Few places on planet Earth are as legendary as Petra, and few activities as fascinating as swimming in the Dead Sea. This chapter of my journey also tells the tale of my unpleasant encounter with a Palestinian soldier.
This article is no. 4 of 5 in a series based on my travel diaries from 1986. I was on a five week journey to Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Israel / Palestina.
Thursday 14.8.1986, Damascus – Amman
Currency: 1 USD = 0,34 JD (Jordanian dinar). 1 JD = 1000 fils
The bus from Damascus, Syria left early in the morning and arrived in Amman, Jordan six hours later. The border crossings went well for me, but I had to wait long for the Arabs on the bus. I had 700 Syrian Lira (SL) left and exchanged them on the border at an awful rate. I only got 10 JD for them: The Syrian currency is little worth outside of Syria.
There are holidays in Jordan today and tomorrow I learned. No banks are open but I found a money changer and signed a 50 USD traveller’s cheque.
The bus stopped on a remarkably empty square. A taxi-driver lured me to a hotel in the city centre for a dinar. Hotels are expensive in Amman and Jordan, and so was the one I was driven to, and checked into.
- HOTEL IRAQ. It is located a few hundred metres up the King Hussein Street from the centre, right side of the road. Double room with shower and toilet. Nice murals on all four walls. Clean, but pricy at 3 JD, that is 9 USD!!
I have not planned to stay many days here in Jordan. Browsing my guidebook I don’t expect there is much to see. As the Ministry of Interior, where I intend to apply for a permit to go to the West Bank, is closed tomorrow I want to go to Petra – the world’s biggest sight, at once. On the Jett company bus station I was told to come back the next day at six in the morning.
Food in Jordan is by the way quite expensive. In the afternoon I walked around the centre hunting for a hotel. I found some at half the price I am paying this night.
Friday 15.8.1986, Amman – Petra
I handed in my backpack at a hotel where I was promised a bed for a dinar – three dollars.
- HOTEL AL-FAROUK. OK place, side street to King Faisal Street. One dinar. 250 fils extra for a hot (!) shower.
Then I bought a return ticket to Petra. My plan was to return the same night, but after a four hour bus trip and 3 dinars poorer I was persuaded by the Jett people to stay the night over. There is so much to see. True enough, especially considering the bus returning a bit too early in the afternoon, at three o’clock.
Petra is an ancient city with a secluded location inside a large canyon. The Nabataeans and theRomans ruled here. Later the city was almost forgotten until it was rediscovered in the 1900th century. Excavations will continue for many years. I can’t here repeat guidebooks and the like, just shortly say that the people here dug out huge buildings – or facades with a large hall inside – from the mountain sides.
The rock is multicoloured, both in itself and in reaction to how the sunlight hit or doesn’t hit it. This combination of colours is strongly involved in making Petra so unique. The kilometre long, narrow, entrance with mountainsides climbing up hundreds of metres, put visitors in the right mood before entering the wide valley. One may climb up on mountain tops to see the buildings that have been carved out there, or just enjoy the views of the desert-like area.
On a climb up a particularly sandy, rocky and steep cliff in the midst of the sun scorching day, I was greeted by a local gentleman sitting in the shade under an overhanging rock. He was selling cold Coca-Colas and other soft drinks from a box he had brought with him. Was I surprised?
On another climb like that I met Paul, a British soldier on Cyprus, now on vacation here. We walked around together. We stumbled upon a Bedouin family and drank tea under the tent roof with them, and had our photos taken on their camel. They went out herding their sheep during the day. The nights they stayed in new houses the government had built.
Several places we were offered “genuine” Nabataean objects. Some of the them were quite certain genuine as well, but most of it was trash. There are lots of horses here, quite a few camels too, and the Arabs are constantly offering us a ride. Expensive of course. Maybe next time.
I checked in at the cheapest hotel around here:
- STUDENT HOSTEL. In the village of Wadi Musa near the entrance to Petra, the siq. Good food, good hygienic facilities. The price was 2 USD for a bed.
Saturday 16.8.1986, Petra
I paid another dinar to enter the valley and got around to the places I didn’t see yesterday.
I then took the bus back from Petra to Amman along the Desert Highway. No wonder it received such a name.
Sunday 17.8.1986, Amman
My oh my. Yesterday I was told that the Muslim holiday was lasting Monday as well. This means I will not get a travel permit until the end of the week. Then we are not only talking about not getting a small vacation in Israel, but I will be in trouble getting to Tel Aviv by the 26th of August at 0920, when my plane is scheduled. I hope for the best.
A lazy day. I spent most of the day in my room, doing my laundry and writing this diary.
Monday 18.8.1986, Amman
Sightseeing in Amman. I walked up to the Jebel Hussein hill where the Citadel is. A few not so interesting ruins. An Archaeological Museum that cost me 250 fils to visit was slightly better. I liked the view best. After this I went down to the old Roman theatre. In the side wings there are two museums, 250 fils each, but with interesting folklore exhibitions.
In the evening I walked for some time around in the streets. Went to a cinema – Cobra with S. Stallone, violent stuff. I also bought a walkman for 10.5 JD. It is working well.
Tuesday 19.8.1986, Amman – Salt – Jerash
A somewhat more active day.
At first I went to the Ministry of Interior to apply for a West Bank visa. I was told to come back on Thursday morning. I hope it will be settled. Two Japanese received a reply that they had to apply to Israeli authorities before the Jordanians could authorise them!! (That was bad treatment by the Jordanian official. The Japanese were either subject to some kind of discrimination or racism, or more likely in combination with an all too likely cause that they had told the official they were going to Israel. That is illegal. This was the third day they came here to the office. They were almost crying.)
For my part I went down to the al-Abdali bus station and took a bus to Salt (150 fils). The town is known to be both interesting and old. Not that interesting in my view. I took a picture of a group of women in traditional clothes. Some Arab men stared sourly at me. One of them came over and asked me why I took the picture. To show friends back home, I replied. He did not say more, but went away angry.
I left Salt. First I went back to Amman to change bus to Jerash. This northern town houses the Jordan’s and perhaps the Middle East’s foremost Roman ruins. Giant, reminded me much of Palmyra in Syria.
In the tourist centre I met a man who soon was going to Norway. He had made a Norwegian woman who was on a package tour pregnant, six years ago! He wanted to learn more about Norway.
I forgot to tell about my room-mate. Or “mate” in quotation marks. My room had two beds. The other was occupied by a big sturdy Palestinian. He boasted about all his fights in Lebanon with the Israelis and even showed all his torso scars. He did not seem emotionally stable and I kept my belongings tight at all times. I slept with my money belt on, and had my camera close. What really was disturbing, indeed worrying, was his constant sexual invitations. It was not pleasant at all to lie there listening to his invitations while masturbating himself in bed.
This evening I met an Egyptian in a café. He wanted to see my hotel as I had only been paying a dinar for the bed. Hossam meant it was dirty; at least the sheets and they were the root cause of my “mosquito” rash. Fleas or the likes in other words. I followed him to his hotel, it seemed better than mine, so the next morning I moved in.
Wednesday 20.8.1986, Amman – Dead Sea
Before leaving I took my backpack to the hotel the Egyptian showed me last night.
- HOTEL OPERA. I don’t know the name of the street, but it is in the centre somewhere. 1.5 JD for a bed in a three bed room. Very good.
The Dead Sea is well worth a visit. I wanted to go there from the Jordanian side as I would not get time in Israel.
To get to the Dead Sea was easier said than done. Hossam offered to help me and ended up joining me. From al-Abdali we took a bus to Salt, then another minibus to the Jordan valley. We changed to another minibus to a crossroads before we hitch-hiked to a beach resort at the sea, near Suweima.
It proved impossible to take the necessary shower after the swim in this very salty water. I managed however to wash myself in a washbasin at the restaurant / motel on the site. It was fantastic to see the Dead Sea in front of me. This was one of the main reasons for coming here. I have never felt warmer water. The taste was bad. One should avoid water in the eyes. But it was lovely to lie there and float in this sea 400 metres below sea level (other seas or oceans on the planet).
The return was easier. We hitch-hiked with a Palestinian and it all ended with him driving us right to Amman – even though he was not going there.
Thursday 21.8.1986, Amman
The day had arrived when I was to know if I would be able to cross the Jordan River to the West Bank and Israel. It went well. I received my paper without problems. I bought a ticket with Jett to the Israeli border post with departure tomorrow morning. Price: 2.5 dinars.
It was good to let go of the concern. Besides it was lovely to get away from Amman – a not too interesting city. Two Frenchmen (who I had met in Ankara) came a few minutes later than me to Jettand were told that all tickets were sold. Next bus: Sunday. Thanks and praise I did not have to wait so long.
700 SL: 70 USD (I only got 30 for them)
+ 170 USD: 170
Total 240 USD (or 200 actually spent)
This article is part of a series based on my travel diaries from 1986. I was on a five week journey to Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Israel / Palestina.
(1) Istanbul and the west coast of Turkey: This was a journey into the unknown and intriguing cultures of the Middle East, and the encounter of a friendliness and hospitality hard to come by anywhere. Turkey was first off.
(2) Roaming Turkey’s Anatolian plateau: The fascinating life and scenery on the Anatolian Plateau, as well as the bureucratic hassles of continuing the journey.
(3) Deserts, towns and memorials of Syria: Syria was a closed country, not welcoming tourists. But what an exciting past and present! In combination with an eagerness among young people to meet Westerners the stage was set for an exciting week.
(4) Jordan’s capital, Petra and the Dead Sea: Few places on planet Earth are as legendary as Petra, and few activities as fascinating as swimming in the Dead Sea. This chapter of my journey also tells the tale of my unpleasant encounter with a Palestinian soldier.
NEXT CHAPTER: (5) A dive into ancient history in Israel and Palestine: This is the last part of my five week journey. Israel – finally I had come to the Promised Land.