Thursday, October 16, 2008

Jordan: Around Amman

Chapter Two - Around Amman

Because we were so close, we decided it a good idea to visit first the Qasr al-Mushatta, near to the airport. There were three army checkpoints between the Alia Gateway Hotel and the site. We had to leave our passports at the second and collect them on the way back.

The castle ruins are worth visiting. The caretaker who showed us round was a jolly fellow, with a lot of acting talent; it was great to see him demonstrating how the men in the castle used their rifles. Like most caretakers in Jordan, he expects 1 Dinar as a tip at the end of the tour.

The whole Mushatta castle has pitted indentations in its stones where - according to the caretaker - the people who resided here at the time, played an old board game. How long ago the pits were made is uncertain. You can see them almost anywhere in Jordan, even in the desert of Wadi Rum where the game is played by the local Bedouins. They use dried sheep or goat turds instead of stones though ... If you're a bit of an aeroplane freak, Mushatta is a pleasant spot to sit and watch the planes lift off, although Amman has quite a low-traffic airport.

Next on our list was the Dead Sea at Suweimeh. There were two police checkpoints between Amman and Suweimeh. At both we had to present our passports, but the checks were only very cursory.

At Suweimeh there are two options: either you go to one of the resort hotels or you don't. We didn't. And regretted it. The beach at Suweimeh was badly littered. Garbage and animal faeces were omnipresent. Young boys with donkeys, horses and camels ply the beach looking for customers to ride their beasts. Practically no-one seems to feel the need for it. And neither did we. The beach is mostly popular with Jordanians. Foreign tourists go to the resorts. It's hard to have to say it, but the Dead Sea here was yet another disappointment. It's much better if you go more to the south, but then there are almost no facilities for rinsing off the salt. In the far south there's also a lot of industry, like potash or bromine plants.

I tried to go to the King Hussein Bridge to take a look. At some point, which clearly was the border post, we were stopped. The bridge was not in sight yet. If we wanted to continue, we needed to get stamped out before we could go any further. As we only had a single entry visa, I decided not to take the chance, and asked if I could take a look at the bridge without being stamped out. I was directed to the military police. After mainly nothing had been going on for about an hour, I decided it was time to leave. I told them I would be back the day after, but didn't return; too many hassles, although everybody was friendly.

Turning off the main road between Amman and Suweimeh, we drove to Araq al-Amir and Wadi as-Seer. The road winds through some very nice mountain scenery. There's hardly any traffic, and it's a far better alternative to the main direct road between Amman and Wadi as-Seer, which we also tried. Nothing much to say about Araq al-Amir. It's a collection of caves. Nicely situated caves, though.

The castle (Qasr al-Abd) in Wadi as-Seer was the first highlight of our visit to the country. It was a nice place to visit, being totally un-touristy, i.e. not crowded with foreigners. There were quite a few Jordanian visitors. We had some nice chats with the people there. It's one of those places where you can easily sit down and do nothing but watch the people come and go. Good pictures of Qasr al-Abd can be taken from the surrounding hills.

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