So, after class ended around 2pm on Thursday, the weekend starts in Jordan!
This weekend, I traveled with my roommate to Madaba, about 40km south of Amman, and it was truly fantastic! This is the first time either of us have booked a room in a little hotel for about $30 for two people, asked the receptionist at our institute how to get to a city that we only had 5 photocopied pages of from a borrowed copy of the Lonely Planet.
To put it quickly, when we got off our taxi in a market called Raghadan, we got harassed more than anywhere so far, finally found a bus station, boarded and drove for a while through a very interesting country side. It was interesting to see how it was dotted by both mansions in a sea of olive trees and bedouin tents and their herds of sheep and goats, besides the countless booths set up selling mountains of watermelons, beautiful jugs and potted flowers and plants. This between-city bus cost us 0.85JD there and 0.9JD on the way back into Amman. I wish that traveling to the next city was so fast and cost so little in America, but as Molly, my roommate and travel partner put it, that’s why we’re here.
Pause. So what is Madaba?
Madaba is actually a city that is uniquely 33% Christian and home to many Byzantine churches, full of mosaics preserved from as early as the 5th and 6th centuries. The unique Mosaic map of the Holy Land on the floor of the St. George Greek Orthodox cathedral is a destination for religious pilgrims, as well as its neighbor Mount Nebo, the place it is said where Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land that he would never enter. Needless to say, we really wanted to go.
We finally found our way in Madaba with the help of a local young man who I spoke with in Russian, because he is a student in Ukraine. Our one room with its two beds had one window facing the city’s largest mosque. It was beautiful. It also came with a call to prayer “before dawn” which I can now attest is at about 3:45 in the morning.
But before sleeping, we wandered around a few of the streets with open stores, and now can confirm that yes it is true, the people in Madaba are amazingly kind. It’s amazing how excited people are that tourists from America speak Arabic and yes, they are studying it here in Jordan. Talking to 2 store owners, at a gift shop called “Tree of Life” with really excellent mosaics and then at an amazing, delicious bakery, we were given free samples, free magnets, after refusing it all several times. The shop owner even offered us a ride to Mt. Nebo the next day, “for free! it’s not money!” which we did manage to turn down. My point, the dessert is delicious and people were so friendly, and kind strangers are a pleasant surprise.
After the call to prayer, after breakfast and packing up, Molly and I found the visitor and information center in Madaba, and I reflected on how proud I was that among the big tour buses of European tourists, that we walked around and asked the locals how they were in Arabic and where is the museum and found it successfully.
We visited the Madaba Archeological garden, full of really amazing mosaics, a crypt and a giant chunk of byzantine church with its preserved and restored floor mosaics.
After that we made our way to the Latin Church / Church of St. John the Baptist, with byzantine ruins in the basement, more mosaics, the shrine of St. John the Baptist, and even a Moabian well (dug in about 1200 BC). Finally, we climbed treacherous stairs, climbed under the metal beams, bells and around ropes and finally crept through a 2ft x 4ft door at the top of the belfry to the tallest point in Madaba and the best panorama. So, so, so, so amazing and fun! Finally, we checked out the famous mosaic on the floor of St. George’s Greek Cathedral.
Lunch, a few souvenirs, and then the journey to Mt. Nebo began. First, we got a taxi from a talkative cab driver who tried to charge us 15JD for a cab ride that should ever EVER cost at maximum 5JD, but it’s alright, goodbye 5JD, goodbye greedy cabby.
But second of all, Mount Nebo. It is so incredibly beautiful. You can see valleys and bedouin tents and the Jordan River. You can even see the Dead Sea through the trees far, far, away. Mount Nebo also has a monument for Pope John Paul II, and the olive tree that he planted when he visited the region. The memorial for Moses is also at the top this mountain, located next to a commemorative staff with a snake.
But hahahaha getting back. Molly and I couldn’t get a cab, so we walked a kilometer down the mountain, contemplating to hitchike if there was a car with room and at least one woman in it, or perhaps walk 9 kilometers down the road in the sun back to Madaba, at least the view was beautiful.
But nope, we made it to a really nice restaurant where the owner, obviously looking for customers, offered us to sit inside while he called us a taxi. Then taxi to bus station, bus to cab in Amman to home.
Thank you for reading if you made it to the bottom. I’m really looking forward to more weekend getaways and getting to sleep tomorrow. But that was it, our mughamara (adventure) to Madaba.