January 2, 2008
The trip to Jordan helped to clarify a few things about my personality to me:
1. I do not cope well when I can’t establish where I am and where I’m going geographically, especially if someone also tries to rip me off on top of that and traffic is not orderly.
2. Staying in really nice hotels is good for my overall mood.
We rented a car upon landing in Queen Alia Airport, 30 km south of Amman, got a map from Avis car rental, located the street in Amman that we wanted on the map, and got directions to that street from the car rental guys. Looking at the map though, it didn’t seem the most direct route, and in my navigational arrogance (pride goeth before getting very, very lost) I thought I saw a better route. So, off we went, me driving, and when I saw a sign on the highway to East Amman, I peeled off in that direction. As long as the sun was up, I at least had an idea of which direction I wanted to be heading in, but then the sun set, and we got further and further into some part of town that had no–that is zero–street signs and was a rabbits’ warren of twisting and very busy streets. I stopped a couple of times and asked people for directions and just to tell me where on the map we were, but the map was unfamiliar to them, the streets named in English, and they didn’t know, or when they figured out where I wanted to go would give me directions that I couldn’t follow, like turn left down there, then straight, then right, but there are so many streets branching off and curving and merging, that it would all fall apart again shortly after I left them. The traffic was not following any discernible rules, cars would appear where they shouldn’t be, there was a constant conversation of horns going on and pedestrians with blind faith weaving through it all. I could have borne the traffic, if I just thought I was actually getting where I was trying to go. I was a mass of tension. In the end we stopped at an optometrist’s office and one of the women there spoke to a taxi driver out front to find out where we had to go, and then she climbed into our car with us to take us to the place on the agreement that we would bring her back to her work. She was an absolute sweetheart. She came originally from Saudi Arabia, though she feels the freedoms of Jordan make it a much better country to live in, even if it is poorer. She chatted away, and helped Mom buy mittens and a hat en route to the hotel. Then the manager of the hotel came with us to take us back to her workplace, after which, he got hopelessly lost and had to ask directions several times in order to get back to the hotel. He was amazed we’d managed to get as close as we had to the hotel and told us that we had gone through the really poor part of town which was why there were no signs, and that if we’d called him from the airport, he could have given us directions which would have been really clear – the same directions, interestingly, and rather humblingly for me, that the guys at the car rental place at the airport gave us.
The hotel itself (hostel really) was not good. Smelled of stale smoke, was not clean, was not warm (the boiler was broken), and was very dreary – one fluorescent bulb in the middle of the ceiling of our room. We walked down the street for dinner, and came back. I slept in my clothes. I was suspicious of the sheets. Also, I was cold. Mom did the same.
Next day, more driving around in the city, trying to get to the ruins on top of a hill. We ended up lost on another hill, of course, no street signs, winding roads, and buildings jam-packed together so you can’t see where you’re going. We had a taxi lead us to the place in the end. On the way, we stopped for gas, where the attendant tried to give us the wrong change, to the tune of about 15 dollars. I walked over to him with the change in hand and I could see he knew exactly why I was coming. But even when he gave me the right change, it was grudgingly and in increments with pauses in between, as though he thought I couldn’t count and might just go away if he gave me just a little more, and no apology. So between the being constantly lost, the rip-off attempt, the chaos of the traffic, coupled with the fact that I wasn’t driving and Mom gets tense if she thinks I’m critical of her driving, which I am, my coping skills were at an all-time low. By the time we got to the ruins, I was only hanging onto my composure by my fingernails, and I just got out of the car and walked away before I burst into tears in front of all the other tourists. I had my little breakdown while looking out over Amman. On the periphery of my mind, I did register that the view was quite compelling, but I was mostly busy trying to cry without being obvious. Overall, it was not a good beginning to the trip.
Things improved though. People in Jordan were extremely welcoming, helpful and warm, with the exception of the gas station guy, who according to our Jordanian friends “was probably Egyptian.” The poor Egyptians have a bad reputation over in this part of the world. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told by Emiratis and now Jordanians that Egyptians are trouble, and to watch out for them with regard to money.
After Amman, we drove down to Petra, stayed the night in the nearby town of Wadi Mousa, and spent the next day wandering the rose-coloured archaeological site itself. Petra was incredible. Seeing the imagination-stirring ‘Treasury’ there that I’d seen in the Indiana Jones – The Last Crusade movie years ago was quite something. And as incredible as all of these huge building facades carved into the rock were, just as striking was the colouring of the rock all over the site. Not just the predominant pinky-orange colour, but the variety of other shades as well, yellow, and blue-grey and black and the swirls and patterns in the stone. I took photos of course, but I don’t think I really caught the beauty of it.
Off to the Dead Sea the next day. There were many border guard stations along the road that follows the coast of the Dead Sea because Israel and the West Bank are on the other side. Sometimes we had to show passports, sometimes not, but just like the regular citizens, they invariably said “Welcome to Jordan.” I’ve never felt so welcomed in a country.
The Dead Sea is something to be experienced! The way it holds you up is amazing. I think it would be quite a struggle to pull off drowning in it. You’d have to be unconscious and facing down to manage it. And everything along the shore is encrusted in salt crystals, even garbage. I tried to pick up some stones that looked loose and couldn’t because the crystallization had fastened them to the floor. While we were puttering around in the shallows looking for loose rocks and looking at the salt formations, the water on our skin dried and we looked like we were covered in frost.
Sun was setting then, so off we went to look for a hotel for our last night. We went back up towards the plateau and towards the Ma’in Hot Springs. I had an idea that there would be a hotel there. I’d seen a pamphlet somewhere. There was nothing for miles but dry land and occasionally sheep being herded by people and once, car-chasing dogs(very unnerving, that, because they run in front, so you’re trying not to kill them). Took the turn for the hot springs and back down, down, to 264 metres below sea level, to the hot springs and, much relief, a hotel. It was a really nice hotel. REALLY nice. Dinner and breakfast were both buffet affairs, but they were good ones with all kinds of fresh, delicious foods, not like some you get, where you’re hard pressed to even find one thing you’d like to eat. Oh, the food was so good, and the room was so beautiful and the hot springs were actually hot waterfalls and there was nothing else around but the hotel and these hot waterfalls and masses of stars in the sky. It was quite magical. This is where I really noticed the correlation between my mood and the quality of the hotel I’m staying in.