Sunday, May 07, 2006

Mount Nebo, the River Jordan, and Umm Qais

Yesterday (Saturday the 6th), we took a biblical tour of Jordan that Nadal set up for us. He is a strong member of the branch here in Al Husn - served a mission in South Africa and speaks English perfectly. He also has connections all over Jordan (anything you need, just ask Nadal). We were supposed to leave Amman at 7:00 in the morning, meaning that the Irbid/Husn people needed to leave at around 6:00 am. This is problematic because Jordan really doesn't wake up until 10:00 am so trying to get a Jordanian bus driver up to drive earlier than 6:00 was asking a lot. He was quite late and laughed at us when we told him he was late. But we all got on the bus and promptly fell asleep for the hour and 15 minute ride.

The rides from Irbid to Amman (and vise versa) are really quite interesting. You go up a hill at 20 miles an hour because you can't go any faster and then you go down the hills much faster (as in, I never see break lights come on). Imagine riding through a canyon road going 100 miles an hour around curves. It's interesting. The view is interesting as well. There are a lot of olive orchards and vineyards and pottery kilns. You can also see the bedoin tents and houses carved into the rocks as well as a lot of caves. And then the goats. There are tons of goats in Jordan. People herd goats up the highways and through towns (including right through Amman). They tether goats to poles at the butcher shops. It's interesting to see the goats there. They look so nervous - and then you realise that two goats are currently being skinned right in front of these two goats. It is really quite gross. They do it all right there on the street for everyone to see. Everyone has goats!

This trip, however, we didn't take the main highway. We took a "back way" which was much more windy and a few girls got sick. We had to stop the bus for one to get out. It was a pretty sad ride, but we finally made it to Amman and picked up the rest of our group. We all got on the bus and Kirk wanted us to sing hymns, so we sang one verse of something before everyone fell asleep. After singing alone for a while, Kirk got the message that we were all still struggling with jetlag and he sat down.

Our first stop was Mt. Nebo. It is on of the mountains that Moses has been known to be at. There is a statue of a staff with a snake on it that is really quite cool, as well as a church that is famous for its mosaics. From the top of the mountain you can look out over Israel and the Dead Sea. We saw a little bit of Jerusalem, Jericho and a few other well-known biblical towns, as well as the site of the dead-sea scrolls. It was really neat.

Statue of Moses' Staff with Snake
Us inside the Moses Memorial Chapel

From Mt. Nebo we drove down past the Dead Sea to the River Jordan. The road was so windy and had so many switchbacks (we had to keep holding our breath and praying that the breaks wouldn't give out!) but down at the Dead Sea everything was pretty flat. All of our water bottles got crushed as we went down because of the change in pressure. We didn't get to stop at the Dead Sea though. We will go back another time. Instead, we carried onto the River Jordan. We had to stop at a lot of check points because the borders are not very well defined (our cell phones welcomed us to Palestine) and there are mines and snipers all over the place. If you get off the trodden path you are in real trouble.

John the Baptist SpringChapel of the Jordan River
We did a little hike around the River and found John the Baptist's Spring. It is a little pool of water that springs up from the ground (hence the name) and feeds into the River. The water was very clear and cool (no, we didn't drink it). We then continued on to the "Chapels at the River." This is the proposed spot of baptism for the Savior. It has some chapels and some steps leading down into a big hole (the water has been diverted back into the Jordan River so it is empty now). The Savior was baptised at "Bethany beyond the Jordan" so chances are he wasn't actually baptised in the actual river and since there was a font at these chapels, it seemed pretty likely that "this was the place."

Nancy dipping in the Jordan RiverAndrew and Nancy in front of the Jordan River
(The West Bank is just across from us.

Note the flag of Israel and all the fences!)
From there we went down to a platform on the river. We were on the East bank. About 10 feet in front of us was...the West bank. Seriously...if I jumped from the rail of the platform I probably could have landed in Israel. If I were to swim across the river, it would have taken me 2 strokes. It really wasn't all that wide. But, with the snipers and land mines, we decided to stay on the Jordan side with our snipers and land mines. If we had attempted to cross, there would have been trouble, but we got a nice picture of us with the Israel flag waving in the wind. We also touched the river. It was murky brown and pretty warm.

Oh, and the Al Husn branch met us at the Baptisimal site and we sung hymns in English and Arabic. That was pretty cool. We sang some of the primay hymns about baptism while we were looking out over the river and that brought a whole new meaning to the songs.

Alas, we are moving on again. This is kind of how the whole trip went - in and out. So, we're on the bus again on our way to Umm Qais. This is apparently pretty cool, but we didn't quite get there. It's supposed to be a great picnic area with a lot of vegetation and trees but, since it is right on the border of Syria and Israel the borders are, again, pretty disputed. They were having a military demonstration up there (in the middle of no where) so we couldn't go all the way.
We went as far as they would let us and then we got out and look over the Sea of Galilee. Standing on the ground where the Savior did almost his entire life ministry was pretty cool (remember that Jordan and Israel were the same country. Jordan used to be Israel or vise versa...the borders are all pretty fuzzy here).

"Fastlink wishes you an enjoyable stay in Syria..."
It was neat to see the cities in a distance, and get a message on our cell phones welcoming us to Syria (even though we were still in what is considered Jordan). But because of the men sitting behind machine guns who were urging us to get back in the bus and go home we weren't there very long. There are a bunch of ruins up there and we would like to go back to see them.
Ruins at Umm QaisIt was a wonderful trip. We'd like to do it again, maybe taking the whole weekend or just doing one site a day.

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