The Only Frustration of the Entire Trip


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Middle East » Jordan » North » Amman
April 12th 2014
Published: June 12th 2017
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Mosque Directly Behind Our HotelMosque Directly Behind Our HotelMosque Directly Behind Our Hotel

Taken from roof-top restaurant where we had breakfast.
Geo: 31.9494, 35.9329

While our hotel was located across from the Church of St. John the Baptist, it was also equidistant from a mosque, from which the 4:30am call to prayer was loud and clear. While both K and I were at least slightly jarred away, Anna slept through it completely. Trying to force ourselves onto the new time zone (seven hours different than Virginia) and not lose any time, we got up around 7:30am and were all relatively bright-eyed after showers and breakfast in the hotel's roof-top restaurant.

I went down to the Front Desk before breakfast and asked if they could call the rental car agency for us, to arrange the car-exchange promised the night before. No one answered the mobile number they provided, and the main rental office was closed. The hotel manager was extremely helpful, and finally reached someone about the car. They said they could have one there in two hours, but we didn't want to wait, so I told them I'd meet them in Amman. We were driving north that morning anyway. While we weren't going to spend time in Amman (not much to see), I did want to see my old houses and the embassy. The car rental place claimed it would be "impossible" for us to find their office, so they offered to send a driver to meet us at 7th Circle. Amman is built on a series of seven hills. The old joke was that, like Rome, Amman was built on seven hills, but unlike Rome, Amman was built in a day. The circles refer to traffic circles, and 1st Circle is the heart of old Amman, while 7th Circle (when I lived there), was a huge circle on the very edge of town, surrounded by fields and olive groves. I had no trepidation when we set off for the 20-minute drive to Amman, and I didn't even bother to look at a map or enter anything into the GPS. This was a mistake.

I cannot overstate the scale of growth in Jordan in general, and Amman in particular since I left in 1993. I'm still staggered as I think back now. I used to live on 5th Circle, which was sparsely populated. They were trying to encourage growth of this area of town, called Abdoun, as a diplomatic enclave. The U.S. built their new embassy there -- in the middle of a field, with bedouin tents -- literally -- behind it. I was there when the embassy opened in 1992. As we left Madaba and drove toward Amman, the fact that there was no longer a real break between the two cities should have told me something. I followed the main highway into town, but quickly realized that I recognized nothing. We were driving through miles and miles of town which had not existed 20 years before. I was completely disoriented and did not recognize the names of any of the areas of town listed on the highway signs. Also, as before, Amman has no street addresses. While they have made progress installing some street names, there is no mail delivery and no one has a physical address. Everything is done by PO Box, and you have to describe to someone where you live. This only compounded the problem. As it was, we literally stumbled upon 7th Circle, which is now a bustling urban hub surrounded by high-rise buildings, where before there had been goats grazing. As promised, there was a man standing amidst a sea of cars, waving us down. We pulled over within the chaos, and I was disheartened to see that he arrived in the same make and model car as we were already driving -- a Peugeot 206. This "new" car, however, was in even worse shape than the one we had. I explained that we had no desire to swap into the same car, particularly after he showed us the "trick" to open our trunk. When I told him we weren't going to bother changing cars, he looked very relieved and commented, "that is good, as the brakes on this car are no good." Not exactly the comforting words for which I was looking.

While I was not satisfied with the car and time was ticking away, I still wanted to change cars, as I had concerns about covering as much ground as were going to in such a poor car. I noted that EuropCar had a branch in the Kempinski Hotel (the fact that Amman even has a Kempinski, let alone a Four Seasons and "W" now, still amaze me...but I digress). I punched the hotel into the GPS and decided to give them a try. It was only a few minutes to get there, but Anna had a learning experience when we had to go through a security check to enter the hotel parking lot, which included them using mirrors to check under the car. I explained that this happens a lot overseas, and that I used to check my own car in the morning before driving to work when I lived there, but i don't think she felt any better about it. We had to go through another security check inside the hotel, which did kind of surprise me, but I was at the EuropCar desk soon enough. I explained the situation to the gentleman, who apologized, as he had no cars of his own left. He called his "city manager," who said that he had a larger car ready for us to swap. He agreed to send one of his workers ahead of us, who we could follow. They, too, claimed that it would be "impossible" for me to find the place on my own. The man we were following had obviously never been to a Western country, has he made the complete assumption that I drove like an Arab and would have no trouble speeding through traffic, passing on any side, and crossing multiple lanes of traffic without slowing down in an effort to follow him. It was a challenge, but I did manage to keep up with him. What had been promised would be a "five-minute drive," turned into 20, and we ended up on the new edge of town, amidst a cement factory and near to several new-car dealerships. I had to agree at that point that I would never have found the place on my own.

We found a brand-new office with four men sitting at desks looking somewhat busy. The manager came out to greet us and said he was getting our car ready, and invited us to sit down. We did, but nothing seemed to be going on, so I asked. The manager then yelled something in Arabic, and another of the men got up and went outside, got into a larger Peugeot model, and drove it around back. It was then obvious that they were not getting it ready for us. We sat...and sat...and sat, with nothing going on. They all continued to sit at their desks and look busy, but I doubt any work was actually going on. I finally said that we were in a hurry and needed to go. He promised "five minutes," but it was quite a bit longer before they brought the car around. When we went out to inspect it, I noted that it was not in too much better shape than the one in which we'd arrived. As it was the only car he had, and given that it was larger and at least looked safer, I agreed to take it. There were a lot of hand shakes and "you are welcomes" flying about as we loaded up. As K sat in the passenger's seat, she discovered that her seat belt would not budge. I tried, and then each member of the EuropCar staff tried in turn, but no one could make it budge. We were asked to wait another "five minutes," which as you can guess was much longer, but a man did eventually return with the car -- and a very large wrench in his hand -- and pronounced the problem fixed. It was, and we were off.

Time had been lost, but I did want to at least go and see the places where I had lived while in Amman. For the first year of my tour, I had a penthouse apartment in a four-story building a block or so from where they were building the new embassy. I had to commute to the existing embassy, which was down near 3rd Circle, but I liked the apartment. Near the end of my first year, they announced that I was being moved into a brand-new villa, which was even closer to the new embassy. I never did learn exactly why they were moving me, but as nice as my apartment was, I was not going to argue with a four-bedroom, three-story villa. We quickly learned that the area of town in which I had lived -- Abdoun -- had absolutely exploded since I left. I recognized next to nothing. We found the U.S. Embassy which I used as a reference point, and I saw that whereas it had sat at the edge of a desert with bedouin tents and goat herds when I left, it now sat at the center a sprawling urban area. I managed to find my original apartment building, but after driving down a myriad of streets, it was obvious that my second house -- which had been brand-new in 1992, had been torn down to make room for mid-rise, high-end apartments. It was a little disappointing, but on one level I was glad to see that Abdoun had turned into the diplomatic enclave they had envisioned.

I sought to get us out of town quickly now, which we did; heading north to the ancient Roman city of Jerash.






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My first apartment in AmmanMy first apartment in Amman
My first apartment in Amman

I lived in the two-bedroom penthouse from 1991-1992
Highway Running Under 7th CircleHighway Running Under 7th Circle
Highway Running Under 7th Circle

This used to all be fields and desert


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