Sunday, June 26, 2011

Umm Qais, Another Adventure!

So, this week was pretty darn awesome. After doing next to nothing for the first two days (we did meet the children we will be teaching English to starting Sunday) we were told to absolutely not come back until Sunday because neither the marqez or the mudireea had any work for us. Well, we asked them a few times and then decided that if they were going to give us three days off of work we were going to use them in an epic fashion and go on an adventure. The biggest thing that I look for in an adventure is uniqueness, so as I was searching for someplace to have some fun I looked for a place I have never heard of. Hence, why we went to a random town in Northern Jordan called 'Umm Qais'.

When I looked up Umm Qais I was told that it was a beautiful "Decapolis City" overlooking the Sea of Galilee, the Golan Heights, and even Lebanon in the distance. Also, it is a favorite destination of Palestinians living in Jordan who go to see some of their homeland where they lived and their family still live, but they are unable to visit. So, that is Umm Qais and that is what I will be describing to you today because it was epically amazing and I feel like telling you, even though I haven't posted anything about Petra, Wadi Rum, or Aqaba yet which is also sad.

To get to Umm Qais was actually not very difficult, we took three buses to get there from Amman and one of them was an hour long drive in an air conditioned touring bus (like we have in the United States) and only cost about $3.00. All together, for both of, we spent about $14 to get from our house to the city and back. When we got the ruins we were both pretty hungry and so we went right up to the local restaurant which was overlooking the valley in front of us and was shaded and breezy. I had delicious chicken and Austin had hummus as we sat and thought about the many historical things that happened within our view. It was especially cool to think about the religious significance of that area and to look at the hill where Christ is supposed to have cast the devils out of the people and into the swine who then ran off the hill into the Sea of Galilee (or Lake Tiberius as it is called in Jordan).

The city was really fun to explore. It is not typical looking ruined city because instead of brown sandstone or white granite being the building blocks, they used black basalt which brings an interesting new color to the mix. There was a beautiful museum that was extremely detailed and comprehensive where we got to see a number of mosaics that were being protected as well as a sarcophagus that we both laid in (a little weird to lay down where you know someone who was dead was and then they decomposed into it). Probably the coolest thing was an ancient 10in thick door made of solid rock that you could still open and close because it was perfectly balanced on a giant stone hinge. It was awesome. Also, the sight still has a lot of excavation yet to be done and so as you walk around you see many old arches and passageways just sitting around. You think they are nothing until you explore them a little bit and are then quite amazed at the things that are under your feet all the time in this beautiful country.

As we were walking to the edge of the cliff we saw this little house made of rock balancing precariously on the edge. I thought it would be cool to go have a look and also to see what the view is like from the promontory. Well, as we approached, two amazingly relieved Jordanian Soldiers appeared outside of the little hut and proceeded to greet us enthusiastically and then proceed to tell us what everything in the distance was including the Golan Heights, the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberius), the Jordanian/Israeli Border, and the Syrian Border. It was amazing to see the Golan Heights especially and then to release why Israeli needed to take them and the strategic position it places Syria in if they receive them again with the creation of a Palestinian State. The other interesting thing I noticed was the technological divide between Israel and Jordan. The forward observation post for Jordan was very rustic, the soldiers had a single set of binoculars and were simply asked to look for signs of movement or advance. I'm sure that on the Israeli side they employ high technology such as radar and other devices, as well as many more soldiers to watch the border. It was very interesting and again, seeing how close they are to one another, it makes me grateful their is peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors. The other cool thing, was that the defenses from the 1967 6 Day war were still in place on the hill. There were extensive concrete and rock trenches, supply trenches and pill-boxes. It was amazing to be standing to something that was so important in such a modern time and to see the front-lines firsthand.

The last thing we did was head back to the city up to the ruins of the Byzantine Basilica which had a number of intact and ruined pillars. Of course, we were up for a challenge and so we were decided to scramble up a number of the pillars and take cool pictures on top of them and around them which I will include here. It was a lot of fun, and helped us be entertained for another hour or so.

Over all, Umm Qais was extremely awesome. I'm grateful that I was able to find a less-visited tourist destination and to finally see the area surrounding the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberius) and the Golan Heights. It helps understand the strategic advantage of this area and the reasons behind some of Israel's policies and procedures. Also, sitting in Umm Qais I wondered if Palestinians actually came there and looked at their homeland that they were unable to visit and the families they wouldn't know. I thought about what it would be like to be in Canada, away from my family, and refused entry into my homeland, the United States of America. I will not comment on the political situation here, but it simply made it more real for me and helped me have empathy instead of simply sympathy. I think this is one of the greatest things I have gained here in Jordan, a better understanding of the Arab people, especially Palestinians and a better understanding of some of the situations in the Middle East according to other people's eyes.

Look, I know Karate!
That's a weird center pillar!

This is the flat Chameleon I found while walking down the road,
pretty cool eh?

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