#YYFADVENTURE Jordan

Lured in by images of amazing landscapes, archeological wonders, planetary extremes and a small but very active yoyo scene a crew was assembled. At first it was going to be just Vashek and Ann joining Gentry but quickly the scale went up when word got out amongst the team that Jordan was to be the destination. First Eric, then Igor confirmed they were in. This formed the biggest party yet to take on a yyfadventure

There were lots of moving parts among which were 14 flights and over 100 travel hours. This left lots of room for things to go wrong but apart from one flight cancellation and rerouting for Gentry (and some other small delays) everyone arrived in Amman’s modern Queen Alia International Airport tired but excited for the days ahead.

Very quickly we realized google maps was not to be trusted. Seeing road signs giving directions to Iraq and Syria offered a reminder we were strangers in a turbulent part of the world. Our first stop was a small hotel in the countryside where our bleary eyes finally got to rest.

After a local breakfast we hit the road. In the back Igor was ever critical of road construction techniques. In his life outside traveling yoyo player Igor and his family construct roads in and around Moscow.

The North/South highway links the capital Amman in the north to Aqaba the Red Sea port town in the South. Not originally part of Jordan land was traded in 1965 to transform Jordan from land locked to having ocean access.

Our first stop for snacks was also our first reminder Jordan is under a lot of pressure from the weight of over 600,000-1.2million refugees from neighboring Syria, Palestine, and Iraq. We were swarmed exiting the store and it was evident our snacks were more needed by others to feed families. Looking the other way was impossible. Disturbed we made a hasty exit as the numbers of people crowding our van grew. We talked about it internally, what we could do then and there and what we could do in the future. We resolved to make more of an effort both individually and as a group to support relief efforts but to continue our journey.

Green fields of farmland and wildflowers quickly gave way to sand blowing dust. After 3 hours the landscape changed again as Martian rocks appeared. Ironic as this was the area that the Matt Damon 'Martian' was filmed. We soon rolled into Wadi Rum where our guide Muhammad was waiting for us. We followed him to his family home where we drank Tea and he explained what we were about to embark on. Muhammad was a Bedouin, whose ancestors had nomadically 'followed the grass' around this region for generations. We loaded into his pickup truck and headed out into the desert. Soaring plains fractured by towers of stone. Camels grazing on the grasses (Muhammad tells us this area is particularly green right now). We stop to check some Nabataean art below a natural spring. As one of the only consistent water sources on what was once a camel trade route between not only Africa and Europe but between the holy sites of Mecca and Jerusalem many travelers stopped here to allow their camels to quench a thirst. We continued exploring rock formations, sand dunes and ruins of previous generations. Along the way Muhammad developed a fascination for the yoyo and later that night we would have him skilled enough to teach not only his kids but also the neighbors!

As the sun dipped we arrived at our dessert camp. Far from the Bedouin tents of days past we found luxuries like actual toilets and beds awaiting us. As darkness set we drank tea around the fire and played yoyo with Md before a local feast appeared! Our host retired for the night perhaps just to temporarily escape the relentless questions. Some napped by the fire, others retreated to bed but the hum of a bearing inside of a yoyo spinning was never far, after all the following weekend was The European YoYo Contest and practice never takes a vacation.

Around 11pm the moon set and the clouds parted revealing a dazzling sky which invited us to sleep. The option to sleep under the stars betrayed by a 4am rain and wind squall. Around 5 the sun rose over a clear and calm desert. We hiked to a rocky overview to see camels grazing and the occasional Bedouin pass by with his heard of goats still following the grass.

Our time in the desert was soon to end but not before we formed a camel train for the journey back to town. Saddled up and ready to go we boarded our questionably tempered transport for an unforgettable journey over the red dunes and up the valley back to Muhammads' house.

We said our goodbyes and headed back on the road. Soon we left the hot desert and found ourselves in the clouds on mountain passes above the tree line. As we dropped from the cloud an even more alien landscape appeared. We were heading to Petra.

Petra is featured in many movies as the quintessential 'exotic' hidden treasure spot. A narrow gorge known as the Siq opens up to reveal a huge carved building known as the Treasury and for three further kilometers a range of tombs, caves and carvings punctuate an already beautiful landscape. After seeing the main tourist spots, we decide to go get lost. Literally. We climb out of the valley (later our phones would suggest we climbed over 100 flights of stairs) to a sacrificial alter and beyond the trails.

Just when we were far from any attractions to a point we might actually be concerned we were lost a local boy on a donkey came up offering Jewelry. 10 years old Ahmed was a smooth salesman but the sight of the yoyo had him off his donkey and intrigued. His mother appeared over a hill asking where we were going and if we needed a guide. As we had no destination we didn't really need a guide but we wanted to hang out with Ahmed more so did the deal, retaining her as a guide, securing him a yoyo as part of the deal and somewhere in the deal was a silver bracelet(?). Regardless of the details she sent Ahmed on his Donkey off over the hills leading us on what started as a trail that soon disappeared as we descended vertically into a valley, bouldering through gaps and around yesterday's rain filled gullies until we emerged above the Treasury to one of Petra's best views.

We soaked it all in before she suggested we get moving as the way back was going to be tricky. Hiking gave way to both climbing and crawling before reaching the plateau where Ahmed was waiting with his Donkey and a fresh pot of tea. We talked about life in Petra, she showed us where the cave they lived in was located and how Ahmed was going to school in the morning before working in the afternoons. Life in the cave sounded hard, but they were tough people and were quite happy.

We passed only some goat headers on the way back to the entrance to Petra. Ahmad offered his donkey to anyone who wanted a rest gladly running barefoot alongside. We paused on the rocks where he shared traditional face markings with an ochre type stone and we perfected his around the world. Sadly, our journey ended and we headed off to our reality of passing through, and Ahmad and his mother returned to their cave. Our biggest regret is not getting mailing address. He will need more strings!

We originally planned to return and see more of Petra but settled to only see it once more at night and head out in the morning. While cool under candle light we had clocked up fifteen miles in the day and soaking sore feet in the Dead Sea appealed more. On the way we checked out a crusade era castle, skirted the Dana Biosphere and got so lost it wasn't funny.

Eventually we descended into the Rift Valley, below the depths you snorkel. Below the depths you scuba to one of the most unique locations in the planet, the Dead Sea.

The scenery so stunning we almost didn't notice we weren't in the real Jordan anymore. The security checkpoints just confirmed suspicions that we had entered a tourist enclave. Modern resorts, international chain restaurants and somewhere down amongst it, water to swim in.

We checked in and rushed down to the water which was surprisingly far from the resort. As soon as we got closer the reason for the distance became evident as we passed beach side amenities every 100m built to accommodate a shrinking sea. The water level was retreating. Finally, we hit the water. It was everything you expected to see. Vashek just crossed his arms and floated towards Israel. Eric immediately tried to play yoyo floating while Igor hit the therapeutic mud before enticing everyone to lather up. We played in the water until the sun set. Talk of practice gave way to a big dinner with Gentry driving the van back for providing some light entertainment. It was to be our last day in Jordan the next day and I think we all thought it was over but as they say, the best was yet to come.

Early start. We planned to check out the Roman ruins in Jerash, north of Amman then head back into the city to connect with the local players before returning to the airport to connect to Prague. We headed north along where the bible states Jesus from Galilee was baptized by John, from there we climbed out of the Valley through the urban fringe of Amman past castles of times past to Jerash. All the great Empires appreciated Jerash. It was a great Greek city. It's peak was under the rule of Rome, and it stood as a Persian city, then a Muslim city, finally ravaged by earthquakes, it was nothing more than ruins by the time the crusades arrived. We explored for a few hours wishing we had more time but knowing we had people to see we headed to the bustling city center.

'There they are' google maps and GPS had not been our friend thus far but when it counted we found the crew right where they said they would be. It was a pretty random message to Abood Dani asking him if some local players wanted to hang out but as soon as yoyo players get around yoyo players titles mean little and we all just played. We ate local food, checked out the city. Filmed and just chilled. I think everyone could agree this was the best part of the trip. We talked over coffee asking why no players had made it to international contests to learn very few players were on Jordanian passports and right now it's pretty tricky going anywhere as a Syrian or Palestinian. We talked about the future of yoyo in Jordan. How to grow a scene, a national contest and maybe a multi-national regional event. The enthusiasm was fantastic.

After local desserts the time came to head to the airport and we said our goodbyes to our new friends with hopes to return soon.

We got Eric some much needed McDonalds in the way to the airport before wrapping the adventure up.

This one will be hard to top.

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