Sunday, January 6, 2008

Indiana Jones & the busloads of tourists

News Year Eve, and we are in Madaba, Jordan. We have seen the sights and eaten our regulation houmous, fuul and falafel. The highlight is undoubtedly the mosaic floor of a Byzantine church depicting the Christian world as it was then known. Sadly not all of it survives, but bang in the middle is Jerusalem. We agree it will be the last mosaic we travel to see. Madaba is a quiet little town, with a large number of christians - indicated by the large number of beer shops. We are staying in the Pilgrim's House - which is less ascetic than it sounds - or so we thought until the heating fails to come on in the evening. There's also no hot water. But the satellite TV does work, so we can huddle around this and tune in to Al Jazeera or BBC World or God TV if we wish. The streets are empty and there's nothing else to do. Eventually we find someone who can give us a heater and we celebrate the New Year with a very long card game and a can of beer in bed. How bacchanalian. Suddenly there are fireworks and firecrackers and people in the streets, but it all dies down too quickly.

I am struggling to like Jordan. The travelling is difficult and the tourist infrastructure is geared up for coach parties or fast-spending people on short holidays who do short tours. We never pay the same price for a cup of tea. It gets to the point where we ask the price of each individual element of a meal before ordering, and even then we get overcharged. At this point we offer what we think is the correct price and the man usually shrugs and says "Fine, no problem". We take a bus to Wadi Musa with Kenny and Kingri, two Singaporean students studying at Cambridge. They have been to Iran and we ask them about the food there. "Famine" is the reply. Apparently it can be hard to find a restaurant open. Jordan starts to look opulent.

Wadi Musa is the village at the head of a dry valley that descends through the hills down to the great African/Syria divide. In these red sandstone hills were built the pre-Roman city of Petra, made famous by Harrison Ford et al. It is deservedly a UNESCO World Heritage site, with the usual tourist circus that this entails. Bus loads and bus loads. However, there are only a small number of visitors staying in Wadi Musa - goodness knows where the rest come from. We spend a couple of days wandering around the fabulous dramatic rocky dry landscape, joining the hoards at the main sites, and avoiding them on the high climbs above them all. Our favourite walk leads us down a dry canyon full of affluvial debris metres high. It finally narrows into smooth winding rock walls - giving us the sensation of being the flood waters that have shaped the route, taking 90 degree turns then twisting the opposite direction, finally falling out into a wide sun-drenched valley.
We end our days in Jordan at Aqaba, on the Red Sea, and while Gayle does a couple of dives I discover that our bank has stopped our cards. I try to earn some falafel money juggling at traffic lights, but give up after too many close shaves with bemused and beserk taxi drivers.

No comments: