11 September. We started our journey to Jordan by flying first into Damascus, Syria where we’d return to for the second part of our trip. We arrived late at night, greeted with a heavily sugared mint tea at our hotel Sah Al Naum in the old city. Ahmed our host is gracious, very welcoming and wants us to treat the hotel as a second home; in fact it used to be a family home. But more of Sah Al Naum later when we return to Syria.
12 September. Over the border Damascus to Amman. Despite the heat I am trying to cover up as much as possible in respect to local culture; can’t expose much flesh and the throat apparently is erotic. I am not supposed to smile at men as it can be misconstrued. No access to Facebook or You Tube, both are banned. We couldn’t get any Syrian money in the UK as it’s pretty much a closed currency. The country has only really opened up in the last few years. No MacDonald’s – fabulous. We finally managed to get some cash, only one of my cards works and Dave’s Barclaycard doesn’t. Nowhere seems to take credit cards. I love all this crazy stuff…I love being out of my depth. It is for instance, the first time we’ve been followed down a centuries old alleyway by kids shooting us with pellets and stones…in good humour though what they were using was unnerving to the unpracticed eye. I don’t know who translated and printed his t-shirt but it’s fascinating. Waiting for Adnan the driver who’s taking us to Amman in Jordan; we’re sitting in an inner courtyard. The interior of the hotel is beautiful, similar to the riads in Marrakech, and similarly again, with a very basic exterior. On arrival the day before it had taken several minutes to figure out where the front door was. Lots of rambling balconies, corridors, plants, courtyards and really steep stone stairs to the rooms. Adnan arrived with a big smile on his face, always a good way to start any adventure. It took us a full day to get from Syria to Jordan because they stopped us for our passports so many times. A straight drive with one stop for an exit stamp from Syria and a visa stamp entry for Jordan, would have taken about 3 hours. But they stopped vehicles for searches repeatedly; everything pulled out of cars, removed from roof racks of buses, uniformed men picking over piles of flimsy boxes. Everyone trying to push in, cars and trucks and buses, bedlam but it worked out somehow. For some inexplicable reason Adnan had a full box of unused empty Cornetto ice cream foils. He didn’t speak English so it will remain a mystery but the armed guards and military were more fascinated with them than with our one bag. Hiring a driver was a blessing as so few people at the border spoke English other than the man at the foreign exchange bureau who wanted to chat. We asked his name, he replied “Osama”…hastily adding “But not HIM!” We passed camels on the roadside and sped through masses of open rocky land that stretches for miles under a blazing sun. We finally arrived in Jordan to its capitol Amman. From Adnan’s drop off point, an elderly Arab gentleman drove us for an hour to find our hotel but refused to charge us. He got completely lost, wouldn’t believe our map and it was Dave who eventually intervened and directed him there. We had driven past the hotel twice; it was a mere 10 minutes from where he picked us up. We all had a good laugh. The lady who manages the hotel drove us to a restaurant in the evening because she didn’t want us to pay for a taxi. Can you imagine that happening in the UK? The restaurant was packed with local families celebrating the end of Ramadan. We ate great local food; koftas, chicken and baba ganoush served with delicious fresh made leavened bread.13 September. Amman. We’ve hooked up with Tarek, a friend and contact of our English friend Mark. Mark works for Explore.co.uk and Tarek is a driver and guide. He speaks excellent English and is a genuinely lovely man. Courteous, helpful and really wants us to enjoy his country. He drove us around Amman for the day, first stop The Citdael on Jebel al-Qal’a (Citadel Hill), the site of a partly restored Umayaad Palace. We admired the view of Amman from the hill. The atmosphere charged with the call to prayer from mosques across the city, echoing around the hills and through the amphitheatre below. The Roman Temple of Hercules; the arms of a massive statue of Hercules were found here – all that remains is part of a hand and an elbow.Bedouin headdresses displayed in the museum at the site of the Citadel. The museum is included in the 2JD entrance fee to the ruins.Leaving the Citadel we drove down the hill into downtown Amman to the Roman Amphitheatre, the centrepiece of Roman Philadelphia, Jordan’s original name. Approached from Hashmi Street along a road lined with an impressive Corinthian colonnade and original Roman paving. The theatre is cut in to the hillside and was built between 169 and 177 AD during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius for an audience of up to 6,000 people. We rested in the shade imagining the brutal games that would have played out here.
We drove by the beautiful King Abdullah Mosque with its 35 metre diameter turquoise dome. Only completed in 1989, built by late King Hussein as a memorial to his grandfather. Up to 10,000 worshippers can gather here both inside and in its courtyard. A fig stop! Tarek pulled over on a busy motorway and a father and son were sheltering in the shade under the flyover selling figs. Really fresh and surprisingly cold when you bit in to them. The boy was eating a pomegranate picked from a bush at the side of the busy main road.
14 September. Amman to Jerash, Ajloun, Mount Nebo and Madaba. Leaving Amman with Tarek, our endgame for today is the small city of Madaba, driving first 50 kilometres North from Amman to visit Jarash (Jerash), one of the best preserved Roman cities in the Eastern Mediterranean. Based in the hills of Gilead, a place I’m told is mentioned frequently in the Old Testament, Gerasa briefly became the centre of the Roman Empire when Trajan’s successor Hadrian stayed here. We entered the site through Hadrian’s Arch built in honour of the visit of the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 129-130 AD. The city of Jerash spills down the hillsides around the ruins.Gerasa was the ancient name for Jerash and was founded in 170BC. It’s a large site but we had a couple of hours to explore. Walking among the huge columns, some of them 15 metres high, we looked up to see their finely carved Corinthian details. We walked through amazing colonnaded pathways to visit the Temple of Zeus (below) believed to have been built in 162-163 AD. A guide was on-site showing tourists how the columns were built in sections to withstand wind and sandstorms in such a way that the towering stones sway, rather like a poplar tree, to remain standing. Tarek drove us to The Green Valley restaurant close by, the waiters and manager know him and came over to our table in a flurry of activity. They showed us the ovens where two men were baking the local flat bread eaten every day at every meal here. We were brought a selection of Mezza; Fattoush and Tabbouleh, small dishes of freshly made humus topped with olive oil and local herbs and other types of dips made from local ingredients…freshly chopped parsley, tahini and lemon and aubergines mashed in to form a paste called Moutabbel. Served with labneh, a thick yogurt paste which tastes great with bread dipped in to it which they serve at every breakfast, lunch and dinner. Several plates of barbecued meats made up the main dish and we drank the local drink naana lemon, cold sweet lemon and mint which Dave and I can’t get enough of. We also drank Shanina, a thick yogurt drink that I love but Dave can’t stand. It’s sour and salty and in this restaurant, thick and creamy. Tarek bought us some more later on which was a lot thinner and runny in texture. Dave didn’t want to be rude and downed it in one. Good Arabic food is amazing but you need a local, like anywhere in the world, to take you to the best places to eat. This place was great.From Jerash we drove 25 kilometres further West to the city of Ajlun (Ajloun) pronounced ‘adge-loon’, to visit its famous Saracen hill top castle Qal’at ar-Rabadh. The hill is known as Jebel Auf, Jebel meaning hill in Arabic. The castle was built on the site of a ruined Christian monastery in 1184 in the midst of the Crusades. The scenic views from the top were beautiful. I took more photographs of the people than the castle, it’s always fascinating to meet locals, experience their culture, their food, the way they dress and interact. A coffee seller set up with herbs and an ornate hammered tin urn with traditional patterns. Families, the husband traditionally trailed by his wives and/or female relatives, walked the grounds with boisterous playful children. Back to the car; we hadn’t been able to park in the shade and had to turn on the air-con to cool down the seats. The temperature in the car hovered at 38c…Dave got in, sat down and immediately leapt out again complaining of a ‘burnt arse’.
Driving through the Jordan valley and heading south again we headed for Mount Nebo about 10km northwest of the city of Madaba. Mount Nebo is a series of peaks known in Arabic as Siyagha and one of the holiest sites in Jordan. According to the bible Moses led the Israelites for 40 years through the wilderness and from the vantage point of Mount Nebo looked down on to the Promised Land that God had forbidden him to enter. Moses was said to have died on the mountain and in Christian and Jewish tradition was buried somewhere in or on Mount Nebo. Muslims believe that Moses was a Prophet and that his body was carried across the river and placed in a tomb lying off the modern Jericho-Jerusalem highway. Spectacular views from the mountain look out across wild, rocky desert where Bedouin tents hunker low, camouflaged and scattered across arid scenery. I spotted a group of camels and a pick up truck and asked Tarek if we could stop to explore. He took us up a rocky incline where a Bedouin tent, not visible from the road, was erected alongside the Bedouins’ goats and camels being watered a few feet away. The head of the family Muhammad, invited us to join them to drink sweetened black tea. We sat in his tent open on all sides to incredible views, drinking and communicating through Tarek our driver. When a male Arabic visitor arrived, the woman scooped up the children, swiftly moving in to a separate closed section of the tent. Tarek explained that women are not to be in the same room as another male they’re not related to. I found this difficult as it was only minutes earlier that we’d been sharing tea and taking photographs. The Arabic visitor posed in my sunglasses, looked like a movie star, whilst I looked hot, sweaty and bemused.Tarek said they might offer us camel’s milk. I had already been forewarned by my father who used to live in Saudi Arabia, that to drink camel milk for the first time results in the entire contents of your stomach being evacuated rapidly and extremely thoroughly. I explained to Tarek several times walking towards the Bedouin tent, please under no circumstances let them give us camel’s milk! Tarek was laughing, aware of the effects. Perhaps I’ll drink it at the end of the holiday to purge the bread we’re eating every breakfast, lunch and dinner. The tea was great but the amount of flies in the tent from the camels and goats a few feet away was a constant irritation. As Tarek commented later in the car: “It was good to share half tea and half flies with the Bedouins.” From Mount Nebo we continued through the Jordan Valley driving to Mdabar where we stayed the night at The Black Iris, run by a Jordanian guy called Odi who had travelled the world and runs his bed & breakfast place with his Balinese wife and Jordanian father. The rooms were very basic and rather bland but everything was clean and Odi’s hospitality fantastic…therefore recommended. If it’s clean, has a fan, they feed you in the morning and the owners and staff are friendly… then 0 star can be just as good as 3 star. Odi also told us about a great restaurant a few streets away called Haret Jdoudna where we went to eat that evening. More amazing flat bread and oven baked chicken with several dishes of Mezza. An in-house DJ blasted out Arabic music so loud we couldn’t hold a conversation or figure out who he thought his audience was. The only other table in the courtyard being a large family gathering of formally dressed elderly Jordanians.
15 September. Madaba to Petra via The Dead Sea, Wadi Mujib and Karak. Had a lie-in. Tarek rejoined us from seeing his family near Amman. We drove nearby to St George’s Church to see the 19th century Byzantine floor laid mosaic map of the Holy Land. The exact date unknown, but believed to have been laid in the second half of the sixth century in a former Byzantine church that stood on the same site. The surviving map is impressive but the original would have consisted of over 2 million stones measuring 15.6m long by 6m wide, depicting virtually the entire Levant from Lebanon in the north to the Nile Delta in the south. Tarek next took us to a workshop where trained disabled craftspeople make incredible mosaics. The workshop had an adjoining craft shop. Dave and Tarek shared mint tea with the owners whilst I wandered around. Tarek joined me to taste some of the local spices. On the same counter there was a large amber coloured rock which we couldn’t figure out. I thought it was crystallized carob sugar, Tarek wasn’t sure so he broke a piece off and tasted it….then encouraged me to taste it. It was disgusting and I told him so…Tarek agreed and asked the owner what it was. Turned out we had just eaten a piece of raw incense used in incense burners to perfume a room. The owner thought it was hilarious. From Madaba to Suwayma to visit the Dead Sea, something Dave has wanted to do since childhood and seeing photos of a man floating in the sea reading his newspaper. It’s actually a huge lake in the Great Rift Valley and at 400 metres below sea level is the lowest point on earth. Nothing can live in it because of the high salt content. To give you an idea, sea water is about 3 or 4 % salt, the Dead Sea is over 30%. You can’t dive in it or really swim…and it’s impossible to sink. When you lie back the buoyancy of the water supports you. Quite slimy on the skin but an amazing experience floating around. 15 minutes was enough because every cut or blemish or ‘open’ area of the body (without going in to detail) starts to sting from the salt. I was warned not to get it in my eyes which other tourists suffered; their red eyes and constant rubbing a giveaway. Our friend Bruce in Seattle had forewarned Dave not to shave the same day as going in, otherwise it would have stung like hell! You have to pay to go in to the Dead Sea. Like everything else here it isn’t cheap. We went to the public beach which still cost 15JD each (approx £12 each) to use a towel and a shower and go in to the sea for a float. Buffet lunch in the restaurant was £10 each but basic. It’s not a cheap country to travel in. Further along the tourist beach it was 25JD each (over £20 each) for a slightly better changing room and shower. The rich people went to the resort hotels and paid 50JD each. We liked the public beach; there was a sense of camaraderie and it was interesting watching Saudi Arabian women going in to the sea fully clothed in their black robes and headscarves. In some cases they wore a full body black bathing suit with most of their face and head covered with a scarf. They were all laughing and smiling towards us.From the Dead Sea back in the car along the King’s Highway towards Karak, driving through the spectacular scenery of Jordan’s equivalent to the Grand Canyon; Wadi Mujib. Stunning canyon views over 500 metres deep and up to 4km wide. Winding up through the hills we reach the town of Karak, southern Jordan’s most important town which lies largely within its Crusader-era walls. The hill on which the town of Karak stands has sheer cliffs on three sides with views over the Wadi Karak. The Crusaders began building a fortress in 1142. Not as intact as the castle we saw at Ajloun but a worthwhile stop and the views are great.Leaving Karak through an increasingly dusty landscape, Tarek stopped the car to point up a steep cliff to what looked like a lump of wind-blown rock standing at the edge viewed easily from the road below. This is allegedly Lot’s wife; a figure from the book of Genesis known for being turned into a pillar of salt as punishment for looking back upon the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. There is another misshapen lump of rock or a ‘halite pillar’ (according to wikipedia) on Mount Sodom by the Dead Sea in Israel, also said to be Lot’s wife. I remarked on viewing this Lot’s wife that it looked pretty tall. The local answer: “Yes but people were taller in those days”. It’s a surreal conversation…and a biblical stretch of the imagination for me.Approximately an hour’s drive from Petra we stopped to watch the sun set over the Dana Nature Reserve. We drove in to Wadi Musa the local town for Petra at 8.30pm and after a few phone calls on Tarek’s mobile, finding an accommodation listing in Rough Guide and a bit of driving around, we finally checked in to The Sun Set Hotel where we got a basic but big room with a huge bed at the top of the hotel for only 30JD a night; a fantastic price for this expensive tourist town including breakfast. More bread and yogurt for Dave then.16 September Petra. Travelling to the Middle East is worth it just for the chance to visit the incredible ancient site of Petra, voted recently to be one of the 7 Wonders of the World. It’s a justified title for this jaw dropping experience. The entrance to Petra was a 5 minute walk from Sun Set Hotel. The word Petra means rock….and Petra was ‘built’ around the 6th Century by the Nabataeans as their capital city. Hidden deep on the slopes of Mount Hor in the mountains, Petra remained unknown to the Western world until 1812 when a Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt found it after searching to find a mythical city he believed existed. Like a fortress of towering rose-red rock, entered only by a natural ‘siq’ or pathway which winds through these huge rocks for several kilometers before opening in to wide open spaces. Petra was the centre of the caravan trade for the Nabataeans; camels carrying goods or passengers in a group as part of a regular or semi-regular service between two points, trading spices, silks, food, jewels etc. This is a photo taken from a distance and above. See the dark seam running through the rock? This is the siq entrance we were walking through. It shows how well this ancient city kept itself hidden.Petra has seasonal flash floods and the Nabataeans built a series of dams, cisterns and a water conduit to control the flow of water. As you enter Petra you walk first through open space past ‘God Blocks’ and carved buildings until you reach the daunting towering rock entrance to the Siq, flanked by a long water channel carved naturally out of the rock.It’s hard to explain the atmosphere of walking through the Siq for the first time. Entering in to a huge gorge, looming rocks cut out the blistering sun, the coolness of the them offering protection and shelter. The walk from the main entrance to the Treasury took about 40 minutes and the first view of the building is simply astonishing. The cool dark channel dramatically opens into a large space dominated by the incredible Treasury (Al-Khazneh) carved directly out of the sandstone rock. It is to coin a Northern phrase… totally gobsmacking. It was originally built as a mausoleum in the 1st century AD and legends tell of treasure hidden in the large carved urn on the second level. Damage from bullets can be seen on the urn, local stories tell of Bedouins shooting at it in an attempt to crack it open, but the urn has been proved to be solid sandstone. In popular culture the facade of the Treasury features in the hugely popular 1989 film ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ as the resting place for the Holy Grail. For the Goths out there it also featured in the Sisters of Mercy 1988 video for their single ‘Dominion’. We continued on to emerge back in to blistering sun. There are many other buildings carved in to the rocks (the Obelisk Tomb above) which we explored before climbing up to the High Place of Sacrifice which took over an hour; dripping with sweat, negotiating centuries of worn rock pathways and ‘steps’ often with sheer drop offs to the side into deep ravines. Bedouin women lined our route brewing tea on small fires shaded by trees over their makeshift shops, selling necklaces, brass camels and lumpen sparkling rocks of Petra. It was worth the gruelling slog for the incredible views from above and the carved Nabataean obelisk at the top of the High Place.
Horse and carriages wait at The Treasury to carry people back to the town and camels are everywhere for the flatter parts of the area. About 5 hours in and we decided to attempt another climb to The Monastery. Already very hot and tired, we were advised that this was one of the main highlights of Petra. We caved in and rented two donkeys to take us most of the way up. The embarrassment (mainly Dave), terror and bewilderment all paid off when we reached the last stages by foot (it’s about 1,000 ‘steps’ up, the donkeys scrambled up about 900 of them) and climbed down in to the open space where the Monastery looms sheltered in the rock face it was carved from. To explain the scale of this incredible building; the entrance doorway is about the same size of a large 3 storey-house.I wish we had photos of us wrestling with two donkeys and the 13 year old kid guiding them, whilst avoiding maiming other tourists or plunging in to a gorge. Attempting to take photos was impossible. Dave’s slightly taller black donkey led the way, farting at regular intervals. Sitting closely behind and downwind on a smaller white donkey and whilst passing above an especially deep gorge that fell away to my right literally a donkey stumble away, the 13 year old kid explained when Dave’s donkey farted again that: “Madam, your donkey cannot lead because it is mostly blind.” WHAT?! He assured me: “Do not be alarmed Madam because your donkey is strong and knows the way, he just can’t see so he needs to follow the other donkey by smell.” My donkey’s keen sense of smell sporadically resulted in it stumbling obligingly forward but if another donkey passed coming down, it would attempt to turn full circle in confusion thinking it should follow the other donkey back down. Every time it did this the 13 year old kicked it deftly up the bum and it would turn and face the path upwards and lock it’s olfactory senses back to its farting partner toiling ahead. We discovered that it is impossible to steer a donkey that isn’t familiar to you and as the paths were steep and only 2 person wide, the donkeys would scramble upwards taking the best path for them oblivious to other tourists which they routinely squashed up against rocks and forced to one side. Dave was mortified. Nervous for other tourists, shouting ahead: “Excuse me, please move away from the donkey, I have no control.” The photo below shows part of the path we farted and blindly bumped our way upwards. We walked the 1,000 steps back down; there wasn’t a chance in hell of Dave getting back on a donkey.We made one last stop to see the Royal Tomb set on another hillside know as the Urn Tomb built in approximately AD 70 for one of the Nabatean kings, possibly King Malchus II or King Aretas IV. The interior is a large cool space around 18 metres by 20 metres with incredible painted ceilings. Over 8 hours later we walked back…absolutely exhausted, roasting hot, thirsty (even after downing 5 litres of water between us), covered head to toe in a coating of orange dust, blistered and desperate for a shower and a bed. It was of course worth the effort… but perhaps spreading it over two days may have been wiser!17 September Wadi Musa. We took a day off, to catch up on sleep, give our feet a deserved break and have a look around Wadi Musa. There’s not much to see, it’s a town that has grown based on its proximity to Petra and an expanding tourist trade. Like a lot of Middle Eastern towns the buildings can be ugly, thrown up in haste from breeze block, plain and bleached by the sun, blending in to the barren arid hillsides. We searched around for excursions in to Wadi Rum, meeting a man called Ayman who sold us (his version of) a desert trip. 18 September Wadi Rum. We got picked up at 11am but it was a bit of a disaster really; realising on arrival at the ‘Bedouin camp’ that we’d been ripped off. The man we’d booked with claimed to work for a reputable company called La Bedouinas (possibly made up), but despite us repeating what we wanted, we weren’t deep in the desert but close to the road. The popular Captain’s Camp (which did look good) was next door. Our camp looked like a scene from the movie ‘Mash’; very small khaki canvas tents which were over a 100 degrees centigrade inside. An open Bedouin style tent for communal lounging and eating was a concession to some authenticity, but all atmosphere was ruined completely by a giant loudspeaker and computer on an office desk from which they were ‘djing’ music. Two other guests weren’t introduced to us to and no-one seemed interested that we were there; you could have cut the atmosphere with a knife. We took the camp manager aside and decided to do the desert safari only, foregoing dinner and a night’s stay to return instead to Petra.
Luckily we made the most of the day with a friendly Bedouin driver called Hamed who bumped and slid us around the desert in his pick up truck. He was a great person to spend 3 hours with and despite no common language we managed to converse and laugh a lot. Really good fun bombing around the desert in his worn out Toyota pickup stuffing our faces with a bumper size packet of Lays crisps which Hamed loved. No air-con…in fact no windows. It looked like it was held together on a wing and a prayer but it served us well. Hamed took us to a sheltered space surrounded by huge rocks to make a fire (glad he had a Bic lighter with him) and brew up some Bedouin tea.All the Bedouin people we met are incredibly friendly with a good sense of humour, relaxed and a lot less pushy than other encounters we’d had in Jordan. Their welcome feels sincere and from our experience they enjoyed sharing their time, food, tea and personal space. Hamed is mischievous but also informative, pointing out different plants and showing us the different types of rock they use to grind down and mix in to paste for women to decorate their skin, like makeup or henna. He dressed me in his Keffiyeh (head covering) held in place by a black rope circlet called an Agal and using a stone wrote our names in Arabic.We stopped for Dave to explore some huge boulders and Hamed lead us into sandstone crevices to experience natural ‘air-conditioning’. We drove to an area called Lawrence Springs. In the West, Wadi Rum is best known for its connection with the British officer T. E. Lawrence, who based his operations here during the Arab Revolt of 1917–18. In the 1980s one of the impressive rock formations in Wadi Rum was named The Seven Pillars of Wisdom in memory of Lawrence’s book written in the aftermath of the war. Most of David Lean’s 1962 film ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ was filmed in Wadi Rum. It has since become a popular destination for rock climbers and a rock climbing film location. We ended our day sitting together quietly on top of a rocky escarpment watching a flowing red sun sink over the horizon.If you want to book a desert excursion to Wadi Rum, be warned that many people in Wadi Musa will try to overcharge you for the experience. It’s tough to know who to trust. We discovered later that our small B&B hotel ran excursions at a good price and in a good camp. Back at the Sun Set who were such fantastic people; angry that we had been ripped off they insisted on giving us a room for free. The generousity of people here is humbling. 19 September Little Petra and Driving over the border to Damascus. Our last day in Jordan with a full day of driving as we head for Syria. Tarek took us North of Petra to visit Little Petra, Siq al-Barid, 1,040 metres above sea level to the east of the Arabian Desert and to the West of the Jordan Rift Valley. Another Nabataean site and like Petra another UNESCO World Heritage Site.With buildings carved in to the sandstone canyon, it is a far smaller site thought to date to 1st century C.E. and possibly built as a suburb to Petra used as lodging by traders travelling the Silk Road. A beautiful place to visit; free to enter, no tourists and wonderfully peaceful. We wandered quietly through the Siq and rock carved buildings for an hour.Back on the road we had lots of stops for mint tea (shy naana), more yogurt drinks (shanina – salty and sour) and an errand to get some camel milk for Tarek in the middle of some scrubby desert land, where the Bedouin insisted on teaching me to milk the camel at the same time that its baby was suckling from it. Pull up first then down and squeeze apparently… whilst baby camel pulls up and down on the other teet…I would make a totally hopeless Bedouin wife. Luckily this camel was very docile whereas a few I had tried to approach on earlier trips were pretty surly. They are champion spitters. We had lunch in a roadside falafel place in Shobak. Another tea stop about 45 minutes later where young men sat puffing on their hubbly bubbly pipes and a young boy came over and said ‘Hi Man’ to Dave….but didn’t speak any more English. Arrived in Amman city and Tarek took us for a Kanafeh stop. Tarek first introduced me to the delights of Kanafeh on our first day with him in Amman…I have since become addicted to it. A traditional Middle Eastern dessert, it consists of thin noodles of pastry, soaked in very sweet syrup and covered with melted cheese and nuts. It is absolutely delicious. Tarek had new people arriving in Amman so he took us to the taxi rank for our journey back over the border to Damascus. The young driver didn’t speak English but Tarek took his number, made the driver take his and after 15 minutes of haggling Tarek got us a good price. We said our goodbyes to Tarek, genuinely sad to leave him, we had definitely formed a friendship. Exit visa stops for leaving Jordan and re-entry visa checks at the border patrol for Syria… where our driver promptly disappeared A phone call to Tarek who tracked him down on his mobile buying cigarettes in a duty free shop. The drive seemed uneventful until 7pm when in the dark we pulled over at the side of a busy motorway where 2 cars were parked and about 6-7 men loitered. No-one spoke English but we realised that our young driver was knocking off for the day and swapping with another. The swap took about 15 minutes with Dave and I sitting in the car in the dark wondering what the hell was going on and with driver number 1 trying to take the balance of the payment from us, which I refused knowing that driver number 2 would ask for more money as soon as we reached the hotel. The new driver didn’t speak any English either (fair enough, we don’t speak Arabic) but was obviously in a rush to get home because he drove consistently at 140kph… right up behind other cars, flashing his lights, beeping the horn, forcing cars, bikes, buses and huge oil trucks off the road without slowing down. He chain smoked, his one concession to some air in the car, to occasionally open the window to chuck out his litter and cigarette ends. It was hair-raising and we couldn’t wait to get out of the car. See my next post for our arrival back in to Damascus and our Syrian adventures!
Jordan September 2010.