Saturday, January 14, 2006

Jordan Jollies - Day Eight and a Bit

Jordan Jollies I've lost track of time on this holiday (having such a great time!). This is basically our last full fambly day - Offspring's flight is at 0330 the next morning, but ours is not until 1930 in the evening of the next day.

Our plan for the day was to drive back to Madaba from Wadi Mousa. But we had to make a few stops en route. The first was to return to the Dana Hotel where BetterArf had left (deliberately we think) an embroidered scarf. We obviously had to stay for tea (their tea is unusual - it is flavoured with maramiyah, which tastes like sage). And unlike the two days that we stayed there we were actually able to find the place without any difficulty, and it was actually warm and sunny enough in the village for us to be able to sit out on the untented roof. Jabber, one of the co-op members and their government liaison chap, told us that we could buy the shell of a house in the village for maybe 2000 JD and maybe another 1000 to fit it out. A Canadian guy did just that last summer. It's an amazing offer but we still need to work until we retire (probably aged around 85) and it is too isolated for us to continue our urban-sophisticate jobs. Plus Suleiman had told us that it was difficult to do the subsistence smallholder thing because the village is in a Nature Reserve and you are not allowed to fence off any land where you might grow veggies, chicken and sheep or goats.
Dana Hotel
After leaving Dana, promising to return (and I have no doubt we will, but maybe not in winter), we headed for Kerak, a huge Crusader castle. It's enormous. There are seven levels, and all kinds of chambers and corridors. Plus a decent museum. Yet another mind-blowing place to explore in Jordan.
Kerak Castle
Kerak Castle
The entire town is within the old castle walls, and the castle itself is on top of a seriously tall hill. When we arrived we were well ready for lunch. We found a restaurant that had the elusive mansaf on the menu. We all ordered it. We were bemused when it arrived. Our plates contained a dome of rice with three lumps of evil-smelling mutton with bones sticking out of it. And then they brought each of us a bowl of white slurry. It all smelled rancid, and the meat seemed to have gone off at least a week ago. We could not begin to eat it. This was deeply embarrassing because we just didn't know if this was how it should be, or whether the owner was just taking the piss. He was deeply hurt by our rejection until I paid for it.

Later, in Madaba, we told this story to Joseph Sawhalla. First question 'how much did you pay for it?' I said '3 or 4 JDs'. 'Aah' he says, 'you must pay at least 10 JDs to get the real thing'. He explained that what we had been given was nothing like the real thing, that it should only be made with the very best bits of prime lamb, that we had been quite right to reject what had been offered, and that we should persevere in the quest for proper mansaf, because it is truly one of the world's great dishes.

The last leg of the drive should have been easy. From Kerak to Madaba we were told would take an hour and a half. Oh no it didn't. Thanks to Jordan's lousy road signs we ended up driving east when we should have been driving north. We only realised this when we hit the Desert Highway. We headed north on the highway, hoping to find a road that would connect us back to the Kings Highway. We were in serious dusk by this time and these unlit little roads were very hard work at night, mostly because of other drivers who used full beam all the time. Yekk.

We arrived at the Mariam Hotel in Madaba at about 6.30. We checked in, dumped our stuff and headed into town. We had met a few people from the Madaba Inn Hotel, and I thought it would be nice to have a slap-up dinner there on our last night.

The problem was, they were not fully open yet. It's a brand-new hotel and was in a kind of soft-opening phase. But they said the restaurant was open, so up we went. Hussam the waiter explained that the menus had not been printed yet. After a week in Jordan we had learned not to trust menus anyway, so we asked him what there was and he went into the kitchen to ask the chef what there was. We ordered steak and medallions d'beouf and a bottle of Mount Nebo Rouge. They had nothing that Offspring wanted to drink but said it was ok if he went to the liqour store around the corner. The food was excellent, and they gave us complimentary chocolate eclairs. I refused to eat one of mine because it looked like Dougal from The Magic Roundabout. Offspring photographed it and we discussed the possibilities of auctioning it on EBay. (Nil - BetterArf snaffled it).

Hussam was extremely cool. He explained that he had no experience as a waiter, and we had several chats about the existential angst of being a Jordanian in the modern world.

Back to the Mariam Hotel for a little sleep before going to the airport in a couple of hours' time. I had no plans to drive - I'd done that road after dark before and I didn't care to do it again. So we had Charl arrange transport - which turned out to be a clapped-out minivan with no seat belts. It got us there on a secret back road. We dumped Offspring at the airport and returned to the hotel.


Our flight back to Dubai was at 7.30 in the evening. So we had one day to kill and we planned to go to Ma'in Hot Springs, about 30km from Madaba.

When we got there we discovered that we could not afford the 10 JD each entrance fee. Actually we could if we really wanted to do, but that would involve changing more money. We turned round and headed for the Dead Sea. This road down to the Dead Sea seemed to be a new one. It was partly blocked by oil drums, but people ahead of us were going through. However, at the end of this spectacular descent into the valley, the exit onto the Amman/Aqaba/Dead Sea road was completely blocked. There was a stationary car in front of us, and we were approached by an insane bedu who yelled at us in Arabic. I had no clue what he wanted. None at all. He thumped the car (mind my CDW!), he yelled a lot, he jumped up and down. Eventually he went back to the first car, moved some oil drums and let them through. He then indicated that we could go through also. I didn't want to. As I started to do a u-turn, this pillock grabbed hold of my window sill, urging us not to go back. I'm afraid I might have been unpleasant to him at this point. He let go, I drove on.

Halfway up the mountain there is a viewing platform. I was not keen to use it, I just wanted to get the hell away from this place. But we stopped. BetterArf went a-wandering, while I tried to chase Dead Sea flies out of the car. As I sat there, a car full of Men In Black drove slowly past on the wrong side of the road. I was seriously spooked. I felt that for whatever reason, we were objects of hatred in a very remote place, and we could well be up for kidnapping. I went to get BetterArf. We left.

We headed back to Madaba, and went to see Joseph Sawhalla again. We had the chat about mansaf, and then he said we might as well extend our stay in Jordan because Dubai will be closed. We are puzzled and he explained about the demise of Sheikh Maktoum. We were shocked. We had heard the news about Ariel Sharon, but completely missed this story.

It was time for us to head off to the airport. After a long queue at the entrance the soldier asked 'Where are you going?'.
'The airport?'

My favourite road signsWe parked where the car had originally been delivered to us. I couldn't see Ayman from Monte Carlo Car Rental, so I called him on his mobile. I asked him where he was and he said 'at home in Amman'. (It is Friday, the first day of the weekend). He told me that someone would be there within an hour, but if I'm in a hurry I could put the key under the seat and lock the doors. We were just starting on a long debate about how this might realistically be done, when someone tapped on the window. It was a guy from Monte Carlo. He checked around the car, and was... Surprised? Amazed? Astonished? ... To find no dings on the car. Well, me too. 1,553 kilometers without a prang in a country full of very charismatic drivers. Yayy Keefieboy!


Aaah, if you have never been to Jordan, go now! Take my car! Despite the prats who want to rip you off, and the risk that Westerners might be terrorist targets, go now! The landscape is stunning. The history is amazing. But more than any of that, the people of Jordan are truly wonderful. They all say 'welcome to my country', but you know what? They really mean it.

I loved the fact that it is a half-Christian / half-Muslim country, and everyone gets on just fine. I loved the fact that there are liquor stores around the place - you don't need a licence to buy the stuff, and muslims seem to be quite disciplined enough to just ignore it. I was intrigued by being in Old Testament Land, and only a stone's-throw away from Israel and Palestine. Coming from the Gulf, I was also intrigued to find that this 'non-existent entity', that you are not allowed to mark on a map, very clearly does exist. I know it does, I've seen it across the Dead Sea, and next door to Aqaba.

I have to say, this has been the best holiday we have ever had. It was nothing like sitting on a Spanish beach for a fortnight, we could do something like that at home if we wanted to. We explored the country in the middle of winter. We saw life as it really is for lots of people. We met people whose lives are steeped in civilisation and history, and they have become our friends.

We were lovin' it.

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