SALIM

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After avoiding several tourist traps for three days, I believe it was time to go further north. I just had one stop on the road, Little Petra. As you can already guess from it’s name, it’s a bit smaller than Petra but it’s still worth a stop. It’s cold and foggy. After a few kilometres my hands have turned already into icicles. I’m happy when a young man with a baseball cap signals me to stop. I don’t even have the time to propose him a ride, he’s already jumping with brute force on the bike.

No boundaries or politeness, but he looks like an enthusiastic fellow. This guy and I ride a few kilometres and it seems that he also has to be in Little Petra. The wind and the cold on the motorbike don’t really enhance our conversation. When I stop in front of the Wadi (canyon) that leads to Petra, I have very little knowledge about my baseball cap-wearing passenger.

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little Petra with my guide, Salim

I start to realize that he’s a bit off. At first I’m a bit worried when he proposes me to give me a tour of little Petra. I don’t want to be caught in another tourist trap. I’ve successfully dodged all the possible tricks one can play on tourists the past three days, I don’t want to be tricked now, just when I’m about to leave this touristic nightmare.

I realize that he acts like a six-year-old. It was difficult to see it at first because he almost didn’t talk any English. In a disrespectful, first thought I realize that I’ve picked up the local village idiot. I feel a bit of pity and I’m touched by his charm and his uncontrolled lunatic laughter. After I finally manage to learn his name, “Salim”. I’m convinced of his sincerity and I allow him to guide me.

He starts walking in front of me very proud.

“Hi, hi this very good, very nice” he shouts to me as he points towards an old temple in the rocks. “Hahaha, hihi, America very good!” I’ve already repeated several times I’m from Belgium but it’s clear that’s not the correct answer in his mind.

As he leads me deeper and deeper to the end of the canyon, he becomes more and more enthusiastic. We cross another guide with some tourists and he lifts his thumb. “A very good guide you have there,” the other guide tells me. I’m not sure what to think of his sarcasm. It makes me even a bit angry. “How dear he insult my guide with his sarcasm?” I let myself be guided through the Wadi (the gorge).

Do I learn a lot of the history of this little Petra? No. But I’m touched by the enthusiasm? Yes. He’s very proud to be my guide and he shows it every time we cross somebody, letting them know he’s guiding me. Maybe he does that a bit too enthusiastically towards a couple of Asian girls who look frightened when they cross our path. But I like his style!

When we arrive at my motorcycle again, he’s more than happy to jump right on again. During our little tour he made motorcycle sounds all the time, laughing enthusiastically. So I assume that he was happy with the ride. Now however we have a small problem. Where does he want to be dropped off? I’m starting to think that I could ride with him to Amman and he wouldn’t mind.

“Just drop him at the nearest crossroad, he’ll find his way home, I know him!”One of the gift shop owners tells me. I feel a bit sad for the faith of my new friend, but he doesn’t mind anything and continuous to laugh.

I ask myself why I would feel sorry for somebody who’s obviously is not very unhappy with his situation or with life. It seems like he’s enjoying it more than I am. Blessed are the poor in spirit, the bible says and I’m starting to believe it. (yes,I can start bible quoting now, as we proceed closer towards the holy land!)

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Kermit, the Dead Sea and the sun trying to force its way through the clouds.

While I’m thinking of Salim I’m driving over small and narrow (very narrow) roads through the mountains towards the death sea. When I finally make my descend towards the death sea, things start to warm up. I enjoy the sun and the sunrays on the lake surface fascinate me. But the dark clouds that seem to come my direction worry me. I decide to ride east, to Kerak, but that means I have to ride into the mountains again. The death sea is with minus 200 meter one of the lowest places on this earth. I’m making my way up to Kerak, which lies almost 1100 meter higher.

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Snow storm is approaching Kerak

When I arrive in the city it’s already dark and it starts to snow. I always thought that this area was the hottest on earth and I’m stuck in the middle of a snowstorm. How ironic. I never expected this. I make my way to the city centre while a strong wind nearly blows me off my motorbike. I end up at the famous city citadel. Some police officers notice me and they ask me in for a cup of tea. I gladly accept. They even start calling around to find a small guesthouse for me. After a while I end up in the “white house” (it’s the cheapest). Sam, an old Jordanian Christian, owns it. He lives together with his Egyptian Coptic Christian aid, Hani.

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the interior of Sams’ “the white house” – I would describe it as  “Jordanian-kitsch-chique” 

“I lived for forty years in Australia, but I was born here!” Sam tells me, although his accent doesn’t really suggest any contact with Australia whatsoever. He used to work in construction. His sons still live in Australia but he doesn’t have that much contact with them anymore. Sam seems to be a bit bitter after all those year in this cruel world. It seems to me that he already spent a lot of years on this earth, although is black dyed hair doesn’t show any signs of it.

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the streets of Kerak after a cold night

Sam proposes me to eat with them. I just have to pay Hani a few dinar, which he can send then to his family. I wouldn’t say that Hani is a very good cook. I think it’s probably even culinary blasphemy to use his name and the word ‘cook’ in the same sentence. I’m not a picky person when it comes to food but it costs me a lot of effort to keep his version of spaghetti down. I’m cold and the fact that Sam refuses to turn on the heating makes it difficult to warm up. I crawl in bed for a short power nap, but I wake up with my clothes on the next morning under a big pile of blankets. It’s freezing.

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Sam (the man on the throne) and his loyal aid, Hani

Sam and Hazi are already awake and offer me a cup of tea to warm up. Just a month ago there was a terrorist attack on the citadel. Sam is not sure if it was IS.

While making a lot of gestures and clouds of cold smoke, he yells at me that “they” fight all the time. “It’s part of their culture”. Although Sam is Jordanian, he’s one of the very few Christians. He doesn’t like or trust his fellow Arabian countrymen. From his chair he gives orders to Hazi and he also gives his unsolicited opinion on several international topics. He seems a bit lonely and rancorous, but he’s always happy to receive guest in his cold, white house.

“I was surprised that the police sent you to my guesthouse. Most of the time Muslims send tourists to their own people”. I’m surprised by Sam’s us-them way of talking and thinking. He doesn’t strike me as the peaceful or tolerant type.

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guys folding shawarma dough 
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ready to start folding myself
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got a discount on my breakfast for folding a pile

I visit the citadel after a typical Jordanian breakfast with hummus, falafel and tea. Some bullet holes in the metal entry gate are the only silent witnesses from the attack of last month. The fortress is very impressive. Originally built by the crusaders to defend the newly acquired holy land, later it was used by the Mamluks, much later for a very brief time captured by IS terrorists, only for a couple of hours though…

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Kerak castle, in the distance the Dead Sea

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