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Published: February 25th 2006
...in the "Rose Red City" of Petra
February 4, 2006 (Wadi Musa, Jordan) Shannon:
The punctuality of public transportation in Egypt that I had admired in an earlier blog evidently did not apply to private ventures, as we learned when we crossed the Red Sea by ferry to Jordan. The ferry, which was supposed to leave at 2 pm, was still moored to the dock well past 4 pm. Hmmm…not a good start. It was a curious “ferry” anyway, more accurately described as a small cruise ship with a car deck acting
in the capacity of a ferry. When we first boarded, leaving our bags down in the cargo hold, we climbed the stairs to the passenger decks. What we found were endless hallways with locked passenger cabins. Where were we supposed to sit for this ride? We finally located a few seats in one of the “cafes” on board and settled down for the duration of the ride, which turned out to be longer than anticipated due to the aforementioned late start. Sean:
We eventually did get underway and thankfully it was an uneventful passage as just a couple days before, roughly one thousand people drowned when their ferry went down in a crossing between
Wadi Musa by day
In the background are the hills that encircle Petra
Duba, Saudi Arabia and Hurghada, Egypt (the place we took the boat from to get to the Sinai just a few days earlier). There is a lot of criticism in Egypt focusing on the fact that the company was slow to notify anyone of any problems and that if they had sounded the alarm earlier they possibly could’ve mitigated the tragedy.
After landing in Aqaba (Jordan’s only port city) around 9 pm and passing through customs we were met with an unusual sight: the gate to exit the building was locked tight. There were about twenty foreigners waiting to get into Jordan and about a thousand cabbies waiting on the other side fighting with each other and yelling through the bars to negotiate prices to different locations. Anticipating this scrum, we had already asked around in the immigration lounge how many people were going to try to head on to Wadi Musa (the town Petra is in) that night, figuring that we could get a group together and negotiate a better price. By the time someone was notified that we couldn’t leave and had unlocked the gate, we had already settled on a good price with some enterprising soul
to take the 8 or so of us north for the two hour drive. This seemed to enrage the other drivers as they realized that he had basically corralled all the good business for himself. And as it became more and more apparent that the supply of cabbies was outstripping demand from disembarking passengers, the drivers got more and more anxious to score some business - it was like watching dogs fight over table scraps. But try as they might to entice us away, none of them could possibly drive us there in groups of two for the same price we had negotiated for the group. This didn’t stop them from trying. Even as we were sitting in the minivan, we were approached and offered rides with people quoting 2 to 3 times what we were going to pay our driver, claiming that they could get us there faster or that we were in an unlicensed cab that would be stopped along the way. When these ploys didn’t work, we watched as heated words were exchanged between our driver and the others, presumably about how he’d stolen all the business. Eventually we headed off into the night, though. Shannon:
Four-legged resident of Petra
Why is it that camels always seem to be smiling? Or is it just me?
Our ride to Wadi Musa was uneventful compared to the brawl that preceded it. The only damper on my spirits was the dawning realization that Petra was going to be much colder than Dahab. As we gradually climbed in elevation, and with some of the front windows open to prevent them from fogging up, my body slowly froze to the seat. When we finally arrived two hours later, all I cared about was finding a warm place to sleep. The cabbie drove us to one of the hotels in Wadi Musa, where he probably got a commission for each of us that stayed there, but I didn’t care. It was clean and cheap. Two qualities I admire in hotels. Of course, the heat we were promised when we checked in came in the form of space heaters but still, it fit the bill.
February 5, 2006 (Wadi Musa, Jordan) Shannon:
After arriving very late last night, we spent the day puttering around Wadi Musa, stocking up on a few things and getting the lay of the land. We managed to find a fantastic bakery (called the Automatic Bakery) which had the coolest machine that rhythmically spat out
Nature made one of the greatest entrances to a city ever.
flat pita bread disks from a chute high above a counter, where a man collected them and bagged them. I should have taken a movie of it but forgot, as Sean and I then became preoccupied by another worker who kept giving us free samples of the baklava. Jordanian people are much friendlier than Egyptians.
Tomorrow we will spend our first day in Petra. We’ve met another traveler, Cheryl, a very nice woman from Canada who we befriended on the ferry from Egypt. She’s staying at the hotel with us and will probably go with us to Petra tomorrow.
February 6, 2006 (Wadi Musa, Jordan) Sean:
We bought a two day pass to Petra and I must say it is a very amazing site. As with Machu Picchu, it’s hard to describe and hopefully the pictures can convey what an awesome experience it was.
You enter by walking about a quarter mile from the visitors center to the start of the As-Siq, a 1.2 kilometer route winding through a narrow canyon which opens up to your first views of the most famous building at Petra, the Treasury. The canyon twists and turns and you definitely
You can tell it's the off-season. How else could you get a picture with just camels in the foreground?
feel as though you’ve earned the right to enter Petra because of the protracted preamble of a journey just to get to the beginning. And setting eyes on the Treasury building after that trek is just tremendous. There are other amazing facades and buildings throughout the 40 square kilometer complex, but this one is not only the most well known, but rightly the crowning jewel of the entire area. Shannon:
Glimpsing the Treasury from the As-Siq is amazing, indeed. I think a lot of people, including myself, first became aware of Petra because of the scenes featuring it in the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
movie (a link that, naturally, is exploited at the tourist stalls outside the site). Having some idea what to expect as we walked through the As-Siq, I was full of anticipation for my first glimpse of the Treasury and can only imagine the reaction of the Nabataean traders of old who had no idea what was ahead when they got their first look at the fabled edifice.
The Nabataeans who built Petra amassed their wealth by controlling the trade routes through Jordan - frankincense and myrrh from Arabia, spices and silks from
Detail of the Treasury
Due to it's somewhat protected location, the Treasury has fared much better than many of the other rock-cut tombs.
India, and ivory and animal hides from Africa. They levied tolls on those passing through and in return offered protection for the caravans laden with goods. As the capitol of their empire, Petra had paved roads, agricultural terraces, a royal palace and vast civic spaces including a 3,000 seat theater, marketplaces, baths, and many temples and tombs. As the trade routes shifted, though, Petra lost its importance and gradually fell into decline.
Most of what remains today to be seen are the rock-cut temples and tombs, the most famous of which is the Treasury (known locally as Al-Khazneh), built as a tomb for the Nabataean king Aretas III. Like most of the buildings in Petra, it’s the exterior that captivates you - the interior is really just a square room hewn from the rock with little or no decoration inside.
One of the astounding things that I learned about Petra was how skillfully the Nabataeans managed their water resources. For an area that receives very little rainfall each year, they devised an amazing system for collecting and distributing water - aqueducts carved into the rock (and in some cases lined with clay pipes) worked in conjunction with reservoirs
Detail of one of the Royal Tombs
As you can see, this tomb has been ravaged by erosion.
and a collection of 200 cisterns to supply this large city with water - one source stated that this system could deliver up to 12 million gallons of water per day. Some of these aqueducts carved into the sides of the As-Siq are still visible. Sean:
After visiting the Treasury, we spent the rest of the day ranging all over the huge expanse and seeing some of the other facades and buildings that make up the sprawling complex. Many of them aren’t in very good shape as, and this is my opinion, what made the soft rock so easy for the Nabateans to carve, probably makes it horrible to preserve. Time and the elements have done a number on the sights with many of them seeming to melt right off the cliff face leaving just a shadow of their original magnificence. Shannon:
Another highlight of Petra that I would strongly recommend to anyone is a program that they call Petra by Night. Scheduled for two nights a week (as long as there is sufficient tourist demand) it allows you to see Petra by candlelight. The night we went, it was almost cancelled due to the fact that so
few tourists were in town; at the last minute, though, they decided to go ahead with it. At the visitor’s center, our guide for the night was introduced; he explained that they had laid out candles along the path from the visitor’s center, through the Siq, all the way to the Treasury building. We would walk the distance in silence, then once we got to the end they would serve us mint tea as we listened to some traditional Bedouin music. And off we went. The night was almost perfectly cloudless with our way brightened by a luminous moon and hundreds of candles glowing through their protective paper bags. We couldn’t have requested a nicer night. Entering the Siq, which we had seen already by the light of day, I couldn’t help but be impressed. Sean:
I’ve heard Petra by Night described as cheesy, but I didn’t think so. We’d already made the lengthy journey through the Siq twice that day so we knew what it entailed: winding, twisting narrow passageways and cliffs that seemed to stretch all the way to the sky. But seeing the path lit by thousands of candles and by intensely clear, three-quarter moon brightness
was almost magical. And since there were only about 20 of us in this very popular attraction you got the feeling, for a few minutes anyway, that even though you’re thousands of miles from home, Petra was reserved just for you; as if you were discovering the site for the first time since the Nabateans left. When we finally reached the Treasury (it was difficult to make it out as it wasn’t lit up), they’d laid out hundreds more candles in an expansive field leading up to the rock carved building. We then drank our tea while the rababah (Bedouin violin) player crooned and dragged the bow across his instrument. The acoustics of the narrow ravine lent to the almost eerie feeling of isolation and longing that the songs themselves were about. When he was done, a flutist dressed in traditional soldier’s garb started playing from inside the Treasury itself. He eventually walked out and, like the rababah player, gave us a little concert from a few feet away. And again the sounds bouncing around the rocks made the music not only louder but mysterious as it floated by you from all angles. Overall, I’d have to say that, while
it won’t change your life, it was a nice touch and worth the extra expense.
January 7, 2006 (Wadi Musa, Jordan) Shannon:
For our second day in Petra, we decided to get there a little later in the morning, since the first rays of sunshine don’t hit the Treasury building until around 9 am. Having made the trip through the Siq a few times the day before, I was already familiar with its twists and turns; with the sun higher in the sky, though, the colors of the rock were completely different than the day before. I suspect that you could make the trip hundreds of times and each would still be unique because of the variation in the coloring of the rocks throughout the day. It truly is a magical way to enter the city.
Even though I had seen it the day before, I still found myself eager with anticipation to see that first glimpse of the Treasury near the end of the Siq. The difference in lighting was tremendous. I had been very impressed with the building the day before, even though we had arrived before the sun lit it up. Today it
Trek to the High Place of Sacrifice
There are an unbelievable amount of tombs in Petra. Though most of the Bedouin have relocated to a nearby village, a few still make their homes in the caves and tombs.
was fairly glowing from the sunlight that was warming the facade and it was truly beautiful.
Since we had spent the previous day wandering through most of the easily accessible sites, we had decided to spend our second day in Petra doing a few of the recommended hikes. Fairly close to the Treasury there is a set of steps that you can ascend to reach the High Place of Sacrifice. It’s a pretty steep climb, though easily managed in under an hour, and brings you to the top of Jebel Madbah. The Nabataeans built an altar at the top for their ritual animal sacrifices; we found that the altar is not nearly as interesting as the views you are afforded from the top. Spread out beneath you is all of Petra, hundreds of feet below. Looking out across the valley, you can also see just the tip of the Monastery, another tomb/temple set high in the mountains above, and which was a hike that we planned to do later in the day.
You have a choice on the way back down - go down the way you came up, or you can choose to go down the backside
Trek to the Monastery
Beautiful hike through canyons and hills...
of the mountain through Wadi Farasa (Butterfly Valley). We chose the latter, which turned out to be a very beautiful hike down through some gorgeous scenery, passing by some little visited (but still impressive) temple ruins. Along the way you pass many Bedouins, mostly all women or children, who sell jewelry and handicrafts along the paths. I felt a bit bad for them - being the low season, they probably did not see many tourists off the beaten track, and we weren’t really interested in buying anything. They were very friendly, though, and we had many offers to join them for tea. We declined repeatedly, but Cheryl did stop to spend the afternoon in their company. As we heard from her later, she had a very pleasant time chatting with them and eventually did buy a few of their wares.
The climb to the Monastery was much more enjoyable, in my opinion, than the climb to the High Place of Sacrifice. We were warned that it would be more difficult; to the contrary, I thought it was much easier. Much like the earlier climb, though, you ascend on steps cut from the rock through some very pretty mountain scenery.
Named for it's later use - they are still not sure of its original purpose, but it is very impressive perched high atop one of the hills in Petra.
The sight that greets you at the top is amazing: the Monastery (Ad-Deir) is very similar to the facade of the Treasury, only much larger and more impressive, I thought. There is a wonderful little café set up directly across from it, too, where you can rest and contemplate its grandeur, which we happily did. The sandstone of the Monastery is not the same rose-red of the Treasury, but the afternoon sun gave it a wonderful golden glow. Though the passage through the As-Siq is a hard act to follow and will probably always give the Treasury an advantage over the Monastery, I felt that the climb to the Monastery was just as scenic and the reward just as great - perhaps even more so because not as many people bother to do the climb here, so we shared the view with only a handful of people. Thus, the Monastery, for me at least, was the highlight of our visit to Petra.
February 8, 2006 (Amman, Jordan) Sean:
The first inkling that something was amiss was when the guy told me that the movie started at “maybe 7pm”. Now we understand that life outside of first world
nations doesn’t necessarily run with Swiss efficiency, but when you are a movie theater you’d think something like a “schedule” would be part of your economic model. Well we showed up around 7pm thinking we’d get to unwind with a good American mindless big budget action flick (read: not too much money spent on the script). The new version of King Kong was elected to fit the bill. Cool. The next suspicion came when the gaggle of men at the entrance started running around, spurred into action by our arrival. Again, life at a movie theater should be predictable and not disturbed at all by a couple of western tourists rolling in. They told us the movie would start in five minutes with the surety of someone who was physically going to start the movie in five minutes. We were brought upstairs and, as soon as we passed through the curtain segregating the hall to the theater itself, were able to witness the other movie currently in progress. Now because this is a family blog I’ll omit the details of that vision, but let’s leave it by saying it was the kind of movie you probably wouldn’t want your mother
Falafel, Hummus, Fuul
The backbone of our meals in the Middle East.
to know you were watching. So they quickly turned that movie off and we were seated by the “usher” who kindly flicked his lighter to show us to our seats in the darkened, mostly empty theater (there were a few gentlemen scattered about and they didn’t seem the least bit upset that what they were watching was turned off). After the agreed upon five minutes the movie came on.
Even though I’d never seen it before I know enough of the story and how Hollywood works to expect that King Kong is not in the first scene rampaging throughout the lost island. Call me prescient, but I’ll go on record to say that I highly doubt the director would’ve used the first scene to show you the “full monty” - all the good bits right off the bat. No, I’m sure he would’ve started a lot slower and even put opening credits together instead of just sticking the damsel in distress into Kong’s hands and had him run around yelling at everything. This “jump to the middle” viewing idea coupled with the horrible sound and the even more dismal brightness and contrast issues assured that we weren’t long for
Found everywhere, this is where we power up on vitamins to offset all of the falafel, hummus and fuul we eat.
this experience. Thankfully this little outing wasn’t all that expensive (a couple of bucks lost) as we walked out to the disbelieving stares of the multitude of workers (who outnumbered patrons) milling about. They’ve got “real” movie theaters here in Amman, but obviously this wasn’t one of them - in retrospect, as we stood outside the theater in the morning, staring at the crumbling façade and badly hand-painted movie signs, it is painfully obvious that we really should have known better. But it wound up being worth a few lines of text so at least we’ve got that going for us, eh? Shannon:
We arrived in Amman (the capitol) today. Jordan is very similar in some ways to Egypt; in other ways it is completely different. It definitely shares many of the customs, foods and social norms with its neighbor to the south; its topography is also somewhat similar in the southern portions that we’ve seen so far - dry, barren desert with low hills and little vegetation. But in just the cursory experiences we’ve had, Jordan seems a bit more progressive. English is widely spoken, more so than we encountered in Egypt, and there is very little pressure
Heaven in a Glass
One of the many fruit juice concoctions we drank. This one was called the Lebanon mix and is a mixture of banana, orange, apple, kiwi, pineapple and strawberry juice. Mmmmmmmm...
to buy anything from people. Here in Amman, storekeepers rarely try to entice us into their stores and I’ve heard “Welcome to Jordan” more times than I can count - and I never get the impression that it is said with any other intent than to actually welcome us to Jordan. People are very friendly, sometimes almost too
much so, such as when they hear your accent and stop you in the street with the hopes of practicing their English. Still, it’s a welcome change from our experiences in Egypt.
In fact, the more that I learn about Jordan, the more I tend to like it. For one thing, it is politically very moderate. The former leader, King Hussein and the current leader, his son King Abdullah II, have both been seen as moderating forces in the Middle East, preferring diplomacy to war in a region that has seen more than its share of fighting. Women enjoy many of the same rights as men, including the right to vote and hold office, though women still lag behind men in actually holding those offices. Family planning is encouraged. It is also a secular country where freedom of religion is written
Sean at the Forum
Just outside the Roman theater.
into the constitution. Add to all of that a high literacy rate and you’ve got a country with a lot going for it. I think we’re going to enjoy our stay in Jordan.
February 12, 2006 (Amman, Jordan) Sean:
We’ve spent the last few days in Amman mostly just hanging out and researching quite a bit online, preparing for some of the other parts of our trip that require extra work and long lead times to accomplish. It’s actually surprising how many of our future experiences involve far-in-advance planning. Riding the Trans-Siberian railway is one example. The Russians make it difficult for foreigners to enter their country so we’ve got to jump through a few hoops long before we get to the border or it’ll be closed like Wally World for us. Shannon:
There are advantages to traveling off-season: better prices for accommodation, fewer visitors mucking up your pictures, and less likelihood of being lost in the tourist hoard. Not that we consciously planned it this way, but Sean and I have been able to enjoy many of those benefits here in Jordan. But upon reaching Amman, we were confronted with one of the downsides of
the “off-season” - the weather. Who knew it snowed in Jordan? I certainly didn’t. It’s been cold enough for a few of the days that we‘ve been here that we decided just to hunker down and take it easy in a café, sipping our hot drinks and doing some of the aforementioned research. On nicer days, we’ve enjoyed going out and seeing some of the sights of Amman. Though a bit few and far between, Amman does have a few interesting things to see. Sean:
In the Roman era this town was called Philadelphia and they had a fairly big outdoor theater. It’s been well reconstructed and we even passed a little time snacking on a picnic lunch imagining the theatrical works that must have entertained the crowds. We’ve heard that, of late, the locals have been using it to stage their own concerts and plays. That would be cool to see, but they’re only held in the summer months. Shannon:
There is also a large citadel on top of one of the many hills overlooking downtown. From there you have a terrific view over Amman, though the wind was blowing so heavily the day we went (and
Temple of Hercules...
...at the Citadel, Amman. It was bitterly cold that day.
we were so cold) that we didn’t stop to admire it for very long. Instead we found refuge in the small but very informative National Archaeological Museum which is situated on the site. It has items spanning all eras of Jordanian history but the highlight for me was their display of some of the Dead Sea Scrolls (reproductions) found at Qumran. Sean:
Now I know Shannon mentioned this earlier, but one great thing so far about Jordan is the people. Not only are they friendly and helpful (without asking for baksheesh) but just about everyone speaks decent English, with quite a few speaking it very well. A big help as my language skills are more ably suited to tramping around the New World. It’s surprising how many people we’ve met that have lived in America: One hotel owner had spent 17 years in Chicago; one cabbie had worked for 7 years in Los Angeles at his brother’s convenience store; and (my favorite story) last night’s taxi driver had only been back in Amman from Ohio for 6 months. It seems - Ajambad regaled us - that he worked at a gas station for many years in East Cleveland (a
rougher part of the city, he assured us) and was forced to flee the States as he’d shot someone and was a wanted man.
I’m a little hazy on the details as our interaction was a brief ten minute journey, but his story was that, while transacting some sort of deal (wink, wink), the customer attempted to “rip him off” and poor Ajambad was forced to open fire with his gat (or heater…or any other romantic word you can conjure up). As near as I can figure, after the judge took away his Jordanian identification (presumably during the bail proceedings so he wouldn’t skip town), he immediately contacted his embassy and pleaded about a dying father back in the homeland and a lost passport. Thirty-six hours later he was in Amman setting up a four year life on the lam. He feels that four years is the magic amount of time (statute of limitations?) until he can return (he’s got a green card and his American son is still there with the ex-wife) and pick up the pieces of his former existence. Questions still remain for me, but I guess it must be pretty easy to fall through the
cracks of a big bureaucratic penal system. Either way, if this anecdote rings a bell for any of our faithful readers from the great state of Ohio, at least you know the rest of the story.
An escapee from the US justice system; yes, these are the characters we meet along the road who help weave our tales.
February 12, 2006 (Amman, Jordan) Shannon:
So it was off to the Syrian Embassy again today. We had tried to go there last Thursday, but that was a fiasco in itself. The location of the embassy is clearly marked on our map but it seems that it has moved in the few years since our guidebook was printed. And then moved again. Which has confused a great many people, all of whom said they knew where it was located and sent us off in varying directions - which made for a very “Abbott and Costello” type morning; instead of “Who’s on First” we played “Where’s the Syrian Embassy” with various strangers. It was a comedy of errors as we took a taxi to one place, then back to another, only to get more directions back to the first
area and to finally find it in a third location entirely…only to find that it had closed in the time it took us to get there. With Friday being the start of the Muslim weekend, that meant that we would have to wait until Sunday (the start of the business week) to come back. But at least we know where it is now….
Our reason for trying to find the Syrian embassy is due to a slight change in plans: we had originally thought that we would fly from Amman, Jordan to Antalya, Turkey. For two of us, the flight would cost about $575 - which is a healthy chunk of change (that buys a lot of chicken shwarma, let me tell you.) But we started hearing from other travelers how lovely Syria is to visit, which made us pause for a moment. Perhaps it would be better to go overland?
There’s always a hiccup, though - isn’t there? It’s the Syrian visa. Somewhere we had heard that we needed to obtain our visas before arriving at the border - supposedly Syria is a country that won’t issue them at the point of entry and there have been
Known in some places as Arabic coffee, Sean downs a few of these a day. Notice the sludge that remains in the bottom of the glass - this stuff is guaranteed to put hair on your chest (not that Sean was lacking in that respect).
reports of people being turned away for not having secured them before hand. So we did a little research at an Internet café and what we found is…complete and utter confusion. It seems that officially, visas for most foreigners (including US citizens) can only be obtained in the foreigner’s country of residence. But the rules have been pretty lax for a long time and until recently, this did not seem to be in effect. At some point, though, Syria decided to start enforcing their policies. But the wheels of any bureaucracy move very slowly and in this case, enforcement has been haphazard at best. A few travelers report being able to secure a visa at the border, though many more report being turned away, while still others reported being able to secure visas in Cairo, Amman, or Ankara (Turkey). With the general consensus being that the whole issue is currently being enforced capriciously, we decided to try our luck at getting a visa at the embassy here in Amman. Hence this morning we found ourselves yet again at the doors to the Syrian Embassy waiting in line trying to procure a visa. When it was finally our turn, we handed
A common winter drink in Jordan, this is a thick milk beverage, slightly sweetened, with cinnamon and coconut and sold in to-go cups everywhere. Yummy...
our passports to a very helpful young woman who thoroughly scrutinized our passports for any hint of having traveled previously to Israel (travel to Israel or any hint of onward travel there will preclude you from ever stepping foot in Syria. Yes, they are serious about this). Satisfied that we were without that black mark, she then gave us an application and told us to come back with passport photos and copies of our passport. Elation! At least she hadn’t turned us away, right? It sounded like a good sign. Several hours later, having finally found a place that would do passport photos and filled out all the related paperwork, we returned our applications. The same woman accepted them, looked them over and told us she would call us at the hostel when our visas were ready. Could it really be that simple? We silently gave each other a high-five with our eyes. We thanked her and started to walk away, then thought that we should ask how long it would take so that we could be prepared for the phone call - would it be later this afternoon, we wondered? “How long does the process normally take?” we asked.
“No more than a week, in sha’ Allah
(God willing)” she replied. A week
? Sean and I looked at each other but didn’t say anything. We were thinking it might take a day
, maybe two days on the outside. But a week? We hadn’t planned on staying that long in Amman. Maybe we could give it a few days and see how it goes.
February 14, 2006 (Amman, Jordan) Shannon:
Sean and I celebrated Valentines Day by doing laundry in the hostel’s bathroom sink and then watched a pirated copy of “King Kong” on the laptop. The former is because we couldn’t find a laundry here in Amman to do our clothes; more accurately, we couldn’t find a cheap
laundry here in Amman. Our hostel will do it for us, but they charge by the piece like many other places we’ve seen in the Middle East. And we learned a nasty lesson in Petra when we had our laundry done by the piece there and the total bill came up to 16 JD - about US$22.50. Jeepers!!! That’s a lesson you only have to learn once. They charge about US$0.35 - 0.40 each for small items (socks,
The Jordanian Royal Family
Pictures of the leaders (and their families) are a common sight in every Middle Eastern country. Just about every business has at least one photo prominently displayed.
underwear, etc) and about US$0.70 - US$1.40 for larger items (shirts, pants, etc.). Coming from Central/South America, where they charge by the load (for $2 or $3), it seemed crazy when we hit Egypt and they charged by the piece. But still, even there we never paid nearly that much to have some clothes washed. It’s crazy, when you think about it - on the streets of Amman you can buy a new pair of socks for little more than what it costs just to wash them. So until we hit a land of cheap laundries again, we’ll wash all our small stuff ourselves.
But hey, we’re practically saving
money by watching pirated DVD’s. Our first experience with buying pirated movies on the street was in Bolivia where we bought three (3!!!) first-run movies for US$1.20. Now, we weren’t expecting much - and that’s what we got. The sound was complete crap and the camera angle was horrible; we won’t even discuss picture quality. So we swore it wasn’t worth it. But then here in Amman, we kept passing all these stalls selling still-in-the-theater movies. The photocopied graphics were a lot better - and all the English words were
spelled right - so we decided to give it another shot. For US $2.00, how bad could it be? First we bought Walk the Line
, the Johnny Cash movie with Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. To our great surprise, it wasn’t too bad. The sound was a little hard to hear, but the picture quality was more than adequate. So we figured we would buy something else - maybe an action movie with less dialogue, just in case the sound sucked. So we got “King Kong”. And now we know what Hollywood is afraid of when they talk about pirated movies - both the quality and the sound were excellent. Sean:
Name a movie playing in a cinema - right now - in the States and I’ll guarantee you can buy it on DVD here; good quality, complete with subtitles and language menus…all for two bucks. Obviously our innocence when it comes to this arena of international commerce is plainly evident as we’re like country mice just entering the big city staring at the selection. Now I’m not naïve enough to think that it’s impossible to get this same assortment on the black market in America, but I know
Cheaper than Renting
Here are some of the copyright infringements that we enjoyed.
that they aren’t prominently displayed on Main Street, USA, either. The sellers here aren’t sketchy characters, with one eye on the lookout for Johnny Law, in some back alley operation either. They’re actual stores - some resembling small Blockbuster Videos - with TV’s and players set up so you can assure the quality of the most recent thumb nosing of international copyright protections.
And don’t get me started on the pirated music scene. While the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is using the courts to strong arm unsuspecting grandmothers, the entire world is paying pennies for CD’s of brand new hits. Unfortunately for the industry, they only have sway in the States, but their biggest problems - in my humble opinion - are places like here (which is par for the course as we’ve seen in our travels) where just as soon as the CD is released, the duplicates hit the streets for a mere fraction of what you pay back home…and, not to worry because the copiers stay one step ahead of the anti-piracy protections quixotically put in place by the record companies.
February 17, 2006 (Amman, Jordan) Sean:
Like all the characters who
We just don't do public spaces like this anymore.
go to Rick’s Café Americain, we are stuck waiting for papers until we can leave. The Syrian embassy has yet to get back to us with our visas and until they do, our only option to continue traveling north is to take a plane. We’ve got a little bit of time so it’s not that bad, but Amman isn’t exactly the most interesting city to find ourselves in. It’s not western enough to have all the comforts of home, nor does it have a plethora of historic sites with which to amuse ourselves. But to look on the bright side, unlike the people who go to Rick’s, at least we don’t have to deal with any Nazis…but then again, Damascus (our next stop) isn’t Lisbon either.
So for the last week we’ve been puttering around the area taking day trips to some of the historic sites that surround the city. Shannon:
One of the days we went to Jerash. This is one of the most well-preserved Roman colonial towns in the Middle East. Originally known as Gerasa, it was part of the Decapolis, a series of cities linked by paved roads for commercial, political and cultural interests. It
Bagpipe Concert in the Jerash Theater
Hearing "Amazing Grace" played on a bagpipe in Jordan is a surreal experience.
eventually fell out of favor as trade routes changed and then further declined following the Persian and Muslim conquests of the region. After an earthquake in 749 AD, the town was virtually given up to desert sands. This turned out to be a blessing in some ways - being buried in sand allowed some parts of the city to remain well preserved.
We spent a very pleasant afternoon walking around the site, which has two very well preserved theaters, a colonnaded street and many temples and buildings in various states of repair. One interesting highlight was seeing bagpipers playing in the South Theater, a well-reconstructed theater that seats about 3,000 people. It was certainly the last thing I expected to hear in the Middle East… Sean:
Another day trip was spent going to Karak castle, a Crusader stronghold that was eventually overrun by the Muslims. It sits high on a hill in a very impressive position and parts of it are in pretty good shape. Unfortunately, on the day we chose to go the weather was uncooperative and absolutely wretched. Hail pounded us soundly as we tried to be proper tourists up on the high cliffs. No matter
how often we ducked into an overhang or how long we tried to wait it out, it kept up steadily. Thoroughly soaked, cold and miserable, we eventually gave up and sought refuge in a café for a late lunch. The owner of the shop nicely set up a portable heater next to us so we could dry out a bit while eating. After enjoying a nice lunch of soups and salads (and drying out fairly well thanks to the well-placed heater) we promptly stepped outside where it began to hail again. We took the hint and found a bus to take us back to Amman. Shannon
So here we are in Amman waiting…and waiting. There’s an upside to everything, right? So what is the upside to spending 9 days in Amman so far? Well, we’re getting pretty familiar with our little neighborhood. And some of the shop vendors are getting fairly used to our faces. Jordanians are friendly people (as we’ve said), and we’re becoming a common sight to them. There’s the guy at the falafel sandwich place that always makes jokes - not all of which we understand - and laughs with us (and never lets us leave
without many free falafel samples). And the guy at the Internet café who will talk your ear off but is so well-intentioned that I feel bad trying to get rid of him. And of course, there’s always the receptionist at the hostel who sadly shakes her head whenever we ask if the Syrian embassy has called yet. The list could go on and on…so, while Amman isn’t exactly the most thrilling place to be, at least we’re meeting a lot of nice people.
The Syrian visa issue seems to be a pretty hot topic with travelers - virtually everyone we meet is either trying to get one or had some story about how they did/did not eventually get one. The problem for us, if you could call it that, is that the longer we spend waiting in Amman, the less time we have to spend in other places. We’ve already purchased our tickets to fly to Dublin in April (to meet family), so every day we spend here is one day NOT spent somewhere else - maybe some place more interesting. Sean and I have talked about it quite a bit - if something doesn’t change soon we’ll probably
View from Karak Castle
A great vantage point with which to reign fury down on crusading marauders. Don't let the sunshine fool you - about 15 minutes after this picture was taken we exerienced the full wrath of God as he smited us with hail.
purchase airline tickets and just fly over Syria.
February 18, 2006 (Still in Amman, Jordan) Shannon:
Yesterday we received an email from a Spanish guy we met at our hostel who reported back to us that he was able to secure a visa at the border with Syria. Emboldened by this, Sean and I took off this morning bent on getting across. Everything went smoothly - we had a good bus ride up there, passed through immigration in Jordan without a hitch and things were looking pretty good for us in the Syrian immigration office, too - until our customs officer had to confer with his supervisor. And as soon as we saw his face again, we knew: DENIED. Syria was a stone’s throw away - one little tiny checkpoint - but it might as well have been thousands of miles. “No entry without visa, no visas issued at border.” That was his story and he was sticking to it. And since the line for “Foreigners and Diplomats” only had one customs officer, it wasn’t like we could just try someone else. It was frustrating because we knew - days before - someone else had tried and
You can almost see the hail storm coming for us.
succeeded at this very same thing. But we also knew we had been gambling on this one; we put all our chips on black and the roulette wheel came up red. So it was back to Amman, where we continue to languish away. The Syrian Embassy should be open again tomorrow. So we’ll try there again to see if our application is making any progress. It’s been a week…
February 19, 2006 (Amman, Jordan) Shannon:
Another day, another visit to the Syrian embassy. We chatted with our favorite embassy worker, who pretty succinctly said that if she hadn’t called us, then our visas hadn’t come through yet. She didn’t even shuffle her papers or anything to make us feel better. From the looks of the operation, it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. When we had originally applied, she had given us what appeared to be a many-times-copied photocopy of an English translation application. Since it wasn’t even on any sort of official letterhead, I had assumed that this was a somewhat low-key operation - the kind of place where things move at their own pace and “technology” was not much of an issue. From what I observed of
Sean's favorite sweet treat, it's basically a soft cheese mixture covered with a crunchy coating and then drenched in syrup and sprinkled with pistachios.
other people's interactions, “checking on” an application appeared to consist of one of the embassy workers rifling through a small cardboard box filled with paper. They spoke of these amorphous people in Damascus whose job was to process the applications in the same tone that made me think that, not only had they never met any of these workers, but they had probably never even spoken to one on the phone. For all I know, the “people in Damascus” consist of one underpaid civil servant who only works if he knows someone is watching and spends the remainder of his day perfecting his paper-airplane technique with visa applications and drawing mustaches and glasses on the pictures of the poor souls he never intends to process.
While we were there, though, we did meet a fellow Yank who is currently studying in Amman and has been trying to get a visa to visit Syria. She put her application in 5 weeks ago, so I guess we have little to complain about. But then again, she has something to occupy her days, while Sean and I are running out of things to amuse ourselves with…
STAY TUNED FOR THE EXCITING CONCULSION…
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