2005 Time-out Diary
Wandering around Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon

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11-13 November 2005

Friday 11th November 2005    day 123     whereami     Satellite view

Petra, Jordan
Up very reluctantly at 6:45, I didn't get a great nights sleep. Quickly finished packing and grabbed a quick breakfast. Paid my bill - total 29.5JD. Not bad for 3 nights + breakfasts + dinners + laundry + gallons of shay, a lot dearer than Egypt though. The 3JD bus turned up on time at 7:30 right outside the hotel.

I noted on the journey that I've been pretty much 100% successful with my new approach to all the money nonsense. I didn't even flinch when Nasser "forgot" that I'd already paid a bit of my hotel bill, nor when I had to refuse the popular pay-for-a-seat-for-your-big-pack routine on the bus. I didn't even get annoyed with the incessant mobiles on the bus today!

Quite interesting journey through rolling hills of gravelly desert scrubland. This is a seriously hilly country. We stopped for fuel at one point and most got off for a quick smoke around the fuel pumps. Got to Amman at about 11am.

I've got a hotel recommendation from Nasser but no local map so I wandered around asking at the bus station. A service taxi offered 2JD for the 12km journey to the downtown area - I told him maybe later. I bumped into him again, 1.5JD now, and again later when it was 1JD. I know I'm being ripped but it's close enough so I jumped in - 5km later we were there! I commented on the distance and told him he could forget the Dead Sea trip he was trying to sell me - he said it was ok(?).

I wandered around looking for the hotel or the nearby post office, few people I asked seem to know about either. Finally found it and it was full - never mind, there seems to be loads about. Found Cliff Hotel - 3.5JD for a shared room, I don't know who I'm sharing with but the name looked japanese in the book. Quick read of the brochures in the room, time's getting on but I might try and get to Jerash today.

A big brochure had an Amman streetmap so I took it and the blokes on reception confirmed where the hotel was on the map. They're a strange bunch of scruffy old boys but they're very friendly and helpful. I headed out about 1:30 towards the Abdali bus station where the brochure says I can get a service taxi the 50km to Jerash. 1-2km and I was there but no service taxis for Jerash, got offered 15JD by a taxi as "the only way". Went and asked around the buses and found one almost straight away - 30 piastres, that's more like it. The piastre thing is confusing in Jordan 'cos they always say it (in english) in hundreds instead of tens, ie. the bus driver asked for 300 piastres, wanting 30 - it happens everywhere all the time.

On my walk to the station I was accosted by a mad professor who was soon going to Paris to demonstrate his invention - a car that runs on water by separating out the hydrogen and oxygen for fuel - "you'll probably see me on tv!". He was very excited about it all and delighted to see someone from England in Jordan, shaking my hand for about 30 seconds before I could break it.

The bus was hot and stuffy and I dozed off once we were out of Amman. Amman seems quite a bit warmer than Petra - definitely t-shirt weather again. I woke up right by some ruins where 90% of the passengers were getting off. I jumped off too and for a while thought I might have been premature - I had no idea how long I'd been asleep. But I was in the right place and soon found the entrance - 5JD ticket, not bad.

Jerash is an ancient city, part arab, part greek but mainly roman. It was completely lost, buried unti it was rediscovered in 1806. Excavations started in 1925 and are still ongoing. It's a pretty big site, probably 3km x 1km. It's hard to imagine how these great cities just get lost. Petra had a similar recent history and that was HUGE.

I followed the route recommended in the free brochure from the Jordanian Tourist Board. These little brochures are absolutely superb, 10/10, giving just the right amount of relevant information for the average tourist and very clearly laid out with nice maps. I used them in Wadi Rum and Petra.

The architecture of the temples and churches etc. was a bit tame after Luxor etc. but it was a very interesting place all the same - the history was very different to Luxor etc. of course. One of the highlights was the Hippodrome, only partly reconstructed but you could really get a feeling of what it must have been like with chariot races and other sports going on. It was mainly colonnaded streets, temples, churches, amphitheatres etc.

For once I was pleased to see a few big groups of western tourists there, not for me but for Jordan, it's a great country and I like the people - it's good that not everyone has hightailed it out of the country after the incidents a couple of days ago.

Hippodrome   Hippodrome   view north from Hippodrome

city gate   Oval Plaza   Oval Plaza

Macellum / market place   Ummayad houses   colonnaded street

cathedral entrance   view south from hilltop   Nympaeum - a fountain

looking back down the entrance to the Temple of Artemis   temple esplanade   the North Tetrapylon

the baths   colonnaded street   theatre - from the stage

theatre - from the audience   view south   view south-east

I left at 5pm as it was closing, it soon got colder again when it was dark. I walked back down to where my bus dropped me off to look for one back. A taxi driver told me there were no more buses today and offered a ride back for 15 and then down to 8JD. I said I'd look for a service taxi but he insisted that they'd finished too - seemed unlikely. I asked around some more and was pointed to a service taxi - the original taxi driver was moaning at the service taxi driver for stealing his business, and was quite rightly laughed at. 1JD back to Amman but on the wrong side of town. I started walking along a road I recognised from the way out and after 15 mins found a bus going to Abdali station for 200 piastre (20!).

Walked back to the hotel but couldn't get into the room - my roommate has gone out with the key and they don't have a spare. The old boy was very apologetic but I wasn't that bothered - I went out and got a couple of average damias for 40piastre and ate them in the little communal lounge area. Then he produced a big tupperware box of keys and tried all of them in the door without success. Not to worry I've sat here and done most of my diary. He, Hirosh, turned up at 8:15, came to get the key and was horrified to find it in his pocket and apologised profusely. He seems ok.

Pretty good day really, I wasn't that confident about fitting it all in but did pretty well really. Walking around Amman today has felt perfectly safe. I've had some odd looks but no hostility or anything close to it.

      High: successfully squeezing in a good visit to Jerash
       Low: in too much of a rush to eat during the day - got pretty hungry

Saturday 12th November 2005    day 124     whereami     Satellite view

Amman, Jordan
Happy Birthday Suzi - my trusty UK Support Dept. - 36 today, that ain't so bad.

Up at 9:30 - a bit later than planned but caught up on sleep and it was very cosy in bed beneath 3 heavy blankets, and the chilly room was definitely not inviting.

My mission today is to find the Syrian Embassy and see if I can get a visa. Asked the oddballs on reception for directions and they told me it's closed today! I didn't even really think about that - I knew it was closed yesterday but . . . .
I'd psyched myself up for the challenge and felt deflated. I'm just not sure what to think about my chances now - the incidents here can't have helped them. According to the BBC News, on the internet last night, all of Jordan's land borders are still closed. I'm not sure I believe it though.

My other main target from here is the Dead Sea but I want to make an early start for that and it's now 10:30.

I decided to have a day in the downtown area, especially the markets. There's a few things I need to buy, not least a jacket, and I haven't visited a market for a while.

I headed up to Abdali station, there was a big clothes market there yesterday. Soon got tired walking up there - my walking muscles/joints/bones have taken a bit of a hammering in Jordan. Got there and found no market. Stopped for a sandwich and a couple of shays for a very reasonable 75piastres.

Walked all the way back down into the main downtown market area - it's mostly small shops. I just wandered around all day. I really enjoyed myself, I love the "exoticness" of it all. It's not mad like Cairo, it's quite sedate by comparison. But there's still so many great sights and sounds and smells - everything is bold and brash, loud, colourful, middle-eastern music blaring, prayers from the mosques blaring, and to top it off the hassling is very light. A few times I just stopped to try and soak it all up - these are moments to remember.

I did have one odd incident. A 13y(?) old boy said hello and put his hand out, I said hello back and went to shake his hand but he grabbed me and started trying to push and pull me about and was swinging kicks at me - a couple landed. I easily shook him off me and it was all over in 10 seconds. I don't think he was all there, it wasn't a problem, just strange. Nobody else took any notice.

I found a nice jacket for 29JD but it's a bit bulkier than I want so I left it today. I did buy a woolly hat, and I finally found an in-cup water-heater 2JD - like a kettle element - I've been half-looking out for one for ages for in-room shays. It's probably the most dangerous looking electrical appliance I've ever seen so I'll be handling it with care! Also bought a glass, spoon, shay and sugar.

For the benefit of any of my Dixons friends still coping with my ramblings, my water heater is the crumbiest 2 pin plug connected by thin-thin cable to an unearthed 240V element with a tiny ill-fitting bakelite handle complete with protruding screws and a metal cup-clip. I've wrapped the handle in gaffer tape to give myself a sporting chance of surviving it!

Just one photo today of a very colourful nuts and sweets shop.

sweet shop

On my way back to the hotel I stumbled across a 2nd hand bookshop and was irresistably drawn in. I was pleased to find nothing too tempting - I don't need any more weight to carry!

And that's about it. A nice day though - the jordanians are great people, and there's so much less hassle than in Egypt. It's a more civilised place all round. There's less litter, less spitting, cleaner and smarter clothes, cleaner and newer cars, more politeness, etc. But that doesn't mean I prefer it, I love Egypt because of it's rough edges.

I've paid special attention today to the piastre (x10) thing I mentioned yesterday and it happened on every single transaction or "how much?" of the day. It's not a number problem 'cos they never do it with Dinars - 25JD is "twenty five dinars", but 25piastre is always "two hundred and fifty piastres". I don't get it.

My new roommate just turned up, another japanese bloke - it's mostly young japanese travellers here. I think this hotel must be recommended in the japanese guidebook - Ronery Pranet.

Did my diary whilst sipping homebrew shay - very nice too. My new gadget works a treat, all the convenience of in-room shay and all the excitement of russian roulette!

Had a bit of a chat in the communal area with an older canadian traveller. Back to my room and put all my new friend's details into the PPC "contacts" before I lose them - been meaning to do that for ages.

Back to the communal area for a while and chatted with a pissed german but soon got bored. I was tired anyway so went to bed at 1030 - got some serious negotiating to do tomorrow.

      High: nice old boy who gave me some dried flower petals and stems to put in my shay in the market
       Low: syrian embassy closed - lost a valuable day's processing time

Sunday 13th November 2005    day 125     whereami     Satellite view

Amman, Jordan
Up at 8:30 for a quick shower and my morning shays - luxury!

Back to reception to get directions for the syrian embassy - it's closed again! It's the King's birthday - King Abdullah II (update: I learnt later it was actually the late King Hussein's birthday). They apologised because they'd forgotten about that yesterday. I'm getting bad vibes about my chances of success with this damned visa!

Ah well, at least I'm up and about a bit earlier, I'll go to the Dead Sea. I went back to my room to refill my rucksack - I was taking a bare minimum to the embassy as bag searches will probably be pretty intense. Alo remembered shorts and towel though, shivering here in my sweatshirt, the obligatory swim/float doesn't seem like it'll be much fun.

I walked up to Abdali bus station and asked around. It seemed that I needed to get to South Station first but it took me ages to find a bus going there, most understood neither english nor my dodgey arabic attempts to ask - I finally found a bus. We drove past the Radisson SAS and Hyatt hotels where the bombings were a few days ago and soon got to South Station that I recognised as the station I'd arrived at. The helpful driver pointed me towards the Dead Sea bus.

The bus filled up and we set off at 11:30. Great views from the bus again, huge and very steep hills and mountains all around. Coming over the peak of a mountain we joined a queue of traffic due to an accident. Two lorries had collided, one was on it's side in the ditch, the other was on the road with most of it's cab peeled off. Pretty nasty by the look of it.

view from bus

We went through quite a few police checkpoints but we weren't really checked. About 1/3 of the way down the descent from the mountains to the Dead Sea we passed a sign that indicated sea level. I didn't know until a few days ago that the Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth - at 400m below sea level. The sea soon came into view and looked great, it had the same milky whiteness as the salt lakes at Siwa. The sea is not very wide (10km?) and the mountains of Israel are clearly visible, Bethlehem just behind them. The view across just north of the sea is the infamous West Bank.

We got down to a public beach area and I was told this was my stop. It's much warmer here, even the air is warm, I guess this deep valley is a bit of a heat trap. I was soon out of my sweatshirt and on the nice little beach - 4JD ticket, bit steep. I got changed in the changing rooms provided - modesty seems to be the rule here though there are plenty of bikinis about.

Dead Sea   Dead Sea   Dead Sea

In for a dip, a bit of a hobble over the salty reefs that have built up near the shore and easy floating. The water was reasonably warm too. It was very nice just floating around and chilling out. It's good for children here too - very safe. I know that Laura, Hannah and Adam would enjoy floating around here (can't wait to see you all at Christmas!). Many people also plaster themselves in the slimey mud which is good for the skin - I gave it a miss.

Got out and read my book in the sun - finished Gould's Book of Fish - a very good, strange, dreamlike book - very original. The salt dried on me and was extremely prickly and itchy. I moved nearer the showers and went in again though it was getting colder after 3pm. I didn't stay in long, had a shower that was warmer than the ice-cold blast I'd expected, and got changed. Just sat around enjoying the view and doing a bit of diary while waiting for the sunset.

I sat near the showers for a while with a shay from the nearby café. A group of jordanian families were washing off their mud-slimed and shivering young children, all of whom were screaming, crying and squirming under the cold water until they were wrapped up in towels. You had to laugh, it was a great family moment.

The sunset came and went and wasn't as spectacular as the write-up suggested - still very nice though.

Dead Sea sunset   Dead Sea sunset   Dead Sea sunset

It was interesting to see the Dead Sea though I only saw the beachy part. It's believed to be the site of several ancient cities, notably Sodom and Gomorrah. There's Lot's Cave nearby where his wife was turned into a pillar of salt for disobeying God by looking back as she fled Sodom - the pillar is still there if you want to believe that stuff.

I headed straight up to the road to look for a bus, not sure if I'd find one or not, they seem to stop quite early apart from in the cities. I waited about 15 seconds and one turned up - there was just about room for me by the door and I hopped on. We hadn't gone far when we got checked by the police - who couldn't open the door because I was jammed behind it. We got it sorted and a few of them bunched up so I had a seat. Straightforward though manic journey back. There was a fair sized rally outside the Radisson SAS hotel and a big banner declaring "United We Stand". Got dropped of at South Station, found a bus to Abdali station and walked back to the hotel from there.

I could do with a substantial meal - been living on snacks for a few days now. Just heard some fireworks outside - maybe there'll be some interesting celebrations for the King's birthday.

Went out and had another quick look around for a jacket. Think I've found a good'un for 20JD, I'll probably buy it tomorrow. Went to the internet café but it was full so went to look for something to eat. A brassy local woman in her late 30's(?) attached herself to me and started a conversation while somehow making it obvious that everything was on offer - surely a prostitute, women do not approach men here. I pretty much ignored her and she slowly wandered off up the street.

Went to the local's café up an alley opposite the hotel. Had felafel, ful, chips, salad and bread plus a shay. Not quite the healthy meal I was looking for but choice is a bit limited here, and it was fairly healthy and very nice - dearer than I expected at 1.8JD.

Back to the internet café, emails, website, news, and more scratching around for visa tips. Back to the hotel at 11:30 for a quick shay and bed.

Pretty good day in the end. I thought getting to and from the Dead Sea might have been more difficult than it turned out - it was just the first leg that I had a problem with, and that should've been the easy bit!

Damn! - just realised I left my shorts on the bus! I was carrying them seperately as they were still quite wet and forgot about them in the confusion. I paid £1 for them in Turkey 11 years ago so not too much of a loss, and that's the first thing I've lost I think - not a bad record. I've spoken to several who've lost cameras and mobile phones. One of the Aussie girls in Wadi Rum had lost her digital camera complete with 4 months unbacked-up photos of her travels!

My plan for tomorrow is to go to the syrian embassy to try and get a syrian visa - deja vu.

      High: hopping straight onto the bus back to Amman - MUCH easier than expected
       Low: bloody embassies closed again - I hope tomorrow's not the anniversary of the prime minister's cat's first miaow, or whatever . . .

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