There are advantages, drivers merge from side streets or join roads not by stopping and waiting for a break but by kinda nudging out and driving beside you until you give in or you both collide, but at least the traffic flows. At traffic lights cars do stop, but don’t queue in anything like an orderly fashion, a two lane road would normally have at least 3 to 5 different queues, and the left hand side is set to do a quick U-turn, because as is the case in the UAE there are few ways to across to a street on the other side. Tooting is so common it is meaningless. Another problem is that drivers seem to want to use the mobile phone, just like everywhere, even texting one suspects. The end result is a very slow moving car with a person looking towards and from observation this is often a young lady, sorry but this seems to be the case. The guys don’t slow down!
However, in general the road seems safe but you need to be on your guard. It is a mistake to drive in what we would call the safety lane, in Jordan a thick yellow line marks its boundary, but it is often home to kids selling fruit, or other merchants, the odd broken down car and metal waste disposal units which have obviously been banged around by unsuspecting drivers.
The trip started in Amman, went down via the Dead Sea, to Petra across the mountains and back up highway 15/35 from Petra to Amman. I had allocated Sunday to drive down to the Dead Sea, Monday to drive to Petra and Wednesday to drive back, in the end I came back on Tuesday afternoon.
The turn off to the Dead Sea, is in my opinion well consealled – ask Cathie, I am considered hopeless with road signs. But to me if you are on a fast moving highway, even if there are road works, and Jordan like the UK love a good road-work, it is helpful to put the metres or kilometres on the sign so you have some idea what part of the road it applies to, otherwise I am prone to head of up the goat track the sign actually points to. There is a nice little sign to the Dead Sea, but it takes you on a road through the back streets with no further signs. The real turn-off is from the airport road onto the M40, but it does not say Dead Sea if you are travelling towards the airport – but if you come back the other way, from the airport towards Amman there is a beautiful BROWN TOURIST sign directing you to turn onto the M40! Boy, I got lost and have since driven over the same part of the road and have just about worked it out. But there is one other part that has given me grief. My neck of the woods is easy to get to, so it seems by looking on the map. It is certainly easy to get onto the M35, but on return it somehow splits, there are road works to confound me, but what you need to see is the LITTLE sign to Jerash, which gets you back onto the M35 – which I never thought I had left in the first place. Ok, I have the start and end of the various possible journeys north or south worked, what about the middle parts.
I am pleased to say the rest of Jordan is extremely easy to navigate.
The decent down to the Dead Sea is impressive. You basically drop 1000m in about 15klms, maybe a bit more, but the Dead Sea is only about 30mins or so from Amman i.e. close, maybe about 20 to 30klms to the start of the Dead Sea.
I stayed at the Movenpick Resort for one night and what a night, it is Ramadan so the resort was much cheaper – it is fantastic and not something I could normally afford. The day temperature was about 40C and humid, but the evening and mornings were wonderful. I bobbed up and down in the Dead Sea at the private beach, sat in the open air restaurant on my own (I am going to write about this as it seems to interest people) with three waiters and discussed the merits of Jordanian wine and the Australian wine on the list. The waiters didn’t drink! But they seem pleased I liked the wine, and provided great service. The sunset was worth the stay and the black of the night reveled a star lit sky – the biblical sky, but with a large light in the sky which was not the famous star but an Israeli satellite – ‘It is a machine’ I was told by one of the waiters. Across the Sea you could see that there was a large town on the foreshore, ‘they are all Palestinian, up on the top part are the Israeli towns you can see’ said the waiter. A very interesting discussion ensured, and of course what you see across the water is the West Bank, this is considered to be occupied land.
In the morning I departed at about 10.30am to drive down the along the rest of the Dead Sea. The area is bordered on the left by high and heavily eroded cliffs of conglomerate rock and maybe sandstone. It was clear that when it rains vast torrents flood down and flow into the sea, causing erosion and also providing water for crops. At intervals there were large areas of plastic covered land with small black irrigation pipes snaking across the land. Housing is rudimentary, white cement square shaped blocks can seen everywhere and the odd tend or humpy is home to the less well off – some with satellite dishes though!
I past by the Mujib Nature Reserve and it looked like there were a number of interesting but difficult walks up the gullies, I did not stop and was also pleased I had not booked the Chalets as they are described, as they appeared to be just wooden boxes on the edge of the water, I guess the view would be ok, but there did not seem much resemblance to the pictures on the brochure.
Onward past the left hand turn to Karakyou come to the vast salt pans which is home to the Arab Potash Company as well – I wonder if BHP have their eye on it if the Canadian venture fails.The Dead Sea is clearly important to Jordan and no doubt to Israel. But water is high demand in this parched place and one report I read claimed that there would be no water left in the Dead Sea by 2050 if the upstream usage continues at the current rate. Water is a problem here as it is in Australia – I am hopeful that this will prompt discussion at school with the year 9’s went I introduce databases.
For the next 20ks or so you travel with flat land on the right and mountains on the left – it is a somewhat desolate place, the lack of water obvious. On the flat areas there are treed areas – manb Gum trees (I am going to do some research on why they are here). Farming thrives on the flat, although it looks a tough life, and I am not sure what is grown. Interestingly, Bananas are widely grown – well it certainly hot and humid along the Dead Sea.
Quickly I am upon the turn-off to At-Taflia. This is only a short distance, maybe 20klms away (for those who want specific distances, I guess these are available and yes, I could have read the odometer, but I didn’t), and it must be one of the drives of the world. The grades are steep, but the turns well constructed, which makes driving fun and passing easy without the need to add additional lanes. Trucks literally look like they are not moving, it is so steep in parts. But, the views are fantastic and there are plenty of places to stop and take them in, there are even enterprising locals who have setup somewhat run down looking places to stop and get a drink – its Ramadan, so most are closed! This is a must do when in Jordan.
The remainder of the trip to Petra traverses across the high plateau, it is cool outside, maybe on 20C. there is some grass cover, although the predominant colour is a light burnt mustard. Some pine trees can be seen and what appear to be camps of shepperd’s looking after sheep and goats. One thing you do need to be careful of are the many humps in the road, used to slow traffic as nothing else would work, I assume. There are also plenty of police hiding along the way, but unlike the ones on the main highway don’t appear to be equipped with radar.
There are some worrying moments looking for a petrol station. I stopped and asked a group of locals who where stacking a truck – ‘straight ahead’, no worries, and the same message from a young guy sitting outside a shop in a small town. Sure enought one turned up and I had a nice chat with a local who fortunately for me he spoke good English. It snows up in the highlands area and the air is crisp and clean – it looked like a quiet place, if that was what you wanted.
Petra loomed and I had heard a lot about it – one of the man-made wonders of the world, in fact ranked 7th in a UNESCO competion for the title of ‘Best Man Made Wonder…:, I made that last bit up but you get the picture. Capitalism’s competition is finding its way into everything, possibly we are missing something – does it really matter whose man made ancient structure is ‘better’ than someone else’s, does it, of course not. In fact there is a bloody committee touring the world, what a bloody gravy train, to assess the winner – I ask you, is this money and time well spent.
I had booked a cheap hotel – will I ever learn, at least it had a bed and there was free wireless in the lobby, but really it was not great, but it was cheap. From my window I could see that the hotel next door was another Movenpick, I went inside, the difference was stark – so was the price.
The reason for booking the hotel was that it was only 200m from the entrance. The entry cost is 33JD and you can enter at 7am and buy your ticket anytime after 6.30, possibly 6am, but so it seemed not the day before. If you did that it cost 38JD ie today and tomorrow. In a few months it will cost me only 1JD when I get my card. The walk in via the cavernous Siq is easily graded and there are horse drawn buggies, donkeys, horses, the odd camel – take your pick for your conveyence. Personally, if you don’t want to walk the buggies looked the go and cheap, the added advantage is that they can bring you back. And, I reckon you could do a deal with the driver to take you on a little tour, pay him 10 to 15 JDs and he would be able to look after you. I am going to try that next time.
Like a lot of famous tourist attractions there are the peddlers, probably the odd scammer and sundry children begging you to buy something – most made in China (the products not the children)! Nothing against souvees but I am here to see those big thingees over there – bugger off mate! Alright, alright keep you beads on I am just trying to earn a living – ok, here is a tenner, leave me alone.
Some pics are shown below. The Brown Universities excavation of the Temple area is worth spending some time in, and if you are able climb up the back to the path above – there is solitary column up there, no doubt with a story to tell, and great views. Like any large thing you need to get perspective and getting up as high as you can helps. Just standing in front and hurting your neck coming to the conclusion f…. that is big and pink, and taking a few pics is often not that instructive. The rock walls and temples are located on the Eastern mountain walls and really they are, there is only one word -HUGHE, one wonders if the early Nabataeans might just have had other things they could have spent there inventiveness on. The Southern end is about 800m away and it is flat in between and is predominantly a Roman build, much like the street in Ephesus in Turkey but not as grand. Despite pleadings to ‘take a donkey, it is 20mins to the top’ I did not take the plunge to try and make it up to the Monastery, but I encourage you to – take a donkey and keep the current locals happy.
Really, these pesters make things difficult, I know be tolerant!
Well Petra was good, the weather fine, the walk easy enough and the Siq was full of great rock formations.
But the hotel was depressing so I booked out and returned back to Amman up the dual highway from Aquba to Amman – the famous 35 then 15 then you get lost becasue there are road works or it is just not obvious when you reach Amman where the 35 actually goes – the trick, watch the signs to Jerash which is north of Amman, the road goes right past my turn-off. Next time, but this time I got lost!
But lets not dwell Andrew, this was a great trip – oh, and before I forget, the highway from Petra to Amman travels through some of the most desolate waterless terrain you are likely to ever see so close to civilization.
I recommend it, get a car, a good car, and have a go.
You can learn a lot about a country by the headlines in the national newspaper, in this case from reading the Friday 3rd of September edition of The Jordan Times.
The main focus is on the Palestinian and Israeli peach talks. Some of the headlines read:
Leaders face tough choices as peace process resumes;
All eyes are upon us;
Palestinian negotiators real target of Hamas attack;
Mixing middle east diplomacy and mid-term (US) elections;
Palestinian strategy towards independence; and
Islamists, professional associations decry peace talks
and the Editor is entitled ‘To make Peace a reality’
I guess these are predictable, given the region, but it is obvious that peace here is key to stability for a number parts of the world.
Two other challenges which we all face are youth unemployment and what to do about CO2.
Give us jobs, say Somali pirates
Export restriction stand to hurt industry – this about restrictions on exports of cucumber and zuchhinies because of hot weather, Russia has a similar problem with wheat, no exports until the local population is feed!
Obama struggles with urgent task of fixing economy – as the US economy is 70% related to the comsummer, nothing will improve until the 10% unemployment comes down, which must be a disaster for those directly effected.
Climate aid reaches $30 billion – a central quote ‘its (.. the aid ..), is horribly confused’ rings in my ears.
Disasters show ‘screaming’ need for action – UN climate chief.
Red Cross aid workers face anger in Pakistan – one doubts the floods are related to climate change, but the worlds response seems lax at best. But who would know, remember the frog in a pot of slowly heating water.
There is also a familar ‘Arab society looks down on artists’, which is a common complaint as far as I know.
Afganistan also figures, and on a slightly lighter note in the Business pages there is a quote from the Finance Minister ‘We gave assurances to people that their deposits are not lost’ and then is added, ‘will not be lost’ – hmmmmmmm!
Stock exchanges or using the French word Bourse, are considered shining lights of a western style economy. One headline grabed my eye
Yemen hopes to draw investment by setting up bourse authority.
and, the Amman Stock Exchange rose 0.61% yesterday.
Sport is still important, but does not run for pages, in Amman only one page is allocated to cover the deads of the Jordanian U-19 & U-16 football teams, and there is bit of US sport.
Finally, Jordanians, I am pleased to say have a great sense of humour, as I think this small supermarkets sign indicates – remember it is Ramadan!
To make Australians welcome there are a few gum trees around, this is one of pair down town.
And, here are a couple more views of Amman at dusk, which is by far the best time of day.
Taken from the lounge room window – I guess looking towards the West!
Following advice from Jaani, my tech whiz friend, who also owns the company that hosts my site (jstar.com.au) I have created this new Blog using WordPress and a theme called Titan – anyway it looks nice!
My adjustment to life in Amman has been a pleasant experience, people are friendly, the weather is great……. The school (Amman Baccalaureate School) is displaying all the characteristics of a well run school and also, all the normal start of year flusterings.
Trips to and from school take only about 10minutes, we catch a school bus like the yellow ones you see on American TV, and the trip is very comfortable. At the end of the day you are dropped back again – to your front door.
There are only a few new expat staff, but more new local staff mostly in the Junior and Middle year parts of the school, which are expanding. We have just finished the first two days of induction, which went fine – on a more humours note, for a number of years, when I worked in a school, I avoided these first days, and very successfully too, but in this case I enjoyed the newness of everything. No doubt work will start with a rush next week.
But the silver lining is that at the end of next week we have a weeks break! Not sure what to do yet, but I am hiring a car and tackling the roundabouts and seeing if I can perfect the art of the ‘nonchalant maneuver’ (had to look up how to spell those two words!) on the road. I have not bought a mobile phone yet, so will not be abe to pin it to my shoulder!
I arrived on a hot and pleasant Sunday, normally a working day in Jordan, but not for me this time around. I was meet by Chris and Khaled and transported to my new apartment. The Ethiad flight had been terrific as both legs: Melbourne Abu Dhabi and then Adu Dhabi to Amman were half full.
I had meet Chris on a prior visit, but he was collection a new teacher, also from Australia, who was to move into his apartment as he was moving to a different one and Khaled was given the task of taking me to my new lodgings.
Khaled had been forewarned that I was a keen EPL watcher, as he said to me in the taxi
“You wish to be able to watch EPL”
“yes” I relied with enthusiasm but also internally some dread as I just assumed this would prove difficult.
The school provides Internet and Cable (Showtime/Orbit), but Showtime/Orbit had lost the rights to the EPL to Abu Dhabi TV – ADTV. Khaled checked with a few contacts on the mobile as he drove with confidence through ever congested traffic from the airport. Roads in Amman have few if any line markings – really none that I could see clearly – and the road resembles a wide black tarmac and the vehicles simply flow more or less in a straight line with the occasional maneuvers, we would call them lane maneuvers, that without doubt would probably lead to instances of road rage, but not in Amman – a gentle tap on the horn being all that was necessary to warn or indicate the drivers presence a few centre meters from your tail.
Khaled concluded that a card could not be purchased to work in the box I already had and that I would need to buy a new box and that this would cost, and of course ment I had to swap cables when I wanted to watch ShowTime rather than ADTV and visa verse. This was fine by me, wondering what this cost might be, but remaining outwardly confident – Khaled certainly was.
“ADTV have a shop on the way and we can stop there and pick it up”
“Fine by me” I said. With that, within 5 minutes, we simply parked outside a new shop front and I signed up, all within about 15mins, and only 250JD for the box and a yeats subs – Khaled informing me he would buy it from me when I left.
Another 15 mins or so found me at the new apartment. Within another 10 minutes I had meet Said, the guy who looked after the building, unpacked my things and was watching the lead-in to the first round of the EPL.
How hard could this new country thing be, I asked myself. I have had several new country experiences one in Singapore which did not go well and another in Gravesend in the UK which was much more positive. But it took at least 24 hours to get connected to the EPL in the UK, here it only took 20minutes. And, I was also hooked up to the Internet straight away and emailing home and checking my new facebook page, all of this well inside the hour.
Khaled departed and I was on my own – this is when you have those “what the ….. am I doing”. I well remember a good friend, who I have not seen for a while, Malcolm Dow stating similar misgivings, to the entire school assembly of teachers at the school we worked at together, when he was about to depart for Togo! Amman is much more civilised than Togo, surely, all my research and previous two day visit had suggested this, and I am pleased to say my original thoughts seem to be correct, but I have actually never been to Togo, limiting comparisons I guess.
The time on my first Sunday was about 12pm and I had arrived and moved in and was about the watch the EPL game, in fact there were two, so I settled down onto the couch with the fan and promptly fell asleep only to awake in time for the game!
Amman had experienced two heat waves prior to my arrival, I had followed these with interest on the web and wondered if all the talk of Amman having a nice climate were a load of old cobblers, why was it necessary to start a third on my account? The evening was lovely however, a cool breeze and the temperature fell to about 24C. For some reason for the next week the local climate found it necessary to reach a peak of about 43C on Friday and several other days over 40C. Clearly this was a test, from you know who! What saved me was the shower, the fan and the never-ending re-assurances that this weather was just not on from ever Ammanian I raised the matter with, mostly they raised it first. I figured if they find it hot, good.
On the drive in from the airport Khaled said they might be able to arrange a portable aircon and I began to think about this offer. I was certainly not going to give in unless I melted first. But fortunately the temperature is slowly moving south and the design of the buildings make the high temperature bearable, they really are amazing. I remember summer days staying in Swan Hill in 40+C in my grandparents timber house and that was hot – this feeble attempt by the weather in Amman I convinced myself was not, and it was not going to deter me.
I began walking in the evening to explore, having made one sortie in the middle of Monday, which was obviously a mistake and there is more on this in a little bit, as was my early morning exercise session in the bedroom before I went for my first walk at about 5.30am on the Monday morning. One wonders why we do such silly things and at my age, all you really need to be able to do is two things – lift a pint and call out for another one, maybe there is a third one as well!
The apartment is on top of a hill, a big hill, there is a steep climb from the main road, much steeper than was wise for me to walk up quickly with effort, thinking I was 20 again. I made it no trouble, felt great, had a shower and around mid-day thought why not find out were Amman Mall is – this was my mistake referred to above. I had negotiated the traffic and found the fly over but not the Amman Mall and completely stuffed myself on the return leg (pun intended), as I said it is all bloody up a steep hill and a tad hot (40C). By the time I got home I was hot and bothered, as they say and wondering “what the …. am I doing here”, again.
I had a shower, the first of many for the week – it turned out to be the best way to keep cool. There is a bit of physics going on, if you stand sopping wet in front of the fan, believe it or not you get cool, real fast – too fast maybe.
Now to moan a bit – the left knee, my good knee as it happens, decided to have a hissy fit the week before I left Australia. I thought it was fine, but no it wasn’t, and it was very happy to tell me “What do you think you were doing walking up all those bloody hills at such a pace” and it added “dick head” just to be nice.
This was only the end of Monday, the EPL was still going fine and thanks to Khaled who had packed the fridge with food I was able to refrain from venturing out. Much icing during Monday & Tuesday (the fridge is brand new and has a simple ice making facility) and lying around watching the EPL & replays, the knee seemed to be less sore, however, the knee was a problem again during Tuesday evening and night but by the end of Wed it seemed to be on the improve. So I decided to find the Amman Mall, by foot, rather than by taxi. For some reason I thought foot would be easier despite my previous experience – why? But I took it really slow and made it to the mall and also spied a new IBIS, I ventured in and asked slyly “psst, do you sell beer”
“of course” replied a charming young waiter.
True to his word an ice cold large Heineken was placed down in front of me and I had a very nice evening, thank you IBIS.
I then ventured into the Mall, found a supermarket, stocked up and made the sensible decision to catch a taxi home – previously my basic problem was that I did not how to tell the taxi driver the directions. Anyway, the trip home was easy, cost nothing, maybe 1 dollar Aus and all that was needed was a few waves of my hand
By Thursday the leg was acting up again, maybe I could entitle this first chapter “Amman: the first leg of my journey”
However, I had asked to visit the school and Chris had picked up at about 10.30 on Thursday. I meet with a number of people and was developing a very positive attitude towards the people I meet and sensing that I may enjoy my stay.
Later that day Chris drove me over to the Cozmo supermarket to get a few supplies (this is an important place as it sells booze, alas not during Ramadan). I also purchased a wireless router to make things easier at the apartment. I have got into the habit of listening to the radio, over about 40 years or so, and the advent of Internet radio has been fantastic. But a small problem emerged that the 500mb ADSL connection was too slow to allow good reception, but this is being upgraded and I am sure all will be fine.
Calling home proved to be easy as one would expect but expensive – enter Skype. Cathie (wife) had not used Skype and like all experiences with technology, the first one is the key, if it is positive no problems, if it is a stuff-up the general reaction of people like Cath’s is to say stuff it. Well we had a terrific three way conversation between Cathie and myself and our daughter in London and also with Lisa who was at home. Another thank you, thank you skype. I hear Skype is listing as a company and I reckon the freebe aspect is coming to and end. I also meet the new cat via Video link – Charlie Mack is its name.
I was beginning to worry on Friday morning that this hill thing was going to be one of those negatives. There had to be an alternative way of getting to the main road, from where a taxi would be easy to flag down. I had tried ringing one and also enlisted Said’s help but the small language gap proved difficult . My second trip to the Mall by taxi was a fluke. Said was chatting with his mate – it turns out it is his son, who works in the large house across the street, when I had asked him to try and ring a taxi for me, and just as he was about to ring out of the blue (the skies are very blue in Amman) a yellow taxi rolls by, the driver slows and has a quick word with Said and two minutes latter, after dropping of the passenger, returns and kindly takes me to the Mall – I figured it was unlikely this would happen each time I wanted a cab! So, on Friday about 3ish, in the heat of 40+C I set off by turning right not left down the hill, thinking that as right is flat this must be a good thing, within 3 minutes I had found a nice flat route to the road and also a nice little store that sells ‘stuff’. I was set!
Saturday turned into a hot one and I just stayed at home and showered and showered and showered, but it was not that bad really.
On Sunday I got very adventurous and caught a cab to Mecca Mall, lovely airconditioning, great supermarket, then to Cosmoz to the bookshop, Readings of all names, bought some books and then home to watch the two EPL games, a great day.
And, the temperature was falling with the eveing breezes coming in through the bedroom window, according to the temperature gauge on the fan the temperature feel to 27C, during the really hot days it had got to 32C, but mostly it hovers around 30C.
Monday, today as I write, the morning is beautiful with a cool breeze. I check the temperature on the net, 37C positively balmy, but the trend is downwards, by the Wed, the day I start work, it should a mere 33C!
I decide to go and visit Wild Jordan and the Book@Cafe in Rainbow Street, I am feeling good, the weather is great, I have survived my first week – treat time! Three taxis, one mass conversation at the Amman Mall, I had made it that far i.e. 1km after the first driver decided he did not know how to get to either places and just dropped me off (I still had to pay), this was after a conversation with his base operator, who I also spoke to and who seemed to speak good English. The mass conversation at the Amman Mall involved seven people and only two spoke English, me being one and the other a young Jordanian lady who unfortunately did not know where either place was, so could not direct the taxi drivers.
So, I went down to the main road and pondered what to do. The easy option was to call an end and catch a cab back to the apartment. Cunningly, I waited for a new looking yellow cab, thinking that new cab equals a driver who will know where to go, and I was right!
Wild Jordan is both a Cafe and head quarters of the Wild Jordan environment society and tourism unit. Chris had taken me there on my previous visit and it is just a wonderful place that over looks the old town, with views to the Citadel. I was the only one in the Cafe, which was open but only severed drinks no food as it was Ramadan – fine, I would love a coffee.
I then ventured to the Book@Cafe which I had read about on the net. Great place, good selection of books and second hand ones too, I bought a couple and then ventured to the cafe, which was buzzing with young people, a few tourists and me! I could even see an Amstel Beer tap, but I thought its flow would be curtailed during Ramadan so I only ordered a Lime-mint smoothie, the latter word describing quite how I felt – smooth and relaxed.
I took a seat at the bar/counter and had some food, the lime drink and then studied a young couple sitting opposite. I could have sworn I saw the young lady, not only take a swig from a nice pint of Amstel, but also a long draw on a pipe full of tobacco before disappearing in a cloud of said smoke! Not a shisha pipe, as many were also smoking these in the cafe, but a pipe like I used to smoke to look classy when I was 18 and grandpa used to smoke – I kid you not! Anyway, I then looked around and spied a few other pints and then struck up the courage to order one and followed by another and after catching a taxi home have just finished my first set of recollections about my time in Amman.