Jordan - Round The World Tour 2003 Day 101
Saturday 21st June
Our relaxing time here in Jordan is drawing slowly to a close with just one last remaining activity that we want to do being another visit back to the Dead Sea to float around some more in the warm and extremely salty water. We planned on spending a half-day at the Guest House location where we could indulge in a mud treatment and make use of the loungers and hot showers for a smallish fee of JD4 each. According the Trudy’s guidebook that Sandy was reading yesterday evening, the Dead Sea is the lowest placed on earth at some four hundred meters below mean sea level to its surface. What’s even more amazing, other than the fact that nothing but a few lowly forms of plankton live in it (the reason it’s called the Dead Sea to begin with), is the fact that this level is sinking still further at the astonishing rate of some five meters per year. The water from the Jordan River that flows into the Dead Sea is being diverted on a significant scale to feed irrigation needs and the huge lake is slowly drying up as a result. It’s estimated that it will have completely disappeared within fifty years if the irrigation drainage continues unabated. A pity.
So, we elected for the cheaper of the two options to travel the hour or so distance to reach our destination. The taxi would have cost us JD20 ($32) so we decided to take the bus instead. Actually, it would be a taxi to the first bus station, a bus from there to town between here and the Dead Sea and then yet another bus to take us to the Dead Sea itself. It would be considerably more hassle but riding the local buses also has its charm and we felt up to the challenge. The whole trip would cost no more than about JD5, return. If we had gotten up a little earlier than we had, we could have shared the cost of a taxi with a Korean couple that had left just before us. Oh well, everything happens for a reason.
To facilitate our journey, our ever-friendly hostel manager wrote down the directions for us in Arabic and told me which bits to show each driver at the various stages of the journey. After a five minute taxi ride to the bus depot here in Amman, I duly showed my little bit of paper to the first bus driver that we found. He pointed us towards another bus and we trustingly went over and got on. As we were getting in, a rather animated character was frantically waving his arms and shouting something in our direction from across the depot. We weren’t sure what his problem was or whether he was directing his gestures towards us in particular. Since we didn’t understand him, we ignored it and got on the bus anyway.
There are no set times for the buses, at least not in practice anyway. When there are enough people on board, the bus will depart. Our bus was already nearing capacity and so we only waited for just a few more minutes before the driver got in and we pulled away.
In Egypt, there were police checkpoints everywhere. It is the norm there and has become even more so since the nineteen ninety-seven massacre at Hatshepsut temple. In Jordan, however, there is a significantly less obvious police and military presence. Probably still much more than in any Western country but nothing like the proliferation of uniforms to be found all over Egypt. So when we started to see more and more military uniforms along the highway, I started to wonder what the reason was. When we had arrived in Wadi-Musa the other day, the parliamentary elections were taking place but these are all over with now so it couldn’t be related. We were even stopped a couple of times at checkpoints (a first for us in Amman) and had our passports examined along with everyone else on the bus. At one of the checkpoints, the military guard removed one of the locals from the bus for not having his passport with him. What happened to him and where they took him remains a mystery.
It was at this checkpoint that our plans for the day were abruptly torn to shreds. The angry looking guard that ‘detained’ the local turned and asked us where we were going. I told him we were going to the Dead Sea but he looked me square in the face and said in a rather harsh and stern manor “No! Dead Sea closed today!” He then spoke in Arabic to the driver and I surmised that he was instructing him to put us on the next bus back to Amman when we reached the small town ahead. I was somewhat bemused by it all and in a bit of a daze, not to mention extremely disappointed about not being allowed to reach the Dead Sea today. Fortunately, there was another local on board that spoke English and he explained that the main road that travels the length of the East coast of the Dead Sea was closed for security reasons due to some diplomatic bigwigs in the region. I think it was Colin Powel that is in the country on the latest peace initiative mission. This explained all the additional military presence and the snipers with rifles up on the rocks every couple of hundred yards or so on either side of the road. Apparently, the guy that explained this to me was also quite put out because he has a bazaar at the Guest House that we were supposed to be going to but he had to close it also due to the security crackdown.
We reached the small town shortly thereafter and were promptly directed towards the next returning bus to Amman. So much for another visit to the Dead Sea! The road will not be open again until after Monday but we fly out tomorrow anyway. At least we got the chance to spend some time enjoying the salt water the other day on our tour up along the King’s Highway.
Whilst getting into the returning bus, we bumped into the Korean couple that had left Amman just before us. We at least only had to pay the small (JD0.45 each) bus fare, whereas they unfortunately had to pay for a taxi.
So, with little else to occupy our remaining time back here in Amman, we spent a while at one of the local Internet Cafés, grabbed a bite to eat and have since been relaxing in our room. The hostel manager must have taken pity on our plight and has kindly agreed to arrange a taxi for us to the airport for just JD8 instead of the usual JD10-JD15.
The hostel owner is an older, and much larger, character that spends most of his time sitting behind his desk in the TV area. He’s a nice enough man and even managed to dig out a complete collection of Jordanian coins for me to add to my growing collection. He will bring the one remaining coin that I still don’t yet have to the hostel tomorrow morning for me.
In an e-mail that I received from Frank this afternoon, he commented on our tendency to find inventive ways to save money. He must be gleaming all of this from my travel updates. It’s interesting that we do have this tendency. It’s automatic and necessitated by the fact that we are long-term travellers as opposed to tourists and thus must stretch our money much farther given that we are on the road for a much longer period of time. I often complain to myself that we are spending too much here or could have spent a little less there and so on. At the end of the day, however, none of this will matter in the grand scheme of things and we will probably look back at our time spent travelling with some humour at just how little we actually have spent and how much more we could have spent.
We are just about to go out to the local MacDonald’s to grab a last bite to eat. Funny, we will probably spend more money on this meal than we have done all day so far (so much for saving money on a taxi to the Dead Sea). Keeping a close eye on our outgoings is, of course, a very good idea – but we do splurge every now and then in haphazard spurts. It’s all relative in the end.