On our way to Amman, we opted to take the mountainous and slower King’s Highway vs. the speedy Desert Highway. This allowed us to visit one more castle ruin – Karak, and stop in Madaba before an evening arrival in the capital city. The journey was longer than anticipated, as we slowed for traffic through every village, and had to pass the Wadi Mujib Canyon, which involved a tedious switchback road both down and up and out. I was in charge of navigation, not as straight forward a feat without a gps or detailed maps, and Dan had the stressful job of actually driving in a country that scoffs at the rules of the road. We almost gave up on both of our stops, as we had to backtrack through hellish traffic to eventually find our desired destinations.
Karak was another castle/fort constructed atop a desert knob, by the crusaders in the 1140’s, and later occupied and expanded by the Ottomans and Mamluk’s. After our heart thumping exploration of Shobak, we were less inclined to climb into any dark holes, and were thus underwhelmed. Our next road break came right before sunset in Madaba. This is a town famous for it’s ancient mosaics, including the early Byzantine church of Saint George that houses remnants of a mosaic floor covered with the oldest known map (6th century AD) of the Holy Land’s biblical sites in Jordan, Israel and Egypt. Here we had dinner at Hared Jdoudna, another restaurant recommended by our friend, Gavin, which did not miss the mark – MOST AMAZING LEMON CHICKEN EVER in a tangy broth that I wanted to drink in bucketfuls.
By the time we were driving into Amman, it was dark, and jammed with nighttime traffic, including stop-and-go progress on busy Rainbow street, “the” destination for dining and people-watching. The driving was completely insane, with everyone angling to cut in on any precious road gap, and many of the streets are one-way with multiple tunnels and bridges that can lead you in an unintended direction. Dan was white knuckled, and I was cringing at every near miss. Of course, we got lost for over an hour trying to find our guesthouse, and had our biggest yelling blowout to date. Road rage and stress definitely got the best of us. Meanwhile, in the back seat the kids were chastising us to “be positive!”.
Thankfully, our accommodation, Hawa Guesthouse, was an oasis in a busy metropolis. We entered the gates into a garden patio with a menagerie of animals – rabbits, chickens, half a dozen cats, and a parrot. This lovely place was run by a Jordanian man and his Dutch wife, and was a comfy and efficient place to unwind. With only one full day to explore the city, we were in walking distance of the main sites. We were able to see the ancient ruins of the citadel and two amphitheaters, which have been occupied by Roman, Byzantine and Umayyad civilizations, observe the hustle and bustle of the downtown markets, eat some amazing falafel, and smoke an apple and blueberry flavored argileh water pipe, in a balcony above the streets.
Our stay in Jordan was a brief 10 days, packed with a variety of wonderful experiences, from swimming in the Dead and Red Sea, to hiking in Dana and Wadi Rum, and delighting in the ancient ruins of Petra. We drank minty lemon drinks, sampled pastries soaked in syrup and honey, and ate plates of rice with cinnamon-spiced fish, and saucy chicken. We felt welcomed and warmed by Jordanian hospitality, and commend this country as a very worthy travel destination.