5/31/2008

Jerash and Ajloun



I happened into a pamphlet of Jerash and its Roman ruins lying around my Jordanian grandmother's house. After two weeks in Amman, the pictures were calling my name.

On Friday morning I made my way to Abdala station. It wasn't long before the mini-bus was speeding down the massive steeping hills to the north of Amman and then slowing down to a painful crawl along the uphill stretches. After about 50km, I antipated a vista of ancient ruins as each new hilltop came into view. Instead, all I could see in every direction was the same blend of patchwork farms and orchards spotted with sheep-shrub phalanxes.



I spent about an hour talking and sharing lunch with some guys met near the entrance to the ruins. All I'd asked for was a pack of batteries, but instead got free schwarma and chocolate. Thanks to my Jordanian student card, I passed through Hadrian's Arch after paying less than 1/10 the tourist price.

The ruins of Jerash seemed to stretch about a kilometer from the southern entry to the most northerly site, the Temple of Artemis, also the most impressive. Among other stops were the Temple of Zeus, a Byzantine cathedral, three theaters, the large colonnaded oval plaza and a Roman Hippodrome. By mid-afternoon I walked back through Hadrian's Arch, hopping into a mini-van headed to Ajloun, 40 km to the west.



I chatted with the five other guys stuffed in the back of the van as we climbed the largest hill I'd seen in Jordan. They told me that snow covers these hills in winter. Coming down the other side I could see the castle silhouetted on the crest of the next ridge to the west, while the town of Ajloun was spread out across the hills below. After spending hours taking in the elegance of Jerash, Ajloun castle (qala'a ar'rabadh) seemed drab and lifeless, perhaps a bit more than castles tend to be. There was some great climbing along the towers on top but the best part was the view: Ajloun to the east, Syria not too far to the north, and easily within view to the west, Palestine.

When I made it back to Ajloun it was evening. Everyone told me there were no buses running to Amman anymore. Luckily, I managed to jump in the back of a passing truck with a couple boys from a nearby town, who told me that where they were headed I would have better luck finding a way to Amman. Once there, I was told again that the next buses wouldn't leave until the morning. With the help of my two friends, however, I was soon squeezed into the back of yet another truck, this one headed for Amman. The whole day cost just over 5 JD including travel, food, and entrance fees - not so bad for Jordan. Tomorrow I'll be at Wadi Mujib.

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