Famous Last Words...

Madaba Travel Blog

 › entry 2 of 15 › view all entries

And we’re off.  A good start as I arranged for an unusual flight plan to reach Amman and team up with Mark (rendezvousing with me from Dubai).  There was a direct flight from JFK to Amman departing 11:30P Wednesday night, but to get there in time I bought a ticket to LaGuardia and caught a cab over to JFK.  This seemed like it would work, but of course I had never tried it or known anyone else who had tried, so a few butterflies.  But no worries --- " only took $30 and 35 minutes to get over to the right airport and checked in for Jordan.


JFK is always compelling with the global community represented in their terminals.  I was a bit disappointed that so many of the folks who were clearly from afar hurried to their gate with cartons of Marlboro’s tucked under their arms!  But parking at my Amman gate quickly took my mind to the Middle East.  Men in dishdasha’s and women in abaya’s transported me without the need of a jet.  I was particularly tickled by two gentlemen challenging each other in reciting the English alphabet.  The J-K-L sequence caused them both a lot of agony.


After we lifted off I moved my watch forward seven hours and the night vanished.  Instead of midnight it was suddenly seven in the morning!  But even with the night going bye-bye, I confess that the 11-1/2 hour direct flight was considerably less painful than I envisioned.  I much prefer this versus a couple of five or six hour flights with a layover to span the same distance.


We touched down at Queen Alia International Airport a few minutes early around 5:30PM and it was the usual mayhem checking in to a foreign country.  Forgot I needed to get a visa here (you don’t need to get one ahead of time, just slam down ten dinars at the airport), so I ducked out of line and exchanged $50 US for 35 Jordanian Dinars (JD).  Shortly I was at baggage claim awaiting my bag and uttered the famous last words ---> "in a minute I’ll grab my bag, hook up with Mark and the adventure is on!”


The minute dragged out to ten, but eventually my bag careened around the track and I scooped it up.  Exited the terminal and started to scour the audience for Mark (his flight was scheduled to arrive 1-1/2 hours before mine).  Didn’t spot him, but no worries --- Mark had reserved a car with Thrifty and that was where we had planned to meet.  I spy several car rental desks, but nary a Thrifty amongst them.


Suddenly I see a guy from Payless Auto holding a placard with my name on it!  Well, I guess Mark had to change and sent someone to retrieve me.  The guy doesn’t speak English, but we acknowledge each other and I follow him outside to a huge lot with many cars.  He proudly shows me a car but Mark is nowhere in sight.  I attempt to explain that I haven’t reserved a car and need to meet up with someone else.  Not sure how effectively I communicated this, but he did loan me his cell phone to dial Mark, which resulted in receiving a “unit not on line” message.


So I promise the guy I will follow up with him once I find my buddy and walk all the way back to the terminal.  Once again I walk around looking for Mark with no luck:  the only thing I notice is the Payless guy wishfully standing there holding the sign with my name on it.  I had asked him previously where the Thrifty lot was and got a blank stare.  I asked several random attendants in the lobby with similar results.


Next step was to walk about outside and seek another rental lot.  This leads to discovering there are two terminals here (but still, the Amman airport is pretty small).  I see Mark’s flight posted as ‘Arrived’ in Terminal 2, but no sign of Mark or a Thrifty desk here either.  Return to Terminal 1 and walk about some more with no sighting.


Fortune smiles on me when I espy a guy I had talked with on my flight.  He is Jordanian but has worked as a chef in DC for the last fourteen years.  I have been here for well over an hour now so I guess he was waiting for relatives to pick him up.   At last I have somebody fluent in English to inquire about Thrifty!  But despite posing my question in Arabic to his brother and mother, the same blank stares.  His brother lets me dial Mark’s cell so I can receive another ‘unit off-line’ message.


In my mind I want to look for Mark awhile longer before punting and hailing a cab to Madaba, a town about twenty kilometers away where we have reservations for the next two nights.  Problem is that I have been awake for the last twenty-two hours and make the mistake of verbally expressing this.  My helpful friends insist on getting me a cab and whisk me out to the street where they make sure I fix the price and pay up front to assure there is no haggling after the service has been rendered.


The secured price to convey me to the Mariam Hotel in Madaba is 21 JD.  The amount is paid and I trust it to fate that I won’t get billed some horrendous amount for the rental car I seem to be on the hook for.  I am a bit aggravated when some dude grabs my suitcase and simply plunks it into the trunk, then speaks the strategic word “tip”, so I disgustedly flip him a dinar.  Now I’m down to three Dinars with no friend or transportation going forward.  But at least I’ll have a place to sleep tonight.


My cabbie whisks us away into the Jordanian night and my startling introduction gets more bizarre.  We cruise through some neighborhoods resembling American ghettos and there are people running around madly everywhere yelling and lighting fireworks.  Fortunately it dawns on me that it is dusk.  We had planned this trip around Eid, when Mark has some holidays, and this is the last iftar ===> thirty days of fasting, Ramadan, is over!


But then it is a few miles of speeding through darkness while my cabbie recites/sings to himself very loudly in Arabic.  He abruptly veers off the road as we pass an isolated strip mall of dilapidated dark buildings in the middle of nowhere where there is nothing lit and several Arabs are sitting around.  In my Western experience this is highly unusual for a taxi ride, but I was thankful for prior experience in the Middle East, because if this had been my first time I’m pretty sure I would have thought it was lights out for our hero!  Naturally, one of the decrepit structures was a gas station and my cabbie was desperately seeking petrol.  He seemed surprised to learn it was closed, but sheesh, there wasn’t any light whatsoever.


After a few more useless attempts to gain petrol, we finally fuel up and I get deposited at the Mariam.  I grab my remaining three dinars and regretfully part with one for a tip. My cabbie’s response is that this is “so small, and you have more.”  I really want to yell at him how I will be stranded in a land where I cannot converse and with no way to get local currency (tomorrow is Eid, so my chances at converting dollars at a bank are zilch), but I just exclaim ‘sorry’ and plod indoors.


Amusingly, they cannot find my reservation at first, but I see “Vance” on their paperwork and we are off to the races (NOTE: I would turn out to be ‘Mr. Vance’ at every place I booked!).  I explain to the clerk that I need to hook up with Mark, whose name is not on the reservation, and write his name out in three-inch letters on a sheet of paper.  Then I avail myself of the PC in their lobby and utilize the ultr-slow connection to open a free Yahoo e-mail account and send Mark a note that I went straight to the Mariam.


Totally despondent, I dump my suitcase and backpack in our room and retire downstairs for dinner.  While working through various scenarios of what I am going to do in Jordan without any friend or transportation, I notice the front desk clerk wandering about.  I catch his attention and he tells me ‘Mark will be here in an hour’.  YEE-HA!!!


Mark arrives in his Thrifty car soon thereafter and as it turns out, his Dubai flight was two hours late (even though this wasn’t posted on the airport’s flight board).  We were probably cruising the airport awhile for each other in opposite terminals.  A huge introductory fiasco, but god bless happy endings.  The adventure is still on.

NOTE After getting back home I learned what happened around the rental car.  Mark had asked me to get some quotes for comparison with what his agent was coming up with, and apparently they have to make a preliminary reservation to get the price.  These reservations are supposed to expire if not confirmed, but I guess the one with Payless never did.  Fortunately they never had my credit card info, so no worries.
jenn79 says:
wow what a fiasco, you handled everything really gracefully Mr. Vance! ;)
Posted on: Nov 15, 2009
sylviandavid says:
Wow..... what an adventure meeting with Mark.... I often lose people as I am 5'6 but david is 6'6 and he often finds them..... So it's probably best to set a definate meeting point.... yikes... but what/where in a strange airport.... a Dennys?.... Great blog... I really got wrapped up in the adventure. sylvia
Posted on: Mar 29, 2008
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
Madaba Hotels & Accommodations review
This is a great place to start your Jordan adventure. It is only 20km from the Queen Alia Airport and not towards Amman (i.e., much less traffic). S… read entire review
Madaba General Tips & Advice review
A funny thing happened after returning from Jordan. Life relaxed back to the enjoyable day-to-day and I stopped reading about the Middle East...until… read entire review
photo by: lealealou