Monday, July 25, 2011

Getting my visa extended 7/16/11

I have been here almost 1 month and I need to get my visa extended. If you recall me mentioning I didn't have to pay the 20 JD when I got here because I said I was going to Aqaba within 48 hours, mentioning this because it caused some problems when I was trying to renew my visa. At the airport you can get a single entry visa for 20JD and it is good for 1 month. You then must renew it at the police station and they will give you 3 more months. This process actually took several days and then there are the days they are closed so it actually took about a week. Took a taxi to the gate where you have to state your business get your purse searched (they hold your phone, no cameras allowed), then walk uphill in the hot sun about 2 blocks to the main building. Then walk up stairs 2-3 flights and try to figure out where to go. Oh, the building has no a/c just open windows and a few fans. By the time I reached the top of the stairs I was panting heavily and covered in shiny perspiration, heck by the time I reached the top of the hill before I got into the building I had to stop and catch my breath and fan myself. Rayan and I asked directions to the proper office where the officer asked me if I had gotten my fingerprints and 2 passport photos for the paperwork, while he eyed my visa stamp in my passport. No, I don't have those yet I replied, thanked him and said I would return when I had those. Walk all the way back down to where we started and hail a taxi to go home. I need a cold diet pepsi and a nap and maybe 2 excederin, as this is not only a royal PIA but giving me a headache to boot.

Next day, got about 8 passport photos and a nice 3 x 5 for just 2 JD. On to be finger printed at the local police station. Yep you guessed it up a hill up alot of steps wait, wait and wait for someone. Apparently I need a woman to fingerprint me, god forbid a man touch my hand or make eye contact. Now I have never been finger printed at a police station and it took them a few tries to get my prints readable, they didn't offer me even a kleenex to wipe the black oily ink off my hands. When I asked to use the bathroom to try to wash them there wasn't any soap or any paper towels, really? I left as quickly as possible but I made sure I touched anything I could on my way out, leaving behind small black smudges everywhere. Rayan found some perfume spray which contains alcohol and I was able to get some of the goo off my hands finally and we made our way to the other station to get the extension. It was to late and they had gone for the day be continued.

Ok today is the day, you know the drill, up the hill, up the stairs (my fav) to the man behind the desk. I proudly and confidently handed him my fingerprints and pictures along with my passport. This time he looked at my previous visa stamp more closely and said that we would have to go to Amman to extend it, why? Because I had to pay the 20 JD that I didn't pay when I originally entered Jordan. Why didn't he notice this before and tell me then. Sad and dejected I left vowing never to return. Contemplating my next step and fearing they would deport me I got all worked up and then decided that it would be easier to over stay my visa and then simply go to Egypt and get another 1 month visa on the way back in. It took me a few more days to come to this brilliant conclusion though.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Planning for Egypt and Ramadan

The trip for Egypt is fast approaching and well I do like to plan everything out and then change it all. Nothing ever seems to go as planned though but it is hard for me to let go of the control I fool myself into thinking I have over things, so plan I must at least for now. I remember wanting to go to Alaska forever and planning it all out in my head down to the tiniest details and sadly being let down when the trip I went on did not live up to the image of it I had in my head. I am working on this to change and not be such a control freak but it won't be easy and won't be over night.I spend my days googling places to go , things to see and do and making lists, rearranging the lists and well you get the idea.

Ramadan- I am going to try to do it like a local and fast during the day, will see how it goes and I will keep you posted. I told everyone if they find me passed out just shove a snickers in my mouth and I should be good to go in no time, haha.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Shopping in Jordan 7-12-11

There is a great link telling you a lot about shopping in Jordan. Personally I have not yet been to the artisan shops just the local markets. Since we are in Asia it is natural to expect everything to be made in China and while very affordable is of poor construction and low quality. Reminds me of shopping at the dollar store in america. There are some interesting and fragrant spice stalls as well as fresh produce and lovely dried fruit stands as well as roasted nuts. Among these stands are also fruit smoothie vendors that make a great fresh mango smoothie. One of my favorites has been lemon, mint and sugar cane blended with ice-very refreshing during the hot day. Also available all the normal fast food restaurants are in abundance here: Mc Donalds, burger king, hardees, KFC, popeyes, pizza hut and lil ceasars.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Wadi Rum 7-10-11

There is only one word to describe Wadi Rum desert and that is spectacular. Being from Florida I have never been to the desert, so I was doubly excited to go. The air is so dry that it feels like it reaches in and sucks out any moisture you might have in your body. If you even think about sweating it evaporates instantly, so drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated is a must They say there is hyenas in the desert but thankfully we did not see any.
The camps are run by bedouins/traditional people of the desert that used to herd sheep and goats but now are tourist guides. The women stay in the village and prepare the food and the men serve as tour guides and drive around in toyota trucks with bench seats in the back for the tourist.The bedouin camp was simple, rustic but complete with a lighted walkway to the bathroom and they had hot showers too. Dinner was simple but delicious grilled chicken, veggies and rice with soft drinks and tea/coffee. Then there is music and more tea by the fire until everyone is ready to go to sleep. The bedouin hospitality was great, they even rescued us from being stuck in the sand on 3 different occasions. We opted to sleep outside the tent, by the fire and under the stars, I feel asleep trying to count them all. The view of the stars at night was simply amazing. There were so many shooting stars throughout the evening I lost count. We then awoke at 5:30am for a short hike to watch the sunrise. If you go there in person you can haggle about the price, if you book it online the price is fixed. We got a much better rate in person and the camp only had 3 other tourists in it, which made it 7 tourist and 4 bedouins-they stayed on the perimeter of the camp to watch for hyenas etc. After our hike to watch the sunrise there was a simple but filing breakfast of tea/coffee, bread (pita like) called hobis, cheese (like laughing cow), hard boiled eggs, jams or honey and olive oil and zatar ( herbs mixed with sesame seeds). My Arabic friends were laughing at me because I mixed the zatar with my cheese and smeared it on my bread, it was good none the less, they used olive oil instead. After breakfast they took us on a 2 hour ride into the desert where we saw may huge, ancient rock formations. We even saw a few camels grazing there, they came right up to the truck, very neat.
This is a huge park and 1 day here is not nearly enough to scratch the surface. If you rent a car to drive here just make sure its a light one as our GMC envoy was to heavy and got stuck in the sand multiple times. Your cell phone wont work here no signal so it will be hard to call for roadside assistance. If you are near a camp even if you are not part of the group they will come and help you and they didn't charge us anything either. I will be back when the weather is cooler to try this adventure again. Oh hey you can even bring your snowboard and ski down a sand dune. Only problem is you have to get up to the top first and I was happy to just watch for now anyway.

Friday, July 8, 2011

7-8-11 Arch Nemesis, the washing machine

Well I know this is a travel blog but everyone still needs to do laundry right. Before coming here I asked for the basic facts, do you have a sit down toilet? Yes, ok do you have a washing machine, yes of course! Little did I know I needed to ask is it connected to water and does it shock you when you touch it? I waited until I was down to my last clean pair of undies before asking to do laundry. My new friends said they would do it for me but I insisted I can do it myself, how hard could it be? Well the washer that many people have in their houses looks nothing like the washer I am used to. First, you need to fill it up with water. Easy if its connected to a water supply, but ours wasn't so you have to fill it with about 5 buckets of water, by hand. Then, does it extract the water and rinse them? Well kind of-you have to take out the soaking wet clothes, rinse them by hand to remove the soap then put them in the other side to spin dry them before hanging them out on the line to dry. All this for a load of clean laundry?? But wait the best part is is you stick your hand in the water and touch any metal at the same time it gives you a nice tingling sensation all the way up your arm. So, you have to unplug it from the socket prior to touching it. Oh yes and then the water must be removed and refilled before you do another load. This was the easiest part as there was a nearby drain and the hose could easily be placed near it, but keep in mind your now standing in water while trying not to touch any metal on the machine. After my first and last load of laundry my friends helped me out and did it for me. I vowed to buy a new one but unfortunately they are very expensive and still not the kind I wanted. I will post a pic of it the next time I have to do laundry and yes my friends here still help me with it because its better than listening to me complain about it for the next 3 days lol. Be thankful for the small things in life that make it bearable. I'm thankful for my new friends and extended family, they helped me to adjust to my new surroundings.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Aqaba 7-7-11 day 2

Oh forgot to mention you can see Egypt ant Israel from the shore, seems so close but yet so far.

Aqaba is also the place you must go within 48 hours of arrival to have your free visa validated. There is an office in town for this but I didn't go there because it was well past 48 hours so what's the point.

We had a wonderful lunch of fresh seafood at Ali Baba's, skip the calamari though it was a little chewy. We then went to the Aquarium. TIP: It's less to get in if your a native so Rayan got the tickets and I just followed him in making sure I didn't speak. After that we did a bit of shopping, this is a tax free zone no 18% tax here but most of the stuff is cheaply made in china and not good quality. There was however a good deal on nuts and we got several bags to bring home with us.Time to head home, we drove past a Saudi Border entry point and on the way out you have to go thru a customs checkpoint. If you buy electronics they could tax you. No tax on nuts and the other items we purchased and we were on our way. Cigarettes were 14 JD for a carton of marlboro, that's about 20 USD.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Aqaba 7-6-11 day 1

Well Aqaba has a lot to offer with its crytal clear water of the Red Sea and its balmy weather. It reminded me of Fla as well, hot and humid but I liked it. We took a very touristy glass bottom boat ride, yes we negotiated the price too. I really wanted to go swimming but no one else brought their swim suits. If you do swim look out for the black spiky sea urchins, I didn't see any but I heard they were in the area. If you want to hang at a nearby resort and swim you can you just have to pay a small fee and you can hang out all day and use the shower facilities too and american bathrooms. That is what I plan on doing next time staying at a cheap place off the water and spend the day at the nice resort by the water. We also went to the public beach at night, nothing spectacular and the beach is quite small but it was a nice evening. Bathroom alert, they only have arabic bathrooms at the public beach, I was lucky I didn't have to go. We spent 2 days here and I will be back for more soon. We stayed at a rental apartment but ask to see it before you commit. It wasn't very clean and the bathroom left a lot to be desired, infact I cried and had a mini melt down when I saw it. In my defense I think I had low blood sugar and needed to eat. I slept on top of my beach towel in most of my clothes and didn't use any of the dishes in the kitchen. Also had to make a make shift toilet seat out of lots of tp but hey I survived it was air conditioned and the price was right. If you want to stay in american chain like the Marriott or Hilton, they are there but they are not cheap. We found our place by driving thru a residential area and they had a for rent sign on the side of a bldg. Rayan my cameraman speaks arabic so he called the phone number and the landlord came to meet us. It would be harder to find one of these if you didn't speak the language.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Dead Sea 7-5-11

I was invited to a BBQ at a home by the dead sea. It reminded me a lot of Florida, with its palm trees and humidity. Sitting there by the family pool, I looked across the sea to land and they told me that was Israel. It looks like you can swim across to it, in reality swimming is restricted to certain areas to prevent this. There were some scary wild cats fighting over some scraps of food, otherwise it was a quite and peaceful evening.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Amman again 7-3-11- the suite life

Sometimes its good to be a tourist. I did the living like a local and well I needed some pampering and while the 4 seasons sounded great it was well beyond my budget. I found a great alternative at The Gardenia hotel in Amman. The Gardenia is rated a 3 star hotel but I thought it was great. The newly decorated rooms were clean, quiet and comfortable, luv the pillows. They have room service, free breakfast, free wi-fi and a complimentary business center, swimming pool, plus a small work out facility. The only thing I can complain about is the booking site I used didn't say the price wasn't including tax. When I checked in I asked about the price to confirm it then found out there is about 18% tax on top of it and that room wasn't available only a suite was. Damn, really I was forced to stay in a luxury suite for about 10 dollars more, the nerve of some places. See the pics and my happy smiling face.
Also got to check out another mall -City mall wonderful and over priced (aren't they all). There is also abdoun Mall it was smaller but just as expensive, fun to walk around and people watch though.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Home sweet home? 7-2-11

Well Toto we are not in Kansas anymore, or at least this is what I keep telling myself. I even tried clicking my heels together 3 times but I wasn't wearing the ruby slippers so it didn't work. Since its way to soon to give up without trying I decided to make the best of it and get used to living here. The family I am living with is very accommodating, if I need anything one of the kids will run to the corner store and get it for me. The young college student I am referring to is called Alla, he is a very sweet 21 year old. His uncle lets him stay here when he has classes at the local university. Anyway on this fine hot July day I asked Alla to go to the store and get some diet pepsi and an air conditioner for my room because humidity or not 100 degrees without air is still mighty hot. The weather here is typical desert but coming from florida I am not familiar with it so let me tell you. Hotter than you can believe during the day, no rain for months, 5% humidity and at night it cools off to around 75 degrees. Too hot for me, I am used to being in a/c. So, the family agreed to purchase an a/c unit for my room and I agreed to leave the door open most of the time to cool the living room, so everyone could benefit from it.

Shopping for an a/c unit-here everything takes alot of time so be prepared and wear your walking shoes. When you make a purchase most places do not have their merchandise tagged with the price. You ask, they tell you and then you haggle. I being American can be spotted a mile away which sadly makes the price double so I followed behind while they spoke with various appliance salesman. It took several stores before they found the one they liked with the price they could agree upon, it was an all day affair. I thought great, I will have a/c tonight, not so fast. It takes 2 days or so for them to deliver and install it and an electrician should probably come before hand to make sure there is power in the right places. Sounds like a perfect time to go back to Amman to do some more exploring.

Hey I will post a pic of the a/c unit, its not your typical window shaker. This one is 1.5 ton European style and costs about 430 dinar (almost 600 USD) and will cool the entire womens side of the house. They don't have central heat and air. I think its also a heating unit which might come in handy if it ever gets cold here.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Madaba 7-1-11

Madaba is a quaint village with open spaces and plenty of room to breath. Most houses have small crops of grapes and olive trees growing in their yard. They harvest the olives to make olive oil and they use both the grapes and the grape leaves.

I had the pleasure of being invited to stay for dinner at a local families house. The teenage daughters were busy in the kitchen stuffing the grape leaves with a delicious herbed rice mixture. They also stuffed tomatoes, potatoes and zucchini. This is indeed a tedious task as each small leaf holds maybe a spoonful and has to be folded tightly and meticulously so it holds its shape during cooking. The end result is a delicious mix of savory, earthy flavors.

The climate is still hot and desert but it gets cooler with a nice breeze in the evening, perfect for sitting outside and gazing at the stars or smoking shisha and having coffee or tea. I inquired about renting a villa there but there were no available houses in my price range, sadly heading back to Zarqa tomorrow.