Date: 28 January 2015
Location: Petra Palace Hotel (spoiler: in no way a palace.)
Marriage proposals: 7
I feel like Nadir is babysitting me. I suspect he feels the same way. Each morning we meet at an appointed time, him testing me on yesterday’s Arabic, me showing off what I’ve managed to scrape together since then. He hands me cardamom-spiked Turkish coffee through the car window, he scolds me for being a flirt, I scold him for smoking, he won’t let me drink the (perfectly fine) tap water. When I’m grouchy he recognises the signs of low blood sugar and buys me a Bounty bar. When I’m asking too many questions he turns on the wifi and I quiet right down, distracted by all the web has to offer. Last night, after a long southerly drive, we pulled up at a big tin shack and he sent me off to wash my hands then parked me at a table and vanished. When he returned ten minutes later he was flanked by two Bedouin waiters bearing two half barbecued chickens, rice, Arabian salad, water. ‘Eat,’ he urges, tearing into his chicken with both hands, ‘soon we’ll be in Wadi Musa and you can’t get a crappy schwarma there for 5JD.’
As an outgoing introvert, this one-on-one travelling thing had the potential to be a perfect anxiety storm. However, this paternalistic relationship seems to work so we’re rolling it.
Today he drove and I learned.
We navigated the steep and deep roads of Jordan between the mountains (jabal) and the valleys (wadi). The tents that dotted the hills through which we rolled belonged to farmers (neutral canvas), gypsies (orange, near the cities) and Bedouin troves (black, goatskin).
The giant lagoon-pool we passed was for men only. The huge basketball stadium looking structure next door it was for the women– away from prying male eyes. And a good deal less scenic.
Jordan is very safe, and it expends no little energy to stay that way. We passed through so many army checkpoints, understandable when driving 40km from Palestine in a country that also shares it’s borders with Israel, Syria, Iraq and Saudi. It’s a Current Affair special on ‘Naughty Neighbours’ waiting to happen.
I learned about the doomed cities of Sodom and Gomorra as we drove past where they, as legend has it, sat before they were razed for their vices. We drove past the pillar of salt said to be Lot’s wife, punished for looking back as her city burned. (Seems a bit harsh.)
On Mt Nebo we stood where Moses did as he surveyed the Promised Land — and I learned that Jordan has a pretty good idea where the prophet is buried but that they don’t care to look very hard as they’d have to hand his body right over to Israel and they prefer the mystery. It’s so perverse. I love it.
Finally, as the sun started to set, Nadir stopped the car and kicked me out with a, ‘Look behind you!’ Lit up by the dying sun was a perfectly ruined crusader castle. Five minutes later I’d been dropped at its gates. Save for the custodian and and his cat, Noor, both crouched in a little house with a cot, a gas burner and a sign-in sheet, I was the only soul there. I said a little prayer of thanks to travel insurance and explored. There were two story drops into long deserted basements, perilous looking archways and crumbling watch towers. I sat and watched the sun go down, and felt intensely grateful.