Monday, January 7, 2013

Underground and Away We Go

On our last full day in Jordan we bade a fond farewell to Petra and piled into the car to  depart for Jerash.  Of course, it was a crazy long car ride so I made the trip quicker in the only way that I knew how--I took one of my customary cat naps.  They really do make the time just fly right on by.  So, in the blink of an eye we were there! 

Well, of course we didn't just drive straight there.  Oh my, no.  In addition to a quick potty break, we stopped off at this place called Crucader Castle.  No, not the same one as in Petra--that was Crucader Fortress--although this one was also ridiculously high up.  This one was perched on top of a large cone-shaped mound of earth so it was easily defendable.  Mercifully, we would not be hauling our collective cookies up to the top.  However, we came close to having to do what I can only describe as something quite a bit worse. 
We pulled alongside what I thought was a well and got out to ooh and ahh at the fortress above.  This is when our guide, The Flirt, revealed to us that while there was indeed a water supply down in the well-looking-thingy, it would also soon be featuring…  Turns out that it was not a well at all, but was actually a secret passageway into the castle!  There was a long slim tunnel deep inside that led all the way to the heart of the fortress above that they would use to nip on down and get water when they were under attack so they didn't have to go out the front door and be subsequently killed or captured by the attacking force.  And we were going in!  Um, excuse me, but the hell you say?  This not-really-a-well-but-looked-like-one type of structure was up to my collarbone, the shaft inside was dark as night and there were only a few rusty rungs rammed into the wall at not nearly enough intervals to climb down with.  The Flirt and The PM swarmed on down there while I tried to figure out how the hell to even pull myself up over the top since it was so high and I'm not really known for my upper-body strength. 
With the help of our driver, The Mouth, I was finally able to clamber up and slowly make my way down into what looked to be the depths of hell.  At this point I would like to mention some of the mechanics involved here.  The rungs were spaced so if I was standing on one and had my arms stretched nearly all the way up with a death grip on another one, there is still only one rung betwixt them which was around about my waist.  So once I had hauled myself to the top of the non-well thingy and somehow managed to not just fall headfirst down the entire damn shaft, I had to brace my feet against the sides of the walls, grab onto the first rung and pretty much half-drop/half-slide down.  All the while hoping that my feet will hit the next rung before my hands are ripped off the one I'm holding onto since that's what tends to happen when your body weight is dropped into a hole like a stone.  This is how I made my way down.  Gingerly grasp waist-high rung, stick butt out as far as it will go, drop one foot and let it dangle near wall and hopefully close to the next just-out-of-reach rung, slowly ease other foot off rung, have heart stop for a moment as body briefly plummets, catch breath, wipe sweat off hands one at a time, swear, start process over again.  Needless to say, this took a few minutes.  Meanwhile, The Flirt and The PM are chatting away and greeted me with a benign "Oh, so you made it" once I finally hit the bottom before turning and resuming their conversation as though I didn't just risk life and limb getting down there.  I stood there, fuming, and wondered if I killed the both of them and left them there to rot how I would 1. Make it back up on my own and 2. What kind of plausible excuse I could give The Mouth as to why I would be continuing on to Jerash as a party of one.  After deciding that neither option looked like a good shot (hey, I'm nothing if not practical), I resolved to kill them both later when it was more convenient for me and decided to enjoy my look around and up into the slanting tunnel that led into the bowels of the castle. 
We were informed later that The Flirt usually makes his tours go all the way up, which apparently is especially fun since there are no lights in there, but as we were a little pressed for time it was not in the cards for that day.  And for a million reasons, I was very relieved to hear that.  Not the least of which being that, like a ninny, I was wearing black again.  I tried to put on a show of being disappointed but.....seriously.  No.  So after absorbing whatever grey, dirty atmosphere there was down there, it was time to haul our collective selves back up.  Sigh.  I had been dreading this, pretty much even before I was all the way down.  I voiced my concern over going first and being able to launch myself out via my own strength, suggesting that they get a head start and I would follow, to which The Flirt instantly said "Okay, you go first, then!" in a chipper voice.  Um, okay then.  Obviously "if I go first I may just die" doesn't translate very well from English to Arabic.  Whatever, you only live once.  So I trudged over to the Rungs Of My Untimely Demise and leapt up onto the first one.  With The PM making snarky comments the whole way, I somehow managed to hoist my sorry self up.  I got a little stuck near the top and was gearing myself up for one final, quite literal leap of faith when I heard The Flirt say something about The PM helping me which somehow computed in his brain as putting his hand on my ass and pushing.  He's lucky I didn't kick him in his damn head which was my first and only instinct at that moment and precisely what I threatened him with.  But, always the practical one, I also realized that I might never get out otherwise.  So I flopped over the side like a dead fish, in what I am sure was the most ungainly manner possible, and rolled out over the top of the well and onto the ground.  The PM did a double somersault with a half twist as his dismount out of the shaft and smirked at me "I bet it was just eating at you that you couldn't go down, huh?" "No, asshat, I'm 5'1" and it takes me a little longer to do some things" I carped back.  And then I shoved his smug face back over the edge of the shaft and threw him in.  Okay, not really.  But it was close.  I happened to be feeling particularly murderous at that point in time.  Needless to say, the day was off to an eventful start. 

So after my near-death experience and a few catnaps in the car, we arrived at Jerash, which was actually pretty darn amazing.  The Romans were there for quite a while back when they were busy empire-building and all and you could definitely see their influence.  Of course, temples to Zeus, Artemis and Dionysus were a bit of a tip-off as well.  And yes, I realize those are Greek god names but that's what we were told they were called there or perhaps since the Greek and Roman deities were pretty much the same thing they didn't bother translating the updated version into Arabic.  

There's still up to 70% of the ruins still underground and it was neat to see the tippy tops of massive columns just peeking out through the dusty soil.  The PM and I had fun running around all the massive column-filled ruins, taking silly pictures all the while.  We also shimmied to the top of the stone amphitheatre, which was pretty darn high up.  I was very proud of The PM for doing as well as he did at that height.  There were two drummers down below and, surprise surprise, a guy playing the bagpipes!  I just can't escape, it would seem.  Although they were Scottish bagpipes, not Irish ones.  Just in case you were wondering.  Still.  When they saw us up on our perch, they gave us a friendly wave and immediately launched into Yankee Doodle Dandy, which was very sweet and also equally bizarre.  Did I mention these guys were in full Arab dress?  Because they were, which added to the peculiarness of the bagpipes and the song choice.  And yes, as high up and far away as we were, our whitey little selves were clearly identifiable as Americans.  Interesting, no? 

After taking time to enjoy the view from on high, we clambered down into the amphitheatre itself and The Flirt told us that there was this one point that was an acoustic sweet spot, where you could be heard from anywhere in the theatre.  He had me walk up to it and I will admit that I was skeptical right up to the point that I was actually standing there.  And the air around me....changed.  It's hard to describe, but I could feel the difference around me, almost like a pressure change of sorts.  When I spoke, my voice raced out and soared around the theatre like a bird.  I raised my hands up like Evita and warbled out, well...not a high C to be sure, but maybe what passes for a mid-range E?  It was very cool.  There were also these circular cut-outs in the stone ringing the inside of the theatre that were like ancient telephones.  The PM squatted down by one at one end and I the other and apparently if you even whisper into them, you can be clearly heard at the other side.  And you could hear a kind of hollow quality in your voice when you spoke there so I'm sure it would have worked like a dream if not for the children screaming in French into it.  Ah, well.

We ran all over Jerash for the better part of the day and I managed to get a little more shopping in, steadfastly ignoring the heavy eye-rolling from The PM.  And then, suddenly, it was time to go.  We bade farewell to The Flirt and left him at his home near Jerash.  The Mouth then took us to the airport in Amman where we said our good-byes to him as well.  As we sat in the airport awaiting our flight to Cairo, we reflected back on our amazing time in Jordan and both wondered the same thing:  How could Egypt possibly top this?

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