Friday, September 12, 2008

Jordan - back in the middle east

October 10, 2008
A long day. The bus from Galway left at 0345 and arrived in Jordan at 2045 local time. I had organised a taxi pickup with the hotel – New Park Hotel in Downtown – it's basic but seems to be fine.

October 11
Today I visited the Roman Citadel in Downtown, very impressive. The Roman Forum was also worth a look, though only the amphitheatre remains. It's lively in this part of Amman, lots of activity, though I wouldn't call it clean. In the afternoon I took a stroll towards the centre, where it's quite different. Clean and modern, different to Downtown.

October 12
I couldn't find the bus station which was marked on the map. Someone told me it had moved out to the edge of town. I grabbed a taxi. The guy convinced me to go to Ajlun Castle and Jerash with him, for 35JD. It was a chance to see the crusader castle, which was excellent and kept in very good condition. Jerash was great, the best Roman ruins I've seen. Helped by a lovely sunny day and the driver, Khamis is entertaining.

Roman ruins in Jerash

October 13 – Mt. Nebo and the Dead Sea
Today I took a day trip with two Spanish guys from the hotel. They were heading for Madaba, Mt. Nebo and the Dead Sea. I had no organised transport from the Dead Sea back to Amman but Fayez, the friendly hotel owner convinced me that it would be no problem. Public transport is not very well organised in Jordan. Madaba was just a short stop, we saw a Greek Orthodox church and the Burnt Palace. It's a nice little town, shame I didn't have the time to see more but I might be back. Mt. Nebo was nice, the view was great although a little hazy. Supposedly it's where Moses stood when he looked onto the Promised Land. Very Biblical.
The Dead Sea was bizarre. At first you don't really notice the difference, but as you wade in deeper it gets harder to walk and eventually topples you over. It's actually hard to swim as you float so high on the water. The high salt content is very apparent and stings the eyes badly. It's easy to drift out as you float, though you can't sink so it doesn't really matter, but it does take some getting used to. If I had enough time and strong sun screen, I'm sure I could have made it across to Palestine, which is easily visible across the sea. The resort was full of Spaniards, as apparently Jordan is a popular destination for Spaniards. The sights today felt very touristy with lots of middle aged package tours, but that's to be expected considering the important Biblical significance of the area.

The Promised Land

October 14
Taxi trip to Wadi Musa today with Khamis. The scenery on the drive was not as interesting as I'd hoped. There were a couple of deep gorges but nothing special. Karak castle was enjoyable, less polished than Ajlun. The standard of driving in Jordan is desperately poor, it's hard to understand why they insist on driving so close behind each other.

October 15 – Petra
The first day at Petra. Amazing. I saw less than half today, but enough to see that this place is a genuine world highlight. The walk through the Siq was beautiful and as I went early I managed to get through it before the tourist rush, though even than I had to be patient to get some nice photos. It's disappointing to see so much rubbish thrown around here in the rooms. I took a long hike to see the High Place of Sacrifice. A young Bedouin girl called Noor invited me for free tea.
In the evening I took an extra “Night Tour” of Petra. Before the tour we were asked to obey a few rules – be silent, walk in single file and don't use flash photography until after the guys are finished playing music. It was very disappointing that people couldn't follow a few simple rules and not spoil it for everyone else.

October 16
Today I walked to the monastery. It was a long walk and even though I started a bit late today, I still managed to beat the tourist hoards. The Monastery is actually more impressive than the more famous Treasury in my opinion. There is also a great view over the valley. Along the way there is a colonnaded street which was the center of the old city and an amphitheater.

The Monastery, Petra


October 17
Today I didn't go to Petra. After two days I was knackered and had seen most of the city. Tomorrow I'll go Wadi Rum and spend a night in the desert.

October 18
Today I took a taxi to Rum village and then a 4WD trip around Wadi Rum. The jebble formations are beautiful and so was the night sky. The driver was a chain smoking grouch, and the jeep was an old banger, but we got to the camp in the end. After sunset I found a great spot at the far side of a jebble. It blocked out the sound coming from the camp and was almost completely silent.

October 19 – Back to Amman
I shared a taxi with some of the group from Wadi Rum to Aquaba. The knob brought me to the wrong station. I had to walk to the other one and it took ages, as the streets are badly signposted and I got lost a couple of times. I finally found it, but I had some trouble with the staff. I gave the attendant my passport, he registered it and I gave him 20JD and he gave me 12JD change. His colleague had a problem with the machine and would print the ticket later. I waited till close to departure time and asked for my passport back and my ticket.
“There you go – 8JD please”
Now I was annoyed with myself because I saw this coming.
“I already paid you”
“No you didn't”
He even counted up all the takings and said the total matched the number of tickets sold. Probably because he issued my ticket but didn't print it. After a long stand off he finally gave in and gave me the ticket.

Back in Amman, by coincidence I ran into the same Palestinian Taxi driver who brought me back from the Dead Sea trip. I changed some currency to Israeli Shekels to prepare for tomorrows trip to Jerusalem. Unfortunately, I was just about to run into an unexpected problem.
Fayez told me the border would be closed on Tuesday, so we should call tomorrow morning to inquire. That worried me because if the border is closed on Wednesday / Thursday, how will I get back for my flight?
So not wanting to get stuck in the West Bank, I decided to stay here and spend the last few days in Madaba.

October 20
I walked a lot of Amman today, as far as the 4th circle. It's a lot cleaner and more upmarket there. It reminded me a bit of North Tehran. It's very traffic chocked here and the street markings are very confusing. It didn't see much worthwhile around this area of the city is not particularly interesting for tourists.

October 21 – Madaba
I took a mini-bus from Amman. It cos just 600Fils. The hotel here is very nice, though more expensive than the others at 20JD. It's good value though and breakfast was great.
Madaba is small and I might be twiddling my thumbs a bit here for a few days, but it's a very pleasant town to spend the last few days.