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?)

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