And so, we woke up and took our first look at the city. We’d been hearing it all night; for some reason every snort, scratch, fart and whistle from the street below came in through our window. It was almost as though we were sharing a room with the various tramps and late night street vendors – not to mention the incessant beeping of car horns. Still, it was lovely to be woken by the Muslim Call to Prayer – played on loudspeakers from the towers of every mosque, it was a haunting melody with a soaring, yearning quality – utterly different from the harsh wail you hear in movies. Of old there would have been a man singing it out from each tower five times a day, which must have seriously devalued the nearby houses if your local singer was crap.
My first opinion was that Jordan is… brown. If you think this is unjustified or insensitive, please refer to the following photograph:
So there. There’s no flat land in Amman – every building clings to the hillside and every alleyway leads to a steep flight of crumbling steps. To live here is to gain thighs like tree-trunks and lungs like Zeppelins – unless you’re a woman. They don’t go out much. I had the unusual experience of seeing more pre-Christian archaeological sites (2), more city-dwelling wild rabbits (3) and more kilt-wearing Jordanian-Scottish bag-pipers (2) than I saw women on my first day in Amman (0).
Day One; Mum locked herself in the loo again. Possibly this was due to Karma, since she had stolen a butter knife from the plane “in case we need it for picnics”. This thought occurred to me at exactly the right time, as using the knife I was able to free her from the outside. This is now the forth continent on which I have successfully broken into a toilet.
Our hotel receptionist showed us the back way up to the ancient Citadel. By climbing up, around, past and sometimes through the local people’s houses we came from below and snuck into the ruined fortress in secret. Thus we bypassed the entrance fee, which has made me feel guilty ever since. It’s true – crime doesn’t pay. There were guards – armed police that were dressed more like the SAS – but they didn’t seem to be doing much. Just standing beyond the safety barriers, on the edges of cliffs and monuments, chatting. Almost as if to say ‘We’re police, nothing is forbidden to us! Just you try it…’
“Tough gig,” I remarked. “Can’t see much trouble up here. Visitors tend to be in the 60+ age bracket. Not much gun crime in that demographic… Job description: Look menacing. Smoke cigarette. Take a call. Move to other end of site and repeat.”
But it had to be said – the ruins were amazing. Gigantic. These ancient civilisations, they liked their columns and they liked ‘em BIG. Two in particular dominated the site, somehow still supporting a carved lintel that must weigh the same as a decent truck.
They were crying out to be climbed. But surely that wasn’t allowed? The few tourists and locals were strolling casually over the walls and fallen archways, clambering onto stone pedestals for a better view or posing atop smaller chunks of ancient masonry. No-one seemed to care. I couldn’t resist trying a few parkour jumps across gaps in the stonework – after all they’d survived the earthquakes that destroyed most of the citadel.
Good clean fun! Then I spotted two other lads, both clearly local boys, doing a bit of the same. They’d scrambled up the massive stone walls, right to the base of the twin columns. They seemed to be contemplating an epic jump down to a grass covered mound below. Surely if they were up there it must be allowed? It never would be back home… Before you could say ‘Bad Idea’ I was leaping up the blocks towards them. Just then a harsh command in Arabic exploded behind me. The other two guys froze – then they threw a pair of worried looks over my shoulder. I crapped myself, jogged along the wall in the direction I was facing and jumped off the far end to safety. Roo was waiting for me in the shadows. A quick glance back the way I’d come showed the would-be athletes surrendering themselves to a whole pack of armed guards. Neither group seemed particularly happy.
We moved as quickly as we could in the opposite direction, putting a sizeable chunk of ruins between me and the soldier-police. I even took my bright red jacket off in case it made me more recognisable – though the fact that I was being very obviously arm-steered by the only blonde woman we’d seen since we entered the country probably didn’t help. ‘Go in springtime, the guidebook said, there’ll be no crowds…’
As my almost-partners-in-possible-crime were frog-marched away by the police, Roo and me peeked out from behind a two thousand year old corner. “See, how they’re carrying those machine guns?” Roo gestured at the departing escort. “There is a time and a place for climbing old buildings and jumping off them,” she said. “This is NOT that time.”