Thursday, 26 August 2010

Into Jordan

After a stunning supper on a roof in Damascus and a night in our hotel, we had to say farewell to our favourite city so far & goodbye to Syria. The next morning we caught a taxi (which are more affordable than at home & more prolific - in some towns it appears to be literally half taxi) to the inter-city bus stop to head to Amman in Jordan. These stations have the long distance buses and also the service taxis where you wait until they're full before you go and only cost a little more than the bus. Before reaching the station, whilst driving there along the main 3 lane highway, a service taxi came along side shouting out to ask whether we were going to Amman, which we were, and offering a price, which seemed fair going by a few sources we had checked - so we thought why not & gave him the thumbs up (very useful international sign!). During this speedy (!) negotiation another taxi came to the table, as it were, cutting up the other one and offering a lower price. Our driver eventually stopped with these other 2 taxis - in the road, they don't mind that here - and the second driver came up to our window claiming us as his prize. But we felt we should stick with our 50mph thumbs up contract with the first guy so we stuck with him.

He then took us a few mins to the station and we waited about an hour for him to fill the car with other passengers, which was a hot wait. Full up, we headed south. After a few hours we reached the border - this time prepared with enough dollars! We weren't going to be short-changed this time! We wouldn't need to bailed out again by our taxi driver! OK, so, as you have guessed, we did get help once, well OK twice, from the taxi driver during this border crossing. Although we did have enough dollars, they wanted Syrian and Jordanian money which we didn't have enough of and he was happy to swap us for. Heh, what are taxi drivers for? They love to help. Plus they're in a hurry!

Two other features of this journey - 1) was that on the way there, all of the passengers ate a kind of nut baklava and gave us some, even though it is Ramadan. At one point the taxi driver pulled over and a man standing on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere got in and became the new driver. A bit later we offered them all some olives and they refused, saying they were fasting and looking very innocent - 'As if we would eat during Ramadan' their faces said! This new taxi driver was obviously a bit more strict! 2) At the border, one of the passengers tried to get me to smuggle his packets of cigarettes through. I declined, miming that they are bad for you and cause death. He was very persistent as we neared the police, but I kept up with my mime. He even phoned a friend who spoke english who tried to persuade me.

When we got to Amman, we were transferred to another taxi and we experienced our first city with really bad traffic, which I had to dodge to run out and get some money out. We found our hotel which was sweet and had a very talkative lady who was the owner. It was probably the first woman who'd spoken to us since we'd entered Turkey so I was a bit surprised. We were given some free turkish coffee - which this time was a thick gloopy substance with loads of cardamon in it. It was so undrinkable that we had to take it to our rooms and pour it down the loo as we didn't want to seem ungrateful.

We went out to an Italian cafe in the upmarket side of Amman which served amazing pizza & had an incredible view of the city - a little treat as we get accustomed to the local food - which is a bit limited for the veggie. The cafe was called 'Books @ Cafe' (it also had a bookshop) which the taxi guy who took us there just couldn't get when we said it. Eventually he cried out "Ah, booksaat cafe... booksaat cafe... why you say it wrong..."

Even though the next day was a travel day, we decided we had to squeeze in a visit to the site at the river Jordan where John the baptist preached and Jesus came to be baptised. Having been really touched by going to Ananias' house, we thought it was worth it. We shared the trip with a german guy called Robin who had spent two years in Japan learning karate and had travelled overland back from there. On the way to the river, we were taken to Mount Nebo - the mountain where Moses looked upon the promised land. It was an incredible view - looking down into Israel, we could relate a bit to Moses as we would have loved to go into Israel, but couldn't for visa reasons. There really is something special in going to places you've read about in the bible. But this was nothing compared to what came next...

We had barely recovered from the hill and yet suddenly we had arrived at the entrance to the baptism of Jesus site. After an unchilly wait we jumped on the bus down to the river. It was more of an event than I realised - we paid to enter, we had a tour guide, we had 10 others with us, there were different sections to visit. It was to be my most special encounter yet. Our first section was just to peep at the river - green and slow. There was nothing special about this particular point of the river, but I was blown away by the whole idea. The whole idea of Christ, my Lord, walking on earth - walking just here. I was breathtaken. The group moved on with Tour Guide but I just lay there in the dust. The next stop was what the archiologists believe is the exact site of Jesus' baptism - there is a mosaic showing a building there from a few years AD and the stones from this building are still there. We viewed it all - dried up now - from a platform above. By this stage I was clear that Tour Guide was not really the explainer I would have chosen as he sounded a bit bored and slightly annoyed. People also asked questions I did not want to know the answers to. So as TG told us 'let's move on now' Nick and I stayed behind a moment to pray. As we knelt down, we heard a whistle. Down below an old man with dark skin and a white & red headpeice beckoned us to join him at the site. There was a gap in between the rope fence so we crept down... "Ex-cuuuse me!" TG shouted from up ahead. The old man shouted something in Arabic. TG relaxed.

Here we were - on the site where Christ was baptised. We knelt and wept. I could imagine the whole thing so clearly - the Father singing words of love, Jesus receiving it in the waters, the Spirit rejoicing as a dove. Wooppeee! And then I heard these precious words... "This is my daughter, whom I love, with her I am well pleased..." Oh the beauty and joy and glory of this! I want nothing else!

To finish we dipped our feet in the Jordan, among tadpoles in the still, green slow flow. We saw an exquisitly adorned church and as our fellow group members marvelled at its cream stone, I questioned in my heart whether Jesus would have asked for this as a response. Baking hot, we walked for what felt like a LONG TIME back to the bus. Sweat was just pouring everywhere - but I didn't mind!

Taxi back to Amman, and then service taxi down to Aqaba. It felt like a long drive though it was only four hours. A numb bum is not an aid to a long journey - famous Taxi proverb. Sweet moments though - a pitstop to pee (rare) and the driver covering my window with carboard so I was shaded. In the last hour, however, I had to rip this covering down because we were suddenly surrounded by the desert and its mountains. Arid brown sands and towering empires of rock - jagged, relentless and rugged, jutting out of the ground, its vast boulders like tiny crumbs encrusted on its edges. We tore in between these mountains, sitting ahead of us too. They were lit up from behind, and in magical shades of cool blue they were crisp in the forefront and translucent further away.

We arrived at our hotel and were blown away. It has a pool and it is by the sea... we are basically on holiday! After the tumultous travels thus far it is the richest blessing. We ambled down to the beach and swam - of course! Ahead of us was the sea, the blue mountains of Egypt and the radiant glow of a pink and yellow sunset. Behind us were the desert mountains and the moon - brightening as the sky darkened. I didn't know which way to look so I kept spinning around until I had to stop!

Today we planned to go to Nuweiba, Egypt on a quick little boat across the Red Sea. It should have taken an hour - so easy. Sadly the boat's departure time has changing since the Lonely Planet was written - and our hotel didn't know about it either - so we rocked up ready to go and had missed it. It was also full. So instead of catching it's midnight sister tonight we plan to go tomorrow. We both got really annoyed about the change to our plan! I particuarly was in a bad mood about it - and then felt bad for being in a bad mood in a stunning place. We haven't stopped much since we left and the thought of hanging around the pool with nothing to do got me into such a stinker! I KNOW this will drive some of you crazy! But I suppose I must be honest! I suppose sometimes we want our own way and when a plan is changed, our own way is gone and we get cross. But life is surrender to Jesus and I am learning... Thankfully we cheered up a few of hours ago and have spent a delightful, relaxing afternoon lazing in the sun, reading, writing. Now I am seriously getting into it! I could holiday more often! No... we must catch the boat tomorrow. Or at least try.