Saturday, February 1, 2014

Escaping Amman (Jordan, Part I)

We arrived in Jordan late at night. We had reserved a car ahead of time but approached the rental desk with trepidation, since B had spent the last 45 minutes of the flight reading terrible reviews of this dealer.

Luckily, the man behind the counter seemed helpful and knowledgeable. He walked us out to the tiniest car we had ever seen. I was excited. It would be easy to maneuver and easy to park. B was worried that his legs wouldn’t fit. The car was quite dirty and when we started it up the gas tank was almost empty. The counter guy assured us that this was how all rentals worked in Jordan - just return it the same way. We shrugged and drove off.

As we raced down the highway toward Amman, we marveled at how cold it was outside. There were piles of snow everywhere. This would have been exciting, but we were currently experiencing the cold firsthand. We had come to realize that the heater in our car didn’t work. Fifteen minutes into the drive we were both shivering and by the time we reached the hotel, we knew we had to call the rental place and swap cars.

Our hotel was very friendly and quite run-down. A large group of men were yelling and drinking in the bar to our left and, as luck would have it, our room was right above that bar. Following the motto, ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’, we decided to head downstairs and have some drinks.

We were both excited for the chance to order alcohol - living in a dry country, makes every bar an amazing place. B ordered a local beer called Philadelphia. We joked about this ‘American’ name, but later learned that Amman was known as Philadelphia when it was under Greek rule. Whoops. I ordered a local wine. Neither of us was very impressed with our drinks and for the remainder of the trip we stuck to foreign wine and beer. I guess we have become a bit of snobs when it comes to our drinks.

The following morning we set out to find the closest rental place. A quick internet search revealed a branch just 5 kilometers away. Perfect. We would head there, get a new car and then get out of town. We loaded our bags, accepted some last minute tips from our hosts and headed down the street - except there was nowhere to go. Every street was jam-packed. No matter where we turned, traffic was stopped. In the end, it took us an hour and half to travel 6 kilometers. We had to laugh, and shake it off, what else was there to do.

The car exchange was easy - same car, different color - and we decided to rent a GPS for the next 10 days since we were finding Jordan very difficult to navigate. The new car had even less gas than our previous car, so, although we were both anxious to get out of Amman, our first order of business was to find a gas station.

Using the GPS it only took us only 12 wrong turns to get to a station.  We were both desperate to pee, but the station had only one restroom and only men were welcome to use it. While B was relieving himself, I was asked by the attendant to pay for the gas. In Kuwait, this is never an issue, as everyone speaks at least some English. But this attendant spoke none. I glanced at the total and tried to surreptitiously pull that amount of cash from the giant roll of bills in my purse.  I handed the attendant the money and he began to shake his head and gesture wildly. I had no idea what was wrong.

I pulled out more money – a mistake, I know – and gestured to it, trying to ask how much more he needed. He grabbed double the amount on the machine. I started to argue. He walked away. I didn’t know what to do. B appeared at this moment, I quickly explained (he just shook his head when I got to the part about pulling cash out) and he went to try to reason with the attendant. The attendant acted like he had no idea why I was upset.

It was at this moment that a stranger appeared. In every travel adventure, I am saved by the kindness of strangers - they are some of my favorite people. The stranger asked us what was wrong and then translated to the attendant. Basically, the attendant was swearing that he had filled up our tank halfway, accidentally erased the total, then continued to fill it and that is why he needed double. The stranger added that the attendants “were all thieves” and I should watch them at all times. I sighed. I hadn’t been watching at all.

In the end, we decided to just leave it. As is often the case, the attendant definitely needed the money more than me and I had been reminded of an important lesson. Only show the money you are willing to spend, not all the money you have. xo.

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