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We assumed when we left London at the beginning of February, we’d left the only cold we’d see all trip behind as well. When we mapped out our flights, we planned to be in the Middle East in February and early March so we could miss the cold creeping out of the Northern Hemisphere. We assumed it would be warm in February in Dubai, Jordan, and Israel. You know what they say about assumptions and in our case it’s true. This is the story of how misperception can frost bite you in the arse.
We landed in Amman, Jordan on February 17th. We’d booked two night’s at Genny Bed & Breakfast. It was one of those places where we felt the hosts took pity on our ragged selves, tending to our comfort as if we were their kids, but they were probably just good hosts. We ended up staying three nights on the outset and made sure to stop in for one more before heading out. It was 50 degrees Fahrenheit when we arrived. The moment we pulled up to Genny’s, rain hit and the mercury sank. It snowed twice while we were there. When we asked people if this was normal, we got a consistent response, “Well not really. But it is February,” whatever that means.
Despite being relatively unprepared for the cold, we layered up and headed into town to do some sightseeing.
As a woman entering the King Abdullah I Mosque, I was required to wear a hooded abaya (borrowed from the shop downstairs) and cover my hair. These kind of clothing restrictions for women usually get under my skin, but this time I was grateful for the extra layer.
Then we headed over to the Citadel in city center to take in the ancient Roman ruins and the Temple of Hercules.
Now, I bet you’re thinking what Nellu was thinking, “Wow! Ruins! Ruins are cool.” Well let me set the scene a little better. The Citadel in Amman, as many citadels are, is on top of a big, open hill. This kind of vantage point may have protected the fort during a siege in ancient times, but it left us exposed to the cold and the wind on this frigid day in February.
We spent some time exploring all that the Citadel had to offer. I can’t remember how much time, but it was long enough for the chill to get so thoroughly in my bones that I begged Nellu to leave and find some place warm.
But that was part of the problem in Jordan. Internal heat doesn’t exist in most of the buildings. We were able to find shelter and yummy food at Hashem’s at the foot of the Citadel but most of the famous eatery was open air. We headed to the back corner but the only heat we found came from our hot mint tea.
But this day in the cold wasn’t the straw that broke this camel’s back for one important reason: Genny’s had heat.
I didn’t break until we went to Petra days later.
Now just to make sure I don’t get misread on this one – we loved Petra. It was an amazing anthropological site and the reason that Jordan should be high on the list of countries to visit in your lifetime. We’ll have more on Petra in future posts.
The issue that I had with Petra – or more specifically with Wadi Musa, the town that serves as an entrance to the site – was the lack of heat. We planned to spend three days exploring the area: the first two roaming around Petra and staying at a hostel in town, and the third day we’d check out “Little Petra” and sleep at a the Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp just a few kilometers away.
The weather when we arrived was warm during the day. We shed layers as we toured Petra, climbing up to lookouts and rambling down hillsides. Before the sun went down, we headed back to our hostel. It was cold in our room so we climbed under the thick stack of blankets on our bed. The hostel did have heat but they only turned it on between 6am and 9am in the morning and 6pm and 9pm at night.
“I’m not getting out of bed until the heat is on,” I declared.
But when 6pm rolled around there was no sign of heat. As the sun set, the room just got colder and colder. At 6:15pm, I convinced Nellu that he should be the one to get out of bed to assess the situation. He walked over and put is hand on the heater. “I’ve got bad news for you,” he said, “The heat is on.”
“What!? That can’t be,” I shouted in exasperation, hopping out of bed to check for myself.
It was true. The heat was on, barely, and it didn’t make much of a difference. I felt my spirit of adventure, the one that kept me going through horrible train rides, camera accidents, and costly mistakes, quietly slip away. You could say it froze to death.
I may have been ready to go home the day we left Africa but this was the first time I wanted to go home. “This isn’t normal!! This isn’t normal!!!!” I whimpered.
We headed out of our hostel in search of food and somewhere warm to eat. Most of the restaurants in town were once again open to the cold air. We found food but little reprieve from the cold.
On returning to our hostel, I thought I would try a trick I learned working as a TV news producer. The best way I’ve found to get the cold out of your bones after a long day out in the field is to take a hot shower and dry your hair with a hair dryer. Shooting hot air at your head for a prolonged period of time gives you a warm halo effect that can last for almost 30 minutes.
Lucky for me the hostel had a hair dryer (most don’t), but my warm-up plan was flawed. The water coming out of the shower head was indeed hot but the bathroom was like an ice box including the tile under my feet. You had to work hard to stay directly under the sorry little stream of water to prevent frost bite.
Would you rather take a cold shower on a hot day or take a hot shower in a freezing room? After traveling for more than a year, getting exposure to both situations, I can tell you that I’d take the former any day.
As we went to bed that night, I held onto the hope of a warm day in Petra and the promise of returning to Genny’s at the end of the week.
Thankfully it didn’t get as cold in our hostel the next night. We also found a restaurant that had a warm upstairs for dinner. It was filled, of course, with foreigners.
For our final night in southern Jordan, we headed out to the Bedouin camp. My spirits had been propped up by the promise of a camp fire. And while I was comforted by my direct access to an open flame, the realization that every warm piece of clothing I had would smell of smoked meat until I got the chance to wash and air dry them (much of the world does not have clothes dryers) dampened my mood.
Oh but thank goodness for Genny’s! After a three and a half hour bus ride and short cab ride back to Amman the next day, I washed and dried the smoked-meat smell right out of my hair. It was wonderful moment for me.
That night, I caught myself staring at the hairdryer similarly to the way Tom Hanks stares at the barbecue lighter at the end of “Cast Away.” He seems to contemplate the ease and comfort of modern life. I can relate.
The first thing that comes to mind when one thinks about Dubai is certainly not budget travel. This Emirate made its name with its bigger-the-better-no-luxury-spared attitude (that ultimately led to a $10 billion bailout from its neighbor Abu Dhabi). But I had covered this rise and stumble at my old job and wanted to take in the place with my own eyes. And that’s exactly what we did. Nellu and I spent the four days we were there primarily gawking at buildings.
The biggest and best of these buildings is certainly the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building for the moment. Formerly known as the Burj Dubai, they changed the name to Burj Khalifa in honor of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates and emir of Abu Dhabi. Apparently $10 billion dollars buys you a great deal of flattery. (Nellu would like to point out that the title president in this case refers to the man in charge of running the “constitutional federation of absolute monarchies.”)
It was truly a spectacular sight in person. The way the intense desert sun reflects on the glass and metallic structure makes it seem more fitting for Lex Luthor’s lair in a Superman movie than the homes, offices, and hotel it houses in real life.
We went to visit the Burj Khalifa twice. The first time was the morning we arrived in Dubai. The second time, we went at night to see fountain show in the moat that surrounds the building and take the elevator to the 124th floor observation deck. Over the last year, I’ve come to believe that water and light shows are all over-rated, but the one outside the Burj Khalifa did deliver. We also had fun taking pictures from so high above the flat night landscape.
But my favorite thing about the Burj Khalifa is the complete lack of irony its marketing team has when it touts the greatness and the achievement of building a really tall building. The phrase, “The word impossible is not in the leaders’ dictionaries,” greets visitors waiting to go up to the top deck.
You can get a better sense of the hype in this promotional video:
The other must see building for me in Dubai was the Burj Al Arab.
It’s Dubai’s hotel that looks like a sail. Interesting side note, a friend told me that advertisers aren’t allowed to photo the building from the sea because the long perpendicular restaurant near the top forms a cross against the building’s tall pillar. There is much debate on the web whether or not this was done intentionally – placing a Christian symbol on an iconic building in a Muslim nation. Also apparently an urban myth is the claim that the Burj Al Arab is the only seven-star hotel in the world. Wikipedia entries (and you know everything you read on Wikipedia is true) report none of the star rating systems actually go above five stars.
You can’t go visit the Burj Al Arab unless you’re staying there or you have a reservation at one of the hotel’s restaurants. You can make a reservation at the Skyview Bar for a minimum spend of about $60 a person but Nellu and I instead tried to get as close as we could without a meal commitment.
We made it as close at the hotel next door. They were less than thrilled when I tried to inch my way closer by going through the staff area outside.
One of the things I said we’d do on this trip was sneak into a hotel pool. It would have made a good story if that pool just happened to be at the Burj Al Arab (note to self).
Ok, I must admit, we’re home and we have been for about a week and a half. And before that we were visiting friends from Germany to Ireland so that’s why these posts have become few and far between and there hasn’t been anything new for almost a month. Wow, have I been slacking off! We’ve got so many more stories, photos, and videos to share. I just have to get motivated and I promise if you stick with me I will.