We said goodbye to Amman today. There was so much that we never got to see of the city but I guess that means we’ll need to return one day. We took a taxi back to the airport where we were met by a gentleman from the Monte Carlo car hire company. We had decided that the best way to explore Jordan was to hire a car and this local company had 1000’s of 5* reviews and so we booked. It would be reasonable to say that it was with a fair amount of trepidation that we drove away in the direction of Pella in the north of Jordan.
I had organised for us to have a 2 hour archaeological tour of the ancient site of Pella, it was booked for 3 o’clock and we made good time arriving 20 minutes early.
We had opted to drive off the highway and on the quieter roads to Pella, with hindsight that probably wasn’t the wisest choice but we did get to see a lot of rural Jordan and there was much excitement as we drove by the Dead Sea junction… but that little gem will have to wait a few more days because we were heading north.
The road is lined with makeshift fruit and veg stalls. Locals clearly had their favourites, as each stall might be surrounded by a gaggle of cars and shoppers. Every so often we’d drive through a village and traffic slowed and it became clear that we were not the usual kind of visitor and we were on the road less travelled; children waved, some folks just stared and in one village at traffic lights, the guys on the back seat of a minibus opened the rear door so that passengers inside could get a better look… and there we sat in a queue of traffic waving at a minibus full of strangers as they waved back at us.
On the horizon there were dark clouds. It had been raining all morning in Amman but so far the heavens had been kind to us and we continued to make our way along Highway 65; the Jordan Valley Highway. The more Gerry drove the more he relaxed into the Jordanian way of driving, watching out for the crazy speedbumps that just appear out of nowhere and the potholes that are laid out like an obstacle course. Added to this array of obstacles, very young children played on the road side and young men meandered along behind flocks of sheep and the odd herd of cows and cars drove three abreast.
We also passed a few makeshift camps which we assumed could only be refugee camps. It’s one thing to see them on TV but another to drive alongside and watch mothers trying to care for youngsters in what must be awful circumstances. We drove on in silence, lost in our own thoughts about how petty our own troubles are in comparison and how lucky we are; in short it was an interesting few hours of driving.
We arrived at Pella, an ancient city of great historical importance with evidence of 6000 years of continuous settlement. The ruins are spread out across a glorious setting just above the Jordan Valley.
Amongst the ruins you can find traces of Romans, the ruins of an Umayyad settlement, which consisted of shops and residences. A small Mamluk mosque from the 14th century. There is a recently excavated Canaanite temple; constructed around 1270 BC, a Byzantine church built atop an earlier Roman complex and even a small theatre which once held 400 spectators. Just reading the names of these ancient people took me back to Sunday school and the lessons we read from the Bible.
We had planned to meet a guide here but sadly there had been some confusion with the date and instead we were left to wander alone across this vast site. Thank goodness for google! Not as good as a guide but it helped us understand what we were seeing and there was a visitors centre attached which also provided timelines for the excavations. And thankfully whilst the sky was very dark the threatened rain never arrived.
We stood atop one of the hills looking down at the Jordan Valley, knowing that somewhere down there was Israel and Palastine and Lebanon and Syria; such ancient troubled lands. And yet today as we listened to the call to prayer that echoed around the valley from the modern village below us, all we could think of was how beautiful and fertile this land is.
We stopped at the Visitors Centre again before leaving and read more of Pella’s history. Remnants of the earliest human settlements have been found with a history dating back over 100,000 years. As with our time in Amman, we’re blown away but the history.
We walked back to the car and put tonight’s hotel in the satnav. We had a 30 minute drive further north to our little motel, just a few kilometres away from the Syrian border. We pulled off the highway and followed a road down into a tiny village and onwards to what looked like a farm. As we parked the car the owners nine year old son came to greet us. “Welcome to the Murshed Hotel” he exclaimed, “please follow me” and he had impeccable english.
He led us to their home and offered us tea, which arrived on a tray carried by his mother. We sat together in their lounge and talked of languages and destinations and children and tea. We had a second cup whilst discussing Jordanian spice and once the tea pot had been emptied we were taken to our room. We had booked dinner, which would be served at 8.00pm and we’re told it will include spiced chicken and a variety is smaller dishes.
What an incredible day. Tomorrow we hope to go walking and we understand the sun will be back too!