Saturday, January 07, 2006

Jordan Jollies - Day One

Jordan JolliesOur Royal Jordanian flight from Dubai was due to leave at a very civilized 9.30 a.m. In the end it left an hour late. As we were waiting at the departure gate we spotted a buddy of ours coming through with her dad. They are Palestinian / Jordanian and were on the same flight to Amman. They told us about a million things to add to our already-packed itinerary, and when I said we were hiring a car they told me all about the appalling standard of driving in Jordan. As it turned out, I found that while some of the driving was charismatic, especially that performed by half-blind Bedu who have no idea what a driving licence is, we never actually witnessed a single accident during our entire week there (the same can be said of many other countries, it's just that in Dubai you think it's an odd day if you don't see at least one accident).

The three-hour flight was over in no time (well, ok, three hours if you want to be pedantic), and we had our first encounter with real live Jordanians. We had been told that Jordanians on the whole are the loveliest people on the planet, but for some reason all the nasty ones get jobs at the airport. When you enter Jordan you have to buy a visa (10 JDs). This we duly did, but we were a bit alarmed when we saw a sign on the wall that said visas would only be issued to people with more than three months' validity on their passport. This was somewhat worrying, as we knew that Offspring's passport expires in February. And he was already in transit from London, so there was the prospect that he could be put on the next plane out.

Quick note on money. The currency is the Jordanian Dinar (which everyone calls the JayDee). Depending on who you speak to it is divided into 1000 fils or 100 piastres. The JD is pegged to the US dollar (one dinar = 0.7 US$). This means a dinar is worth 5.25 UAE Dirhams, which is conveniently close (for us Brits) to a UK quid.

We had booked a hire car from Monte Carlo Car Hire in Amman. They were supposed to meet us at the airport. But guess what, they weren't there. So then we had to get a phone card and then try to find out what their phone number was. Yes, of course it's on the confirmation email they sent me, and yes of course I forgot to print it out. Anyhoo, what had happened with the car delivery guy was that he was waiting at Terminal One, while we had arrived Terminal Two, because of all the additional flights for people going on Hajj.

So, we get to the car. It is not the stylish Peugeot 307 that I had booked, it's a bloody Mitsubishi Lancer. And it's black. I hate it, but what to do. It's pretty much brand new and they're not going to charge extra for it. (!). We do all the payment stuff. I pay in cash, but they also want to block $500 security deposit against the credit card just in case. In case what, I don't know. Oh, and if the car gets the slightest ding they'll be wanting $750.

Queen Alia Airport is about 35km from Amman, but we had taken the advice of Ruth, the author of one of the most informative Jordan websites (, and booked into the Mariam Hotel in Madaba. Madaba is 30km from the airport, but it is somewhat smaller (pop: 25,000) and more manageable than Amman (pop: many many lots). Ayman, the car rental bloke, needs to be dropped off about halfway, from where he can get himself back to Amman. On the way he suggests I should get some benzene. Eh? 'Benzene, benzene, car is empty!' Ah, petrol. He points out a gas station and after a bit of a kerfuffle caused by me completely failing to recognise it for what it was, we eventually get there and buy some petrol. Gas stations in Jordan are not the thrilling retail experiences that we are used to in the UAE. They are small, tatty, and indicated only by a sign that looks like a red asterisk on a white background. Without Ayman to point it out, it's entirely possible that we could still be stuck by the roadside somewhere. In a car with no petrol.

We get to Madaba, and it's a small town with a whole bunch of congestion in the middle. It also has one hell of a one-way system. We are completely unable to find our hotel. We ask directions from numerous lovely people, but none of them work. After about two hours (yes really) of driving around the centre of Madaba, we park outside the Herat Jdoudna artsy-crafty centre. We walk up to the Madaba Inn Hotel. They are extremely helpful and one of them, Rania, volunteers to come with us and show us the way. Brilliant!

We unpack a little bit, and then wander into Madaba for a look round. We visit St George's Church, which houses the Map Mosaic. This is a map of the Holy Land in mosaic form on the floor of the church, and it was used by archaelogists to pinpoint the locations of many historic events. After that we mooch around the town. There are many people selling little mosaics and woven stuff and embroidered stuff. BetterArf is very keen on embroidery and we spend an hour or two in the shop of Joseph Sawhalla, drinking tea and chatting. When we emerge the sun is setting and weather has become extremely cold. We buy shwarmas and then it is time to go back to the airport to pick up Offspring. We have been reassured by Charl at the Mariam that he will be ok with his visa, and indeed he is. So we pick up our baby, go back to Madaba, have dinner and retire to bed.

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