I woke up at 7 am to Julie’s snoring and me rolling over wouldn’t help so I shut the door on the room we were in and went to the couch till 10 am when she would wake me from her slumber of a Day. Neither of us wanted to shower or change outfits from yesterday since they were only worn in transit. Dana was already gone. We got on the highway and stopped at a shopping plaza with shawarma, donuts, and petrol. The guy asked what size we wanted and presented us with two pieces of bread that looked the same. We both got smalls.
We grabbed three donuts from the bakery and then went into a coldstore (mini mart with fridge/freezer) to look around – and I found Koto Moto: Men Genicare Gel. Not that I need any, or know anyone that does, but I would try these random products if it wasn’t for webpages filled with failed attempts of people braver than I. With our breakfast in hand, we drive over to the petrol station just to realize that all the money we saved on a room last night will be spent here. Julie told the attendant 6 dinars (thinking comparably to Bahrain – even though I told her that it’s six times as much here and it only takes 5 BD to fill my SUV).
I paid that and she paid the other 20 JD when the attendant was done filling the tank after lots of hand signals and loud English expressed that we needed more gas. We’re back on the road and experiencing the spirit of this country’s driving. They treat the lanes and lines the same and seem to move like a choreographed Corvette scene in a Vegas film. Then there’s the random speed humps that cause me to lurch forward when Julie notices them or is forced to slow down due to the car in front of us. I don’t remember when I told her what the hump sign means. I figured she knew from driving in Bahrain…
We stop at McDonald’s, my first in the Middle East, and Julie buys water as a thank you for the wi-fi password. The thought crossed my mind for a second, but I wasn’t hungry and didn’t know if Jordan or McD’s won the laws on the freshness of their food. In America, whatever I got would go stale in minutes and be preserved in that state for an unnatural length of time – dirty people (that don’t clean their house or car) and scientists (or guys paid to wear a white coat on TV) have proven as much.
I put the Church of the Apostles into her GPS and we’re at an intersection where the map says to turn left. We follow the car in front of us that turned only to get the back of the car tapped on by a police officer. The roads have concrete barriers down the middle of most of them making illegal u-turns most difficult for cars with low ground clearance and we did turn on a two-way street. Julie pulls over as the officer walks up to the window and she starts apologizing and blinking her big blue eyes – I think she’s done this before. He waves us on.
We get outside the city and I find the rocky hills and dirt with grass-covered farms impressive. I admire the beauty of this place as it differs from anywhere else – another reason I love to travel. We take in the greenhouses, roadside strawberry stands, monumental gates to sometimes empty lots, fields of wildflowers, and the random people who add to the scenery of otherwise abandoned looking places. And then… I see my first white camel with her little offspring enjoying the weather and watching the cars go by.
Into a town and I’m reminded of the streets in Tijuana waiting to cross back into the States in the late 90s. There were kids selling piñatas, sombreros, churros – anything tourists would associate with the area – even if it was made in China. Here, they dance in the road and tap on your window as they beg for money. They kindly move, slowly, out of the way when the light turns green.
We get out of the car by the church sign in Madaba, the City of Mosaics, as a cop van passes. It looks like a kidnapper van from the movies, the only English on it is Turbo Intercooler, and the light on top looks like it was bought from a toy store. I’m sure the residents are grateful for the resourceful use of their income taxes as much as the tourists can appreciate the photo opportunity. As with Jordan’s daffodil-colored taxis, that look like bright NYC ones that have been left out in the sun for twenty years, and unmarked bus-stops where it doesn’t seem people wait long for a cheap ride.
The arrow for the church points one way, but the entrance arch is in the opposite direction. I pay the 2 JD for each of us. I was expecting something more grand of the building, but inside are mosaics from when the prophets walked the Earth in 578 CE, so they are kind of a big deal, as is that the structure is still here. We inspect the tiles from the walkway over the floor and go from end to end trying to capture the best light and the most color which has faded over time and is covered in dust – a fact of life in the desert.
We try to walk around the back where there is more scenery and the architecture of the church more easily seen, but two guys start talking to us in a ‘that’s not allowed’ way instead of the ‘let me show you’ way, so we take some pictures and make our way back out the gate. I try to get a photo of a tractor driving down the road, but my view is obstructed by the white metal fence. I’m used to this scenery back home, and I suppose it’s common practice wherever there’s plenty of farmland.
We have a look at the back, over the wall, where there are trees and a nice walkway. The gate is locked and there’s another entrance shack. Perhaps this is the old entrance or one used on holidays, weekends, or in winter – though this is the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter. We drive past houses made of rough stone and apartments with smooth facades among old rock ruins; past men dancing on the sidewalk and a Jordanian Lockheed F-104 Starfighter jet in a roundabout; and past construction in the road and a mosque with a view of the rolling hills.
The jets were used by two squadrons between 1967 – 83. They were acquired through the American MAP program and more were received from the National Chinese surplus thanks to President Nixon. They were used in the 1971 Indo-Pakistan War and retired as decoys when they were replaced with the French Dassault Mirage F1 fighters. I’m grateful that Jordan displays its history so that I may be curious enough to learn more about this beautiful country and its international connections.
We find a spot in the Mount Nebo parking lot and there are plenty of tour buses behind us with the usual passengers – retired, Asian; but what I’m not expecting to hear is the good ‘ol American fuckitude coming from the guys in their khaki pants and collared shirts. Julie and I shy away from them with embarrassment. These are the guys that set the precedent for what locals can expect from Americans, though luckily for us there are educated and wealthy individuals and families that like to travel and show kindness and respect.
It’s beautiful up here, some 800 meters above sea level, at one of the more religious sites in Jordan. This is the Memorial of Moses. I remember reading about the Ten Commandments and the Red Sea, but this is where Moses was able to look at the Promised Land, as we are today – along with the other tourists, the trees, the wildflowers, the Jordanian students, and the Indian group where most are wearing Gethsemane 2015 red baseball caps.
Inside this patchwork of a shelter is large slabs of old mosaic floors, the kind read about in old religious or archaeological books, about the long hours and dedication to hard work, community, trade, and following the right path to heaven. These images bring to mind the Byzantine Empire – something Jordan was a part of from the 2nd to 7th centuries when Christianity was spreading. The inscriptions are written in Greek, followed by the local Palestino-Aramaic that was spoken before Arabic reached the region.
Inside the museum is photogenic women, pottery vessels and shards, more mosaics, and a place to light a candle – because no religious place would be complete without a little fire. We make it to the promised view, which also happens to be family portrait corner, and Julie has to squeeze in to get a picture of the stone map that points your eyes in the direction of the Jordan Valley, Dead Sea, etc. Travel has shown me that people can be kind, but they can also be rude. I’m grateful to my dad for teaching me to let others enjoy the moment – don’t ruin it by trying to get a photo for you or of someone.
On our way down the hill, Julie stops to practice her selfies (one of her to-dos on this trip) while I try to sneak a photo of three boys on a rock, but with no luck. I’ve been caught and they moved anyway messing up my ideal image. We make our way south into the valley, past the white camels (they really make me happy like the black ones in Oman) and the brown ones seen in story books, on the beach, and in the zoo. I love all camels and their varying colors as much as the scenery before us that reminds us of California, Oregon, and Utah until we get to the military checkpoint, complete with tank and guard dog.
A movie scene flashes before our eyes and Julie wonders out loud if we haven’t driven in the wrong direction and are accidentally too close to Israel (where our entrance to could void us returning to Bahrain). Any other border countries are more than 130 km away and are on the do-not-visit list: Syria, Iraq, and Saudi (though I would love to go if given the opportunity). Whatever, or whoever, they’re checking for, it’s not us. Nearby the scenery has some added tents – military base, wives’ quarters, illegal operations, or none of our business and we’ll keep on driving till we see a town, the Dead Sea in the distance, and the brown tourist signs that are replacing the blue ones put up pre-1995.
Continue south, and follow the arrow, to be Welcome To Bethany Beyond The Jordan, the baptism site of Jesus by John the Baptist. We overhear the Europeans in the ticket office discussing the price of entry (that varies by nationality) and find out that Americans are charged the same price – 12 JD for a 7 km bus ride followed by a 45 minute walk with a guide that will take us from Elijah’s Hill to the Jordan River. Julie says we don’t have the time or the funds – she has to be online for class at 4 pm and it’s already 2:15 pm.
As Julie’s been driving today, I’ve noticed families picnicking amongst the rocks and trees and rubbish. This is the dirtiest Middle Eastern country I’ve been to so far, but the mountains and trees and farms are nice. We come back to the main road in search of a spot to touch the Dead Sea, following signs for Porto Dead Sea (an attraction we will later find out is in-progress, i.e. a dirt lot). We stop in a gravel lot and a guy invites us to sheesha, but we tell him we’re looking for food (which we are, to go with our wi-fi).
We drive further down the rocky embankment – there are other cars down there, and walk past the bag of camel poo to put our feet in the water. I ease myself down where I’m at, past the picnic rubbish and plastic chairs and picnicking families. Julie finds another spot that’s just as steep, but closer to children in pants and sweaters instead of men in suits with others floating in the distance. I’m not sure which you are supposed to be able to do at this point. Looking up and out this place is great, it’s just sad the people don’t feel the need to pick up after themselves.
We get back in the car, after noticing the nicer beach at the resort, and continue south to look for food – 2 km and we are at Samara Mall. We park in the back and eat at Pizzeria Napoletana Dead Sea – two bread (fresh, pita, sticks) appetizer bowls, a chicken with cherry tomato pizza (with more red veg for me), and Spanish rice with cheese in a breaded ball. I see a black limoncello on the menu and am told it’s missing a comma. It should be black or white sambuca and lemon – not both; I’ll stick with my water.
We go upstairs to Java U for their wi-fi so Julie can do class work, but she has to reschedule because they don’t have audio in the program. I want to be on wi-fi, but the café’s doesn’t work and Julie is using her hotspot, so after twenty minutes I go next door to Bang Bang Juice and get a blueberry boba (takes ten minutes) and then join Julie back in the cafe. We don’t leave there till 5:30 pm, so Julie can catch up on Facebook, though I’ve been eager to go since we got there.
We walk around the overpriced store that sells plate clocks, magnets, and shelves of Dead Sea mud and salt and cream – and even with buy-one-get-one the price is too much. In another store I see canned hummus and foul medammas (fava beans, veg oil, cumin), white chocolate with kiwi, and Riesen bars (so you don’t have to buy the bag), but I won’t be buying anything. I go to the toilet before we leave and notice I have a tear in my pants, luckily the pocket helps block the skin that would otherwise be showing. These should last me till we get back to my bag.
We drive still further south and come upon the next resort – one where people are climbing through the fence, and passing strollers over, and down the rocks to access the beach – the reason: the fee is 20 JD. I thought about following them, but figure we should try to do the right thing first. I say pshaw to that price and make the lady at the counter laugh. We agree to look for another dirty beach because Julie isn’t one for going through jagged wire holes.
We find a spot further down the coast to watch the sunset, with no beach access – only beautiful back- and foreground and a friendly family that takes a picture for us, and then one with us. The man introduces his wife, daughter, son, and extended family and we talk about our travels – he’s been to the States, and are offered tea and a sticky corn cob with salt. I wouldn’t mind staying a bit longer, but it’s 7 pm and the sun is gone. We still have an hour drive and not the proper headlights for the task. This car was in an accident before we got it, so the lights point down and the front tires are bald.
We stop at 7:23p to watch the moon rise over a mountain, which only takes minutes, as the sky behind us turns to dust with a dark blue blanket ready to cover up the day, and leave us driving through the mountains with our brights on, and pulling over to look at the street signs to make sure we’re going the right way. Julie has learned her lesson and will get a rental car from the airport next time, instead of having to rely on some guy to take her to an agency at 1 am after waiting all afternoon.
We drive back to Dana’s to shower and I let her know via message, as Waleed called us while we were at the café. It’s 8:15p when we get back – the clock in the car is an hour behind. We ask her cousin, who lives with her, about the hot water (because I had the knob turned the wrong way) and wait 15 minutes for the tank to heat up the weak water pressure shower. I’m not complaining as it gets the grime off my body and I can always put my hair up. I borrow Dana’s body soap and shampoo.
I was going to tell Julie to hurry but she’s in and out faster than I was. I put the sheesha place in GPS, and we stop by Cozmo first to buy her a cardigan, pyjama pants, and animal print socks. I want the matching jammies for me and my teddy bear, or the black silk with red flowers nightgown for adults with the froggy coin purse with matching pedicure set. On our way again, and at a roundabout I notice the lit-up striped curb, not only fun but I’m sure it serves a safety purpose as well.
We show up around 10 pm and Sara, Dana, and the tire change guy have just said bye to one friend. We order Julie a Turkish coffee, since she’s never had one, and she dumps it over ice. Dana is ready to go after Waleed shows up; it’s late and she has to work in the morning. He tries to show Julie a magic trick, but she complains that she’s on vacation, doesn’t want to do math, and that he can’t focus.
We were trying to order shawarma and I got sidetracked friending Sara on Facebook and Julie went and ordered double – that she doesn’t want for leftovers. Well, I paid the 6 JD for them, so I will eat them. We eat for a few minutes and then share a cherry sheesha while Julie is taught the game of Tarneeb. At one point she calls out, “Bullshit!” and surprises the table. I was teaching her to play Spades and this is a variation of… Oops.
We play cards till 11:30 pm, Facebook till midnight, and then Julie pays the 6 JD for her coffee, soda, and sheesha so we can leave. The others wait for us, but their car is parked closer than ours, so we wave goodnight. We take a slight detour on the way back to Dana’s and then have to buzz her apartment at 12:30 am to get in the front door. I want to fall asleep, and have no problem doing so, but try to keep Julie company while she sets up her CPAP. She knocks a candle over and glass goes under the bed. She leaves it… for me to explain in the morning.
Today is my dad’s birthday. This is the cake his co-workers surprised him with!