Our drive from Amman to Petra was by way of the Kings Highway, an ancient route that winds past Crusader castles, rugged mountains, deep gorges and desert sands.
The drive usually takes about 6 hours, but we lingered a bit at Mt. Nebo, the spot from which Moses saw the Promised Land (He must have had either better eyesight than I do or been there on a clearer day, because we could barely see across the valley).
and saw the ancient Byzantine mosaics in the Orthodox church in Madaba.
We were also invited to see some spectacular mosaics at a private home. Who could say no? Note: The dark spots on the mosaic are due to the heat of a cooking fire. The family lived in this home for generations, unaware that this spectacular Byzantine mosaic lay hidden beneath their feet until the day grandma decided to do some extra scrubbing and voila’!
We also convinced Maher to stop the car and let us pet a donkey. Hehe.
During our lunch overlooking one of Jordan’s spectacular canyons, we found out our next stop, Shobak Castle, closed in 30 minutes. We were an hour away. Maher saw our disappointed faces and offered to make a phone call “to see what he could do.”
He returned to tell us that he phoned the guard at Shawbak Castle who agreed to hold the castle open for us. We knew it was our fault for adding stops for donkey petting and picture-posing along the King’s Highway and protested. Maher smiled and told us not to worry. I’m glad he didn’t listen to us. Our visit to Shobak ended up being a highlight of our trip to Jordan.
Shawbak Castle sits high on a ledge overlooking wild and seemingly desolate surroundings. The sun was sliding behind the hills and there was a sharp wind blowing through the abandoned villages along the approach to the castle. We turned into the gravel lot and noted that we were the only people there. Rachel and I felt guilty about arriving late and decided to forgo the local guide and tour the ruins ourselves. We thanked the gentleman who held the castle open for us and ran past the guard shack and up the hill, vowing to speed-tour the castle so everyone could go home.
We climbed over endless piles of rubble, found the foundations of ancient churches and looked for the catacombs, caves and passageways mentioned in our guidebook.
The self-exploration was not for the faint of heart…precipitious, unfenced ledges, dark, unlit passageways and pedestrian bridges made out of rickety wooden planks. It was brilliant.
Eventually, high wind, cold and darkness drove us back down the hill to the exit where we were waved into the guard room for some tea.
The room was warm, cozy and filled with the haze of recently and frequently smoked cigarettes. The guard had a visitng friend who spoke a little English and they both clattered around arranging chairs and preparing the teapot and glasses. They motioned for us to sit and poured scalding cups of cardamom and sage infused black tea into tiny, glass cups. His friend spoke a little English and asked about my family and if I had children. He told me that in Jordan, I would be addressed according to the name of my oldest child. I would be “Umm Rachel” (Mother of Rachel). This pleased Rachel immensely. After we finished the first of many cups of tea, the guard pulled out a handmade instrument and proceeded to sing “a song of welcome” for us. He also sang a song about Rachel’s beautiful hair :). And there we were, serenaded at sunset in a Crusader Castle high in the hills of Jordan.