Do the needful

I had a funny little chat encounter today. Foodpanda is a local food delivery service. You log in, choose a local restaurant, place your order, and they bring the food. It’s great… except that they send about 5 text messages to my phone every day. I finally snapped and clicked on their website, where I found a live chat option.

“How can I unsubscribe from your SMS messages?” I wrote.
The reply made me laugh: “In Foodpanda we respect your privacy. We regularly tax great limited time offers form the best restaurants. If you want to opt out, please give a missed call at- 011-66765505 and we will do the needful for you.”

Yes, they will “do the needful.” I love that phrase.

CNN shared a few other “Indianisms” in an article a few years back. I hear most of these regularly! Check it out: 10 classic Indianisms: ‘Doing the needful’ and more.

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Taipei Get-Away: filling up my brain, belly and heart

Sometimes you visit a place and get exactly what you need at that moment in time.

In just four days, Taipei met my needs for academic discourse, nature, reconnection with special friends, whimsy, foodie lust, culture, local kindness and expat bonding. That was a lot to accomplish in such a short visit. I headed back to Delhi Tuesday feeling energized professionally and personally.

I was in Taipei (along with Marianna and Jeni, two other EAL teachers at our school) for a professional development workshop on WIDA tools. According to its website,

WIDA advances academic language development and academic achievement for linguistically diverse students through high quality standards, assessments, research, and professional development for educators.

Although WIDA primarily targets the 36 states in its U.S. consortium, this particular workshop was tailored for the 150+ schools in the WIDA International Schools Consortium. When I worked at Shanghai American School, we piloted WIDA’s international work, and I’ve been deepening my understanding ever since. The Taipei symposium’s organizers included Margo Gottlieb, WIDA Lead Developer and one of the founders; Jon Nordmeyer, a teacher at the International School of Bangkok who will join the WIDA staff next year to coordinate its international consortium (He was also my EAL supervisor in both Istanbul and Shanghai!); and Virginia Blais, an insightful and inquisitive EAL teacher at Taipei American School. They designed the workshop around conversations, which led to heaps of revelations and excited sharing of ideas with teachers from all over the world.

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An exercise in using the WIDA rubric to score writing helped participants better understand the criteria and process. Loved it!
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Professional development led me to Taipei, but the city definitely won me over.

While Delhi abounds with gardens, public parks, tree-lined avenues and even the wonderful Aravelli Biodiversity Park right around the corner from our house, the toxic air pollution and dust-coated leaves act as powerful incentives to stay inside during the winter months. My workshop took place at Taipei American School, just a 15-minute drive from Yangmingshan National Park. Lonely Planet echoes my thoughts:

How fortunate Taipei is to have this diverse park at its doorstep, complete with forested mountains, hot springs, rolling grass hills, and some handsome lodgings and restaurants. The park covers 114.55 sq km, with a top elevation of 1120m, and is easily accessible from the downtown area by frequent buses.

I didn’t have time to hike, but I did have time to enjoy one of the hot springs. (See my previous post: Soaking my cares away in Taipei.)

On our drive up to the hot springs, we stopped to take a photo, but my camera wouldn’t shoot. I took it to a camera shop near the hotel. The shopkeeper, who was about 4 feet tall and sweet as could be, told me she had operated that shop for 50 years. She had to order a part and repair my camera in just three days, which she did. I popped in Monday morning to check on the progress, and she froze, eyes wide open. She obviously panicked that she had confused my departure time. “I’m just touching base,” I said. “I don’t leave till tomorrow morning.” She grabbed my arm and squeaked, “Don’t scare me like that!” Sure enough, later that evening, my camera was fixed and cleaned – good as new. Her cheerful attitude and eagerness to help were typical of the people I encountered in Taipei.
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Having spent four years in Shanghai, I enjoyed the familiar vibe in Taipei, but the easy-going pace was a far cry from mainland China. At the metro, I stared in awe at the people who (a) lined up to take the escalator and (b) scooted over the right so people could pass on the left. The crowd also lined up to get on the train, leaving room for others to disembark. Not the China I know!
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Another highlight of our visit: Paul and Lisa, friends of friends and teachers at Taipei American School, took Marianna, Jeni and me to the Shilin Night Market. It was mind-bogglingly fabulous.
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So many food options! I got a delicious bubble tea and some steamed pork buns. Yum!
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Shrimp fishing. If you catch any, the booth workers will cook ‘em up for you to eat on the spot.
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The most special part of my weekend, however, was a mini-reunion with some of my favorite friends who worked with us at Shanghai American School (2005-2009). Kimbra and Elaine traveled from Shanghai; Kathy and Colleen traveled from Hong Kong; and Kristi and Julian live about 3 minutes from Taipei American School. (You may remember Col from her recent trip to India!) They came to town just to hang out, which was such a treat. I love how we reminisce about old times but also make new memories together.

Julian gave us a tour of the school.
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At Kristi and Julian’s house, Kathy told us to “act natural.”
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Posing with Taipei 101, which was the world’s tallest building back in 2004.
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As we head into the Year of the Ram – which is my Chinese Zodiac sign, I choose to follow the advice from this cheesy display.
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Check out the Taipei Trends website for more reasons to love this city.

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Soaking my cares away in Taipei

Word of the Day: Fumarole
A fumarole (Latin fumus, smoke) is an opening in a planet’s crust, often in the neighborhood of volcanoes, which emits steam and gases such as carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen chloride, and hydrogen sulfide. – Wikipedia

I was, in fact, “in the neighborhood of volcanoes” today in Beitou, a Taipei suburb at the base of Yangming Mountain in Taiwan. I felt profoundly grateful for those lovely fumaroles, which are among three conditions for forming natural hot springs, according to the Yangmingshan National Park website. In addition, to fumaroles, you need an underground supply of hot water and hydrostatic pressure to force it upwards. “In Yangmingshan National Park, the distribution of hot springs and fumaroles is controlled by a sandstone formation that underlies the 13 geothermal areas. Forces inside the earth’s crust cause the rock to rupture,” the website says.

Well, that’s all very science-y and fascinating. But do you know what’s even more wonderful? Soaking with your blissed-out friends in a bubbling sulfur vat of relaxation.
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I’m in Taipei with Delhi friends Marianna and Jeni for a work conference, but I’m also meeting up with a group of besties from my Shanghai days. We first popped in on Kristi, who now lives in Taipei with her husband, Julian, and two adorable little boys. Her lovely apartment/art studio is right around the corner from our hotel. After a short visit yesterday, she offered to take us to the hot springs. Yes, please!

Kristi picked us up this morning, and we walked across the street to Jake’s Country Kitchen for blueberry pancakes. After a short drive up the mountain, we arrived at Spring City Resort, where we paid 700 New Taiwan Dollars, or about $22. Outside, we each exchanged our ticket for a blue plastic basket containing a couple towels, a cotton robe, flip flops, a locker key and a weird stretchy band that morphed into a disposable swim cap. The locker room, located up a short flight of rock steps, was clean and simple. We donned our swimsuits and robes and headed back down to the sulfur pools.
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While ruling Taiwan (1895-1945), the Japanese discovered the perfect place to recreate their beloved hot springs culture: the hillsides of Taipei. Although the area turned a bit sleazy for awhile, gentrification and a direct metro line from the city center have created an upscale leisure destination.

The small pools at Spring City Resort featured signs that clarified specific therapeutic targets, such as “body slimming” or “alleviating frozen shoulders and promoting sleeps.” They ranged in size, depth, angle of jets, and temperature with the hottest water at 42°C or 107°F and the coldest unrecorded by me because there was no way I was getting in there. Shaded by flowering trees and surrounded by rock gardens, I felt the rejuvenating power of this mountain oasis.
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Fresh spring water poured into each pool through a stone spout, nearly impossible to resist touching – thank goodness for the warning sign.
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A stone slab, protected from the breeze by a bamboo screen, was heated by the hot water underneath and provided a nice dry spot to take a break from the pruning effect. After popping in and out of several pools, we showered, dressed and drove back down the mountain so Kristi could pick up her kids from school by 1:30. You really couldn’t ask for a more relaxing way to start the day!

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Desert Castles & Amman – Jordan Journey, Day 12

Our last full day in Amman, and we had more castle storming to do!

(For those of you who don’t get it, Tony and I are just a wee bit obsessed with “The Princess Bride,” so every time we visit a castle, we feel compelled to quote the movie: “Have fun storming the castle!”)

In fact, the castles weren’t castles at all. George drove us east today to check out what are commonly called “desert castles” or “desert palaces” but are most likely rural retreats for the hoi polloi of the 8th-century Umayyad Dynasty. Actually, nobody knows for certain why these structures were built. According to the government website, The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan:

There are various theories about the purpose of the desert palaces, yet the lack of a defensive architectural design suggests that most were built as recreational retreats. The early Arab rulers’ love of the desert led them to build or take over these castles, which appear to have been surrounded by artificial oases with fruit, vegetables and animals for hunting. Other theories suggest that they came to the desert to avoid epidemics which plagued the big cities, or to maintain links with their fellow Bedouin, the bedrock of their power.

We spent the morning near the Saudi Arabian border visiting three sites.
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Qasr Al Kharaneh
Scholars think this “castle” was probably an inn or caravanserai for camel trains passing through the area. Built in 710 AD, it has features of a defensive fortress, such as arrow slits and towers, but those may have been merely cosmetic.

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It saddens me when tourists deface historical buildings. In one tiny space, we saw graffiti in Arabic, English and Italian.
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Qasra Amra
After the first structure, I had expectations of unassuming rustic buildings in our desert castle tour. Imagine my surprise when a friendly greeter unlocked this “castle” to reveal colorful frescoes, mosaic floors and a domed hamam! Ali explained that the region used to get a lot of rain. At least, I think that’s what he was saying. He held his hand at chest level and said, “Here water. Today here water no.” He then modeled how a donkey would have turned the wheel (“No donkey, so I am donkey,” he said.) to draw water from a very deep well, which has now run dry. The water then poured into a storage area and flowed into the bath area of the main building.

The Jordan Jubilee website says:

It is believed that it was built between 711 and 715 by one of the Omayyed caliphs, who had also built the great mosque bearing their name in Damascus and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. These great buildings were ornamented with gorgeous mosaics: in contrast, the bath-house, the private retreat of the caliphs, was decorated with frescoes of luxurious flowers and fruit, naked musicians, hunting scenes and some of the scenes of their conquest of neighbouring lands

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Qasr Azraq
This “castle” really was a Roman fortress, built in 300 AD and modified in 1237 AD by the Mamluks. However, now it resembles a pile of basalt rubble with a few recognizable features, such as a mosque and small rooms with original stone doors. It’s another stop on the “Lawrence of Arabia tour,” but this one is verified. He stayed for about three weeks in 1917 in the room above the entrance.
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Castles, consider yourselves stormed!

Amman Citadel
George popped into MFC – Mecca Fried Chicken (!) – to pick up sandwiches for lunch, and then he dropped us off at the Amman Citadel, on the top of Jebel al-Qala’a (about 850m above sea level).
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We sat on a bench overlooking the city sprawled out below, eating our sandwiches in a chilly breeze. I’m fascinated at the juxtaposition of ancient and modern, especially when they literally butt up against each other. From our perch, we saw tourists climbing around the 2nd-century Roman theatre wedged into a hill spilling over with 21st-century buildings.
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Humans have settled on this hill for the last 18,000 years, but the ruins that remain are mostly Roman and early Islamic. Known as Rabbath-Ammon in ancient times, it was renamed Philadelphia after Greek occupation in the 4th century. Arab rulers in the 7th century changed the name back to Amman. Excavation has been ongoing since the 1920s and there’s still much left unearthed.

Archaeologists think this was a temple for the worship of Hercules.
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The Umayyad Palace was built around 720 AD and destroyed in an earthquake just 30 years later. The domed audience hall is the most intact building and has been restored extensively by Spanish archaeologists.
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If it hadn’t been our last day in Jordan and Tony hadn’t been feeling so cruddy, we could have spent much more time exploring the Citadel and other historical sites in downtown Amman. Instead, I snapped a few pictures and took my poor sick hubby back to the hotel to rest up for the trip back to India.

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Ajloun Castle & Jerash – Jordan Journey, Day 11

After a day of doing absolutely nothing in hopes Tony would get over his cough (he didn’t), we decided to storm the castle. George took us north to Ajloun, where the rocky landscape of Amman gave way to … well, more rocks, but also rolling hills of patchwork farms, olive groves and forests. He said the area was a popular hiking and picnicking destination for locals, especially in the spring when wildflowers bloom. Today was cloudy and chilly, perfect weather for exploring a 12th-century castle on the top of a mountain.

Ajloun Castle sits on a hill called Jabal Auf, offering a 360-degree view of the surrounding countryside. Construction started in 1184 on the site of an old monastery, and the castle was expanded and rebuilt through the 1200s. The castle was one in a chain of fortresses that used pigeon post, which could send a message from Damascus to Cairo in one day, according to the Lonely Planet guide to Ajloun. After the crusader threat subsided, the castle was used by Mongols, Mamluks, Ottomans and eventually local villagers. Remember the Swiss explorer, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, the guy who “discovered” Petra for the western world? Well, it turns out he also “discovered” Ajloun Castle!
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We found a stash of catapult balls and saw the gap where castle dwellers would dump boiling oil on invaders.
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Leaving the castle, I bought some tea from this man, mainly because his teapots were so freakin’ beautiful.
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After lunch, George drove us to Jerash. I knew this was the site of ancient ruins, but again my poor preparation for this trip served us well. We walked through the impressive Hadrian’s Gate and the small Hippodrome feeling somewhat blasé.
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I mean, how many Hippodromes can a girl see and still get excited?
“This is where they raced the hippos,” Tony said. We were still giggling when we crested a hill and saw this.
What the WHAT??!!
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That photo doesn’t even begin to capture the sight. We were standing in the middle of a 2,000-year-old Roman city, and it was easy to imagine it full of life back when it was called Gerasa by its 20,000 residents. We strolled through the plazas and up the colonnaded streets, climbed into the nosebleed section of the gorgeously intact theatre, channeled the excitement of ancient worshippers at the Temple of Artemis, marveled at the infrastructure (including old manhole covers leading to the underground sewer system), lost count of the Byzantine churches, and desperately tried to wrap our heads around the history of this city.

Founded around 170 BC in the fertile mountains east of the Jordan River, Jerash experienced its ups and downs under the Romans, Byzantines and Muslims until an earthquake in 749 wreaked havoc, leaving the city deserted for about 1,000 years. A group of European explorers, including – you guessed it, Burckhardt! – visited the ruins at the beginning of the 19th century, and archaeologists have continued to study the area ever since. Check out the Rough Guide to Jerash for more details.

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Wadi Rum – Jordan Journey, Day 9

Waving good-bye to the comfort of our swanky Petra hotel, Tony and I headed for Wadi Rum and Bedouin Directions camp. Our driver was named Jafar, so you know I couldn’t stop singing the Alladin theme song in my head for the whole 2-hour drive.

Our jeep tour organizer, Mehedi Saleh Al-Heuwaitat, had sent an email warning us of a scam at the Wadi Rum entrance gate: “Please don’t listen to the people who are waiting outside the Visitor Center building as they spend the whole day waiting to ‘catch’ tourists and they will lie with you quite happily and tell you they are me or work for me! They can be convincing but don’t believe them. I will not wait for you there, and a guide that works for me will not wait for you there. We will wait in the village. … Ask the guide meeting you to give you your name and if he can do this, you know you have the right people.”

Fortunately, Jafar bought our entrance tickets without incident, and we soon met up with Mehedi. He took us to his squat concrete home in the village, where we sat on the floor by the fire while his 3-year-old son played with cars in the gravel outside. Sipping tea, we chatted with another couple heading to the camp. After awhile, our guide Ahmed loaded us into a 4X4 jeep, and we rolled out of the village and into the desert.

We had almost cancelled this part of our trip because Tony’s persistent cough was taking its toll on us both. He felt pretty good during the day, so we stayed busy and active for most of our vacation up to this point, but every night was dreadful. Sitting up, he could catch a few minutes of sleep at a time, but if he tried to lie down, he erupted into horrible fits of coughing. He loaded up on drugs from a Petra pharmacy, but their effect was minimal. I was sleep deprived, and Tony was completely wrecked. Still, he insisted on going to the camp, and we both agreed it was one of our best days in Jordan.

South of the Shara mountains near the border with Saudi Arabia, Wadi Rum is one of several parallel valleys. Its deep red sand appears to flow like a river through canyons as it swirls around towering rock formations and sweeps up to steep dunes abutting the hills. The “jebels” – sandstone, granite and basalt mountains – rise up from the sandy valley as high as 800 meters (2,624 feet). Erosion over thousands of years has created the illusion of brick-red candle wax dripping down the hillsides.

Ahmed drove his jeep across the red sand as though signs pointed to our destination, but the only signs I could see were were rocks, scrubby bushes, sand dunes and mountains. He didn’t speak much English, but he was friendly and tried really hard to answer our questions. We stopped at several spots to scramble on the boulders, hike up to a viewpoint or play on the sand dunes.

Throughout the day, Ahmed would point to something and reference Lawrence of Arabia. At first, we thought the movie was filmed here. Then we thought maybe the real Lawrence of Arabia lived here. It wasn’t until we got to Amman with internet access that I found answers. Well, sort of. Even the most credible websites conflict each other regarding T.E. Lawrence, the British army officer who lived and fought among the Hashemite rebels against the Ottoman Empire in World War I. Bottom line: T.E. Lawrence did spend some time in this region around 1917, and the epic movie starring Peter O’Toole was filmed here in the 1960s. In his book The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Lawrence described Wadi Rum as “vast and echoing and God-like,” using the Latin phrase “numen inest” or “There is divinity here.”

The Smithsonion Magazine’s article, “The True Story of Lawrence of Arabia” from July 2014 provides a fascinating and in-depth look at Lawrence’s life and relationship with the Arab world.

Our jeep tour of Wadi Rum included these stops.

Abu Aina – Misidentified as Lawrence Spring, the water here actually trickled down to the desert from the real Lawrence Spring a bit higher up the mountain. We climbed up the boulders to find a little pond of water and see the view. A couple fig trees provided shade at the top.
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Small Sand Dunes – We climbed, posed, marveled at the landscape, and then Tony ran down the dune.
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Khazali Canyon – This short canyon required shuffling along a narrow rock path and then using the natural handholds in the rock to climb past a pool of water. At the end, a slippery vertical wall seemed like an exciting challenge, so I started my ascent. Thanks to erosion, the wall was pockmarked with cracks and steps. However, about halfway up I suddenly panicked that I was free climbing with no ropes and no belayer. I wasn’t completely confident I could get back down without rappelling. My legs started trembling, and I slowly backtracked to the ground. Walking out of the canyon, we encountered that first puddle again, and I knew I could get across with no problem. However, a big group of tourists approached with a bossy guide, making me nervous. My foot slipped and splashed into the water up to my shin. Embarrassing.
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Red Sand Dunes – More climbing, posing and enjoying the view. See a pattern here? After owning my camera for two years, I finally figured out how to take panorama photos without overexposure. Yay!
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Anfishieh Inscriptions – Despite way too much time researching this on the internet, I couldn’t find anything authenticating these inscriptions. The rock drawings are generally attributed to the Thamudic and Nabataean tribes, so they could date back to the 8th century BC. All Ahmed could tell us was that they were “very old.” There was definitely some modern graffiti alongside the very old drawings, unfortunately.
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House of Lawrence – A small structure possibly built by the Nabataeans possibly may have been used by T.E. Lawrence to store weapons during the Great Arab Revolution. Possibly. Regardless, a short climb above the structure offered up yet another stunning view. Ahmed found a nook in the rock nearby, built a fire and whipped up a delicious lunch for us while we explored.
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Tony had an extra pair of socks in his backpack, so I was able to change out of my wet one.
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Mushroom Rock and Roman Dam – After a short stop at this bulbous rock, Ahmed took us to a dam that he said was built by the Romans. He said the dam creates a basin for rainwater, which can be piped out for watering camels, goats and sheep.
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Barragh Canyon – Ahmed dropped us off at one end and picked us up at the other end. I hadn’t realized until later that this was a big attraction for rock climbers. Rats, that would’ve been fun.
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No doubt about it, nature is cool. I’m always amazed to see where living things can thrive, and Tony and I both couldn’t stop commenting on how the earth morphs. Every step brought us more evidence that this region had been under water at one time, rocked by earthquakes and slowly sculpted by sand, water and wind.
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Burdah Arch and Um Frouth Arch - We viewed the Burdah Arch from a distance. Ahmed said it takes about three hours to hike to the top. Instead, we visited the much more accessible Um Frouth Arch. Only about 15 meters high, it was narrow enough to inspire some serious fear. I gripped Ahmed’s arm pretty hard as we stepped closer to the edge. He then laughed and showed me how he could get down from the arch in 3 seconds … in sandals. And he did. Yikes.
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Finally, we stopped at Chicken Rock, a big ball on two legs, which I failed to photograph, and climbed up the adjacent rock with a few other tourists to watch the sunset.

I like this shot of Ahmed, Tony and my shadow.
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After the sunset, Ahmed drove us to our campsite. We approached Bedouin Directions through a crack in the rock and found the tents protected by high cliffs on all sides. Our tent included four beds, but Tony and I had the place to ourselves. The two toilets were a short walk away.
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After warming up by the fire in the communal tent, we ate a delicious dinner. One of the camp guides called us outside to watch him unearth the zarb from the sand. The website Jordanian Foods explains this style of cooking:

As ancient and traditional cooking practices go, the zarb is perhaps the most dramatic. It consists of lamb or chicken, sometimes herbs and vegetables, which have been buried in an oven with hot coals beneath the desert sands. When it’s time for the meat to resurface, the sand is brushed away, the lid comes off, and the glorious slow-roasted fragrances billow into the air.
For centuries the bedouin have been cooking like this throughout the Arabian peninsula. When tribesmen roamed across the desert in search of water and pasture for their animals, they kept their cooking equipment to the bare minimum. An earth oven could be dug quickly, and hot embers and stones from the campfire could be placed inside. The meat would be wrapped in palm leaves, and a mound of sand would seal in the heat.

Delicious!
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Despite wearing long underwear, two long-sleeved shirts, flannel pajamas and my wool hat, and despite burrowing into a silk sack and under the thick blankets, I was freezing. There was no way I was getting up to pee during the night. The combination of the cold and Tony’s coughing meant another sleepless night. No matter. It was otherwise a perfect day and wonderful experience.

Farewell, Wadi Rum!
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Petra by Night – Jordan Journey, Day 8

After a mellow day, we crossed the street from our hotel to experience Petra by Night.

Luminaries lined the moonlit path leading to and through the Siq, glowed from alcoves in the rock walls and filled the open area in front of the Treasury. We joined throngs of tourists for the walk into Petra and sat for a few minutes listening to traditional music. The space soon filled with bodies, though, and despite the park workers’ requests for everyone to sit on the ground, some people refused and blocked the view of the Treasury for those in the back. Tony and I decided to leave the main attraction and walk back slowly through the Siq on our own rather than wait till the end when the mob would spill out.

Ahhhh … peaceful, romantic, magical.

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Petra Redux – Jordan Journey, Day 7

First into the park again on this cold cloudy morning, we chose a trail that would take us to the High Place of Sacrifice. The path was very easy to follow, and yet we took a wrong turn. At one hair-pin bend in the path, I saw steps to the right but for some reason chose to follow the footsteps in the sandy rocks that led straight ahead. It became a joke for the rest of the trip: “I see stairs over there, but I think we should follow these footsteps instead.” We scurried up a steep rocky trail, climbed over boulders and ultimately reached the other side of the mountain. The view was gorgeous, but there was no sign of a sacrifice altar. Looking over our shoulders, we saw two unfortunate hikers had followed us. We backtracked and apologized for leading them astray. The four of us returned to the point where the trail had split, chose the route with the stairs and soon reached our destination.

Steps led the way to two obelisks – which were left standing after the hillside around them was cut away, most likely honoring the two most important Nabataean gods, Dushara and al-Uzza. Just opposite were crumbling rock-block walls, which may have been a crusader fort. More steps lead up to the altar, where Nabataeuns probably performed ritual killings of animals. Archaeologists have found no evidence of human sacrifice at this spot, but inscriptions at other Nabataeun sites suggest it happened.

According to the sign at the site:

The cult complex before you includes a rectangular courtyard with three carved benches, or a “triclinium,” and a low table at its center that may have been the seat of the master of the ceremony. An altar stands to the west on which baetyls (stone blocks representing a god) were placed. To the left of this is a platform with a carved circular basin which was possibly used to collect rainwater for purification and a cup-shaped recess with a drain that may have received the blood from sacrificed animals. Sacrificial remains recovered from other Nabataean relicious sites include burnt offerings of cereal grains and livestock.

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We spotted this well-accessorized mule on the way back down.
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After a short rest and breakfast picnic, we continued our exploration. One of the highlights for me was discovered during excavation of the Byzantine Church in 1993. Researchers found 140 papyrus scrolls that recorded the goings-on of one extended affluent family in Petra between 528 and 582 AD. The scrolls were carbonized (partially burned, which preserved the writing) in a 7th-century fire. The American Center of Oriental Research has translated the scrolls from their original Greek to find mainly financial documents concerning marriage, inheritance, sales, loans and disputes. From what I’ve read, not many papyri have been found outside Egypt, so these documents are particularly valuable as researchers build their understanding of the 6th-century Byzantine lifestyle in Petra.

A sign at the church included the translation of one scroll. It could have been part of Ancient People’s Court:

List of things which I, Epiphanios, have lost – and I suspect the most reverent Hieros, son of Patrophilos: the big key of the upper floor, two cypresses from the double-roof (?), six birds, a table. When he emptied his apartment, I gave him two rooms to move into, and he did not give me those back.

The church, which dates to 450 AD, has well-preserved mosaic floors. Not for the first time in Jordan, we saw mosaic versions of animals the artists probably had never seen, such as giraffes depicted as spotted camels. Hee-hee.
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At this point in our visit, the skies cleared, and the sun appeared and warmed our bones, giving us renewed energy to keep hiking. We found a path that passed by the massive Qasr al-Bint, a 1st-century BC temple, and wound up around the cliffs of Al-Habees, a large hill topped by the ruins of a 12th-century crusader fort. On this trail, we saw many uninhabited caves, deserted in the 1980s when the Jordanian government relocated cave-dwelling Bedouins to a nearby village in response to Petra’s new UNESCO World Heritage Site status. On the west side of the hill, we had breathtaking views of Wadi Sayyagh, a valley full of lemon trees, I was told.
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We also encountered rocks painted over millennia by mineral deposits and erosion. Stripes and swirls of crimson, salmon, ecru, peach, saffron, sepia, silver, jet black and more. I became obsessed with a bright yellow stripe I found on many rock formations. Nobody could tell me what it was. Get ready for a bunch of pictures of rocks. I couldn’t resist.
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We poked around a few other areas of the park, and I took this panorama shot of the Royal Tombs on our way out. It’s overexposed, but I like it anyway.
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Petra – Jordan Journey, Day 6

The ancient city of Petra, carved into the sandstone mountains of southwest Jordan starting in the 4th century BC, is listed on nearly every website touting “The Top 25 Places You Should See Before You Die!”

Many travel bloggers say you can see the main archaeological sites in a day or less, but Tony and I easily could have spent weeks climbing the rocks, exploring the ruins, marveling at the morphing colors from dawn to dusk, and conjuring up mental movies of Nabataean life.

The Nabataeans were known for controlling trade routes and for hydraulic engineering systems, including water conservation systems, dams and an infrastructure for delivering water to the community through pipes and channels.

The Visit Petra website offers some background:

It is not known precisely when Petra was built, but the city began to prosper as the capital of the Nabataean Empire from the 1st century BC, which grew rich through trade in frankincense, myrrh, and spices. Petra was later annexed to the Roman Empire and continued to thrive until a large earthquake in 363 AD destroyed much of the city. The earthquake, combined with changes in trade routes, eventually led to the downfall of the city which was ultimately abandoned. By the middle of the 7th century Petra appears to have been largely deserted and it was then lost to all except local Bedouin from the area.
In 1812 a Swiss explorer named Johannes Burckhardt set out to ‘rediscover’ Petra; he dressed up as an Arab and convinced his Bedouin guide to take him to the lost city. After this, Petra became increasingly known in the West as a fascinating and beautiful ancient city, and it began attracting visitors and continues to do so today.
The Nabataeans buried their dead in intricate tombs that were cut out of the mountain sides and the city also had temples, a theater, and following the Roman annexation and later the Byzantine influence, a colonnaded street and churches. In addition to the magnificent remains of the Nabataean city, human settlement and land use for over 10,000 years can be traced in Petra, where great natural, cultural, archaeological and geological features merge.

Tony and I were the first in line at the entrance gate – with only a few others behind us – when Petra opened at 6 a.m. both Sunday and Monday. We started both days with challenging hikes that took us away from the regular stream of tourists, so we experienced Petra in peace for a few hours each morning. Being together and alone in such a mystical place made our visit even more special.

With a little help from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” Petra’s Treasury continues to mesmerize the world. The Siq, a split in the rock that creates a 1.2-kilometer path to the Treasury, helps to set a mysterious tone. We power walked from the visitors center to the Siq and then slowed down to appreciate the setting. Rock walls towered above us – some as high as 80 meters, and the path twisted and turned, refusing to provide a glimpse of what lay ahead. Finally, through the dark channel, we spotted the Treasury. Deserted at dawn, it was mobbed by early afternoon with tour groups, Bedouins hawking camel rides, Nabataean “guards” posing for photos, and other circus-like chaos.

The Treasury got its name because Bedouins thought the carved urn on top contained riches, but the Treasury’s real purpose is disputed. Some archaeologists think it was a temple; others believe it was used to store important documents. Unlike the sprawling and magical interior of the Indiana Jones movie, the Treasury comprises only three small chambers.

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On our first visit, we headed straight for the Ad-Deir Monastery. Although many other interesting monuments and ruins lined the path, we tried not to dawdle. I had been warned about the crowds, and I wanted to hike in peace. We agreed to visit the rest of the sites later. The tortuous trail up the mountain included about 800 steps cut into the rock. At the top, we rounded a corner and saw another hill a short distance away. We figured that was our final destination. Stepping down a few stone steps, I looked to my right and realized we were there. The people on the hill were just enjoying the view!
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The monastery wasn’t really a monastery. It was most likely a 1st-century temple and may have been repurposed by later Christians, as evidenced by small crosses etched inside. The facade is huge, bigger but less fancy than the Treasury. That tiny dot in the doorway is Tony.
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We climbed up the aforementioned hill to see the view, and then took a break at the tea stand opposite the monastery to eat our breakfast picnic.
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On the way down…
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Back on Petra’s main drag, we tromped around the Great Temple. Brown University (Providence, Rhode Island) heads up the international excavation project of the temple and has documented their work, as well as lots of great history, on their website: Petra – The Great Temple Excavation.
The temple is the largest freestanding structure in Petra, but there were no physical signs of its existence before Brown began its excavation in 1993.
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AES 10th graders: This word will be on your test over Oedipus. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
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We also explored the Royal Tombs, which were carved to house the tombs of Nabataean dignitaries. Despite the obvious erosion, I found this strip of facades even more impressive than the iconic Treasury.
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Later that evening, we walked to Petra Kitchen for a “cuisine class.” I forgot my camera – doh! I was hoping for an intimate experience of culinary stories and traditions, but there were about 20 people and the fast-paced class aimed to introduce us to many different local dishes. We chopped tomatoes, garlic, chilis, parsley, onions, and roasted eggplant. I kneaded some dough for a few seconds and stirred a pot of lentil soup, but otherwise the cooks did all the work. (Don’t get me wrong. The cooks were informative and helpful, and we even saw them the next morning in the Movenpick Hotel restaurant, so they clearly know their stuff!) Mostly, it was an evening to meet people and eat delicious Jordanian dishes. We “made” and devoured lentil soup, babaganoush, fatoosh salad, tahina salad, tabbouleh, cucumber and yogurt salad, galayat bandura (a hot tomato-y dip or spread), sambousek (small pastries with cheese or thyme toppings), and magluba (a one-dish meal of rice, chicken and vegetables that means “upside down” because you invert the pot onto the serving dish). We chatted with people from the Netherlands, Russia, Australia, and … Michigan (but they live in Singapore). Fun!

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Getting to Petra – Jordan Journey, Day 5

Feynan Ecolodge hires local Bedouins to transport guests to and from the reception center. For our departure, I rode in the back of a rattletrap pick-up, nearly popping out every time we hit a rut in the dirt road. (Decades ago, a similar ride resulted in a broken collarbone.) I tried to snap some farewell photos of the hillsides coming to life in the morning light, but it took most of my strength and balance to stay in the truck. Little did I know this wouldn’t be the most dangerous drive of the day.
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Rather than drive from Amman to take us the relatively short distance to Petra, George had contracted with a local driver. When we arrived at the reception area, Ali introduced himself and gestured toward another pick-up. This time, I sat in the back seat; Tony sat up front. Ali’s limited English meant our questions went unanswered, and we could only assume he was the driver sent by George.
“How much minute to Petra?” I asked, using my best ESL.
“One o’clock and 30,” he answered.
Hmmm… did he mean one and a half hours? Or did he mean we would arrive at 1:30? No way to know.

George had told us that the driver would take a beautiful road to Petra through Wadi Namla. “It is bumpy road, but very beautiful,” he had said. So we weren’t too surprised when Ali veered off the paved highway. However, we soon reached a dead end at the base of the mountain, where a sign read, “Danger! Road Closed!” Ali calmly maneuvered around the sign and onto a rocky winding path without a word. Tony and I made nervous eye contact but didn’t speak. At one point, Ali steered off the “road” and onto a clearing of rubble. Trying to circumvent a huge rock, he gunned the engine, but the tires simply spun loudly, shooting rocks and gravel like machine gun fire. After getting out for a quick survey of the situation, he tried a different tack and safely passed the rock. We rocked and bumped and skidded for awhile before joining back up with the main dirt road.

Later, Tony and I laughed about that moment. We both had the same sudden fear: Ali was NOT the driver hired by George but rather some crazy terrorist who was taking us out to the middle of nowhere to hold us for ransom. Funny in retrospect. Not so much at the time.

Anyway, the rest of the trip was ridiculously scary with Ali driving precariously close to the mountain’s edge and often whipping around bends at speeds that would send us flying off the hillside if suddenly faced with oncoming traffic. Yes, the views were spectacular, but we felt too anxious to stop for photos. As we zig-zagged down the backside of the mountain and had nearly reached asphalt, a small rental car pulled up alongside us. A young American guy rolled down his window and asked Ali, “Can I make it in this car?”
Tony and I both yelled, “No way! Don’t do it!”
Ali said, “This car no good. No good.”
The guy laughed and said, “Even if it’s not my car?”
Tony leaned over Ali and told the guy, “It’s not that you’ll destroy the car, which you will, but the car literally won’t be able to get you to the other side.”
“Oh well, there’s another road, so it’s no big deal,” said the guy. “We’ll turn around.” Whew!

Eventually we reached Little Petra (Siq al-Barid). Because I had done woefully little research on this site and Ali couldn’t fill in the blanks, Tony and I didn’t know what we were seeing. We climbed around on some of the rocks, read a couple of the interpretive signs and told Ali we were ready to go.
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This ceiling features a painting from the 1st century AD in a space called The Painted Biclinium. The little cave room has benches carved along two of its walls. (I now know “biclinium” is the Latin word for a dining couch for two people.) Imagine painting your dining room ceiling with a fancy design to be discovered by archaeologists 2,000 years later!
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Ali delivered us to our hotel in Petra in time for lunch and kindly waited while we checked in. We thanked him profusely for getting us there alive, but he just laughed, waved and drove off.

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Adventures in Teaching and Travel