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Thursday, 30 September 2010

Another Day, Another Dinar

Greetings from the capital of the Hashemite Kingdom. It's been a good fortnight over here and I'll share a bit.

I've been working quite a bit lately, which I like. With little experience with green building, the various regional and international standards, and technical & political aspects of this process I'm learning a great deal. I'm in the midst of bringing together the component parts of a document which will, inshala, be the first draft of a comprehensive Jordanian regional standard for green building. Water and Energy are the two most important aspects as Jordan is one of the poorest water states in the world and they import over 95% of their energy. By the way 'inshala' translates more or less to 'god willing.' People say it all the time and a lot of times it just means it's not going to happen- kind of like when you were a kid and you would ask your mom if you could get ice cream after going to the grocery store and she'd say "we'll see."

A few weeks back I drove up Pella to hike up through some ancient ruins. At the foot of a group of columns I met a shepherd, who kept telling me he was a shepherd, with a handkerchief full of Greek, Roman, and Byzanntine coins that he wanted to sell me.

The hike was hot and dry with steady elevation climb. The view to the west overlooking the ruins, Jordan River Valley farmland, and across that all important imaginary line was spectacular.

I included this picture with me in it because a) I like it and b) I know it will make Gonch roll his eyes which Malcolm Gladwell tells us is the tell tale sign that a marriage won't work.

So the food is good here--> my chickpea consumption is through the roof and there's no end in sight. I also regularly visit the sharwarma (arab burrito) stand.

Paco and I saw them bringing a fresh, plastic wrapped, meat punching bag to the back burner rotisserie a couple of weeks back. It took four guys to carry and you should have seen the way that thing parted the crowd waiting out front. I tried to take of picture of the meat Moses but it didn't turn out.

Relatedly, I went to Aqaba and the Red Sea last weekend to visit two friends living down there. Katrina and Francisco had just moved to the South of Jordan and as I made the drive from Amman I received the following text message from Katrina:

"When you get into town just follow the signs to the center, find a landmark like mcd's and let Fran find you. DON'T let him try to give you directions. Neither one of us have any idea where the hell we live!"

I followed her instructions and met Francisco at Safeway and eventually we made it to their house. We headed for the beach the following day, got a mask and fins, and had our first swim in the Red Sea. It's quite a spectacular place and this part of the Sea sits at the nexus of four countries. From where we swam we looked directly west at the city of Eilat across the Israeli border, to the southwest towards Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula, and though obstructed from view around 20km down is the beginning of the western coast of Saudi Arabia. It was extremely hot and dry out and we were eager to get in the water. We waded in and the water was warm, clear, and quite salty. We spent the better part of the day swimming, snorkeling, and hanging out at the beach.

The next day Katrina and I did an introductory scuba course with a master diver from Melbourne named Rohan. He gave us a 30 minute dryland tutorial on equipment, signals, and so forth and then we were off. When we entered the water Katrina had a bit of trouble with her fins and Rohan called her a spastic and an un-co, I forgot about those charmingly offensive aussie phrases. We dove for around 45 minutes, got down to 18m, saw fire coral, parrot, clown & lionfish, and a variety of beautifully colored sealife. I had some trouble getting the right balance to reach equilibrium (I kept floating towards the surface). I released the air from my vest but perhaps didn't have enough weight on me. In the end despite Rohan's initial comments about Katrina being a spastic he told us that she did much better than I did. We got back on land with the plan of returning in the next couple of weeks to begin the certification process.

Fast forward to this past weekend and my favorite day in Jordan thus far. Victoria, a fullbrighter that's been here before, and I organized a group to take a tour to Wadi Hasa. Wadi Hasa is one of the many Wadis (canyons) in Jordan and as time goes on exploring the Wadis is becoming my addiction.

We went with a local tour company called Tropical Desert which is owned and operated by a great group of young rock climbers, trekkers, and adventurers. When I went to the office to this place I felt like I was in a University Co-op from back in the states.

Eight of us showed up to the Co-Op around 7:30am. We loaded up in small bus and hit the road a little after eight. We drove South on the King's Highway parallel to the Dead Sea. We passed through the city of Karak, which is known for its Crusader Castle, and the road opened up at the rim of the enormous Wadi. We could see several thousand feet below onto a small reservoir surrounded by miles of rolling desert.

We descended into Wadi Hasa on winding roads and passed small Bedouin farm communities which produced mainly tomatoes and olives. After a two and half hour drive, including 45 minutes in the Wadi, the bus stopped and we piled out. We geared up with life vests and got rid of all things we didn't want to get wet. Each of us carried a backpack for water, food, and a drybag for the essentials: three cameras, a lighter, and two packs of cigarettes.

Our group was around 15, including three guides: Mahmoud, Ayman, and Ahmad. We walked down a dirt hill past a few Bedouin and the launching point into the river. Right away there was a small slide which fed into a larger one. One by one we made our way down with advice from the guides. Within ten minutes we were at a relatively steep 15 foot water slide. It was good fun and emptied into a deep pool.

As we entered the river we got wind that someone ahead of us had injured his leg. We came upon the group in the canyon and above some spectators, rescue personnel, and a flimsy aluminum gurney which hung down from 10 meters up the canyon wall. It looked as if the plan was to strap the injured guy to the gurney and haul him up by brute force. One of our guides, Aboud, came in to assist and urged them against the gurney idea and also against wrapping the rope around his stomach and trying to pull him up. In the end the rescue team opted for moving him down the canyon to a spot where the rock walls were lower and the rescue folks could bring him up without ropes. We heard later on that none of his friends went with him to the hospital and the park services were pissed off at these guys for going down the wadi without proper equipment (life vests) and without guides. They wrote the guys a ticket and banished them from ever coming back. The photo here is taken just a few meters away from the dangling gurney and the injured guy with bad friends.

For the next several hours we followed this river through the base of the canyon wading through shallow water, swimming through narrow rock openings and thick cattails, and hiking short distances on dryland. We came upon several spots with falls and rocks to jump off. The local shebab were really into jumping in one after another and nearly on top of eachother. I wish I had a video of it, maybe one to come later.

We had lunch after about three hours on the river on a flat spot and another place to jump. The tour company packed roast beef, turkey, tuna, and veggie sandwiches and they stayed dry. I kept asking 'where's the beef?' and got blank stares and a few looks of disapproval. The best part of the lunch was when Aboud collected brush, brought out a full kettle, started a fire, and made tea for everyone. It was my first experience having tea on an outdoor adventure and I liked it whole lot and told Aboud so, he told me "tea is very important."

We packed up our stuff and jumped into another narrow pool which put us back into the path down the river. We saw a few crabs, someone spotted a lizard or a wizard, and we kept walking.

Eventually we ended up at some hot springs at the end of the hike where we hung out, shot the shit, and ate dates.

It was great day spent with great people at a beautiful spot. Though we were on the trail for over six hours at no point did it drag on. Paco said this was his best day in Jordan so far and I'm inclined to agree.

The rain is due to start coming down at the beginning of November which leads to flash floods in these deep canyons, so I've just got a couple more weeks to explore these amazing wadis before they are off limits until spring. This Friday another group of us will head to Wadi Karak for my first attempt at abseiling (rappelling) down a series of waterfalls. I've got a good story about locking my keys in my car which I'll write about soon but in the meantime As-Salaam-Alaikum.


  1. Hola Jonathan, the proyect seems very cool and I´m excited to follow your blog. Good luck!!!
    //Linnéa (San Sebastian)

  2. It was a stairwell wizard, not a wadi wizard. Wadi wizard! Ha!

  3. Rad pics, rad country, stellar name. My favorite part involves the street meat!

    -Jordan G.

  4. Wonderful! Reminded me of wadi visits in Israel. I, too, was struck by the nexus of 4 countries at the Red Sea.

  5. good reporting Momo! keep it up- Marty

  6. You're right, I did roll my eyes. But nonetheless quite enjoyable. Do you have a podcast?