My journey through Jordan

how a rotten start can turn alright

We had made such a nice plan David and me. Ok you could also call it a very vague plan because David and me just agreed upon the idea that David would send me a fax from Egypt (where he would be travelling to with 2 other volunteers the 2 weeks before our Jordan-trip) with the place where we should meet each other (somewhere in the neighbourhood of Eilat [Israel] or Aqaba [Jordan]), on which date and time. Our plan was that after we would have met each other we would make plans about what to visit during our 7 day trip. The 1 thing which was really certain was that we would visit Petra.

Indeed David send me a fax from Egypt with 3 places (and times) to meet him in Jordan (places: The Israel/Jordan-border at Eilat/Aqaba [= the Arava Checkpoint è the place where King Hussein and Yitzhak Rabin signed the peace-treaty between Israel and Jordan shortly beforehand]; the Visiting centre in Aqaba and the Aqaba airport). He suggested 3 places (and times) as a precaution if something would go wrong and we wouldn’t meet at the border. If only I knew…..

I just was at the Kibbutz for a month (technically 5 weeks) and already I went on a weeks holiday to Jordan. On my fourth day in Israel (October 8th 1997) David asked if I wanted to go to Jordan for a week. I was a bit flabbergasted with this question because I didn’t expect to plan a trip on my 4th day in Israel (I expected to make this trip at the end of my 6 months in Israel not after only a month). It took me over a week to say yes to David’s question (I said “yes” on October 17th). After I agreed to go to Jordan I worked my ass of the get the necessary overtime-hours to be possible to go. Finally the 13th of November arrived and it was time to go to Jordan where I should have met David on the 14th at 7.00 hours at the Arava checkpoint (our first meeting point).

Meeting David (or my “small world-theory”)
I maybe should had a hunch that something would go horribly wrong when my bus left Netanya 20 minutes late (0.05 on November 14th instead of 23.45 on the 13th), but that didn’t occur to me on that time. My bus trip to Eilat went without any problems. I arrived in Eilat at 5 in the morning without sleeping very much on the bus. After a (very) small and a visit to the toilet I went to the Arava-checkpoint at 5.45 where I arrived 15 minutes later (at 6 in the morning). As the border didn’t open before 6.30 I had to wait a while. Exactly at 6.30 the Israeli side of the border-checkpoint opened and after some formalities I could start waiting for David at 7.10 because he wasn’t there yet (I thought). In his fax David said that he would wait for me at the border until 15.00 hours. Between 16.00 ad 18.00 he would wait for me at the Visiting centre and from 20.00 at the airport.

Because David wasn’t at the border I waited until 15.00 hours at the border, but: No David! So at 15.00 I went (via taxi) to the visitingcentre at one off the main squares of Aqaba just off the Red Sea dividing Jordan and Israel). At that point I was already starting to get pissed because in my imagination (call it a naïve romantic idea) David would be standing at the border when I crossed it and why would set of on our journey. So after waiting (again) for a few hours (until 18.00 hours): Still no David! Now my bad temper was really growing and I set of to the Aqaba airport.

It wasn’t very easy to get to the airport. At the Visitorscentre I took a cab to the airport, but a short distance the cab “broke” down (6 years later I still don’t know if the cab was really broken down or the driver simulated the brake down (while trying to ripe me off), because when he turned his cab around, he drove away with great speed). So I could walk the rest of the distance to the airport. After about 200 meters of walking I arrived at a military guard post. They couldn’t understand exactly (their knowledge of English wasn’t to great and my Arabic isn’t up to scratch also). So I was placed in a room where (they told me) I should sit down on a bed and wait for the officers to finish praying (they where praying in that same room). I did as they asked, and…… I sat down on a loaded gun (in a holster)! After the officers finished praying I could start telling my story again, but they didn’t quite understand me to (they kept asking me if I didn’t want to fly to Amman to meet somebody). The end of this story? They wanted to check the contents off my bag and then the officers marched me to the airport where a shop owner, who spoke good English, acted as a interpreter so the officers could understand my story. After this I was free to go and wait for David (again).

Now I’ll start explaining my “small world”-theory. On the airport there was an Italian guy (named Stefano) who was waiting for the night flight to Amman and who would travel further on back to Italy. We started talking and I learned that he went to Syria and Jordan for business and that he was living in Milan. On my question (I was taking a long shot, but hey you never know) if, by any coincidence, he knew the Garlaschese shoe factory in Milan (where my father, who is a shoe importer in the Netherlands, did a lot of business with) he answered yes! His business was (I don’t know if it still is HB 29/9/3) paint materials for shoe soles and his house was just behind the Garlaschese-factory. My “small world”-theory consists of the fact that in the most unlikely of places you will meet people (that you never met before) who know people/organisations you also know or you meet people (who you do know) in places where you didn’t expect to meet them. This concludes, for this moment, this (bullshit) about theories.

I waited at the airport until 21.15 hours and then I quit because after 15 hours of waiting I had enough of waiting. I had my transported, via a cab, to a small hotel (which turned out the be outside my budget, but at that moment I didn’t care because I was tired, fed up with waiting and a little depressed about not meeting David) to spent the night. During the last hours of my waiting for David, when my rotten mood/feeling of insecurity/depression became greater and greater I started making plans for when I shouldn’t meet David. I made 3 plans. My first plan was that I search Aqaba for David for 1 more day and after that return to the Kibbutz if I didn’t find David. Plan 2 was almost identical to plan 1, but after searching 1 more day for David, and not finding him, I would go to Petra for a day and after that go back to Israel. Plan 3 consisted of the fact that I would travel through Jordan by myself. The problem with this last plan was that I had a travel guide with me for people with loads of money (at least more money than I had in my budget). I didn’t buy a Lonely Planet (with loads more information about Jordan then in the book I had and with more information about cheap hostels) because, beforehand, I thought that I would meet David who owned such a guide. My thoughts went to the first and second plan (at the moment of waiting when I was growing more tired) the first plan was the plan I planned to follow, while not excluding the second. Why didn’t I want to follow the third plan? At that moment (at night while I was fed up with waiting) I was expecting (and really enjoying) the fact that I would travel together with David through Jordan and then, unexpectedly, doing that on my one with a ill-equipped book (with only to expensive hotels for my budget). Trying to buy a Lonely Planet in Aqaba hadn’t occurred to me on that particular moment.

On my 2nd day in Aqaba I went back to all the places David had faxed my several times to check he was there. Unfortunately at those places (border, visitingcentre or airport) there was no one who resembled a Brazilian guy or a guy who was named David Pavenelli. As you can imagine I didn’t become any happier. At least I decided to execute plan 2. I decided to take an (expensive) taxi (25 dinar from Aqaba to Petra and 25 dinar from Petra to the Jordanian/Israeli border).

So early on the 15th of November (Mark you David’s birthday!) I travelled, via taxi, to Petra. After walking around that beautiful city for some hours I came at the end of the so called Roman street. I just decided that I would make 1 final picture and then leave Petra to find a ATM-machine (to get some money because I was almost out) and then go back to Israel. EXCEPT, at the moment I turned and I started to get my camera out of my bag, I saw somebody pointing a camera at me and taking a picture of my (that bloody fucking dighead I thought by myself). When that “dighead” lowered his camera I saw the laughing face of DAVID!!!!! !!!!! !!!!! !!!!! Again a typical example of the Small World-theory !!! I walked over to him and we both where so flabbergasted that the only things we could do for the next 5 minutes was shaking hands and laugh. At that moment we had both lost our ability to speak. When we had overcome our shock 5 minutes later I congratulated him with his birthday en we started talking about what went wrong.

He told me that he only arrived in Aqaba at 21.00 hours after a 15 hours boat trip from Egypt. That trip took longer than he expected (he had expected to be in Aqaba 12 hours earlier), but the boat had to wait for 10 hours for the tide to come in before the boat could land at Aqaba harbour. At that time he was so tired that he went straight to an hostel because he was to tired to go to the Airport. The next morning (the same day I stayed in Aqaba to search for David there) he travelled to Petra because we agreed to go there and he hoped to find me there. After I told him my story we decided to continue our week trip through Jordan. Then we visited one more place in Petra (the so called “Place of High Sacrifice”) we left Petra. Just outside Petra we met “my” taxi driver and I tried to ditch him (and so not having to pay the last 25 dinars). I failed horribly at that attempt and so draining my wallet almost completely. Luckily I could exchange my last Shekels in dinars at a local tourist-shop so I could pay the hostel where we where staying the night. In a hostel in Wadi Musa (3 dinar a night, so a lot cheaper then the 25 dinar a night I paid for my Hotel in Aqaba), we planned our trip and where a Swedish girl named Karolina (who met David at the boat from Egypt to Aqaba and was planning to travel through Jordan al by herself, but wasn’t to keen on that) decided to travel with us. We decided to hitchhike on the Kings Highway to Amman and Jerash. We also decided to call on the crusaders castles/ruins of Shobak and Kerak and also visit Madeba where, in a church, lays an old mosaic (showing a old map of the, then known, Middle east) and visit the place where Moses (that guy from the exodus and the parting of the Red Sea in the bible) supposed is to be buried (Mount Nebo).

With a little van (call it a public transport/taxi) we (David, Karolina and me) travelled in the direction of Shobak. When we arrived in the neighbourhood of that crusaders castle we where kicked out the bus at a crossroads. When we where walking on the road we could see the castle already, but we decided that walking on the road would take to long, so we decided to take a shortcut through the wasteland and so we did. That shortcut also took a while because of the sloping country. When we where on the access-road to the castle again, after concurring a small ravine (you could call it a kind of moat for the castle), we hitched a ride on a pick-up-truck for the last bit of road to the castle. After a short tour through the ruined castle the guy of the pickup-truck took us, after a short stop at the water supply-system of the castle and a kind of café/farm, to his place annex tourist shop/restaurant/camel rent out place near the Kings Highway where we drank some tea. After the tea that guy brought us to the Kings Highway.

After about 5 minutes of walking in the direction we wanted to go we got a lift from 2 guys in a truck stuffed with al kinds of tools (we sat very uncomfortable). After about 3 minutes of driving the truck made a left turn at an intersection and then a kind of panic struck us, because at a sign at the intersection we saw the Kerak (where we wanted to go) was straight ahead and not to the left). After we left that truck and walked back to that intersection we looked in our Lonely Planet and after consulting 2 cars that where passing by in another direction we came to the conclusion that the tools-truck we left was going in the right direction (Kings Highway) and that the other road, which until 15 minutes beforehand we thought was the Kings Highway, in fact was the Desert Highway the road we didn’t was to go. After waiting a while with our thumbs up there stopped a guy in a car who called himself Major Omar. He told us he really wanted to take the Desert Highway, but would give us a lift all the way to Madaba on the Kings Highway. So we accepted his offer (we couldn’t believe our luck, a lift all the way to Madaba). During the trip in the car it came clear to us Major Omar was very interested in Mister Karolina (as he called here) to be his bride and he kept telling a (to us very) unlikely story about a snake, 2 or 3 metres, water and gold (he told that he could find gold with washing away the ground 2 or 3 metres in depth with water). He offered Karolina some of the gold if she stayed with him. A few miles fore Kerak he even bought us some falafels and cola (we, including Major Omar, where al hungry), but refused to let us pay for it. Next to the falafel-shop was a butchers-shop where the butcher just killed and skinned an animal. The skin of the animal was still laying on the ground under the animal in a pool of its own blood. The skin looked, to me, suspiciously like the skin of a dog. It could easily have been an goat, but I had my doubts, because of the rumours you can hear about Arabic peoples eating dogs (false or not). Because of the view at skin and my (true or false) doubts about what kind of animal it was the (vegetarian) falafel didn’t taste as good as I hoped.

After this lunch the 4 of us travelled to, and visited the ruin of Kerak (ruin of an crusaders castle), which was a very nice place to visit. After this we travelled towards Madaba. Because it was getting dark when we arrived in Madaba Major Omar offered us (at our surprise) to put us up with friends of his who lived there (we would have been just as happy, maybe even happier, to go to an hostel). With some reluctance we accepted (we where a little embarrassed because he already did so much for us, going out of his way to drive us to Madaba (and so driving 4 or 5 hours extra and paying for our food and he refused to let us pay for (a part of) his gas). After we accepted he drove us to the house of the head of the family where he wanted to put us up for the night. When we arrived at that house, we where put in the “Good Room” to be received in an audience by the head of the Household (It felt to us like being received by the Pope or a King or a President in audience). During this audience we where asked the usual questions about who we where, what we where in Jordan etc. (still it felt to us like being interrogated and we where very nervous and couldn’t understand what was happening to us as we (with our western mindset) couldn’t really understand that people where so nice there in Jordan and went out of there way to help people they didn’t know). At this meeting/audience it was decided by the Head of the Household that, after he had given us something to eat, we would go to the house of his daughter and son in law and there 3 children to sleep. After dinner we transferred to the house of that daughter and son I law and the rest of the night was spend by the family to look at/checking out the monkeys, in which David, Karolina and I where the monkeys. The whole family (the Father and Mother and 7 sons and daughters and a shit-load of grandchildren where literally called in to check us out in the house were we would sleep. Around 11 pm the three of us went with 3 of the brothers and Muneer (the son in law where we where sleeping) went to Mount Nebo to look at Israel. They called it Jordan, because it was the Westbank we where looking (we saw the Dead Sea and Jericho) at, but in theory they where right. They even told us that the lights we saw at the horizon where the lights of Jerusalem, which seemed unlikely to me but hey why not. After this we went “home” again and go to bed. With this there came an end to a strange day with loads of surprises.

The next morning (which was Monday November 17th 1997) we went (driven by Muneer) again to Mount Nebo where, according to The Bible, Mozes died (and was buried) and the Israelites entered The Promised Land. Here we visited the Church which is located there to look at the mosaics inside the Church. Also we enjoyed the view again (but now at daylight. After this we went to Madaba-village to visited a mosaic (in another church) representing a map of the Middle East/Holy Land and which is the one of the oldest maps known to mankind. When we finished this sightseeing the 3 of us walked a bit through Madaba. That afternoon Muneer (and his wife and kids) took us to visit his parents to show us and there new baby (2,5 months old which his parents didn’t see beforehand). Also here we received a warm welcome and loads of food to eat. After we left his parents place, Muneer showed us his company and his Sisters farm (where we helped with plucking apples). When we where back at “home” we saw on CNN that some morons (a.k.a. terrorists) executed a attack at Luxor and shot at and killed an number of tourists there. David was especially appalled/almost frightened to death (off course, in these circumstances of course an rotten expression) because almost a week before he was in Luxor himself. That night Muneer gave a little farewell party for us because the next day the 3 of us would leave them fore Amman en Jerash. Because of the fact that Muneer and his family where/are Christians and because of that are allowed to drink alcohol, we drank loads of Gin and sprite. It was a very nice evening.

The next morning (Tuesday) we where, again, very surprised, when Muneer told us (during the (morning-)ritual cup off very strong Arabic coffee è Funny note: I normally hate drinking coffee (I don’t like coffee what so ever) and then drinking very strong coffee on a empty stomach isn’t a treat, but I didn’t dare to refuse it) that he would drive us to Amman and Jerash via the Dead Sea. The trip to the Dead Sea was a bit strange for me because just 3 weeks beforehand I visited the Dead Sea for the first time in my life and now I was there again, but now on the Jordanian side of the sea. What didn’t help was, that to reach the seashore we had to cross a (slalom trough is a better expression and the words: “DANGER MINES !!) old minefield with at the entrance of that field the so famous signs with the skeleton head. To this day I still don’t know if that field was really mine free or that we where just really lucky not to drive over/step on a mine which as left behind (while the rest was taken away). After the floating around and taking of some of the healthy Dead Sea mud with us (mainly for Muneer’s wife) we went to Jerash for some looking around. During the drive to Jerash Muneer told us that he had a friend in Jerash who owned a little restaurant at the entrance of the ruins of Jerash (a old Roman city) where we could get something to drink. When we arrives at the site, it became clear to us that the friend of Muneer owned the restaurant built especially for the tourists (which means it’s very expensive, because in Jordan you have the price for locals (= Jordanians) and tourists-prices which are, basically, on a western price-level for an (luxurious restaurant). We decided to first visited the ruin-site and after that have a drink at that place. The friend of Muneer tried to get us in the site for free but didn’t succeed, so we had to pay (read: we where allowed to pay for something for the first time in days) the 20 Dinar entrance fee each (=about 6 euro’s). We walked around that very nice site for few hours and enjoyed every bit of it. When we finished our tour round the site we went inside the restaurant for some drinks. The owner of the restaurant offered us, instead of the drinks, to eat for free from the cold buffet. This made it a rather difficult lunch for us because of the fact that we as complete strangers in a, for us, strange country were feasted for 3 days by the local population who, without complaining, put us up for the night and gave us free food and drink and drove us around everywhere. When we then received free food in a luxurious (and expensive) tourist-restaurant it became to much for us and we where very ashamed to death to eat and drink in the same room with other people who paid good money for it.. After finishing this meal Muneer brought us to Amman and dropped us off in a hostel but not before we treated him to a drink (Muneer became angry after he saw what price the (tourist)bar asked us to pay, because he said that normally it should be significantly less). After this drink it was time to say goodbye and that made it for us the weirdest moment of our trip. Because when we said goodbye to Muneer, he got tears in his eyes and started to cry. We didn’t know where to look and almost started to cry ourselves. The rest of that night we did very little and just walked around the neighbourhood of the hostel.

The Wednesday was Amman-day and we toured around Amman. We started at the Roman-theatre and the 2 “in-house” museums (the folklore-museum and Ethnology-museum) after I got some money on my credit card (I was cleaned out so that was very necessary). After this it was time for the (ruin) of the Amman-citadel and citadel-museum. Al sights were very nice to see. Then it was time for lunch (it was around 3 pm) en yes…..we were allowed to pay for our lunches (strange experience paying for food for the first time in several days of free food). That evening Muneer came back to pick us up for an evenings worth of fun. We started at a little bakery/restaurant for some very sweet Jordan specialty. After this Muneer took us to a place called TenZomar, a (tourist)place where several (old) craftsmen showed there skills and where they sold bric-a-brac at western prices . We also drank something there and smoked a water pipe (and we picked up the tab). At (almost) midnight we where back in the hostel after a very nice evening and was it time for a definite farewell from Muneer.

The Thursday was the day that we went back to Israel (because David and I had to work again on Friday). At 9.30 we left the hostel and went to the bus station where we quickly found a minibus to the Allenby-bridge (= The Israeli name of the border crossing. In Jordan the bridge is called (surprisingly) King Hussein-bridge). After the paying of our exit-tax (4 Dinar) we placed ourselves in a bus which would take us over the border (and the river Jordan). Once we arrives at the bridge the long wait started because the bridge (and so the border) was sealed shut from both sides for reasons unknown to us. Because of this we could take a good look at the bridge and river Jordan. We saw that the bridge wasn’t very big (only 5 metres in lengths) and the name river is a bit much for the Jordan (a stream is a better description). After a hour of waiting we could cross the bridge and border and we where back in Israel. The bordercontroll on the Israeli side went smoothly and we could change our money for the bus trip back. With all the essential necessities taken care off we took an (Arabian) taxi to Jerusalem where we arrived just outside Damascus-gate. David and I had to take a bus back to the kibbutz at the other side of the old city. So we walked through the old city from Damascus-gate to Jaffa-gate (and a little bit further). On our walk to Jaffa-gate we dropped Kristina of at the Tabasco-hostel (where some 4 months later I myself would be staying on my Jerusalem-trip). At 16.30 David and I took the bus to Bet Lid (15 minutes walking from our kibbutz) where we arrived at 18.45 just in time for (the end) of dinner.

This was the end of a very nice/impressive week, which started rotten but had a very nice end and which shan’t and can’t be forgotten easily.

The End

Put on the page on: 3 september 2003 22.25 hours

Last edited: 16 february 2008 20.30 hours