I slept till noon and then showered – typical pre-trip planning. Usually I would be busy with my computer making sure the itinerary is more definitive, but I’m still dealing with grief (that’s another post) and it’s easier when I’m not home alone, so I left everything but my flight (even that was last-minute) up to my friend Julie who had asked me to join her weeks ago on her spring break away from kids; she’s a teacher and back in school herself for another degree.
Melanie, another teacher friend, whom I was supposed to go to Beijing with (didn’t get visa in time) offered to watch the dogs before her trip, but she’s leaving before I return. I will have another friend Ali who will spend the nights here. This will be Melanie’s first time to my house and I still haven’t packed my bag. I’m showing her around when Caleb gets home. We go to lunch at Lemon Bistro and my lemon vinaigrette salad comes drenched in mayo. Now I know why people ask for their dressing on the side.
Melanie had taken us for the two-minute drive in her new three-door Hyundai Veloster and dropped us back home at 4pm and left with the spare key. My neighbour, Natalie, had seen us leaving and invited me over after, so I went for two margaritas and some crackers with eggplant dip while Caleb did homework, and my bag still unpacked. I sat outside with Natalie’s sister, Kelly, and two coworkers, them in swimsuits with the canal water too cold to touch.
I pack my bag at 6pm and Caleb joins me to an invite with Natalie and Matt, her husband, for wine and tapas at 7:45p, at Cellar 59, at the new ART Rotana Hotel. We are joined by another couple and the three girls from earlier. The menu looks pricey, but I get a large glass of white sangria for 3.2 BD and Caleb gets a tall glass of juice with a piece of smoked wood in it; we’re intrigued. We finish our drinks and leave as their food arrives at 9pm.
We drive to the Starbucks (where we think Julie and Jown are) on American Alley and get the car washed by three guys for two dinar, before going to the café in the Alosra complex. Meanwhile, Caleb orders a caffeine-filled beverage and talks to a guy from work about their messed up schedule. I go to Purple Swirl and try the green tea, but always get taro frozen yogurt, the most popular flavor – tonight with raspberries, kiwi, and brownie.
We sit in the plastic-walled outdoor area (colder than outside) of Starbucks till 11:30p when the girls decide to go home. The guys help Jown reverse her car and Julie gifts me with two chocolate, and filled with pudding, cupcakes topped with pink frosting, sprinkles, and a green butterfly. I join the guys for a late night dinner at Honey’s Thai Restaurant. Caleb orders a mango salad – too many tiny shrimp and a bad taste; a veggie soup – with celery but good; and Ali orders pork, seafood rice, and a small tom yum. We eat, talk, and laugh till 1am. Ali leaves with Caleb’s house key.
My flight is scheduled to leave at 4:45am and we don’t have a room reserved yet for the entire trip and Julie’s doctor just gave her orders to not swim or shower for the next four days. How will we manage the Dead and Red Sea? I sit and ponder these things with Piggy on the couch after our walk between reading and sleeping until we’re scrambling out the door to get me to the airport at 3:45a. There is such a thing as too early.
It takes less than ten minutes to get my boarding pass and get through security. On the other side awaits a delay. I walk to gate 15 (printed on my ticket) but on my way to check-in the screen says gate 34. I go downstairs and that line is delayed to Kuwait by three hours. I go back up to check and the agent tells me to wait at 34. There’s two boys, Ali and Yaseen, who are willing to make faces, play peek-a-boo, and then get brave enough to play a hand poking game with me till we board the bus an hour late, at 5:40a.
I asked for the window seat thinking the guy in the middle might want more space in the aisle and to sit by his friend, but they were happy to give me the window and leave the big guy in-between. I said shukran (thanks in Arabic) and they were hooked. I counted to ‘asharah (ten in Arabic) and was rewarded with a sweet. The talkative one passed out in the air and I was able to finish my book, Longbourn, the story of Pride and Prejudice from the housemaid’s point-of-view.
I ran through the Dubai airport and was even rushed through security only to find out that even though people were still boarding the bus my seat had been transferred to the next flight leaving at 1:30p, not 8:20a. I want to freak out because I’m not the only person this affects on this trip and I’m totally taking it personal, but the guy lets me know this isn’t the place for that. Side note: if you don’t check-in at your gate 20 minutes before departure your seat will be flying alone – regardless of how much sense this may make at the time.
I go upstairs to the transfer desk, where there are three people in front of me, and am given three vouchers – breakfast, dinner, and beverage for any outlet in the airport. I take a free water. I go to another desk and am given a signature that lets me into the Business/First Class lounge – complete with free buffet, comfy couches, warm showers, decent bar, but unfortunately no foot massages for Economy tickets. It was then, standing there patiently and overhearing the man’s rude voice at the customer service desk next to this one that I realised I wasn’t alone.
I was suddenly more grateful that I’d been given anything at all, but I wasn’t about to give it up with a four-hour wait ahead of me. I wish the other guy could be more gracious and that I would’ve waited a moment to realise that I’m in the Middle East where there happens to be a sandstorm and political unrest, though as the day goes on I will learn that others have been delayed over a day due to the great potential, and disasters, that international flights deliver, and are still waiting on their hotel voucher. I am so lucky.
I met Suresh who lives in Jakarta and got me a double whiskey and introduced me to his friend Jed working in advertising, currently doing so on his laptop. We sat and talked for two hours until it was time for them to board. I’ll move to a recliner chair closer to my gate surrounded by people covered in brown/black striped blankets while they wait too. I turn in my drink voucher for a bottle of water and am offered a chocolate covered donut, so I pack it in my bag for later.
Julie was supposed to be on a direct flight to Jordan arriving before noon and she has taken a cab back home to wait out her delay that will put her landing three hours after my 5pm arrival, and her name is on the rental car. My flight changes gates – again downstairs, and I sit on the floor for mere moments before standing on the bus. I have an aisle seat and am struggling to stay awake until the other two arrive. As soon as father and son are seated next to me I’m asleep. I miss the meal and wake as we descend. Hamed, a passenger, feels like talking and gives me his number. He will be in Amman for three days and offers to give me a ride from the airport.
I get in line for passport control to pay 40 JD for a one-month visa, only to find out I have to use a third of the cash that I brought. I asked about using the card reader and was told there was an exchange out of line – I underestimated the cost of this country, but I came prepared. Hamed is Jordanian and quickly through his line. He waits by the rental cars for me, but is now long gone. I step outside to get some sunshine and walk around the fountain before going back inside for wi-fi. The guy at Starbucks talks me into an iced caramel coffee.
I charge my phone for a bit at the Jordan Tourism desk. Julie is now supposed to arrive at 11:30p. There’s no way I’m staying here that long; it’s 6pm. I call Dana – a girl I have yet to meet, but we have a mutual contact, Ahmad, whom I recently met at an InterNations event at the Gulf Hotel in Bahrain. He heard of my upcoming trip and offered help and advice. Dana says I can give the taxi driver her number so she can give him directions in Arabic.
I get 250 JD ($353) more out of the ATM to add to the remaining 101 JD. I walk up to a group of drivers and show them a map image. I’m given a receipt of basic fares, airport to Amman is 20 JD, and get into a Lexus. We stop for Turkish coffee, with medium sugar, and a Snickers – his treat. The driver points things out to me, even if we are riding into sunset at 80 km/h. This is a beautiful country, all 34 km I’ve seen, with rolling hills and architecture to be explored in the morning. He drops me off in front of Dana on a busy street with the car pointing downhill. Tip: next time bring more change for a cab baksheesh (tip).
I’m grateful to be out of the airport and meeting new people. Dana and I go upstairs to meet Sara, Waleed, and another friend of theirs. I watch them play Tarneeb (Middle Eastern game similar to Spades), smoke sheesha (I get grape mint, 8 JD), and speak Arabic for hours. I order a lemon-mint juice at 9pm and the one girl leaves shortly after. I take her spot at the table – win some, lose some, after Waleed shows me a magic trick.
I ordered a Turkish coffee, after the laugh-out-loud attempt at ordering karak (masala chai tea) gets me nowhere, to help me stay awake. We’re waiting on Julie and I’m grateful that they’re with me. We leave at 12:30a, after no word from Julie, to fix Dana’s flat tire, with the help of another friend who lets us sit in his car while he works because it’s cold out at 11 degrees C (52*F). We drive to a garage, borrow the large jack, drive back to the tire, and then return the jack by 1:40a. I love the timings (open hours) of these places, but I’m starting to pass out.
Julie messages me that she was busy buying a local sim card and is now with the car rental guy on their way to work that out. Dana takes me back to her place to relax on the couch, warm under blankets, at 2:15a and wait for Julie. She gets to the Safeway (share location accuracy and all) and we pick her up from there at 3am. We stayed up in the twin beds at the end of the hall and talked for a bit while Julie unwound before I passed out. Julie was upset that I wasn’t at the airport waiting on her and thought I’d met Dana at the airport.
Either way, it was a place to sleep till Saturday morning when we’d be Practicing Selfies by the Dead Sea.
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