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The Mother of All Shawarmas
Sun Nov 1, 1992
"Cliff Hotel". That's all anybody has said when I ask where to stay in Amman. Apparently it's the place to stay. Cliff Hotel, as it turns out, is just another dive living by word of mouth. It's like a King's Cross backpackers in Sydney: overcrowded, decrepit, and having long ago worn out its reputation. The bathroom is sad, the beds short and bowl-shaped, and more slapdash, Brady-style construction as we are in actuality sleeping on the enclosed roof.
I pay $3 for a "room" that all the people who've paid $2.25 to sleep on a mattress outside on the unenclosed roof have to trample through should they need to use the lovely toilet. Hot showers are 75 cents, cold showers half that.
But I made it to Jordan! The border formalities took about an hour, and there were plenty of them. The Jordanians separate men and women for passport control. All the men had to leave the bus and get in line under a sign that said "MEN-INSPECTION". I thought we might have to drop our pants or something.
Mon Nov 2, 1992
Went looking for the US Embassy and the American Cultural Center (a name that caused riotous laughter from two Kiwi girls. "And what's there?" they chided. "A McDonald's? Coca-Cola? A baseball bat?") I discovered that the Center would open at 4am Wednesday for live TV coverage of the Presidential election results.
Not so far away is the all-time shawarma stand. I have never seen anything nearly this big. I must have spotted it at 50 yards. The vertical lamb spit was bigger than me. It had to be 15" in diameter at the top and bottom. Chunks of meat were sliced continuously and rotated while another guy added tomatoes and onions in flat bread and rolled it up. 30 cents. This was excitement. This is the sort of thing that fires me up. Ruins are OK, but the Mother of All Shawarmas? Bring it on!
It might have been 18" in diameter. You should have seen it.
Tues Nov 3, 1992
I am constantly pestered on the streets. I already know the first two questions, so I say, "America. Clinton." Everyone's interested. I think Jordanians like Clinton for the only reason that they've seen Bush and would like to try someone different.
Went to the Roman Theatre not far from the Cliff, part of the ancient city of Philadelphia. Something to see.
But the highlight for me today was taking some other travelers I've met to see Super Shawarma, the Mother of All Fatties. I went out earlier for lunch but found it closed. I peered through the window and saw them preparing it. It is so big that one guy is on a stepladder while another handed pieces of meat up to him to slap on. Later I grabbed the others and we got into a taxi to go check it out. I told the driver we were going to the Big Shawarma. He pointed out a couple of others along the way. No no no, I insisted, the Big Shawarma--and then it came into view. Traffic had to be diverted around its girth. The others burst out laughing when it was spotted; they thought I had been exaggerating, but no! I paid the driver and he was incredulous. "You came here for that?!"
The good people of Lebanon astutely saw the benefits of establishing their embassy next to Big Fatty.
I don't know what else I did today, and how could anything compare?
Those two aforementioned Kiwi girls and an Aussie girl set off to hitchhike south to Aqaba and the Red Sea to take the boat to Egypt. Neither of the Kiwis was unattractive, and the blonde left braless and wearing tight leggings while the brunette used a sarong as a skirt just below her knees. We talked the night before about the dangers of women running around the Arab world, and they reckoned that being a pair cut out almost all the trouble. There were a few close calls with dubious guys, and, like every girl, they had a story about being groped. Their attitude was gung ho and upbeat and they weren't na´ve, but I think they're nevertheless taking a risk too great. With the wrong truck driver he could go off far into the desert and then they'd be no match against even just one guy. The girls had flattered me the night before and asked a bunch of times if I wanted to go with them, but they just wanted an escort.
Saw a great name for a place to eat: On Fire Restaurant.
Wed Nov 4, 1992
I was upset with the driver coming down here for trying to rip me off so I made comments about the picture of King Hussein's daughter hanging from his rear-view mirror. I was upbeat about it, saying I was the best man for her, that King Hussein would like me to marry her, etc. The driver became so unnerved that he accidentally threw a cassette in his hand out the window. A guy in the back seat with me said it would be a good idea if I stopped for my own safety. To talk about the King and his family is not a good idea, he said diplomatically. I heeded his advice.
Thurs Nov 5, 1992
Changed hotels today. In Amman I changed beds every night I was there. Think of all the beds I've slept in. How many could it be? I must have averaged over 100, maybe 150 a year each of the last six years.
Fri Nov 6, 1992
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Those three girls, the 2 Kiwis and the Aussie, that were hitchhiking down to the Red Sea? It was an OK trip, reported the Aussie, but there were some "dodgy" drivers and she ended up having her passport stolen by one of them. This didn't get her down at all, just the pain of having to replace some visas.
I met another Aussie who told of the horrible fleapit scumbag dive of a hotel he stayed at in Damascus. The punchline was that he stayed 12 days. 12 days! No one but me thought to ask if it was so bad why did you stay 12 days? I got that quintessentially Aussie reply, "Well, I couldn't be bothered, really." It's a phrase that drives me nuts.
In Jordan and in a lot of other places when you eat in an establishment, there's always a man who acts as a cashier near the door. This man is invariably fat. Why is this? Why are these cashiers fat? Do you suppose when they're babies their mothers try and fed them by saying that if they eat they can grow up to be cashiers? The whole concept loses me.
I have eaten several times across the street from the Cliff in a little place that served a delicious local dish of chick peas, brown beans, oils, and other junk that becomes a mash to be eaten with pita bread and a side of onions. Rarely do I see foreigners in there, but it is always full, so I figured it has to be good. Today, though, I overdid it with the onions and began to have tears. It didn't go over well with the locals, as they had to sit and eat while watching some slobby tourist weep over his beans.
I go to Jerusalem next. It deserves to be said that Israel is just about the last country on earth I want to visit. I have nearly zero interest in the country aside from the Dead Sea and a curiosity about Jerusalem. My non-interest stems mainly from my experience with Israelis I've met traveling. Generally, they are the worst, penny-pinching, whining, thieving mob of bastards I know. For every honest, caring, nice Israeli traveler I come across, I meet scads of them that make me cringe. I may seek out a Servas host in Jerusalem to lead me out of this prejudice or I may revel in it and just move on to Egypt.
And finally, the very pompous:
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