On Sunday morning I joined my group – motley as usual but dominated by Aussies. There are two native Canadian girls – Susanne and Jean – from BC, Elisabeth and Kevin from Ireland and the UK respectively but long-term Canadian residents, solo English travellers John and Ashley, three Aussie sisters and their mate from Melbourne – Jenny, Rose, Libby and Chris, and Italian-Australians Dana and Phil from Sydney.
Don’t know why I bother to report all the names. I’ve only just mastered them myself after three days. We also have Lhoucine – sounds like ‘Hussein’ – a tour guide from Morocco and Berber by culture who’s on this trip as a kind of encouragement award, I gather, for being top of the tour guide charts in his native country.
In firm command is ethnically Bedouin Petra native Hameed, who has firm ideas on such things as how to walk in formation – heaven help you if you get a few steps ahead of him – and the perils of dehydration. He urged us to buy lakeloads of water in plastic bottles at the start of the tour. I got away – just – with a sparse two litres, which was more than I needed and a pain in the arse to carry around. He actually said to us on the Petra hike: ‘I don’t see enough drinking of water!’ I didn’t dare confess that I had only brought one 330ml bottle with me, and only drank half of that! But he knows everybody in Petra and can fix or sort out anything. Hi Hameed, and thank you for a) having milk sent to my room, b) getting the fridge replaced, c) arranging a personal lesson for me from the Duty Manager in how to unlock a door (I abjectly apologise for being such an idiot incidentally), d) getting Mohammed to retrieve my sunglasses from the bus that time and finally all your good advice about taxis and ATMs and suchlike. Now can we go back to mutual teasing please.
The most indispensable member of the group is of course our driver, Mohammed. He speaks no English which is a pity because he’s a merry fellow who’s constantly cracking the other two Arab blokes up as we drive along.
So, day one was Sunday and started with a drive north to Gadara, Um Qais and Jarash, passing close by the Syrian border.
We’ve just turned off a highway that leads to a much-used border crossing. Hameed said he could get me across easily, an offer I would have accepted readily if we’d had the time for such an indulgence.
Day two (Monday) started with a visit to the Citadel overlooking Amman, something Ray and I didn’t get round to on account of It’s punishingly high up.
Later we went to Mt Nebo, a Christian site founded by Franciscans