Jordan & Israel
Our time in Jordan and Israel was not as open as our time in Lebanon, due to our work commitments, but we did have some time to explore. Additionally, timing and park schedules led to me missing all the major [*eyeroll* “major” *airquotes*) credits I had planned on hitting anyways, so I’ll bang this one out two in one.
Jordan was great in the way Costa Rica and Thailand are great. It is a very accessible and a somewhat more gentle introduction to the region, well-paved and well-traveled by many. For these reasons though, it’s a very easy country to enjoy, but it wouldn’t be our first choice of travel. That being said, both Petra and Wadi Rum are two of the more spectacular things we’ve seen anywhere. Jordan and Lebanon differed greatly in this way - where Lebanon doesn’t have the big-name stand out attractions, the in between is so fantastic. For Jordan, at least for us, it was all about Petra and Wadi Rum.
We did do other things but our time was somewhat more busy and thus constrained. We had a few days outside of Amman and Mafraq (near the Syrian border) where we were visiting teams, and took a car down the country to the Red Sea coast and back.
The first sights of the treasury at Petra are breath-taking, mostly because you have to walk in a pretty good distance to get to it, and you approach it through a narrow canyon, where it sort of looms out at you through the crack. It’s nice to have to work for your world wonders. The real reason the Treasury is so spectacular however, is its scale - most notable when you’re standing right underneath it. Some things look more impressive from far away, and less-so when you’re up close. The Treasury at Petra, however, was the opposite. You are absolutely dwarfed by the pillars and the double-decker facade. And what’s really amazing is how crisp and precise the detail work is, none of which was ever restored. Just amazing.
Beyond the treasury, crowds start to fill in really quickly (get there early), but the site is massive, easily requiring a full day if not more to explore, and a replacement pair of knees and hips as well - and you can dart off the main path, scrambling up cliffsides and exploring caves and hidden tombs on your own with nobody else around. Did you know you could actually Air B&B a spot in a cave actually in Petra??? Who knew. We met a few girls who were doing it - only downside is you have to head back by 3 pm otherwise you can’t find it in the dark - and then I suppose you’re stuck in a cave all night.
We then spent a good two days in Wadi Rum, which is heaven. Deserts are so beautiful. It’s the perfect time away from it all, in your little Bedouin camp with endless cups of tea and late-night hookah under the stars. I’m all about lounge life, and the Bedouins have it down pat. Explore the dunes and towering rocks in the day, watch the sun go down at night, and let the crackling fire lull you into another world, lounging around on intricately patterned cushions, the evening feast sitting heavy in your belly.
Honestly we could have stayed there forever and are half-tempted to go back and settle in to Bedouin living for a while. It was unimaginably charming. But there were other things to do. We spent a day in Aqaba and snorkeled in the clear blue waters of the Red Sea, across from the barren jagged rocks of the Sinai. Saudi, Egypt, Israel, and Jordan all converge at this point and were all visible, which was cool.
Then we darted back up to Amman along the King’s Highway, stopping briefly at the Dana nature reserve, the old crusader castle at Karak, and the view of the Promised Land at Mount Nebo. It was a rush trip, but we saw a good bit.
Coaster-wise, the options were pretty similar to Lebanon. There is a larger Galaxy model north of Amman at a park called Al Jubayha Amusement City, but upon arrival we were told the park wouldn’t be open for another couple months, and were rather hastily turned away from the premises, despite google saying they were open. Determined not to leave the country without a credit however, I, along with my friend Josh, went to City Mall, where a rather unusual Zamperla spinner was located at Jingo’s Jungle, looking like a somewhat junior-ish custom wild mouse. I’ve certainly ridden far worse.
Israel is a world unto it’s own. It is singularly unique in a number of different ways - the Hebrew language, the diversity, the intense political and social polarization, the religious history and almost pilgrimage status, the conservativeness of Old City Jerusalem, and the insanely contrasting end-of-the-magical-liberal-hipster Jewish rainbow that is Tel Aviv.
As a lover of culture and religion, I will never forget the first time we plunged into Old City Jerusalem, fighting a literal river of Arab hawkers, veiled women rushing their children by the hand, throngs of Asian/Ethiopian/everything tour groups and gaggles of older white folks, conservative Christian children leading their siblings by the hand through the sea of people – and then the crowds split and you see them – 4 Orthodox Jews no more than 20 years old, floating towards you all in black, laughing at each other with their hands in their pockets, draped in baggy black coats and the black pants slightly too high at the ankle, their tassels trailing behind them at their waists, their wide brimmed black hats and the long curled locks on the sides of their faces -
To say I quickly became fascinated is a gross understatement. It evoked the same feeling – the stomach drop and the short, internal gasp – that I had when I saw a fully covered Muslim woman for the first time some 6 years ago. Fancy that, me, reverting to a puddle of nervous giddiness and a dramatic bent of following every Orthodox Jew I could find and trying to talk to them. Where did they come from ?? Where are they going ?? What are they thinking right this second ??
Oh my my my. I have never been in a country so confusing and so confused. And please don’t take that badly, here’s what I mean - Every turn I took, every site I saw, every person I talked to had me rewriting my definition of what this country was. It is a hundred different things to a hundred different people, each layer more fascinating, frustrating, and painful than the one before it.
The word melting pot isn’t right at all, because things don’t really mix. You have a hundred different cultures and at the surface at least the three major monotheistic religions, each one arrayed in the broadest spectrum of adherence possible, and each slight difference and disagreement magnified by the weight of thousands of years of conflict, history, and religious importance.
We really enjoyed Tel Aviv – it was part Europe and part NYC and part California and yet completely its own thing. Narrow streets and a kaleidoscope of entertainment/dining/cafe options at every hour of the day make it a very lively, very immersive place to be. And we just love a good beach.
The Dead Sea was a highlight, as were the rich bouquets of Tel Aviv’s cheap fresh produce, the Arab hookah bars for me, and for the first time in about a month, a selection of craft beers!! But yikes, this country will clean out your wallet really quickly.
We spent time in the north too, in Galilee and Nazareth, traipsing around the country in search of obscure places of historical and religious significance, as well as signposts of what is happening right now at the social level and hints of what might be happening tomorrow. As repulsed as we are by larger tour groups, never in our lives have we been to a place where we so badly wanted to know what it all means!!!
And in the end, we feel like we are no closer to understanding this place than when we arrived. In fact, I think we even understand it less.
There were two major-ish parks on my radar, both near Tel Aviv, though at best they were both only open on Saturdays and it just didn’t work out in our schedule to be around Tel Aviv on that day. At worst, one of them (Tel Aviv Luna Park) was listed as ‘closed indefinitely’ a few days ago, but now is not. Sigh. Another conundrum. Tel Aviv Luna Park is in possession of a boomerang, and Superland south of Tel Aviv has an SLC, both of which I somewhat perversely like to collect. Lord only knows why. So I left Israel as credit-less as the day I arrived – a fitting end I suppose, to a tumultuous and confusing place.
We’re on the final stretch now, and will be home in just a couple days (after about 1000 hours of travel). In some ways, we had already started making the journey home yesterday when we left Galilee in the morning, dropped off the rental car in Jerusalem mid-day, got back across the border into Jordan, and are now waiting to catch our flights out of Amman later tonight. Needless to say, we, in our old age, are ready to be home
I should be on Nefeskesen by this time tomorrow if all goes well! Assuming I don’t pass out in the airport in a haze of dead of night G&Ts and miss it.
Thanks all for reading, and thanks for the extremely kind comments. I hope you enjoyed!
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