|Rami is a big tall guy. One of those guys who has to wind himself into a car seat behind the diver’s wheel and then unfurl himself to get out. Sun visors for these large chaps, if lowered, only obscure their vision so are never used and I am sure they would happily poke their head through a roof opening for better comfort if one were available. Rami speaks an English of sorts that we eventually decipher enough to enjoy his humour, is 29 years old and married without children to a 20 year old since ‘when girl is 25, she too old to marry’. Rami loves three things: talking, food and girls which he is at pains to point out is what all Arab men love; perhaps this is why Islam allows them to have four wives? Rami also sports a near permanent grin on his dial, loves to joke and is as genial and gentle a person whom I have ever met. Rami is to be our driver and near constant companion for the next 5 days.
Soon after 8.30 am we are heading out of Amman down the ancient Kings Highway towards Madaba. Rami talks constantly: either to us - but at this stage we haven’t tuned in too well to his ‘English’ so we only get a glimmer of understanding – or possibly more often, to his mobile phone. As the day wears on we come to the conclusion that if Rami had three hands he would have three mobile phones, such is the number of calls and conversations he has. Of course, Jordan does not appear to insist that drivers use hand free devices. Rami happily gets around the difficulty of captaining a car containing our precious selves whilst talking on the phone by steering with the upper parts of his legs, all the while using the posted speed limit as something of a challenge to set a record against.
The St George Orthodox Church at Madaba boasts a floor decorated with a fairly intact incredibly stunning map of Palestine crafted in 560 AD. This is the oldest representation of Biblical lands and viewing the exquisite representation of Jerusalem was nearly worth being made vulnerable on the roads with Rami.
Then it was off to Mt Nebo broken by a brief stop where Rami, without request, bought us some cold water and chewy lollies, a generous quality to his nature that he was to show time and time again.
Now all you Bible scholars out there would know that Mt Nebo is where Moses first espied The Promised Land. The good Lord had sent him and his people on a merry go round through a bunch of city states at the time and had been thwarted at every turn, but from Mt Nebo could be seen Jericho, reputedly the oldest city in the world, and if that were conquered 'the land of milk and honey’ would be theirs. The 21st century has naturally turned Mt Nebo into a tourist destination which just shows you the enduring power of history and myth. Looking out towards Jericho we had a fine view of heat haze and dry hills and into the valley where the hardly trickling Jordan River traces its way to the Dead Sea. It was definitely not very promising looking at all. I thought that if Moses had climbed up here at the age of 120 and seen what we were looking at with the Lord telling him this is the ‘Promised Land’, it is probably no wonder he gave up the ghost there and then, leaving his son Joshua to march on and save the day.
By the time we hit the town of Wadi Musa, where we were to overnight, we were ready for the rest. Rami had led us on to the Crusader Fortress of Karak where it was down right near impossible to believe that the super thick vertiginous walls had succumbed to the power of the Muslim onslaught. But succumb they had and what remains today is still overwhelmingly mighty.
In order to reach Karak, however, the Kings Highway has to negotiate the stunning valley of the Wadi Mujib which stretches a fair way across Jordan. It is kind of Jordan Grand Canyon and 1 km deep. To get to the other side the highway makes a series of switch backs over 18 km as it descends and then ascends the southern side. The views are awesome and from Rami’s point of view, the road was put in place to test his multitasking skills. I have to admit that on occasion I was braking for him and wished he wasn’t on the mobile and that he would keep his eye on the road. Perhaps because we were in God’s own country, we somehow made it down and then up without taking to flight over the near vertical rocky sides to finally halt at a Bedouin’s simple roadside stall to drink some sweetened black tea.
Rami had been spending part of the time on his mobile phone checking out hotels in Wadi Musa and so we ensconced ourselves in the Petra Moon Hotel soon after quitting the sandy crumbling remains of Shobak castle, isolated on a barren pale rocky hill and looking resplendent silhouetted against the fading sun. It was yet another reminder that Christendom had all but been banished from the land of its founder so many centuries past. Rami disappeared to join up with some fellow drivers and share the shisha (his preferred water pipe flavour being apple).
Wadi Musa is a busy little town. Hundreds of tourist coaches populate the parking areas and hire cars transporting the slightly more independent line the streets. There are several hotels of varying quality and a choice of restaurants (although still short in number) that is found no where else in Jordan except in Amman and Aqaba. The prices are escalated and the merchants not as trustworthy.
The reason for all of this is simple; here lies the entrance to Petra, the jewel of Jordan’s treasure, if not the Middle East’s. We were to visit tomorrow