Winding our way up the mountain from the Dead Sea to Amman, my boyfriend and I started to wonder if there is any flat land at all in Jordan. It seemed that every stretch of highway led up a stone-covered mountain or down one, and my ears wouldn’t stop popping with the changes in altitude.
Once we reached the Jordanian capital, we continued driving through hilly terrain until we reached Jerash, home of the Roman ruins of Gerasa. Once part of the famous Roman Decapolis, Jerash is a remarkably well-preserved ancient city.
We started our visit with a compulsory trip through the market. The clever folks that run the ruins strategically placed the ticket booth at the end of a labyrinth of souvenir stalls, forcing visitors to walk past mountains of scarves, heaps of hats, and all kinds of other goods for sale.
Normally we would have ignored the shops on our way to the ticket booth, but after my boyfriend’s flip flop fiasco in the river at Ma’in, he was in the market for a new pair of shoes. Sadly, sandals seemed to be the one thing the souvenir shops were not selling.
We purchased our tickets for the ruins and I blazed a trail up to Hadrian’s Arch while my boyfriend, rendered an invalid by his broken shoe, shuffled along behind me. Built in 129 AD to commemorate the visit of the emperor of the same name, the arch was stunning in both its size and its state of preservation.
With that setting the tone for our visit, we continued up through the hippodrome to the main entrance of the ruins. Walking through the south gate of the ancient city, we arrived in Gerasa ready to explore.
Explore we did. There was so much to see in Jerash that we were there for hours marveling at huge amphitheaters, walking through the enormous forum, along the colonnaded streets, up to the temple of Artemis and down through Byzantine-era churches.
Everywhere we went there were wildflowers. Big green bushes full of tiny yellow buds gave way to patches of purple flowers with prickly stems. There was the occasional bright red poppy punctuated by little white daisies. We had read about the famous spring wildflowers of Jordan, but were little prepared for how beautiful they looked amongst the ancient marble columns.
Continuing on our walk, we passed the nymphaeum in its stunning glory, meandered below the remains of the Temple of Zeus, and ultimately reached the north gate of Jerash, which was disappointingly blocked by a giant yellow construction crane.
By the time we made it back to the south gate we were exhausted. The cold I had been hoping would go away had instead gotten worse with my refusal to rest. I wheezed my way back to the car alongside my limping boyfriend with the wonky shoe. We were quite a sight.
Back on the road, we decided we had the time and energy to take a quick trip north to the Ajloun Nature Reserve. We had read about the great hiking and beautiful wildflowers in the park, and didn’t want to miss a chance to experience both first hand.
Like everywhere else we drove in Jordan, Ajloun was 22 kilometers of steep hills and deep valleys away from Jerash. What we thought would be a quick drive turned out to be almost an hour away, and by the time we arrived it was almost sunset.
Undeterred, we pulled up to the reserve’s information center ready for a hike. It was then that we were informed that it cost 8 dinars (roughly 8 pounds) to go for a 2 kilometer walk. Ouch.
We were already there, so we shelled out the cash and stared off on our hike. Unlike the drive, which took much longer than anticipated, the hike, which we were told would take an hour, took all of fifteen minutes.
We followed the trail back towards the start and took a few detours down some small paths. The flowers were indeed beautiful, and set against the backdrop of the trees, I almost felt like I was back in Northern California. There were even a few flowers that looked exactly like the ones back home.
When it was almost dark we found our way back to the car and started the two hour drive back by Jerash and to Amman. We pulled into the Le Meridien hotel at 8pm, exhausted and ready for sleep. We needed it, too, as we planned to wake up early the next morning for the drive to Syria.