We headed to Jordan via the Sinai area again (which is unavoidable unless you are flying or go through Israel). It was good to revisit Mt. Sinai because it gave us an opportunity to see the inside of St. Catherine’s Monastery, which was closed the day we hiked up the mountain. St. Catherine’s is a Greek Orthodox monastery and is most famous for being the site of the (alleged) burning bush. Besides its religious significance, this bush is unique in that there are no other of its species in the area. You’d think it would be something native to the desert landscape in which it resides, but it’s actually a berry bush (either blackberry or raspberry). Odd. This oddity, combined with other mystical stories about this particular bush (and the fact that cuttings from the bush will not grow anywhere else in this area) has convinced believers of its divine origins.
Not far from St. Catherine’s is also the site of the golden calf. This is the story in the bible where Moses, in anger at discovering that the false idol was being worshipped, smashed the golden calf against the rock so hard that it left an impression. Of course, it could be by complete coincidence that the formation of the sandstone resembles a calf, but I guess to each his own belief.
Anyhow, it is through Sinai that we made our exodus from the madness of Egypt to the relative calm of Jordan. I didn’t think there would be much difference between these neighboring countries, but it almost feels like night and day. Unlike Egypt, Jordan is a constitutional monarchy (the royal line is believed to be descended from the prophet Mohammed). Another difference is in religious attitudes. Although I’ve heard and read differing accounts of how liberal a country Jordan is when compared to other Muslim countries, in my humble opinion, it seems that Jordanians like to give the appearance of being progressive, but they are in fact more conservative than other Muslim countries I’ve visited. A case in point is that just six weeks ago, a Jordanian writer was arrested in Amman for including verses from the Koran in his poetry. Also, public displays of affection between a man and woman is considered highly inappropriate, as is drinking alcohol in public (e.g., in restaurants, etc.—although in busy tourist areas you may find some hotels that will serve you alcohol). Homosexual acts aren’t just frowned upon like it is in more progressive Muslim countries, it’s actually illegal here. However, as it’s completely normal to see heterosexual males and females holding hands and kissing each other on the cheek in public, some may find this a bit confusing.
But aside from these examples, the most notable differences between these countries (to us, anyway) is that we’ve left behind the noise, the crazy traffic, the incessant honking of horns, and the maddening sensory onslaught that is Egypt. Jordan is cleaner, appears more orderly, and the people are friendly (not that people aren’t friendly in Egypt…it’s just a wee bit harder to tell the difference between those who are being genuinely friendly and those who want something from you). Basically, the ‘in-your-face’ level is much lower in Jordan, which means we can finally breathe a heaving sigh of relief. Next stop: Wadi Rum and Petra.