The mist was low in the Yarmouk valley. Overhead wispy grey patches sped by, moved by wind that did not reach down to the hilltop where they walked. It was not raining, but puddles stood everywhere and when they wandered off the Roman road the desert clay stuck to their shoes.
The ruins at Umm Qais had just opened, and they walked the excavated Roman road as it rounded the hill toward the bulk of the temples, baths, and other wonders. Out in the early morning on a day like this was a boy, perhaps 15, riding his small yellow horse. He caught their eye, and rode over to offer them his horse.
He pointed wordlessly to the two larger horses in the field he had come from. The two brown horses munched the plentiful green growth of winter. As they stood in profile on the hill there was nothing behind them but the blowing mists and the faint outline of the Golan Heights across the valley.
The boy rode on ahead of them. His was not a hard sell.
The ruins were many acres large and poorly signed. Around a corner could be anything. One wall was actually the first stair in a flight that led down to a sunken courtyard with fallen columns and a great mausoleum. They happened upon 40 foot chasms as they hopped from crumbling wall to crumbling wall. The chasms were ancient boilers for ancient baths on a scale that was hard to imagine in today’s Umm Qais. The town was now no pillar of pleasure with little to offer the visitor beyond a shawarma place.
They had stayed in a B&B, and the breakfast spread there was a glimmer of the hedonism that once was. But of course the breakfast, with its 15 plates of jams, breads, eggs, cheeses, that breakfast was for them as visitors. Their host Ahmad explained that he had been born in the ruins, that his old house was there. He offered to be a guide through the ruins for a fee.
They finished exploring the site at the end of the Roman road. It ended in a fence, and beyond the fence was a paved road. The condition of the ancient road was excellent until its sudden end so there was no doubt that it had been removed intentionally. Going back 2000 years this road would have led to the Via Maris intersection, and then along the Mediterranean and finally to Memphis (Egypt). They turned around taking the road back to the visitors center. This way the road would have lead to the King’s Highway, at which point a left would take them north past Damascus, and a right south to Aqaba and finally also to Memphis. An enormous loop so well made that it was other men and not nature that finally destroyed it.
Back at the center they looked down the hill at the Amphitheater.
“Is that Ahmad down there?”
Then Ahmad yelled up at them:
“This one is my house” he pointed enthusiastically at a little 2 room place with a collapsed concrete-rebar roof.
“Wonderful” they shouted back.
As they left they looked back at the Yarmouk valley, at the Golan Heights, and at the Sea of Galilee below. At the overlook they could see the boy as he wandered aimlessly with his horse at his side, having already offered services to all of the 8 visitors.