Umm Qais

Wow what a day we’ve had!

Last night our chicken dinner was wonderful. After we’d eaten, the man of the house brought us tea in the lounge. We stayed up late talking about war and peace and ancient history. He had been a colonel in the Jordanian army but had hated it; his father had decreed that he would be a soldier and so for 20 years he was. When his father died he changed career and became an interior designer.

After breakfast this morning we returned to Pella where we had booked a walking tour of the hills around Pella. We were to meet our guide Samur. Our instructions had said that we were to meet at the house above The Visitor Centre. So we drove up and parked and the door was open. A lady led us to the garden and asked if we wanted coffee. She called a man and he welcomed us and he said he was Samur. We drank coffee and waited for him to return. After 30 minutes we asked when we would start our hike. No hike he said and looked confused. I took out the email and he looked, shook his head and pointed to the next house along. We entered the wrong house but nonetheless they gave us coffee.

We were 30 minutes late when we finally met our guide Samur, who greeted us with a smile and handed us a walking pole each and we set off for our hike around the hills, high above the village of Pella. As we left the air was cool and we were glad for the extra layers that we had worn but in a few hours the sun was high and hot and we baked.

We walked up and down the hills and valleys and Samur called out to the shepherds on neighbouring slopes as we walked. He pointed to the distant fields of Palestine and beyond towards the Lebanon and Syria. Sadly his English wasn’t good so we relied on Google translate when things were unclear. We skirted the edges of wheat fields and through grassy meadows with swathes of yellows and white flowers and occasionally flashes of vivid red from wild anemones.

When we reached the highest point, with views across to the West Bank, Samur said we should sit whilst he gathered dry kindling and proceeded to start a small fire between two rocks. He poured water and sugar into a well charred kettle and when it boiled he added dried sage and red tea and after a short brew he poured three mugs of hot sweet tea. So there we sat, under the hot hot sun, looking out across these ancient lands, listening to sheep and the odd braying donkey whilst drinking our tea. Did I mention already it was a great hike? Gerry changed his T-shirt – it’s ok for him to strip off and remove one of his layers but I felt it would be a bit inappropriate for me to do the same… so I sweltered in my thermal vest under my thermal long sleeve t-shirt. I wont make the same mistake again!

After our tea, we continued onwards, through more flower meadows and passing more shepherds until we were back at the Pella Visitor’s Centre. Samur is part of a community tourism scheme and we’re so glad we found them, it was a shame we couldn’t converse as much as we wanted but nonetheless we’d had a wonderful morning.

Back in the car we turned the aircon to full and put Umm Qais in the satnav.

The drive took us around the Al Arab dam, first down the valley and then up up and more then up. You’d be amazed at the obstacles we find on the roads, apart from potholes there are brightly painted, overloaded lorries, flocks of sheep and cows and many many many large speed-bumps. However, we never feel unsafe and Jordanian drivers never seem to drive too fast or ever become impatient or grumpy.

So up and up we drove around the dam and at the top we had our first sight of the Sea of Galilee… wow! We had to stop the car just to go look. Onwards we drove towards our destination, Umm Qais or as it was called 2000 years ago, Gadara.

Last night our host had told us to have lunch at the restaurant where we could eat whilst looking out across one of the best views in Jordan. I thought he called it Yanni but Gerry explained that he said Yanni a great deal and it was just a pausing word… like ‘so’ or ‘ok’ or ‘anyway’ – Gerry still laughs when he remembers that I asked him how we should spell Yanni… the poor chap looked so confused (or maybe bemused with me!) Yanni… he wasn’t wrong about the view.

We chose a table and ordered a few dishes and cold drinks and just looked. Immediately ahead lay the Golan Heights, beyond, and out of sight was Damascus, across and to the left was the sea of Galilee and Tiberias and just before this was the West Bank. And if this wasn’t enough, all around us lay the ruins of an ancient roman city. As we ate, the music of Julio Iglesias flowed out from the sound system. It was just one of those moments that will be hard for us to forget.

After lunch, when we had eaten our fill, we set off to explore. If you come here then we suggest that you leave a few hours to see the entire site. It’s vast. I would also say that when you pay to enter you will be asked countless times if you need a guide. You don’t but if you would like a guide I would recommend booking this in advance before you arrive.

Umm Qais or Gadara as it was called, is mentioned in the Bible as the location where Jesus performed the miracle of the Gadarene Swine. He cast out demons which entered the unfortunate pig, which in turn drowned itself in the sea. Gadara was well located on the trade routes between Syria and Palestine and also became a popular holiday resort for Romans and was notable for attracting scholars, writers and artists and it was also home for King Herod the Great in 31BC.

It wasn’t originally Roman but they did conquer the town and expanded it and today at least a kilometre of their original road still exists, along with houses and shops and theatres and so many columns and walls.. the site was simply incredible. Sadly much was damaged and destroyed in a huge earthquake in the 8th century but regardless it is worth a few hours to wander.

It was getting late and time for us to head home, we walked back towards the exit but had a quick visit to a small roman theatre en-route. A couple of young Jordanian chaps told us to stand on a certain spot in the centre and call out. We did. The acoustics were just crazy. You really could feel the sound come back at you, literally feel the air vibrate; of course I also had to try a little Adele too. What a strange sensation, I could feel the sound vibrate around me. Wow!

Our last stop was the coffee shop although this late in the afternoon we opted for mint tea. We sat in the shade and just marvelled at the views.

We headed back to the car and back to the hotel and for the first time on our trip we were stopped at a checkpoint; I guess being this close to so many borders it’s needed? The guard asked if we spoke Arabic and asked why we were on this road and where we were going and also asked for our passports. We really got the feeling that he was just going through the motions as he never even took the passports nor waited for us to answer. He just wished a good afternoon and waved us on and we drove on back to our hotel and a long hot shower!

I took a LOT of photos today!

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