I arrived back at my sister’s house late last night after 24-hours of travel with no sleep, but woke up when she brought my nephew in this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep. So I ate a massive breakfast then had a long, wonderfully delicious hot bath and managed to remove several layers of Jordanian sand from my fingernails. But I still need to tell you about Jordan. I’m way behind….
Jordan begins at the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge where we crossed over from Israel, having spent around five days based in Nazareth at a really great hostel called the Fauzi Azar Inn. From there we took lots of day trips around Galilee, including the old city of Acre, which was definitely a highlight of Israel.
But back to the border. While waiting in line to go through customs we picked up a stray Canadian/Greek (Pavlos) on his way around the world before settling in for good at his ancestral home of Crete. His plans for a new life on Crete include building an ecological kibbutz with historical reenactments such as bull riding, wine making and the sacrificing of virgin tourists. I will of course be visiting one day and depending on the view may overstay my welcome as he’s obviously going to need an ecotourism consultant.
To be strictly accurate, Pavlos might have picked us up, along with a very nice Israeli/Arabic girl who, when we arrived in Amman, let us store our luggage at her dorm (which men were not allowed to enter) and took us out for nargeela (hookah) and then dinner. She was so nice and accepting of Western ways that even when we asked her where we could find some beer (which in Jordan apparently means: “Where can we find some prostitutes?”) she directed the taxi driver to take us to a bar. She refused to go herself, asking to be dropped back at her dorm as quickly as possible, an alarmed look on her face.
Shawn had asked for some sort of Irish pub, which of course can be found on most street corners in Amman (not, it’s still a Muslim country even if it’s a relatively open Muslim country compared to its neighbors). But the taxi driver did okay in that respect. The bar was quiet and dark and in place of the Irish girls there were blond Ukrainian “cocktail waitresses” in high heels and layers of make-up sitting around drinking. Knowing Shawn is not into prostitutes and Pavlos had just come from spending time in a Greek Orthodox monastery I was okay hanging with them in this particular Irish Pub/brothel. We drank a couple of very expensive Heinekens and Shawn practiced his Russian and we left, feeling (on my part anyway) the cultural chasm that led the Israeli/Arabic girl to think I was either the equivalent of a prostitute for traveling unmarried and alone with men, or worse, that Western women like visiting brothels with the “guys”.
Over the next couple of days we went to Jerash (spectacular Roman ruins) with some fellow travelers from our hostel and then on to the Dead Sea where we rolled ourselves in mud and floated on the painfully (when you’re stupid enough to stick your head underwater that is) salty water and finally on to our Bedouin desert cave outside Petra, home for the next five days. The cave belongs to a Bedouin rasta named Ghassab who’s a bit of a legend on the couch surfing circuit in the Middle East. Shawn found him while we were still in Georgia, but we kept hearing about him as we traveled, including from Pavlos who was coincidentally also heading for the cave.
You might wonder what it was like being the only woman in a desert cave with no toilet or running water but lots of men. The truth is I just became a guy. I wasn’t a very good “guy”, which means I was at the bottom of the pecking order and, at least from the Western men, received much ridicule and had little input into our decision-making. But that was actually my choice as I don’t care much where I go or what I do when I’m traveling. I just like to wander along and see what happens and prefer other people take care of the details. I work pretty much the same way when traveling with women, although with women, thankfully, meals, sleep and showers are usually ranked higher in importance.
But that is essentially how it worked most of the trip. Shawn (or also Pavlos or Ghassab while we were in Jordan) took care of the details of what we were doing each day and I stepped in only when it was necessary for someone to ask for directions or help, or when we were about to wander off into the desert in the noonday sun with little water, or when my fingers could no longer penetrate my hair and I insisted on a visit to the Turkish baths. They in turn treated me to lots of farting, bad, bad jokes, endless nargeela, a cacophony of snoring each night, and regular teasing about the weight of my backpack. Because really what kind of man would travel with a hair dryer when there’s no electricity or running water?
The Bedouin men, in contrast, were quite aware that I was a female but although there were a few slippery hands and encroaching bodies in the night there were no real problems and certainly not from our host, despite multiple attempts from Shawn and Pavlos to sell me off for 200 camels (alas, the asking price was too steep and I remain unwed). But I had a wonderful time those five days in the cave and Petra was massive and magnificent. We explored it for two days and it was definitely the highlight of a month-long trip utterly soaked in archeological ruins.
After Petra, Pavlos left us, heading for Asia, and Nils, a German guy joined us in his place. We went on to Aqaba on the Red Sea in southern Jordan, where Nils and I spent a half-day diving a shipwreck and exploring a coral reef. And in Aqaba Shawn finally found his “real” Irish Pub (or so it said on the door), although it once again came stocked with Ukrainian bartenders. Our final night in Jordan, Shawn and I went to Wadi Rum, the legendary red sand desert made famous (at least in the western world) by Lawrence of Arabia. We took our longed for camel ride there, at sunset, and it was worth the wait.
As the evening set in, our camels turned toward a distant camp of black tents at the base of a sharp cliff face and I grew a little alarmed at the disco music thundering across the desert. But luckily it wasn’t an all night party camp but rather a wedding between a Jordanian and a Bedouin to which we had a ringside view–the dancing men being the highlight (see video at the end of blog). The next day it was back to Aqaba and goodbye to Jordan.
What I’ll remember most about Jordan is our desert cave and Ghassab’s hospitality and always Petra. But in the back of my memory will be his Majesty King Abdullah II who smiled from every store window and street corner. We heard only good things about him, and he did have a kind face. But of course people are forbidden to say bad things and since our travels were always overshadowed by the larger backdrop of unrest and revolution in Tunisia and Egypt and Libya and Bahrain and even a little in Jordan, we had to wonder whether King Abdullah would soon be joining that coterie of dictators living it up in a compound somewhere in Saudi Arabia.
Will it happen in Jordan? I don’t know. It isn’t a rich country or even a great democracy (it’s technically a constitutional monarchy), but it isn’t Egypt either and seemed to have a “comparatively” decent standard of living, fairly happy people, and was clean and safe with the nicest drivers outside of Kansas.
It’s worth a visit.