We decided to give the Dead Sea a few days to calm down, so we decided to drive south to Petra via the inland route which meant climbing up and through the steep cliffs along the eastern edge of the Dead Sea. The road up and over was very narrow and extremely windy. It’s a good thing nobody else was on that road because getting past each other could have been dicey.
We stopped at Kerak Castle, one of the largest castles in Jordan. It was built by the Franks and was initially used by the Crusaders. It sits at the top of a steep hill overlooking the city of Al-Karak. It was cloudy and raining while we were there and we stayed inside the castle quite a bit to avoid the rain. And the views were probably not as impressive as they are when it’s not raining, but some were still quite impressive.
After our guided tour of the castle, we stopped in town to buy some drinks. They handed me five 1 JOD bills and told me to run into a little tienda to get some cokes. To everyone’s surprise, I returned with 4 drinks in cans, and four of the 1 JOD bills. That’s right, each drink cost just 25 piastres (1/4 of 1 Dinar), or about 35 cents in USD. Maybe I should have bought more?
After Kerak, we picked a spot on the map that looked like it would be pretty and drove there. We were right. Dana is very pretty. It overlooks some deep canyons. Dana is about 4000 feet above sea level, and while we were there the heavy rain turned into heavy snow. A shop owner called us in for some hot cocoa that he was making. We chatted with him about his life while we were there. He said he has seven children that mostly still lived with him right there in Dana. The snow got heavier as we drove south out of Dana and we drove a little slower than we had planned. We saw a lot of cars and busses stuck and sliding this way and that. It was a good day to be in a relatively new SUV.
We made sure to drive past the cold springs as we arrived in Wadi Musa (the town that sits at the entrance to Petra). The Ain Musa spring is supposedly where Moses struck his stick into the rock to make water flow for his followers (Numbers 20:10-11). It didn’t seem to be flowing very much today. It was still wet, but it was nothing like the strong current we saw on our first trip to Petra back in June 2011. From there we drove down the hill and checked into our hotel (within walking distance to the entrance to Petra), parked the car, and then walked back up the hill to find a spot for dinner.
Mansaf: The National Dish of Jordan
We picked a place called Time Out that had some of the best reviews for a traditional Jordanian restaurant. We wanted to try some of the traditional Jordanian foods that you’re supposed to try. I got the national dish of Jordan, Mansaf, which is a hunk of boiled lamb boiled served with salted, fermented goat yogurt called jameed. It’s served with white rice on top of a thin flat bread known as Shrak. They also brought out a steaming bowl of reconstituted goat yogurt to ladle over the top. The shrak flatbread was really good.
Using only your right hand, even if you are normally left-handed, you tear off a small piece of shrak and then use that to pick up some of the lamb and rice. You don’t use forks or chopsticks, just your right hand and a small piece of that delicious shrak flatbread. The lamb wasn’t nearly as impressive. It was somewhat chewy and salty. Adding extra goat yogurt over the top made the flavor more interesting, but it didn’t help with the texture issue. The goat yogurt was maybe a 4 or 5 on a scale to 10 for how goaty it was, but I kept saying things like, “the goatier, the better!” I don’t think anyone was buying it, but I was glad to have tried it.
Jess also got a traditional meal called Maqluba, which turned out to be cinnamon chicken and rice dumped upside down on a plate. I think Jess was hoping it would be similar to the amazing cinnamon chicken dish we had in Morocco a few years ago, but I don’t think it had the same magic. To me it was just chicken and rice.
We were invited into the back room / hookah lounge for dessert. Tonight we had several kinds of pistachio baklava, harissa, and kunafa. Harissa is a semolina cake with a sweet syrup and an almond. It was really good. The kunafa was somewhat similar to harissa, but on top of a melted white cheese. The combination of the sweet and the salty really worked well. I know we’ll be ordering kunafa again before we leave Jordan.