Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Jordan - Part 1...


And a good evening to you from across the Pond after another GREAT DAY in the Mother Country. Okay, as promised, it's time to kick off the recap of Jordan, a truly AMAZING country, complete with some CLASSIC Team Taylor moments. I'd also like to take a moment to welcome some potential first timers to the Adventures of Mr. and Mrs. Assignee 47 - my new Explore travel family! Welcome to the madness, guys - hope you enjoy and that I do the trip justice.
And so, let us begin (insert the song "Arabian Nights" playing in the background as the opening credits roll...):
Saturday: What do you mean by the word "oversold?"
So Saturday started with all the promise in the world - a 12:50 PM flight, a cheap taxi at the end, some dinner in Amman, and then some sleep. We maintained this merry bubble of fiction all the way until we arrived at the BMI check-in desk and tried to check in. Oddly enough, the computer noted us as: "Standby." Thinking this to be a computer glitch, I politely asked the BMI greeter for help. Her response (in some form of gypsy English) was "go to the counter - she will help." Thanks...thanks for that. So we go to the counter, and the conversation goes something like this:
BMI Lady (BMIL): "Hmmm...this flight is MASSIVELY overbooked, and you guys are pretty much the last ones to check in."
Confused Sammy (CS): (checking watch) "But it's still more than 2 hours before the flight departs."
BMIL: "Yep - this flight always fills up. There's no way you're getting on this flight."
CS: "But this is our confirmation. We are ticketed on this flight."

BMIL: "Tell you what I'll do. If you agree not to wait as a Standby passenger, I'll book you both on Royal Jordanian and give you 250 pounds for the wait."

CS: (skeptical) "Cash in hand?"

BMIL: "Yep - paid to you right now."
CS: (in shock) "And when's that flight?"
BMIL: "3 hours from now."
CS: (quietly, as though accepting defeat) "Well, okay. I guess we'll take it." (stomach does summersault with happiness)
So we walk over to the BMI counter, expecting our payment of 250 quid. What we hadn't realized, however, was that the offer was 250 quid PER SEAT! That's right - 500 STERLING TO WAIT 3 HOURS!!!!! When the guy at the counter said "so that's 500 quid, yeah?" Jenny and I both nodded and then held our breath (po-po-po-poker face, po-po-poker face...mamamama). However, the second we had the money, we both turned around and said "HOLY SHIT!!!!" Honestly, I'm still chuckling about this, as I think it was our greatest coup EVER.
The flight on Royal Jordanian was AWESOME, even if the movie selection was DONKEY TRASH. "Predators" was like drinking gasoline whilst chewing on razor blades. Yeah - it was THAT bad. Same for "Salt" with Angelina - the freeway scene with the trucks. Really? REALLY?
We arrived into Amman around 11:30 PM, and since the airport is basically in SYRIA we didn't get to our hotel until 1 AM. All good, however, as we promptly PASSED OUT, content with the 500 quid burning a hole in our pockets.
Sunday: Why the hell is Arab dude playing the bagpipes?
4:30 AM. That is a timestamp you need to get REAL familiar with in Jordan. Why? Because that's when the first Call to Prayer happens EVERY DAY. Now normally, this isn't a big deal. However, when the mosque's minaret is THIRTY FEET FROM YOUR WINDOW WITH A SPEAKER AIMED AT YOU, chances are you WILL wake up. And let me tell you, it was like hearing the opening to Sting's "Desert Rain" EVERY MORNING.
I did fall back to sleep, however, waking up around 9ish. We had brekkie in the hotel, at which time we met this CRAZY Mexican lady who was spending a week in Amman and then driving around the country. Seriously, she tapped on Jenny's shoulder during breakfast to ask if we knew driving directions to the Roman ruins of Jerash. I mean, looking at my redneck ass, WHAT PART OF YOU THINKS I WILL KNOW THE ANSWER TO THAT QUESTION? In retrospect, I should have just said - go to the 4th traffic circle and make your 3rd right - continue for an hour and you're there. However, as that might have sent her to Yemen, perhaps saying "Sorry, no clue" was the right approach.
We spent the day in Amman, taking in the 2 big sites: the amphitheater and the Citadel. The amphitheater was nice (and CHEAP!), and we spent probably 45 minutes there just chillin' (translation -after walking up those steps, we were too lazy to wander back down). We then walked across the streets (with no discernable traffic laws of any kind except kill or be killed) of downtown and started up Everest...I mean the hill to the Citadel, home to the ancient Roman acropolis and the 8th centure Umayad palace.

We were almost to the top when 4 guys, observing we were OBVIOUSLY tourists (can't imagine how), stopped us and pointed to this hidden staircase/shortcut toward the hill. There was a moment of "is this a practical joke" as I noticed that the staircase cut through people's houses and was heavily guarded on both sides by feral cats, but we figured why not. Sure enough, the staircase deposited us right along a break in the Citadel fence, meaning that we got into the site for free!!! Winner winner chicken dinner!

We walked around for a bit, admiring the ruins adn marveling at the sheer sprawl of Amman. Consisting of something like 2.5 million people, Amman is a vast city, without a level step of pavement ANYWHERE. It's also fairly devoid of color, as all buildings were either brown, beige, sandstone, or gray.
The highlight of the Citadel: Jenny and I are having a truly Jordanian moment - staring at the flag whipping in the breeze, the call to prayer dying out across the city, the cloudless blue sky warming us, and the history of this place all around us - when we suddenly hear bagpipes - yes, BAGPIPES - being played. We turn around, and sure enough, this Jordanian cat is WAILING on the bagpipes right by the old palace. It was like I was in Edinburgh for Tattoo or something. I gave the guy 50p, for the record - money VERY well spent.

After that Jenny and I snuk out through that same hole in the perimeter. We then spent the next 90 minutes LOST (J.J. Abrams style) as we tried to make sense of our TWO maps, neither of which had a)more than half of the streets listed or b) had even a quarter of the streets written in English. However, after an hour and a half of walking in the Himalayas, we FINALLY found our street, arriving at our hotel famished and desperate for hummus and mint tea. We then nibbled for bit before rolling to dinner, which was this AWESOME place that offered shwarma for less than 3 quid! BRING IT ON, BABY!!!!

We got back that night at 7 PM, which was the designated time to meet our local guide. However, when he hadn't arrvived by 7:20, I rang brother Ishmael up to see where he was. Again, the coversation:
Brother Ish (BI): "Hello, this is Ishmael."

Sammy the Bull (STB): "Ishmael, my name is Sam Taylor. I was told to meet you in the lobby to do our orientation for the Explore tour."
BI: "Ah, yes - we are not doing that now."

STB: "Okay - When are we doing it."

BI: "We are not doing it. People are late. So we cancel it."

STB: "Oh, okay - I guess there was a note at reception."

BI: "No - we just cancel."
STB: "GREAT! So what do I do tomorrow?"
BI: "Be ready at 11 AM tomorrow. They will explain everything.

That night we slept like a babies again, ready to get the tour cracking in earnest.

Monday: KILL HIM!!!!
So Monday started with another breakfast of falafel balls, harissa, hummus (you'll notice that it's a staple of EVERY meal), some juice, and pickled vegetables. Seriously - they pickle EVERYTHING here - radishes, onions, carrots - you name it. And it's all guuuuuuuuud.
We showed up at 11 and met a few members of our group tour. And just as I was thinking a) it's a small group and b) homeboy Ishmael is late YET AGAIN, the rest of the gang showed up, telling us that they'd been told the departure was 11:30. It should be noted that, at this point, I was LESS THAN IMPRESSED with the tour company. From this moment forward, however, they did NOT disappoint.
The featured activity of the day was the ancient Roman city of Jerash, one of the key cities of the Decapolis. Billing itself as "the world's best preserved Roman city" (which, incidentally, do about 28 other Roman cities - I think we need a Zagat rating on these puppies), this was a very neat spot, complete with an ancient hippodrome, lots of intact columns, some amazing temples, and a couple of very neat entranceways. However, all of this PALED in comparison to the featured activity - the Gladiator and Chariot show (insert Helen saying "Yes, the cheese began here...").
So here's the deal - we arrived at this place, at which point they sat us down for lunch. As Puffin and I'd just eaten a scant 45 minutes before, we passed on the food, angling instead for a trip to the Gladiator show (coming highly recommended by both Yazz and some random Kiwi couple we'd met the night before). Once we met up with our tour guide and the rest of our group (they'd just arrived from Syria), quite a few of us made the 5 minute walk over to the Hippodrome for a spectacle more thrilling than Russell Crowe with no shirt on, Ben-Hur's chariot race, and GM's recent IPO all put together! Hail, Caesar! We who are about to die, salute you!
So the show was, well, CHEESE BALL 5000. Seriously, you've got dudes who look like they've been hitting the sauce for hours (but since you can't FIND booze in Jordan, they were probably loaded on mint tea) staggering around in formation. If the Persian army had met these guys at Thermopylae, "300" would have been a pretty short movie. The information was good. The acting was like something off "Who's line is it, anyway?"
We then moved onto the Gladiators, where the audience was always given the choice of letting each Gladiator live or die. I of course voted for death EVERY TIME, but I went 1 for 4, when they "killed" the last fallen Gladiator (these special effects were on par with Twilight - where's Edward when you need him?). Lastly came the chariot race, where we watched 3 poor emaciated horses kick up enough dust to block the sun for about 6 weeks. My poor clothes - they'll never be the same ever again. All the same - very glad we did it.
The next 2 hours were GREAT, as our guide Mohammed gave us a great tour of Jerash, including a visit to the amphitheater which featured what I was now taking to be a staple in this country - an Arab dude rockin' the bagpipes! I just wanted to put my Kilt on, paint my face, and go sack York.
After the trip, it was back to the Toledo Hotel, where we had our proper introductions, got our safety briefing, and then went out with some of the folks for dinner (same place as the night before - you can't argue with cheap!). However, as is often the problem with Sammy and cheap food, the Bull ordered TWO ENTREES, killing them both and then sitting at the table in utter misery for the next half hour. Mom - it wasn't Peddler style, but it was definitely a clinic. :-)
Okay, I think that's enough for round 1. 2 more parts to Jordan will follow.
And last but definitely not least - HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MY ARCH NEMESIS!!! That's right, folks, Dinger turned the big Larry Bird today. Welcome to the club, brother!!! But seriously - I'm still gonna break you.
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Sam and Jenny

No comments:

Post a Comment