The Hashemite Kingdom of Speed Humps

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July 4th 2019
Published: July 5th 2019
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Today we have a very long day of travelling from the Dead Sea all the way to Crete. We are up at 5am just as the sun is rising, and the views of the Palestinian hills as the sun is hitting them for the first time today are stunning.

Google Maps has done an about face since we arrived here about the best way to get to the airport, and this time we head off up the highway towards Amman. This is a lot busier than the dusty backroads we came here on. There are a lot fewer goats and donkeys to worry about, but a lot more trucks, most of which are struggling to pull themselves out of the deep Jordan Valley up to sea level and beyond. I think I preferred the donkeys and goats; they were more predictable.

We are waved over for a police check. My blood turns to ice. I’m sure we must have done something wrong; why would they be pulling us over otherwise. I hope we don’t get arrested. The policeman asks to see our passports, but when I tell him I’ll need to get out of the car to retrieve them from the boot he quickly loses interest and waves us on. A few minutes later we’re pulled over again. This time the policeman asks both of us our names. As often happens he repeats mine as Dive. He seems satisfied that Dive and Isabelle aren’t names that terrorists would be likely to adopt, so he waves us on as well. A few minutes later we get waved over yet again. I begin to wonder whether someone has stamped the word “terrorist” on the front of our car while we weren’t looking. The law of averages says that surely we’ll get arrested at one of these checks. This policeman doesn’t ask us any questions at all, and instead gives us a look that suggests that he thinks we look way too stupid to be effective terrorists. I‘m not sure whether to feel relieved or offended.

Fadi, our guide for our trip down to Wadi Rum and Petra, told us that while the official name of Jordan is the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, it should be renamed the Hashemite Kingdom of Speed Humps. These are everywhere, including at regular intervals on 100 km/h stretches of the country’s main north-south highway. They were close to invisible to us, but Fadi seemed to be very good at anticipating where they all were, and slowing down where necessary to avoid wrecking his car and throwing its occupants through the roof. Now it’s our turn to look out for them. There are long shadows across the road in the early morning light, and these all look like speed humps to us. We find ourselves slowing down to drive across the shadows, but then driving at full speed across the real speed humps. I hope they don’t check the suspension when we return the hire car.

We decide to put our few remaining Jordanian coins in a plastic box at the airport marked Jordanian Orphans Fund. I fail to notice the slot that I was supposed to put the coins through, and they land instead on a small ledge just inside the top of the box. I now need to twist my hand around under a sheet of plastic inside the top of the box to retrieve the coins, and put them in their rightful place. Issy asks me if I realise that a lot of people are now watching me, and whether I appreciate what it looks like I’m doing. I think they chop one of your hands off for stealing in at least some countries in this region, and they might be tempted to lop both hands off if the target is a charity. We move away quickly.

We land in Athens. Everything somehow feels a lot more relaxed than it was in Jordan. The airport is chaotic and nothing seems to work, but everyone still smiles acceptingly. We arrive at Chania in Crete and are met by a representative from the hire car company who introduces herself as Christina. She loads us into a minibus and drives us to her office. She tells us that it was 38 degrees here last week, and then asks us whether we can see the snow on the mountains in front of us. We assume this is a test to find out how stupid we are, but she assures us that there is still snow on some of the mountains, and that we should look out for it when the light is a bit better in the morning. She tells us that some of Crete’s mountains are more than 2,400 metres high.

We arrive at the car hire office and wait while others sign up to hire cars. I’m never quite sure why some people can’t quite seem to accept that all countries have a right to impose their own rules, and that these might sometimes be different to what they’re used to at home. A group of young Americans is outraged that the hire car company is insisting that they have both their international and home country licences with them before they will be allowed to drive here. One of the group, a young girl, comes out of the office shouting “I hate Europe”. If anyone stood in Times Square shouting “I hate America” I suspect she’d be at the front of a queue demanding that they be arrested and executed.

Issy orders a Corona beer to go with dinner, and the waiter tells her that it will come Mexican style, with lemon, but without the flies. He tells us that in Mexico they put lemon in the tops of beer bottles to keep the flies out. The look he gives us suggests that he thinks that we should have known this already. We seem to have been getting a lot of strange looks today. Hopefully we’ll appear a bit less stupid tomorrow after a good night’s sleep.


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