Not mad for Madaba - death wish city!!


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Middle East » Jordan » West » Madaba
June 7th 2015
Published: June 26th 2017
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After breakfast there was really nothing more to hang around for so it was time to move on. At the end of the 1km dirt track from the Bedouin camp is a 'B' road. We asked one of our hosts the best way to get back on to the Desert Highway. Do we go back the way we came or continue on this minor road? The answer we were given was to continue on the road for about 20 minutes and we will join a main road that will take us to the Desert Highway. We looked in the direction that the Bedouin was pointing and all we could see was a range of mountains!! We didn't try to ask what the terrain was like. ‘OK' andnot bad'seem to have different connotations in Arabic.

As it turns out, Roisin handled the mountain road beautifully which is more than can be said for our Nissan Micra. Some of the inclines had to be taken in ‘first' as the car even seemed to labour in second gear. Despite this, for half of the route into the mountainous terrain, there was a drop on one side of the roadway giving a sweeping vista of the valley (which at least one of us enjoyed!!), Roisin maintained her focus at all times remaining calm and only swearing occasionally (and not at me) but at our means of transport!!

The scariest moment was when we passed through a village and four children aged about 10 were playing in the road. When they saw our Micra chugging along toward them they purposely moved further in to the road. As we slowed down they banged the bonnet and tried to grab the door handles. My mum warned us not to wander off the beaten track!! Mother is always right!! At this point in time we think our track was well and truly beaten!!

Panic over we found our way to the Desert Highway without further incident. Fuel gauge nearing the red, we stopped at the next gas station to fill the tank up. A full tank of unleaded petrol costs 22JD. (about £20) That equates to 60p per litre. They're practically giving the stuff away over here!!

Up until now we have driven on the highway (equivalent of a UK motorway), a main road and a minor road. We have noticed that every few kilometres regardless of the type of road, there are sleeping policemen. By this I don't mean lazy highway patrols but speed bumps. Even on the highway that has a 110km speed limit you have to be careful of speed bumps. Although there are road signs aplenty one lack of concentration and the little Micra could easily launch in to the air and land on the roof of a roadside kiosk!

From The Desert Highway, we passed the turning for Amman airport and then should have picked up highway 35 that would take us straight to our next destination Madaba. We passed IKEA but no sign for the Madaba turn off. We saw many ‘service road' exits from the highway which we now know to be actual exits. They were every few kilometres but did not specify to where they went. We missed our turning by some 15km but managed to find highway 40 that headed in roughly the direction we wanted to go. We thought we were on the right road but when the road split without warning a choice had to be made. We took the wrong one and ended up in a suburb of Amman, further cussing and several illegal moves later (reversing up one way street and turning right at a ‘no right turn'!) we found ourselves back on the correct road. Finally… a road sign for Madaba.

Now the map we printed from the Internet portrayed Madaba as a small town with only several main roads. On entering the city, our hotel should be on our left.

Madaba – Jordan's second largest city with a population of 60,000, with the feeling that all 60,000 inhabitants were out and about on the day we decided to visit!! Madaba is also renowned for having the most complicated one way system in the whole of the Middle East with a fair proportion of the roads closed to add to this mayhem (I made that bit up but this is how it felt.) Driving around with no clues, we pulled over and I called in at a shish pipe shop. The proprietor was very helpful but spoke little English. He pointed in the direction we needed to go in order to find the St John's Hotel, made a bending movement with his arm to the right and said ‘Circle straight. Left, up hill'.

Circle straight' was no entry' with a steady stream of traffic entering the circle, or roundabout from the direction we wanted to go. Although the man indicated right but said ‘left' Roisin had no choice but to turn and exit left off the roundabouts…downhill!!

We saw a brown sign for the Tourist Information Office so followed these signs for 10 minutes until we hit a junction and the signs magically disappeared. It turns out that we had already passed the Tourist Office as we drove (the right way) down a one way street. The Tourist Office was displayed in bold letters at the entrance to the complex but on the blind side for the motorist driving down this one way street!!!

What was adding to our frustration is that people don't look when they cross the road, they just step out and expect you to slam on the brakes. Cars and vans don't park…they just stop!! These vehicles will just stop in the middle of the (mainly narrow) road, without warning, ignoring the jam they are causing behind.

Madaba has a very high proportion of Catholics. The guidebook states that since there are a lot of Catholics in Madaba alcohol is widely available in liquor stores as well as bars. I'm making no assumptions and am certainly not judgemental as I couldn't think of a better place to be at the moment than with a cool pint of Guinness in an Irish bar. I wound my window down as yet another moron dressed in a traditional dish-dasher and a red and white patterned kheffeh head dress who stepped out in front of the car and I shouted: ‘feckin' eejit!' No response. Ah well! It was worth a try!!

Finally, we found a hill so drove up it, turning in to a smaller street and stopped to ask if we were any nearer. I approached a young man who was standing in the doorway of a mosaic a shop. He spoke perfect English and said we are only a few hundred yards from the hotel but unfortunately the next turning is blocked until 5pm (it was now 2:55pm) He volunteered to take us to the hotel. He then asked Roisin to drive back up the one way street (the wrong way!) or else he could do it. Roisin was happy to hand the wheel over to our new found saviour. A few more side streets, beeping of horns and we pulled up outside our hotel. We had been driving around Madaba for almost 1 hour. The temperature was 36°C and patience had been frayed to the very bone (sorry for mixing my metaphors!!) I offered to pay for the young man's time but he refused point blankly. This has restored my faith in human nature. He only asked that maybe we could visit him in his mosaic shop, open until 7pm. Happy to oblige. We were just so relieved to arrive. Roisin was ready to leave Madaba behind and head straight for the Dead Sea (our next stop) but we were here now. Let's make the most of it.The town of Madaba is as old as the Old Testament itself getting a mention in the Bible in Joshua 13:9. "from Aroer, which is on the edge of the Valley of the Arnon, and the city that is in the middle of the valley, and all the tableland of Medeba as far as Dibon". No mention of the one way system or that its inhabitants had a death wish! During its rule by the Roman and Byzantine empires from the 2nd to the 7th centuries, the city formed part of the Provincia Arabia set up by the Roman Emperor Trajan to replace the Nabataean kingdom of Petra.

The staff at The Hotel St John were very helpful. They provided us with a map, albeit another expurgated version. There are 2 main sites we intended to visit that were in walking distance: St Georges' Church and The Shrine of the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist (otherwise known as the Church of St. John)

St George's Church was a short walk down a hill. This church is of great significance as it houses the Madaba Mosaic Map. This is a map of the region dating from the 6th century and preserved in the floor of the Greek Orthodox Basilica. There are allegedly two million pieces of coloured stone that make up the mosaic. The map depicts hills and valleys, villages and towns in Palestine and the Nile Delta. The mosaic contains the earliest extant representation of Byzantine Jerusalem, labelled the "Holy City." To be honest, the whole thing was a little underwhelming as it was difficult to get a fair representation of the mosaic due to its size. Furthermore, much of the mosaic was missing and the ‘blanks' filled in by plaster. This was not mentioned in any research we made. After all, who wants to look at a jigsaw with many of the pieces missing!!!

We strolled around the narrow streets for about another 40 minutes. It should have been less but here, the streets have no logical formation making it very disorientating to those who have a very good sense of direction. Every street we turned into was crowded with stores and shoppers with many stores displaying their goods; anything from carpets, soft furnishings, bric-a-brac, tyres, shoes, clothes, refrigerators on the already narrow pavement. This made it difficult to pass and on several occasions had to walk in the road!! (when in Rome..!!!)

Our highlight of this walk was seeing a sign for a Ladies Hair dressing Salon. The sign sported a head shot of a model wearing the latest coiffure, large Arabic writing then underneath in English, the sig·n read: ‘LAYAN. Salon for Ledies!!' That brought a smile back to our faces that was rapidly melting away.

On heading back to the hotel we tried to find the store of our mosaic man saviour from earlier but so many shops and not a mosaic in sight.

We were both feeling rather tired by this point and although the Shrine of the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist was literally next door to the hotel we both agreed to give this one a miss and head back to the comfort and air conditioning of our hotel room.

We ate in the hotel this evening whilst listening to the Imam calling everyone to prayer. Once he stopped, the evening mass could be heard quite clearly from the nearby Church of St John.If was if they were trying to have a 'sing off'!! The Church of St John boasts an acropolis and a bell tower but Roisin said to me through a mouthful of fettuccine: ‘We can save this until next time', knowing quite well there is unlikely to be a ‘next time'!! Amen to that brother!!!


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9th June 2015

I think this is, if not your best holiday, your best blog in a while. Just think how much more stressful your drive would have been if you had had to endure Ikea! Chin chin! Truce
9th June 2015

I guess that is just a section of it (nice carpet!). Pretty sure it is one of the ancient treasures of the world. You two are really going for on this holiday, with the intrepid-couple-in-a-little-red-hatcback thing. Keep up the good work.
10th June 2015

Thanks for the kind comments Truce. I have found it more difficult to produce the goods due to lack of 'down time' that I normally get on cruises. Perhaps its an indication that I work better under pressure and to tight deadlines. Give my r
egards to Mrs G and the 19 kids!! (she should start a blog of her own!)
10th June 2015

I think all travel writers should aim to the standards set by Hunter S Thompson. Although loading the boot of your car with prescription drugs and driving across the desert may be possible in your current locale it is probably not wise. Mr
s G is currently in therapy for Candy Crush addiction - a state brought on by the difficult birth of child 19. She's got no time for blogging. T
11th June 2015

IKEA!!!! The right colours :-)

Tot: 0.4s; Tpl: 0.023s; cc: 12; qc: 31; dbt: 0.0177s; 1; m:saturn w:www (104.131.125.221); sld: 1; ; mem: 1.4mb