Tuesday, January 19, 2016

On The Road: Jordan

Kingdom of Peace

The Middle east is a conflicted region at the moment. Some places are at war. Others are recruitment grounds for dissidents hellbent on supporting violent causes. But of the countries that are in the region, many remain stable. An example is the Hashimite Kingdom of Jordan. Under the rule of King Abdullah and his father before him, the country has had calm since making peace with Israel in 1994. In contrast to its Arab neighbors, Jordan is not blessed with oil reserves, yet in a way this is good for Jordanians because foreign powers are less inclined to interfere in their domestic affairs. Jordan also receives foreign aid from the United States and has maintained good relations with the West for decades. This means it is not dangerous for Westerners to visit. Be that as it may, tourists have stayed away due to the fighting in Syria. However, the war's violence has not spread with the refugees fleeing into Jordan, and the sites that are most breathtaking--Petra and Wadi Rum--are in the south far removed from the borders of Syria and Iraq. It is there that I began my travels.
Jordanian Flag
Old Capital

Having arrived in Jordan at the Itzakh Rabin Border Crossing from Israel, I took a taxi to the southern town of Aqaba, and then a minibus to Wadi Musa. The small town of Wadi Musa is not an interesting place in of itself, but it is a major tourist spot because it sits right outside of Petra Park. Beginning in the 1st century BC the Nabatean people made Petra the capital of their wealthy empire. It sat on two major trade routes extending from Africa and the Arabian peninsula northward to Europe and elsewhere in Asia. The most valued good coming through at the time was incense which people used in ceremonies and rituals. Originally, it came from the frankincense and myrrh trees in the Arabian Peninsula via camel caravans that carried it across the desert to Petra. The Nabatean Empire thrived charging taxes on the routes. They also maintained ports on the Mediterranean and Red Sea. The Romans who ruled nearby Judea at times looked east with covetous eyes, and the Nabateans appeased them with diplomacy, gifts and intermarriage. It was not enough. At the beginning of the 2nd century the Romans took the Nabatean Empire and Petra along with it. They maintained Petra as the capital of their annexed province of Arabia Petraea until an earthquake in 363 led them to abandon the city. After that the trade routes shifted north. Soon forgotten, only local bedouins knew of Petra's location which they kept a secret from outsiders. Then in 1812 a Swiss geographer pretending to be a Muslim rediscovered the site for the Western world. Petra has since become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Middle East.

Geologically speaking, the Nabateans built Petra within several interconnected sandstone canyons. The entry, known as the Siq, is a narrow slot canyon that goes for 2km before arriving at the Treasury. The Treasury is Petra's most famous tomb, an impressive 30m high Hellenistic facade carved into pink colored sandstone. Steven Spielberg used the Siq and Treasury as a shooting location for the Temple of the Holy Grail in his 1989 film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Currently, historians are unsure of who's tomb the Treasury is, though they think it was built for a king. The Bedouins for centuries had believed the tomb belonged to some great pharaoh who'd hidden his treasure in the stone urn near the top of the facade. Bullet holes remain from when they'd tried to break it open. To this day little is known about Petra's society because most inscriptions and documents from the Nabatean era didn't survive to modern times. As for me, after spending a half hour contemplating the beauty and history of the Treasury, I continued along the main road. It went on past countless other carved tombs and into an open area that had been the center of the abandoned city. Some ruins lined the road, including a colonnade from Roman times. Then the road wound up a canyon to the Monastery, another tomb built in the same Hellenistic style as the Treasury. A bit further on were rock summits with panoramic views of the canyons and surrounding desert peaks.

I spent two days touring Petra. I needed to get my money's worth because the entrance fee was over $80. That was the most I'd paid to see an archeological site during my first year of travel. And I did not spend a penny more. Bedouins in the park were not pleased. At every turn they'd set up stands selling postcards, guide books, artwork, jewelry, magnets and more. "Free to look," they kept saying. Others had camels or donkeys for hire. "No thank you," I'd say, and to a degree I felt bad refusing them. The people were clearly in need of money. I kept thinking back to the Navajo indians in Arizona. When I'd gone to that part of the States, they too had set up stands in places like Monument Valley. The deep canyons, tall buttes, and orange-pink sand of the Colorado River Basin were not so different from the terrain in Petra. But the ancestors of the Native Americans had not carved elaborate tombs. Nor had they done much irrigation work like in Petra. The Nabateans had developed a complex system of canals, clay pipes, cisterns and dams which made it possible for them to have water year round while also preventing seasonal rainfall from flooding the city. In the desert they'd hid cisterns as well to allow for alternate travel routes in times of need. Simply put, the Nabateans were a knowledgeable people who'd adapted to a harsh environment and then thrived within it. But like so many others in antiquity their empire collapsed before the might of the Romans.
Siq Entrance
Bedouin Girl
Petra Terrain
Old Tombs 
Mosaic Floor
Treasury from Above
Arched Doorways
Dusty Dog
Deep Desert

The second popular tourist destination down south is Wadi Rum. With a name like that I couldn't help joking about it. "I need a drink, " I said to Ahmed, my Bedouin guide. "Where's the rum?" The man didn't understand. I had to explain that rum was a type of spirit made from sugarcane. And in Wadi Rum there was no rum, at least not that I discovered. I stayed for a week with Ahmed, splitting my time between his cousin's bedouin camp and the park's one village. Tourists came from afar to see Wadi Rum's desert scenery. I had a second purpose. Ahmed had written in workaway.info that he wanted someone to help him build a website for his guide services. That and he had asked if I could teach English to his cousin's son. I agreed knowing I could be of help in both areas. But there was not much pressure to work at the beginning. The first day we spent in the Bedouin camp. It was out in the desert beneath a natural rock enclave. The camp had a kitchen, large tent, and smaller tents where guests could sleep. The fabric of the tents was made of black goat hair. A plastic tarp lined the inside to protect against rain. When night fell the temperature dropped, and we huddled around a fire pit inside the large tent. Masar, a man from Sudan, worked as the camp cook. He prepared kabsa for dinner. The food was a Saudi dish consisting of chicken and rice. Masar used a lot of oil to cook it. This was the case with most the food we ate.

Wadi Rum is Jordan's largest valley. In 1998 it became a protected area covering 720 km² of land consisting of limestone, granite and sandstone rock towering over sand. Some rocks climb up from the sand 200m in height or more, the tallest of which is Jabal Ram mountain, reaching 1,743m above sea level. Ahmed took me to the sites of interest--Khaz'ali Canyon, the small rock bridge, the red sand dunes, and various lookout points. The biggest draw however was the desert itself. Due to its aridness, color and scope, Wadi Rum has often served as a film location for desert epics and the planet Mars. For example, when making the 2015 film The Martian, director Ridley Scott shot several scenes in the park. Another famous film made there is the 1962 classic Lawrence of Arabia. The British officer portrayed on screen by Peter O'Toole did in fact visit the area while leading a campaign to disrupt Ottoman supply lines during the first World War. He later said of the place that it was "God-like."
Wadi Rum Desert
Camel Skull
Camp at Night
Kha'zali Canyon
Flowers in Bloom
Camels on the Move
Ahmed's people, the Zalabia Bedouins, have inhabited the area in and around Wadi Rum for thousands of years. Traditionally, they herded animals such as sheep and goats, depending on them for their survival. To feed the animals they moved from place to place in search of vegetation. Despite the harsh, dry climate of the desert, plants are found throughout Wadi Rum year round, particularly after seasonal rains. There are also natural springs that provide a constant source of water for livestock. The camel is another animal that is of great importance. Their domestication has allowed Bedouins to travel across vast stretches of desert and live in the most inhospitable of places. The animals can transport people, food, water and other supplies. Moreover, they use their hair to make fabric for blankets and clothing, while camel milk provides much needed nutrition. As a Bedouin, Ahmed had his own camels for producing milk. There were others for the tours. But the most prized of all were for racing. His cousin Attayak trained several and raced them at a nearby track. For the short races the camels no longer carry jockeys but rather a little machine with a speaker and a lever arm to whip the animal's hind. Attayak hoped to produce a fast camel he could later sell for good money to a Saudi or Emirati.

One afternoon I joined Attayak to see his camels. He'd hired a Sudanese man to look after them in the desert. The purpose of the trip was to give the animals an injection to protect them against parasites and disease. To do it Attayak and his Sudanese helper had to force the camels down one by one, then tie the front legs while bent. This way the animal couldn't stand back up. Attayak's son helped too by holding the camel's head in place. When the animal was ready, Attayak pinched a piece of skin and stuck in the needle. With the young camels it was difficult because they would not kneel down and fought against being tied up. Then, as soon as the needle went in, they screamed and moved. In the end I had to help by keeping my weight on the hump so they couldn't get up on their hindquarters. As for the largest camel, we didn't try to inject it. The male was Attayak's racing camel and it was mad with lust because the nearby females were in heat. When I went near, the beast raised its head and foamed at the mouth. From time to time it inflated a piece of its throat that came hanging out like a second tongue. Attayek had a total of 17 camels. Once he was satisfied that they were in good health, he made a fire and we had dinner under the stars. Nobody needed to say it, but I knew--this was the true Bedouin way of life.

Tire Marks
Masar on the Dunes
Camel Injection
Attayak and Fire
Ahmed the Guide
Webpage Reloaded

In Jordan I made a tourism webpage for the second time. First, I needed to put together the content. I began with the photos. This was easy enough because I was going around with Ahmed in his truck and every which way I pointed the lens I had something beautiful to shoot. Next, I had to write the information. This took amore work. Webpages need original articles to come up higher in search engine results. But so much had already been written about Wadi Rum. I needed to be careful not to word things too closely with what I'd referenced. Another difficulty I had was with my guide. He didn't have his own company but instead worked for his cousin and brother. In spite of this he wanted to present the website as if he were a one man operation. So he asked that I give the impression he had his own Bedouin camp, when in fact he did not. I didn't mind lying. But I needed photos of something to put on the webpage. And I required detailed information about how a camp fit into his tours. In the meantime I had to keep the site a secret from Ahmed's family. If his cousin or brother knew about it, they would be displeased, and possibly stop giving him work as a guide.

I also helped another man in the village. He was Ahmed's friend. Then again, everyone was a friend, because in Rum Village, the small community of people all knew each other. No one recognized me though. It didn't matter that I looked Arab and had a thick beard, if I walked the village alone someone always asked which guide I was with. I didn't really go around that much. I did the work for Ahmed's friend in his family's house. He wanted me to make some adjustments to his brother's website. Then I opened them a Tripadvisor business account. In return they brought me lunch, and as I was about to leave afterwards, they asked me not to tell others about the website. So many secrets, I thought. But I could understand. Tourism was the big source of income in Wadi Rum and everyone had to compete for a slice of the money pie. And things were worse than ever with the amount of tourists being far less than usual. The guides and camp operators could only hope that the situation would improve across the border in Syria. Maybe then people would feel comfortable coming to see Wadi Rum again.

As for Ahmed's webpage, I focused on making it appealing to prospective visitors. I used a simplistic layout, relying more on photos for impact than the webpage design. In other words, I kept the background white, and limited the colors of the text and headings to just grey and blue. Next, I went into the search engine optimization settings and added keywords. Most importantly, I set a page title and description to help the homepage come up in searches. The rest of the work I left to Ahmed. Wix.com, the site I used, has a free hosting service but one that is limited. To get the full benefit Ahmed must upgrade the account and assign the page a unique domain name. However, he would first need a credit card to pay for it. When I explained this to him, he assured me that he would get one soon. I wondered how. It wasn't as if the area had any banks or credit lenders. Rum Village didn't have as much as an ATM. Another point for him to be aware of was to keep the page updated. Inactivity would otherwise drive it lower in searches. At any rate, it will be tough for the website to do well because a dozen other Wadi Rum tour homepages exist, and they will continue receiving most Internet traffic.
Website Homepage

Time came for another pitstop. I traveled north to a hostel in the town of Madaba. Again, I'd arranged to do some volunteer work. The hostel owner, Fadi, needed me to look after the place while he was busy elsewhere during the day. He began by showing me where to clean, how to change out beds, and the way to check in guests. One thing I thought odd was that he didn't change sheets between guests, granted the sheets smelled okay the morning after. By American standards that was pretty bad, but for a hostel in Jordan it might have been the norm. I also did stuff like prepare breakfast for those who paid. The food was typical Jordanian fare--egg, hummus, sour cream, jams and bread. And that was about the extent of my responsibilities. Most the rest of the time I sat around on my computer catching up on editing my photos, writing this blog and other Internet work. I didn't mind that I was really not doing much in the city. After the amount of traveling I'd already done, I wanted to slow down. And I figured it would do me good before I went to Africa. That would be the next stage of my around-the-world trip. In the meantime I got vaccination shots at the hospital for yellow fever, meningitis, tetanus and diphtheria. One can never be to careful while visiting the tropics.

The guests who came to the hostel were few. Of them I'd say the majority had either just arrived in Jordan or were about to leave the country. Madaba was quite near both the airport and the capital city of Amman. The guests came only spending a night or two in the hostel. One guy, Pradeep, was an Indian who had studied in the United States. I learned from him that Indian nationals had become the CEO of both Microsoft and Google. Pradeep also said that an Indian man had invented the hookah. We were smoking from one at a cafe near the hostel when he told me. The tobacco inside had the flavor of apple. Another guest I met had come from Spain. He too was only in Madaba for a short time. I went with him around the city center and we ate shwarma sandwiches at a deli-like eatery. Then we sat a while and had a talk in Spanish. I told him my views on the lack of gun regulations in the United States and also about my disappointment in the administration of former president George W. Bush. It may seem bad of me but I'm often willing to criticize my country's shortcomings when conversing with foreigners. Besides, I like talking in general, which made volunteering at the hostel good for me. If only more people had come. Fadi said check ins were at an all time low.

Speaking of Fadi, he too was an interesting man. An Arab Christian, he had been a police officer who'd retired some 5 years before. While on the force, he'd joined two UN peacekeeping missions, one in Kosovo and the other in Darfur. For a time Fadi also lived in Moscow where he studied the Russian language. He had very much become a man of the world, and this was why he'd wanted to operate a home stay, so that he could continue to meet people from different countries. Now when they come, he gladly serves as a guide, showing visitors places that are not on typical tours. He always said his dream was to have a million friends. I helped build him a website for his hostel to bring in more. But by the time I started I was rather bored with the task, seeing how I'd just done it a week before for Ahmed. And a hostel website was not as interesting as a tour guide service page. I procrastinated some yet finished the job before leaving Madaba. Fadi was pleased. In his outspoken way he praised my work. But that's how he was with everyone. Talking to him, you at once felt like he was your best friend.
Hostel Room
Shwarma Meal
Having Lunch

About 50 years ago Jordan had a population that was a third Christian. The percentage has since dropped to 2% with most the remaining Jordanians being Muslims. But in Madaba 20% remains Christians. This makes Madaba a place where Muslims and Christians live together side by side without problems. Fadi in part thanks the king of Jordan for keeping the peace between the two religious groups. Going back a thousand years to the time of the Byzantine empire, it was nearly all Christians in the town. The Byzantines constructed churches with elaborate mosaics. A short walk from Fadi's hostel was the Church of St. George. The church's floor had a famous mosaic of the oldest known map of Jerusalem. I took a look, but to be honest, mosaics have never much impressed me. So I preferred another nearby Catholic church that had a shrine dedicated to the death of John the Baptist. It's tall bell tower gave the best view of the city. To the east, a large mosque shared the town's skyline, and both buildings could be seen from the terrace on top of Fadi's apartment building. This was a rarity in the Arab world--to have a large mosque and church in the same place.

About 10km outside of town was Mt. Nebo, a place mentioned in the Bible. It was there that after 40 years of wandering the desert, Moses at last saw the promised land. But God told him he would never set foot in Israel, and the 120 year long life of Moses came to its end. I went to the top of the mountain. A great church had been built and abandoned in the spot. Renovation works were underway to preserve some of the mosaics and foundations. I walked past the gated off areas and stood at a lookout point that faced west. On a clear day it was possible to view Jerusalem from Mt. Nebo, but on this day it was hazy. I could barely make out the Dead Sea and Jericho. How odd I thought that two months before I was staring up from Jericho at the mountains across the way in Jordan. At night the high ridge had come alive with city lights. Now I was in those same mountains gazing downward. If Moses really had lived and carried out God's will, he too would have seen Jericho, or rather, the smaller human settlement that had preceded the city. I often take great pleasure in visiting places of historical importance. I somehow feel I am reliving the past.

Had I travelled another 20km past Mt. Nebo, I could have visited the Dead Sea. But I'd already been to the Israel side and had no interest in seeing it again. The area had other sites of interest including the remains of a Roman military camp, a fortress and some temples. I could only reach them by taxi, which I didn't want to pay for, so I didn't see them either. The weather too became a deterrent. I had gone to the Middle East in winter thinking it would not get cold. I should have checked the climate first. Once January arrived the temperature dropped to near freezing levels and I didn't have the type of clothes needed to brave the outdoors. Plus, it rained for days on end. I was hoping it might at least snow. That way I could have taken some nice photos. But it didn't, and after two weeks in Madaba I got few pictures of the area. There was good reason for me to stay indoors. In the hostel I had blankets and a gas heater that I could use in the evening. Sometimes I still needed to go out to eat. I frequented a shwarma restaurant that sold the meat wraps nice and fresh, right off the spit. For about three dollars I could get a big order with a side of fries and veggies. That was plenty to sate my evening hunger.
Madaba Town
Church of St. George
Local Kids
Church Bell
Madaba Mosque
Desert Flowers
From Mt. Nebo
Old Military Plane
Hookah Smoke
Christmas and New Year's

For Christmas day, I did what I hadn't done for years. I went to church. The idea was to observe how Arab Christians conduct mass. But I didn't know the starting times and showed up while mass was underway. An usher placed me in one of the few open seats. It was behind a pillar. I couldn't see the altar very well and I understood nothing of the sermon. The minister was giving it in Arabic. But some of the songs I recognized. From what I could make sense of it didn't seem that different from the masses I'd attended as a child when my parents had made me go on Sundays. Then came the best part--the taking of the host. As a kid I'd looked forward to it every time, because it meant the mass would soon be over. I lined up, stood in front of the minister, and received the white wafer with the wine. After the mass had ended I lingered to take photos of the Christmas display by the altar. Some tourist taking selfies got in the way. I eventually managed a few decent photos, then went outside to photograph another larger nativity scene. Churchgoers stood nearby to listen to a group of university students perform Christmas songs on the bagpipe. The group began with Jingle Bells. It felt like a good ole merry time, and it was the closest thing to a real Christmas I'd had in years.

Around this same time I ate mansaf, a traditional Jordanian dish prepared on special occasions. Fadi's wife had made it for Christmas dinner. The food had rice, goat meat, and a goat milk sauce. Because the ingredients were expensive, it wasn't easy to find a restaurant that prepared the dish regularly, and I was lucky to have it when I did. The plate of food tasted divine. I chalk it up to the quality of the meat. Arabs really know how to cook it nice and slow to get the best flavor. Fadi's family made mansaf a second time for New Year's Eve. That same night I went to dinner party at a fancy restaurant in Madaba. But when I arrived at 9pm a waiter told me the event had been cancelled. I was disappointed and went back to the hostel where I drank alone, mixing vodka and soda. Then right before midnight I returned to the restaurant. Even if there was no party I thought it better to spend the countdown out in public rather than by myself. I heard music coming from upstairs when I arrived. It turned out the party was going on as planned. I tried to join but a waiter refused me, saying it was full. That was unacceptable. I found the manager and told her how I'd made a reservation then been denied entry twice. She explained that there'd been a misunderstanding, and that the staff had been a little suspicious of my beard and appearance. Apparently, it's ok to have a nice cropped beard in Jordan, but not a big bushy one like mine. It gave me the look a terrorist. Anyhow, with everything cleared up, the manager let me go upstairs.

The entire 2nd floor was decked out in tables full of food and people. In the front played a live band, and before them an open space served as a dance area. It wasn't long before the staff were handing out party hats, masks and whistles for the countdown. I thought it amusing, how one day a year we find significance in the fact that we've made it through another twelve cycles of the moon, all while looking ahead to the future with high hopes. Well, I was still damned happy to be around to welcome 2016. The earth--that small blue dot in the universe we call home--is an incredible place full of many wonders. I love to be a part of it. I love life. I love the promise of the journey ahead. And with that attitude I danced up a storm. The people around me were mostly local Arabs. They moved with their arms wide apart, index fingers up. I too felt the music flow through me. The band's arrangement of drums brought the entire place to life, and of all the people present, a group of Saudis seemed to enjoy the dancing most. They invited me to their table to smoke from a hookah and drink whiskey. I stuck with them most the night. Then, as the party winded down, they invited me to drink more at their hotel. I might have joined them, but once outside, we discovered that they'd locked their car keys in the trunk, and after smashing a back window, still couldn't open it. Not wanting to wait longer in the freezing rain, I slipped away without a word and returned to my hostel.
Christmas Tree in Town
Catholic Church
Prayer Candles 
Nativity Scene
Bagpipe Music
Christmas Display
New Year's Fun
Star Wars

Being at Fadi's hostel for two and half weeks, I had plenty of time to catch up on the recent films I'd been wanting to see. I had no difficulty finding them on the Internet, yet the new Star Wars movie, I was determined to see on the big screen. Because Madaba had no cinema I needed to take a bus to Amman. One place had it in IMAX 3D. In the same mall there was a Carrefour Supermarket. I popped in before the movie started to buy some snacks. The selection was impressive. I paced two aisles stocked high with nothing but sugary, diabetes causing goodies, and at last selected a bag of m and m's and a pack of gummy bears. Then I entered the theater and took my seat as the pre-movie trailers were about to finish. Only eight other people had come for the early showing. It was eerily quiet when the screen went black. A few seconds later John Williams' iconic score came blaring through the sound system and the opening crawl fed upward at a trapezoidal slant. A little tingle ran up my neck. I was finally seeing the movie I'd been looking forward to for ages.

I'm not sure how much of a Star Wars fan I am. What I can say is that I loved the original trilogy, and I'd highly anticipated the prequels. The first one, The Phantom Menace, I saw on opening day May 19, 1999 at a theater in the desert town of El Centro, CA. Why I was there instead of San Diego, I can't now remember, nor do I recall my initial impressions of the film. But like for so many other fans the prequels grew to leave a bad taste in my mouth. I blame George Lucas. He created something brilliant and then took it in an odd direction, assuming too much control of the production while likely ignoring the input of others. Later, when Lucas sold off the rights to Disney, my hopes rose. Flash forward to two years after that. I'd made it to the theater late--two weeks after the film premiered--and people who'd seen it were saying the movie was good. So as the opening crawl finished, my expectations were as high as they'd ever been for a movie. How could The Force Awakens possibly live up to them?

Somehow it did. First off, the film made for an all around good watch. It had action, thrills and laughs. Most importantly though, director J.J. Abrams captured some of the magic of the original trilogy. I have to hand it to him. He stepped up and revitalized the Star Wars saga the same way he'd revitalized Star Trek. I'm now wondering what other Sci-fi series he might breathe life back into. The Matrix anyone? I'd see it if Abrams directed. As for The Force Awakens, it was only the beginning. A new Star Wars film will come out every year indefinitely, and the next entry I expect to watch in San Diego. But thinking back to the one I just saw, seeing it in Jordan didn't seem so different from experiencing it in an American theater. Still, it would've been better to go with a friend. I'd've been able to talk about it afterwards. Since starting my travels, I don't have a buddy to do these kinds of things with. The last guy I really hung out with was Calvin. But we parted ways in Kyrgyzstan. Had he still been around, I'm sure he would have enjoyed the movie with me.
On the Bus
City Mall 
Movie Poster
Ticket and Snacks
Empire In Ruins

The Romans were perhaps the greatest empire builders in history. Wherever they went, they not only subjugated the people, but also developed infrastructure and policies to ensure their new territories would prosper. In the Middle East, the Romans built ten frontier cities they called decapolises. Philadelphia was one. It stood amidst seven hills. On the largest the Romans constructed a mighty fortress with an intricate water system that depended entirely on rain. When the Byzantines rose to power they too built fortifications on the same hill, as did the Muslim Umayyads. Today the remnants of the three eras remain on what is King Hussein Hill in Amman. I went up with my camera, and the ruins aside, the views of the city were impressive. Like a forest of trees that had swallowed up the surrounding hills, blocky brown buildings covered everything. Also below was a great Roman amphitheater. I checked it out next. For a two thousand year old facility the amphitheater was still in good condition. I later read that the semi-circle could accommodate 6,000 spectators, and to this day, was used for events.

The rest of the city was a confusing jumble of roads and intersections. I visited from Madaba five times, and more often than not, I sat looking out the window of a bus. Amman was not the type of place to explore on foot. Only the city center made for a good walking tour. It had plenty of shops, eateries and stall lined markets. While I usually never buy souvenirs, one shop attracted my attention. The owner had dozens of types of foreign currencies for sale. I rummaged through the stacks of bills and saw money no longer in print. For example, there were Yugolsav dinaras. Yugoslavia had split in 2003, and the countries that emerged in its place each created a new currency putting to an end to the dinara. The money was interesting because it had become hyperinflated. At the shop, I bought a 50 billion dinara note worth less than an American dollar. Other bills I got were Iraqi dinars with the face of Saddam Hussein, and from Libya, a 1 dinar note featuring Muammar Gaddafi. The money is now with the rest of my collection in a small folder I like to show to others.
Roman Temple
Gate Entrance
From Outside
City Buildings
Amman Amphitheater
Street Block
Modern Mosque
Foreign Currencies
To the north of Amman was another decapolis named Gerash. The modern town of Jerash goes by the same name still (but with a J), and at its center, a collection of ruins form one of the most complete Roman cities outside of Italy. The ruins are famous for a large oval plaza which is uniquely unsymmetrical. One side was elongated to join two roads that met at an angle wider than 90 degrees. Moreover, the city has large temples dedicated to Zeus and Artemis, as well as two amphitheaters, all of which remain in one state or another. But the city is not what it once was. Over time, when subsequent civilizations discovered the Roman ruins, they used the old stones to make new buildings. An earthquake in the 8th century also caused severe damage that ushered in Gerash's decline. So we are left with dozens of skeletal buildings. More prominent are the city's hundreds of remaining columns. In fact, Gerash's nickname could be the City of Columns. Many of them were from the Roman era, but the Byzantines added more, and they line the plaza and main avenue. As always I wondered what the architecture had looked like in its heyday. Even better, I wished I could possess a superpower that allowed me to see into past, but in a way that wouldn't interfere with the universe's space-time continuum. I wouldn't want my actions mess up the present, you know, like in that movie The Butterfly Effect.
Gate to Gerash
Temple of Zeus
Old and Modern City 
Columns to the Sky 
Kids at Amphitheater
For Sale 
Corinth Capital 
Columns Galore
Oval Plaza

The world is a big place--too big for me to spend very long in any one region. So after three and a half months I said farewell to the Middle East and boarded a plane for Africa. As I left I thought about all I'd seen and done in Israel and Jordan. I hadn't covered a large area like I'd done in South East Asia or South Asia, but from the coast to the big cities to the desert and mountains, I'd experienced a side of Mother Earth that reminded me of Southern California. And though my desire to return home remains strong, I still want to travel more. It's about gaining perspective. And by that, I'm referring to the history, culture and views of a country. I'm particularly driven to those places that the American educational system and mass media have failed to teach me about in an unbiased, substantial manner. My journey now brings me to the land of Uganda. 
Making a Friend