I slept well and woke up to admire the view from my bedroom window – in front of me were the Golan heights, which separate Israel and Syria, and just to the left of them was the Sea of Galilee.
It was a good motivation to get ready for breakfast. In a country that specialises in huge breakfasts, this was the biggest and best yet – yoghurt with honey and cumquat from the hosts’ own garden, delicious fried eggs mixed with tomato and chilli, hot freshly made bread and many different types of jam, ranging from fig to pumpkin.
Realising that even a bear could not possible eat everything, I ate my fill and then set off in the car to Ajloun, about 90minutes south of Umm Qays.
Due to a mistake in navigation I ended up going through Irbid, Jordan’s second biggest city, so the route was not particularly scenic. I was just getting bored driving when the majestic castle of Ajloun appeared on top of a hill before me.
It was a very impressive site, and more intact than the other castles I had seen in Jordan. It was built by the Ottomans to defend themselves from the crusaders, with the first work started by Saladin in 1184, and with different rulers adding on bits in later centuries. Unlike the crusader castles, Ajloun was never taken. Inside, there was the usual entertainment of clambering up and down stairs and passageways, and great views out over the surrounding countryside and city.
After the castle, I headed a few km away from the city to a nature reserve and made a short hike. It was probably the first place I’d been in Jordan that wasn’t completely dry, and the trail wound past oak, carob and pistachio trees. I also disturbed a small snake sunbathing on the path; despite my small size, he was more scared than I was and immediately disappeared into the bushes.
After the reserve, I took a different route back to Umm Qays; this was a better choice than the rather dull direct road, and much of the driving time I enjoyed fine views over deep wadis running down from the mountains into the Jordan river valley.
I reached Umm Qays at around 2 o’clock, in the hottest part of the day, and went to visit the Roman ruins lying on top of the hill overlooking the village. In Roman and Byzantine times, Umm Qays was a large and thriving city. It was destroyed by an earthquake in the 8th century, after which the Ottomans built their own village on top of parts of it. Some of the ruins have three layers of construction – Ottoman, Byzantine and Roman. I first walked down the long and wide main street, taking in the grand scale of the ruins and the scenery.
I explored the caves in a Roman mausoleum buried under a Byzantine church, and then visited the well-preserved amphitheatre, where I stopped and drained a whole bottle of mineral water in one go.
After a bit more exploring I sat down to an early dinner at a well-known restaurant located inside the historic site. The place had an amazing view over the Golan Heights and Sea of Galilee, and my dinner was very good – fresh lemon juice with mint, lamb kebabs and lamb stew (finally a change from chicken!).
I enjoyed yet another fine Jordanian sunset and the changing colours of the Sea of Galilee. As the last traces of the sunset finally faded, the restaurant closed for the day; I hunted down the place where I had parked my car (not so easy in the dark and on such a big site) and returned to the guesthouse to digest dinner, eat some more delicious cumquats, and write my blog.