A slow start in Jordan

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Gratuitous picture of crazy man-made islands at Dubai. I flew out of Dubai on the last leg of my trip from Livingstone*

It was a great hotel. I mean, it wasn’t the Burj Al Arab or anything like that, but it was exactly what I needed. It was not, however, the first hotel I tried in Amman. I’d originally booked at a place recommended by the LP, but it turned out to be a bit grim. It was certainly not the worst hotel room I’ve stayed in – that distinction still goes to the Baronie in Utrecht - but it really wasn’t what I was looking for. After 23 days of overland truck travel in Africa I wanted somewhere to hole up for a couple of days and just enjoy the comforts of first-world existence, and the Palace Hotel was not that. I hemmed and hawed a bit, and then opened up the LP again and cast my glance away from the “Budget” section and into the never-before-tried “Midrange” section, and found the Toledo Hotel. “Modern rooms with subdued lighting boast business-friendly amenities such as satellite tv and wireless internet, and the bathrooms are spacious.” It was 3 times more expensive than the Palace, but as soon as I walked into the room I knew it was worth every dinar.

There was going to be a video here of me narrating about my lovely hotel room, but the connection the hotel in Wadi Musa just can't handle that. Instead, you get a picture of the weird market that was right outside my room on Friday. The whole area across the street was filled with stalls of clothing and you could hear the din from six floors up inside the room.

The next day, it was completely gone - just an empty parking lot.

Not only was there satellite tv and wifi (though the wifi was 15 dinar for 24 hour worth of access – about $22.50!), there was cheap room service, and air conditioning, and an extensive breakfast buffet, and a fitness centre and a business centre where you could print stuff. There was even a Qu’ran in the wardrobe and a sticker on the ceiling pointing the direction in which to pray. Oh, and crisp white sheets and fluffy pillows and a Do No Disturb sign for the door. And they brought me a complimentary plate of fruit and bottle of water after I arrived. I got there at about noon on Friday and I did not leave the building until I had to check out at noon on Sunday. I napped, caught up on the blog, uploaded all my photos from Africa, Skyped, watched tv, slept in, and ordered room service for supper two nights in a row. I even got the chance to run again for the first time since Nairobi – on a treadmill in the hotel’s fitness centre. It was PERFECT.

Sadly, on Sunday I had to move hotels to join up with my Imaginative Traveller “Jordan and Egypt Adventure” Tour. The new hotel was somewhere between the Palace and the Toledo, but sufficient for a couple of nights. I met some of the group on Sunday night – at least the ones who were continuing on from a tour that had started in Turkey and moved on through Syria before arriving in Jordan. There was Emma, my roommate, from England; Jamal, also from England; Fabio from Switzerland, Leslie, a retired chap from England, and Fitz, a peach farmer form Fresno. They all seem like a nice bunch. We’re also joined by seven others – an even mix of Americans and Canadians.

A view of Amman houses – the city is built on seven hills and navigating is a constant up-down battle, with lots of stairs. It reminded me a bit of Lisbon in this respect.

Our first day was pretty grim – it was pouring rain outside and we were scheduled to go on a walking tour of Amman. (In fact, it was also pouring rain inside, because the five-storey “atrium” of the hotel was leaking quite badly, making it a treacherous trip from the breakfast buffet to a table.) The walking tour was ok, but the group seemed unenthusiastic. We’re split between people who’ve been travelling for a while - me and the Turkey/Syria gang – who are a bit jaded, and people who’ve just started and are fresh and keen and want to do everything and go everywhere. This has already created a bit of friction, but so far no big blow-ups.

We visited the Citadel, a hilltop archeological site in the centre of Jordan. It’s got some excavated ruins – Roman and Byzantine or something. I wasn’t really listening. Mostly I was huddling under my new 2 Dinar umbrella and trying to stay warm. The citadel is also the site of Jordan’s National Archeological Museum. It was small and kind of sad, and had the feeling of something from the 1950s. I think the only reason one would tarry there is that they’ve got a few scraps of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were tucked away in a room at the back and uninsipring in the extreme, though perhaps this was mostly due to the setting and my generally grey mood.

See what I mean about the weather?

We also stopped at Amman’s Roman theatre, but I am really, really done with Roman theatres. I’ think this was my seventh Roman theatre of the trip – I’ve seen them in France, Italy, Turkey, and now Jordan. I didn’t even bother to climb to the top of this one. But I did have a nice lunch with Jamal, Emma and Fabio, at a place where they’d been the day before. We got two plates of hummus, two plates of fuul (pronounced “fool”, a mixture of beans), a plate of tomatoes and onions, cups of sugary tea and a mountainous stack of pita bread for a grand total of 7 JD in total, for all four of us. Yummy and filling and very local.

After lunch I wandered a bit an invested 2.50 JD in a pair of wooly gloves and a toque. We’re going to be spending a night in the dessert in a few days, and I thought it was worth it. I also had a look around the souk (market) and it was appropriately colourful. But as a measure of just how jaded I’ve become, I didn’t take a single picture of the market. What I did do is walk back to the hotel and have a nice nap while listening to the rain outside start up again, then get worse, then turn to hail, and then turn back to rain.

I was conserving my energy because I knew I was about to have a challenging evening. I was going to hash with the local gang, the Hashemite Hash House Harriers. (Jordan is more properly known as The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, for reasons the LP does not care to explain. But it does make for the perfect place to have a Hash.) I had a bit of trouble getting ready for this run - I really don’t have the wardrobe for running in Arabic countries, where shorts are sort of inappropriate for women. Add to that the fact that it was still bucketing down with rain and much colder than I’ve experienced in some time, and you can see why I was having a bit of a wardrobe malfunction. In the end I wore my shorts with grey cotton sweats over them, and a long-sleeved shirt with my running shirt on top, and my rain jacket, and my new wooly gloves.

We met at the house of a local hasher, which was a huge stone place with big pillars out front and a swimming pool in back and a big open basement suitable for a group of drippy hashers. I was curious about how the hares would manage to set a trail in darkness and torrential rain, but it turns out that the Hashemite HHH don’t bother with setting a trail a lot of the time. The hare just heads out, and the runners simply follow behind. This doesn’t seem quite in the spirit of things, but it was a good arrangement for that night because there was no chance of getting lost and we could request a turn for home when we’d had enough. We ended up running for about 45 minutes and when we got back I was as wet as if I’d been standing in the shower that whole time. Once I got into the bathroom I stripped off my cotton sweats and wrung about 2 cups of water out them.

Circle was short but raucous, and the Hashemite HHH has the distinction of being the only place I’ve hashed other than Winnipeg where they actually had songbooks. It warmed my heart, which needed warming, let me tell you. And there was cold beer and a big pot of chicken soup and bread, which also helped warm things up. Finally I got a ride back to the hotel from a very friendly ex-pat American hasher, and was careful to leave one of my new wooly gloves in his car as a memento.

And now we’re on our minibus on the way to Wadi Musa, the jumping off point for anyone visiting Petra, “the ancient rose-red city of the Nabateans”. There’s a bit of concern that the extreme rains may affect access to the site, which actually had to be closed yesterday. But today has been sunny, and frankly even if I have to snorkel my way to the site I’m still going, so stay tuned.

* I flew from Jo’burg (that’s what the cool kids call it) to Amman on Emirates Airlines, which instantly became my favourite airline EVER. The plane was a huge 777 with the most fantastic back-of-seat touchscreen entertainment system I have ever seen. It had a huge selection of on-demand movies and tv, 9 zillion channels of music (including the top hits from every year), games, news, and the ability to send and receive SMS and email ($1.00 each). And the flight attendants wore these funny veils along one side, and there were fibreoptic stars in the ceiling when they dimmed the cabin lights. I transited through Dubai, which is the hub for Emirates, and the terminal has free wifi everywhere and loads of places for charging computers and things. And it was a hive of activity with all the shops open even though I arrived at 5:15am. I’ve already booked with Emirates for my flight from Cairo to Delhi and have joined their frequent flyer program. And if they’d like to give me a free upgrade on that flight for mentioning them so favourably in my blog, I would not be too proud to accept.


Kathryn said...

Sorry about the dreary weather. Hope it picks up soon. Enjoy Emirates while you can. I think they put on an extra show for new passengers. After 5 trips to/ Dubai - so 10 Emirates flights - I am now lumping them in with Air Canada and United in terms of 'suckiest' airline. (They still get a nod for the awesome entertainment system - which is useful on a 17 hour international crossing) Also - if you collect United miles (and/or certain others) you can transfer your Emirates points to them. So that you can actually use them in the real world. Not the fake, man-made Dubai world.

Unknown said...

Sneakin' the *footnotes back in, eh? What's next, a haircut?

As for your latest chapter, you have the travel experience and self-knowledge to make the best of it.

Press on and rise above petty issues around you.

When things go bad, take 4 big steps back, take a deep breath, and imagine if being back home at some soul-sucking job working for idiots would really be better?

Have fun in the sands...

Best Wishes,

Rob H.

Unknown said...

Hi Pam,

It was nice seeing you at our Hash. I hope you enjoyed our hospitality despite the bad weather. If you decide to pass by in the future I can take you to a few interesting markets, like the one in Abdeli, which is my favorite.
At the street market, whether on the bus station like Abdeli, or in the downtown of East Amman, one can buy a fancy piece of cloth 40 times less than in the overrated malls of West Amman.

Behind the Abdeli bus station, on the opposite side of your hotel, lays Jabal Luebdeh-a Mecca for local and foreign artists and intellectuals with it alleys, gardens, old villas and art galleries. Actually, the most authentic parts of Amman are Jabal Luebdeh, Jabal Amman( from the first till third circles)and the part of Jabal Al-Hussein that overlooks above mentioned market place.

Best regards,

Stefan-Big Fellow

Lisa said...

Yay...she hashed again...!!

Bummer about the weather though...:(((

Matt said...

Hey, I notice you visited the hotel gym. Would you mind writing a review at http://www.HotelGymReview.com?


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