Welcome to the latest instalment of my revival emails, from my first overseas adventure, ten whole years ago! A decade ago this week I sent an email from Jordan, one of my favourite places in the Middle East. Here it is, along with my slightly faded happy snaps from 2004!
Jordan is home of the Hashemite dynasty, warm hospitality and literary hoax “Forbidden Love”. In between countless wadis (valleys) and avoiding unisex hair salons, I have discovered one of my favourite places in the world! I arrived in Jordan a week ago and checked into the relaxed atmosphere of Amman’s Farah Hotel, where the staff are overbearingly nice to everyone! I can’t remember how many times Nabil told me “if there’s anything you want, just ask”. I’m still trying to dance with Hamid and his friends when the reception was converted to a makeshift nightclub at 3am (I’ll tell you about that one when I get home!). Amman, the capital of Jordan, has few attractions of its own. It was originally built over seven hills, with the business district divided among them and residents living in the valleys in between. Nice in theory, not so in practice. Modern Amman sprawls out over nineteen hills, and the business district has been equally divided among each one. So I stated on Jebel Hussein (Hussein Hill), while the banks are on Jebel Amman. The bus station is on Jebel Abdali, while the shopping precinct is on the imaginatively named 17th Hill, which is 15 hills from Jebel Hussein. As you can imagine, the taxi drivers in Amman are doing a fairly good business!
On Saturday I took a day trip to the ruined Roman city of Jerash with its innovative stone telecom system, and the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea was one of the stranger experiences of my life; the floating sensation is simply bizarre and at first it’s difficult to stop your body’s instinct to tread water. The ice cold shower afterwards (to wash of the salty, sludgy residue) was probably one of the more excruciating experiences of my life. That afternoon the tour also headed to Mount Nebo. This is where Musa (or Moses, depending on your religious affiliation) looked out and saw the promised land. Knowing that out there was modern day Israel however made it seem slightly less promising.
After one rushed trip to the toilet on Thursday, and another on Sunday (courtesy a Damascene salad), I woke on Monday morning feeling like crap. I shared a taxi with new found Malaysian friend Wei-Ching to head to the ancient city of Petra, and despite clear skies forecast, I still felt under the weather. The taxi driver took great pride in showing me a “good-very-good-you-need-pharmacy”. There I bought some pills which I’m convinced are only available by prescription in Australia, and which he said would “clean my stomach out”. Fearing I was swallowing a Domestos tablet, I only used one but it actually worked!
As I’m writing this in an internet cafe, the owner has just brought me over a cup of tea and won’t accept payment – which brings me to a point which has struck me most about Jordan. Everyone here is so friendly, it’s like the owe you something and they’re determined to pay it back! In Petra I met local David who introduced me to his friends. They all attend Kind Hussein University in nearby Ma’an, and wanted me to follow them to an English literature lecture. It was strange being asked by foreign literature students what the word “masticate” meant, but not exactly knowing the answer was just plain embarrassing! After swatting up on my own language, everyone wanted me to “hang around for a few more weeks”, but unfortunately I had to leave.
Petra is the type of place which exists only in the imagination; even after visiting, many people say they remember it as if it was some kind of dream. The Siq, the fifty metre deep, five metre wide gorge which leads in from the service town of Wadi Musa, is a fitting introduction to what hold be listed as one of the seven wonders of the world. Most of the entire city is still intact, hewn out of the rose-red rocks which themselves are marbled with streaks of gold, purple and blue. No words can truly express the wonder of this place. The most famous structure at Petra is the Treasury building which featured in the final scene of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I toured Petra with Wei-Ching, American Sharn and Verner, a German who is motorcycling from Munich to Johannesburg.
Yesterday I took a bus from Petra to Aqaba. A lot of people have warned me about Aqaba, not to expect much here. True; there’s nothing to do here, but it is certainly the type of place you can go to just chip out. While Amman is cold (12 degrees), Aqaba is 24 degrees – almost beach weather. The government has declared an Aqaba Special Economic Zone which means good shopping, Western good and legalised gambling, giving it a more relaxed del than the rest of the region. It seems to be a Jordanian attempt at the Gold Coast, but it reminds me more of Coffs Harbour. On my first day here I booked in for a four-wheel drive tour of Wadi Rum, just inland from Aqaba and near the Saudi Arabian border. This is a windswept valley floor in the middle of the Arabian desert, and the place where “Lawrence of Arabia” was filmed.
While much of the scenery was suitably spectacular, a 60-something hippy from the US provided much cringeworthy entertainment. As we got into the car she sang Yellow Submarine at the top of her lungs. As we drove around the valley she philosophised about converting the local bedouin tribes to the free love sect of Christianity. Then she went on to talk about the “Islamic tradition of repressing sexual energy”. As we ate dinner in a Bedouin tent she dropped acid no less than three times. And as we drove back to Aqaba she detailed her spiritual connection to children and their innocence. Yep, just another encounter with the frayed patchwork quilt that makes up the tapestry of life!