Sunday, September 28, 2008

Definitely not in Kansas anymore, Toto...

ORIGINAL POST: 29 Mar 2008

Well, I'm not from Kansas - I'm from Alabama - but this is definitely the furthest from home I've ever been.

I don't think China could even be more distant from my "norm".

On March 18, I crossed into the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan for a few stops.

This little country near the heart of the Middle East is bordered on four sides my countries that remain in constant conflict with each other: Syria to the north, Israel to the west, Saudi Arabia to the south... and Iraq to the east.

For all that you've heard about it being all crazy and stuff - and the little fun photo I started this blog with - they are the remote instances scattered by the media. Jordan is a peaceful country with a booming economy (their currency is stronger than the Euro!) and has a king that genuinely cares for the well-being of the people in his country: he has implemented massive campaigns to get more kids in school and help the nomadic Bedouins manage in a land with a notoriously high cost of living... all without a single drop of natural oil in the country.

This was the first time during out trip that I began to realize something: all these horrific stories of men and women blowing themselves up in public areas are such tiny remote instances. Real people live their everyday lives - yes, even in Iraq - completely detached from the ideas of the extremists. Sadly, the only thing that really makes news is the man running into the market and blowing himself up.

There are MANY places in Jordan that look like:

...but for the most part, it looks like:

Welcome to Jordan.

The Israelis call it "Allenby Bridge" - the Jordanians call it "King Hussein Bridge". Either way - it is the bridge that crosses the Jordan River north of the Dead Sea.

I have crossed international bridges before... Mexico is a good example of what to expect from the Israel-Jordan crossing. It is slightly more involved though...

We had to leave Avner for a while - he's Israeli and the process is difficult to get him into Jordan, so its easier just to change guides. And since our driver was Israeli, too... had to change him. And since our bus was registered in Israel...

...yes, we had to change it, too!

Meet Sneaks. Sneaks made a new friend.

Okay, a brief commercial break:
The Israelis are beautiful. Not just "exotic". Genuinely very attractive people. Male and female together - by sheer percentage of beautiful to not-so-beautiful... there have only been two other places in the world that can rival the beautifulness of these people...


...and the University of Georgia.

Sneaks wishes he could marry this one - or most any female in Israel would do, also.

After the crossing, we had to wait for a while for our passports to all be cleared. Nearby was a small garrison of soldiers. Something we don't often think of in areas of conflict - though we think of our own quite a bit - are the soldiers of the other side.

These men have families and are someone's brother or son or father. They have to put their pants on one leg at a time and clean them when they get dirty, too.

Go ahead... enlarge it... they're military uniforms... hanging on a barbed-wire fence to dry.

So, we all moved inward towards Mount Nebo, where Moses stood overlooking the promised land. This was a good opportunity to enjoy some of the countryside and see a bit of normal life in passing...

Is it the norm... or the exception?

The Bedouin shepherds cover the hillsides and their herding trails can be seen streaking the hillsides.

All sniped by the 80-200mm... Is it unsportsmanlike? Maybe... but my other options were a bit limited.

Remember the previous day at Masada? All the dust and haze? Yeah... that's still going strong... except on Mt. Nebo.

You should be able to see Jericho and the mountains outside Jerusalem from here - only 40km - and the Dead Sea to the left... alas... not today...

The only thing that was there was a church built by Franciscan monks many moons ago.

...its not every day you see a church to Moses.


...nor a piece indistinguishable equipment that seemed to be from the time of Moses.

And remember me saying something about having to switch everything (drivers, buses, guides) because we were in Jordan?

Meet Jameel. He is our new guide while in Jordan.

From here we moved further inland to the small town of Madaba.

Just about the only thing there was a small Arab Christian population and a big Greek Orthodox Church. The church was the base of our interest, though. It has a significant mural on the floor in the middle of the church.

This huge mosaic contains a map with extremely accurate locations of sites previously unknown to archaeologists until this map was discovered in the 1920's. In the upper center of the map is an oval - this is the old city of Jerusalem - and the Dead Sea on the upper right side with the Jordan River extending upwards from there.

Archaeologists who study this area have used the locations on this map to locate lost sites because the scale on the map is surprisingly accurate considering it was constructed there during the 700's.

It was a small town with a significant claim to fame.

Significant, that is, if you're a nerd like me.

And the kids were cute...

...that one needed his diaper changed.

I stimulate the visual AND the olfactory senses now!

Amman, Jordan, was a completely different experience from these small two-donkey towns. A metropolis of 2million has an exceptional history and now is a thriving modern city with an impressive education, welfare, and transportation system - much assisted by their monarch - and a land value and housing market that puts the United States to shame.

Some say the recent economic boom in some parts of the Middle East has been brought on by oil. That may be true in Dubai or other such places... but Jordan has no oil at all. In fact, their oil prices are EXTREMELY high. So high, in fact, that any car that gets less than 25 miles to the gallon is considered a luxury automobile because only the richest can afford to keep the tank full.

Funny thing: those "luxury" cars like Chevy Suburbans and Ford F-150's are seen everywhere. There are quite a few rich people...

...but still quite a few poor people...

...and quite a few ancient things...

And where else in the world can you stand on a hillside and overlook a fully modern city punctuated by ancient ruins with goats eating grass at your feet?

Meet Jordan. Taking a picture of Amman, Jordan. It was his birthday. Say "Happy Birthday, Jordan."

Jordan spent his birthday in Jordan.

Okay, enough of that. Here's Amman.

The next day was a turning point for our journey through this region of the world.

It was a long drive there...

Lots and lots of desert...

And back to a land where you feel constantly watched...

Where lunch is a little bit meager...

...mmm... Proud Cola and pita filled with honey.

And back to the "touristy" areas...

Welcome to Petra.

How does one describe Petra? Let me do it with photos instead of words...

The 100 foot tall sheer cliffs and the chasm that makes up the road...

...ending with a sight that easily rivals the awe-inspiring experience of seeing the Pyramids for the first time...

...notice the people at the bottom.

Then you come out of the canyon road and a 28-70mm cannot get the whole thing in the frame.

...then again, I don't think an 18mm could get it all in there.

The Great Treasury at Petra has been accepted as on of the new ancient wonders of the world. Seeing these images again - even on my Powerbook - they're still just completely unbelievable.

And, if you didn't know, this is the first of so many: almost 600 rock faces like this. Many are more heavily damaged than this... but all are completely carved from the rock and have no extra additions.

A great addition to the experience is the amount of people around! It was really fun to have the 28-70mm as my only option... It was like street photography - in a canyon.

I'm not sure you'd see things like that on the "average" street...

...then again, I bet it would depend on where said street may be located.

There is still a small population of Bedouin families who still inhabit the area and have exclusive rights from the government to sell their wares in the Petra area.

It can be done with an SLR. I'd just prefer the rangefinder.

Oh, and the carved rock inside the caves are bizarre. This is what the carved rock looked like when it was freshly carved. Imagine all of it covered in this colorful rock...

A little touristy... but one of the coolest places I've ever seen.

Easily... rivals almost anything else I've seen since I've been in Europe...

...but technically, I wasn't in Europe... so...

...yeah, I'm pretty sure there's nothing like this in Europe.

After our guide turned us loose for the rest of the afternoon, I went exploring.

I walked back around the corner to get a few shots of the distant hills.

And then I hear this waterfall...

...a waterfall of goats coming down these random stairs.

You'd think the sheep would smell bad or something... they're not too bad actually...

...and are extremely soft. Then again - they're made of cotton.

It always always always helps to leave the beaten path and go around the corner to the areas where nobody is. It is okay to be a tourist sometimes - goodness knows I've done my share of that for this trip - but the path always takes you to the places everyone has already taken pictures. Those places are photographed until there are no new angles.

Leave the trail, go around the corner, and find a waterfall of goats and sheep.

And the random donkeys... that were everywhere.

While I was on my little excursion over the hilltop, I sat down to change my lens again. As I sat there for a moment or two, I heard something over my shoulder. I thought it was another goat so I didn't think much about it until I was done changing the lens. I looked over my shoulder and found:

The kids are mighty friendly.

I don't know what this was about.

We had to return the way we came...

...which made some black-sock-khaki people a little irked.

I was in freaking Petra... nothing at all could get me irked.

Lets see... my parents would probably appreciate this. Yes, they actually raise Jerusalem burros as pets. You could say, this is a working girl in her natural environment.

So, if you've hung on this long, I'm pretty impressed... and flattered. This one has been pretty long... but I took close to 800 photos in this place.

For the walk back out, I switched to the Sigma 30mm. The shadows started to get pretty long and I needed the extra room...

I don't think I had to get into this position to get any shots, though:

Digicams are universal...

And I love Sigma primes...

...but not camel breath.

But I do love Petra...

To see the time and effort these people put into their civilizations - sometimes it took up to an entire generation to carve these canyon facades - it really shows the pride they possessed.

When future generations and future civilizations look back on our New York City's and London's and Sydney's, will they see us as a people that took pride in our world like the generations past?

Or will they see us like the war-like, cheap, easiest-way-out society that we seem to be becoming.

The Jordanians definitely know how to do the hospitality thing!

I loved Jordan. It was only 6 days into our little trip to Israel, but it had surpassed everything seen thus far.

The next day, we returned to the West Bank and on to Jerusalem.

Good day,
~Noah D.

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