The first part of our road trip. Airport - Madaba - Dead Sea - Jerusalem.
24.06.2012 - 27.06.2012 40 °C
Now I'm a student, a trip like my one last year was out of the question. Instead, a more conventional holiday was the plan, so I trawled through EasyJet's web site in search of an interesting location. One destination immediately jumped out: Amman, Jordan. A friend of mine, Andy, went to Jordan last year and raved about it. After doing some research online, I had my heart set, so pitched the idea to Fraser, who was equally as enthusiastic. Before long, our flights were booked and nine nights in Jordan were on the agenda!
Fast forward to June 24th, and we are touching down at Amman airport. Once through customs and security, we headed to Payless car rental (there's a reason you pay less...) to pick up a Toyota Yaris, a wildly inappropriate car for the trip we had planned. We Christened the little fella Chris, after our mate who unfortunately was unable to come with us. Having won the coin toss, I had the honour of driving the first leg from the airport to Madaba, where we would be spending one night. At this point, we found out that road signs in Jordan are worse than useless. We immediately got lost and found ourselves heading into Amman city, which we had been warned was a somewhat dangerous place to drive. Combined with the fact it was getting dark and I was still adjusting to driving on the wrong side, it was an interesting experience. We soon learned that lane discipline, obeying traffic lights and speed limits, headlights and indicators were all optional. At one point I was being simultaneously over and under-taken. On a duel-carriageway.
Somehow, we eventually escaped from the madness and found our way to Madaba, which we drove around for what felt like many hours before finally finding our hotel. We got there just in time to watch the England Italy game, which we were very pleased about. In hindsight, we'd rather have missed it. We went to bed knackered and disappointed.
For the trip from Madaba to the Dead Sea, Fraser took the wheel. In doing so, he had the pleasure of tackling one of the most spectacular roads you're ever likely to see, winding its way to the peak of Mount Nebo, before a seemingly never-ending series of hairpins take you below sea-level to the lowest point on Earth. It would not be out of place on a Top Gear special (although the Ferraris, Lambos and Astons they would likely use pale in comparison to our mighty Yaris). It was at this point we had our first encounter with the law, with Fraser receiving a 20JD (about £18) fine for speeding.
Once checked in at the very pleasant Dead Sea Spa & Hotel, we headed down to the private beach to experience floating in the super salty Dead Sea. Being able to lay down and just bob along the surface really is an odd experience. We decided to take advantage of the free mud on offer, coating ourselves in the stuff people pay silly money for back home. We then took a short drive to the Dead Sea Panorama, where we were greeted with a spectacular view of our surroundings and a fascinating museum explaining the unique geological make-up of the area. We returned to the resort and to the Dead Sea in time to watch the sun set over Israel (which could have been romantic, were I not with Fraser!).
This is where things got a bit crazy. By virtue of having two nights at the Dead Sea, we had a full day to kill. Aside from sitting on the beach and floating in the water, there isn't an awful lot more to do there, so we decided to do something a little more exciting: go to Israel. We'd read that it was almost impossible to do it in one day. However, as Jerusalem was a mere 50 miles away from our resort by road, how hard could it be? As it turns out, very. Our first issue was actually getting to the border, located at the King Hussein/Allenby Bridge. We asked a local for direction, who, despite barely speaking a word of English, insisted on buying us tea and some water. This is typical of the hospitality we received in Jordan; the people are absolutely lovely, and will happily supply you with enough tea to keep the British Empire going.
After we'd had our tea, we continued to the bridge, where we parked up and attempted to buy bus tickets to get us across. With the aid of a very helpful bus driver, we negotiated the system that requires you to part with your passport, something I'm never comfortable with. Once on the bus, we were reunited on our passports and on our way. Sort of. It was the most tedious border crossing imaginable. We were on the bus for hours before reaching customs and security, where we were interrogated by a young lady. She couldn't understand that we were going for just one day, and didn't seem convinced that Fraser's name was genuine. The situation was not helped by Fraser's shocking attempts at flirting with her. Eventually, she let us in, granting us just a 2-day visa rather than the standard 3-month job.
We got a taxi to Jerusalem, arriving roughly 5 hours after we'd left the resort. For you maths buffs, that's an average speed of 10mph! Because the Israelis are renowned for closing the border whenever they feel like it, we wanted to get back in plenty of time. This gave us 45 minutes to perform a mad-dash tour around one of the most historically significant sites on the planet. Somehow, we managed to squeeze in Damascus Gate, the Western Wall, the Wailing Wall, the Dome of the Rock and Mount of Olives, which was not bad going.
We then headed back to the border, where we were held up, bizarrely, by Vladimir Putin. Rather inconsiderately, the Russian President was crossing the border at the same time me and Fraser wanted to. The powers that be seemed to believe that his presence was more important than ours, and the border was closed to us mere mortals.
Eventually, much to our relief, the border was re-opened and we were on our way. In remarkable contrast to going in the opposite direction, we strolled through customs and were back in Jordan in no time, reunited with Chris and soon on our way back to the resort. We grabbed some beers and played the Israeli card game Yeniv on the balcony, looking back on what a crazy day it had been.
Three days in and we'd already had a decent fill of excitement. Still to come, Petra, staying in a Bedouin camp Wadi Rum, and plenty more. Stay tuned!