End of the Road

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October 21st 2016
Published: December 3rd 2017
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Today was the official last full day of our tour around Jordan and as we all climbed into the van that would take us north to the city of Jerash, we all came to the somber realization that the end was near. Driving into northern Jordan, I was amazed by the number of refugee encampments that we had driven by. Our guide Faisal had explained that not all of these were Syrian refugees but many of them were Palestinians living in the encampments for over 10 years. He had indicated that estimates range from 1/3 to about 40% of the Jordanian population consisted of refugees. That high proportion of the population just amazed me. We pulled into the Jerash ruins which are considered to be of the best preserved Roman cities in the Middle East. I had even read of some comparisons to being the Pompeii of Asia. The ruins cover a huge and sprawling area and was much bigger than I had ever imaged it to be. Faisal began our walking tour of the ancient city at Hadrian's Arch by giving us a brief description of the history of the area. Continuing into the sprawling site, we walked along the Hippodrome which didn't really have much there to see. After a brief stop at the Visitor's Center, we made our way to the impressive Forum. This plaza which was lined with columns was breathtaking and was one of my highlights of Jerash. It served as a marketplace and main hub of social activity during it's heyday and linked the main thoroughfare of Jerash with the Temple of Zeus. Today, the main activity of the plaza seemed to be young kids kicking a soccer ball on the limestone slabs that make up the plaza. From here, we made our way up a small hill to the Jerash Museum. The view of the surrounding city of Jerash from atop this small hill was great and you could easily see how modern Jerash has almost swallowed up this remnant of it's past. Even more fascinating were the sounds of the call to prayer that were beginning to be called from a few nearby mosques. Inside the small museum is home to an interesting selection of artifacts such as mosaics, coins, and jewelry that was found in a tomb near Hadrian's Arch. The next two hours was spent wandering through the remainder of the site where we walked along the main thoroughfare known as the Cardo Maximus and visiting important sights such as the Nymphaeum, the Temple of Zeus, the North Theater, Temple of Artemis, and the South Theater. At the Temple of Artemis, some locals hanging around the temple showed us a fascinating exhibition of how well constructed these columns were. A spoon and a small rock were placed in a small opening at the base of the column. These columns are said to sway in the wind so to prove this, they asked one of us to push on the column. Mark volunteered and sure enough as he pushed, we did see the column sway and the spoon moved up and down as well. The group split up for some independent exploring and we all met up an hour later for a late lunch washed down with some refreshing beer. On the way back to Madaba, some of us in the group wanted to stop to take a photo of the highway sign that indicated that the Syrian border was close by. We stopped and took our photos and I thought it was a bit amusing as Luca seemed offended that we were making light of the serious situation that is currently taking place just across the border in Syria.

As we returned to Madaba, Faisal insisted that we make one final stop at St. George's Greek Orthodox Church which is famous for it's mosaic map on the church floor. We had to wait a bit before being allowed to enter as there appeared to be a mass taking place. Once allowed in, Faisal brought us over to an area near the ticket office where he explained some of the history and significance of the Madaba map which is the oldest map of Palestine in existence. After Faisal's 15 minute explanation which I had to struggle in order to stay awake, we had a look at the map where good chunks of it had been lost. However, you can definitely see how complex and intricate this full mosaic must have been. Afterwards, I decided to ditch the rest of the group and have a quick walk around the surrounding area where I was able to locate some souvenir shops. For the first time on this trip, I made an effort to look for souvenir gifts for friends and family back home. Being that we were just about a month away from the holiday season, I made a good number of purchases with the intent of making them Christmas gifts. Eventually, Kevin found me and we spent another hour looking for the perfect souvenir for him to take home to remember this trip by. After our shopping, we made our way back to the hotel for some rest and we eventually made our way back poolside for some beers with the group before heading out to dinner for the last time as a group. Faisal lead us to a nearby restaurant called Hikayet Sitti which appeared to be in someone's home. Dinner was delicious where for one final time we dined on typical Jordanian dishes along with the obligatory hummus, falafels, and mint teas. At dinner, we all thanked Faisal for his leadership and knowledge of Jordan which was a a great contributing factor to enjoying this tour. Afterwards, we all went to a nearby bar to have a few more beers but everyone seemed tired and a bit quiet so we all left as a group to head back to the hotel. In the lobby, we all said our final goodbyes and gave hugs as we all weren't sure if we'd see each other tomorrow morning as everyone slowly departed Jordan. Some of us drinkers gathered poolside for one final time to enjoy a few more beers before we all slowly retired back to our room and thus ending our tour of Jordan.

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