Friday, August 23, 2019

Day 34: The As-Salt Zero!

Today was a zero day for us in Salt City, so it was Karolina's job to provide a guest blog post of our adventures in the city! Thanks, Karolina! =)


April 3: That night I slept deep and long – my body and mind needed proper rest! At 7:30am, everyone went down for breakfast, and at 8:30am, we were boarding a small bus which was going to take us to a police station in downtown As-Salt. Our most important task for today was to get our Jordanian visas extended!

When you arrive in Jordan, the immigration officers issue a visa that is valid for 30 days. If you’re planning to stay in the country for a longer period – for instance to hike 44 days of the Jordan Trail – once your first visa has expired you’ll need to go to a police station and apply for an extension.

At the police station we first had to give up all our phones and cameras – we weren’t allowed to bring those items inside. We followed the stairs down to an underground room where we had to stand in line to pick a form to fill in. The forms were a little wrinkly and you had to fish them out of an equally wrinkly paper pouch. They were all in Arabic, which we obviously couldn’t read. But fortunately, the people from JTA were there with us and guided us through all the procedures. Without them, the whole visa extension would be much more difficult, confusing and frustrating!

To submit the forms, we had to stand in another line. The officer at the desk took our forms and passports and we had to pay a fee – while extending the visa itself was free of charge, we had to pay 1.5 Jordanian dinar for each day we overstayed our initial visas. Ryan and I arrived in Jordan on February 24th and today was April 3rd which meant we had been illegals in Jordan for over a week! (Ryan here: I was so excited to actually be an illegal! I’ve heard so much about them in the United States – now I felt more knowledgeable about the subject having been one for the past week.) I’d never been an illegal before! Never imagined I would try it in Jordan of all places!) Fortunately, that wasn’t a big deal – we just paid 12 dinars each in fines (about 17 USD) and waited for the decision about extending our visas.

We were sent to a waiting room while our documents were being checked. While waiting, I had time to look around the Jordanian police station. I noticed the walls were decorated with numerous pictures of King Abdullah II as well as some pictures of his father, the late King Hussein I and his son, Crown Prince Hussein. In fact, pictures of those three members of the Jordanian Royal Family were widely displayed throughout the country – you could find them on public buildings, in hotels, stores, museums etc. I also noticed that most of the officers handling the documents were women. All of them were wearing dark-blue uniforms and their heads were covered with white scarves – presumably part of the policewoman uniform.

Our visa extensions allowed us to stay in Jordan for up to three more months – which would definitely cover the rest of our trip. We left the police station picking up our phones and cameras on the way out. From now on until lunch time, we were free to explore As-Salt at our own pace on our own time.

Ryan and I decided to go for a walk around the old part of the town and visit the local market. We strolled among stall of vendors selling vegetables, fruits, spices, sweets and clothes. It was a very colorful place bustling with smells and sounds. At one of the small stores, I bought some nuts which I was missing in my trail diet.

Then, when Ryan and I were walking past a toy store, I made a mistake of pointing towards a rubber snake and asking “Did you need one of those?” It was meant as a joke and I was going to just walk past it, but to my horror I saw this malicious grin appear on Ryan’s face and heard him saying “Actually… yes!” Oh my, what have I done! He was going to use this snake to tease other hikers, in particular Ernie from Canada with whom Ryan developed a type of friendship based on pranks. Ryan went inside to inquire about the price of the rubber snake: a half dinar – less than one US dollar.

So Ryan went ahead and got himself a rubber snake (which he later named Simon). After that, we decided to look for a café where we could sit, relax and drink something. We were walking down a street, looking around when a waiter came out of one of the cafés-restaurants and beckoned us inside. The place looked nice, so we decided to follow. We noticed there was a terrace with a view over the street and the city, so we asked whether we could sit outside. The waiter seemed a bit surprised because the day was rather cold by his standards, but he showed us to a small table. The waiter told us that winter this year had been particularly long, cold and rainy. We had noticed that – we had definitely experienced cold, rain and even hail while on the Jordan Trail! More so than we had expected before beginning our Jordanian adventure.

I ordered Bedouin coffee with cardamom while Ryan asked for a Coke. He got a can of Coke and a glass full of ice cubes. Normally he likes his sodas with ice cubes, but being in the Middle East, we couldn’t be sure of the hygiene of the ice. Ryan decided not to take a risk of getting sick and discarded the ice cubes.

We enjoyed our little break. I was looking around, observing the city life: banana vendors, people wearing scarves, children walking home from school, traffic with cars regularly using their horns, the propane-vending truck that played a very characteristic tune (sounded almost like an ice-cream truck), the water truck, the prayer singing from mosques. At some point, we were joined by Helena, a fellow thru-hiker from Australia, who coincidentally decided to have her coffee at the same café and just like us preferred to sit on the terrace with a city view.

Early in the afternoon, our familiar small bus took us to the restaurant Beit Aziz for lunch. We sat on another terrace, with another great view of the hills around As-Salt. The hills were full of houses, most of them in the color of sand. On the flat roofs of all houses, you could see large plastic tanks. It is a very common view in the cities and villages of Jordan – those tanks are used to store tap water. Even though tap water infrastructure in Jordan is well developed and in a good shape, due to extreme scarcity, water is delivered to houses only once per week for 8 hours. Once a week households have an opportunity to fill up tanks on their roofs with water they will use during the rest of the week and hoping that the next supply will arrive on time.

Sometimes it doesn’t and in such a case you need to call a water truck – a mobile cistern driving tap water to places. An average Jordanian uses 80 liters (21 gallons) of tap water per day. For comparison, the average tap water usage in the Netherlands is 120 liters (32 gallons) per person per day and in the USA and Canada, it is 300–380 liters (80-100 gallons) per person per day (which is the highest water usage in the world). Most of the tap water isn’t used for drinking or cooking – by far the largest use of household water is to flush the toilet, followed by taking showers or baths and washing clothes.

The view of the city during lunch was gorgeous!

Anyways, the lunch was delicious and there was a lot of food. I had so much that I suspected I wouldn’t be hungry until the next morning. We lingered at the restaurant, chatting with other hikers and admiring the panorama of As-Salt.

Back at the hotel, I went to my room to stretch my muscles and do some yoga. I skipped the dinner.

In the meantime, I also found out that Ella, a hiker from Australia was terribly ill. She had spent the entire day in her room, throwing up and having diarrhea. She was currently taking antibiotics to help her fight the nasty sickness. I was hoping it wasn’t too contagious and that I wasn’t going to get ill – Ella wasn’t the first one, a few other people had had stomach problems before.

My journal entry for the day bears two more interesting notes:

“I notice the hikers are getting tired of being on the trail…  Some of them are counting days till the end, they are ready to finish. The mood is definitely different than it had been a week or two ago – visibly less cheerful. Maybe the recent rain sucked the energy out of people? I feel affected by other people’s mood more than by the rain itself or the difficulties of being on the trail. It isn’t fun to be around people who aren’t having fun. Makes me want to finish the trail, too…”

“Bought the most expensive sunscreen ever - 16 dinars for SPF 50+! The lady at the pharmacy told me I must use this high UV protection factor, otherwise my skin would burn in Jordanian sun. Later I was told that expensive sun filters are yet another way to make money on tourists – the locals are brown enough to not need sunscreens, so it is mainly tourists who buy them, which is why prices are so inflated.”

We had lunch here at the Beit Aziz.

This was our view of the city from our hotel. (And notice the water tanks on the buildings?)

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Day 33: Ernie tries on a scarf

April 2: The shockingly loud prayer call from the mosque next door wasn't quite as shocking the second time around, but it definitely woke everyone up. We had a normal 7:00am breakfast which surprised me since we had a bus ride back to where we got off the trail. We usually wake up earlier to account for the bus ride, but for whatever reason, that didn't happen today.

Ernie tries on one of my scarves.
I've been trying to convince Ernie to buy a scarf for himself this whole trip but he'd been holding off, and I had a new idea this morning: I should let him try on one of my scarves for the day. He'd like it so much, he'd finally be convinced to buy his own scarf!

So I gave him a selection of scarves to choose from (I had five of them, after all!), and helped him wrap it around his head properly. It looked good. I took a photo and showed it to him, and he approved of the look as well. I also quietly talked to a few people asking them to compliment Ernie on his look look to help with the cause. ;o)

But it meant we didn't actually start hiking until nearly 9:00 in the morning. When we arrived at the trail, I realized that I was missing my trekking pole. I distinctly remember putting it in front of my tent at the woman's cooperative and somehow, I must have just missed it in my departure. In the meantime, George had a spare trekking pole that he lent me and they'd make a point of looking for mine at the cooperative.

The day started beautiful and clear--definitely a nice change in the weather--but the trail was still wet and muddy not having recovered yet from the recent storms. Later in the day, the trail headed back up on paved roads and it was nice to escape the mud.

As the afternoon progressed, dark clouds rolled in, but the rain held off. 

Today's hike would take us into downtown As-Salt where a "surprise" was in store. Salt was the former capital of Jordan and probably the biggest city along the trail. It was also a new addition to the Jordan Trail having been rerouted in the past year and this was the first year hikers would be going through it. So the surprise consisted of an appearance by the major of Salt, a couple of short speeches that several reporters covered, and it kind of bored the rest of us. We'd rather have been hiking, or head to our hotel for the night and relax at our own pace. It was more a publicity stunt than anything for our benefit, which I could understand, but it doesn't make it anymore fun. At the very least, it would have been nice to have been fed. Hikers always love food!

After the speeches and photos, we were taken on a guided tour of the Harmony Trail through town before arriving at a bus to take us to our hotel. I was really disappointed at another bus ride. Argh! No more buses! We were spending the night in Salt at a hotel and I had mistakenly assumed we'd walk to our hotel on or near the Jordan Trail. I didn't realize it was so far off trail that we needed another bus ride. That was a big disappointment for me.

But we got on the bus because what other choice did we have? At least it was a relatively short bus ride to the hotel (the Saltus Hotel), and I spent the evening washing my clothes in the shower and binge-watching Netflix.

At dinner, Ernie returned my scarf to me saying that he did like it, but it was so late in the trip that he felt it was too late. He wouldn't have enough time to use it much before we left then what would he do with it? I suggested that it was perfectly good to wear when he returned to Canada (I planned to wear mine back in the states on occasion--especially on cold days!) Or he could use it as a Halloween costume. Or as a table cloth! It had a million uses! He had to get one!

I wasn't sure if I convinced him, but he really needed a scarf. *nodding*

It was a beautiful, clear morning!
Tortoise on the trail!
Looking good, Ernie! Looking good! *nodding* =)
We did have a small creek to cross, but this one wasn't a problem.

As the morning progressed, more and more clouds started showing up.

The poppy fields were gorgeous!

Damian, looking a serious

Salt City, here we come! =)
I need a nap.
The mayor of Salt gives a short speech. (He's the guy on in the yellow vest on the left.)
Then we took a short walk on the Harmony Trail through town.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Day 32: Another miserable day on the trail

April 1: Mosques in Jordan will play a call to prayer at an ungodly hour of the morning (pun  intended!), and our location in Iraq Al-Amir was no exception. The difference this morning, however, was that we were located in a woman's cooperative that happened to be located right next to a mosque and it sounded like the megaphones were right inside the tent with me. Scared the crap of out me! From being dead asleep to a blasting music that could be heard for miles away. Not the wake-up call I had been expecting!
Breakfast in the morning

I laid around in my tent trying to go back to sleep but never succeeded.

It didn't rain during the night, but in the morning it started up again and the weather forecast wasn't at all promising.

We got a normal 7:00am breakfast, our first in a while, because we didn't have to take a bus to get back to the trail. One small thing to be happy about!

We also lost another hiker today, Jonathan. This wasn't a shock to the group like Ermanno's unexpected exit. Jonathan had signed up to do a thru-hike hike, but eventually decided to leave the trail early and we knew for the better part of a week that he was leaving.

Much of the day's walk was a road walk, which we actually welcomed because it meant we didn't have to walk through thick mud everywhere. We didn't escape the mud completely, but the paved roads certainly limited it.

Karolina had a large, red spot in her eye. It was quite dramatic, and everyone gathered around her looking at it. Karolina didn't know it was there and didn't seem concerned about it, and three nurses in our group agreed it was a burst blood vessel which could have occurred from something as simple as a sneeze or blowing her nose and would fade and eventually disappear. Nothing to worry about. It didn't affect her vision and wouldn't cause any permanent damage. It just looked scary!

There was no mirror for Karolina to see what her eye looked like, but I had the idea to take a photo of it, which I did, then showed it to her.

"Oh my God!" she exclaimed, suddenly freaking out about the Great Red Spot on her eye. "It's huge! You didn't tell me it was that bad!"

Karolina didn't freak out about the Great Red Spot in her eye until I showed her this photo. "Oh my GOD!"
"But... it's not bad.... you heard the nurses! And your vision is completely normal!"

Maybe I shouldn't have shown her the photo....

Originally, our schedule had us at a wild camp tonight, but the support crew drove out to the site of the campsite and canceled those plans. The site was too muddy from all the rain. New plans were made and we would be returning to the woman's cooperative again.... on a bus. The bus again?! Ugh!

Today's walk was relatively short at 14 kilometers--less than 10 miles--and we finished the day's hike at 12:30pm. As the crow flies, we probably covered half that distance. Despite being maybe 5 or 6 miles from the woman's cooperative (as the crow flies), the winding, narrow, gravel road took the bus 40 minutes to navigate back to the cooperative.

When we arrived, we met a new arrival: Maciej from Poland. He had hiked the Jordan Trail from the northernmost point to our location here the year before and returned to finish the trail this year. He was hiking southbound and had made reservations to stay there--originally a lonely place by himself but now crowded with 30 or so people from our group that stayed an extra night. Being from Poland, Karolina and him talked a lot in Polish, but much too fast for me to really understand anything that they were saying. I'd say some stuff in Polish, but I'm not sure if he was impressed that I knew any Polish at all or embarrassed at how bad it was. Probably a little of both. ;o)

In the afternoon, the rain stopped, so Ernie, Jan, Karolina and I walked out to some nearby caves carved out from cliffs to explore. The caves had been built and used for thousands of years and people lived in them until just a few decades ago, but now they're tourist attractions.

Ernie looks inside one of the nearby caves

Then we returned to the woman's cooperative. We socialized, had dinner and generally enjoyed ourselves.

When it was time for the briefing about tomorrow's hike, I was anxious to see how Lama and Ernie would play it. It was April Fools Day, after all, and they said they'd make up a fake briefing before the real one.

Lama started the briefing saying, "We will go down, then up and up and up...." with exaggerated hand gestures and I thought, "Yes! She's doing it!" =) then it turned into a normal, run-of-the-mill briefing. What happened to the fake briefing?!

Ernie followed Lama's lead and provided a weather forecast that included a lot of sun and pleasant weather.

What happened? I didn't understand it....

Later, I asked Lama about what happened to the fake briefing and she had a look of surprise. "I forgot! I totally forgot!"

It was now the end of April Fools Day and not a single prank was played. I was disappointed. =( Well, I still enjoyed the prank I played on Atlas Quest which I was able to follow because I was able to get a wi-fi connection at our location, so I enjoyed that. But no pranks were played in Jordan....

Ernie blows his nose in the morning. Somebody had to document everyday life! =)
Jonathan would leave us in the morning. Good travels, good sir!

We passed this wall with a bunch of rocks hanging from string over the top. It was a little weird and I couldn't think of any logical explanation for it.

You could definitely tell that the infrastructure in Jordan was having trouble with all of the recent rains!

Most of the day was a road walk, but when it wasn't... it was very, very muddy. *nodding* This was the kind of mud that the support crew decided wasn't a good place to camp!
Sheep blocking the trail!
Our bus! Time to get out of the rain and mud!

View from inside one of the caves
Yousef, one of the support crew who is looking a little too clean and dry if you ask me! ;o)
Sawsan from Lebanon
Connie (R) and Hiba (L)
Maciej from Poland
Sarah, from the US