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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Before I say Good-bye to Jordan…

October 24 - 27, 2010

Day 148 - 151


I was ready to be out of Jordan. After returning from three great weeks throughout Egypt, my perception of Jordan somehow wasn’t the same. Maybe it was because I was all alone again or perhaps because I didn’t have as much local interaction in Jordan as I did in Egypt? Whatever the reason, I knew that I didn’t want to stay much longer. I started devising my departure and trying to coordinate schedules with my friend Yaya and her sister Martha who lived in Germany. 

Yaya would be visiting Martha from Hawaii, coincidentally on her birthday, and I actually had planned to go and see Martha who was living in Bamberg, Germany anyway.  Now there was a possibility that I would be able to make it over to Germany while Yaya was there. I was still supposed to have another month left in Jordan but I was trying to change my ticket so that I could fly to Madrid and then was hoping to fly into Germany.  Through some research on the internet, I was able to find something and able to pull up my departure, to almost a month early. 

But before I left the country, I needed to see Jordan. Up until then, I had spent almost all my days in the hostel working. Then I left and went to discover Petra, Wadi Rum and Egypt so I hadn’t seen much else of the country. After getting my onward plans sorted, I decided to try to see the main sites in my final 5 days.

Once I resolved to sightsee, I needed to let Mohammad know that I wasn’t staying much longer and to get permission to try to see what tours I could ‘hop on.’  Mohammad was also wanting to get away and take advantage of me being there…As it turned out, there was an older Dutch couple who had plans to go down to Petra.  Although I had already seen Petra twice, they were actually planning to make a trip down to ‘Little Petra’ first which is a smaller version of Petra that is free and right outside the ‘Bedouin Village’.  Ah, the Bedouin Village. It seemed like I had so many opportunities to go there - from the Bedouin boy (that made me cry) and then the male friends that I met in Petra - yet nothing ever materialized because they all turned weird on me. So now was my opportunity to finally go there.  But it was tricky. The Dutch couple would be leaving early with a stop in Dana first.  Then they were going to Little Petra to start a tour that they had arranged through the hostel.  The tricky part was that we needed to be back in Amman by 5:00PM because we were picking up a guest who had requested airport services.  Petra is 3 hours away, one way.  We left at 7:30AM, 30 minutes later than planned because of the marathon that was going on that day. So we were already behind schedule.  We needed to leave Little Petra no later than 2:00PM if we were going to get back to Amman in time.  I was thinking to myself, it would be such a waste of a day if I don’t even get to see Little Petra!

We finally arrived shortly after 2:00PM and I asked - more like begged - Khaled to give me 10 minutes as I walked around.  I quickly ran through to have a look around and snap some photos.  Then, about 10 minutes later, I emerged and hopped in the car.  It was a race back to Amman to the airport from there.  We were about 30 minutes later than the guest’s arrival time but it turned out okay.  It was a long day of driving only to see 10 minutes of Little Petra but I suppose it was worth it.  You know if I had to pay, it would have been a different story!

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The following day, it turned out that there were two Danish girls and a Russian girl that had booked a tour to the sand castles so I decided to join them.  We didn’t go to all the castles as we had expected but it was a good chance for me to get an idea of what these castles were; basically castles built in the desert during a former, more triumphant time (7th-8th century); it is said to be some of the earliest and most impressive works of Islamic art and architecture.  I was the self-proclaimed tour guide so I managed to get to these three sites without having to pay the fee which was only 2JD.  One of the stops that we made was where Lawrence of Arabia once lived.  There was a 3-ton door that I was not able to push but somehow with my best ‘ass’et, closed it with little problem. That night after touring around the dessert all day, we stopped at Khaled’s house where we got to meet his little baby boy and his wife.  While there, we watched his wife and another neighbor lady make a fried Jordanian pastry stuffed with a spinach-like vegetable right in their living room. It was neat to be able to watch them prepare this dish, especially since we were able to partake in the final product right off the frying pan!

The following day, I woke up a little late and so my plans to visit Bethany Beyond the Jordan had to be rescheduled…so, I decided to take public transportation and head out to Jerash.  It was a shame because I had several opportunities to go out there with the hostel but never went.  So now I was doing the trip on my own.  This was one of the first times that I would be going around pretty much on my own; at least I had my guidebook (thanks Steph!).  Getting there wasn’t too bad and somehow I managed. 

Jerash, one of the biggest and best preserved Roman cities and one of the best amphitheaters in Jordan, reminded me a lot of Rome.  It was a lot more than I expected to pay but I lucked out when I flashed my ‘teacher’ card for the Chariot Racing Show which saved me a lot of money. The show was quite entertaining and was actually a production put together by the local community so buying a ticket to the show was a great way of supporting the local economy.  Even though it was a big pricey, I would endorse the show. After walking around for about 4 hours (which was a good reason to have made the journey on my own), I decided to head back.


The ride back was a bit more complicated because I didn’t know where to go to catch the bus back. Getting there I had actually asked them to drop me before terminating at the bus terminal.  So, when I was ready to go, I wasn’t really sure where the bus terminal was.  There were drivers that offered to drive me back in a taxi but it was too expensive; so I decided to try to find that bus.  Eventually I found the bus and got on.  There were other kids on the bus that were really curious of the foreigner that hopped on  and were very friendly with me which made my ride back pleasant.

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After arriving back to the bus terminal in Amman, I wanted to take another bus back so that I wouldn’t have to get a taxi back to the hostel. One of the guys at the bus stop wanted to pay for my fare which I thought was extremely kind of him but I told him it was okay and paid my own way.  He told me where to get off and in the end, I was dropped off in the middle of the road and had to walk about 3km back to my hostel; by now it was already dark but it was a safe walk back.  It was a good day and I felt very accomplished having managed to get out to Jerash and back on my own.

The following day, I was ready to take on Bethany Beyond the Jordan which was the site in the Jordan River where Jesus Christ was baptized. I am not Christian but for me, it is a spiritual journey to be able to go to these places and see them with my own eyes.  It was unfortunate that again, I didn’t wake up early enough (do we see a constant theme here?!) to travel with another group who went out to the Dead Sea which is literally around the corner.  So, I had to get on the bus again and find my own way there.  I ventured off to the ‘bus station’ which I was told was very far but managed to walk over.  When I got there, I saw a bunch of guys hanging around who tried to help me get on the right bus. 

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So I got on and thus my journey began. I never imagined how my day would turn out and the adventure that would come out of it.  I got dropped off again on the side of the road, along the King’s Highway.  There was a ‘taxi’, or rather a guy hanging out that offered to drive me there for a ridiculous price.  I called Mohammad - thank God for him - and asked him for advice.  He suggested that I hitch because the price, he agreed, was too high. It was about 10 km away. So I hung out for a bit and stuck my thumb out. This was the first time to hitchhike but since Mohammad said it was okay, I trusted him.  A large semi - a Mercedes no less - pulled over and I hopped in.  The driver agreed to take me down to the end of the road and said that I would need to get another ride on the other road that would go straight to the site.  He dropped me off a few minutes later and I started to walk. Oh boy was it hot!  A car, driving in the opposite direction, passed me and then made a U-turn asking where I was going. I told him I wanted to go to the Baptismal site and he offered to give me a lift.  I felt bad because clearly he was headed in the opposite direction.  He said it wasn’t a problem…he was driving a company car so I figured it would be okay.  We drove for another 5 minutes or so and I was there. I thanked him and he gave me his number in case I wanted a ride back. How nice of him.  I bought my ticket and got on the 1:00PM tour. 

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The tour lasted only about an hour and was a quick trolley ride down to the river and a walk around the area.  We got to see the site where Jesus prepared his baptismal and then made a short walk down to the river. It was neat because the river was not that wide. It is said that over time, 2,000+ years, the river has shrunk so the width is only about 10 feet.  On the other side you can see a fence and the blue Star of David flag flying proudly, marking Israeli territory.  I couldn’t believe how close I was to Israel! You could easily throw something over to the other side.  We got to take a dip into the river.  I had my phone in my pocket but didn’t bother to take it out - my hands were full and I was videoing my first steps into the Jordan River so I left it in my pocket while it got ‘baptized’. I figured it would be okay if I just aired it out after. Bad move because I couldn’t get my phone back on after that…and so I didn’t have the number for the nice guy who offered to bring me back…oopsies.  Luckily the guide said that he would be done with his shift and could drop me off on the side of the road…always getting dropped off on the side of the road!

Two other guides hopped in with us and as promised, I was dropped on the side of the road. But another guide was also dropped along with me. He seemed cool at first but then we stopped over on the side of the road for a good 20-30 minutes. I don’t know what he was doing but I wanted to be on my way. Oh no wait, he tried to help air dry my phone, that was his excuse…In that time, a handful of cars must have passed us but he kept saying that it wasn’t a good car. So, we waited. Finally, I got impatient and told him that I was going to start walking. He warned that it was far away and so he wanted to invite me over for tea. I knew that I didn’t really have time as it was already close to 3PM and I was trying to make it back to Amman before it got dark around 6PM and I was starting to get a weird feeling about him. He kept insisting and I insisted back even more that I needed to go and be on my way; especially since he wasn’t helping with a ride!

I got my way and proceeded to walk…and walk….and walk…no one stopped for me! Granted there weren’t as many cars as when we were sitting on the side of the road but even the ones that did pass didn’t stop! I think I even saw some people from the Baptismal site but they didn’t stop either.  It was so hot and I had no idea how far Mount Nebo was.  But I just kept walking…it was about 3:00PM so I only had a couple more hours of sunlight…with no phone and no one around, I wondered how long I would have to walk and where I would spend the night.


Finally, after having walked about 4 miles - all uphill - a truck finally pulled over and stopped for me! I hopped in, elated!  A father and son duo, the son spoke limited English. I was at their mercy and on their time schedule and was brought along to a local friend’s tent house. I was offered tea while the owner of the house smoked hashish.  It’s an interesting observation that the world, despite language and culture differences, you find that recreational drugs are very common. 

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I wanted to stop at Mount Nebo but if I did, I would have to worry about finding another ride back to Madaba and most likely not be able to see the mosaics and get back to Amman too late.  So, we just drove by. In Madaba I knew where I wanted to go but the father misunderstood and drove me to the wrong church but there were mosaics there too so I made it there just in time.

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Then I had to walk over to find St. George’s - the church I had initially wanted to go to - which is the main church which has a mosaic in the image of a map of the area.  I had about half an hour and I thought that if I tried to walk, I wouldn’t be able to make it in time before the church closed so I decided to hop into a taxi.  I got into the taxi and negotiated a ride for 1JD.

The driver didn’t really seem to know where he was going and was starting to get me a bit agitated mainly because the town of Madaba is very small and the mosaics is the main attraction here. I had only 15 minutes now before the church closing and he seemed lost.  We pulled into a street that looked like the church and I asked him and he said ‘yeah’ but kept driving. Finally he stopped and I was confused because he had driven about 200m from the entrance of the church. Just outside my cab was a police officer so before paying the driver, I got out and went up to the police officer to ask him where the church was. He pointed us to the direction of where I thought the church was.  The street was a one way so he couldn’t reverse and would instead need to go back around the block.  I got so upset at the driver for driving me past the church when I had so little time.  I pulled out of my pocket the change that I had, 0.25JD and walked away. Yes, it was very bold of me but I was really annoyed and honestly, I didn’t have the right amount of change which is a poor excuse but that was the reason that I walked away from him. He was yelling at me demanding me for his pay but I just ignored him and ran off.

I went into the church and enjoyed the mosaics. It was actually a very small church so in hindsight I realized I overreacted.  I got out of the church and became a bit worried that this guy would find me. He was a big burly guy - could be easily mistaken for the Russian mafia with his light blue eyes and fair skin, standing over 6’. I tried to walk quickly and through smaller streets that I knew taxis wouldn’t be able to go through.  It was going to get dark soon so I decided that I should try and get myself back to the bus station.  I had to stop and ask for directions a few times and while I was talking to two young guys, with my back towards the street, a man calls out to the two guys I was talking to.  I am not sure what words were exchanged but the guys seemed to tell him that they don’t know what he’s talking about. Just then I turned around and who was it but my taxi driver demanding his pay. He hunted me down.  At this time I had the correct amount of change so I pulled out the remaining 0.75JD that I owed him and handed it to him. He was pissed but seemed satisfied, mumbled a few words and drove off. I am so crazy sometimes; if it were any other non-Islamic country, I am sure bad things would have happened to me.


Got to the bus station and a private taxi offered to take me back to Amman for 3JD versus the 1.75JD ride in the bus. If he was taking me directly back to my hostel I thought it was worth it.  I decided to hop in with him but he wanted to stop and pick up his friend. He made me wait in the car for at least 10 minutes and I just got fed up. When he finally came back to the car, he wanted to change the price to 5JD and I told him, no! He made me wait for 10 minutes and then he wanted to charge me more while he took his friend back into the city?  So he dropped me off - again, on the side of the road - and I had to find my way back to the bus station. Same drill and had to find a bus to get back to Amman. Finally, we left and I got back to the city about an hour and half later due to traffic (normally it only takes about 40 minutes).

The following day was my last day in the city before I was flying out to Spain. I still hadn’t seen the citadel or the amphitheater even though it was only footsteps away from my hostel.  So that day I decided to check it out. Mohammad was also out of town - I was left in charge - and so I was asked to to take the two new Spanish guests who checked in the day before around with me if they were interested. They agreed that they wanted to go so I took them to have lunch at my favorite restaurant - Hashim - and we took a cab over to the Citadel. It was a nice view of the city from above and it was nice to be able to go around with other people to take my photos and take photos with.  Within the grounds of the Citadel there is also a museum that we decided to walk through that housed ancient artifacts from Greek and Roman times and even before. I couldn’t stay too long though because I had to rush back down to my friends at the tailor shop who were patching up some things and I needed to pick it up since I was flying out the following night. It sucked because I really would have wanted to enjoy Amman at my pace especially since it was my last day.



After I got back to the hostel I started to make preparations for my departure and I still had to work since Mohammad was out of town; I was hoping he would come back though because my flight the following day required me to be at the airport at 5AM.  He did come back just in time and then it was decided that since Khaled was taking me to the airport, he wanted me to sleep over at his house.

Although I would have wanted to spend my final night at the hostel, I wanted to make it easy for Khaled. I also thought it would be a great opportunity for me to spend time at a local family’s house.  I finally packed up all my things and was ready to leave at 11PM. It was a really emotional and difficult time to say good-bye especially to Moktar, my Egyptian co-worker. Although he spoke little English and my Arabic was non-existent we worked well together and somehow understood each other. He prepared all my meals at the hostel and even though we were co-workers, he took very good care of me. I could tell he was upset that I was leaving and even refused to say good-bye telling me he was angry with me. I didn’t realize how hard it would be for me to say good-bye and I actually got very teary eyed. I was sad to say good-bye to Mohammad too, he had done so much for me and allowed me to see much more of Jordan and Egypt than I had expected to. My farewell with him wasn’t as big of a deal though and he actually didn’t come downstairs when I left which hurt me a bit. When our car pulled away only Moktar stood outside waving at me. We promised to stay in touch and he and Khaled both created email accounts just hours before my departure so that we could do so.

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I finally made it to Khaled’s house just after midnight. I was surprised and hugely embarrassed because Khaled’s wife had prepared a great big feast for us -mansef (rice and chicken) - and had not yet eaten because she was waiting for us to come home. I had nibbled on some of the barbeque which was part of the reason why I wasn’t ready until 11PM, so I wasn’t that hungry…but I ate anyway. I was so sleepy having had a long day but tried to stay up and be good company as Khaled’s wife wanted to show me her coverlook photos from her wedding and seemed very excited that they had a foreigner in their home.


I finally went to bed at about 1AM and slept well until I was woken up at 4:30AM to drive down to the airport. Khaled’s wife joined us as well and put the little baby with me in the back seat; the whole family was going to see me off.  On our drive to the airport, I was so grateful for all the friendships I made and how easy my trip here had been thanks to Mohammad and Bdeiwi and everyone there.  My time in Jordan had come to an end and until the very end, I had great stories to tell…