road trip day one: Madaba, Dead Sea, Petra by Night

The next two posts are a series about my first proper road trip, as I experienced it in Jordan with my mother.

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Being from Michigan, I have spent my fair share of time in cars, as both a driver and a passenger. We regularly drive considerable distances to get around the suburbs of Detroit. And sometimes we drive even farther, across state lines.

My dad has never minded being behind the wheel for long hours, and we took many trips in his car growing up. We would drive to Ohio on summer weekends so we could ride the rollercoasters in Cedar Point. We drove to the upper peninsula of Michigan, to ride tandem bikes around Mackinac Island. Once we even drove over twenty hours, to Florida, for a family trip in Fort Lauderdale.

But those trips always had just one destination. From point A to B, with the occasional rest stop, restaurant, or gas refill in between.

As I mentioned in my last post, my mother visited me in Amman a couple months ago. She is an adventurous soul and likes to experience new things. Naturally, she wanted to see as much of Jordan as possible. A road trip was the best way to see several landmarks in just a few days.

With the help of Ahmad, the driver and tour guide I trust most in Amman, we planned an itinerary. (Let me know if you ever need someone to take you around Jordan and I’ll connect you with him.) We settled on going to Madaba, Mount Nebo, the Dead Sea, Petra, Wadi Rum, and Aqaba.

What follows is the summarized chronicle of our jam-packed trip:

DAY ONE: Madaba, Mount Nebo, Dead Sea, Petra by Night
We leave Amman early and head about an hour southwest, toward the churches and biblical sites in Madaba and Mount Nebo.

Madaba is home to St. George’s church, which contains Byzantine mosaics and the oldest map of Palestine. My mother is a deeply spiritual person and feels peaceful in any house of god, regardless of religion or denomination. She lit a candle and said her prayers, all the while admiring the divine works of art around her.

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Afterward, we enjoyed a cup of coffee at the small dukan across the street. Mom was surprised to see that most Jordanians drink their thick Arabic coffee in large paper cups. She had been expecting a small finjan. This is when I explained to my mother that drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes, both separately and together, are among the most beloved pastimes of this charming country. (Ahmad agreed.)

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We then went to Mount Nebo, and gazed out the same ridge from which Moses viewed the Holy Land. Overlooking the panorama is the Moses Memorial Church, which has foundations dating back to the 4th century AD, and has undergone major renovations in the past few years. I have gone a few times and always appreciate seeing the old tile mosaics and stained glass juxtaposed against modern touches: crisp white walls, steel bars, blond wood panels.

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We make our way down the curving mountain road to the world’s lowest elevation, the Dead Sea. It is exactly 1,412 feet below sea level. Resorts both large and small dot the coast, as well as a few public beaches. Mom and I take lunch at the resort buffet and spend a few hours in the sun. Like most people who encounter the Dead Sea for the first time, my mom was amazed at how effortlessly she floated in the salty water.

Tired from the activity of the day, we got back in the car for the last drive of the day. Three more hours to Petra. We rested our heads and chatted, stopped at a panoramic view of the mountains for sunset, and picked up a fresh watermelon from a vendor along the road.

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We arrived in the evening. Petra is an ancient city and archeological site dating back to the 5th century BC. The buildings are cut from the dusty pink mountain stone of the area, and as such Petra has come to be known at the “Rose City.” Its beauty and historical significance are such that UNESCO has deemed it a World Heritage Site.

We freshened up and made it just in time for the Petra by Night attraction. Every Thursday night, visitors are welcome to stroll along a path of the Rose City. Small tea candles in brown paper bags illuminate your passage. The end of the trail leads to the iconic Treasury building, where visitors sit on hand-woven carpets and listen to music from the local Bedouin community. They play the flute and the rebab, a string instrument that is much like a fiddle. We listened, entranced, sipping from paper cups of syrupy-sweet tea steeped with sage.

The music dissipated into the night air. Mom was moved by the sight of the grand edifice in front of us, illuminated from below by hundreds of tiny flames. I felt infinitely lucky to have witnessed something so big, so obviously important, with my mother.

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We walked back to the hotel with our arms interlinked. The full moon smiled at us from above; the mountains bared their faces etched with churches and tombs; the earth at our feet sparkled with the glow of candles.

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Stay tuned for the next post, where I will write about the remaining destinations from our road trip: Petra by day, Wadi Rumi, and Aqaba.

I am curious to hear from you all: Have you been on a road trip before? What are some of your favorite road trip memories? If you haven’t been on one, where would you like to go?

2 thoughts on “road trip day one: Madaba, Dead Sea, Petra by Night

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