The March of Time

Aqaba, Jordan

I’ve lived in Jordan for 4 of the past 6 years. I’ve reached an odd point in my life where I can’t decide whether that’s a long time or a short time. I do know that almost my only “real” jobs, in which I worked full time and wasn’t also a full-time student, have been here in Jordan (with the exception of working full time as a substitute teacher while I waited for my Peace Corps assignment, which didn’t feel like a “real” job). My whole adult, non-student life is here. Put in that perspective, it’s no wonder I’ve got such mixed feelings about leaving Jordan. So much of the adult I’ve become was molded here.

In other ways, though, I’m ready for a new adventure. One of the things I noticed on my trip with Wade was how much many of my favorite places had changed, improved in ways that make me oddly nostalgic for their former “rustic” appeal. I’ve seen a lot of changes in Jordan’s tourist industry in my time here.

The many times I visited King Herod’s Castle at Macchareus, it was an entirely self-guided tour. Park your car and climb at your own risk. Now the parking lot has been fenced in and charges a fee, and is watched over by the Tourist Police. I appreciate the desire to earn money from this attraction, as well as the philosophy that when local people benefit economically from an archaeological site, they are more likely to be concerned about saving it. At the same time, the nearby Byzantine church ruins were locked up, it being Friday, and I wasn’t able to show them to Wade.

About a month before my brother’s rock-climbing tour of Jordan, they banned rock-climbing in Petra, at least in the easily accessible parts. The last time I went to Petra, you could walk on the portico of the Treasury, but not inside the dining chambers. When I took Wade to Petra, you couldn’t even walk on the portico, but had to admire it from the sand down in front. When I took my parents to Petra, we climbed to the top of the Roman Theater and took pictures looking back across the wadi. Now they’ve cordoned off an area some distance in front of the theater, and you can only admire it from afar.

From A Rainy Day In Petra

I understand why, of course. I’ve heard my archaeologist friend Chris rail often enough about how the tourists are destroying the archaeological integrity of Petra and other sites around the kingdom. I’ve seen the appalling graffiti on the Treasury and other monuments. It’s easy to see how just the rain has degraded the seats of the Roman Theater, and that human feet could only hurt it more. From a preservation perspective, it’s absolutely essential that these steps be taken, and almost incomprehensible that they weren’t taken much sooner. The dramatic increase in the number of tourists in the past 6 years only exacerbated the need for these changes.

From an Ammani evening

Most dramatic was the complete re-invention of Castle Hill in Amman, with a visitor’s center, clearly marked pathways, scenic vistas and many more informative plaques. Equally dramatic was the new visitor’s center in Wadi Rum, complete with entrance fees to the park and a big sign indicating standardized prices for all kinds of services for which tourists formerly either bargained or were fleeced. It’s all far more informative and tourist-friendly, much more like the park at Bet She’an across the Valley. At the same time, I remember quite vividly how fun it was with Auntie Viv or my parents to imagine what each little building and chamber used to be used for. All that clear information sort of takes the fun out of it for me. I miss those days when Wesley could climb everything and photograph it from the top!

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