Woke early and headed down to the greatest breakfast feast of my entire trip. The Movenpick’s sumptuous buffet spread was a delight to behold, and I loaded up on chicken sausages, beans, omelets, toast, croissant, fruit…and loads and loads of tea. Met a pleasant couple from Canada (again), when the man yelled: “Good morning how are ya?” at me. They told me about their journey down here from Amman on the King’s highway, and the amazing scenery they had enjoyed on the way down. I wanted to do the same thing in reverse that very day, so was pleased when a waiter asked me my plans for the day. When I told him, and I also added I didn’t have transport, he told me that his brother could take me, and he called him immediately to arrange it. I love the fact that, in the Middle East, everyone knows a brother, an uncle, a cousin or a long lost relative who can help with anything for a price. At least there are options. His brother told me that he could take me to Amman, via a host of other places, for 85JD. I decided to go with it. Why not? It was a tad pricey, but the posh surroundings had clouded my judgement, blunted my bargaining tools, lulled me into a fantasy land where I could pretend I had enough money to stay at such a place, when in fact it was only due to the 50% discount that I could even have considered it. I was also reluctant to haggle over breakfast surrounded by silly rich people eavesdropping and the man’s brother. I confidently told the driver, Abdullah, to pick me up at 11, instead of his desired start time of 10, as I had things to do. One of them was to peg it back down to Petra and the Treasury, as I could see the sun poking it’s head up through the clouds, and I wasn’t happy with the shots I got of the Treasury last time.
I packed and headed down, passing hordes of tour groups like lemmings on the way making their way down the siq at a pace clearly agonizingly slow for most of them. Luckily, when I got to the Treasury, it was almost empty,and I got an old German tourist to get a photo of me – perfect. I took more snaps of the Treasury at various angles – the sun was shining directly on it now, causing it to glow a rose red colour. Beautiful.
Got back to the Movenpick at 11:13 and headed out. Abdullah was waiting for me, and he escorted me to his waiting 4×4 for my private ride on the King’s highway, the winding, scenic route that runs to Amman via other places of interest. It would have been a visually breath-taking ride, but alas! The weather had taken a turn for the worse. Mist was down, we couldn’t see a thing. We stopped at a Dead Sea ‘viewpoint’, but could barely make out the sea. When we arrived at the Dead Sea swimming area the waves were far too choppy to swim in, let alone float. I saw some European tourists in speedos braving it, but everytime they tried to make it out into the water they were smashed back to shore by a huge salty wave that was sure to really sting. Fuck that. I merely dipped a finger in it, which stung like mad due to a cut sustained from scrambling around Petra.
That was enough. Abdullah told me in all his years doing this route, he’d never seen the Dead Sea this….lively. I was unlucky. We headed on to Amman. We had tried getting to the Bay of Bethany, where Jesus was (apparently) baptised, but it was closed due to the terrible weather. There was no point going to the mountain – there would be no view. There was a sandstorm now, and visibility was so bad and we were proceeding at a crawl. I gave up – time to go to Amman.
Amman wasn’t much better. It was gray and brown, otherwise colourless, a wetness in the air that blunted any enthusiasm I’d mustered. People were shuffling around in big coats and hats in the street – it was a thoroughly joyless scene. I checked into a hotel which had a very pleasant lobby, with a lovely lounge and computers for the internet – but the rooms were terribly stark and cold – and overpriced at 20JD. I headed out into the muddy brown city and walked as much as I could before night fell, in a bid to get my bearings. I found nothing of any real interest – Amman lacked the pleasantness, moderness and friendliness of the rest of Jordan, and even the souks were lifeless and tame. Maybe I was in the wrong area. Back at the hotel I told the receptionist that, most probably, I’d be checking out in the morning, and I wanted a service taxi to take me to Damascus, Syria. Perhaps the weather had dampened my mood, but if Amman had any charm, it wasn’t revealing it so easily.
I changed into a nice shirt, jeans and a shoes, and headed out into the night, and found myself inside an ancient-looking restaurant / coffee shop. Sat upstairs, I ordered a cappucino and a pizza ‘romana’. The place was buzzing, a group of Jordanian students behind me, a group of young women to the left all chugging sheesha. A couple of older men sat playing chess, and looked as though they hadn’t moved since the restaurant opened god knows how many years ago. A local musician came in with his oud and sat down at a keyboard. The stirring combination of his oud, the keyboard and his excellent vocals soon had the audience clapping along. He looked like somebody’s uncle, but the way he played, sang and entertained the crowd, you’d think he was a famous pop star. He certainly lifted my mood. Perhaps Amman wasn’t that bad after all. I left the restaurant somewhat reluctantly, and headed out into the freezing night, catching a taxi to the 5-star Royal Hotel, the swankiest place in Amman, in the hope of finding some action. I found the Buddha bar, a chic little place that hosted a DJ at 11pm every night – apart from tonight of course. I sat at the bar with a heineken and mused over many things. Bored, I headed over to the Hyatt, but found no action there either, so sat in the lobby lounge by a roaring fire and had a glass of Jordanian cabernet sauvignon, which was palatable but nothing to write home about. Went back to the Royal and sat in their lobby lounge with a newspaper and an Irish coffee. A group of 3 local girls were eating and drinking opposite me, and after a little eye contact, one of them discreetly pointed at me, at her, and then upwards in a clear ‘you and me go to your room for fun’ message. So, this is how it’s done here. Discreetly, in posh hotel lobby lounges over coffee. She motioned me to come over, and all 3 of them propositioned me. By now, all the Arabs in sheepskin coats with bristling moustaches who all looked like extras in a 1980s Poirot episode, were looking on gravely. One rarely gets much privacy in the Middle East, especially when talking to members of the opposite sex. I slowly slipped back into my armchair with a casual wave at the prostitutes in disguise, finished my coffee, then went out into the blustery, cold night and hailed a taxi to take me to my humble quarters. An interesting evening