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BandA’s Travel Diary

Tuesday, 16 Dec 2003

Location: Jordan

MapChapter 6
The Final Stage – Jordan

Tuesday December 16, 2004
This morning we said farewell to The Sultan Hotel which we had come to view as our second home, at least in Damascus. Before leaving Australia we had found out that there were no Servas Hosts in Syria or Lebanon but there was one solitary Host in Irbid in Jordan. So today we were heading just over the border in northern Jordan to Irbid. Which we had already learned was not on the main highway between Damascus and Amman but some 30 km to the West of the highway. This meant we could not go on one of the many buses that went from Damascus to Amman. However, from inquiries on the previous day, we knew that there were many “service Taxis” that would be going to Irbid.

After breakfast we walked the 15 minutes to the big bus depot where we readily found a “service taxi” that would “shortly” be heading to Irbid. “Shortly” meant as soon as the driver had found a full carload of travellers. Unfortunately we were the first passengers who were interested in going to Irbid so “shortly” turned out to be a wait almost two hours during which we anxiously looked at every traveller in the hope that they would help fill up our taxi. Fortunately we were not in a hurry.

Our route through Jordan

The road within Syria from Damascus towards Amman was a good divided highway. Much of the country was dry and stony though gum trees had been planted along the roadside and we saw numerous large wheat silos. Besides cereal crops we saw many vineyards and olive groves.

At the border crossing into Jordan we did however have an interesting experience. On showing our passports to the Immigration Officer he started to question us about something but we couldn’t understand what he was asking. We were a bit worried there might have been some irregularity in our visa, etc. After considerable to-ing and fro-ing we discovered that he was studying English in his spare time and he was asking us how you should pronounce “t-h-i-r-s-t-y”. We readily told him and were relieved that we were not going to have similar hassles in getting out of Syria as we had a week earlier at the Lebanese border.

One of the passengers in our service taxi was a Jordanian student who spoke excellent English. She was studying at the Damascus University because fees in her own country were too expensive. Fee concessions were available in Jordan but only if your parents were in the army or were teachers.

Once into Jordan we were pleased to see that signposts were in both Arabic and English and noticed that houses, roads and drivers seemed to be of a higher standard than in Syria. As in the other countries we had visited, we once again noted the high level of street lighting in and around country towns.

Because taxis have no destination sign on them and because the taxi driver didn’t speak English it was a bit of a relief to finally arrive safely at Irbid in the early afternoon. The information we had been given in Damascus that “there were no buses from Damascus to Irbid” proved incorrect. Once again we learned not to believe what you are told, especially when people “have an axe to grind”.

At the Irbid bus station we needed to ring our Servas host, Salem Awad. Fortunately our taxi driver was very helpful and took us to a little kiosk where there was a phone. The taxi driver rang up for us and after considerable difficulty learned that Salem was not at his place of work. Fortunately the person who answered the phone gave us the directions to his office. It was a first floor computer shop next to a bank in the main street and our taxi driver took us there for the cost of $1.

We were told that Salem would be back “shortly” but in the meantime we were entertained by two neighbouring businessmen, both of whom had quite good English. One, Mohammed, ran the computer repair shop and the other was just a good friend who was visiting. He had a sad story to tell. Some years earlier he had, at least temporarily, migrated to the US where he had bought two or three “Dairy Queen” ice cream franchises. These were going quite well so he moved his family to the US also. He had always had an ambition to learn to fly and began taking flying lessons there. For some reason he had returned for a visit to Jordan but when he wanted to return to the US (after September 11) he could not get a security clearance. Jordanians who had been taking flying lessons were not considered a very good security risk! He was very keen for us to help him get a visa to Australia by going with him to the Australian Consulate when we arrived at Amman, so that he could then work his way back to his family in the US. At the time of writing (September 2004) he has still not been able to get to Australia or back to his family in the US.

We had not had lunch so Mohammad was very kind and sent his offsider out to get us a welcome takeaway lunch. After about 2½ hours Salem turned up. Normally he runs a Turkish bath business but a few days earlier he had a bad car accident and had written off the car and badly injured his arm. (As well as managing his Turkish Bath he also drove imported used cars from the border for a car dealer.) As a result his business was temporarily closed but he showed us around the premises.

We did not find the Baths particularly enticing. Perhaps if they had been full of people they would have seemed more attractive. He had to describe it all to us: the massage, the bath, and the fact that men and women had strictly segregated times to attend the baths. As we had earlier discovered, as houses were not usually equipped for bathing, the weekly visit to the Bath House was very important for both hygiene and social contact. We also discovered that our host was very versatile. Although born in Jordan he did a science degree in Bagdad and, prior to the Bath House, he had been managing a hotel.

Before leaving Australia we were getting an email every few days telling us how much he was looking forward to our visit. As it turned out he was a very reticent/shy man and it was very difficult to get any conversation going, even though his English was quite tolerable. Unless Servas Hosts say otherwise it is usually assumed that Servas travellers stay at the home of the Servas Host. In this case we had been expecting to stay at least one night if not two at Salem’s home in Irbid. As it turned out he had made no plans for accommodation at his home or even at a hotel. After he came to meet us he made some phone calls to try and arrange some hotel accommodation for us. To our dismay he came back to tell us that there were only two hotels in Irbid (a town of some 500,000 people)! Both were booked out, as there was a conference on at the time. There was only one solution and that was for us to move on that evening to Amman. Salem kindly rang to arrange accommodation for us at a hotel recommended by the Lonely Planet Guidebook.

Before leaving Irbid we had the opportunity to have a good stroll up and down the main street. We were favourably impressed by the cleanliness of the town compared with Syria and the attractive way in which fruit was set out in the fruit shops. We were most fascinated to see in the butcher’s shop the carcases of “fat-tailed” sheep. Their tails were just a mass of pure fat, reminiscent of a camel’s hump. Prices here and elsewhere were quite a bit dearer than in Syria and we saw more street beggars than elsewhere. Despite this we were impressed with the quality of the shops. When the time came to leave Salem hired a taxi, took us to the bus station and made sure we were on the right bus.

It is always wonderful to have a local direct us to the right bus. As in Syria and also in our African experiences buses start their engines well before they are ready to move off just to indicate to potential clients that the bus is about to leave and theirs is the best bus to catch. This tactic certainly did not deceive us and surely did not deceive the locals. All it did was increase diesel consumption and pollution at the bus depots. Eventually we set off, in the dark unfortunately, but the trip to Amman was uneventful.

On arriving at the Amman bus depot we asked direction to the Hotel Karnak. The first taxi driver said, “It’s only 300m on your right so it’s easier to walk”. By this time we had learned always to get a second opinion. The second said, “It’s much too far to walk” and indicated he was willing to drive us. On asking how much the fare would be he said, “You are visitors, I won’t worry about the taxi-meter”. When we went to get out he said the fare would be $8!! After a lot of haggling we settled for $2.50. We were later told $1.50 would have been a fair price. On checking in at the hotel A realised he had left his walking stick in the taxi. Fortunately we were able to retrieve it before the taxi vanished.

Our room was very large and had a refrigerator and TV but was really very grotty. The staff were friendly but ineffective. We needed to eat but had to go out for a meal and the receptionist could not tell us where to go apart from a vague wave of the hand. We wandered down the busy main street in the dark and eventually found a café where we had soup and also bought a few little biscuits. On the way back we bought water and bread for breakfast. The man at that stall got to know us very well.

Wednesday December 17
Because our original plan to stay in Irbid for one or two nights had been aborted we now decided to go south to visit Petra today a little earlier than originally planned. This would be a three-day two-night trip. As we didn’t think much of the Karnak Hotel we decided to move to an alternative one, The New Park Hotel, on our return to Amman. It was recommended by the lonely Planet Guide and happened to be just across the road. They were good enough to store the bulk of our baggage until we returned to Amman after our visit to the South of Jordan.

Now that we had shed most of our baggage we walked back up the hill to the same bus station where we had arrived the night before but this time to catch a bus to Southern Jordan. As in some other cities they have more than one bus terminal and buses to Petra went from “The Southern Bus Terminal”. As a taxi was about the same cost ($4) as a bus we went by taxi. This turned out well as, when we arrived at the large “Southern Bus Depot”, our taxi driver led us all the way past dozens of buses to the Petra bus. Again we were in luck as it was just about full and left within 10 minutes of our arrival. Petra was about 250 km and for this 4 hour drive the fare was only $8 each. B was the only female on the bus and everyone else (except A) seemed to be asleep. After some distance a young woman got on. There were no spare seats so a man got up to give her his seat. As it was apparently inappropriate for a man to be sitting beside a woman the man in the adjacent seat also stood up so she could sit alone.

The route South to Petra was very desolate, but nonetheless scenic, desert although there had been recent rain and many puddles by the roadside. The main visible industry, in the distance, was the mining of phosphate and potash with huge mullock heaps. There were occasional olive groves and there must have been some irrigation (heaven knows from where) as roadside stalls were selling tomatoes and other vegetables.

We had booked into the Ain Musa Hotel which was 3 km from the town, Wadi Musa. As the bus drove into the village B, as was typical, saw the sign of the Ain Musa Hotel but the driver kept on his merry way into the town. It seemed he wanted to take us to his own favourite hotel (no doubt he would get a commission there). When we convinced him we had a booking at the Ain Musa he took us all the way back.

As we disembarked from the bus we were disturbed to see a great torrent of water gushing down a deep gutter at the roadside. Given the very arid nature of the countryside we thought this was a terrible waste of water. We soon learned that the reason for the name of the hotel, “Ain Musa”–Moses’ Spring–was because the hotel was beside a very abundant spring reputed to be the one that arose when Moses struck the rock with his rod when bringing the Israelites through the desert. The torrent of water down the roadside was not a burst water pipe but just the outpouring of Moses’ spring.

The hotel was simple but quite adequate. It had a capacity of 60 or, if you included space on the flat roof, 100, but while we were there, only one other couple, from Perth, stayed there. We were on the third floor but there was no lift so we got our share of exercise (in preparation for the next day). There was heating in the room although, as in Damascus, it wasn’t turned on until we were going to bed. Once we had settled in we went for a walk up the road. It was good to see at close quarters what we had been seeing all the way from Amman. The “soil’ was just shingly rocks and virtually no vegetation. The drains along the side of the road were littered with broken glass bottles as well as numerous plastic ones. We were impressed however to see that the authorities had planted young trees along the roadside and were obviously hand watering them, at least to get them started. We hoped they survived.

On the way up the road we naturally also visited the spring which is covered by a mosque-like structure. There was the rock with water pouring out of it and forming a pool around it. We could hear the gushing noise all night! There was also a well-stocked souvenir shop with, of course, no customers.

On our return we enjoyed a substantial meal–rice, potato, chicken and salad and then headed off to bed lulled to sleep by the sound of Ain Musa.

Thursday December 18
As our hotel was opposite the local mosque we woke at daybreak–0500—to the call of the Muezzin.

Today we had allocated to visiting the famous archaeological ruins of Petra. Our hotel was very co-operative in that it provided each of us with a generous “lunch box” (bread rolls, boiled egg, cheese, tomato, sausage, fruit drink etc) and also a free taxi ride to the entrance to the ruins.

What can we say about Petra? We had heard so much about it from other travellers, guide books, etc., that we half expected to be a bit disappointed, especially as we had already seen numerous wonderful ruins and were now in the last week of our trip so we could expect to be getting a bit “weary”. In fact. Petra exceeded all our expectations.

Our taxi driver dropped us at the entrance and we headed off following the pointers. In our ignorance we had no idea that we would be doing so much walking and climbing that day. At first we followed a wide wadi where there were numerous men on camels, ponies, donkeys, or with small carts trying to persuade us to ride rather than walk. We preferred to walk but we were left feeling slightly guilty that we had not provided them with the work they so desperately needed. Also across the wadi we saw a sign to Princess Aila’s (the wife of the previous King, Hussein) Animal Shelter and decided to visit it on the way back. We never did see it as the day was so packed with all our other activities that we ran out of time.

Eventually we reached the Siq, an awe-inspiring narrow, winding chasm that dwarfs you to insignificance. What also was awe-inspiring was the indication of man’s presence over time. Along the edge of the Siq there were traces of an ancient water channel that had been designed to not only carry water for use but also to protect the floor of the Siq from rainwater pouring down the cliffs. In addition, as you can see in the attached photograph, there were niches carved in the rocky cliff face. We also marvelled at the “brave” trees that had found a tiny pocket of soil in the rocky cliffs and dared to grow in such inhospitable conditions. The final wonder was the colour, predominantly red, but ever changing as the light changed and glowing with a deep rose during our late afternoon return.

As we reached the end of the Siq we were overwhelmed. Through the narrow exit we glimpsed the Treasury carved into the wall of rock ahead of us. It towered above us and, as we emerged from the Siq, we were able to appreciate its full glory. That moment alone made the trip to Petra worthwhile but it was just the beginning. There were rock tombs, freestanding palaces, a Roman Amphitheatre, Nabatean buildings, paved streets, etc. We hope you go to see them and enjoy them as we did but we will share with you only two highlights.

Fortunately, a few years ago, a friend visited Petra and was delighted to witness the work of some archaeologists who were in the process of excavating a Byzantine Church. If we had not known about it we could have missed it, as the signs were small and not enticing. Three things about the church really excited us. The first was a series of wonderful mosaics that look as fresh as they day they were pieced together. B particularly loved the animals and birds that were refusing to remain enclosed in their medallion so you would see a paw or beak breaking through. Wonderful! In a separate section at the back of the church we also saw a Baptismal font in the shape of a cross. Those being baptised would walk down into the centre of the cross and be immersed in the water. A reminder of an earlier age in the church! Between the font and the church proper was an open area containing a circular well. When we looked down into the well we suddenly realised that the whole open area was hollow underneath. As we looked at the size of the stones forming the crust and the depth of the well below we suddenly felt very insecure.

The impressive entrance to the ruins of Petra

As in other places there was a surfeit of guides so they were glad to at least have a chat with us. As we were sitting in the Amphitheatre one man who was offering camel rides suggested to A that one wife was not enough. He recommended camel’s milk because then A would be strong enough to handle four wives!

About mid-afternoon we decided to undertake a climb to the top of the adjacent mountain where there was yet another magnificent facade carved into the rock. It was called “The Triclinium” or “Monastery” although it had never really been a monastery. Where we were to begin our climb there were many men offering “air-conditioned” donkey rides for less fit tourists. When B said she was quite capable of the climb one of the “donkey men” said: “Madam, you will never make it.” What a challenge! In fact we made it, even A with his bad hip and walking stick. We were rather proud of ourselves as we not only did the climb of 850 steps in 15 minutes less than the established one hour indicated in the guide books, but we noted that some young US tourists not only hired donkeys to take them up the mountain but even to bring them down again.

Some of the 820 steps on the way up to the “Monastery”

The climb to the top was a wonderful experience and was capped by spectacular views at the top looking for miles along two valleys and over very barren rocky mountains. On the way down we came across a Frenchman who was apparently doing all sorts of measurements with a simple apparatus. A asked him what he was doing only to be told he was studying the best place, in terms of the gravity and magnetism of the earth, for the wellbeing of his weak heart!

As elsewhere on our trip it was so sad to see so few tourists. The adverse effects of terrorism on tourists and the fact it was the “off season” was taking its toll. We estimated that there were probably no more than 100 tourists and these would have been outnumbered by guides, various vendors, men offering rides on camels or donkeys, or in horse and carts, etc. We were interested to see two little girls, about 8 years old, trying to sell us some rather pretty rock that they had simply collected around the site.

It was wonderful being able to wander anywhere among the ruins but on the other hand it disturbed us that the ruins were rarely protected from the tourists so that when there are/were thousands of tourists wandering around one can imagine the damage being done. What was more encouraging to see was that many of the sites being excavated and restored were being financed by big Western Companies such as Mercedes and Western Universities.

It was quite a cold day, one of the coldest we had experienced. In fact they had had snow in Amman that day and snow, or at least rain, was forecast for us. Fortunately we got neither. Although it had been very cold we certainly preferred it to the very hot summer conditions of the “Tourist Season”.

A had indicated at the start of the day that he could not imagine wanting to spend a whole day wandering around ruins but before we knew it, it was starting to get dark and clearly time to head home. Back at the entrance there was a large souvenir shop, virtually bereft of tourists, where we bought some souvenirs as the proceeds of the shop were to go towards improving the lot of rural Jordanian women.

Our hotel’s free taxi driver had offered to meet us at the end of the day at the entrance to the complex but unfortunately we had not had a good look at him in the morning or noted the number of his car so when we were approached by what we thought was another taxi man we turned him down. It was only after some embarrassment that he convinced us he was our own driver.

We were planning to head back to Amman the next day but, on enquiring about buses, we were told by the manager of the hotel and by our taxi driver that because it was Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, there would be no buses. Not surprisingly our taxi driver offered to drive us. We did not want to spend another day at Petra, or at least did not have the time for that, so after considerable bargaining we agreed to be driven back to Karak, about half way to Amman. At dinner that night we had company. A couple from Perth had arrived so, over dinner, we were able to exchange travel advice. They had just come from Karak where we were headed and tomorrow intended to visit Petra where we had just spent the day.

Friday December 19
This morning when it was too late to change our agreement with our taxi driver we learned that the taxi driver who had brought the Perth couple to Petra had to return to Amman and would have given us a very good price rather than return without any fares.

We had hoped to return to Karak via a more scenic mountain route than the way we came, namely The King’s Highway”. Unfortunately, because of the snow the day before, our driver thought it would be too risky. He was probably right and, as the day was foggy we would have seen very little. Our driver was a very talkative man and had reasonable English so we got a useful commentary on the long drive back to Karak.

The reason we were going to Karak was because there was a very well preserved Crusader Castle there which we wanted to visit. Our driver was very keen to take us all the way back to Amman but by this time we had found out that there were plenty of buses running between the major towns, even though it was a Friday. So our driver left us at Karak at the top of a big hill on which was perched the old Crusader Castle.

We found our way to the entrance of the castle and, as it was a bitterly cold day with a biting wind, which was even colder as we crossed the drawbridge, we were glad to go inside the ticket box where there were about half a dozen men chatting away and waiting for any tourists who might happen along. In fact over the next couple of hours, during which we wandered up and down and all around the castle, we saw only four other tourists. This was really the only time on our six-week trip that we were uncomfortably cold and our warmest clothes were still in our packs back in Amman.

Before entering the castle we decided to go in search of sustenance. Adjacent to the castle there was a very upmarket (at least by our standards) restaurant. It would have readily catered for 100 patrons and there were six waiters hovering around and lots of food set out but we were the only ones there and all we wanted was a cup of coffee to help warm up our inner persons. Perhaps there was a tourist bus scheduled to arrive later.

Thus fortified we commenced our tour. Quite a bit of restoration work had already been completed so it was easy to gain a clear idea of what life there must have been like. The view from the top was spectacular and we wondered how any invaders could have breached the walls of the castle especially as the “easiest” entry point had been made impassable by a glacis—a smooth rock face. The inside was like a fortified rock city with chapels, stables, prison cells, soldiers’ quarters, granary, etc., and an open, grassy area on the top level for relaxation.

Having had a great tour around the castle then a short walk around the town we were very pleased to find a small café for lunch. There was one other tourist couple there and they were sitting on top of the one and only electric heater in the café. However, they kindly surrendered it to us so that we could thaw out. Soup had never tasted as good as the plate of hot soup they served us.

After our lunch we leisurely strolled down to the bus station at the base of the mount on which the castle was perched. There was a bus destined for Amman sitting at the bus depot but unfortunately there were only one or two other passengers in it when we arrived. As we had come by now to expect we had to wait a long time for the bus to fill up before it would set off. But after an hour or so it gradually filled up and headed off to Amman.

As with all our other bus rides this one was again enjoyable. The most unusual thing about it was that it actually rained on the way back. We had seen virtually no rain during the six weeks away and certainly never needed the raincoats we had carried all the way with us. As we got closer to Amman we passed large numbers of huge “glass houses” (actually covered with plastic rather than glass) presumably growing tomatoes and other vegetables.

We were interested to note here and elsewhere that men automatically gave up their seats on buses to women and that the women just took it in their stride without any sign of acknowledgment or thanks.

When we arrived back in Amman we went to the New Park Hotel where we had left most of our luggage three days earlier. The first room we were offered was attractive, large and had a small sitting room and a balcony overlooking the street. Unfortunately the door to the balcony wouldn’t close so it was very noisy, as it was overlooking the main street (King Abdullah Street). Moreover it had no heating and it was quite chilly weather. The management was quite happy to give us another room, with a heater, although it was towards the back of the hotel. After the long trip that day we were glad to unpack our things and get ready for a nice hot shower. When B washed her hands at the hand basin she noticed she was soon standing in a big puddle on the floor but assumed it was not a major problem. A little later A went to have a shower only to find that the water draining from the shower came up the drain hole in the centre of the floor. Once again we sought help from the management. They tried to unblock the drain but with little success. Rather than pack all our things and move to yet a third room they offered us the use of the bathroom in another room. Guess what? We ran into the same problem again except that in this case they were able to unblock the drain. So eventually we moved to that room (by now the second room had a strong smell of disinfectant) and enjoyed our hot showers. We had asked for a double room but they only had twins so we pushed the two beds together. We were thankful for a nice, quiet, comfortable night although the chain of the toilet cistern fell off and the TV didn’t work!

Saturday December 20
When we were first in Jordan at Irbid with Salem and Mohammad, Salem indicated that he would come down to Amman the following week end to see us while Mohammad Khalid said he would like us to come to the Australian Embassy with him and that he would drive us out to the airport when we were due to leave for home. We were not too keen about the Australian Embassy business as we really didn’t know Mohammad Khalid very well but we thought we should let both of them know where we were staying. Fortunately we had trouble contacting Mohammad but did arrange to meet Salem on the Sunday morning (two days later). Salem had also given us the contact details of a Jordanian lady who was in the process of joining Servas and we were able to contact her and arrange to meet her with Salem on the Sunday morning.

We checked our emails at an Internet Café but there was no word from Salem or Khalid who had planned to meet us in Amman. We tried to ring them but no luck. This didn’t worry us too much. We did however ring Zafira (the new Servas host Salem had told us about) and arranged to meet her the following morning at 1130 at our hotel. There was an email from Tracy to say she had been deluged with 50mm of rain but when we checked the rainfall for Tanjam on the Internet we discovered that the farm had had only 1 mm!

We then called in at a Travel Agency next door to our hotel to enquire where there might be a (Catholic) church in Amman. There was a client in the shop who, on hearing our enquiry, immediately said: “I will take you there”, which he did in his chauffeur driven car. His name was Michel Bandak and like some 70% of the Jordanian population was a Palestinian. His nephew in fact was the current Mayor of Bethlehem. Michel was a very prosperous businessman who was involved in the chemical industry and did lots of international business. The church he drove us to was the Church of the Annunciation where another of his nephews was the priest. We had a brief look around the church which belonged to the Roman rite and was very similar to any church in Australia. At least we had seen where it was and would return the following day for Sunday Mass. Well, that was our idea!

Michel then took us to the Abdali Bus Station with which we were becoming quite familiar. From here we were planning to catch a bus to Mataba, 35 km from Amman whence we were going to visit Mt Nebo. Mt Nebo was where Moses brought the Israelites so that he could see “The Promised Land” because he knew he was to die before he reached it. Michel, our kind guide immediately picked out which of the dozens of buses was heading for Mataba and farewelled us. It was a 60-minute trip for the princely sum of $0.65. On arriving at Mataba we found the only way to get to Mt Nebo, a further 10 km was by taxi.

The view from Mt Nebo over the Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley

Although this was our second last day of our long trip this visit to Mt Nebo was one of the highlights. From the top of a small hill we were able to look westward over a large part of the Jordan Valley. A little to the south we could clearly see the Dead Sea while further West in the distance we could see the buildings in Jerusalem and Jericho. This was the view that the Israelites, led by Moses, had of the long awaited “Promised Land”. We suppose that in comparison with the desert country they had wandered through for the previous 40 years it was a sight for sore eyes, but really to us it was not all that attractive. The land was generally quite hilly and the soils generally shallow or rocky. We were fortunate that there was very little fog or haze as often the panorama is obscured and in fact there was quite a heavy fog as we travelled from Mataba to Mt Nebo.

Adjacent to this lookout there was a Franciscan Friary which, over the past 70 years, had been conducting archaeological works at the site. During that time they have uncovered and restored a 5th century Byzantine Church which is again being used.

As usual there were very few tourists so we were fortunate that we found a taxi to take us back to Mataba. There we visited the famous church of St George in which there is yet another well preserved mosaic on the floor from about the 5th century. This one is very special, as it is actually a map of the Middle East, which helped historians identify the location of many ancient towns and villages.

After this visit we wandered around the town for a while (looking for our bus station). Mataba was a bustling but rather grotty market town. The bus quickly filled up to overflowing and took us back to Amman. The trouble was that on arriving there we could not recognize the Abdali Bus Station from which we had left. We were told we had to catch another bus and reluctantly did as we were told though we weren’t too confident we were on the right track. After a 10-minute drive through quite unknown territory B suddenly saw we were passing our hotel. The driver stopped for us and we arrived “home” safely after yet another enjoyable day.

On returning to our hotel we found there was a message from Salem confirming arrangements for meeting in the morning. We also found (or thought we found) on the map how to get to the Church of the Annunciation for Mass the following morning.

While in Amman we had found a pleasant restaurant near our hotel where we became regular patrons. It was run, as so often the case in Jordan, by Palestinians and appropriately called “The Jerusalem Restaurant”. There we had tea that night. On our first visit B had discovered the delights of lamb. She was served a rack of tiny lamb chops that simply melted in her mouth. The next meal we both had rack of lamb but A was very cross that the waiters took so long to bring him a knife. Then we realized everyone was using a spoon to break up the lamb. It was so tender it didn’t need a knife. After our first meal we also asked for one meal between the two of us. The servings were so large we couldn’t manage them. Our friendly waiter was most helpful so we enjoyed our visits there.

It was also an improvement on other restaurants we had seen and patronised during our trip. This one actually had local women dining with other women or in family groups and there was a pleasant hum of conversation and laughter.

Sunday December 21
We arose fairly early this morning (0700), had breakfast and set off to find our church where there was 0930 Mass. We knew the church was the “Church of the Annunciation” and had been told it was next to the Mosque of King Abdullah, so headed in that direction. Despite the fact we had quite a good map we wandered around but could not find any sign of the church we had been taken to visit the previous day. The map showed where the various churches were but first we landed in a Coptic Church. There was another one in the next block so we thought we might be getting closer. On reaching it, it still didn’t look right. At the front door we asked where the Church of the Annunciation was, and to our surprise were told we were at the “Church of The Annunciation”. In fact there were two churches (one Catholic and one Orthodox) of the same name. As it was right on 0930 by this time we decide to be Orthodox Christians this day and went in. This was our first experience of attending an Orthodox liturgy, (though we had attended Eastern Rite Catholic ceremonies earlier on our trip and in Australia).

The church was packed with young and old and we were on the left side towards the front but our view was limited. The sanctuary was a very busy place. The Bishop’s (?) throne was on the right side facing across the Sanctuary. On his right was a group of about four men whose function was not apparent. They talked to each other occasionally. Throughout the Eucharist people visited the Bishop, kissed his hand and received a blessing and a holy picture or tract. The presider came out the middle door of the Iconostasis for certain activities then disappeared behind it again.

There was another door in the Iconostasis near us with a long line of people in front of it. Every-so-often a priest in blue vestments would appear at the door, cover the head of the nearest person with a blue stole, and give a blessing. The altar boys also came out this door for various reasons: to lead a procession (while waiting some of them engaged in arm wrestling), to take orders for the blessed bread and then to go down the church and deliver it while, at the same time, collecting the money. Near the time for communion they came out again and offered Agape bread to each person. Presumably this was for those not going to Communion.

When it came time for communion some people, mostly women, lined up and approached the priest in the Sanctuary. As the women approached they collected a small veil from a box to cover their heads and then replaced it in the box as they returned to their places. By this stage the rest of the congregation had eaten their Agape bread and were wandering out of the church.

After Mass was finished A approached the Bishop to ask if he could take a photo. He received a great welcome, was presented with more bread and a couple of holy pictures and was then invited to go below the church where the community had “morning tea” and various stalls selling nick knacks. The trouble was it wasn’t tea, or even coffee, but some strange type of Middle Eastern “soupy drink”. We were a bit embarrassed about not drinking it all but fortunately when we momentarily put our drinks down on a ledge we found they’d disappeared when we returned to get them.

On our return to our hotel we found Salem waiting for us. Despite the fact that he had come all the way from Irbid in Northern Jordan to see us again, we had real difficulty striking up any sort of conversation. Fortunately Zafira arrived shortly. Her English was excellent as she worked for an American Company and we got on very well. We had a cup of coffee together. Salem said he had to go back to Irbid and Zafira offered to show us around Amman for the rest of the day. We were very happy with this offer, although we had been toying with the idea of visiting the famous ruins at Jerash, North of Amman. We had really seen enough of ruins!!

The three of us got a taxi to try and find our missing church but finished up at the same Orthodox Church to which we had gone earlier in the morning. We went to visit the very big King Abdullah Mosque but Zafira was rather disgusted to find that tourists had to pay to enter so we didn't go in. Instead we visited a gallery of Modern Art.

We took Zafira to our favorite restaurant for lunch and our waiter was quite upset when she tried to order for us. He assured her he knew very well what we liked. After this we visited the ancient castle overlooking the city. It was only here that we finally ran out of storage space on our new digital camera after having taken 165 photos. Since we were to head home the next day it had lasted out well! Here too we saw some Roman ruins so we did have our quota of ruins for the day. When we had walked around the city we had been aware of the steep hills on either side of us and that we had to climb but it was only when we were up at the castle that we were able to gain a clear picture. Amman, like Rome, is on seven hills which are very steep and have deep, narrow, winding gullies between them.

At sunset, at dusk, Zafira took us to an Artists’ “colony” called Darat al Funun. The original house had been the British Embassy and now housed the gallery and a library for the artists. Next to this house, in the back garden, was another that provided accommodation for artists. Naturally the house was on a steep hill so the garden was terraced. On the lower level was a wonderful surprise. The Ambassador had been interested in archaeology and had discovered Roman ruins in this lower garden. There was an original pavement, statues and columns.

Finally we returned to our hotel after a wonderful day with our very attentive hostess.

Monday December 22
Today we were to head home via Dubai, but as the plane did not leave till late afternoon, we had some time for a final tour of exploration of Amman. We particularly wanted to visit one of the charitable Aid Agencies so we could make our usual contribution in return for visiting their country. Anyway we were determined to find our missing church which we did without any difficulty. Even better, we discovered that the Office of “Caritas-Jordan” was attached to the church. There we met a German lady, Heidi (?) , who told us about all the good work Caritas was doing in Jordan. One of her projects was helping refugees from Iraq; another was helping girls from Sri Lanka who had come to Jordan as domestic servants and who often got a very rough deal from their employers.

We returned to our hotel before lunch, checked out and walked the 1.5-km to Abdali bus station which had served us so well. There was a bus going to the airport but it was quite a feat to fend off all the taxis that wanted to take us there. We felt it would be silly to go by taxi as we had plenty of time.

At the airport we discovered there were two terminals (even though Amman is not a big city) and Emirates used the second terminal. Fortunately it was only a short walk and we were used to walking!

It was only a short flight to Dubai and this time we had only a 5-hour wait in contrast to the 8-hour wait at the start of our holiday. We found a section of the magnificent Dubai airport which catered for people who wanted to sleep. It was kept dimmed and quiet. While waiting, an adjacent passenger asked us to keep an eye on his baggage while he went and had a shave, etc. It turned out he was from Iraq and had gone to Australia but had not been allowed entry so had been sent back to Dubai. He wanted to get into Syria but as he didn’t have a visa, etc. for there he had been waiting in the Dubai airport for several days. As on our way over, Emirates provided us with a free supper to help fill in the time, and our tummies.

The final leg of our flight, via Singapore, was uneventful. B watched a Hitchcock film and A played a computer game to which he had become addicted so the time passed quickly.

One of the best parts of our holiday was yet to come. It was being met in the middle of the night by Tracy and Steven and being driven home. So ended yet another very enjoyable and educational six weeks.