So that weekend hitchhike with settlers we made in the midst of exams, my bosom friend (BF) and I, made to the shiny diesely sci-fi sprawl of Amman; what was that about?
We HIKED WADI MUKHERIS, abseils and all! We saw friends, ate falafel at Hashem and knafeh at Habibah, took in the organic hipster cafes of Rainbow Street and even squeezed in a visit to Naranj – more on that below.
We came to renew our visas, for Israel issues only 3 month tourist visas to foreign students at Arab universities, after which we have to apply for residency or hope for renewal of the tourist visa by re-entry of Israeli borders.
Wadi Mukheris, my friends! What a wadi. I feel her still in my triceps and in my quads. Have you ever daydreamed of waterfalls and pools, of solitude in wilderness and breathtaking rock formations, in short, my friends, of adventuring? I have now done it! And it’s all it’s cracked up to be. Three fit young Jordanians, not inconsiderably attractive, helped us to achieve our basic-bitch nature dreams and to profit from every inch of our legs. My fellow student companions, BF included, were as fun and supportive as could be wished.
The scenery was frequently breathtaking, with a multitude of plants and colours in the landscape, and we spotted many little frogs and crabs and dragonflies. I stood having my back massaged under a warm waterfall and BF traversed a deep pool to the detriment of her fears and bolstering of my pride.
We were very tired after taking all those breaths at all those views, but still dolled up for a late-night Syrian repast at Naranj, relocated from Damascus Old City to Amman.
I visited Naranj twice whilst in Damascus. The restaurant was a haunt of Syrian dignitaries and international celebrities, and succeeded in an atmosphere of luxury and splendour. As a lapsed vegetarian, I was keen to have their kabab karaz – an Aleppan lamb dish cooked with bitter cherries I had forsworn for ethical reasons the last times I visited. I had fond memories too of the extravagant heaps of sweets and fruit that were brought on platters at the end of a meal.
We had four starters and seven mains between us; grape leaves with lamb, mixed grill, kebab with aubergine, kibbeh labniyah, vegetarian kibbeh, samkeh harrah, mutabbal, kamar al zaman, jaifoureh, shish barak.
I felt anxious and sad on the way to my attempt to revisit pre/inter-war Damascus. It seemed a strange and emotionally dangerous idea to make a fun evening out of a fraught memory. As beautiful and delicious as Naranj was in a beautiful and delicious city, as an exclusive establishment it did not represent the full history of Damascus. And I was worried too it would not live up to my memories.
Thankfully the food left no taste bud untouched. Every mouthful was a flight of fancy, etc. However, service from the bedecked waiters was barely noticeable. We would have merited more attention had we been Syrian ancien regime, I am sure. Despite the extravagance, there was a sense of ordinariness of the evening that assuaged my inner fears. The four of us who’d hiked were at the tipsy stage of weary. Very full and mildly bumped, scraped and bruised we giggled and Careemed (illegally) back to our friends’ flats and slept terribly deeply on Saturday night. BF went on with t’others to visit Petra – which you might want to do yourself, if you haven’t.
Look, nobody asked me to give my opinions on Amman. But Amman was as I remembered. I love cars, and I consider concrete and steel and glass to be very fine institutions, but too much of a good thing y’all. Its chief delight resides, I believe, in leaving it. A young affluent hipster expat with strong knees can make good in the city, tilling the furrows between art shop and coffee shop and nightclub, but it’s no place for a homebod and its name is unknown to the antiquarian map dealer. Highlights: Hashem (where the king has eaten falafel); Habeeba (where the king has eaten knafeh); trying to guess at a distance which billboards will be male perfume ads and which will be portraits of King Hussein.
Jordan is very policey and our tour bus of hikers was stopped for a good ten minutes of discussion with armed police. The only other interaction we had en route to the deserted canyon was with a shepherd in shemagh, herding his sheep from a donkey, helped by three dogs (one of whom looked suspiciously like a Pomeranian).
My taxis to and from the border were also stopped by police, though without delay or incident. My friendly driver took me to three post offices to find me stamps but we had no joy. I saw a repeat of the Arab Revolt centenary markers.
For most of the journey I was smiling to myself at my new present, a gift from a young bookshop worker at the bookstore-cum-café I’d stopped off at whilst waiting for my taxi. I’m very susceptible to bookshop staff.
Tropical Desert Tours who arranged our hike can be found here; the full day trip (finishing in an hour of scrambling in the dark) cost 40 dinar each.
Goodbye Jordan! Goodbye fond hostesses who took me in with such grace and hospitality! I have lectures in Nablus [and US election parties in Ramallah] to attend, and I must leave you!