Day Trips from Amman: Qasr al-Abd & Al Ma’wa

If you follow me on other social media sites, you’ve probably heard that after 3 years in Ghana & now 3 years in Jordan, Chandler & I will be moving back to the United States next summer.

It was a surprising decision for us to come to – we hadn’t really thought we’d return to the US long-term until retirement. And even then, we’ve kept our minds open to the fact that without universal healthcare, we might be better off retiring overseas too.

But the pandemic has changed a lot for us. If you asked us to boil down why we’ve chosen to teach abroad the answer would be simple: Travel. Right now, despite our vaccines, that’s very difficult to do. Here are just a few of the many scenarios that could occur:

  1. We could have everything booked and then before the flight, one of us tests positive and we cannot board our flight.
  2. We could have booked a layover through an “approved” country and then months later find out it is on the no fly list – meaning we either have to cancel the flight or quarantine upon arrival.
  3. We could arrive in the country with a list of things to do, only to find out some are still closed or have limited entry due to Covid restrictions.
  4. One of us could test positive before our return flight and now we have to quarantine in a foreign country and lose pay from our school.

Which is why we couldn’t be more excited to return to the United States and all the travel opportunities that await us!

This all came into fresh focus for us last week as we stayed home for yet another school break – this time Fall Break. With only 5 days off from school, we hadn’t planned a grand adventure, but we had definitely flirted with a few ideas: Attend the World Expo in Dubai, drink away a long weekend in Sicily, visit historical sites in Palestine. Each option came with those four scenarios and more.

Instead, we stayed home with our rescue cats and tried to feed our wanderlust with a few day trips.

Our first excursion was only 30 minutes away – Qasr al-Abd. Built during the second century BC, it was likely a country pleasure palace. The structure was never completed, but it was surrounded by an artificial lake fed by water from nearby sources and brought underground to two fountains styled as panthers.

Very little is known about the palace’s origins. Some say it was constructed by Hyrcanus of Jerusalem, the head of the Tobiad family. Others say Tobias was a commoner who fell in love with the daughter of a nobleman. The nobleman said he would only allow the marriage if Tobias completed the construction of a palace, but when the structure was completed, the nobleman killed Tobias to prevent the marriage. A third theory is that it was to serve as a mausoleum of the family of Tobias.

The name Qasr al-Abd is translated as Castle of the Slave or Servant, which could give credence to the first theory as Hyrcanus, as governor, was known as a “servant of the king.”

All that is known is that construction was never completed, though the carved panthers are still perfectly preserved. The palace was badly damaged in 362 AD by an earthquake and was later used as a church during the Byzantine period.

This was a pretty quick stop for us – the site was busy when we first arrived (probably another 6 visitors) but by the time we had walked around the perimeter, we were the only ones left to explore the inside of the palace.

The ruins were partially restored between 1979-1985 by a team of French archaeologists.

Since it was still early in the day, we made our way over to the Wild Jordan Center – one of our favorite brunch spots in the city – where we enjoyed a spread of shakshuka, hummus, foul, falafel saj, and fresh juices.

Later in the break, we took the hour-long drive up to Al Ma’wa for Nature and Wildlife. Established in 2011 as a partnership between the Princess Alia Foundation and Four Paws, the reserve was created for regional rescued wildlife. The reserve covers a space of 110 hectares with species-specific enclosures for the animals that cannot be released to the wild or returned to their country of origin.

Right now, the reserve is home to 22 lions, 2 tigers, 7 bears, 2 hyenas, 9 wolves, 1 raccoon, 2 baboons, and a collection of vervet monkeys.

Despite the space, the enclosures were a bit smaller than I anticipated – resembling a zoo more than a wildlife reserve. Adding to the zoo vibe were the 9 children on the tour with us. While adults outnumbered them, it definitely gave the experience a field trip vibe, which is definitely not what an elementary teacher wants during a break from school.

That said, it was clear that the staff at Al Ma’wa care deeply for the animals – doing their best to socialize the animals so they can live with others, keeping detailed track of their feeding schedules, and trying to prevent children from antagonizing the animals.

It definitely wasn’t the experience I was expecting. And after our summer experience swimming with whale sharks, I definitely believe animals should be kept separate from humans. I appreciate that the reserve makes money to support their rescues with these tours, but more than anything, I think animals should be allowed to live their lives in peace from humans. Especially when humans were the very things these animals were rescued from: Specifically animals rescued from being personal pets, negligent zoos, and war-torn countries.

The tour ends with an incredible viewpoint of the surrounding countryside, but that’s about all I was truly happy to participate in. If you want to support Al Ma’wa’s work, I would recommend donations over visits.

I’m not sure what else we’ll try to visit and experience during our remaining time in Jordan. It’s likely that we’ll make the trip to Petra and Wadi Rum one more time (I promised myself we’d get to stay in bubble tents after our less than glamorous first visit!). And perhaps I’ll scrub off my time here with a last minute trip to the Dead Sea. Either way – we’ve learned a lot about ourselves and Jordan over these last three years and we’re excited for our next adventure.

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