A trip to Jordan was planned for the Haj holiday, the first opportunity for a few days off the farm for John and for us to venture into a new land. As the flights were extremely expensive we decided to see the land and travel by bus. We booked on a luxury bus from Riyadh to Amman and began planning the days in Jordan. A number of things we were to discover on this trip which we overlooked and would really lift our hairs. Firstly the bus, what we know as a luxury bus with air conditioning, is not so here.
If you can imagine the bus that travels to the homelands, I believe you are on the right track. We arrived at the bus terminal late. The scene we faced was just like the one you see from afar in South Africa when the blacks are returning home, everyone with their luggage in boxes and bags loading the bus to the top. We were fortunate that the bus driver assisted with loading our luggage and finding seats for us.
No seat allocation, just arrive and sit in a seat, and as you are aware to find four seats together is always a problem. While seated in the bus we were horrified at what we saw, the bus was dirty and we the only Europeans on board, at this stage we thought in for a penny in for a pound. The journey we were told was sixteen hours long, but this to was a lie. Here you can never find the exact information you required from anyone and this can be very frustrating at times. The bus travelled for 4 hours before it’s first stop, our second mistake thinking that we would find decent food on the journey. The hotel we stopped at was horrible, as the women and children are not allowed where the men are allowed, we entered the family section, an out building which had cubicles and a carpet on the floor. This is the first time, but definitely not the last time we experienced the “big hole” and the water pipes for toilets on this journey. This is truly a disgusting experience and one that we find hard to forget. After explaining and coaching the boys how to use this, John goes in search of food. The boys and I enter one of these cubicles and by right you should remove your shoes which I tell them not to do and to keep their hands off the floor. John arrives with the waiter and food, the waiter places a piece of plastic on the floor as a table, and the food is placed on this, chicken and rice with a side salad. We soon learn that at each stop we make, you could order chicken and rice, either cooked, fried or boiled but always chicken. The journey to Amman would take 24 hours in all, the longest stop was at the border with new experiences for all. The boys and John remained on the bus, then I dressed in my ibaya go to present myself to the custom officers – the female section, you go behind a wall and there are women in a office, but it is a bedroom as well, they lazily get up off their beds and very slowly begin the process of checking your passport and asking you to remove the veil to identify yourself. You then hand your passport to the driver of the bus who takes all the passports to the officials to be stamped. This seemed very strange as the men were not checked against their passports, but we where soon to learn why, the bus and luggage are duly searched on leaving the country and the bus travelled about 500m, here a police official board the bus and “my name is” began. They take your passport and says “my name is” so sitting in the front and the first passport they have is Ashley, we first do not understand what they are on about. Then the driver informs us that we must state our name so the question should be “what is your name?”, but we learn very quickly. The poor boys are subjected to hair touching and cheeks pinched, but are remarkable in their behaviour and accept this without much fuss. It is now about 2 am in the morning and we begin that last leg of the journey to Amman, the bus has made a number of stops before the border at these “great” hotels for chicken and rice, but the last stop was at a Saudi supermarket where all the men brought boxes of oil and crates of Pepsi, this made us wonder what to expect in Jordan. We soon discovered that if we thought the prices in Saudi were expensive, Jordan was more so.
We arrived in Amman at 3am, as the time difference is an hour, our body clocks are at 4am. The bus terminal is a vacant plot and we can see the taxi drivers fighting about who is going to take the Americans, as seeing our white faces they naturally assume we are American. The boys and I remain on the bus, while John fights for our suitcases amongst all the boxes and bags. We take a taxi to the hotel, the Arab Wing hotel, the actual distance to the hotel is about 500m, but we travel for about 10 minutes before arriving at the front door and we are charged 3 dinas (about R30). The hotel was recommended to us, we soon realise that the standard we are used to, is not what we can expect. We all tumble into bed and sleep until the morning as on arrival in the room, we noticed that the shower fitting was not working and being too tired, we would deal with it on waking. We call reception and someone comes up, goes into the bathroom and places the tap on the shower, it fits now, so John goes in and asks the person exactly how it works. Then the person says oh it is not working it is broken, so eventually we are taking into another room. So after showering, we feel slightly normal again and John goes in search of a rental car and to confirm the bus tickets for the return journey. We find out that there is no availability on the bus for the day we are to return to Riyadh on, but our bus driver arrives at this point and insists that we must go back on that bus, so to John’s amazement some names are deleted and ours are placed on top.
We then begin the long wait for the car to arrive. This too is a learning process, what you want and pay for, is not want you get. John’s new motto is never never trust an Arab, they can never be honest, there is always a deal and a way to fiddle you. As we drive off in the car, which at first was not too bad to look at, we discover that the driver’s window will not open and the petrol tank is empty. You can image me trying to navigate and John driving in this strange new city and at the same time looking for a petrol station. This is a new experience as they do not look like petrol stations, either in South Africa or Saudi. So eventually we are on the road which will take us to the Dead Sea. The window at this stage John has managed to open, but this then almost flies out the doorframe. Thank God for long arms, John catches it and we try to get it back into the door frame, suddenly it falls into the frame and that is where it remains for the entire journey, we were never able to lock the car, as the window could not be closed. Also every time John started the car, the fan belt screams. It was very embarrassing.
We travel down the Jordan Valley and stop to take the tourist picture on the sea level sign, (see photo) at first missing it as there was nowhere to stop after first seeing it so down the road to the first turn around and back up the road and around again slowly approaching the sign.
We could soon see the sea as the journey was to be the shortest for the next few days just 45 minutes out of Amman was the Dead Sea. (see photo). After searching for a good clean hotel, we chose the Dead Sea Spa Hotel, expensive but standards we are accustom to. As soon as we had check in, we got into the swimming gear and down to the beach and our first experience with the Dead Sea, the boys were not to keen on this. The water feels very oily and strange, it is flat with hardly no movement of the water. There are a number of Germans on the beach and we see them being mudded. The black mud from the seabed is taken and rubbed on your skin, you allow it to dry just like a face pack, but this is a body pack. This mud is used in many health clinics all over the world. You then wash it off in the sea and float about, it is truly an unique experience and one that we will never forget. The boys are keen to swim in the pools with the water slides and not the sea, while John enjoys his first beer before going to have supper in the hotel. This is to be our first and last great supper in Jordan. In the morning we are back on the beach, trying to encourage the boys to float, this is a difficult job as they do not trust this situation, but eventually we all float and Dad can take the photos as proof, but the mud is not for them. One thing about the Dead Sea is you never get the water into your eyes, the salt burns like crazy and it is not a quick walk out of the sea. The bed is covered with stones which in turn have salt crystallisation on them so they cut into your feet, but the worst is that the bed of the sea is mud, black mud which then go in-between your toes, so the only way out is to float out which is a very funny sight.
We enjoy a great breakfast in the hotel and spend the day around the pool with the boys. The next stage of our journey is into the country, is to Dana Nature reserve. We travel about three hours before arriving at the enter point. The country side is barren and the towns we pass through are very poor looking, and the concept of Third World is understood. The campsite was recommended by Jordanian who live with us in the compound, the experience was to send the night in a tent and enjoy a meal in a Bedouin tent, but we were never informed that we were to bring our own food. So we spend the next hour looking for food for the night. We arrive in the village, which in it self is very interesting. John approaches someone at the hotel for food and after much debate they agree to cooking us a meal, but we must return to the hotel to eat this meal. This is a very strange set-up and they insist that John walks with them into the village while we are waiting, I opt to remain in the car with Ashley who eventually begins to get scared that something has happened to his Dad and Kingsley. (see photo) On his return John and I agree to return to the camp and inform them as to what is happening, as we have a strange feeling that the delay tactic is so that we spend the night in the hotel. We arrive back at the campsite, the vehicle to take as down to the campsite has arrived, we pack our bags into the truck and it processes down into the valley.
This is an unique experience as the campsite is at the bottom of this valley and is to Arabic standard very nicely maintained. We settle into the tent and John explains the situation of no food to the camp guide, who immediately suggest we drive back up with him and find the shop to buy some food to cook. We decided we are not going back to the village and luckily find a shop where we purchase onions, tomatoes, a tin of bullybeef. Arab bread (flat pancake bread), cauliflower and courgettes. For breakfast we buy eggs and cheese. This seems a strange combination but these little shops have the very basic and no more and we could not and would not trust the meat in these shops, if you see the way they keep the meat, it turns your stomach. The tent is very basic and we soon settle in for a good night sleep. Poor John suffers as the cold attacks his head. The temperatures are extreme, very high temperatures during the day and dropping rapidly at night.
In the morning we enjoy our breakfast, but the shower is another story the camp is very much like South African nature reserves and there is no hot water. The water is freezing, it is so cold that your head aches. The boys enjoy climbing on the rock formations around the camp as we pack up and get ready to be taken back up to the cars. On arrive back on top, we discover that the camp guide has his entire family present to see the Europeans. Lots of questions in very simple English and plenty photographs to be taken. This must have been the highlight for the year for them. (see family photo)
The next stage of the journey was to Petra – the highlight of our trip. We travelled about 4 hours before reaching Petra. The first impression of the town was not very impressive and this remained with us. The hotel has been booked for us by the Jordanian on the farm and from the first experience of the Arab Wing, we are seriously worried about what we will find. This was most probably the worst hotel we stayed at during our stay in Jordan. We had booked a double room, but it was a room with a double bed, no space or even help to find any extra mattress on the floor for the boys. The Arabs really fancy the colour pink so the room was painted bright pink, the bedding was our worst nightmare come true and the bathroom was a horror. Initially our stay was for two nights, but 10 minutes in the room and we were off to Petra and had definite plans that we would only spent one night as we tried a few other hotels and they are seemed to be full. After paying an enormous amount to enter Petra we began our walk into the ruins, we were immediately harassed by the locals to take a horse ride down to the ruins, so knowing that it was a long walk before one reached the ruins we decided to enjoy a horse ride to the entrance of the siq, paying what we later learnt was so much. The lesson in these Arabic states is to wait as a better price will always be offered, but in hindsight we enjoy the experience, Kingsley joined myself and Ashley rode with John, this journey took about 15 minutes.
We arrived at the beginning of the “Siq” and this was a truly great experience a walkway of about 5 metres wide is the cool atmosphere of this natural split of the mountains, with evident of how these people used the rocks and mountain side to live. Water would have run along these canals for daily use. After walking 1km in this long fissure between overhanging cliffs of 100 metres in height, we were lucky to have an English speaking guide just in front of us and he point out the if we walk on the left side of the rock face we would see something special – the first sight of the pink craved stone temple was the highlight of our trip to Jordan and will remain with us for a long time. (see photo). The splendour of man’s achievement is hard to comprehend, we wandered just how many people exact fully comprehended what they were seeing.
For this point you could ride a camel or a pony into the ruins, the walk was not to difficult, just very dusty and hot after the relaxing stroll through the Siq.
On reaching the entrance, the boys were extremely hot and thirsty, so they request an ice cream and some water, but like so many tourist spots, we were made to pay an outrageous amount for an ice cream. Not wanting to go back to the hotel to soon or the village area, we decided to enjoy a pizza and John his second beer in this tourist area which seemed the nearest thing to being kosher. We dreaded the night in the hotel, so the easiest thing to do was to quickly shower and go to sleep and hope morning would arrive soon. This was the longest night, trying to find bottled water, stealing the cushion off the couch outside the room so that the boys could sleep on the floor. The next morning we that a proper Arabic breakfast, (oh how we longed for Sunset Lodge and what we offer our guests) flat Arabic bread, tea, processed wedges of cheese and a plate full of jam. So after eating what we could, we quickly settled the billed and left. Now we were faced with the problem of what will happen to the luggage in the car, as the driver’s window would not locked. So taking the boys as bait, John approached the local police and explained the situation, the best they could offer was for us to park the car in an area reserved for the coaches, after trying to get the parking area attendant to allow us to park the car, we finally set off again into Petra, this time disregarding the locals and their horses, once again the walk through the siq is a very relaxing feeling, we were hoping to see the temple in full sunlight as the sun settles on it. What a different from the previous afternoon impression, then it was covered in shade and the colour completely different. Our objective was to find the urn of the monastery and so a quick march down the dusty, sunny road we were rewarded with many new ruins, but alas we never did find the one we wanted. I think if you were truly interested in the ruins you could easily spend four days exploring in Petra.
The boys experience sitting on a camel, but preferred to enjoy a ride back to the temple on a pony. For the last time we enjoy the cool lazy walk through siq and out of Petra. Into the car and out we rode, we enjoy a last look when we were above the city and could look down and could see the entrance into Petra and the mountain’s fissure from afar.
Our next destination was Aquaba, this was to be for the boys to enjoy the Red Sea, play in the sand and build sandcastles, we planned to stay two nights. This was the longest journey, so we arrived hot, sticky and tired, now to find a hotel, big mistake all the decent ones were full with Arabs enjoy eid. We found a room which still never reached our standards, but it was a room and the bathroom was not too bad, they managed to find an extra bed for the boys, so some brownie points for them. So it time for the beach, into costumes, grab towels and camera and off we go, to our horror, we as Capetonies know, never go near the beaches on boxing day or new year’s day, that is exactly the sight greeting us, but the beach area is narrow and everyone is on top of everyone, they even sit on plastic garden chairs in the water.
We decided this is for the birds and after one photo with our feet in the water of the Red Sea we hurry the boys away, deciding to return to the Dead Sea and civilisation, but unfortunately the hotel is fully booked so we decided to stay the night. We enjoy a pleasant evening walking around the local shops, a spice lesson, seeing carcasses of lambs just hanging outside the shops dressed in plastic with plastic flowers attached, buy the local T-shirts for the boys and some suppers which meets our approval, then back to hotel and some sleep. Once again we are faced with Arabic breakfast and I learn to drink tea, as there is no water or juice to drink. We settled our bill and are amazed that the car is still in the place we left it, no-one has stolen it.
We drive back to Amman, on this long journey back, we decide to find a hotel which has European standards, as we need a good night’s sleep, good food before facing the bus and the twenty four hour trip back to Riyadh. The first stop in Amman is Mac Donald’s as the boys are desperate for some food which they can relate to. (sse photo) We then arrived at Le Meridian, the most expansive night in a hotel for us, but we enjoy the five stars comforts, the complimentary basket of fruits which arrives, the towelling bathrobes and slippers and for the first time in six days we feel human again.
After a good shower, we drive down town to see the Roman Theatre, but unfortunately it is closed, we explore the area outside (see photo) and get the general feeling of the craftsmanship of the Romans, but we do not stay long as everyone is on the streets, remember the Arabs come out at night, the area is very dirty and we feel uncomfortable in this mess, the people are very friendly and do not see what we see, they seem to be very comfortable in this dirty mess.
We enjoy ever minute of a good night’s sleep and lazily enjoy breakfast, pack and drive down town to the bus terminal. John leaves us with the luggage and returns the car. Imagine John and this car hirer who wants to charge John for the window, a piece of John’s mind he receives free of charge.
This time finding a seat on the bus is rather different, we knew that the bus would be full, but everyone pushes in front and onto the bus, the only seating available is the back seat, we soon discovered that this is a bad idea, as the single men chain smoke and you enjoy this the whole time, I will not go into this trip, as we still have nightmares when we see a SAPCO bus on the roads, but we survive to tell the tale and we know that this journey will not easily be forgotten, life in a Third World country, it is hard to imagine that South Africa is classed into this category.
Hello South Africa, we love you.