my favorite lines from that poem, translated from the hieroglyphics on a wall in a temple built some 3000 years ago:

“With my hand in your hand
we shall wander together in beautiful places,
my soul inspired,
my heart in bliss,
because we go together.”

#2 – Jordan

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My number two, Jordan. Oh, how I love this country. It is amazingly vast and diverse for a country little bigger than Maine. Although a good area of land is desert, the remaining topography has mountains, hills, valleys, wadis, lakes, oceans, and rivers. Not only is it a beautiful country, but the people are so genuinely nice and helpful (and not just because you’re a tourist).

The above photo was taken from one of my favorite places in Jordan known as Wadi Dana. If you ever visit Jordan, please book one night in the little medieval village of Dana. If you look closely, you can see the entire village hanging perilously on the edge of the valley in the center left of the picture. The reason I say “medieval” village is because the rooms you stay in are the ruins of a village built in the middle ages. We hiked up to the ruins of a Roman bath on the left side of the picture where the water is held in an underground well and slowly trickles down a stone built aqueduct to the village and into the wadi (a “wadi” is a dry riverbed). It becomes quite green in the rainy season.

At night, Kim’s family and I huddled in a majlis tent with a few Bedouin where we smoked shisha and drank “Bedouin tea” (which was sage and sugar). One man played the oud, another drummed, while the last man danced, clapped, and sang. For a goat herder he had quite the moves.

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Like Egypt, Jordan’s history is long and convoluted. There are castles upon castles in Jordan from the many crusades and crusader states set up here. My favorite is the one in the picture above, Kerak Castle. This castle is huge, don’t be fooled by the photo. Where the photographer is standing is also on top of the castle with many rooms and tunnel ways underneath. What you see before you is only the very top of the castle. This castle is my favorite because it was attacked and conquered by one of my favorite characters from the crusades, Saladin (Salah al-Din). Saladin was Richard the Lionheart’s bitter rival, but they had a relationship of mutual respect and admiration. In fact, the 3rd crusade actually ended with a rather fair peace treaty for the middle east.

The guide told the story of Saladin when he attacked this castle. The castle was controlled by a Templar Knight named Raynald de Chatillon. He was a rather ruthless man. He used to throw Muslim prisoners off of the castle walls (into a deep valley below) with a wooden box fitted around their head, just to make sure they didn’t pass out before they hit the ground – the goal being that they stayed awake to feel all the pain associated with falling that great height. He frequently attacked Muslim pilgrimage caravans and slaughtered them. When Salah al-Din conquered the castle, he let the Christians go uninjured, except for Raynald, whom he personally beheaded. Ah, I love history!

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Step back another thousand years and you’re in the time of the Nabataeans. Petra is truly one of the great wonders of the world. When you approach Petra from the outside, you cannot see anything other than rocky hills. Then you wind your way through a narrow passageway at times only six feet wide that goes straight up hundreds of feet. You continue walking about 20 minutes like this until you reach the opening of the Siq, and you’re standing directly in front of beautiful sandstone like building carved directly into the wall. But there isn’t just one, there are over 800 carved tombs in the walls as the walls in the valley open up to the size of a football field. But soon you realize it isn’t just tombs, there was a thriving city here, complete with aqueducts, homes, and even a carved in amphitheater. We spent three days in Petra and did not see everything.

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Further north is the Roman town of Jerash. Because it was completely built by Romans, and it was abandoned and never built over, it is one of the best preserved Roman cities in the world. It even boasts the best preserved hippodrome in Asia. In fact, they even perform Roman military formations and a chariot race in the hippodrome with ex-Jordanian military men dressed in complete Roman costume. Unfortunately, it rained the one day we went to Jerash and they canceled the chariot races. Jerash was the first place I had ever seen Roman ruins, and if you know me, you know how much I love ancient Rome. It was a seminal event for me.

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Separating the countries of Jordan and Israel are the Jordan river and the Dead Sea. At 1,400 feet below sea level, it is dubbed “the lowest place on earth.” In the picture above, the rocks are not covered in snow, or sand, rather they are covered in crystallized salt. The water has no where to go but up when it evaporates, making the Dead Sea one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world. We jumped in and could not sink though we tried. You just bob like an apple. As I listened to the waves lap across the salt baked rocks, from the southern shore of the Dead Sea I looked to my right at the hills of Mt. Nebo, where Moses viewed the promised land but could not enter – and I looked to my left where the light dome of Jerusalem bounded upward behind the hills of the river valley and instantly everything felt so ancient and unending. Much like the country of Jordan.

#1 – Oman

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And my number one is….Oman! People that know Kim and I are probably not surprised. Oman is by far our favorite middle east country. In the 2 years that we were living in Kuwait we went to Oman 3 times (that’s 3 times more than any other middle east country). Oman has everything an outdoors lover would want including mountains, wadis, lagoons, soft sand beaches, rocky beaches, waterfalls, caves, coral reefs, sink holes, and real wildlife (a rarity in the middle east). It is a country just daring you for adventure.

The above panorama (click to enlarge) was taken at As Sifa beach about an hour from Muscat. You have to drive some astoundingly hilly roads but your reward is the most beautiful beach I have ever been to. Flawlessly white powder sand only a tiny village nearby. There is a major hotel that just opened up and the coolest restaurant serving the freshest seafood right on the beach. You can put your toes in the sand and watch and listen to the waves lap up on the beach. We camped right on the beach.

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You can camp virtually anywhere in the entire country. In our main trip to Oman we brought a tent and sleeping bags on the plane and then rented a car when we got there. We had a long 5 day weekend and I wish it was longer. We drove all around the mountain and gulf coastal region and just pulled over to set up camp whenever we were getting tired. We camped in Wadis, on beaches, on mountains, and even once under a tree next to a mosque where we were greeted in the morning by a rather loud call to prayer and a handful of overly friendly goats.

The above photo is not staged in any way – it is me just pointing my camera down at the beach sand in a town south east from Muscat called Sur. I couldn’t believe it, there was no sand! The entire beach was shells and coral. Unfortunately we did not have time on our trip, but right near Sur is a sea turtle sanctuary where you can go with a guide and watch baby turtles hatch out of their sand nest and crawl to the ocean.

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Throughout Oman are either original, remnants, or restored sand colored forts, castles, and towers. Some are Omani made, some are Portuguese made. The oldest ones dating back to the 1200s! There are over 500 in the whole country. The picture above is the giant fort in Nizwa. In the picture below you can see a tower near the center left on the mountain. They are a cool aspect of Omani culture and Sultan Qaboos (who I am fascinated with and you should read about him) has done a great job restoring and maintaining them.

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The first time we visited Oman we went to a conference in Muscat for only a couple days. We immediately were enamored with the country. The people are so friendly. Oman does not have as much oil money as the other gulf coast countries and because of that the people seem to be more down to earth, middle class, and genuine. Oman is rich in culture and history. Even the clothing the men and women wear are colorful (unlike the black and white clothes of the other gulf countries). Trade with India over the centuries has created an infusion of outside influences.

We didn’t stay in Muscat, actually, we stayed in a smaller area that is attached to Muscat called Muttrah. The above photo is of the Muttrah corniche and we actually did a hike over the mountains you see in the background. Problem was I had just dislocated my knee the week before and had a straight leg cast on. But that didn’t stop Kim from pulling me up that hill to the reward of a breathtaking view over the ocean and Muttrah coast.

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Our favorite thing about Oman were the Wadis. A wadi is a dry canyon or riverbed. Except these wadis are almost never dry! The mountains in Oman create clouds and more frequent rain which fills these slot canyons with steams, pools, waterfalls, waterslides, and just plant life and animal life in general.

The above photo is from Wadi Shab. Starting from the Ocean where the water empties into, you step into this gigantic canyon with 90 degree angle sides. In order to get into the Wadi you have to either take a boat across the initial river of water or just wade across. Of course we waded across waist deep in the water. We were in our swimming suits anyway because at the end of the hike (after hours of pools, and canyons, and cliff climbing) you reach a few narrower pools that have an underground waterfall. The waterfall is in a cave and the only way to reach it is to swim underwater through a 5 foot wide tunnel about 20-25 feet and then come up for air once you’re inside the cave. It took a lot of coaxing but eventually I got Kim to do it. It was very cool.

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Our favorite wadi was Wadi Bani Khalid, but not the tourist side (although it is beautiful and also includes a long and deep waterless cave), the down stream side of Wadi Bani Khalid. It seemed virtually untouched and we only encountered one other group of people the whole hike. You follow the wadi which is quite dry initially until the canyon becomes much more rocky and narrow. Then out of no where the water starts flowing with huge pools and 30 foot waterfalls. We watched the other group actually jump from the top of one of the waterfalls into a pool below (Kim wouldn’t let me do it…). We went swimming and had a picnic near one of the waterfalls and about 5 lizards came out from under the rocks to meet us, eager to steal our food. I liked them but they kind of freaked Kim out.

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My last story about Oman is a bit embarrassing. Like I said, we drove around and camped the whole time we were there. We never had a problem finding a place to camp, especially along the ocean. However, one night when we were driving down from Jebel Shams (a beautiful mountain), we arrived to the village inside of Wadi Bani Khaled in the dark. We went to the Wadi pools on the tourist side and it was wall to wall people with noise and trash everywhere. This was because it was Eid al Adha and everyone was off work vacationing. We decided there was no way we were going to camp there tonight.

So we drove back into the village but the canyon walls around the city did not allow any open space for camping. We even drove back towards the highway and found a place near there that we thought might be ok, albeit noisy, but it was pitch dark and there was a human like shape laying under a tree two feet from where we wanted to camp. The paranoia got to Kim and “there is no way I’m sleeping here” she said. So we drove back into the village and looked around again. After a couple hours of this we found the Wadi Bani Khaled visitor center, which had a parking lot and we thought, whatever, lets just camp in the parking lot. A man came out and asked us what we were doing. We replied that we needed a place to camp. He told us, no problem, of course we could camp in the parking lot. So we went around what appeared to be an animal pen (with no animals) and set up camp for what was a somewhat restless night.

When we awoke, we were greeted with the most serene, awe inspiring and exquisite view. Because it was pitch black when we set up camp we did not realize that we were at the top of the valley overlooking a forest of palm trees encircled by imperial canyon walls. The sun was just peeking over the mountains and the moisture from the pools of water evaporating created this mist over the place that was ethereal and magical.

There truly is no bad place to camp in Oman.

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Petra, Kerak, Jerash,and Amman: Jordan, The Final Round.

I’d like to start today’s blog with good news! Last night Sean and I were over at a potluck dinner, and one of our friends said to me, “Hey, Kim, last night I Googled ‘Muttla Ridge’ and your blog was the first hit.” He said my post on Muttla Ridge was the first thing to show up. I was so excited to hear him say that; it’s really rewarding to know that my blog is read, and that hopefully, HOPEFULLY, people with questions about life in Kuwait find some sort of an answer here on my blog. I love blogging, but sometimes feel defeated with how arduous it can become. Did you know it takes approximately two and a half hours per post? (45 minutes to select the photos from my iPhoto album, 45 minutes to upload to the blog, and 45 minutes to caption and write.) It would be faster if we had better internet, but I don’t mind relaxing and taking the time to do it. It’s a very rewarding experience, and allows for me to reflect on our journeys as well. What is even MORE rewarding, however, is when our friend told me that my blog showed up as the first hit on Google! Cheers to that!

Moving on, this is the final post on Jordan, in which we finish up our trip to Petra, spend a day in a castle in Kerak, wander the Roman ruins of Jerash, and taste delicious food in Amman. Let’s get started, shall we?

(Additionally, this post will have interjections and additions by Sean. Kim is off to Zumba and I thought I’d edit some things. You will know me by the *)

Here I am with my mom and sister waking past a Bedouin trinket shop, ready to ascend the steps to the tomb above us. This was our third day in Petra, and once again we never saw the same thing twice! If you look at the steps above us, hopefully you can imagine how nerve-wracking it was to clamber around these ruins. There was absolutely nothing stopping the rocks from crumbling away and send you toppling over the edge. Regardless, the views and the adventure was too tempting to think twice, so clamber we did.

(*This is the start of what are called the “Royal Tombs”. The largest one you see at the top with the massive columns is called “urn tomb”. Archeologists think it was a Nabataean King in about AD 70. To put that into perspective, that is 9 years before Mt. Vesuvious erupts onto Pompeii.)

Dad and I at the tomb in the above picture. From this vantage point you can see many, many ruins in the far background, as well as little speckles of people just below us. My calves were aching by the end of the trip! Note how warm it was in comparison to the photos from Dana nature reserve; Petra, when the sun was out, reached a warm seventy degrees in the afternoon!

(*The white square tent in the bottom middle was the ruins of a Byzantine Church floor. The mosaics of the floor were still there with beautiful color depicting animals, important foods, and trades at the time).

They had a guard stationed at the tomb in traditional dress. I don’t know if this was more for affect or for legalities. Either way, I loved it. I think he spent more time texting on his cell phone than he did watching the tomb, though.

(*Most of the secrutiy is faux security. With the exception of the security at the Siq. Kim and I tried to go around them into a hike through the water drainage system and they were not having it. The standoff ended with them bringing us into their police hut and asking “Do we have a problem?” Really, there was no reason we couldn’t go on that hike, they just wanted us to pay for a guide that we probably did not need. Oh well 🙂

I loved the Bedouin children; they were so eager to interact with the tourists. They would approach you and ask things like, “Hello, what’s your name?” Or, “Where are you from?” The biggest conversational point was always, “Buy some postcards, one Dinar.” While I wasn’t buying any postcards in this picture, I WAS being enlightened by their explanation of the sign.

(*The local Bedul spoke English very well, as well as Italian, French, and German! These kids, in their broken English, are explaining to Kim what the sign says – despite their probable illiteracy. They were adorable.)

Ahhh, the hike has begun! On our third and final day, after we explored the tomb in the above photos, I convinced my family to get a “secret look” at the Treasury. There was a rumored hike that wound you up through the mountains to a viewpoint that overlooks the treasury from above. After climbing about a thousand steps, we took a break for lunch overlooking central Petra. You can see ruins far below us. I was so proud of my mom for completing this hike—it was a killer!

At the top of one of the peaks we climbed during this hike we found a Bedouin home. Close by was his donkey, where Sean was eager for his “Zorro shot”. The cool thing about Petra are the random donkeys you find stationed all over the hills, munching on dried grass and soaking up the sun. I think Emily wanted to take them all home with her : )

(*…almost did it)

Here we are. The secret view above the Treasury….

While the lighting wasn’t ideal, it was a beautiful experience. We had the lookout all to ourselves!

(*The reason this is called “The Treasury” is because of the large urn on the top of the tomb. You can see it on the very top of the tomb above the circular roof. The locals believed a legend that the urn contained the gold of an Egyptian Pharaoh. By the bullet holes in the urn you can tell that some of the Bedouin believed the legend…)

We loved this hike; it was a view that few people would ever experience on their trip to Petra. It was a difficult hike, and not without risk—it would be only too easy for one of us to tip off the edge of this cliff and make good use of the tomb below us! ; )

(*All of the buildings you see carved into the walls are tombs for the dead. They would cut a hole on the inside of the rock in the tomb and lay the body into it. They would often come back and exhume the body to have a ceremonial fest with it, like a party. This is very common in many cultures around the world. The Incans would be dragging their dead kings around in litters for centuries.)

After our hike, the sun was low in the sky and it was time for rest. Seeing as it was new year’s eve and our last day in Petra, my dad was in the mood for celebration. He asked me to haggle with the camel-man, and I obliged. Shortly thereafter, us three ladies took a bumpy ride on a camel all the way back to the edge of Petra! I love the above picture; the lighting is perfect, the camels (and their riders) look great, and you have a perfect view of the ruins behind us. *Sigh*.

I had never ridden a camel before—those things are REALLY high up! If you fell off, you’d have a long way to fall! The ride wasn’t uncomfortable, it was like riding a horse, kind of. The gait of the camel made the experience. It wasn’t a trot or walk or a horse, it was a longer, flowing gait. I loved it!

I think my mom could have ridden that camel around Jordan for the rest of the trip!

After we left Petra we made our way north, back to the town of Kerak. I love this picture because you can see how, in the hill country of Jordan, people have constructed their towns within the rolls and crevices of the hills. This picture was taken from the castle itself, and I just imagined what the guard of the castle saw looking over this land hundreds of years ago…

(*…He would have seen Saladin launching projectiles from his trebuchet at Kerak Castle! That little hill you see before you was one of the weaknesses in defending Kerak. A weakness that Saladin exploited in his conquering of the castle in 1189. At the time, the Castle leader was Raynald de Chatillon, a Frenchman known for his ruthlessness. Raynald was known for keeping control of his area through barbarous manners. From the picture above we are standing on the edge of the castle. That is the same edge that Raynald would hurl victims to their death, but not before encasing their head in a wooden box so they would maintain consciousness as they hit the bottom. More painful that way…   When Saladin finally did conquer the castle, he personally beheaded Raynald! Oh I love history…

Lastly, if you have ever seen the move “Kingdom of Heaven” with Orlando Bloom, that film depicts the exact events I described above and has a significant scene in Kerak Castle.)

The castle at Kerak. Note the figure standing on top of the ruins—of course, it is Sean!

After Kerak we drove my mother to the airport the next morning for our goodbyes. As a school teacher, she had to return a week earlier than my dad and sister. We left with heavy hearts, but happy souls for the time we spent together was precious, priceless, and unforgettable! Once we left the airport we headed north two hours to the ancient town of Jerash, home to the largest site of Roman ruins in the Middle East. Sean was chomping at the bit to arrive—he couldn’t wait! (Side fact: On the way to Jerash we passed the FIRST McDonald’s we’d seen in Jordan. After Jerash, we drove forty-five minutes out of our way to return for a McFlurry and fries…)

Here, Sean is posing on the stables of the hippodrome in Jerash. You can see Hadrian’s arch in the background.

(*This place was so cool! Roman Ruins! All my life I’d read about them, heard professors talk about them, seen pictures of them in books, watched countless videos depicting Rome…but now, I was finally seeing them for the first time with my own eyes. And not only seeing them, but climbing all over them!

I’m proud of my wife for getting all of the info above correct :).  The hippodrome in the right of the picture is one of the best preserved hippodromes in the world. It is also, if I remember correctly, the smallest remaining hippodrome in the world. The very unique thing about this hippodrome is that they still have chariot races in it! Unfortunately, because of the poor weather the day we were in Jerash, they were not performing. I’m standing between stables near an entryway to the hippodrome.)

This is my favorite view in all of Jerash. The weather was poor, but we had ample time to explore the ruins. Before we arrived, I had no idea that Jerash was an entire Roman CITY that had been unearthed!

(*Standing atop the Temple of Zeus).

The Roman theater in Jerash. Popular with the tour groups, you could stand in a special spot in the center of the theater, and the Romans had engineered such flawless acoustics, that the ENTIRE theater could hear you utter a single whispered word!

(*It was quite fantastic. While we were there a tour group from Spain arrived and a woman stood in the special spot and sang “Silent Night” in Spanish, which I imagined to be Latin as my eyes drifted around imagining a crowd of raucous Romans hundreds of years ago brought to a standstill by the amazing voice and amazing acoustics of the woman singing.)

Here we are walking on the original road in the old Roman town. This road was where they held the markets; you can just imagine chickens walked around, donkey’s braying, and vegetables being sold.

(*The blocks on the road are angled that way so that they would not develop groves from the carts that were constantly going through.)

This is the temple of Artemis. It was amazing to see temples for the Roman gods! As the patron god of the city, this was the highest point in Jerash.

At this point, the cloudy skies turned into a rough downpour, and as beautiful as the ancient city was to explore, they didn’t preserve many roofs to hide under! We headed back to Amman for our final days in Jordan.

Our final two days in Jordan consisted of eating delicious food, exploring the souqs, and enjoying a Turkish bath! I had my fill of olives in the above picture; he even let me take a bag of them away for free!

At last, we all hopped on a plane and returned to Kuwait. My dad and sister called our apartment “Sean & Kim’s Resort”. It was a big change from the cold, wet hostels of Jordan! We all had a hot shower (or three), washed all our clothes, and reclined on soft couches to the sound of Emily learning guitar with Sean.

I look forward to showing you pictures of their time in Kuwait with us, where they experienced the country with new eyes, just as Sean and I did only a few months ago. Afterward, anticipate a blog on the beautiful country of Oman, where Sean and I recently attend a conference.

I encountered a quote I’d like to close with. I wish you all the best and will write again soon.

When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love. —Marcus Aurelius

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Petra! Part One!

Happy end-of-January, loyal readers! I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to blog to Petra. Kuwait has been really, really busy here. Sean and I just got back from a three-day weekend in Oman, where we attended a conference. I can’t wait to show you all the pictures from our hiking and exploring the (in my opinion) most beautiful country in the Middle East! I hope to get the pictures of Oman up this weekend, after I finish our Jordan trip.

Kuwait has been really cold here. Really cold. Sometimes getting into the low 40’s at night, and high 50’s during the day. When my dad and sister were visiting, it rained at least three times. That is as winter-y as it gets here in Kuwait, and I can’t WAIT to be rid of it! This Thursday school has been called off, for the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday. Looks like we’ll have another three-day weekend to catch up on things… 🙂 I hope to do some baking, blogging, and book browsing!

Moving on, Petra was the highlight of our trip, hands down. There is something magical about Petra, a city thousands of years old preserved in rock. It almost feels as if it is contrived, that it is TOO real to be real. You can almost picture the smoke coming out of chimneys, hundreds of people applauding in the amphitheater, and blood flowing at the high temple of sacrifice. (That last part is true.) We spent three days in Petra, and that wasn’t enough.

It is a mile and a half way to the actual ancient city of Petra from the parking lot. Along the way there are these “Djinn” blocks. They were first created by the Naboteans, and then an ancient group of Arabs believed that these rocks, when they found them after the Neboteans were long gone, were housing the “Djinn” spirits, so they worshipped them. (Did you know that djinn = our word “genie”?)

As the path wound it’s way lower in elevation (we are following a dry riverbed after all), all of a sudden the walls of the “Siq” shoot up. The Siq is the slot canyon that guards the ancient city of Petra. Apparently, these guys guard the ancient city now, too.

I am standing next to the ancient rain gutter. This is where the water flowed during heavy rains so that the street didn’t get flooded. This water way wound it’s path through the Siq for almost a mile, carved into the rock. What finesse they had to craft such a useful invention from their resources!  Notice on my right the horse carriage; I felt so bad for these overworked horses. They would ride back and forth up to fifty times a day, carrying tired tourists the two miles back to the parking lot.

Sean is standing on a Djinn block in the Siq.

Emily could not take her eyes off all the pretty baubles to be had! This guy really irritated me; he followed Emily for a while when it appeared that she wasn’t interested. Don’t worry, she did end up getting a few pretty pieces of jewelry before our time in Petra was over 🙂

Dad and Emily at the famous entrance to Petra. Imagine trying to lay siege to this place—it’d be near impossible!

This is the Treasury, the most famous landmark in Petra. It was built by an ancient ruler of the Nabotean people, and was most likely a tomb. I have also read that the Siq was used as a processional route for the ritual entrance to Petra, which was considered a holy city, and that the king has the Treasury built as the finale to the processional route through the Siq.

Eating lunch next to the Treasury.

Once arriving in Petra and taking out time marveling at the Treasury, we decided to tackle a big hike towards the end of the day. We headed up to the High Place of Sacrifice. This is the view looking down onto the main road through the center of Petra, as we began the hike. You can see the amphitheater slightly left of center.

Ahh, the most vexing side of Petra: The Bedoul. The Bedoul are a group of people who had inhabited the Petra area over the last 150 years. Some would say they have indigenous rights to the area. When Petra was deemed a national park, it was “recommended that they relocate elsewhere.” But, this was, as I said, only a recommendation, so many Bedoul still eek out lives in Petra, selling trinkets and inviting guests in for tea. This was a Bedoul “shop” on the way up to the High Place of Sacrifice.

Here we are at the High Place of Sacrifice. You can see homes off in the background, and if you look in the lower left-hand corner, you can see columns in valley of Petra! Yes, that is how much elevation we gained in this gut-busting hike; we climbed over 400 steps! I was so proud of my parents (and Sean). The view was wonderful, and this area was where the Naboteans would hold sacrifices. There was still ruins from the sacrificial table, benches, and sitting area.

We took a different route back from the High Place of Sacrifice. Can you see the Roman influence? The carved soldiers in the tomb’s face?

My parents posing for a picture at the temple near the hanging gardens. Apparently there was a lot more flowing water here in ancient times, and this temple was near a lush gardens and small pool. I wonder if they ever posed for a drawing or two in the same place?

As the sun set, we found out why Petra is called the “Rose City”. Sean nabbed this picture as my family and I were walking down through the canyon. You can see us at the very bottom!

That night, we relaxed in the town of Wadi Musa for a delicious Arabic meal. How was it different than the food it Kuwait? Well, it was pretty similar. (And equally delicious!) We wanted to find a place where Emily could get a hamburger, and this place had one on their menu. To her chagrin, as we had already ordered drinks, she asks for the burger, and the man replies, “I’m sorry madam, we are out of the burger.” She settled on a chicken kebab. What a trooper!

At the start of our second day in Petra, my dad captured this picture which I like to think is how this place looked one hundred years ago. You couldn’t walk fifty feet anywhere in Petra without hearing the bray of a donkey and the clopping of hoofs, or without seeing these little guys trotting around toting men on their backs.

Here, where my mom sits, was an interesting place. It used to be a church AND a theater, which is very unique to have them both in the same place. She is sitting in the theater area in this photo.

Sean couldn’t get enough of the columns!

Sean took this picture, and I’m pretty sure it is from the Roman era. You can see the cliche Roman hair, toga, and staff. How amazing that this was so well-preserved!

Ahhh, my second favorite place in Petra, the Monastery. I can’t remember why it was called the Monastery, because it certainly wasn’t housing monks, but I know it was holy and sacred to the Naboteans. If I remember correctly, it was also a tomb at one point. This was yet another day hike that involved climbing massive amounts of stairs; when we reached the top we were happy to relax with a cup of tea and soak in the view!

Kim & Sean: Always  A Badger!

The Monastery was like the Treasury, but it was farther away from the canyon-style of the main area in Petra. It was nestled on the side of a mountain that made it harder to reach and all the more beautiful. We stayed here for an hour or two, just basking in the glory of a city that once was, and forever will be.

I hope to post the second half of our Petra photos within the next few days. I look forward to sharing them with you!

What awaits you in ‘Part 2’, you ask? Well, the Kriege women ride camels, we ring in the new year, and find ourselves sipping margaritas in an ancient tomb… Stay tuned!

Categories: Jordan | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Shobak Castle, Jordan

Sean’s favorite castle, I think, was Shobak castle in Jordan. The coolest part about all these old ruins is that you can climb around wherever you want within them! It is very loosely controlled, and you are free to explore to your heart’s content. Believe me, explore we did! Shobak was located between Dana and Petra, so it was the perfect stop for adventure. The weather here was cold, like 55 degrees during the day, always with a little wind and a lot of sun; the perfect weather to turn your face into a hardened, chapped, strip of cowhide. It is amazing how much water you have to drink here, it is so easy to get dehydrated.

Here is the view of Shobak castle as we approached it. What a good location, being built on a hill, able to see for miles. The whole time we were there we only saw around ten other people; it was really eerie! Once we got to the castle, I had read in the guide book that there was a “dungeon-like cave” underneath the castle, which Sean jumped at the opportunity to explore. We borrowed a flashlight from the guards at the front of the castle, and began to traipse the rafters, climb the rocky outcroppings, and eventually descended into the depths…

 

I really wish I could caption these pictures with an intelligent recollection of each part of the castle, but unfortunately I cannot. I could INVENT a story for you, if that would prove to be just as entertaining! Hmmm… let’s see… where Sean is standing in this photo is the Mamluks used to perform sacrifices to the god of the Green Bay Packers…

And this tower is holy shrine to the Green Bay Packers.

Okay, enough about the Packers. I DO think that this was the passageway where they stored their weapons. There were many small rooms with the slit-styled windows for archers to shoot at opposing forces.

My father, basking in the glory of the moment.

This I can accurately reference; the script was praising Allah, and was erected during the Muslim control of the castle. It was initially a crusader castle, and then was conquered by Saladin. It was under Saladin that this script was placed here.

I also recall that this room was at one time a church.

Ladies and gentlemen, I welcome you to the CRYPT! This completely black tunnel led down 365 steps underneath the castle. At the end there was a cistern for storing water, and a ladder that brought you outside next to the castle.

Unfortunately, due to the horrifying nature of feeling like you were stumbling down someone’s esophagus, we didn’t make it to the cistern. I am responsible for us turning back early. It was the scariest moment of our entire trip in Jordan. (Let’s make one thing clear: This tunnel was entirely pitch black. The light from these pictures is from the camera flash. You’d be scared, too.)

This was the man we borrowed the flashlight from. He is the guard of the temple. He is a Bedouin, and this is a Bedouin instrument he created. My mother didn’t enter the crypt/pit/tunnel with us, and when we returned to find her, she was sitting with this man drinking tea and listening to his music! It was pretty awesome.

 

Overall, Shobak was a great experience. There is so much Muslim/Christian overlap in places that is interesting historically, culturally, artistically, and architecturally. ( I suppose all that stuff falls under the ‘culture’ banner, wouldn’t it?)

 

STAY TUNED: PETRA IS COMING IN A FEW DAYS!

 

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Dana Nature Reserve, Jordan

Hello loved ones! The internet tonight here in Kuwait is extremely slow; we’re talking three minutes to load a single page slow. I had uploaded these photos last night, but gave up due to poor internet. Looks like this post won’t have all the pictures I wanted it to, but I figure it’s better than not sharing anything!

There is so much I want to share about Jordan. It was just fantastic. I now know what people mean when they say that Kuwait is “Middle East Lite”. Jordan is full of so much hustle and bustle, a wider range of poverty, thousands upon thousands of years of history (I mean this is where MOSES is said to have died…), that it is difficult to compare to Kuwait. Kuwait is beautiful with it’s palm trees, sunshine every day, bright blue Arabian gulf, and it’s certainly a different kind of beauty.

We took a ‘nature & adventure’ approach in Jordan. We went on day hikes almost daily, and stayed in Bedouin run hotels as well as hostels on the outskirts of Petra. While it definitely stretched our comfort zones *cough*Emily*cough*, everyone had a BLAST!

Here is my mom and I as we are driving UP in elevation from the Dead Sea. Note the next picture, below, where I am sitting next to the “Sea Level” sign. These two photos were taken next to each other on the side of the road! Where my mom and I are standing is actually at sea level! The Dead Sea is much, much, lower than sea level, which is why it is so salty. (The water has nowhere to flow downwards from here, so it evaporates.)

Pretty interesting concept, huh? I am used to having my picture taken by “Continental Divide” signs, and here I am at sea level after driving UPHILL for forty-five minutes!

After we left the Dead Sea, we went to Karak. As Sean said, it was “watching archeology happen”. They have been building this city on the ruins of a castle for hundreds of years. The roads wind around in a labyrinth on a hill, just like the movie “Labyrinth” with David Bowie… kind of…

I showed my mom and Emily the wonders of “oud”, or Arabic perfume. I haggled this guy into quite a deal, and they purchased some souvenirs 🙂

My mom and I are Karak castle, which we returned to later in our trip. This was on our way to Dana Nature Reserve, so we didn’t have a lot of time to stop.

Emily loved the shopping opportunities in Jordan….

Mom looking out over the beautiful rolling hills of Karak…

So much different than Kuwait!

I think Sean’s second favorite thing (after Petra) was the castles. He loved getting to climb around wherever we wanted to. This castle (Karak), was around during the time of Salahadin and the Mamluks. That’s a loooong time ago!

A statue of the famous historical figure, Salahadin.

On our way to Dana Nature Reserve. Jordan was much more full of hills and valleys than we thought.

The next morning, we went on a hike in Dana Nature Reserve. This is “Wadi Dana” below us. We hiked down to the bottom and then back up out. Don’t ask me to reevaluate that decision…

It was really inspiring to see Jordan having a natural program in place to preserve their special places. We had to pay a fee to access it, just like the national parks back home.

Our winding trail at the bottom of Wadi Dana. Emily working on her face tan….

This is Dana Village. It is perched on the hillside of Wadi Dana. We stayed in this little village, run mostly by Bedouins, for three nights. It was a very interesting and relaxing experience. It was like stepping back in time sixty years.

They have renovated the old village of Dana so that people still live in the “ruins” or old buildings. Our hotel was actually in an old-fashioned building, complete with a thatched roof and mortar walls.

You can see Dana Village off to the right. One of the days during our stay at Dana, we hiked up to the rim of the canyon for some beautiful views. What you see in front of you, the columns, were ancient ruins for a spring that still runs there. This spring is the reason the village was built here. You could still see the spring running.

Can you spot terraced farming? Can you spot the beautiful slot canyon directly below? Paradise…

Our hotel in Dana Village. A little too rustic for Mom and Em, but we all had a great time! We cranked the space heater, sipped a little Dewar’s, and huddled close for heat 🙂

Here we are in the ‘majlis’, a traditional Arabic room of the house or village. The majlis is the welcoming area, where you sit, socialize, listen to music, and most importantly, drink the most delicious tea of your life. This is where we had breakfast and dinner. We also played cards here and saw live music played by a man from the village!

Here are my parents in the majlis, playing a game of cribbage and sipping tea. Life is good.

 

This is where my blogging stops for today, due to the internet. I am glad I got to share these pictures with you on our stay in Dana, next on the line-up in Shobak castle, and then on to Petra!

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Jordan – Finally!

Welcome to my very belated first post of 2012! This year has been full of a lot of ups and downs, and it’s only been eighteen days! I rang in the new year smiling and laughing in Petra and climbing around ancient ruins, three days later I bawled my eyes out saying good bye to my mother as she flew home. The Badgers lost the Rose Bowl, the Packers lost the playoffs. My Dad and sister joined me here in Kuwait for ten days of complete bliss, but then they too returned home to my utter sadness. Within this week alone, Sean dislocated his knee for the sixth time. THAT is a blog for another day. We experienced first-hand the ins and outs of the emergency rooms of Kuwait. We also walked into a maternity hospital asking if they did knees. They laughed in our faces, offered us a mint, and showed us the door.

I suppose it’s time we cue up some photos from our trip to Jordan! This post will be short, because it’s not quite the weekend yet and I’ve got a curfew. I’d been dying to post SOMETHING the last few days, so here are a few tidbits to whet your appetite 🙂

What a surreal experience to meet my family in the Middle East! Here we are in Madaba, my three favorite ladies in the world. This photo makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, with it’s blurry glow and smiling faces.

A Christmas tree in the Middle East? That’s right, Jordan has quite a few Christian towns.

Don’t even get me started on the Petra beer…  it was delicious. We found a small cafe that had delicious sandwiches, shisha, Petra beer, and comfy couches. We stayed for hours, just catching up with each other!

On Christmas day we visited St. George’s cathedral in Madaba. It houses the world’s oldest  map of the “transjordanian area”. (Sean made sure I was correct on that.)

Sean in St. George’s cathedral.

This is the world’s oldest map of the “transjordanian area”. You can see the Dead Sea, Egypt, Israel, all of it, if you look close enough. It was really interesting to see that we were so close to the location of the birth of Jesus on Christmas day.

My family in St. George’s cathedral.

We went on an interesting walking tour of Madaba, where Sean began to climb about all of the rooftops of the buildings, pretending he was in the videogame, Assassin’s Creed. Or, if you don’t get that reference, Aladdin.

My parents looking over Western Jordan. This was on our drive past Mt. Nebo, where Moses saw the promised land and then promptly died. We then made our way down a winding road to the Dead Sea. We must have dropped over three thousand feet! (Remember, the Dead Sea is 1,000 feet below sea level!)

Here we are at the Dead Sea. Don’t remind me they lost the playoffs.

We had lots of fun near the Dead Sea, the view was amazing! I couldn’t wait to swim in it when we got closer!

Our Christmas Day chalets on the Dead Sea. We rented two private chalets in Wadi Mujib. Wadi means a dried river bed that formed a valley.

One of our chalets. What a beautiful location!

The day after Christmas, Sean and I awoke with this view out of our chalet. Note the two hammocks… how relaxing! I had to pry Sean out of it when we had to leave.

As we made our way down to the Dead Sea for a morning dip, I was amazed at all of the salt encrusted on the rocks! There was literally inches upon inches of salt. We’re talking like 6 inches of crust in places. You could pick up massive chunks of salt.

I licked it, and wished I hadn’t. It’s even saltier than table salt. I accidentally splashed water in my eyes once and had to head for shore.

Mom and Sean walking to the sea. (Did you notice my MOM is going to jump in the water?!) The weather ended up turning out beautifully for our swim! Did you know Jordan was this mountainous?

Emily as she is about to plunge into the salty waters.

Sean and Dad, floating! They were in over their heads at this point, and they look like they’re reclining on lawn chairs!

Here we are, bobbing like corks. It made me feel like a balloon. Let me explain, this particular body of water is TWELVE TIMES SALTIER THAN THE OCEAN. You bob like a cork because there is so much salt in the water, you float to the top. It is the lowest place on earth; we are hundreds of feet below sea level. Imagine taking a glass of water, opening a container of salt, and pouring salt into the glass of water until it reaches a third of the way up the glass. Give it a stir, and you’ve got the salinity of the Dead Sea.

 

Pops and I post-swim. What a refreshing morning!

Emily’s favorite part of the day, breakfast. Actually, I am kidding. She got pretty sick of the traditional Middle Eastern breakfast; she swore she would never come near hummus and flat bread again!

A sampling of our daily breakfasts. While Jordan has its sprinkling of American eateries, when you are in the beautiful nature reserves, or basically outside of Amman (the capital city), you really eat authentic Jordanian food for most meals. I look forward to sharing more about the foods of Jordan in upcoming blogs!

So, there you have it, folks. Our first two days in Jordan. I could have stayed on the Dead Sea for three more days if I could. It was just so quite, relaxing, and beautiful.

 

Check back again for the rest of the adventure! We visit the ancient city of Petra, the castles of Karak and Shobak, the ruins of Jerash. We climbed hills, descended valleys, danced with Bedouins, and laughed more than I have laughed in months.  See you soon!

 

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