Middle East Day 6: Amman

It's about 45 minutes as the Boeing flies from Beirut to Amman, but a bit further than that in terms of culture and politics. Jordan has no oil, so unlike other gulf countries the citizenry can't go importing folk from other lands to sneer at and make do all the work. Unlike Lebanon, Jordan has also enjoyed a long period of peaceful, benificent and generally level headed government.Just like Pepsodent you can feel the difference. Everything is brighter, whiter and cleaner. Whiter, certainly. The place is built on limestone. It shows in the soil and it is quarried for the buildings. All the houses, most of the shops and some of the public buildings are glistening white, straight edged and regular. There are 2 million people in Amman and the little white cubes stretch off to the horizon in every direction.

The cars are newer and shinier than Beirut, and the traffic behaves itself. Not that it used to. Jordan was once reknowned for the most reckless traffic in the Middle East, but a few years ago they had a massive motorway pileup in which many people were killed. It was too much for King Abdullah. He gave orders. Now there are undercover cameras, checkpoints, traffic patrols and lots of warning signs. And today the traffic flows in an ordered and restrained fashion.Whether or not Plato was right about benificent autocrats, this is a country with systems and order, and one in which the government, while it may not be by the people in quite the same way that we are used to, is by and large for the people.

We are travelling in Jordan with a guide. He is Ibrahim, drives a new Hyundai minivan, speaks excellent English, and for $100 a day each we get him, his Hyundai, all our accommodation and all our breakfasts. Last night we stayed in the Canyon Hotel, which is 3 star (* = Grotty ** = Basic *** = Comfortable **** = Hey! Not too shabby! ***** = Snap! Plump my cushion again, if you please, Fatima ). Today he took us south to Jerash, which is the Ancient city of Gerasa, one of the ten cities of the Decapolis mentioned in the New Testament. It is the largest and best preserved Roman city in the Middle East. Although only 15% of its 800,000 square metres have been excavated, it is impressive. The main street is all there with shops, ingenious sewage system, running water system and ancient stones piled together into temples, fountains and columns. With its mosaic pedestrian promenade running beside the chariotway it must have been a truly beautiful city.

On the way we passed over an insignificant river. I realised, later, that it was the Jabbok, beside which Jacob lay to wrestle with angels and dream of ladders and have his name changed, and I had the oddest sense of homecoming. This was the landscape of my faith. we were driving through the Kingdoms of Aram and Moab, traversing country once walked by Jacob and Rebekkah and all their wily clan. Personally, the Jabbok runs deeper in my imagination than does the Jordan, which we will see tomorrow, and I almost missed it.

We left there to go to the castle of Ajlun, one of several fortresses built by Salah ad-Din. It is in remarkable good shape considering its age and the purpose for which it was built. The interior was dark and cool and quirkily unpredictable. There were a number of people clambering about in it as we were, and amongst them was a party of Jordanian teachers. Clemency being Clemency, joined their group, sang their songs, played with their children and left the castle with maybe a dozen invitations to lunch and the promise of lots of new facebook links.

Ibrahim took us to a local Jordanian diner, where few travellers go, except the ones he takes there. Lunch was delicious. The system is that the food is put in the middle of the table with a basket of fresh, steaming hot Jordanian bread and a variety of relishes. The waiters hover, and when they see a dish is getting empty they replace it with a new one. This continues til no-one is left standing. The cost for as much as 5 people could eat was a little over 15 Dinar or about $NZ25. Later Ibrahim introduced us to Kanafeh, which seems to consist of equal parts of cheese, honey, olive oil and pastry. It needs a fairly reasonable scientific calculator to work out the calorific load per bite and it is absolutely impossible to leave any of it on the plate. The diet will start as soon as I return. Honest it will.


Merv said…
WOW! to the photos.
Not all your readers might realise that by clicking on your photos they are rewarded with a much enlarged & more detailed scene. Beautiful.
Did you consider a self-drive rental car vs. car & driver?
VenDr said…
Yes we did, Merv, but the deal which included accommodation and all the incidentals like addmission to various sites seemed too good to pass up. Besides we are only here for a few days and the driver's knowledge has been invaluable. We were put off also by the reputation of Jordanian traffic. As it turns out, I would be happy to drive in Jordan but not yet in Lebanon. Not in Beirut anyway. Give me a few more days there though....
daharja said…
Let the diet start later. Enjoy every bite of your holiday!