Wednesday, July 07, 2010

2010 Vacation: Jordan - Day One - Amman

Monday, Day One of our tour, started at midnight for me.  I couldn't sleep.  I suppose it wasn't a very good idea to sleep on the airplane.  I went in and out of consciousness all night.  The Wife was smart and took an Excedrin PM.  I would have been totally irritated by my insomnia except for one thing: at 3:35 AM I heard the Call to Prayer.  It wasn't as loud as I expected it would be.  It sounded ghostly, ephemeral, and quite beautiful.  In Amman the call to prayer is a uniform recording that is started at the exact same time for all mosques.  The result is an harmonious citywide chorus.  Outside of Amman the call is sung live and the many different voices are more cacophonous.

After breakfast (beef bacon ?!?) we met our guide for the next six days -  Suhaib Al Nweihy.  Suhaib was twenty-something wearing a polo shirt with his collar turned up.  He looked like some bar hopping gigolo.  He turned out to be a nice guy and fairly knowledgeable.  He led us to a minivan where we met the first of our tour mates - MSD.  MSD was a retired civil servant from San Diego.  She would be the only other American on the tour.  She would also be our only companion for the next two days.  Ultimately our group would consist of twelve people of six nationalities living in three different hotels.  Our group would not be completely together until the afternoon of day three.

The first stop of the day was the Citadel.  Amman is built on a series of hills in the east mountains.  The Citadel, a group of Iron Age, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman ruins, is located on one of those hills.  The Roman city built here is called Philadelphia and was one of the Decapolis Cities.  This is where we were first exposed to the mixture of cultures that make up the history of Jordan.  Everywhere we went it was mainly Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman.  The ruins were my first Roman ruins and were very interesting.  After touring the grounds we went through the small but well stocked museum that included some of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Temple of Hercules
After leaving the Citadel we travel into one of the many valleys/canyons criss crossing the city to the Roman amphitheater.  The place has a capacity of 6,000 people.  The Wife and I climbed up to the top, not an easy feat in 85°F heat.  Along the way I looked for a geocache that was supposed to be hidden there.  We didn't find it and the cache logs appear to indicate that it's been gone for a while.

Roman Amphitheater from the Citadel
At this point our guide said that we had a free afternoon.  This came as a surprise as I didn't realize we had a free afternoon scheduled.  On the way back to the hotel we passed a shopping district and some of the more modern areas of Amman.  The guide explained that most buildings were built of Jordanian limestone which gives it the sandy beige - white -rose color.  Amman is sometimes refereed to as the white city.

At the hotel we decided to do a couple of things.  We found out that we were not visiting a mosque on this tour so we would visit one.  We also decided to go back to the shopping area we'd passed to do some shopping.  This is also where I had a pang of insecurity and a mild panic attack.  What is it about being in a foreign country in a taxi that sets the hair on the back of my head aloft?  What's worse, I would have to ask questions ... the horror.  Fortunately I got over my hissy-fit and we got on with our business.

We went to the hotel desk and asked about a taxi.  They suggested hiring a taxi as a city guide for about 15 JD per hour.  We went out front and the bell hop called a taxi over.  Talking with the driver (in English of course) we negotiated for 25 JD for two hours of his service and off we went.

Our first stop was the King Abdullah Mosque, a mosque we'd passed on the way to the Citadel.  The taxi parked opposite the visitor's center.  The traffic was fairly heavy and I wondered how we would cross.  Before I could wonder for long, the driver just stepped out into the street and walked across.  The cars didn't stop.  Horns were not honked. He just walked across like there was no traffic and the traffic avoided him.  I decided, rather foolishly, that I could do that too and I just walked out across the street.  It felt a little like playing Frogger without the stress of being hit.  When I reached the other side, frankly, I was amazed that I hadn't been run over.  I looked at the Wife who was still on the other side.  It became obvious that she was not as crazy as I was.  The taxi driver, also realizing what was happening, stepped back into traffic and managed to stop the traffic so that the Wife could cross.  Crazy.

First stop at the mosque was to get some coverings for the Wife.  She was given a black robe-thingy that covered all but her face.  Then we walked through a small museum featuring models of other famous mosques all over Jordan.  We picked up a brochure that explains Islam and, most interestingly, condemns those who "have done gruesome and criminal acts in its name."  This was followed by the main attraction, the interior of the mosque.  We had been a little strategic in picking the time of our visit, planning it to be between times of prayer.  We took off our shoes and entered the main prayer area which was empty except for three or four men praying.  It felt a little like a round church without pews.  A niche in the wall, where the Imam would preside, was set in the direction of Mecca.  The dome was ringed in stained glass.

We then went to the room where the women pray.  Unfortunately I didn't realize where we were going.  The Wife went in as I approached (I was taking exterior pictures).  Our taxi driver took off his shoes and then put them back on.  I took off my shoes and went in.  The taxi driver then took off his shoes again and followed me in.  There was only one women in the room but the Wife said that she had an horrified look on her face (again, I was taking pictures and missed the look).  Next thing I know a woman police officer came in and ushered us out.  She also chewed out the taxi driver.  When I realized what was going on I looked at the taxi driver and said "You could have stopped me."  He just shrugged and smiled sheepishly.  We were a little embarrassed.

Our next stop was shopping.  Unfortunately to the taxi driver this meant taking us to one of his friend's store.  While it was a very nice store, it was obvious that it was also overpriced.  I sort of let him know with my look and manner that I wasn't very happy.  He knew exactly where we'd wanted to go and was just trying to make some extra money on the side for his friend.  We bought some small trinket and the Wife wisely used this chance to find out what overpriced looked like in Jordan.  This helped us find some better deals later on.

Back in the Taxi and off we went to the shopping area that we'd seen earlier in the day.  We stopped and the driver showed us a shop that he said was pretty good.  We walked the street a bit before returning to this store.  Fifteen minutes later, after talking with a real salesman, one who probably watched too many westerns,  we had some Christmas shopping done and we got pretty good deals on all of it, I think.

When we got back to the hotel we were a half hour over our two hour time allotment.  To the driver's credit he did not ask for more money and stuck to our original agreement.  We recognized the honesty by paying the original 30 JD and added a tip on top for him.

Later that night our guide picked us up and took us to Kan Zaman, an Ottoman trading post whose stables had been converted into a restaurant.  Here we had another buffet but it was a more authentic Jordanian food experience than what the hotel offered.  We invited our driver (Mohammed) to join us and we had interesting dinner conversation over interesting food.  I would never have guessed that I would like lamb in a yogurt sauce (Mansaf) but I was surprised.  I'm not sure I can say I liked it but I can say that I had no problem eating it.

After eating I took out my camera and took pictures of the stone domed arches and the impressive dinning hall.  I decided to check out a few of the other pictures I taken earlier that day.  That is when I discovered that my camera would not display several pictures.  Actually, of the 167 pictures I'd taken that day, only about 35 to 40 were viewable.  My heart sunk.  I had an extra battery but I did not have an extra SDHC card. On the way back to the hotel I asked the guide if we could stop somewhere to buy a new card on day two of our tour and he said we would.

That night I spent about an hour in the business center trying to see if the pictures were good or bad.  Unfortunately there was no RAW viewer capable of viewing the pictures I took.  Everything looked okay.  The files were there and they varied in size like pictures would.  I didn't accomplish much except to infect the camera card and my thumbdrive with Viruses/Trojans.  I went to bed, after taking an Excedrin PM, hoping that the pictures would be there when I got home.  I slept better that night - better than I expected I would - while it was the Wife's turn to hear the call to prayer at 4:00 AM.  (The time of the call to prayer is based on the rise and set of the Sun so it varies as the day lengthens and shortens.)

The Wife and I have come to the conclusion that my camera problems were punishment for entering the woman's mosque.

The few pictures I took that survived can be found in my 2010-07 Jordan Google Photos album.  What is missing is most of the Citadel, the museum (including pictures of the dead sea scrolls), the roman amphitheater up close, the King Abdullah mosque, the Kan Zaman, and, most disappointing, the seven goat heads lined up in a butcher's window.  As I post, I will add more pictures to the set.

4 comments:

  1. I agree, step into the woman's mosque and your film fries.

    It sounds amazing, and I like how you describe it. "Frogger" sounds terrifying, and your taxi driver was really great!

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  2. Miss McC: He was a pretty good taxi driver.

    The wrath of Allah!

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  3. Knowing myself, I would have had a hard time leaving the historical ruins. I geek for that stuff.

    Sounds like a good start, and a decent cabbie for the afternoon. As any of us who have watched The Amazing Race knows, that's not always the easiest thing to find!

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  4. GH: The Citadel in Amman was pretty cool. You would have liked it.

    How true about the cabbie.

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