Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Road Trip Jordan (Part 2)

“Umm guys, I think we've just been locked in the castle!”
“No way!” exclaims Tom, as everyone leans over the edge, looking down towards the gate.
“I think Ken's right, the gate is closed and there is no one there!” Jay replies.

Taking advantage of our high vantage point, Tom points to an area along the north-west side of the castle, where the wall had partially collapsed, “We could climb out through there.” he says. Looking over, it does seem like a plausible way out of the castle, but one wrong move could send any one of us plummeting down 50 feet off a cliff!

 It has been a long day, and having already “escaped” out of one castle earlier in the day, did we really have to escape out of this one too? Heading towards the exit, Laurence, Philip and Tom find a flimsy construction scaffolding along the east facing wall, leading down to a steep retaining wall (that we could probably scramble down), and onto a ring road circumventing the old castle. But before any one of us risked climbing onto the scaffolding that was over 30 feet high without any safety equipment, common sense got the better of us, and we decided to try the main exit, hoping that someone would be there to let us out.

Walking towards the exit, we could tell that the gate was indeed closed. With the thick iron grills filling the entire archway, there was no way we could climb over it. Coming around a bend, the whole gate comes into view, and leaning against the outer wall, partially hidden from view, was the castle attendant grinning from ear to ear and smoking a cigarette. Somehow, I get the feeling that he knew where we were all along, knowing that we could see him walk away from the top of the castle walls. Unlocking the thick iron gates, we were freed – once again – relieved to be let out, and ending the day on a high!

The Dead Sea

Standing at the lowest point on earth at 400m below sea level, I gaze across a calm, clear, mirror-like lake. Across in a distance, are the lifeless barren peaks of the West Bank. The heat of the blazing sun is starting to feel unbearable, and wading into the cool salty waters of the Dead Sea offered a welcome reprieve.

Unwilling to pay an arm and a leg to visit one of the resorts along the Dead Sea, we found a secluded spot along the Dead Sea Highway, parked along the sandy shoulder, and hiked down an embankment to a quiet rocky beach along the Dead Sea. Floating effortlessly on my back, the silence is broken as Laurence and Tom dives head first into the water, surfacing to cries of agony as the salty waters burn their eyes, turning them bright red.

Spending just a few minutes in the water, my body starts to burn all over. Every graze, cut, and mosquito bite that I've been scratching all over my body has swelled up, turning bright red from the salt burning into the raw skin. After quickly posing for pictures typical of any visit to the Dead Sea, such as reading a book while floating on our backs, we call it quits, rinsing ourselves off with bottles of fresh water brought along for this very purpose!

Been there! Done that! And one more check off my 'things to do before I die' list!

Slip and Slide at Wadi Mujib

Moving through another canyon, another Sig. This one, like the one at Petra, is narrow, about ten meters wide on average. The cliff faces are streaked in the same bursts of orange and pink, dancing in the mid afternoon light. However, unlike the Sig in Petra, where the Nabataeans built dams and aqueducts to divert the water, we are wading through about a foot of rapidly flowing, crisp, clear, fresh water! One of the few inlets of fresh water into the Dead Sea, the Wadi Mujib Nature Reserve hosts a dazzling array of plants and wildlife, anchored there by this little stream, cutting its way through the canyon.

Taking advantage of the cool, clean, fresh water to wash the salt off our skins and hair, we hike two kilometers up through the narrow canyon. Along the way, small whitewater rapids, cascades, and natural slides. Around every bend, a surprise. Culminating at the end is a waterfall. Over thirty meters high, a torrent of water pours down from a crack in the canyon above. Like kids in a playground, we climb on the rocks, going behind the wall of falling water, jumping and splashing in the natural pool, and getting knocked around by the currents.

With no pictures to show, I make a mental note to get myself a waterproof camera for my next trip.

More Car Rental Woes!

After leaving Wadi Mujib, we continued driving north along the Dead Sea Highway, looking for a shady spot where we could have a picnic lunch. Having identified a site and parking along the side of the highway, we were surprised when a gray car suddenly pulls up along side ours. To our even bigger surprise, Ahmad, the service taxi driver who recommended his 'friend' the rental car guy to us jumps out! Seeing the five of us, he starts shaking his head, and goes on to reprimand Laurence and I for taking three more people along on the trip, claiming that it was illegal to carry more than 4 persons in that car! Was he following us? Spying on us? What was he doing hundreds of kilometers from his home in Petra, where he claims he is from, on a Saturday anyway?

“We rented the car...and we paid for the car. How many people we take with us is our problem!” Laurence argues.
“And besides there are 5 seat belts in the car, which means that legally, we can carry five people!” I chime in.

Refusing to get into an argument with Ahmad, who by now is on the phone with Bayan, we tell Ahmad that this issue is between us and Bayan, and is none of his business anyway, leaving him standing on the side of the road on his phone and walking off to have our lunch.

During the drive to Madaba, Laurence pours through the entire rental contract, and nowhere in there does it say that the maximum occupancy was four. And besides, we have driven through multiple police check-points over the last two days, and not once were we stopped for carrying five people. Knowing that Bayan was certain to ask us for extra money for carrying five people, we prepared to fight it out!

Getting into Madaba, we made sure to arrive at our agreed drop off point, a side street next to a popular hotel in Madaba, right on time, so as to not give Bayan any other excuse to charge us more money. Arriving over an hour late, Bayan first complains about how expensive it was for him to travel all the way to Madaba from Petra to pick up the car. Our response: That's your business – we agreed to a price, and we're sticking to it.

Next he tells us that he was going to charge us 20JD more for carrying a fifth person. And at this point, a full on argument ensues.

“You never told us that we could only carry four people. You agreed to a price, a price for renting the car for two days, not the number of people in the car, and then you raised it by 15JD, now you want to raise the price again? Is that how you run your business? You realize we will NEVER recommend you to anyone else ever, and in fact, we'll tell people not to rent from you!” Laurence argues.
Responding to Laurence, Bayan responds, “This car, not for five people. Two okay, three okay, four okay, but not five!”
“But you never told us! These are things that you need to tell the renters when they rent the car, not after the fact!
Jumping in at this point, I add, “There are five seat belts in the car, and I've rented cars all over the world, and as long as every occupant has a seat belt, we are not breaking any laws.”
“But not in Jordan!”
“Well then, show me where in the contract does it say that? If it is that important, it should be clearly stated in the contract!”
“Or you need to tell us that!” Laurence adds.

Realizing that he is getting nowhere with us, Bayan turns to a Jordanian passerby on the street, and rattles off to him in Arabic, clearly bad mouthing us and pointing to us! Losing my temper, I immediately jump between Bayan and the passerby, shouting, “Why are you getting someone else involved? This is between you and me! Don't be getting strangers involved!”

At this point, Bayan starts complaining about the condition of the interiors of the car. Pointing to the mud stains on the rear floor mats and food crumbs on the seats, which in my opinion, was making much ado about nothing, for the interiors were about what you would expect after a two day road trip that involved outdoor activities.

After arguing for about 15 minutes, we finally come to a compromise. Five more pounds for the fifth person to make the total 100JD! Agreeing to the deal, Bayan hands me back 150JD, a refund for the 250JD deposit we had to pay when we picked up the car. In the heat of the moment, I completely forgot about the 4JD we paid to get the brakes fixed, but in the big scheme of things, that wasn't anything to cry over either.

It is infuriating whenever an agreed upon price, even a price that is printed on a contract is a moving target, and can be renegotiated. Typical of the Middle-East, and many other parts of the world, I've actually seen this happen to both tourists and locals alike. The only difference is that locals are used to dealing with situations like these, and they have more leverage with unscrupulous business owners. I'm glad we stood our ground and fought hard, and overall, we made it out alright! 100JD for two days of car rental is about the standard going rate, and after splitting between five guys, it was well within my travel budget.

Glad that this ordeal was finally over, we left Madaba, catching a ride in a minivan taxi for the capital Amman. The last two days have been quite the adventure. Five people, five countries, one shared experience. In a day, we would all be going on our separate ways, we might never see or speak with each other ever again. And as for me, I will be crossing borders again, this time, on the road to Damascus.


Post a Comment