Around the World With the ArvaMonts
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Cash Withdrawals, Anika's Tickets and Roadblock Etiquette,
Our flight from Athens to Amman was two hours late.
Upon check-in in Athens we were told that Anika did not have a reservation on the flight, though she did of course have a paper ticket. They advised that we verify in Amman that she was on our flight from Amman to Mumbai.
So we arrived in Jordan, two hours late. The first thing we had to do was buy visas. No big deal, though admittedly we had forgotten about that little detail. We had no Jordanian Dinar and, unlike Egypt and Tanzania, they accepted nothing else. To further complicate matters, there was no cash machine on our side of the passport control barrier. Further, they only accepted travelers cheques denominated in dollars, not pounds or euro, which is what we are carrying! So we pulled out all the cash we had - €25 and $30 – and went to the exchange booth. (Actually, we went twice. First with the €25. When that yielded insufficient funds, we tried again with the $30. Clearly we had no idea what the value of a JD was!) Would you believe that this is exactly how much our visas cost? We were certainly lucky. This is what comes from being out of the swing of traveling.
Having arrived in Jordan, albeit two hours late, we now waited an eternity for our luggage. Strangely, there were very few people on our flight who got off in Amman. The flight continued on to Tokyo, and most people stayed on board. Eventually, after a few long moments of concern on Tasha’s part, our luggage emerged through an anonymous little door.
Next step: rental car. Yannis went to rent a car. While he was busy at the Avis counter I went to get money and check on Anika’s reservation for our flight.
Getting cash is one of the stranger things that we do. Imagine; you have just arrived in Dubai or Arusha or Amman. You neglected to check on the currency conversions before approaching the ATM. It asks you how much money you would like to withdraw. Since you have no idea of the worth of the money, how do you decide how much of it you might need? “Gee, I’d like enough JD to cover dinner for four, please!” Here is my approach: you go to the fast withdrawal screen and it gives you the following options: x, y, z or other. Now what do you do? I have learned to use my maximum as a guide, though it can take a while. I am only allowed to withdraw $300, so I futz at the high end of the scale until it finally lets me get money and then I assume that this is a couple hundred dollars. Sure was easy when we were in the euro-zone!
Okay, cash withdrawal complete. Next step: reservations.
I look around and see that there is a room labeled Crown Class Check-in at the far end of the hall. Excellent. We are Crown-Class. I head in. This is the most unbelievable thing. If you flight Crown Class, you don’t have to wait in any lines. Instead you come into this little room with 4 agents sitting behind low desks and a couple dozen plush, high-backed red chairs. You rest, they take care of the luggage, check-in, passports etc. Lovely!
Unfortunately, when I got there, there was an obviously American fellow in a white knit Muslim cap making a scene. He had completed the Hajj to Mecca and on the return trip Air Jordanian had lost his luggage. He had been coming to the airport for 7 days, and still hadn’t successfully managed to file a claim for his lost suitcase. It is then that I realized that I had expected to see women veiled in Jordan, and most of the women I had seen thus far were unveiled.
Anyway, the Crown Class Check-in people eventually looked at our tickets and couldn’t find Anika on the flight to Mumbai. Then again, they couldn’t find any of us on the fight. Bummer! (We later figured out that we had changed our departure date from Wednesday to Friday, so the printed tickets had the wrong date on them.) They recommended I chat with the sales office. To get to the sales office, I had to pass through security. The guy who admits people needs a ticket – so I handed him our wad – he was completely perplexed. He thought I was a tour guide. He did eventually let me through, though, mostly because another group came from behind.
I put my bag on the conveyor belt at security and proceeded to walk through the security gate. The man looked at me, horrified and pointed to the women’s security gate. Here you walk though the metal gate and a silk curtain into a wooden box where a veiled woman waits to pat you down. I reclaimed my bag and went to the check-in desk. They asked me where I wanted to go. I told them I was flying to Mumbai on Friday. Where? Milan? No, Mumbai. Manila? No, Mumbai. Finally the guy at the next counter said Bombay. After much consternation over our tickets, they sent me to the sales office.
I waited my turn at the sales desk. Well, I am not sure how turns work. I can’t tell whether you get to go to the head of the line if you speak Arabic, or if you are male, or if these guys just had a “quick question” that resulted in money changing hands and tickets being booked. Anyway, the guy eventually understood my dilemma, and confirmed that Anika was not on the flight, and nor was Yannis, though Tasha and I were. Great. So now what? I should call, he tells me. Then I remember that neither Yannis nor Anika had their frequent flier number on their tickets, either. Clearly there is a problem with their tickets. I then went back to the check-in desk and asked if they could add the numbers in. (In the States, you can sometimes get your frequent flier number added at your destination airport when you arrive.) They sent me to see the manager, whose office is behind the counter and down a narrow anonymous corridor.
When I found the manager, he asked me what my problem was. I told him we had frequent flier problems, but that my biggest problem was that my husband and daughter lost their reservations and I needed to figure out how to rebook them. He sat down at the computer and figured out that Anika and Yannis were on the flight, and so were Tasha and I. He printed off the confirmations for me, as I must have had a look of sheer disbelief on my face. He was, however, powerless to enter frequent flier numbers, which frankly, was fine with me! Needless to say, all of this took forever.
Now I just needed to get back to the Avis counter. So I asked my new friend, the manager, and he said that I just had to go backwards through security. So I tried to walk to the right of the x-ray machines, but it was blocked and even my attempt created lots of excitement among the security folks. They took me to an official desk, where the man wanted to know what I was doing. His English wasn’t very good. My Arabic was worse. He really couldn’t fathom way I wanted to go back, since the flights left from the other direction. When I was insistent, he decided he needed my passport. As I took it out of my purse, he saw that I had three others. Then he wanted to know whose those were. I told him my daughters. He said, Sons? No, daughters. What is daughters? Sons? I finally ended up saying – yes, like sons. He carefully examined my passport, and eventually let me go. I had to put my bag though security again, which is a little weird as you walk past the machine and slip it on to the belt and then go backwards to where the bag is deposited after it has been checked! Then I was home free!
Of course, by this time it was pitch black outside. We loaded the car – a tricky business with all of our luggage, but we have gotten quite good at it by now! We started driving – and immediately realized that we had a problem. Arabic letters really do all look the same, even when they are printed very large on a road sign. We had the outline of directions, and sort of knew where to go, but we had no map. Luckily, there were signs labeled Dead Sea periodically. But there was a long time and a lot of Arabic in between. Furthermore, there were almost no cars on the roads. I mean deserted! To the extent that on some stretches the highway lights were even turned off.
We were pretty certain we were headed in the right direction when we reached the first road block. Okay, what is road block etiquette? We pulled up slowly, with our passports out and then stopped. Yannis said, Dead Sea. The guy waved us through. When we reach the next road block, we didn’t bother with the passports but we still slowed down. Waved through again, although the taxi a ways behind us was pulled over. By the third roadblock, we were happy to see the guy, to confirm that we were heading in the right direction, though he was prepared to wave us through without a stop!
Then we reached the hotel, which was like a fortress. In front we were stopped by two security guys, who verified our reservations. They looked into the car, and tried to check the trunk – huge groan. They used the mirror on the end of the stick to check underneath the car. Then we are welcomed and invited in. Of course all of our bags had to be x-rayed on the way into the hotel, and then a little security sticker was affixed. Is all this necessary? Probably – they are only about 60 minutes away from Jerusalem, 20 minutes from the Abdullah Bridge over the Jordan River, which connects the autonomous Palestinian area to Jordan.
See photos of Jordan.
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