Wednesday, 13 May 2009
As we set out from the Old City of Jerusalem on a chilly but sunny Sunday morning, all the bell towers of the churches tolled joyfully as a summons to prayer, just as the muezzins had done the night before, each one competing for supremacy! But we did not have time to linger, for our goal was, in the words of The Seekers, to move on and cross that Jordan River.
We managed to take a rapid ‘Sherut’ (or in the Jordanian equivalent, ‘Serveece’, which is a shared taxi with a fixed fare for each person) back to the King Hussein Bridge, or Allenby Bridge, as the Israelis call it. In order to get out of Israel (or to be more accurate, the Occupied Territories, for Israel has only claimed this land since the conflict of 1967) we had to pay the sum of one-hundred-and-sixty-one Shekels. Already.
The Jordanian Immigration didn’t really even take place at all, for of course we hadn’t really left Jordan at all, and after all, the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem still appears of the twenty Jordanian Dinar bank note. By coincidence (or fluke) we met up again with a young Dutch couple who had been with us on the outward journey to Israel, and as they too were travelling back to Amman, we decided to share a serveece together back into the city.
“Where are you staying?”, they asked us.
“We haven’t booked into a hostel yet, so we still don’t know”, shrugged a confused Simon.
In an instant, Willem was on the phone to his sister, who is currently living in the centre of Amman. We couldn’t understand what the conversation was about… It was all double Dutch to us, although didn’t Jon say “Ik spreek vloient Nederlands” to them earlier? Well, Willem hung up the phone and he gladly said that we could stay the night in his sister’s student apartment. Great! It just so happened that one of the students sharing the apartment is away until the end of May, so we crashed in her room.
And so the afternoon was given over to a full exploration of Downtown Amman. We started by walking from Rainbow Street to Mango Street, where we found the most amazing bookshop with a funky upstairs café to while away an hour or so. Here we drank some more of the Middle East’s fantastic signature beverage: it’s called ‘fresh orange juice’. We also had the world’s best strawberry milkshake, which contained a strawberry syrup-juice right at the bottom of the glass, giving a different flavour and texture as you sucked whilst moving the straw up and down through the drink.
Another tradition throughout the Middle East is to smoke flavoured tobacco through what is commonly called a “shisha”. There are no drugs inside the tobacco; the only thing different is that this particular tobacco tasted like cherry. It is to be smoked by breathing through the mouthpiece on the long hose, which is attached to a large glass compartment that has water inside. Lying above the water in a small metal case is the tobacco itself, which is then covered by tin foil on which burning hot coals rest. As one takes a puff, the sound of whirling bubbles going through the water creates the final authentic touch to being inside a Middle Eastern bar/café. All I can say is that it just had to be done!
Feeling curious, the four of us trundled into the busy shopping district with a local electrical engineer/media enthusiast, called ‘Blue’. He is a friend of Rian (Willem’s sister) and he showed us to a few souvenir shops, where the Dutch couple bought themselves a shisha!
Feeling peckish, we headed for a falafel sandwich and some chips. It was all very good, but the sandwiches were so big that Jon couldn’t eat a whole one, so Simon gobbled it instead. Rian was to receive a surprise present for putting her brother up for a few weeks: a table for the flat, so off we headed to a fascinating part of town specialising in second-hand furniture. With the table safely stowed on a delivery van with Willem navigating back to Rainbow St., the rest of us set off on a white-knuckle taxi ride back to the flat. Jon took the front seat with the driver, safely belted up, with Simon, shisha and Renné, Willem’s better half, in the back. Pulsating Arabic rock and radio announcements blared out of the car’s stereo as we sped across Amman at that twilight time of evening where the stones of the city reflect the orange of the setting sun and the mosques seem to spring into life once more.
We all watched the taxi metre as it slowly made its way upwards towards one whole JD! Taxi rides across town are great value here. But then as we hurtled along a dual carriageway, a large, ominous black Mercedes pulled out from a small side street and began to make its way in our direction. What happened next probably took place in under one second, but as we later discussed it, we all remember the whole incident unfolding before us in slow motion, like a frozen ballet. The elderly Mercedes driver had completely misjudged his angle of turning and which lane he wanted, and probably hadn’t even seen our taxi bearing down upon him from his left. CRUNCH*!*! as our taxi driver swerved to HIS left to avoid the collision, but this took us into a concrete central reservation wall. The Merc continued to veer left as well, sandwiching us between the wall and the Stuttgart armoury. The air filled with the sound of grinding metal as we decelerated to a standstill in a remarkably short period of time. Silence. The taxi driver was in such shock that he was speechless and motionless. What a lucky escape: we walked away unhurt!
Tomorrow we start early, for we have a long journey southwards: the lost city of Petra awaits us!