Monday, December 17, 2012

Jordan, Part 2

Ok! Now back to Jordan.  I had left you guys with a little walk around Amman, the Roman Coliseum and Rainbow street.  We move on to the next few days.

One of the new world wonders, Petra is a city carved in this pink limestone, something like 4000 years ago.  Again, not good at history, don't quote me on that.  Anyway it is also famous for a facade filmed in Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade or whichever one involved the Holy Grail. It is also enormous and takes like 2-3 days to really explore most of it. Of course I was dumb enough to do a day trip.  I wish I had more time!

The bus ride to Petra is in a minivan.  I call the colectivos because I've taken these all over Latin America, Africa and Asia, and that's the Spanish word for it, but basically it's a minvan of people, you pay like a dollar and they pick people up and drop them off where they need to go, like a collective taxi.  Taline told me an interesting unspoken rule in Jordan, which is if you're in one of these buses/vans, females and males don't sit next to each other.  So if you go sit in a row by yourself, a guy will NOT come sit next to you.  And here I thought I was just weirding people out.
The ticket to Petra is obscenely expensive.  I is 50 JOD which is something close to $75 USD.  It includes entry to the entire area as well as a horseback ride, which of course people will try to finagle a tip out of you after they walk you down a hill.  But I decided what the heck and was sitting on a horse talking to the dude walking it, when I realize my camera, which I had left charging all night, IS NOT WORKING.  MY CAMERA IS BROKEN AT ONE OF THE WORLD WONDERS.  I freak out.  It really didn't work!  I resorted to using my cell phone as a camera for the rest of the day, which is better than nothing, but I'm still kind of mad about it, especially as I managed to fix it after I got back.

I chose to bring my trusty Vibram Fivefingers, which got a lot of stares from the tourists and the locals.  You walk through this canyon type thing which is quite impressive on its own.  You can see the horse carriages tearing through. It kind of looked like a scene from Star Wars.
 So you're walking through...

 And you get to the front entrance, which I completely forgot what it used to be, but this is the famous facade in Indiana Jones!
 So then I took a very long hot hike and got very dusty, but saw many different places, all of which are in my brochure which I am too lazy to take a picture of to demonstrate.

So that was awesome!  I made it home that evening, tired and then we ate a lot of mezze. lol.

Jerash and Asloun:

 The next day I took a bus about an hour and a half up from Amman.  These two cities are about half an hours drive from each other and since I overslept, I first went to Asloun, which has a famous church.  I had a little issue flagging down a taxi but after that, was all good.  My camera worked this time so here goes:

At this point I looked around and wanted to take a bus over to Jerash, but was short on time.  So I asked some nice people at the tourist ticket place if they could get me a cab.  We fixed a price and this dude that doesn't speak a word of English came and picked me up.  We spent a good 45 minutes in the cab first blocking traffic to get two cups of Arabic coffee and then started driving, where I think I learned a few Arabic words but forgot about 10 minutes later.

Jerash is also a giant ancient city but appears to be Roman built.  It was huge.  I got bothered by an unofficial tour guide but he was pretty nice so I humored him and gave him a buck after he was done walking me around the place.  We had a nice conversation about jobs, he says he was a graphic designer but wants to move to Dubai or something.  He also told me that in Jordan you can't have more than one job.  Then he invited me to come to his house and drink coffee with him and meet his mother.  Not sure how real his story checked out to be but I wasn't about to go to his house and meet his mom, so I politely declined and left.

So now it's getting late and I can't get a bus back.  There are a bunch of taxi drivers hanging out having tea at a cafe, so I walk over there and bargain a ride with a dude that says hes driving another guy back to Amman.  The guy he's driving is Asian but is chainsmoking a bunch of cigarettes and is unresponsive.  So I just hang out and have a cup of tea until they are ready to leave.

Once we're in the car, I start talking to the driver, who's name is Yousef.  He's pretty nice and I tell him I'm from the US but my family is Taiwanese (EVERYONE asks me this, they ask, "where are you from?" and I say "the US" and then they ask, "no, where are you really from?" I'm American people!  AMERICAN! anyway it's ok.  The Asian non-responsive guy suddenly perks up.  It turns out he is a Taiwanese dude that works in petrochemicals and has been working out in Saudi Arabia for the past 4 years.  I told him I've met lots of Chinese people traveling, but never another Taiwanese person before. He suddenly gives me a copy of his passport with all his contact info and says I have proof! I should find that paper and take a picture of it.  No, that's a bad idea, I don't want his details all over the internet.  We had a nice conversation on the way back about Taiwan, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and some questioning about why I'm not married yet, even though the dude is 38 and only got married last year.  People are funny.

I'm going to put Part 3 later, which is... the Wadi Rum desert with the Bedouins, the Dead Sea, and Ma'in hot springs!

A tangent about airline status

Ok, I am eventually getting to Part 2 of Jordan (Taline is on my case! : ) but since I am grumpy, am coming down with a cold and a little loopy, first I will blog about something travel related.

If you have status with American Airlines, part of the OneWorld alliance, you can now match your status with Aerolineas Argentinas, which happens to be part of SkyTeam alliance.

What does this mean?  If you have status with American, you can get upgrades to American or any of the OneWorld airlines.  If you match the status with Argentinas, you will also get status with SkyTeam, which includes Delta.

There are only three major airline alliances (SkyTeam, Oneworld, Star Alliance) and most airlines are in one of the three.  So if you have status in two of the three, you've covered 2/3 of any airline you would end up taking!  Except budget ones.  Speaking of which, I ended up taking Jetblue for the first time the other weekend and I made a huge hullabaloo about it. Also it was to Long Beach.  But I got over it!

Any a real post about travel stories coming up : )

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Adventures in Jordan - Part 1

Hello all!

After a bit of technological craziness, I've gotten my photos together on my computer.  So here is a recap of my adventures to Jordan.

First, I want to outline how this trip began, because it totally was not planned. I had set up vacation for the week of Thanksgiving to go to Korea, and this was related to a completely retarded plane ticket I had bought in July to Seoul.  Do NOT buy a refundable ticket from US Airways, people.  Not fun. So long story short, I had bought a refundable ticket to Seoul in July, which turned out NOT to be refundable, so I rebooked it for Thanksgiving.  A few weeks ago there were some changes to my plans, and after several calls to US Airways, some confusion about cancellation fees (apparently a refundable ticket garners a $300 cancellation fee, which makes no sense if its effing refundable), I decided to eat the fee, that it was better to have some of the money and be able to use it on any airline, instead of have the whole amount stuck in some ticket credit with US Airways.  Strangely enough, after all that arguing, I got an email the other day saying they actually refunded me the full amount, and didn't charge me the $300.  Good, I got all my dinero back, but I am never booking a ticket with US Airways again - they  need to get their policies straight.

Anyway, back to Jordan.  Taline is currently working in Jordan doing a fellowship for Kiva, so I looked at flights, bought a ticket on the fly, and 2 days later left for a fun itinerary - LAX-SFO-JFK-VIE-AMM.

The trip did not start out well.  I stopped in SFO for a day to wrap up some work and I ended up getting a in a huge, huge argument with my parents regarding my dog.  That's another story on its own, but basically people have no right to yell at me for a prolonged period of time if both parties agree to do something and I write detailed instructions. When I write instructions, people need to read them.  I know this isn't my fault because this instruction writing issue happened again earlier this week.  But that's for another time, basically there were bad things happening and I ended up sleeping in the airport the evening before my 7 am flight to JFK. 

The flight to Amman takes about 25 hours, and with the sleeping in the airport thing, I was pretty beat by the time I arrived in the Amman airport on Sunday morning.  Taline was nice enough to write me detailed instructions in Arabic for the taxi driver, which looked like this (I think it's pasted backwards :)

منطقة العبدلي
قرب مسجد الملك عبدلله
الدخلة على اليمين قبل الكنيسة في وجه المسجد
ثمّ الدخلة الأولة على اليمين قرب Hotel Caravan
البناية رقم ٩ و هي آخر بناية على جهة الشمال
الرجاء  الإتّصال على الرقم التالي :4301 740-079 
الإسم: تالين
مع جزيل الشكر.

I make it to her apartment but we discover that my Verizon phone which supposedly has international roaming will make phone calls but not text messages.  Now, international roaming is another post I will make which will make it easier for people to ensure connectivity and not get lost as much when they're abroad, but it took several calls to Verizon to figure out:
1) my phone was, indeed, on roaming
2) Verizon does not cover international texts in Jordan, only calls
3) my Droid RAZR Maxx was already unlocked with the most recent update, so it IS possible to use a sim card with a CDMA phone
4) the SIM card slot is a micro sim card, like what iPhones use.

Taline lives in a neighborhood in Jordan called Abdali, which is by this huge blue mosque (and now I realize I forgot to actually take pictures of it).  There is also a church next to it so there is either chanting from the mosque or ringing bells from the church depending on the day.  She lives in an apartment complex which happens to be overrun with really nice and entertaining Italians who work for various NGOs and the UN, who were a blast to talk with : ) Everyone was lots of fun and we had a going away party for one of them, more on that later. 

 Anyway, Taline was nice enough to plan my entire week in Jordan for me, which was a welcome change to the usual : ) of course then I proceeded to half ruin it by sleeping and waking up in a jetlagged stupor for most of Monday.

Tuesday, I got my arse up and out of the house, and went walking around downtown Amman.  Most of it is quite busy and has narrow streets. I went through a street with just furniture... a street with just pet store stuff... and a street with a bunch of glassware... and then I got to some tourist area which is selling little knick knacks and other random stuff.  Then I got to the Roman Theater, which is a theatre from the Philadelphian era (I have no idea when this is, not a history buff, sadly).  All I know is it was built int the BC era.  Also I was too lazy to crop the panoramic view.

 I have a couple of pictures of the theatre, and then I sat down to read my book, but was promptly annoyed by some dude sitting on the steps staring at me.  I ignore him and continue reading my book.  Then he comes over and says..... (dun dun dun)..... "you're not from this country, are you?" and then asked if he could sit and talk with me.  Dude!  Do I look like I'm from Jordan? No offense, but Ilast time I checked I was Asian. Anyway, he wasn't being creepy or weird, actually he seemed really nice but I really was pretty engrossed in my book, so I said no, and then he proceeded to annoy me by lurking around different parts of the theatre spying on me. Then I got up and left.

After that I walked up to Rainbow Street, which has a bunch of high end shops and some bars/cafes and things that are better for night time, it seemed to be pretty trendy and I passed by a falafel place that the King apparently endorses or something. (I feel bad because I don't speak or read Arabic so just extrapolating).

After a bunch of walking around, I ended up back at Taline's house and after resting, they had a surprise birthday party for one of her flatmates... who didn't show up!  But I met a lot of Italians during it and it was still a lot of fun.

I'm saving this here but coming up next... Petra, Asloun and Jerash!