The King’s Highway: "Cheerfully, Taghreed Walks Me!"

Madaba to Wadi Musa
The H.K. of Jordan

May 27, 2007
Sabah al-khayr,
Good Morning,

Despite her severe traditional dress of a red scarf completely covering her head and neck and her loosely fitting black coat and pants, Taghreed, the Reception Manager, cheerfully first persuaded me to stay at the Madaba Inn Hotel, and then cheerfully negotiated with me to reach a comfortable room rate, and finally cheerfully pointed me in the direction of the sites of this small hillside town south of Amman.

The most famous attraction is the mosaic map in the 19th Century Greek Orthodox St. George's Church. The mosaic was constructed in 560 CE and once was a clear map, with Greek captions, of all the major biblical sites from Lebanon to Egypt. About a third of the more than two million pieces still remain. The captions are "Greek to me" but I could decipher Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

The following morning, as she had forecast, Taghreed cheerfully evicted me (no room at the Inn) and "walked me" to the simple but hospitable Salome Hotel. Here's the good news: I met Stephan and his girlfriend, Stephanie ("easy to remember"), we compared itineraries, and I invited them to join me for the next day's day trip to Mt. Nebo and The Dead Sea.

Mt. Nebo, 817 meters (2680 feet), is the purported spot where Moses stood to view The Promised Land. The view is superb across the Dead Sea and Jordan Valley towards Jerusalem. But, I imagine that 3000 years ago, the view was even more inspiring, more green, and more promising. Now the view is beautiful but mostly stark with desert-like hills and valleys.

Steph and Steph and I drove down the curving mountainside. And down, and down some more. And down again. Down to the lowest point on the surface of the earth: 418 meters (1371 feet) below sea level. We found a fancy public bathing area, changed clothes, had a great lunch, and headed for a swim. It's true. You can float like a cork in the Dead Sea. But don't "drink" the water. I had to try it once. It tastes like someone dissolved a kilo of salt in a tea cup. Yuk. Then back to the swimming pool area for a bit of sun and a swim. The pool was huge, with fountains and even a little bridge.

The developers are developing here. It's a shame. This pristine and glorious area deserves to be "undeveloped." Even the water, salty as it is, is a wonderful blue and the mountains are brown and gold and yellow.

The next day, we three made the long pilgrimage down The King's Highway south to Petra - the preeminent site in Jordan. We stopped for tea in a mountain town; we stopped at the Karak (Crusader) Castle; we stopped for a buffet lunch: we stopped at the Shobak Castle - thick-walled fortress ruins high up above the towns and valleys. The roads are twisting and treacherous in spots so I am happy that Stephan is both a great navigator and then my co-pilot for the long drive.

We part company in Wadi Musa. I am booked at the Amra Palace Hotel in Wadi Musa, the town near Petra. Stephan and Stephanie head to a hotel near the entrance.

So, at the end of the day, so to speak, I owe Taghreed "shukran" - a big "Thank You." She was a genial host, a firm and gentle "evictor," and an unwitting organizer of two pleasant days with my young French friends.

Taghreed sets a good example of the combination of sincere Jordanian hospitality and clever business skills. I am happy to be on the receiving end of both.

Ma'a salaama,

Jan

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