Thursday, August 18, 2005


Moon and Mosque, Amman

Well, all went to plan this morning and we were met just sfter 6 am by a man with a car from Jordan who whisked us off out of Beirut almost before we could open our eyes. It is a short trip up over the mountains, down the valley the other side and half way up the next range of mountains, stopping first for two very large Palestinian ladies, who looked aghast at the fact that they had to share the car with two men, two Western men, at that. Of course, the older one said she had a problem with her foot so she had to take my place at the front and I had to sit the rest of the journey in that lumpy bit in the middle of the backseat. Both had special Lebanese passports issued to Palestinian nationals and both had travelled by BA from London on July the 7th. Both wore very thick gowns and neither showed the remotest sign of interest or friendliness in their fellow passengers.

Now we just had to complete four sets of passport and customes controls and it would be a short run down from the Syrian border to Amman, capital of Jordan. Would we make it into Syria and had we needed to get a Jordanian visa beforehand or not, were the questions uppermost in our minds. As it happened all went very smoothly, if a little bit expensive at times. Fred had to pay USD 15 for his transit visa through Syria, being a Dutch resident while I was in the happy position of being a UK national and having to pay USD 52 for my two hours in the country. I wouldn't mind so much if I hadn't known that French get in there for free!

It was a good feeling being back in Syria, albeit briefly, as we really had good memories of the country and our hopes for Jordan were high, reading the guide book about the sites of Petra, Wadi Rum, Aqaba, desert castles and many Roman and biblical sites. Things looked good as we passed bedouins with goats, donkeys AND camels,shortly after crossing the border.

However, our experience of Amman has not been that good. I know we were a bit diappointyed when we first made it to Beirut and we grew to love the place but I am not sure we will see that happeneing here. It is a very grey city, the colour of the streets, the houses, the ruins, the mosque, people's clothes and even their expressions. All very grey. No political advertising, not even fast food chains, little graffitti, not even the paintings of the black rock of Mecca to denote a completed hajj. The city is laid out on hills, with the roads and the main centres of life concentrated in the hot valleys with very few landmarks. We are staying in downtown, but not being a very old city (apart from the Roman remains of the old Philadelphia) there are not many historical or old buildings, no souks, no hammams and a rather drab main Mosque. Lots of rubbish and rubble everywhere. Not suer why there should be so much rubble everywhere and why, just under the citadel there seemed to be a squatters area of broken down houses, there not having been a war here for many years, but no doubt we will find out (or not as the case may be..... seeing as it seems a lot more difficult making contact with the locals here than what we are used to). And anyway, we came to Amman more because there seem to be no hotels in the towns around than because we wanted to find anything here.

Afetr a short walkabout and a delicious and very cheap hummus meal for lunch we went back to our Palace hotel for a sleep and got up again for an evening walkabout hoping for better things, and to some extent we did see better things but also lots of waste ground, battered old houses, nasty looking areas, hiostorical ares as good as completely neglected and so on. Jordan is a poior country. It has suffered from a large influx of Palestinian refugees and very large population growth and from being in a very unstable area geo-politically. So, we realise that we have been very fortunate to experience the richness of the multi-cultural life in Syria and Lebanon and maybe this is a good way to transition to what we will find in Africa on the next stage fo our trip.

We are also a bit stuck. We cannot go north to Syria, as we cannot get visas to Syria from Jordan, east is Iraq and is closed, south is Saudi Arabia and is closed, west are Israel and Palestine and we canot go there if we want to enter certain African countries without problems. There is a way west to Egypt and, of course, there is our planned air-route out to Asmara in Eritrea. We were told at the travel agents today that the only way of getting there would be a flight to Cairo with Egypt Air and down to Asmara for USD 470 each. I was rather hoping on a flight through Saudi or Yemen, as we would rather avoid anything to do with Egypt on this trip, so I will need to do some research on the internet to see what other possibilities there might be.

But it is not all bad. We saw the nearly new moon rise above the grey hills of Amman and watched as Venus moved from one column of the clocktower to the other column as we were served mint tea.

And tomorrow, all being well we are out on the road, visiting the desert castles (out east and south-east from the city). And after that... the whole country beckons.

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