Hiking in Ajloun — Easter on Mt. Nebo

23 Apr

A hillside descending into the Jordan River Valley near Ajloun

You’ve heard of finding “springs in the desert,” but what about “forests and lush rolling hills, polka-dotted with trees and wildflowers?”  That’s Ajloun, located 47 miles north of Amman.  I (Rachel) was so refreshed to step into this green part of Jordan, far outside the congested city limits of its capital.  Phillip and I were invited by our American friend (Shawn) to join him in a day hike with his friend (Ra’ed), a native of Ajloun.  We took a bus Saturday (4/14) morning for about an hour, through Jerash where the largest Roman ruins outside of Italy still stand, and into the beautiful northern countryside of Jordan.

One of Jordan’s few national forest reservations is located just outside Ajloun (c. 8,000 residents).  There you can find the Evergreen Oak, Wild Pistachio trees, Strawberry trees, Black Irises, Wild Boars, Persian Squirrels, The Indian Crested Porcupine, and the endangered Roe Deer.  Springtime is ideal for hiking, and we enjoyed every step.

Our new Jordanian friend, Ra’ed, took us to his home for breakfast (below, left) which was a delicious spread of khobz arabia (flat bread) which we dipped into various plates of hummus with cayenne pepper, honey, fried eggs, labneh (goat cheese), and sliced tomatos, cucumbers, hot peppers, and lemon with a bowl of homemade pickles on the side.  Of course, we were served the traditional sugar-sweetened mint tea in tiny glass cups.   While we ate, we enjoyed a view of beautiful green hills that roll along the Jordan River Valley and eventually descend to the Jordan River and become Palestine.  Ra’ed’s younger siblings wanted us to try raw almonds (below, right).  Bitter!  (Joanna & Mary Louise, this is going to be your intro to Jordan breakfast — get ready!)

The hike started with a visit to “Mar Elias,” the traditional birthplace of Elijah.  The Bible doesn’t say much about the precise whereabouts of his birth, but “people say” this is the area.

(Left:  Looking out over the Jordan Valley from a tree at “Mar Elias,” on the site of an old Byzantine church.)  (Below Right:  The remains of the Byzantine church on the hilltop of “Mar Elias.”  The mosaic tile still clearly shows the original colors and designs.)

From this location, we moved on to the Ajloun Nature Reserve.  Like Georgia’s State Parks, there are several hiking trails throughout although the whole park is only 8 square miles.  There are cabins available for overnight rental as well as camping grounds.

We also walked around the neighborhood surrounding the reservation, and it was just as beautiful if not more impressive.  We passed people picnicing on the side of the roads and beneath groves of trees (a very common Jordanian pasttime) and were offered tea as we walked by.  There was a small herd of goats, birds chirping in the trees, peach tree blossoms, and one fantastic view after another.

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The grove of brown-trunked trees are some kind of wood that is excellent quality for making violins.  The snow-capped mountain is Mt. Hermon, which straddles the boarder between Lebanon and Syria.  The group picture (below) is some of Ra’ed’s family and friends.

And now for Easter on Mt. Nebo!  After our hike, we returned to Amman and went to bed by 10pm so that we could get up at 3:15am to catch a church bus an hour south to the Madaba area.  An Anglican Church from Amman hosted an Easter sunrise service on Mt. Nebo, the place where Moses finally saw the promised land.  From Deuteronomy 34:

1 Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the LORD showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, 2 all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, 3 the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. 4 Then the LORD said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”

It was a hazy morning, which, I hear is usual for Mt. Nebo, but we enjoyed watching the day break from such a great point of perspective.  The Dead Sea is visible on the left side of the photo above.  Strangely, the service was held inside a chapel on the mountaintop, but we snuck out during communion at the end in order to take in the view a little more.  It was quite inspiring spiritually to celebrate Easter from a place that is historically and biblically so central.  Who knows the exact points that all these biblical figures walked, lived, and worshipped?  More importantly, the fact is that those people and those events took place somewhere in this vacinity.  And a mountain as big and as high as Nebo is old enough and solid enough to have provided footing those thousands of years ago, just as it still does.  The general view, save some modern housing and the occasional bulldozer, probably hasn’t changed that much either.

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2 Responses to “Hiking in Ajloun — Easter on Mt. Nebo”

  1. Sharon Dyar April 24, 2012 at 12:53 pm #

    Seeing and reading this post ,filled my heart to know that you and Phillip are seeing the places I have only read about in the bible , thank you again for sharing. Keep enjoying your lives.

  2. Kevin Wade April 24, 2012 at 2:20 pm #

    Wow. Easter on Mt. Nebo. Awesome. Great pictures!

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