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Jordan: Hitchhiking to Moab and Kerak, 1977

October 13, 2010

When I lived in Jordan I used to enjoy hitchhiking the road south from Amman.  I did this a number of times because the friendly and effusive Jordanian people always picked up hitchhikers – even though local truckers usually expected a person to pay – and I was always invited to spend a few days at the driver’s destination, typically 20 or 30 kilometers from where they’d stop to offer me a lift.  Sometimes it would take a week to travel 100 klicks because of the invites.

One time near Moab I got picked up and taken to a home in the village.   A student in the house spoke enough English for me to talk with his family – my smattering of Arabic was quite insufficient.  The head of the clan, a venerable old man whose post was on a pillow in the living room – turned out to be a former companion and brother-at-arms with Lt. Col. Charles E. Wilson of the British Army in Word War I. Known to the Arabs as Wilson Pasha, he actively participated in the Arab Revolt with T.E. Lawrence and some historians say his exploits outranked those of his rival, who was more flamboyant and better at self-marketing .

On the wall hung a stylized photograph of the old man as a youth, next to Wilson. The set-up was close to shrine-like.

Otherwise, Moab is a famous place as it is reputedly the spot where Moses first spotted the promised land.  Some legends have located Moab as the final hiding place of the Ark of the Covenant.  Walking to the lip of the great rift in the Earth that separates Jordan from Israel, with the Dead Sea at its bottom, I noticed plenty of trenches and holes in the ground, made by generations of looters looking for Moses’ tomb and/or the Ark.  Nothing of significance has ever been located here, or if it has, the object(s) reside in the hands of unethical Western collectors.

1) Overlooking the Dead Sea and Israel near Moab

A month or so later I made the same journey with an American, whose name I forget.  He wanted to see the great Crusader castle at Kerak.  Having been there before I agreed to show him the way.

We didn’t make it there the first day.  As dark set in  – we had left Amman in the afternoon – we found ourselves on the side of the road at a remote intersection.  The American and I decided that it was a fine night for sleeping under the stars, so we trekked a distance from the highway and found a wadi to shelter ourselves from the wind and made ourselves comfortable for the night.

First mistake – never camp in the desert at the bottom of a gully, arroyo, or wadi or whatever you choose to call it.  A flash flood would be an unwelcome surprise.  But that thought never occurred to us and we slept the night away in peace.  We were lucky; it was winter, the rainy season, and an unexpected hard rain upstream could have ended our trip right there.

The next day we made it to Kerak.  The castle, located near the modern town of the same name, was built in 1142 by Payen le Bouteiller, Lord of Montreal (now that’s an odd title).

We wandered its precincts for several hours and I thought about the builders and occupiers.  They were cruel, brutal men who behaved like medieval counterparts of the Waffen SS toward local populations and used the excuse of religion to loot, pillage, and steal.  But they were also brave and possessed of great endurance.  I was tempted to extend to them a measure of sympathy but their unspeakable record of conquest is too much to bear.  Their ruined castles around the Middle East are monuments to stupidity and hubris.

2) fortress remains

The scene at Kerak was one of futility and destruction.  The Crusaders in the end left little behind but bitterness and a name that still resonates today with fury and hatred.

3) Another view of the ruins

4) Note the incorporation of Arabic stonework into the castle – stolen from a mosque?

Photos by Ken and Peg Herring

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