Thursday 19 October

Leave camp soon after seven and walk a short distance to the road and a waiting minibus. A winding road leads us through a series of small villages until we are back on the Desert Highway, where we head north in the direction of Amman.

Wadi Ibn Hammad

After a few hours we turn off to the left towards a place called Karak, and after a bit more driving, come out onto the side of a huge valley. Hazim decides that this cannot be the right way, so we return to the last village that we passed through and after asking directions try a different road out of the village.

We know that we are on the right road when we pass a sign to our destination, the Wadi Ibn Hammad, eight kilometres away. But after some time of narrow winding roads, we begin descending by a series of zig-zags down the side of a huge rift in the earth’s surface and Hazim decides that we must have gone wrong again. The driver manages to turn the bus around and we return to the top, where we stop and ask some tomato farmers for more directions. Apparently we must have been almost there and we head back down the zig-zags.

Down in the wadi

We finally arrive at the bottom of the rift where it is surprisingly green, in stunning contrast to the arid rock further up. Down here the valley seems a lot more enclosed too.

We follow on foot a fast but shallow river down the gorge. Gradually the walls close in on us. Trees cling to the sides, green fronds hang down, and the water around our feet is quite warm. After walking for about an hour, we reach a place where the wall arches right over above us. Clinging to the near-vertical rock just above the water line is a freshwater crab. This is as far as we can go, so we return the way we came.

Freshwater crab

As we near the waiting bus, my tummy, which has been dodgy since this morning, decides to fire me a warning shot. I am first back to the bus, retrive my loo paper, and disappear into the disused building at the end of the track, where there are some very smelly toilets.

We bus back up the winding track. Apart from the vertigious drop, the ride is made more alarming from the regular loud banging noise coming from one of the rear wheels. We shout to the driver and he reluctantly stops to investigate. It turns out to be a stone stuck between the rear tyres on one side, but since Hazim cannot shift it, we continue regardless. It is only when we reach the top and begin to accelerate that there is an appauling clattering and the stone flies lose.

We eat lunch at the back of a cafe on a terrace overlooking a huge rift valley, the Wadi Mujib Gorge, once the boundary between the Amonites in the north and the Moabites in the south.

Drive on to the town of Madaba to see St George’s Church and the mosaic of the Holy Land. Not a great deal remains of it. The present church dates only from the nineteenth century and was built over the top of the mosaic, destroying much of it.

(magnify) Ancient mosaic on Mt Nebo

I finally find a cash point on the way back to the bus and withdraw seventy Jordanian Dinars, which I hope will be enough to last me the remaining few days. (Up until this point I have got by with English money and a short-term loan from Hazim, who is acting as informal banker.)

From there we drive on to Mount Nebo. It could not really be said to be much of a mountain – more a slight rise in the terrain really. A wide pavement leads from the carpark to the church at the highest point. Inside are amazing mosaics that survived the destruction by the Islamic invaders. According to the Islamic faith, it is forbidden to make representations of people or animals. But the priest of the church here had hit upon the brilliant idea of constructing geometric mosaics on top of the original ones, thereby preserving the original ones underneath. They are rich in Christian symbolism. One shows the orders of creation.

(magnify) Jordan Valley from Mt Nebo

The view outside over the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea is very hazy today. I try to imagine Moses looking out over the promised land and fail.

Mosaic school

Our final stop of the day is at a mosaic school where they are keeping alive this ancient craft. The mosaics on display are breathtaking, but the prices equally so.

Dinner at our hotel in Madaba is not inspiring. Chips with everything, but I’m not eating much anyway tonight.