Day 17 - from Petra to Amman
We are not in sync with the bus timetable. We end up paying $70 JOD for a taxi from our hotel to Amman. The driver is a man of few words. I offer him Pringles then later on find out that he's on a fast which will end shortly with Eid Al-Ahda. The drive is uneventful. The landscape is a lot of sand and desert and rocks for about two and a half hours. I eat my Snickers and Pringles in the backseat and listen to FKA Twigs (otherwise known as Ana's Desert soundtrack).
Twenty minutes from downtown Amman, we're parked up by an Ikea. Our driver has a grand plan. His "brother" is also a taxi driver and he's currently driving a person who wants to go to Petra. We're going to swap cars and drivers because his "brother" is licensed in Amman and he is licensed in Petra. To drive around in a city you aren't licensed in risks being found by police and being fined. This is how they get around that. We swap with a startled looking Japanese man. Our second driver is chatty. He talks about what his family is going to do during Eid Al-Ahda. I think they're basically gonna hang at home, slaughter a goat and eat it. "A big goat!" he chuckles.
We crawl through downtown Amman. It's a tangled spaghetti of traffic. The hotel is across from the Roman Theatre and the Citadel looms over it. Travellers have scrawled pictures, quotes and messages all over the white walls along the stairwell. Two pet turtles hang out on the rooftop. It's ramshackle and charming. We're asked if we want a quiet room or a room with a view. We go with the view. You can always have quiet after you die.
Amman is an accessible Middle Eastern city; bigger, friendlier, and cheaper than Wadi Musa, more organised and calmer than the predominantly-Arab cities in Israel and Palestine. In the late afternoon, we're marching down the main street. There's the usual stares. There's a pet shop with chicks dyed neon colours. Later, three kids are excitedly crowding around the cage, lifting the chicks out. I crowd along with them and they hold out the wriggling neon bundles for me to pet. I don't know who is sweeter; the kids or the animals.
We pay $1 JD to get into the Roman Theatre. If you stand in the middle, you can hear it echo to the very tops of the steep, steep seats. I climb, in jandals and a long skirt, on the slippery marble, to the top, like a terrified mountain goat and look towards the city. Funny how a sunset can make you instantly like a city twenty times more than normal.
After the theatre and a quick whip around the Museum of Popular Traditions, we sit in Hashemite Square for a while, surrounded by thousand year old column toppers and lots of happy people taking photos of each other. Kids and teenagers are shouting out offers of tea, coffee, water. Some have silver trays. You order from them and they run up to one of the nearby cafes and restaurants and serve it to you on the tray. I let myself be fleeced and pay $1JD for a strawberry slushy because the two kids are cute and like I said - it's sunset.
There's a small, ugly moment when a hopped-up teen gets up in our faces, upset because we didn't buy a slushy from him and we get into a small spat; him saying probably quite insulting things in Arabic and us gaping at him in disbelief. Really?! How do these kids get like this? His friend comes to corral him back to the herd. We don't let it ruin Amman for us. How could it? It's sunset!
There's plenty of restaurants, sweet shops and cafes. We plunge into a particularly busy sweet shop bordered by mountains of sweets and we order - what else? - kanafeh. The guy asks for "120 JD". Rob gapes, "A hundred and twenty?" That really is some blatant foreign pricing. The man shakes his head, "NO! One. Twenty." He means JD$1.20. In Petra, for two similar sized pieces of kanafeh, we were charged JD$4.50. Honestly guys, don't stay overnight at Petra. It is daylight robbery down there. In Amman, we actually get change from $1JD. "I've never had so many coins here before!" Rob says with glee. Wadi Musa, you rip-off.
Up the street from the hotel, we peer into a particularly popular restaurant and debate on the pavement whether to go in or not. Hunger wins. We plunge in. Everyone is eating the same thing. There's a CRT tv showing what I think is a religious service. Across the road, a deaf family is sitting outside on their porch, exchanging gifts and signing. Inside, the guys don't speak English. We don't speak Arabic. We do the universal talking in our own language and pointing kind of thing. We have no idea what we're ordering beyond seeing what's on people's plates. It looks like mezze, bread, and unidentified meat kebab. It is incredibly delicious. The meat is lamb; it's salty, spiced with sumac and gorgeous. For two plates, salad, lots of bread, and a bottled water, we pay JD$5. I cannot believe it. Wadi Musa, you rip-off.
I'm polishing off my kebab, chomping with glee. Rob is across from me and he widens his eyes and hisses, "Eat your food and let's go." This is not like him. I stop for a moment, "Why?" His eyes widen till I think they're going to pop out of his head. He says, "I don't like all the unattended suitcases in here." I process this for a moment but while I think anything happening is unlikely, we get out anyway and hotfoot to sit in the tables outside the hotel down the road. Rob describes a man all in black, walking in, with "Killer EYES" and sitting at a table without talking to anyone. That combined with all the unexplained suitcases everywhere equals high alert. Once we're thinking rationally again, we laugh sheepishly about it while eating kanafeh outside and watching Amman descend into night.