I was woken up in the middle of the night again by snoring and moved to the smaller couch in the living room this time. I had to get back up to shut the bedroom door because Julie had spit her CPAP out. She woke me after 9am, used my deodorant, and Dana, our generous hostess, left for work as we were leaving. She let us borrow her Beats by Dre speaker (but we’re missing a cable). I showed Dana part of the candle, from last night, and she apologised to me. I grabbed the leftover shawarma from the fridge and got in the passenger seat. Julie gifts me a bag of chocolate Cadbury mini eggs – Happy Easter!
Julie stopped for fresh shawarma, donuts, and juice. She makes four more stops looking for a cable. We’re on the road now and out of the city. I need to pay attention… to the flat landscape… and try to have a conversation with someone who doesn’t appreciate the view, or camels, or have patience. I see buildings with curved edges and broken tiles; chipped paint and bent fencing; tattered flags and wet laundry. I see red and black checkered painting; patches of yellow amongst the grass and dirt; and Arabic written in gray rocks on a brown hill.
There are lots of roadside coffee shops and coldstores, some decorated and others just a box, and most with flashy lights for spotting at night. Jordan’s roads are the worst in the Middle East due to snow, which explains why drivers don’t mind using all the lanes and turn a two-lane into three. The first thing I noticed about Jordan was the purple flowers from the plane window when I arrived two days ago. There is no shortage of greenery here and people have potted plants in windows, doors, and on café tables and shelves; it’s lovely.
I also noticed that Jordan has an excellent bus system where a person can stand anywhere, without a posted sign, and just flag the driver down for a ride. There are plenty of buses and it’s more efficient than in the U.S. that’s picky with its routes. I’m finding it more difficult everyday to want to move back, and it’s almost been a year here in the Middle East, so my time is short. If you don’t want to stand for the bus, there are plenty of places to sit – on low walls, benches, and steps where you’ll find plenty of people on their phones. The availability of cell signal out here is amazing – though I do love that about American deserts and mountains – cell phone silence, but out here you could cook to death – literally.
While sitting in the car, I also notice the bruise on my right knee. I was in a rush to leave for the airport and caught myself falling up the stairs with it. I screamed and then froze in pain and though I was dragging it through the airport I’m not letting it slow me down. We stop at the Karak Castle Panorama (Light & Sound) at the upper observation site located 1040 meters up on the southeastern side of the city at noon. There is a restaurant, but we’re not hungry. And there is a guy taking in the view, but he’s not interested in talking with me as I go up some of the stairs for another angle.
In town, Julie sees an electronics store and parks alongside another car to run in. A guy pulls in front of us and motions for me to move behind him. I’m in the passenger seat and I’m not moving. Julie finds the cable she needs and after I get a passing photo of the carcasses outside of the kebab shop she decides to let me drive at 1:30 pm – too much sun and road makes her sleepy. Of course I take a selfie of my first time behind the wheel in Jordan. We stop for petrol at 2 pm and Julie wants the tires aired up to see if that will help with the uneven wear and bad alignment. We go next door where it looks part chop-shop, part horror film with all the random stuff on the walls, including Jack Nightmare complete with moustache and unibrow, and the kitten eating chunks from the dirt.
One guy checks the pressure and the other airs them accordingly. They charge us a dinar after I’d already reversed halfway back to the highway. I had asked if they wanted money first, and at least it was a fair price. Back on the road, and as the scenery changes I fall more in love with this country. It’s beautiful as it’s revealed to us each time around another corner. There’s so much texture and no fences, but my travel buddy says we have to make it to Aqaba today, not get arrested for trespassing or rescued from a cliff. As with all driving ventures, I keep my foot on the gas and appreciate that I’m not flying over it all.
I stop for panoramas to help keep myself from taking so many photos while driving (that have a high chance of turning out blurry or covered in reflections), but Julie doesn’t seem to mind as long as we’re not near a cliff; so I park us in a lot near one and we get out for selfies. There’s another car there with two guys and one wants his picture with us. I allow him to take one with his phone and then one with mine, but when he goes to put his arm either near or around Julie she tells him, No!
We enter the Aqaba Special Economic Zone at 3:15 pm and get waved through a tax declarations and emissions checkpoint two minutes later as the mountains come up around us. They’d been shadows in the distance and it’s nice to see the lines and colors change up close. We park near the marina next to the Tunisian Hammamet Gardens. As we’re walking in we’re joined by Mahmoud, just walking around, who wants to take beautiful me fishing and swimming tomorrow and perhaps to dinner tonight. I might’ve been ok with him, but he tried to tell us that we couldn’t look at the Red Sea from the direction we were headed, so we parted ways.
We get offered a ride in a glass-bottom boat. I think it was 40 dinars for both for an hour, but the viewing area (about the size of a cabinet door) looked translucent – perhaps why the guys were in the cold water cleaning it. We could go out for two hours if we want to snorkel in the Red Sea, but not something Julie wants to do this ‘late’ in the evening or in this temperature. It seems I’m not the only one that thinks the water is cold.
We go back to the sidewalk, around the dirt lot, and down the street to the beach where there are pebbles and water to put our feet in. I’m standing on a mini pier, a slab of concrete over the water, and I take a panorama. A boy in the water says no photos, so I point my camera at him and pretend to click. He tells me I’m mean and I say shukran. As I turned around he tells me to come closer. For a second I thought he might splash me, but I approached and he told me “I love you” and I smiled as I walked away. The people of Jordan really are sweet, even if Julie thinks they can be a bit much most of the time.
We get our feet wet in the Red Sea and they collect shells and other collectibles. Jordan doesn’t have sandy beaches. We go to the W.C., a term coined in England in 1870 with the advent of indoor plumbing – the toilet replacing clothes in a closet as the smell of ammonia helped to deter fleas. It’s still a commonly used abbreviation in South America, parts of Germany, and in many Asian countries – and Jordan.
Julie rinsed her feet while I stood just inside the door, taking a photo, with the door open. A guy approaches asking for money for using the facilities. He points to a sign in Arabic and I see the number 15 and wonder who carries around change like that. Julie comes out and walks away. I tell the boy who follows us sorry as I show him my empty pockets. Perhaps had they asked for an amount instead of tourist money I would’ve been more obliging – and if they followed me to the car, but after the boy put his hands on my head (like a priest might do) he ran back to the other two.
We drove down the road looking for the other sites listed on the brown sign. We stopped near the tourist governorate sign where the tourist police booth is and tried to ask for directions. They don’t speak English, perhaps German or Spanish, or they are just here to arrest tourists – I’m not sure. They point us down the hill, and we only go that way to get the car to u-turn towards the ruins we saw – which just happen to be part of the Aqaba Castle. I ask how much at the entrance and the guy inside points us to the visitor center, with museum, that is closing in ten minutes at 5 pm.
The Jordan Rulers are on the wall and it looks like a 15 year-old boy with his 45 year-old dad and grandpa in charge at 65. It’s an old collection. King Hussein died in 1999 at age 63; his son, King Abdullah II is 53; and the heir to the throne is already 20. There’s a case of old steatite lamps that draws my attention because to me they look like part of a tea set. These variants of the Byzantine slipper lamp can also be found in Palestine and Egypt, but a cream ware, wheel-made lamp with a stubby conical spout can only be found in Aqaba.
I should’ve asked if we could still buy tickets, but I walked towards the sun and a very tall flagpole – the fifth tallest in the world at 130 meters flying the flag of the Great Arab Revolt since 1916 that can be seen from Israel, Egypt, and Saudi. We stood for a moment and took in the view and then looked at a poster with the history of the flag. Over a thousand years ago and up to 1515, the flag changed between one of the four colors it is today, and at one point (570-630 A.D.) it was an inverted version of the current Saudi flag with just the inscription, no sword . The most common one flown is the Flag of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan since 1922 with the seven points star to represent the values of Jordan, as stated in the first surah in the Qur’an.
We drive up the coast in search of Wi-Fi for Julie. We stopped at the Movenpick Hotel and used the large map on their wall to accomplish nothing, but got offered plenty of taxi rides while saying no and pointing to our car. I walk into Early Islāmic Ayla, with free entrance, and have a look around while Julie sits in the car. These ruins are evidence of the port that once flourished here during the Umayyad, Abbasid, and Fatimid periods, 661 – 1258 A.D.
We find a shopping plaza and a man sitting outside helps narrow our three bar options to Rovers Return, an English pub. We sit in a shaded spot outside, overlooking Ayla with the Israeli mountains in the backdrop. We order a bottle of Mount Nebo Perlette Blanc Dry, for 22 JD, to sip our way into the sunset at 6:45 pm. Julie got chicken cordon blue with mashed potatoes and peas and asked for gravy. I ate the green veggie and was fine finishing leftovers. We would’ve sat longer, but the train carrying the fat and juices made a crash landing, and after stepping in it for the third time and wiping it off my shoe I pushed my chair back to get away from it – even if that meant blocking the waitress from the other tables.
We had been waiting on change and instead of assisting us, the wait staff asked that I move – again. We went inside and asked for my money. They pulled out our receipt and handed me the three dinars. It’s a great spot for relaxation at sunset, but once the place gets busy the staff gets subpar and the customers rude – at least the woman behind us hating on the local culture. We left there at 8:30 pm and went to find our hotel room that we booked while eating, but not before walking to the South Kingdom Bazar at the end of the street where they sell magnets, lamps, jewelry, and plenty of Dead Sea products.
We were in there for 45 minutes while the shopkeeper let us try every smell and texture – and when our noses were broken he brought out the coffee, but it didn’t help that our arms were covered in such a mix that it was buy or leave. I found a lotion and decided against the abdomen’s cracks cream, though I do like the exact description. I was excited when he brought out the bar of amber that I’ve been looking for ever since I smelled a waiter in a San Diego café. With our 20% off and buy-one-get-one, we also got free kohl and I got Julie’s that she didn’t want, I spent 10 JD. I tried telling the guy we live in Bahrain, but he didn’t understand me until I wrote it down. I was worried that him and the other guys didn’t know about the small island, but they just didn’t get my accent (#InternationalProblems).
We checked into My Hotel at 9:30 pm and I paid 47 JD for the room. After copies of our passports were made we grabbed our bags and stepped into the small elevator. I’m guessing homes and hotels come with assembly required furniture, because the two of us and our bags fill this tiny box. Upstairs, in room 414, is a shower door that accordions on two sides to meet in the corner. I’ll try it out while Julie unpacks and then I’ll Skype with Dad while she showers. Julie thinks my Dad and I have such a neat friendship that we can banter with each other. I’m grateful for technology that helps us keep in touch – even on the other side of the world. I’m tired, clean, and ready to rest for another day in Jordan.