Saturday, August 12, 2006

The middle east before the war: Mt Nebo

Oct 13th The Dan Nature reserve, Western Jordan

Our first stop of the day was a crusader castle called Shobar, which was built in 1115 and was captured by Saladin in 1189. The name means “Forest”, which was all chopped down by the Turks in the time just before World War One. You may be wondering why no one has tried to plant a new forest like the Israelis did back in the 1950s. Someone said that the Arabs didn’t like trees…anyway…There are cisterns and a chapel, under which was the bank vault and a winery,

After the crusaders were kicked out, the castle was turned into a village and the structure was until 1955. Sort of like the tombs in Petra, which had the residents thrown out slightly earlier.

After the eviction, the archeologists went to work, and they found plenty of Islamic inscriptions by pious Moslems who wanted to obliterate all traces of Christianity in the region. On the whole, it was not too impressive. Afterwards we went to the visiters center for the nature preserve, got some decent souveniers, and then went to one of the worst looking hotels in the middle east.

Dana six PM

Mistakes can be dangerous things, and although near-death experiences are usually better than actually dying, I should have known that I was too out of shape to go on a nature hike down a 70-degree vertical revine.

Going down was relatively easy, although the guy took us down some difficut paths around a mile down, where we say a blue lizard and pretty much nothing else but the same scenery we saw up at the top. It was all very pleasant until we discovered there was really no way back up except the way we came. At least most of the way. Being out of shape, I was at the rear, taking easy stages, although my body began to give out a quarter way back up the mountain. The guide lagged behind with me and we managed to catch up with Marie, the stewardess from east 83rd street. Three members of the group didn’t bother to go, including one person who cut out about one tenth the way down.

I don’t know exactly why I went, maybe it was macho, maybe it was guilt for not climbing that volcano in Nicaragua earlier in the year, Whatever it was, I was about three quarters the way there when the guide got fed up and decided to abandon me (Marie got a second wind and was gone), taking a short cut somewhere near the cliff face and I foolishly decided to follow him.

There are tales of little old ladies lifting cars to save their loved ones, and after this I know that they’re true. I lost the guide, and there I was at the bottom of a hundred and fifty foot cliff. Looking down, I discovered I was somehow trapped, and so I took off my sandals, put them in my tote bag, and started climbing. I had seen a couple of Israelis climbing a few minutes earlier, and thought it was the way. Unfortunately, I climbed the wrong path and was stuck about ninety feet up with really no way to get down to try again. Death loomed. I’m not really sure how I got down, but I did and I tried the next “path” and scampered up like a little kid making it to the top in no time.

The tour leader was looking out over the scenery for any trace of me when I got there. An Israeli helped me the last few feet, and that’s when my body collapsed from fatigue. It was like the crash after you get really high on some illegal intoxicant, My feet were in tatters and I almost had to crawl up the road to the hotel. It was without a doubt the greatest athletic feat of the past decade. I was a bit delirious and was denouncing myself loudly for the next hour while we waited for dinner.

8PM

After dinner, there was a band and bellydancers and a whole bunch of people from several of the hotels in the area were partying. I wanted to join in but my feet were in tatters and I couldn’t. I wouldn’t be able to walk properly until well into Syria.

Oct 14th

Karak is an another crusader castle which was built on the ruins of the capitol of Moab. It was a Bishphoric during the Byzantine empire, and during the crusades, obviously, the castle was constructed and it’s one of the biggest in Jordan, six stories high. This is a masterpiece of recycling, as most of the stones were cut by previous civilizations going back thousands of years. But what we really wanted to do was bathe in the Dead Sea, known throughout the world for it’s curative powers. The agony of de feet required them.

The extra-salty water stung quite a bit but not as bad as advertised. It also didn’t do much to make my dogs feel any better. After a short trip to cool down in a air conditioned souvenir shop, we headed up to the place where Moses viewed the promised land before he croaked back in the 12th Century BCE.

Famous lookout spot on Mt. Nebo is one of those holy places which is now dedicated solely to tourism. Back during 2000, Pope John Paul II visited and there dozens of commemorative plaques were set up, including one by the anti-Zionist “Danish Palestine Society” which is kind of hypocritical for a place famous for the first Zionist exercise in the history of the world. Aside from the view, allegedly on a clear day you can see Jerusalem, there’s a ruined church with lots of beautiful mosaics. The place is a ruin now, but it’s being restored as a tourist attraction, run by the Catholic church, although was built by the Eastern Orthodox. But then the Pope did show up.

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