(I’m sure there’s a good pun to use with Amman somewhere, but I’m a bit sick and unable to find it right at the moment.)
The trip from Aqaba up to Amman (our last inter-city travel in Jordan) proved to be far more challenging than we’d anticipated. We were hoping to go from Aqaba back to Wadi Musa (Petra) to collect a bunch of stuff we’d left there, and then on to Amman.
The first roadblock came when we arrived in mid-morning and discovered that there were no more buses until 14:00. Then we discovered that the 14:00 bus had been cancelled. When the 16:00 (last bus of the day) arrived, a swarm of people ran for the boarding doors as it pulled into the station and only those most willing to toss politeness aside and shove got on board (though later all of the young men who’d got seats were asked to get off and cede their spots to ladies who were lacking the brute force [if not the attitude] to get aboard.)
Frustrated with all this, we managed to get close to Wadi Musa by travelling to the town of Ma’an, where we spent the night. The next morning we got a service taxi (and were, unsurprisingly, overcharged) to Wadi Musa. Our bus-boarding experiences there were very similar to the ones in Aqaba, though by now I’d stopped caring about politeness and was more than willing to use the extra weight of my now-refilled pack to batter my way to a spot at the front of the queue. Which meant that we got aboard the SECOND bus leaving town that morning.
All of which, finally, at long last, led us to Amman, Jordan’s capital and our final stop in the Hashemite Kingdom.
Snoozing on the Dead Sea. (Sarah wasn’t ACTUALLY asleep, but in this one place I can almost see it as a possibility…)
A small sandstorm we drove through on the way north to Amman. If you look closely you can see sand drifitng across the road. This is real desert we’re talking about here!
So, what did we get up to in northern Jordan? Let me tell you:
Eating. Before arriving, and for the first several days in Jordan, I’d held the view that Jordanian food was the poor cousin of Lebanese and Syrian cuisine. Similar, but not quite as exciting and flavourful. Our last few days in Jordan proved me very wrong. From our final meal in Aqaba (wonderful spiced whole fish, roast potato-vegetable medley and seasoned rice, all cooked in an underground oven) to our dinner in Ma’an (Shish Taouk, Hummus and Babaganouj that compared with the best we had in Syria) to our meals in Amman (possibly the best Hummus and Felafels I’d tasted in the middle east) to the bread everywhere (ordinary pita, but much chewier and tastier than Syrian or Lebanese), Jordan’s chefs took a back seat to no one.
Hashem Restaurant in Amman. This place is busy at any time of day (it’s open 24 hours) and packed around usual mealtimes. Never mind that they only serve about four items on the menu, the food is very tasty and super cheap (we had a decent dinner there for under $2!!)
Galling. I like to call exploring a museum “musing” so I assume that doing the same in a gallery must be “galling.” Darat al Funun, the Amman contemporary art centre was a very pleasant place. It was set on a hill in some lovely gardens amongst the ruins of a Byzantine church, and offered great views of the city below (it was oddly reminiscent of the Getty Center in LA.) The exhibits were interesting as well, my favourite was some of the video footage that had been mailed to a Lebanese arts group. After much research they discovered that it had been taken by an agent of the Lebanese Security Service who had been assigned to monitor one section of the Corniche (Beirut’s seaside walkway.) In the late afternoon of each day, instead of following his subjects, he’d train his camera on the setting sun for 15 minutes or so, and then return to his duties. They eventually found the individual, and he’d explained that he’d grown up in east Beirut during the civil war, and had always wanted to see the sun set over the sea from the Corniche. Thus, when, after the war, he found himself in a position to do so every day, his childhood memories took over and he couldn’t help but do as he had.
A sculpture and the view out over downtown Amman at Darat al Funun
Fatafeating. We didn’t do THAT much of it in Amman, but I had to mention Fatafeat somewhere. In all of the middle eastern countries we visited, satellite TV is fairly common, even in budget hotel rooms. But there’s often a very limited selection of English channels. Other than Al Jazeera International (which is great, by the way) the one channel we came to rely on was Fatafeat. Fatafeat is basically the Arab Food Network. It shows many of the same programs, all with Arabic subtitles, and the odd home-grown show as well. It also features little trailers for upcoming shows and cute colourful, bouncy promos for the channel itself. Thanks Fatafeat!
Floating. Given the public transport chaos leading into Amman, we decided to forgo our normal DIY, independent style of travel and just book a tour to the Dead Sea at the front desk of our hotel. It cost a bit more, but in this one instance at least, the relaxation it bought was worth it.
The Dead Sea is an inland sea, about 36km x 9km which lies on the border between Jordan and Israel. Its shores are the lowest piece of land on Earth (480m below sea level) and its salinity (over 30% by weight) is so high that nothing can live in, and seemingly anything will float in its waters.
Salt crystals on the shore of the Dead Sea. The beach was far nicer than the ones we’d seen at Aqaba, and the large crystals of salt covering the foreshore made the water’s edge a very pretty sight.
The Dead Sea was more than worth the price (taxi fare and ticket to the very pleasant City of Amman beach) of admission. It seemed that the universal response to one’s first steps into the sea was laughter. The sensations it provided were just so foreign and bizarre that you couldn’t help but giggle. You could stand in chest deep water, lift your feet off the ground, and not move at all. You could float on your back, reading a book with ease. But woe-betide you if you got any of the water in your eyes. Not only was it incredibly salty, not all of the salt was pleasant NaCl, and the water actually burned my tongue a bit when I had a tiny taste.
It was amazing how buoyant you felt in the water… Words can’t really do it justice. One of the oddest feelings came if you lifted a leg up too high while walking in the water. The buoyancy of the limb would take over and if you weren’t careful you’d be tipped head over heels.
Swimming was actually rather difficult, sitting so high in the water as I was. Freestyle and breast stroke were right out, but backstroke, and (surprisingly) butterfly worked okay.
Wha?! The massive salt content of the Dead Sea makes seemingly impossible aquatic maneuvers like this easy.
Being un-tourists. Often, especially in a place like Jordan, which has some big name tourist attractions, it’s nice to go somewhere for which there is no real reason to go. Ma’an was this place for us (even without the transit chaos, we would’ve spent a night there anyway.) It was very nice to see a bit of “real” Jordan, where people were happy to see you, intrigued by your presence, and not particularly intent on selling you anything. Ma’an was a pleasantly relaxed place, and we met some wonderful people there, including some Iraqi telecommunications engineers (imagine that! I can scarcely think of a stranger circumstance in which to meet people who share my profession) and some super friendly folks at the local sweet shop (yum!)
A pen full of Camels and goats we spotted on our way to the bus station in Ma’an. This was IN town. Most Jordanians are, in some way or another, descended from the Bedouin, and many of them make a point of staying close to their roots.
I got my haircut in Amman. I always find a trip to the barber shop is a fun way to get in touch with the local culture, and this was no exception. Sadly I made the mistake of not asking how much the cut and beard trim would be before it started and was charged quite a bit more than I should’ve been. At least it was a very good haircut and came with a hair wash and an eyebrow trim
It was also interesting to contrast a bit of the un-tourism-modified hospitality of Jordanians to what we’d seen in Syria and Lebanon. Jordanian folks were still delighted to see us (and almost everyone we saw on the street said “hello!” or “welcome!”) but didn’t seem to have the same “giving” imperative as in the countries to the north. We did get invited to the odd cup of tea, but never got close to the “claustrophobia of kindness” that sometimes threatened to overwhelm us in Syria.
In a break with the slightly more reserved attitude of many Jordanians towards foreigners, we were mobbed by a pack of teenaged girls immediately on arrival at the Dead Sea beach. We were only freed when we’d both had a turn dancing to their bongo-beating, and I’d taken off my sunnies and let them ooh and ahh over my lovely blue eyes
So there you have it… Ten days in Jordan, three blog entries. And now we’re off for our final stop in the Middle East. Two days in Dubai. Should be an interesting change…
Downtown Amman from our hotel roof
Tags: Amman, Dead Sea, Jordan, Llew Bardecki, Ma'an, Travel